Game: Forgotten Realms: Campaign Setting
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Series: Forgotten Realms
Review Dated: 13th, January 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 65
Average Score: 7.22
Oh. Um. Well. Forgotten Realms isn’t a bad book, in fact you’ll be able to see that I rated it 7 out of 10 book. The problem is that there seems to be more to complain about than praise.
When you pick up your newly acquired copy of the campaign setting it is absolutely impossible to ignore what a lovely looking book it is. It looks like an old tome, the pages have that “worn” colour and even the spectacular artwork inside matches the same theme. The huge map of Faerun is so successfully tucked into the back page that you might not immediately notice it is there. If you flick through the book and read paragraphs at random then you’ll continue to be impressed but if you start at the start and read through sequentially that you might start to notice that things don’t jell together.
Scornful friends have told me that the book was not designed to be read through sequentially and that it should be used as a reference book, with the reader turning directly to the information that he is interested in. I don’t know about that. There’s certainly a section at the start that admits that if you’re new to roleplaying, new to Dungeons and Dragons that you might want to put Forgotten Realms aside and come back to it later. In any case, at some point, you will want to learn about Faerun and the Realms and that’s when you are going to encounter problems. I felt that the book really needed to describe Faerun, try and convey the sort of flavour of the place and tell the reader about certain key things before trying to get them to generate a character from the place. There should be some information on the Underdark before we have to deal with the fact that Drow and Deep Gnomes come from there. What about trying to tell us that, for example, The Shining Hand come from Amn and mix in the faith of Azuth with wizardry before really telling us anything about either Amn or Azuth. I thought the problem was a lack of courage, the unwillingness to break free from the Player-bit : Dungeon Master-bit : Monster-bit pattern that the core rules so clearly defined.
At least you only have to wait until page 7 to discover that Elminster has 6 ranks of the dance skill. Whoopie. There’s always the risk while reading through Forgotten Realm stuff that your reminded, in the bad way, that you’re making use of someone’s personal campaign world and favourite characters… that just happened to have been made into a successful game.
I am being harsh. It is far easier to poke holes than to find the strengths in the book and perhaps I’m just disappointed that I didn’t rate the book 10/10.
The thing to do, the thing to get the most out of the book, is to turn to the Life in Faerun section. There you’ll be introduced to the world – albeit on a rather steep learning curve. I have to say that some of the detail in this section is truly impressive; samples of different writing scripts, the trade routes (and that’s the sort of extra that I expect and enjoy from a campaign setting), examples of noble titles and stuff on the daily life of people. The geography section after that is nearly as good. I thought the addition of plots and rumours to be particularly inspiring and a welcome addition. The geography section is not a token extra, there is plenty there and it makes up a significant section of the book. Faerun is a large place where travel can be hard; trekking from one state to another could certainly be an adventure in its own right. Given that I thought the idea of breaking Feats up by location was a sensible and clever twist. I just have to say “Highlander” and you might be thinking of some kilted warrior striking mighty blows with a large sword or “Ninja” and you’ll be thinking of a stealthy martial expert. Two real world examples of how Feats are associated with people from different parts of the world. There is obviously much more to both the Highlander and the Ninja but people tend to think of them and describe them by what they’re known to be good (or perhaps bad) at.
The great maps, I feel, deserve special praise. Wonderfully coloured cartographical delights serve not only to help you visualise just how many different places lie between Icewind Dale and the Great Rift. I think you just have to let your players peer at the maps to get an idea of how complex the lands of Faerun are, a patchwork of mystery. In some ways the maps help to further define the Forgotten Realm’s rather diffuse theme. I mean, it certainly isn’t clear from simply reading the book whether Faerun is the sort of game world where your players maintain the low end of the experience level and get engaged in nitty-gritty plots or whether the heroes are high level, hugely impressive and stride around doing battle against great and powerful evil. The truth is that Faerun is a place where both can be true.
In advantage of the worryingly large scope of the Forgotten Realm’s scope is that it could produce a game that could last a long time. You might find yourself running one of those campaigns that last years and years. Given that it’s Wizards of the Coast who have decided to “personally” publish and promote this title and that the novels still come out you can be sure that Faerun will be well supported and supplied for a good while yet.