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

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
A wiki on the book says Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms - Wikipedia

back in January 2012 at the Dungeons & Dragons new products seminar, lead developer Mike Mearls gave fans of a preview of the D&D supplement 'Elminster's Forgotten Realms.' Mearls told the crowd that Wizards of the Coast staff approached Greenwood to ask 'why don't you take all your campaign notes, all the information you've been putting together for your campaign and lets compile it into a book? Show us the realms as you've developed it in your campaign setting and lets get that to everybody.' It's not often that fans get such an inside look at the creation of one of their favorite settings, but 'Elminster's Forgotten Realms' completely pulls back the curtain on Greenwood's design.
 

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AdmundfortGeographer

Getting lost in fantasy maps
I remember reading that in an original iteration of the map of Faerun, the great desert and great glacier were geographically symmetrical, but because management wanted to tack on the Bloodstone adventure series into the Realms so they had the designers withdraw the southern portion of the glacier to they could fit Vaasa and Damara. The mountains separating Damara and Vaasa from the Moonsea region being left basically untouched hinted at the now ghost symmetry.

Later versions of the Realms maps stretched and morphed to reduce the hints of original symmetry.

Edit: ninja’d by Voadam.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
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)
Which is rather funny since, since H1 Bloodstone Pass (affiliate link) has an NPC refer to a local circus as "the greatest show on Oerth," which is the World of Greyhawk. (Of course, as the sales page notes, the locality in that adventure doesn't actually fit on Greyhawk either.)
 

Orius

Hero
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.
Oh I don't need to Google, I know damn well Ed had the Realms loaded down with whorehouses and that TSR decided to clean that up.

The Elminster's Forgotten Realms book was pretty good, it was just about all fluff but it gives an insight into Ed's campaign adjusted for some of the developments TSR and later WotC did. It's edition neutral and Ed mostly wrote it as 1356 putting in the Gray Box period, but he does talk how the future impacts some things. So it's generally useful insight for a DM regardless of edition used. There's also a lot of interesting bits and pieces of what Ed originally submitted to TSR.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
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.
They changed the map scale for 3E, at the same time they made the Sword Coast more cosmopolitan. 5E changed the map scale back, though: the Sword Coast area in SCAG is about the size of Europe.
 


vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
Like mentioned upthread, back in the first editions, the non-human population of the cities were smaller, making the setting more human-centric, with only a few ''non-human'' cities in the whole region.

IIRC, the population size in general of the major cities also exploded. Cities with a few thousands inhabitants in 1st ed are waaaayyyyy more populous now.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
Like mentioned upthread, back in the first editions, the non-human population of the cities were smaller, making the setting more human-centric, with only a few ''non-human'' cities in the whole region.

IIRC, the population size in general of the major cities also exploded. Cities with a few thousands inhabitants in 1st ed are waaaayyyyy more populous now.
5E hedged their bets on demographics, IIRC, not specifying the same highly specific numbers that 3E FRCS dictated per the DMG rules.
 


Blue Orange

Adventurer
And I greatly appreciate that. I dont know why, probably because I'm such a fan of the idea of Point of Light, but having cities with millions of inhabitants breaks the dangerous-fantasy-land feel of the setting.

Depending on your source, first city to reach 1 million was apparently Rome around 1 AD. Chang'an makes it there around 700 AD, Baghdad around 925 AD, Kaifeng around 1000 AD, Hangzhou around 1200 AD, Jinling (now Nanjing) around 1400 AD, Beijing around 1500 AD, and we're out of the Middle Ages. (First city to 2 million appears to be London around 1845 AD).

So, possible, but maybe your game's in Shou Lung. ;)
 

Scars Unseen

Adventurer
And I greatly appreciate that. I dont know why, probably because I'm such a fan of the idea of Point of Light, but having cities with millions of inhabitants breaks the dangerous-fantasy-land feel of the setting.
I'm not sure I really agree. If anything, it makes smaller settlements away from the big cities more dangerous because the regional rulership is less likely to be willing to send armed assistance to help with what they'd see as the insignificant troubles of a smattering of peasants. A large disparity in population makes the cities feel more important to those who live in them.
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
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.
Yeah, I pre-ordered it on the assumption that the blurb and the "old notes" explanation was true. And it's got some old stuff, sure . . . along with a bunch of stuff that was clearly later-edition material.

(And some bits that didn't, in fact, make any sense at all whatever point in the timeline you were playing. It is extremely clear that coffee could not be shipped in from Maztica prior to the establishment of trade with Maztica. Coffee never gets mentioned a single time in the Maztica set or books, and therefore clearly was not a major crop in pre-contact Maztica; pre-contact Mazticans explicitly drank beverages based on cocoa beans, not coffee beans. The life cycle of coffee from planting to maturity is such that even if people immediately started coffee plantations upon the opening of trade with Maztica, it would require massive investments of magic to get substantial quantities for export grown between the opening of trade with Maztica and the Spellplague. And from the Spellplague until the Second Sundering, there is no Maztica on Toril to import coffee from. So how, exactly, did Faerun import coffee from Maztica, as stated in Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms?)
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I'm not sure I really agree. If anything, it makes smaller settlements away from the big cities more dangerous because the regional rulership is less likely to be willing to send armed assistance to help with what they'd see as the insignificant troubles of a smattering of peasants. A large disparity in population makes the cities feel more important to those who live in them.
Indeed.

But my personal preference goes to the idea that there's not such things as large city with a standing army with the possibility of sending it as armed assistance to another region.

I love my Harkenwold with the small villages of 120 people and 10 guards.

The Ten-Towns of Icewind Dale would also be a good example.
 

Yora

Legend
@scale:
First edition said the High Forest is 500 miles from its edges near Turnstone Pass to Secomber, basically its longest diameter.
In both the third and fifth edition maps that I found online, which have a scale bar on them, the same distance is about 350 miles. I compared various other reference points, and it always comes to a conversion factor of 0.8 to 0.7.

A big change that was done in 3rd edition was that everything weat of Anauroch and the Sea of Fallen Stars was pushed south significantly. It used to be in first edition that Thar near the Moonsea is on the same latitude as the south border of the High Forest. In third edition it's the latitude of the north border. And still seems to be on the most recent maps.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
@scale:
First edition said the High Forest is 500 miles from its edges near Turnstone Pass to Secomber, basically its longest diameter.
In both the third and fifth edition maps that I found online, which have a scale bar on them, the same distance is about 350 miles. I compared various other reference points, and it always comes to a conversion factor of 0.8 to 0.7.

A big change that was done in 3rd edition was that everything weat of Anauroch and the Sea of Fallen Stars was pushed south significantly. It used to be in first edition that Thar near the Moonsea is on the same latitude as the south border of the High Forest. In third edition it's the latitude of the north border. And still seems to be on the most recent maps.
The following post from Reddit matches with what I've found when doing comparisons:

Quarantine has been rough, so don't judge. Here's what I did:

I took six points that were present on the official maps from 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th editions. All of these maps have scales drawn right on the maps, so no matter the resolution of the image, I could always adjust to an actual number of miles.

These six points were : Luskan, Neverwinter, Waterdeep, Warlock's Crypt, Baldur's Gate, and Candlekeep. I was limited to the Sword Coast since that's the only region we have a canonical map of for 5e. I plotted out distances both E-W and N-S between points 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, and 5-6 and then compared them between editions.

On average, distances changed -44% on the X axis and -37% on the Y axis between 2nd edition and 3rd edition. Between 3rd and 4th, they changed by +118% X and +87% Y. Between 4th and 5th edition, they changed by +41% X and +26% Y.

Basically, Faerun used to be a lot bigger, was shrunk down significantly during 3rd edition, grew a bit during 4th, and grew even more during 5th. But the most interesting result was comparing the size and shape of the continent (or the parts of it we can see) between 2nd and 5th edition... it turns out that 5th edition Faerun is exactly the same size on the X axis and just 3% smaller on the Y axis (which I'm definitely willing to put within my own margin of error) when compared to 2nd edition Faerun! The creators weren't looking to expand the Sword Coast into it's own mini-setting, they were restoring Faerun to it's original form!
 

haakon1

Adventurer
I’m a Greyhawk fan and have never understood Forgotten Realms, but this is an interesting thread to me as I always to learn a but about FR. There must be a half a million pages written about FR so it’s hard to know where to start. My starts have been playing in GenCon Online this year and last year, and reading FR modules in Dungeon.

My impression is Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, the Dales, and the Ten Towns are where most things takes place … so mostly Sword Coast and North. I get a Renaissance Italy city state feel of Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep, but I don’t get where the trade go support that lifestyle is coming from … maybe it doesn’t matter. FR does seem to be missing Great Powers like the real world and GH have.

So 1996 FR is the good one to read?
 

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?
Here's an old rpg.net thread about the changes in the North between 1e and 2e.
 

teitan

Legend
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.
It's not like the content code lasted long though, all the "bad stuff" was back within two years and even Demons and Devils in the Monstrous Manual by 1993 when they finally abandoned that awful binder gimmick. Half-Orcs were in the Humanoids book, Assassin was a kit.
 

teitan

Legend
I’m a Greyhawk fan and have never understood Forgotten Realms, but this is an interesting thread to me as I always to learn a but about FR. There must be a half a million pages written about FR so it’s hard to know where to start. My starts have been playing in GenCon Online this year and last year, and reading FR modules in Dungeon.

My impression is Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, the Dales, and the Ten Towns are where most things takes place … so mostly Sword Coast and North. I get a Renaissance Italy city state feel of Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep, but I don’t get where the trade go support that lifestyle is coming from … maybe it doesn’t matter. FR does seem to be missing Great Powers like the real world and GH have.

So 1996 FR is the good one to read?
If you like Greyhawk then OGB Realms is more like Greyhawk than later Realms. The FR series of sourcebooks as well. It was edgier and slightly darker. Then the Realms became... Disneyland with the guards from Hogan's Heroes as villains and all the heroes characters from Hercules and Xena.
 

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