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Interesting Direction for an Old Friend,
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This review is from: Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (Dungeons & Dragons) (Hardcover)
The Forgotten Realms has always been a problem to me - inspiring and yet impractical. I loved the feel of the setting, the age of it, the depth, the detail, and yet these were all of its problems too. The feel made it always generic, the age of it made it always hampered by the past, the depth made it a chore to run, and the detail made fans irritating to play with.
Ultimately, personal knowledge shouldn't affect in game knowledge to the degree which it did. A new-coming DM to Toril couldn't effectively run it if there were players in his or her group who loved it - they would spend forever correcting the DM on the authenticity of the setting. It's not that these players were *bad*, just that the setting was so static and so rich and so persuasive that it was hard to escape the idea that it should all be *exactly as written*. Beware the DM who would dare to change anything.
But this was by no means the only issue. Big NPCs dominated Toril. Drizzt and Elminster were more recognisable than the setting as a whole, and the number of awful "cameos" that occured in games was atrocious... as for the novels, the less said the better.
What about the variety of terrain and setting? In theory this was great - you can set your game in almost any surrounding and it'll still be the Forgotten Realms. You want trading cities and costal areas? The Sword Coast. You want exotic locales and organisations? Calisham! You want frozen wastes? The Silver Marches! You want to rip off Lord of the Rings? The Dalelands! So what was the problem with this? Well, ultimately, it was scale. Forgotten Realms worked well with this theory of specific location until you hit about 10th level, when the entire thing fell apart. Soon, reliable and quick long distance transportation was available. The idea of a cohesive world disappears when you can be in desert one minute, and ice fields the next. So how has this changed?
Well, 4th edition includes a lot fewer transport spells, and the folding of teleportation into Rituals (with which you need a "portal key") means that mundane transport is often the way you go first, and then use teleportation when you need to over long distances from set point to set point. Travel thus takes longer, the dramatic differences in setting aren't so obvious, and the world feels a lot more cohesive. The splitting of the game into tiers also helps, as it gives DMs more warning of when to prepare for these changes.
So what does the new setting look like? Well, Mystra is finally dead. FINALLY. I mean, seriously, is this like the fourth time? NEVER BRING HER BACK. The Spellplague changes the layout of the map in a big way, as does the bashing of Abeir into Toril. Hello new races, bye bye old races.
But what's the point of saying this, really? Old fans are going to be angry - "They got rid of gods! They changed the map!" Boo hoo. The setting needed a desperate change - it's been more or less static (on a fundemental level) for years and years. The changes are interesting, smartly done, and the changes to the system make the setting work well. In the end, if you loved Drizzt and co, and hate the idea of not knowing every single event of the setting, then stay away.
For the rest of us, this is an interesting, stunningly beautiful book. The entries are perhaps a little short, but this leaves freedom in the details whilst really giving you a feel for the setting and countries. There are a lot of new monsters, good info on antagonist groups, a lovely poster map, and interesting discussion of the world in general as well as the specific entries. The major criticisms are, perhaps, only that some of the old issues are still there (the odd mix and match of terrain amongst other things), and that occasionally an important piece of information is missing (how big is the population of Waterdeep ay? AY?). Still, an excellent buy.