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.


Screenshot 2019-08-04 at 11.17.46.png



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

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.
Douglas Niles wrote both the Maztica novel trilogy and the boxed set for 2nd Ed AD&D.
 

Richards

Adventurer
Same here. Ed's always been very imaginative and entertaining in his writing. It's cool to hear he's been a successful (if not yet then published) author since age 5.

Johnathan
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
Great stuff!

It's wonderful to see Ed here and it will be quite handy being able to point new Realms fans to this article so they can understand how the Realms began.

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).
Paradoxically, one of the reasons I liked the 4E version of the Realms was that it gave me a chance to get rid of the non-Ed bits of the Realms that never quite captured the feel of the Realms... and that's in, arguably, the least Ed-like version of the Realms.

Like you, I would like to see the real Realms - have Ed focus on the Heartlands of Cormyr, the Dalelands, and the Moonsea and set it before the Knights of Myth Drannor began their home game. No stupid names. No Earth-based cultures. Simply Ed's campaign world as it was meant to be.
 
Awesome! :D

Funny to read "even if I never found anyone to play a game with", and afterward you have had literally millions of people playing with you Mr. Greenwood!
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
Thank you, Ed!

I first found some friends to play D&D with in '91 with 2nd Edition (I'd wanted to play for years but just couldn't find anyone before then) and was introduced to the 'Realms with the Purple Box, and was given a big set of 'Realms novels by a college student working at the program I attended during summers at Penn State; maybe 10 books including Pool of Radiance, Pool of Darkness, The Night Parade, Spellfire, and Elfshadow (can't remember the others) but I honestly didn't care much for the setting that I read about in the boxed set (although I totally loved Spellfire and Elfshadow.) I can't really put a finger on exactly why, but the Purple Box seemed to be too... cheery? It just gave me forced Disney vibes. But after maybe 3 years of playing D&D I was introduced to 1st Edition and the Old Grey Box, and I absolutely loved how the 'Realms was presented in that set. It just felt so much more interesting and cool. Maybe the grey color had something to do with it, but I think it had more to do with the way the original set was written with a feeling of mystery and danger, whereas the Purple Box seemed more to me like everyone was a cheery Dalelands farmer and the world was just too twee. Then the 3rd Edition book came out and I totally loved that, too. I could read about the Elves of the 'Realms forever and a day.

I won't speak of the 4th Edition changes.

Greyhawk is my personal bag, but I love the Forgotten Realms, too.
 

Mycroft

Explorer
And the Moonshae were transformed from Ed's original vision, into their public shared world form, by Douglas Niles,
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.
 

Mycroft

Explorer
Douglas Niles wrote both the Maztica novel trilogy and the boxed set for 2nd Ed AD&D.
I'm glad Maztica returned (though it never left in my campaign). I hope they give a little love to it, and of course Al-Qadim (one of my all time favourite settings) and Horde (great boxed set)/Kara Tur.
 

Parmandur

Legend
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.
 

Mycroft

Explorer
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.
 

Wrathamon

Explorer
Now that Forgotten Realms is available on DM's Guild ... couldn't ED publish his version there for all of us to buy?
 

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 .
 

In Our Store!

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top