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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.


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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.
 
Ed Greenwood

Comments

schneeland

Explorer
This is probably my favourite announcement on ENWorld. I have recently begun to dive back into the Forgotten Realms, reading or re-reading some of the classic novels, and buying back the AD&D2 box sets and books (at least those that were translated to German) and completing my collection of related PDFs. Despite their somewhat mixed reputation, the Forgotten Realms still have a special place in my heart because they were my first exposure to fantasy roleplaying worlds (unknowingly in the start, as I played Eye of the Beholder and the like before I actually got hold of any TTRPG books). So I'm really looking forward to what Ed has to say about this iconic setting.
And maybe some day a white knight will appear and sponsor the creation of a nice gameplay-oriented, but edition-agnostic compendium of the Forgotten Realms pre spellplague (something like Hot Springs Island, just for the Forgotten Realms). I would certainly buy it.
 
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Zardnaar

Adventurer
When I was 5 I was reading non fiction, Dinosaurs IIRC.

Starting to like the early realms a lot more, Spellfire, things before the Time of Troubles etc.
 
Morrus, you should put that note at the top of Ed's post. I almost stopped reading thinking this was some impostor looking for attention! Anyways, I'm excited to read your articles, Ed! The Forgotten Realms are where most of my games are played, so I love the insight into how they were created. Looking forward to the next one!
 

PabloM

Explorer
Thanks Morrus, thanks Ed!
I'm not a fan of the Forgotten Realms, but they definitely awaken something inside of me. Nostalgia surely, but behind all that enormous variety of races, classes, important personalities and dark elves there is something fun to discover.
 

EthanSental

Explorer
Another excellent writer to look forward to his columns!

Thanks Ed for the Realms, always enjoyed it going back to gray box of 1e but all the additional fleshing out of the 2e boxes and books. I’m guess it’s been covered previously but hopefully we / I hear how all the new settings like Maztica, Kara tur and such were created and added.
 

aco175

Explorer
Nobody has welcomed you to the boards yet. Have some XP to get started.

Thank you, you shaped a lot of my childhood.
 

carborundum

Explorer
Great column! Thank you for many hundreds of hours of pleasure, reading and playing in the Realms. I'm looking forward to the next column already.
 

bedir than

Registered User
Reading that Ed Greenwood went through those same moments I did about wanting finish unfinished tales and knowing that's what inspired him to write, to create, and to play warms my heart.

It's familiar and comforting
 

gyor

Adventurer
Another excellent writer to look forward to his columns!

Thanks Ed for the Realms, always enjoyed it going back to gray box of 1e but all the additional fleshing out of the 2e boxes and books. I’m guess it’s been covered previously but hopefully we / I hear how all the new settings like Maztica, Kara tur and such were created and added.
Ed didn't create those, they were added on by other writers. Same with most of the Bloodstone Lands. And the Moonshae were transformed from Ed's original vision, into their public shared world form, by Douglas Niles, and Ed's original version for Mulhorand and Unther was transformed because Desert of Desolation was added to the Forgotten Realms and THAT had a massive ripple effect across the Eastern Half of Faerun.

And Kara Tur was the Orientatal Adventures setting, which only later got added to Faerun. Zakhara (Al Qadim) is Jeff Grubbs creation. I don't remember who created Maztica. I do believe Ed did write the Returned Abeir lands from 4e or at least some if them.
 

ronaldsf

Explorer
This was so evocative and inspiring! I especially love your childhood "first glimpse" into the Realms! I was exposed to the Forgotten Realms via the computer games and didn't make much of them. But reading your words makes me see why they would have inspired and enjoyed by so many!
 

Carl Green

Villager
I hated the Realms SO much, for SO many years, because I thought it had distracted my beloved D&D from my beloved and favourite setting, Greyhawk. I thought Greyhawk was greater, grittier, and so much more to my palate. But now... a LOT older (50+), and perhaps more whimsical, and a recent but nonetheless massive convert to 5E... I find the Realms fantastical in all the right ways. I know that the me of 20 years ago would have hated the world of Death Masks, the Ed Greenwood novel I just finished, but now, I find myself enjoying the wild, crazy, high fantasy romp that is the Realms, more and more, because - at its heart - I think the setting just encompasses all that D&D is, in one impossible, imperfect but oh-so entertaining place. Thanks Ed, and (finally) Well Met...
 

Heselbine

Villager
It would be fascinating to see what Ed's original vision for the Realms looked like. I suspect it would be a lot more consistent than the world we see today. I have run FR campaigns many times over the years and love the depth and warmth of the setting, but I find the need to pander to the latest D&D changes very frustrating. The history of the dragonborn, just as one example, is tacked on quite unconvincingly.

The Forgotten Realms at their best are the little throwaway gems that detail some tiny aspect, bringing the game alive. Well done for getting Ed to contribute, it will be very interesting!
 
It would be fascinating to see what Ed's original vision for the Realms looked like. I suspect it would be a lot more consistent than the world we see today. I have run FR campaigns many times over the years and love the depth and warmth of the setting, but I find the need to pander to the latest D&D changes very frustrating. The history of the dragonborn, just as one example, is tacked on quite unconvincingly.

The Forgotten Realms at their best are the little throwaway gems that detail some tiny aspect, bringing the game alive. Well done for getting Ed to contribute, it will be very interesting!
As far as I know the gray box is pretty close to "pure Greenwood." There are a couple add-ons (Moonshae) and alternations, but that's the closest thing.

But yeah, I've long wished that WotC would publish a true "Greenwood's FR" book that presents his home campaign as it is (assuming he hasn't incorporated later changes).
 

Sadras

Explorer
I hated the Realms (snip) much, for (snip) many years, because I thought (snip) my beloved (snip) and favourite setting, Greyhawk (snip) was greater, grittier, and so much more to my palate. But now... a (snip) older (snip) and perhaps more whimsical (snip) I find myself enjoying the wild, crazy, high fantasy romp that is the Realms, more and more, because - at its heart - I think the setting just encompasses all that D&D is, in one impossible, imperfect but oh-so entertaining place. Thanks Ed (snip)
Bold emphasis mine.
For me it was Mystara...but in many respects we share the same sentiments and our evolution. ;)

impossible, imperfect but oh-so entertaining​ is an apt description.
 

gyor

Adventurer
As far as I know the gray box is pretty close to "pure Greenwood." There are a couple add-ons (Moonshae) and alternations, but that's the closest thing.

But yeah, I've long wished that WotC would publish a true "Greenwood's FR" book that presents his home campaign as it is (assuming he hasn't incorporated later changes).
Did they sort of do that?

Anyways, I love Ed Greenwood as a genius creator in the same vein as Gene Roddenberry and Robert Jordan, but I love that FR is a shared world that evovles like living mnemonic creature, with manz folks contributing.
 

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