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

Greggy C

Adventurer
My personal opinion is that the best published version of the Realms for D&D gaming is, was, and remains the Old Gray Box (1987).

But it's why I was advocating (ten years ago on the Candlekeep forum) that the "Fifth Edition" version of the Realms should reboot the entire setting back to the standard of the Old Gray Box and 1357 DR, and then never advance the timeline in any subsequent tabletop RPG product. Let the Realms as a multimedia property setting (computer games, novels, whatever) do whatever, but don't back-import any of that to the TTRPG.

I was very distressed that 4e added 100 years effectively killing hundreds of characters. I would like to reboot to then too (which is where I started, box + hardcover).

Is handsome robs map from that time? this one : /faerun/
 

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Greggy C

Adventurer
I run Greyhawk campaigns, but right now one of the parties is in the Temple of Elemental Evil, 1e dungeon run in 3.5e rules. Anyhow, they are in Elemental Nodes, which are sort of like Demiplanes.

NOW comes the FR question: If a character gets randomly dropped into FR, where specifically would you have them land?

I started my players out in Cormyr (and added Temple of Elemental Evil to Faerun though I can't remember where).
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
I was very distressed that 4e added 100 years effectively killing hundreds of characters. I would like to reboot to then too (which is where I started, box + hardcover).

Is handsome robs map from that time? this one : /faerun/
That's a 3rd/3.5 edition map, so it's canted slightly and has less space than the 1e/2e/5e map. (The differences aren't a big deal, but some exist.)
 


haakon1

Adventurer
I decided the PC (a 10th level Monk) of a player who hasn't been with us for a while got hit with Dismissal while guarding away from the group. I decided to use random determination on where he went (from the Fire Node of the Temple of the Elemental Evil, a sort of demiplane off Greyhawk).

Rolled 67 for the 70% chance of going to his home plane, so yeah, Prime Material Plane.

Rolled 5 on the scale of:
1: Flanaess region of Greyhawk setting planet Oerth
2: "Izmerhawk" region of planet Oerth (based on the D&D movies, primarily the 2nd not terrible one, "Wrath of the Dragon God". I did some light developing of this on Facebook's Flanaess Geography group and kind of want to use it.
3: Other weird region of Oerth, like Hepmonaland, Isle of the Ape, or possible New Empyria (from I11) or other areas from Dungeon adventures
4: Another PMP planet with a different "physics" (rule set): Known World with Basic Red Box rules (so only up to 3rd level characters, so Teleport to leave won't work -- maybe from the wizard country?), Nentir Vale with 4e rules, or Golarion with PF1 rules.
5: Forgotten Realms mainstream areas
6: Forgotten Realms weird area (off the original map, so maybe Icewind Dale or Kara-Tur)

So yeah, Forgotten Realms!

I rolled a 54 in the Gray Box, and for the page for Iriaebor. That works. He should be able to learn some things about FR (he's a scholar), probably connect with the ruler Bron, and Iriaebor is in the Lord's Alliance, so he can get to Baldur's Gate or Waterdeep and teleport home from there, I think. His mage NPC (retired PC from a different campaign) associate who runs a teleportation service and has a crystal ball should be able to retrieve him.

Seems like it works for a PC turned NPC to introduce the existence of FR to a Greyhawk campaign.
 


Voadam

Legend
Zhentil Keep

So what is missing that wasn't kept track of?
There is a lot there and it looks like a great reference that a lot of work went into.

I could not say though how complete it is, or whether there are no, a few, or a lot of details that are not included or whether any of it is contradicted by other realmslore in a sourcebook, Dragon article, novel, or other source.
 


hedgeknight

Explorer
I've used the FR wiki a great deal through the years, as well as the Candlekeep forum, avoiding arguments about how many lights are on a particular street in Waterdeep. :)
I bought a very nice Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting box (that came with the FR Adventures hardcover as a bonus!) from feeBay and the maps appear to have never been used. Also, I have a nice copy of the Savage Frontier on the way, which I am even more excited about. It is my favorite FR supplement.
Now, if I can only snag a decent copy of Volo's Guide to the North...
 

Yora

Legend
I've been thinking about possible new Forgotten Realms campaigns several times this year. And while I often get quite excited about seeing adventures in many of these interesting places and with these interesting organizations, I've typically run very quickly into the same problem that I can't really think of anything interesting for the players to do.

Say you have a group of PCs arrive in Daggerford or step of the boat in Telflamm, what's next? Going into some nearby dungeons to get their footing is of course always an option. The very first Forgotten Realms adventure Under Illefarn does exactly that. Classic Dungeon Crawling to hunt for treasure works as a campaign, but when you look at a world like Forgotten Realms with these huge fancy maps and all the colorful cities on it, I think that would feel underwhelming and like not making proper use of the setting.

Another option that became very popular especially during the 90s is the now also classic approach of "Local mayor/sage/priest calls for heroes to fight a dangerous evil and sends the PCs to an increasingly dangerous series of dungeons until they get to the main villain's lair." Again, this works. And I think 20 years ago, that would have been absolutely perfect for me as either a GM or a player.
But now I find such campaigns insufficient and unsatisfying. A campaign should be about the PCs dealing with the consequences of their successes and failures, giving meaning to their wise decisions and wrong calls. Taking the players by the hand to get them introduced to the starting area is not a bad thing, and often actually much better than dropping them off in a tavern to fend for themselves. But very soon, the players should be able to decide on their own what things they want to pursue, which NPCs to pursue for closer cooperation, and which NPCs' activities they want to interfere with. And it seems to me that of all the available material that exists for the setting, there is very little that is directly useful in this regard.

Thinking about this again today, I was having the thought that perhaps the issue here lies in the fact that pretty much all the organizations and factions that would gladly do harm to the good people of civilization happen to be secret societies with fairly nebulous goals. The vast majority of threats are conspiracies, and the whole point of conspiring is to not only keep the plan secret from outsiders, but to also hide the fact that there is any kind of plan in the works to begin with.
To be aware that something shifty is going on, you already have to be in the game. And the generic aspiring adventurers who just stepped off the proverbial boat happen to be completely oblivious to the local power structures and unspoken rules, and have no connections who trust them with sensitive information. I think that's exactly the issue that has made the Forgotten Realms such a difficult beast to tackle since I started looking for more than Elminster Fetch Quests and Kill The Orcs Because They Are Orcs. There is a mismatch of what the PCs are supposed to be and what is the most interesting feature of the setting. Which isn't unique to Forgotten Realms, of course. The exact same thing has always been plaguing Vampire: The Masquerade, and it is quite similar to why Planescape is way more fun to read than creating adventures for it.
 

Voadam

Legend
I've been thinking about possible new Forgotten Realms campaigns several times this year. And while I often get quite excited about seeing adventures in many of these interesting places and with these interesting organizations, I've typically run very quickly into the same problem that I can't really think of anything interesting for the players to do.

Say you have a group of PCs arrive in Daggerford or step of the boat in Telflamm, what's next? Going into some nearby dungeons to get their footing is of course always an option. The very first Forgotten Realms adventure Under Illefarn does exactly that. Classic Dungeon Crawling to hunt for treasure works as a campaign, but when you look at a world like Forgotten Realms with these huge fancy maps and all the colorful cities on it, I think that would feel underwhelming and like not making proper use of the setting.

Another option that became very popular especially during the 90s is the now also classic approach of "Local mayor/sage/priest calls for heroes to fight a dangerous evil and sends the PCs to an increasingly dangerous series of dungeons until they get to the main villain's lair." Again, this works. And I think 20 years ago, that would have been absolutely perfect for me as either a GM or a player.
But now I find such campaigns insufficient and unsatisfying. A campaign should be about the PCs dealing with the consequences of their successes and failures, giving meaning to their wise decisions and wrong calls. Taking the players by the hand to get them introduced to the starting area is not a bad thing, and often actually much better than dropping them off in a tavern to fend for themselves. But very soon, the players should be able to decide on their own what things they want to pursue, which NPCs to pursue for closer cooperation, and which NPCs' activities they want to interfere with. And it seems to me that of all the available material that exists for the setting, there is very little that is directly useful in this regard.

Thinking about this again today, I was having the thought that perhaps the issue here lies in the fact that pretty much all the organizations and factions that would gladly do harm to the good people of civilization happen to be secret societies with fairly nebulous goals. The vast majority of threats are conspiracies, and the whole point of conspiring is to not only keep the plan secret from outsiders, but to also hide the fact that there is any kind of plan in the works to begin with.
To be aware that something shifty is going on, you already have to be in the game. And the generic aspiring adventurers who just stepped off the proverbial boat happen to be completely oblivious to the local power structures and unspoken rules, and have no connections who trust them with sensitive information. I think that's exactly the issue that has made the Forgotten Realms such a difficult beast to tackle since I started looking for more than Elminster Fetch Quests and Kill The Orcs Because They Are Orcs. There is a mismatch of what the PCs are supposed to be and what is the most interesting feature of the setting. Which isn't unique to Forgotten Realms, of course. The exact same thing has always been plaguing Vampire: The Masquerade, and it is quite similar to why Planescape is way more fun to read than creating adventures for it.
FR also has a lot of organizations that players can be members of. These organizations can be partially aware of various power players and clue in PCs. Harpers and church organizations are big ones that come to mind as good guy organizations that are set up for PCs to be members of.
 

There are aspects that I like from every edition of Forgotten Realms. There are also aspects that I dislike. So I include what I like and exclude what I dislike. That said, the original Gray Box has a special charm. FR is often criticized as a "kitchen sink" setting (which is true) but what makes it distinct is that adventurers (in other words, player characters) are the primary movers and shakers in the world. Yes, even though FR is full of uber powered NPCs. If you read the Gray Box chronology, it's basically a campaign recap of PCs wrecking face. Great stuff.
 

Yora

Legend
The idea for the world started long before D&D was ever a thing, if I recall correctly. And a lot of pieces would already have been in place by the point that "1st level PC with 0 XP begins adventuring" became the archetype for default campaign starts.
The world appears to make a lot more sense if PCs start a campaign already being someone instead of nobodies. If they are already powerful and already have connections to even more important people, the whole setup seems a lot more viable.
 

squibbles

Adventurer
Hey I looked this thread back up after getting invested in your orcs thread. I wondered after reading the following comments what parts of the Forgotten Realms actually got proper attention in the original boxed set.
[...] 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? [...]
[...] 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? [...]

So I decided to check. Here's a map with all the settlements that get an entry in the Grey Box campaign set circled in red, all the adventure locations that get an entry circled in orange, the settlements that get only a tiny 2-3 sentence entry in yellow (which is all of Sembia, interestingly), and all the places that get a map circled in green or with green boxes:

Original Faerun Map--with sites described in 1987 circled.jpg


Here's another one that zooms in on the area with the most attention:

Original Faerun Map--with sites described in 1987 circled, inset.jpg


It's nuts how much more attention the heartlands and western heartlands(?) get compared to everywhere else. Also, it feels like most adventure to be had is in the western heartlands, where the greatest density of wilderness adventure sites is. Skimming their entries, Cormyr and the Dalelands already seem kinda ren-faire, though there's usually an adventure hook somewhere in each entry.

[...] 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. [...]

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. [...]
Funny, I very much hate that sort of extreme size in fantasy settings, in the same way that I hate setting timelines that go for tens of thousands of years. It's too much; overwhelming but also lacking vital detail. I appreciate the way you've contextualized it, though. I've gotten some of this huge unpopulated feel, seeing the western half of the US and the inland west of China, where there are vast open spaces in which almost no one lives. There's definitely a kind of romance in that.

[...] Thinking about this again today, I was having the thought that perhaps the issue here lies in the fact that pretty much all the organizations and factions that would gladly do harm to the good people of civilization happen to be secret societies with fairly nebulous goals. The vast majority of threats are conspiracies, and the whole point of conspiring is to not only keep the plan secret from outsiders, but to also hide the fact that there is any kind of plan in the works to begin with.
To be aware that something shifty is going on, you already have to be in the game. And the generic aspiring adventurers who just stepped off the proverbial boat happen to be completely oblivious to the local power structures and unspoken rules, and have no connections who trust them with sensitive information. I think that's exactly the issue that has made the Forgotten Realms such a difficult beast to tackle since I started looking for more than Elminster Fetch Quests and Kill The Orcs Because They Are Orcs. There is a mismatch of what the PCs are supposed to be and what is the most interesting feature of the setting. Which isn't unique to Forgotten Realms, of course. The exact same thing has always been plaguing Vampire: The Masquerade, and it is quite similar to why Planescape is way more fun to read than creating adventures for it.

There's a cool organizing device called the conspyramid, which might help with this, where a secret society has cells/subfactions at a bunch of different levels--street level, city level, regional level--with a network of connections between them. The PCs can discover the network by recovering letters or interrogating NPCs, when they deal with street level cells that are getting up to no good, i.e. the bandits harassing this area are part of a larger operation. The larger network then has a pattern of responses to PC antagonism--and they can drive the game in a more interesting way than "mayor tells PCs to go solve escalating BBEG threat in order A, B, and C" (It's kinda how Baldur's Gate 1's main plot works, except that it's not a railroad).

Dunno if that helps, and I've never used this device, but it looks sweet.


1669064811129.png
 
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Yora

Legend
I was just reading the location descriptions of the Grey Box again this evening and I noticed the same thing.

The Heartlands never got a regional book in the 1st edition FR series like The Savage Frontier, The Bloodstone Lands, or Dreams of the Red Wizards because they had already been covered at that degree of detail in the Grey Box.
The Grey Box does at several points divide Faerûn into two halves. The North and the South. The countries in the South all get only a single paragraph each and that is that. No entries for specific cities or ruins in the South at all.
I would guess in amount of page coverages, the Sword Coast gets 20%, the East gets 15%, the entire South half 5% and the Heartlands get the remaining 60%.

Having done plenty of continent maps myself, I can see the reason behind that. You have the ocean in the West, the frozen arctic in the North, and vast open steppes in the East. If you want to make the Forgotten Realms feel like part of a greater world, you do need to have some "foreign lands beyond the horizon" that appear on the map and can be referenced for flavor.
That seems like a very good explanation why we never seem to have gotten any material set in Chondath, Turmish, or the Border Kingdoms. Chult stands out as the exception because jungles are just cool, I guess. ;)
 

It's nuts how much more attention the heartlands and western heartlands(?) get compared to everywhere else. Also, it feels like most adventure to be had is in the western heartlands, where the greatest density of wilderness adventure sites is. Skimming their entries, Cormyr and the Dalelands already seem kinda ren-faire, though there's usually an adventure hook somewhere in each entry.
The Realms being Heartlands-centric so far as publish material goes never really bothered me though. The North and the Savage Frontier - using the information from Jaquay's "Savage Frontier" provided a lot of opportunity to built my own stuff, but still use the official lore as I wanted. (I did find it a bit annoying that some many of the PC games chose to use that area though)
 

squibbles

Adventurer
Oh yeah, I absolutely get that. The 'foreign lands' in the south and east are clearly there to gesture at a larger world, rather than be adventurable places themselves. And I don't mind that at all.

And, man, its funny how, with later publications filling in all of those areas, FR became the poster-child for kitchen sink settings.
 

Orius

Hero
The Heartlands get so much attention because Ed's original campaign was in the Dalelands.

OTOH, the Dalelands is probably the least interesting bit of the Realms to me.
 

Yora

Legend
I thought so too for a very long time. Why would anyone want to play there when you can go to the Sword Coast or Thay instead? It didn't surprise me that there was barely any material for the area since 3rd edition.

But looking at the Grey Box, there is a lot of current events going on in 1357. Cormyr, Daggerdale, Scardale, the Moonsea Cities and the Zhentarim, and the abandoned elven ruins in Cormanthor are all interconnected in various ongoing conflicts.
I have not checked the 2nd edition Campaign Setting box for comparison like I did with The Savage Frontier and The North, but I think all of that got swept away with the timeline advance and not really replaced with anything interesting. At the very least the timeline advance to 3rd edition wiped everything clean. It's been ages, but I seem to remember that when I was reading the 3rd edition Campaign Setting book on the region, there were lots of cases where places were described by mentioning past troubles that are now finally over. Which is of course the opposite of what a campaign setting should provide.

I currently got more than enough on my plate with setting up a Savage Frontier campaign and tinkering on a new homebrew setting. But if the 1357 Savage Frontier campaign goes well next year, I am actually quite curious how much great adventure could be gained out of the 1357 Dalelands and Moonsea.
 

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