[Let's Read] Forgotten Realms: The Revised Campaign Setting

Thane of Fife

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Hello, everybody!

A while back, I did a Let's Read of Ye Olde Forgotten Realms Grey Box. It kinda took me a long time to get through it, but I think it went pretty well.

Well, I have decided to expand that to cover (hopefully) all four Forgotten Realms campaign settings. Possibly five depending on how long this takes and when/if a 5e one comes out. The focus of all this is going to be on looking at what's changed between editions of the setting, what each one does well or not so well, and what has been introduced with new editions of the setting. I am not going to read every Forgotten Realms book. I don't know if that would even be possible.

In any case, I just got a copy of the 2e one today, and I've never really seen it before. So this first post will serve as just sort of a peremptory look through of the box. I can't find a good way to link to a picture of the cover, but it is essentially Elminster, I think, standing in front of a big blue magic swirl with a woman floating on one side and two guy's upper halves floating on the other side. They got a lot of use out of this picture: of the now four AD&D2 Realms products I own, three of them have that woman on the front of them.

Cracking the box open... Wow, there's a lot of good stuff in here. We've got three books, first. A Grand Tour of the Realms is probably the main one, and has Elminster, Drizzt, and Arilyn Moonblade (I think) on the cover. The second one, Running the Realms, shows a sorceress fighting a dracolich in what was, I think, one of the first pieces of D&D art I ever saw (and still a personal favorite). The third one, Shadowdale, has another picture of Elminster. There is definitely more of a focus on novel characters so far.

Next are two sheets of the plastic hex overlay and four maps. One covers the area east of Baldur's Gate, to about Darkhold. The second shows the area around the Dales, from the Dragonspire Mountains in the north to the Sea of Fallen Stars in the south. The third is a big map, covering eastern Faerun from about the Great Rift in the south across the Great Glacier in the north. The east and south look a lot more detailed on this map than they did in the Grey Box. The last covers the Sword Coast, from the Spine of the World south to about Chult. Ever meet remains not on the map.

Then there appear to be six sheets of... cards? They show runes and holy symbols and coats of arms on one side, with text opposite. Kinda neat.

And finally, we have some 2e style Monstrous Compendium pages. There's quite a few of them, and I'll get into those later, because there are quite a few of them.

So yeah, looks like a good time.
 

Arilou

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Sweet! 2nd. Ed. Forgotten Realms was my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons (via Baldur's Gate) so it has always had a bit of a place in my heart :p
 

Devin Parker

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Sweet! 2nd. Ed. Forgotten Realms was my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons (via Baldur's Gate) so it has always had a bit of a place in my heart :p
That is precisely why I keep coming back to Forgotten Realms, despite my tastes not always being aligned with the setting's flavor. Well, that and the grey box set being so darned beautiful back in the day. Between Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 and rainy days reading parchment-paged gamebooks, FR still gives me the warm fuzzies.
 

roryb

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As much as I like the OGB, the 2nd edition boxed set was my most beloved and used set. You're right, the art pieces are great. It has more personality in its layout and presentation than the 1st edition. Good stuff. I loved those plastic overlay hex grids too!

Forgotten Realms Adventures (2nd edition) was really the first adaptation of the 1st edition to 2e d&d. It introduced the specialty priests for the first time, had great stuff on major cities, and a slew of realms-specific spells. I loved that book something awful too.
 

benben

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Good to hear you're expanding the scope.

Any chance you might cover my 2nd Ed introduction to the realms?
 

Thane of Fife

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Good to hear you're expanding the scope.

Any chance you might cover my 2nd Ed introduction to the realms?
I'm... not planning to. It sounds like that's mostly a Grey Box supplement of sorts, as opposed to a complete campaign setting, which puts it a bit out of the scope of my project. That said, it is one of the two books which I have contemplated adding. I could still be talked into it.

That's the cover from the 1996 printing. Aside from the new cover, it's supposed to be identical to the 1993 version:
I had seen the other cover, but I had thought it was a picture of one of the books in this set instead of a separate box. But nope. I like the cover I got better, anyway.


Now, before I continue on, one more comment on the maps. Specifically, how they compare to the Grey Box maps. They look nice enough, and they're more detailed - which has its ups and downs - but the main difference is that they're on this sort of glossy, plastic sheet instead of the paper which the older maps were printed on. This doesn't have quite the right look or feel, in my opinion. That is, while it still feels like it would tear if you breathed on it wrong, it doesn't quite have that Grey Box feel of "this map could disintegrate at any moment." :D

Moving into A Grand Tour of the Realms, I find that this book doesn't have any forewords or introductions, always a bit of a disappointment, and instead jumps right into Chapter 1: The World of the Realms. This first section discusses the world of Abeir-Toril, really. We get mention that it is the third world of eight, and is enclosed in a crystal sphere (a clear reference to Spelljammer). There is also mention of the moon Selune and the Tears of Selune, and names for the other planets, some of which sound more interestingly shaped than others. All in all, it's very scientifically-presented.

From there, we move to discussing the regions of the Realms. Faerun is largely passed over, as it is what the text will focus on. There is mention of the Horde invasion in the section on the Hordelands (which I believe had a trilogy of novels dedicated to it, and received a supplement all its own). Next is Kara-Tur, dominated by Shou Lung (fantasy China) and Kozakura (fantasy Japan). We have more contact with them now, since the Horde invasion. A good way to introduce ninjas to the Realms in the ninja boom, I suppose.

Next is Maztica, a distant land west of Evermeet, with unknown gods and magic, and still mostly untouched jungle. Maztica is fantasy Aztecs and conquistadors, as I recall. Apparently, most of the Realms is totally uninterested in this new land, but Lantan and the Empires of the Sand have been going all imperialist.

Finally, far to the south is Zakhara, which is fantasy Arabia. Zakhara is powerful, cultured, and civilized - all their gods are unified into a single pantheon, they have genies, etc. They also laugh at the claims to civilization of the North.

So yeah. The Realms have gotten a lot bigger since the Grey Box. There are new places to explore and new places for characters to come from. Note that none of these places are shown on the maps. And all of this seems to have happened in only about 10 (in-game) years! Kinda hard to believe.

I know that Zakhara, at least, is a fairly popular setting. While the Hordelands seem a bit lacking, conceptually, what about the others? Do you think they would have fared better as unique settings, without being chained to the Realms? Or was it better to attach them all together? Did anybody ever play in Maztica or the Hordelands? Or even Kara-Tur?
 

Davies

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I'm... not planning to. It sounds like that's mostly a Grey Box supplement of sorts, as opposed to a complete campaign setting, which puts it a bit out of the scope of my project. That said, it is one of the two books which I have contemplated adding. I could still be talked into it.
From there, we move to discussing the regions of the Realms. Faerun is largely passed over, as it is what the text will focus on. There is mention of the Horde invasion in the section on the Hordelands (which I believe had a trilogy of novels dedicated to it, and received a supplement all its own). Next is Kara-Tur, dominated by Shou Lung (fantasy China) and Kozakura (fantasy Japan). We have more contact with them now, since the Horde invasion. A good way to introduce ninjas to the Realms in the ninja) boom, I suppose.
Actually, there are two versions of China and Japan (at different points in their respective histories) in that region. As to your question, they published several modules set there, so it can't have been too unpopular. :) The wisdom of attaching everything to Faerun is questionable, but Maztica, Zakhara and Kara Tur all to some degree require a "West" for contrast. Unfortunately, this results in the parts of Faerun that aren't "the west" (Calimshan and the Old Empires) either looking superfluous or making parts of Zakhara seem that way. On the other hand ... two Japan, two Arabias, perhaps?
 
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Sleeper

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Moving into A Grand Tour of the Realms, I find that this book doesn't have any forewords or introductions, always a bit of a disappointment, and instead jumps right into Chapter 1: The World of the Realms.
Usually, 1 book in every box set has an introduction.

I know that Zakhara, at least, is a fairly popular setting. While the Hordelands seem a bit lacking, conceptually, what about the others? Do you think they would have fared better as unique settings, without being chained to the Realms? Or was it better to attach them all together? Did anybody ever play in Maztica or the Hordelands? Or even Kara-Tur?
I have the Kara-Tur box set (somewhere), and we briefly experimented with it. Nobody was heavily into Japanese or Chinese culture, and it has almost no connections at all to the main FR setting, so it got dropped pretty quickly. The box set is very pretty, with maps and booklets like the ones in the original FR gray box set, but much more colorful. Beyond that, it seemed functional with some interesting tidbits here and there, but there wasn't really a compelling hook to suck us in. It felt a lot like the original FR box set -- thinly covering a lot of ground.
 

benben

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I'm... not planning to. It sounds like that's mostly a Grey Box supplement of sorts, as opposed to a complete campaign setting, which puts it a bit out of the scope of my project. That said, it is one of the two books which I have contemplated adding. I could still be talked into it.
I remember 3 sections of interest for that book: specialty priests + costumes, spell translations from the old gray box into 2nd ed with additions, and descriptions (with maps and npcs) of all the major cities of the heartlands. I spent many an evening pouring over the cities trying to figure out the demography of levels in forgotten realms and probably min-maxing the specialty priests.

So if you really want to go into religious and geographic details it's better than the gray box.
 
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