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[Let's Read] Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide 4e

Thane of Fife

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#1
Alright, everybody, here we are in installment number four of this Let's Read of the Forgotten Realms campaign settings. Previously, we covered The Gray Box, the Revised [2e] Set, and the 3e Campaign Setting Book. So here we are come to the 4e version of the setting, and still the most recent one.

Now, before we go anywhere, I know the 4e version of the setting is not the most highly-regarded version of the campaign setting, but let's try to keep this if not positive, then at least open-minded.

Now, I'm pretty sure that this book is supposed to come with a map. Unfortunately, the used copy I got didn't have one. Searching the internet, this looks like it might be it, but I don't know for sure. If that is right, then it looks like something big happened in the south, because Chult used to be connected by land and the continent used to keep going.

In any case, though, leaving that aside, we'll start with the cover. It shows a dark-skinned woman with glowing, red eyes riding on some kind of dragon away from some sort of castle. It's pretty generic, but then, most of these guides have been. It's got kind of a CGI look to it that's not really my thing.

The names on the front are Bruce R. Cordell, Chris Sims, and, of course, Ed Greenwood. Cordell has a long history in D&D, dating back to 2e, though a look at his Wikipedia entry doesn't show anything that jumps out as notable (for better or for worse). Chris Sims has barely anything in his Wikipedia entry, but I think he mostly worked on early 4e stuff.

The book then starts with an Introduction, which is pretty normal. I found some of the opening paragraphs humorous, in a somewhat tone-deaf description of adventuring. Something like: 'Criminals skull the streets, wizards brave deadly ruins and will do anything for power, and warlocks fight over ancient pacts with infernal beings. Also, there are bad guys.' I don't know, I thought they were talking about the bad guys.

Also, there is a list of ten things which have changed since the previous iteration of the campaign setting. I'm not too sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, when you focus on what's different from the previous book like that, I feel like you're saying that this book won't stand on its own. On the other hand, as someone coming from the previous book, it is a little helpful.

Anyway, so what are the changes? Most of them fit into three groups: physical changes to the world, changes to the cosmos, and political changes. Of course, the big one is that we're 100 years in the future and the Spellplague has happened. This is so dramatic that it has restructured the very cosmos: Abeir, a parallel world to Toril (or is that a parallel world to Abeir-Toril?) has returned, and part of it has been transposed onto Toril off to the west. So, Maztica is gone? Evermeet? We'll see. The Feywild has also returned. Of course, it's never been mentioned before, but I guess this is supposed to be where the elves of Faerun originally came from. Realms elves always seemed more Tolkien than fey to me, so it's a bit of a stretch, but it's not really surprising. Also associated with these changes is a large drop in the number of gods. The justification seems to be that it's been a long time. I probably would have said that they were on planes that were destroyed or moved away in the cosmological shifting (I kind of like that idea - multi-planar tectonic plates of a sort?).

On Toril proper, there have been major physical changes (as seen on the map). Some creatures are still scarred by the Spellplague and have mystic powers as a result. Kind of reminds me of Legacies from Red Steel. Politically, Netheril has apparently returned in all it's glory (you may have noticed that the Anauroch was not on that map), and Thay is now an undead horde devoted to conquest for the sake of the spells of Szass Tam. So I guess those are the two big bad guys in this edition - Netheril is sort of a natural extension from the 3e book, but it's a bit of a surprise to see Thay suddenly reverse course back into evil empire.

I guess more details will have to wait until we get further into it.
 

Soel

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#2
Ill be reading this thread. I am using this for my 5e game, so it'll be good to see other perspectives on this version.
 

Angel of the Dawn

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This sounds like it's going to be delightfully awful.

I mean, I'm not very invested in the Forgotten Realms. (It's the most ironically named campaign setting, for one, because WotC keeps putting it front and center and won't let us forget it.) But nevertheless, part of me objects to see it manhandled in the way 4E did.

Still, I'm morbidly curious to see where one of my least favorite editions takes one of my least favorite campaign worlds. I'm subscribed.
 

roryb

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#4
He's Baaack!

Enjoyed the previous walk-throughs, and am tagging along with this one too. My experience ends with 2e, but 3e is not so incredibly amended as to be disorienting. 4e, being such a jump forward, and with needlessly world-shaking events in terms of changing the setting's identity (kinda, sorta) will be new for me. I read one or two novels set in the 4e era and was a bit — confused. I know 4e gets the harshest criticism, and it's not much interested me, but here's my chance to see what the fuss was all about.

Thanks for another anticipated "Let's Read" thread... :)
 
#5
(snip)Now, before we go anywhere, I know the 4e version of the setting is not the most highly-regarded version of the campaign setting, but let's try to keep this if not positive, then at least open-minded.(snip)
Except the map. The map should be openly and flagrantly vilified. It is what you get when you use a baby's poo-filled diaper as both your colour palette and your brush.

But the 4E Realms is fantastic, and I say that as someone who has been a fan of FR since the original articles in Dragon. Remember: anything or anyone missing can be replaced and that can be a campaign goal. Similarly, anywhere destroyed can be rebuilt and, again, that's another campaign goal. I look at the changes as hooks, rather than insults to some sort of weird idea of gaming purity.

(snip) Now, I'm pretty sure that this book is supposed to come with a map. Unfortunately, the used copy I got didn't have one. Searching the internet, this looks like it might be it, but I don't know for sure.(snip)
Yes, sadly, that is the map. You're not missing anything. It's just a waste of paper.

(snip)In any case, though, leaving that aside, we'll start with the cover. It shows a dark-skinned woman with glowing, red eyes riding on some kind of dragon away from some sort of castle. It's pretty generic, but then, most of these guides have been. It's got kind of a CGI look to it that's not really my thing.(snip)
Great artist (check out some of his other stuff) ... but I still have no idea what relationship the picture has to FR. I think the building is supposed to be Candlekeep but I have no idea who the woman is or what that creature is that she's riding.

(snip) The names on the front are Bruce R. Cordell, Chris Sims, and, of course, Ed Greenwood. Cordell has a long history in D&D, dating back to 2e, though a look at his Wikipedia entry doesn't show anything that jumps out as notable (for better or for worse). Chris Sims has barely anything in his Wikipedia entry, but I think he mostly worked on early 4e stuff. (snip)
In the late 2E and early 3E eras, Bruce Cordell was regarded as something of the king of adventures. Return to the Tomb of Horrors was his, as was The Sunless Citadel. My personal favourite was and is The Shattered Circle. Personally, I think he lost the plot after Sunless and the less said about his contributions to 4E adventures the better (cough... Keep on the Shadowfell and the crappiest of the E trilogy). He's definitely much more at home writing for The Strange where his inability to stay on genre is an asset....

Anyway, I am looking forward to this. I do believe that the 4E Realms is unfairly maligned and a large part of that has to do with the absolutely useless, double pig-dog ugly map. Get some decent maps - such as those produced by Mike Schley - and it's a great version of FR to game in because you can use all the history without any of the annoying NPCs or metaplots.
 

Thane of Fife

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#6
Except the map. The map should be openly and flagrantly vilified. It is what you get when you use a baby's poo-filled diaper as both your colour palette and your brush.
I agree that it's not a very attractive map (certainly the worst of the four we've gone through, at least from that picture), but it doesn't look that bad. Muddy, maybe.

Great artist (check out some of his other stuff) ... but I still have no idea what relationship the picture has to FR. I think the building is supposed to be Candlekeep but I have no idea who the woman is or what that creature is that she's riding.
Oh, he does have some great stuff on his website (Michael Komarck, for those of you playing at home). It makes me wonder even more why they went with this style, though. I guess it kinda looks like some of the other 4e covers, but....

As for relevance, I feel like only 2e deserves any credit for that. The Gray Box is just a picture of a guy, and the 3e book is just the tome look (though it does have writing on the front which appears to spell out something using the alphabets within). And the 2e box has Elminster and Mystra on the cover, so I'm not sure if that's a plus.



The first chapter of the book is Loudwater. I think this is supposed to be an adventure that you could use to start off your campaign and a thorough description of one village (though Loudwater seems like a big of an unusual choice). Yeah, going back a bit, I missed that this is supposed to be a set of encounters to draw you into the setting.

The first encounter is kind of baffling. The PCs are in the south square of Loudwater when a the town wall explodes and a bunch of goblins swarm in to attack. Why wasn't there an alarm? Was there nobody manning the wall? How did they blow up the wall? Well, one of the goblins has a note that explains that they used a barrel of alchemists fire. I wouldn't have though that would be enough to blow a 20-foot wide hole through a 10-foot thick stone wall, but at least there's an answer. Though I never really imagine goblins as passing notes. And couldn't the guy who wrote the note have just told this goblin the message in person? It would make more sense if the note had the name of the shop they were supposed to rob (in Common so they could identify it) and a picture of the thing they were supposed to steal.

I'm just nit-picking. These sorts of notes are just a clumsy way to advance the plot. I'm more baffled about how nobody saw these goblins approaching with a bomb. The previous page even has a picture of a soldier manning a wall. Also, why would goblins attack during the day?

Suffice to say, the combat encounter looks okay, but the plot seems a bit shaky.

We move on to a bit about the village of Loudwater. It's a bit of about 2,000 people, though the village on the map doesn't look big enough for so many. Maybe. Perhaps most of them are farmers who only nominally live here? Also, the encounter map from the goblin raid clearly doesn't match up with the village map.

The village is a pretty generic fantasy village. You got a gang, assorted wise old men, people who pretend they know things, a ruling lady more interested in playing socialite than managing the town, a small town guard, a wizard, slavers, and so on. There's nothing bad about the town, but it all feels a bit lazily done. "Oh, here are two buildings sharing an adjoining wall. This one is the blacksmith, maybe you can hear roaring flames and feel the heat. This one attached to it is.... Let's say the alchemist. You can smell... gunpowder. Yeah, that sounds good."

It's all okay, but it doesn't jump out as terribly interesting. Hopefully, the adventures will bring it to life.
 

MacBalance

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Is Ed Greenwood actually a heavy contributor to this, or mainly just there because it's a core Realms guide and presumably written with some basis of his older material? I feel like he wasn't inf favor of many of the 4e changes, but not sure if that was before or after they were broadly rejected by the community.
 

junglefowl26

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#8
Frankly, I absolutely love 4e, and I am not at all fond of the Realms, but from what I understand of it, I have to agree that many of the changes made to the setting were poorly done, and ultimately tried too hard to make the Realms like the Vale, which really misses the point of having a different setting in the first place. I am glad they learned from that come Eberron and Dark Sun.

I will be very interested in hearing things from the point of view of someone who likes both the new realms and the previous ones, especially in depth like this; I follow this thread with great interest. (and I should catch up on the other threads for better context)
 

Ithaeur

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#9
4e FR gets an undeservedly bad rap. Sure, the changes are sort of ham-handed, but IMO no worse than the Time of Troubles and all the things that went on there, and the most popular parts of FR remain very similar to what they used to be.

The map is fugly, though, that's a sad fact. Especially since the 3e map was so nice!
 

LizardBite

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The 4e FRCG is from before they figured out how to organize campaign books for 4e. Jumping straight into the adventure and listing antagonists in the back, separate from their territories, are weird decisions. The Eberron book was much better, and the Neverwinter Campaign Setting is pretty much a more focused Realms book with a lot of really great stuff.
 
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