D&D General Ed Greenwood: How The Realms Began

Begin at the beginning, saith the maxim. So here we go… Yes, I’m the guy who created The Forgotten Realms. Back in the spring of 1965. You read that right: 1965, about a decade before D&D, which came along in 1974, and wasn’t seen by most of the world (all the places that weren’t colleges in or near Wisconsin) until 1975. I was five years old. A few months away from being six. I was one...

Begin at the beginning, saith the maxim. So here we go… Yes, I’m the guy who created The Forgotten Realms. Back in the spring of 1965. You read that right: 1965, about a decade before D&D, which came along in 1974, and wasn’t seen by most of the world (all the places that weren’t colleges in or near Wisconsin) until 1975.


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I was five years old. A few months away from being six. I was one of those kids they called “child prodigies,” and devoured all the books in my parents’ den. Like many book collectors, my Dad built his own bookshelves so he could cram the maximum amount of books onto them and out of the maze of boxes that filled the basement, so books ended up sorted by size, which meant an inquisitive young reader could stumble across anything. And I did. Everything from wartime National Geographics to “give one to a friend in uniform” wartime paperback murder mysteries and lurid pulps to fantasy and science fiction. Lots and lots of fantasy and science fiction.


Note from Morrus -- I'm super happy to announce Ed Greenwood's new column here on EN World! Upcoming articles include Mirt Strides Out Of My Mind, and Making A Setting Come To Life! Please let us know in the comments about topics you'd like to hear, and don't forget to check out Jonathan Tweet's new column and, of course, Jim Ward's excellent column which delves into TSR's history!



Many was the occasion upon which I’d go racing up the stairs waving a discovery I’d fallen in love with but just finished, calling, “Dad! Dad, where’s the next one? There IS a sequel, isn’t there?”

And my father, who knew books and writers and the world of magazines like few mortals I’ve ever met (and I’ve worked for forty-five years in public libraries), would either direct me to where it could be found, or far more often would say something along the lines of, “Son, that writer died in 1938, and never wrote a sequel to that one, so far as I know, so if you want to read one, you’ll have to write it.”

And I’d reply, “Okay! Great!” and rush back downstairs and start writing. Wandering-plot, rarely-finished fragments, most of them, and gawdawful, nigh all of them, but I was having fun and learning to write in the style of this author, and then that one; everything from Lord Dunsany to J.R.R. Tolkien to E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith.

And I was deciding what I really loved, which tended to be swords and sorcery or high fantasy or all the flavors and blendings in between. I was making up my own stories, some of which my Dad found and took to work and read to his colleagues, apparently to their enjoyment (because they kept asking for more; after a James Bond sprint-and-shoot-and-car-chase pastiche, someone asked for a sex scene, to which my Dad replied sternly, “He’s FIVE, gentlemen!”).

Slowly I began to imagine a medieval-cum-Renaissance fantasy world linked by gates to the settings in all of my favorite books. I’d come across the William Morris novel The Wood Beyond The World (and all of his others), with its ancient deep forest riddled with gates, that had become a crossroads between many other worlds (step between two trees at the right moment or humming the right tune or in the moonlight and your next step would be elsewhere), an enchanting idea later borrowed by many other writers (such as C.S. Lewis, for his Narnia books).

So I wrote stories, purely for my own entertainment, of adventures in this as-yet-unnamed fantasy setting. I decided that it was “close to” our real Earth, that is, linked by many gates, which was why we had many legends of dragons and vampires and such, but didn’t meet such creatures every day, when walking down the street; traffic through the formerly busy and popular gates had dwindled to a trickle as the gates had been destroyed, forgotten, “twisted” to become magically dangerous, or guarded by shadowy secret societies who controlled access to them for their own financial gain (surely that’s how some of my reclusive, rich, and creepy neighbors had made their bundles!). So the ways to this fantasy world had become forgotten—so it was “the Forgotten Realms.”

A setting of stories, not roleplaying, because the only roleplaying game that I knew of, at the time, was Kriegspiel, the fog-of-war military officers’ training game (my father had been in the military). I did love to play games, and happily followed Donald Featherstone’s wargaming books; when D&D came along, I played it but thought it lacking (this is make-believe around a table, but with enough holes in the rules that inevitably it’ll devolve into arguments). However, when the Monster Manual appeared, and was then capped by the Players Handbook, I was smitten (Vancian spells, so details of magic with limitations! All the monsters of legend plus new ones, with everything they did codified! YES!), I was smitten, and rewrote everything in the Realms to match. From then on, D&D would be the anchoring backbone of my setting, even if I never found anyone to play a game with, and the magazine then known as “The Dragon” was a constant source of inspiration.

But I get ahead of myself, of course. Back to the beginning of the Realms.

Among all the pastiches of blaster- and needler-firing spacefarers and lady knights in armor riding out to slay dragons, I was rather more timidly building a world. Not as I would do it now, thinking things through and mapping and building in plots and conflicts, but writing little tales and fragments that gave me glimpses of this special place.

Around vivid mental images that came to me in dreams, or when daydreaming. My very first glimpse of the Realms was a view of a temperate forest glade by night, in winter, with the snow softly falling. A lone woman with long silver hair—metallic silver hair, not a senior with gray-white hair—was sitting by a small fire she’d obviously made, playing a harp. And in the darkness under the trees all around her, filling the background, were the many pairs of glowing eyes of all the critters who’d heard her harping and come to listen.

And then, out of those same trees, also lured by the harp music, comes gracefully walking another tall woman with the same silver hair, to join the first one.

I don’t know their names yet, but I already know they’re sisters. I desperately want to know more about them, so I have to start writing.

Little do I know that someone else, already lurching and wheezing his way to the fore through the wild forests of my imagination, bucket-topped boots flopping, will have other ideas. His name was the Mirt the Moneylender, and he would shoulder aside those two ladies, and their other sisters, to become my guide into the Forgotten Realms.

We’ll meet him next time. When we do, guard whatever you’re drinking.
 

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Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Forgotten Realms Creator

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I'm a pretty big Realms fan, and The Isle of the Mooshaes was my first FR accessory (I also read the first novel, Darkwalker); what was the original vision for the Moonshaes?

That and the Grey Box really set the vibe of Faerun for me.

The Moonshaes were originally a barely inhabited archipelago, without much to speak of: the Moonshaes novels were not originally set in the Forgotten Realms, and were going to be the base of a new setting coming from TSR UK, a sort of British answer to Dragonlance. But TSR UK got shuttered, and Niles had mostly written the novel, so what there was of that setting got transferred to the Forgotten Realms where there wasn't much going on.
 

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Mycroft

Banned
Banned
The Moonshaes were originally a barely inhabited archipelago, without much to speak of: the Moonshaes novels were not originally set in the Forgotten Realms, and were going to be the base of a new setting coming from TSR UK, a sort of British answer to Dragonlance. But TSR UK got shuttered, and Niles had mostly written the novel, so what there was of that setting got transferred to the Forgotten Realms where there wasn't much going on.

Wow, very cool, the TSR UK campaign setting; I could see Moonshaes being its own deal (like I can with Al-Qadim and Kara-Tur), thanks for that.
 



Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Now that Forgotten Realms is available on DM's Guild ... couldn't ED publish his version there for all of us to buy?

Depends if he wanted to retain control of those bits. Plus 50% is a high royalty; he could probably hold out for a better deal .
 



Vanveen

Explorer
I'd love to hear more about how you structured the Realms--how did you create them? Any tips to pass on?
How did your library day job deal with what must have been a time-consuming endeavor?
 

Mica Fetz

Explorer
Thanks to Dungeon Master Ed Greenwood, and to Web Master Morrus! It's good to know that I stand in such fine company. My first exposure to D&D was through the Choose Your Own Adventure books in about 1982. Within two years I was taking my first steps into the multiverse. But, it was that Forgotten Realms boxset that really got my imagination flowing on the possibilities of a campaign in someone else's world. Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again!
 

Greyson

Explorer
Greenwood certainly deserves an abundance of credit for the allure, diversity and charm of the Forgotten Realms. It has been an amazing setting for Dungeons & Dragons over the decades. I have loved playing and DMing in that playground (the ill-conceived Spellplague is the exception). But gosh, what a terrible novel writer. For a self-ascribed, former "child prodigy," Greenwood has put out some truly bad efforts - and TSR and WotC let him because of the name power. Why not, when they sold like bad romance novels? Shandril's Saga was not good and that trilogy is somehow better than that three book disaster we got in the Shadow of the Avatar series. I had to force myself to keeping reading The Herald to feel a sense of closure with The Sundering series. Ugh. There are other duds in between. When you love the Realms, though, you take the good with the bad.

In 2004's 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons, Greenwood is quoted as saying it was 1967 that the notion of the Realms were created. He may have been closer to eight years old. I guess in the spirit of storytelling, all tales are allowed to get more fantastic over time.

Anyway, after Jeff Grub vetted Greenwood for TSR, the latter sent his FR stuff in. Erik Mona once related in an issue of Dungeon how the folks at TSR received Greenwood's hand-written notes wrapped in tin foil. It is a funny, quirky thing I can totally imagine.
 

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