D&D 1E Forgotten Realms in AD&D 1st Edition a better setting for adventures?

Yora

Legend
After I had started RPGs with the Forgotten Realms and been really into it for the first couple of years, I did lose interest in it in late 3rd edition. Reading the regional sourcebooks and such was fun, but I never actually used any of it, except for a few bits and pieces from Silver Marches. But one sourcebook that has stuck with me the entire time was the very early The Savage Frontier for 1st edition from 1988. I didn't really pay attention to it while I was running Forgotten Realms campaigns, since the 2nd edition The North box and the 3rd edition Silver Marches were much bigger, with much more content and the updates from all the years, but I found it very compelling to get out and read again many times over the following years. It's pretty slim, and comparing it to the much bigger The North box that came out eight years later in 1996, I noticed that they present really different settings.

The original Grey Box campaign set for Forgotten Realms came out in 1987 for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st edition). A new version for AD&D 2nd edition came out in 1993, which got a revised version in 1996. I only know the 1996 version, and don't know how the 1993 version compares to the ones that came before and after it. But the worlds that are presented by the Campaign Set and Savage Frontier in 1988, and the Campaign Setting and The North in 1996 are very different, and when you really start digging into it, barely seem like they are the same place.

The most interesting thing I discovered is actually the introduction of the first Forgotten Realms Campaign Set. (Who ever actually reads those?) It says there that the Forgotten Realms are a world that greatly resembles the society of 13th and 14th century Europe. I don't know if there is any comparable statement in the 2nd edition, but all the art I've seen for 2nd edition Forgotten Realms does not look like that all! 2nd edition looks like the time of Shakespeare, the English Civil War, and the Spanish an Portuguese Empires (just without gunpowder). That's 17th century.
The 13th century is at the tail end of the Crusades and the beginning of the Hundred Years War, the time of King Edward I of England and the Mongol Conquests, the forming of the Hanseatic League, and the conquest of the pagan Balts and Prussians by the Teutonic Knights. Art in the 1st edition books is quite sparse and doesn't really show any town scenes or detailed depictions of characters' clothing and armor. But there are references to the rise of a new affluent merchant class, early bank notes, and the appearing of the first printing presses in Waterdeep. And if we go with woodblock printing, then this all indicates that references to the 13th and 14th centuries do come from someone who was actually informed about that time period. (I had to look all those things up to check.) This is a technology level before plate armor, where knights would still wear mail hauberks with brigandines on top, and a breastplate would be a brigandine. Helmets with visors only appear towards the end of this period, with the big bucket great helms still the typical form of helmet. More or less still the kind of gear you see on crusaders.

The introduction to the Campaign Set further states that in large parts of Faerûn, the current state of civilization is still a quite recent development, and later the description of rangers mentions them being only found in the northern half of the realms where the wilderness is still being explored and developed. The ruling dynasty of Cormyr goes back 1300 years, but it is stated that for most of its history, they really just ruled over a small city state Suzail. Amn and Baldur's Gate are described in terms that make it sound like their rise to prominence is a fairly recent event and still ongoing process.
The entries for dwarves, elves, and halflings are quite interesting as well. Aside from the dwarven kingdom in the Great Chasm far in the south, the dwarves of Faerûn are a defeated people who have been on their way out for a long time. Some communities still exist in various mountains and hills, but they are highly isolationist, and when they come out to trade with human towns, they don't share any real information about what's going on at their homes. Dwarven PCs are explicitly mentioned as coming from dwarven clans that have found new homes in human cities. The elves are basically gone. Evereska really is the only remaining elven city anywhere in Faerûn, hidden away in a valley deep in the wilderness. In the North, the only elven community is a group of old elves living out their days in Ardeep Forest just outside of Waterdeep. Unlike in later edition, there is no indication of any elves living in the high forest. This is all very much Lord of the Rings, and actually more a situation like several generations after The Lord of the Rings. This is not a world where the streets of cosmopolitan cities are crowded with humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings, or more exotic people like tieflings or dragonborn. Things look different for the halflings though, in a surprising way. The halflings are described as a race on the rise. Halflings are described as looking forward to a bright and great future, which makes them daring and ambitious. They are definitely going to be a big part of this new era.

I am not sure how much the map for Faerûn was changed over the editions (though it definitely was changed to get rid of large blank spaces), but the version here is just massive. Easily twice the size of all of North America. You can easily fit five or six Europes in there, and the map here doesn't even include good parts of the very south and east that are on many later maps. And this appears to be not accidental, as with the weird scale of the Eberron map, that doesn't make much sense when you compare it with the descriptions. Here the discriptions make it clear that the land is supposed to be huge and large unpopulated, or even unexplored. Though I guess being the creation of a Canadian, the sense of distance might have been very different from that of medieval Europeans. I checked, and it turned out that at a travel speed of 18 miles per day (reasonable for adventurers with all their gear), getting from Waterdeep to Silverymoon would take 50 days. Get some interruptions and it easily becomes 2 months. When you make that journey, you're probably expecting to spend the winter there, unless you want to turn back around and start your return trip right after you arrived.
But I think this is fun. If you're looking for a version of the Forgotten Realms that feels different from the more familiar one, making it a vast outdoor wilderness setting sounds cool.

Another thing I very much noticed is that with the 2nd edition version, you really get a massive Renfairification of the Forgotten Realms. The story of how the three most coolest evil edgelord gods got axed is well enough known, but it goes much deeper than that. It's very striking in the North, which I have compared to greater detail. In the 2nd edition version, you find description of numerous monster haunted ruins and potential villains from the 1st edition version, which inform you that adventurers have taken care of it and the threats are all gone now. What you don't find are really any meaningful new threats that have moved in to replace them. What you get instead are pages and pages of descriptions of all the quaint little inns and taverns and cute local craftsmen shops that you can find in the countless charming happy villages. It's cute, but what about the dungeons? What about the dragons? Isn't this supposed to be a setting for dangerous and thrilling adventures? Where the adventure at?

With this very long preamble, I now want to come to an actual discussion. Thoughts?
I don't think there's too many people hanging around here who are deeply familiar with this oldest published iteration of the Forgotten Realms. But what's your perception of how the setting has changed over the three decades and what that means for it's appeal to GMs to use it for their own games?
 

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That's a nice summary of the setting--you brought a lot more historical knowledge to this than I had when I read it. It does make sense a Canadian would have a different sense of space than a Western European!

I actually did read the 1st ed FR setting cover-to-cover, back in high school. I was a big fan of the goldbox games, and was curious to see the actual stats for the Zhentarim and so on. The Savage Frontier duo was based pretty clearly on the Savage Frontier supplement. (Though practically all the dungeons in those games were in cities, probably due to technical limitations of the era.)

It was pretty common in older settings to leave a lot of big blank areas so DMs could make up their own stuff.

Dungeon-crawling was the oldest form of D&D and I'm guessing they were trying to play up the urban aspects in 2e so they could sell more supplements. But I'm sure someone who knows more about this than me can comment.

2nd ed was trying to deal with a moral panic around Satanism, so I'm not surprised they took out a lot of the darker elements of the setting. This was the era when they famously got rid of the half-orc and assassin and changed devils and demons to baatezu and tanar'ri.
 

Voadam

Legend
FR has constantly changed and expanded and been influenced by different authors throughout its existence. The first 1e Campaign setting boxed set for instance includes the non-Ed Greenwood Moonshaes incorporating a Celtic themed area that was originally conceived of by Douglas Niles for his D&D novel trilogy.

You can have vastly different setting flavors depending on what sourcebooks you use and what areas you focus on.

The Red Wizards for example go from D&Dified Conan Stygian sorcerers, to high magic 2e villain country (with the evil never wins caveat of the late 1e-2e era), to 3e's evil magical merchant diplomatic enclaves, to the lich takeover.
 

Yora

Legend
The Campaign Set even acknowledges that Moonshae was tacked on. In principle, not a bad idea. But in the long run, it appears that nobody else ever did anything with it later. Though there are plenty of regions in similar positions, especially in the south.
From what I remember, the focus has always been on the corridor Sword Coast, Cormyr, Dalelands, Moonsea, and then later the North as well, which eventually became the main focus. (I blame BioWare.) Then there also was some content for Rashemen and Thay and I believe one attempt to do something with Impiltur, but that seems to be about it. Rashemen has a full two pages of description, and Aglarond and Thay both half a page each. Those are very long compared to most places that are described. This makes me assume that this part of the Realms had already been quite developed before this box. Does anyone know anything about their origin?

Interestingly, all regions that the Campaign Set regards as northern Faerûn, which are distinguished from the South in the section on rangers:

"The Rangers are a phenomenon primarily confined to the North, in particular that region north and west of the Sea of Fallen Stars. There are occasionally individuals of this type from Amn or Chondath, but a ranger further south is as rare as pity in a beholder. This may be due to fact that the Rangers function best in those regions which are still being developed and explored by civilized man, and as such have little to do in those regions that have been settled and ruled (at least in name) for centuries."
 


pming

Legend
Hiya!
With this very long preamble, I now want to come to an actual discussion. Thoughts?
I don't think there's too many people hanging around here who are deeply familiar with this oldest published iteration of the Forgotten Realms. But what's your perception of how the setting has changed over the three decades and what that means for it's appeal to GMs to use it for their own games?
I DM in the FR on rare occasion. When I do... Grey Box. Ever single time. Wait...I did DM the Phandelen (?) adventure in the 5e Starter Box Set when it first came out...but everyone died to a green dragon (surprise!). Does that count as "new FR"? I mean, I still used my 1e FR knowledge as the basis for, well, everything.

IMNSHO, the 1e FR is the best FR. It is of the "here's some stuff...us it as you will", in stead of the current mindset that I've encountered of "here's some official new stuff...use it or else!". ;)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

The Campaign Set even acknowledges that Moonshae was tacked on. In principle, not a bad idea. But in the long run, it appears that nobody else ever did anything with it later. Though there are plenty of regions in similar positions, especially in the south.
From what I remember, the focus has always been on the corridor Sword Coast, Cormyr, Dalelands, Moonsea, and then later the North as well, which eventually became the main focus. (I blame BioWare.) Then there also was some content for Rashemen and Thay and I believe one attempt to do something with Impiltur, but that seems to be about it. Rashemen has a full two pages of description, and Aglarond and Thay both half a page each. Those are very long compared to most places that are described. This makes me assume that this part of the Realms had already been quite developed before this box. Does anyone know anything about their origin?

Interestingly, all regions that the Campaign Set regards as northern Faerûn, which are distinguished from the South in the section on rangers:

"The Rangers are a phenomenon primarily confined to the North, in particular that region north and west of the Sea of Fallen Stars. There are occasionally individuals of this type from Amn or Chondath, but a ranger further south is as rare as pity in a beholder. This may be due to fact that the Rangers function best in those regions which are still being developed and explored by civilized man, and as such have little to do in those regions that have been settled and ruled (at least in name) for centuries."
I think that's because it's all basically part of Ed greenwood's original setting. Hordelands, Kara Tur, Al Qadim, Maztica are all the bits added in later by other designers.
 


Yora

Legend
I've been taking some measurements on the map from 1st edition The Savage Frontier and 5th edition Sword Coast Adventure Guide, and there's been significant changes to the scale at some point between the two. I only measured in the North, but that region has been shrunk down to only half it's original area.
Not sure if that affects only the North, since that region used to be much further north and the whole sword coast had to be squished to move it south.
 

Orius

Hero
Well first thing is that the Realms have, or had, a timeline that was being continually updated. The original 1e box was 1356 DR before the 2e developments, no Time of Troubles, no Tuigan horde, none of Cyric being a lame and ineffective villain, etc. The North later took all that stuff and presented the region as it looked 14 years later in game with 9 years of setting development. Then the Silver Marches tacked on another 2-3 years at least. So you're getting changes there.

Second, I wouldn't pay much attention to real world historical dates as given. D&D has always had this whole generic medivalism with a lot of anachronisms, so accurate historical periods really aren't part of the game. Of course TSR emphasized this in the Gray Box because this was at the beginning of their historicity kick which produced the D&D Gazetteers, Kara-Tur, the Horde, Maztica, the HR books and so on. You're better off going with Hollywood history with D&D because of the anachronisms and inaccuracies, and that's probably what the players will expect anyway.

Published Realms isn't entirely Ed's Realms anyway. He objected to the tacked on real world stuff because it wasn't how he conceived his original setting and they clashed with it. Plus as originally written the Realms were darker, the bad guys weren't screw ups, civilization wasn't guaranteed and even the Harpers tended to do as much harm as good.
 

Yora

Legend
Published Realms isn't entirely Ed's Realms anyway. He objected to the tacked on real world stuff because it wasn't how he conceived his original setting and they clashed with it. Plus as originally written the Realms were darker, the bad guys weren't screw ups, civilization wasn't guaranteed and even the Harpers tended to do as much harm as good.
That's till pretty much present in the 1st edition version of the setting, though. In 2nd edition, that very much changed, however.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I love the Savage Frontier sourcebook and the 1st Forgotten Realms Campaign set. I thought The North sourcebook nicely expanded but i sincerely don't recall the differences between them that much, only that it used it as base and expanded it significantly.

Reading the Savage Frontier inspired me to launch a campaign in the North back then. Awesome cover art too! I also had the D&D card of that half-orc warlord who's name i can't remember now. Uthgarth or something IIRC

Another one i liked and found very inspiring as the Under Illfarn sourcebook also from AD&D 1st edition.
 

Orius

Hero
That's till pretty much present in the 1st edition version of the setting, though. In 2nd edition, that very much changed, however.
Yup, the 2e problems were all Satanic Panic fallout, and the result was TSR's stupid content code. Honestly, if I were to run the Realms, I'd probably use 3e's starting date of 1372 DR and not Disneyfy the villains.
 

Yora

Legend
I love the Savage Frontier sourcebook and the 1st Forgotten Realms Campaign set. I thought The North sourcebook nicely expanded but i sincerely don't recall the differences between them that much, only that it used it as base and expanded it significantly.

Reading the Savage Frontier inspired me to launch a campaign in the North back then. Awesome cover art too! I also had the D&D card of that half-orc warlord who's name i can't remember now. Uthgarth or something IIRC.
I'm currently working on an idea using only the Campaign Set and Savage Frontier. Going through both of them with a fine comb keeps digging up lots of new interesting discoveries. The history of the region is kept really quite vague, but the detailed timeline of historic events that was established later contradicts it at several points. And it's overall much more basic.
The North has exactly two ancient elven Kingdoms: Illefarn and Eaerlann, and that's it. Netheril had wizards, but no mention of flying cities, and it declined over many centuries and not in one sudden event. The people of Silverymoon, Sundabar, and Everlund are the remnants of the Netherese and not related to the Northmen or the Southerners at all. Silverymoon apparently has a few dozen elves living or visiting there, not 10,000, and is considerably smaller than Sundabar. The dwarves are down to only two strongholds, which couldn't be more further apart on the edge of the Anauroch and the coast of Icewind Dale. And as I mentioned, the area is double the size of what it is in later editions.

I find this all extremely fascinating, and a great place for a fresh start to run a campaign that reimagines what the region and the Forgotten Realms as a whole can be. Not being much of an expert on Greyhawk, but it all feels quite similar to the presentation I've seen in various Greyhawk-based modules.

Though at the same time, The Savage Frontier doesn't actually provide a great deal to work with. My first idea was to start a campaign in Secomber, with a party of adventurers just arriving from the South to gain their first foothold in the area. But there's not really anything to give any kind of exciting look and feel to the lower Delimbiyr Valley. What do you do there?
Even if you assume that the region has only been resettled by people from Waterdeep in the last two or three hundred years (implied by several references), and that Secomber and Loudwater are build on the ruins of much older post-Netherese towns, what does the place feel like? What's going on in the area? What are the threats? Of course it's easy enough to make something up from scratch. But that's something you can do anywhere else just as well. How would it be different from some remote villages outside Baldur's Gate, in Sembia, or Amn? The Dessarin Valley is similarly unexciting. Things look more interesting further north near the Spine of the World, where there's a lot more stuff going on. Abandoned dwarf strongholds. Orc tribes. Uthgardt barbarians. Trolls. Undead. Foreboding Mountains. I can absolutely understand why in 3rd edition, they only updated the Silver Marches instead of the whole North.
I normally would say that the region has a lot of fat to trim, even all the way back at the start. Except that there isn't even any fat. Just emptiness.
 

S'mon

Legend
I basically agree. I use the 1e/2e transition Bloodstone Lands setting for my 5e FR campaign, currently in 1360 DR, but with a darker & more plausible (to me) tone, eg Dimian Ree is King of Damara and it is distinctly 'Post War' in feel. Stuff like The Third Man (post-WW2 Europe) is an influence.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
and that Secomber and Loudwater are build on the ruins of much older post-Netherese towns, what does the place feel like? What's going on in the area? What are the threats? Of course it's easy enough to make something up from scratch. But that's something you can do anywhere else just as well. How would it be different from some remote villages outside Baldur's Gate, in Sembia, or Amn? The Dessarin Valley is similarly unexciting.
I'd say go with a mix'n match approach.

Use the 1st ed stuff where it is interesting, and for the places where there's not much, use stuff from later editions. For de Dessaring Valley, I'd use the stuff from Princes of the Apocalypse, it develops the region while keeping it focused as an adventuring location with a Point of Light theme.

For the Delymbir vale, I remember someone used the Nentir Vale stuff from 4e and transposed it to the Delimby vale, so that could give you some adventure locations without adding too much civilization and lore to it.
 


Published Realms isn't entirely Ed's Realms anyway. He objected to the tacked on real world stuff because it wasn't how he conceived his original setting and they clashed with it. Plus as originally written the Realms were darker, the bad guys weren't screw ups, civilization wasn't guaranteed and even the Harpers tended to do as much harm as good.

Plus Google what the 'festhalls' originally were. ;)

I suspect a lot of people would like to see Ed's original Realms, but I doubt Wizards would want that--there are probably copyright issues I don't fully understand.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I suspect a lot of people would like to see Ed's original Realms, but I doubt Wizards would want that--there are probably copyright issues I don't fully understand.
WoTC did released Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms I never checked it but blurb says it's a book that provides a rare glimpse into the setting as imagined by its creator. It contain new information on its visible and clandestine rulers, various merchant and trade princes, the churches and mercenary companies of the Realms, renown magic-users and secret societies, adventuring companies, and the web of alliances and enmities that connect them.

166568.jpg
 
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Voadam

Legend
There are a couple other add ons to Greenwood's world in the original 1e boxed set

From the commentary on the PDF sale page: "TSR also decided to incorporate projects then in process into the Realms, marking the first major changes to Greenwood's worlds (and the first major additions by creators other than Greenwood or Grubb). They rolled back Greenwood's Great Glacier to make room for the Bloodstone Pass adventures (1985-1988) and they outright replaced Greenwood's own Moonshae islands with a Celtic-influenced Moonshaes created by Douglas Niles for a trilogy of novels (1987-1989). Meanwhile, Ten Towns got added in the North to accommodate R.A. Salvatore's upcoming novel, The Crystal Shard (1988). I3-5: Desert of Desolation (1987) was perhaps the easiest integration, because it was built on the history of a long-last land. FR10: "Old Empires" (1990) would later improve that integration."
 

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