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[Let's Read] Forgotten Realms: The Grey Box

Thane of Fife

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So, pretty much everybody knows the Forgotten Realms, right? Well, these books are pretty much where it was revealed to the world. Sure, technically, Ed Greenwood used the Realms as the background to some of his Dragon articles, but really, this was it. If you wanted to play in the Forgotten Realms, the Grey Box was pretty much the first chance you got.

This box came out in 1987, and had eight things in it. The two biggies are the two books: the Cyclopedia of the Realms and the DM's Sourcebook of the Realms. The Cyclopedia is basically an encyclopedia of the Realms (as you might have guessed), and the Sourcebook covers the secret and more directly rules-based bits of the setting. Naturally, these two books will make up the bulk of the thread. Also included are four maps and two plastic hex overlays for use with the maps. Unfortunately, I got my copy of the box used, and it didn't have those two plastic overlays in it, so don't expect comments on the quality of those.

As for me, I've never actually done a [Let's Read] before, so hopefully this will work out alright.

I'll end this first post with a few quotes from the Introductions of the two books:

Ed Greenwood said:
The "Forgotten Realms" derive their name from the fictitious fact upon which play in my campaign is based: that a multiverse exists, of countless parallel co-existing Prime Material Planes (including the world presented herein, our own modern "Earth," and any other fantasy settings a DM may wish to incorporate in play), all related to the Known Planes of Existence presented in the AD&D system. Travel betwixt these planes was once far more common than is the case now; hence, the Realms have been "forgotten" by beings of Earth.
Karen S. Martin said:
I always wanted to edit an encyclopedia.
Taking little bits and pieces of information about thousands of different and unusual items, putting them in readable form, cross-indexing them for ease of use, alphabetizing them - believe it or not, that was a fantasy of mine.
This was almost as good.
Elminster said:
The information presented herein is as known to myself, those about me in the lands north and west of the Sea of Fallen Stars, and those I have encountered in my travels. On my word as a sage nothing within these pages is false, but not all of it may prove to be true.
And on that note, I'll end by saying that the "story" of these books is, as suggested, that all of this information is coming to us by way of Elminster. We should consider, as we read it (and perhaps despite Elminster's protests above), that it may not all be true; that the facts within may be fiddled with, wrong, or plain made up, whether by Elminster or by his sources.
 

Ithaeur

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Oh, nice! This box was my first introduction to FR, and a major influence to my (A)D&D gaming for a long time. Definitely going to follow this thread. :)
 

Baz King

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I'm really really late to the FR, only getting interested off the back of Neverwinter and Undermountain for 4e (which are excellent books).

I bought the 3e book second hand, but never got far with it.

Looking forward to this.
 

-Blackhawk-

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Subscribed. I've never read this set. The revised one for 2e (and the Avatar trilogy and Azure Bonds novels) were my first exposure to the Realms.
 

Thane of Fife

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Alright, I'm going to start off with the Cyclopedia. Now, before I start actually reading, let me make one comment on the book itself: I love the yellow-ness of it. People make jokes about not liking 4e because it's not brown enough, and I don't think I've ever wished that a book were more yellow, but, for whatever reason, I find myself very much liking the yellow here. The fonts are good, too. It all feels very... ancient tome-y.

That said, most of this book is in encyclopedia-style entries on specific people, groups of people, or places, but at the beginning we get some general articles about the entire Realms.

The first of these articles is on Time in the Realms. Or, actually, on dating in the Realms. Apparently, the Realms has 365 days/year, just like Earth, and 12 months/year, also just like Earth. The main difference is that all of these months are 30 days, further divided in 'tendays' (or 'rides' as the book is going to term them, which brings up the interesting question of what two places are ten days apart to create that name, but I digress), with the last five days falling between months as holidays. Leap years are handled with an extra special day, which is noted as being used as the basis of long-term agreements - I think that's a pretty cool use for a leap day, from a world-building perspective, at least. There's a brief note that the modern calender comes from the wizard Harptos of Kaalinth. Asides from the ignominy of being a wizard who's famous for inventing a calender, this is one of the things I like about the Realms - the little random names thrown about.

Anyway, it is here that we get the list of months. In actuality, this is probably not too useful from an actual gaming perspective (when do you really need to know the names of the months?), but it is added flavor, I guess, and most importantly, it is the first batch of names that we get in the book. And here's the thing: when Ed Greenwood writes names, they tend to have a very distinct style to them. The man likes his L's and K's. Since this is our very first sighting, I'll list them out for you: Hammer (boring), Alturiak, Ches, Tarsakh, Mirtul, Kythorn, Flamerule, Eleasias, Eleint, Marpenoth, Uktar, Nightal. Of course, in real life, month names have meanings, and it's hard to find any in these: Flamerule I guess is fitting in that it's the middle of summer, and Nightal could relate to the 'night' of the year, or something, but I wonder if there's anything behind those other names.

More interesting are the special extra days that fall between months. Midwinter is basically New Year's, and is when people make plans for the coming year (it isn't mentioned, but I bet this when people make their resolutions in the Realms: "This year, I'm going to learn a 5th-level spell," "This year, I'm going to kill at least five trolls," "This year, I am definitely going to kill Elminster!"). Flavor for a game, but not much adventuring potential comes to mind.

Greengrass is terribly dull and involves flowers grown very carefully and then thrown out into the snow. I think it's dull, anyway.

Midsummer is most noteworthy because "In a ceremony performed in some lands, unwed maidens are set free in the woods and 'hunted' by their would-be suitors throughout the night." Also, betrothals and stuff, but if there isn't an adventure to be had trying to hunt down a bunch of maidens hiding in the woods so that you can get them back to town before the orcs come and kill everybody, I don't know what this game's all about!

Higharvestide is basically a giant feast. It's like the Thanksgiving equivalent, I guess, except that it's before the harvest, and not after it, so I'm not really sure where all the food comes from.

The Feast of the Moon is the day when people tell stories about the dead. And about "heroes and treasure and lost cities underground." It's basically Plot Hook Night. I bet that a lot of adventurers get their start after this holiday.

The last one is the leap day, Shieldmeet. As I said before, it's the basis of long-term agreements, but it's also a day for tournaments and tests and trials, apparently.

There’s a brief bit that most wars are fought in Uktar (November), which seems a bit odd to me – I would have thought the weather no good for campaigning, but I’m no expert.

The final bit of the Time section is the bit on years. For those who may not know, in the Realms, all years are named, according to the prophecies of the Lost Sage, Augathra the Mad, and the seer Alaundo. According to the book (and Elminster, I guess), this is because the different regions of the Realms all number their years differently, and names are the way people from different regions communicate dates. Most of the time, though, Forgotten Realms dates are given in Dale Reckoning, which is taken from the year that the elves let men settle in the Dalelands, which we discuss later. This does mean, though, that the major countries of the modern Realms are all roughly 1300 years old (Cormyr Reckoning being only a few decades off from Dale Reckoning).

Finally, we get a list of the names of the years from 1352 DR (the Year of the Dragon) through 1357 (the Year of the Prince and the year which has just ended) all the way to 1368 DR (the Year of the Banner). Along the way, we hit some boring names, like the Year of the Sword, and some decent ones, like the Year of the Maidens. It strikes me that you could probably base whole campaigns off of year names – “Okay, guys, this game is going to be about why the Year of the Wyvern was named that.” Probably not hugely helpful, but could be good for a quick idea, I guess.

With that, we hit the next article, Names in the Realms, which will have to wait.
 

Ithaeur

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Alaundo's list of year names is one of the most evocative little bits about Realms, really.

You're right about the looks of the books, too. The yellowed, slightly mottled background and dark brown ink the books are printed gives a nice feeling of ancient books, but it's still much easier to read than 3e corebooks with those unfortunate lines behind the text.
 

Sleeper

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And on that note, I'll end by saying that the "story" of these books is, as suggested, that all of this information is coming to us by way of Elminster. We should consider, as we read it (and perhaps despite Elminster's protests above), that it may not all be true; that the facts within may be fiddled with, wrong, or plain made up, whether by Elminster or by his sources.
You know, I kind of wish they ran with the idea of the unreliable narrator instead of turning Elminister into a nigh-infallible know-it-all.

Alright, I'm going to start off with the Cyclopedia. Now, before I start actually reading, let me make one comment on the book itself: I love the yellow-ness of it. People make jokes about not liking 4e because it's not brown enough, and I don't think I've ever wished that a book were more yellow, but, for whatever reason, I find myself very much liking the yellow here. The fonts are good, too. It all feels very... ancient tome-y.
I also like the stone-y logo. Works well with the faux-crinkly paper. And the maps, even if they didn't have that vintage feel (the clear overlay sheets with hexes kept the maps proper nice and clean). Though the gray perfect bound books weren't quite as impressive -- but I suppose a leather bound hardback with stone and metal clasps and hasps and trimmings would have been too expensive, even in the days when TSR was making money hands over fist.

And I agree. I didn't care much for the month or week names, but the years were kind of neat. They're a great way to foreshadow significant troubles: "It's the Year of the Weeping Moon. What the hell is that supposed to mean?" And hooking the names into important events, which of course the PCs become involved in, is a great way to make a character memorable. "Let me tell you young whippersnappers exactly why it was called the Year of the Lurking Death! We were on the border of Anauroch...."

Speaking of the FR calender, lookie!
 
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