You may think that you know Dungeons & Dragons, but then again, you haven’t peeked inside the mind of Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood.
Back in January at the Dungeons & Dragons new products seminar, lead developer Mike Mearls gave fans of a preview of the D&D supplement “Elminster’s Forgotten Realms.” Mearls told the crowd that Wizards of the Coast staff approached Greenwood to ask “why don’t you take all your campaign notes, all the information you’ve been putting together for your FR campaign and lets compile it into a book? Show us the realms as you’ve developed it in your campaign setting and lets get that to everybody.” It’s not often that fans get such an inside look at the creation of one of their favorite settings, but “Elminster’s Forgotten Realms” completely pulls back the curtain on Greenwood’s design.
Hitting store shelves today at 192 pages, the hardcover “Elminster’s Forgotten Realms” will retail for $39.95, and manages to cram in an impressive amount of information. Let’s take a look at what’s inside.
Greenwood presents the Forgotten Realms through the alter ego of Elminster, Archmage of Shadowdale, but the book begins with some notes by Greenwood himself. While he is quick to tell DMs that there is no “right” way to conduct a Realms campaign, Greenwood does not hesitate to share some of his personal ground rules for exploring the setting he has been crafting since he was six years old.
Yes, Greenwood has been working in the Realms for a very long time, and throughout the book we are treated to numerous pages pulled directly from his original pitches that sold the setting to TSR back in 1986. I particularly enjoyed a look at one of Greenwood’s original “Current Clack” sheets, news and rumors that would be included in scenario packs to introduce players and help them plot out their character’s motivations.
The gritty details begin with a look at everyday life in the Realms, covering everything from the local lingo and racial viewpoints to arts and medicine. Being able to talk the talk and adopt the local customs is important for a setting populated with so many races. There’s the Drow, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Humans, Korred, Ogres, Orcs, Satyrs, and (deep breath) Svirfneblin. Don’t worry, each get their due.
Early sketches of Greenwood’s original ideas for Realms garb, with Hellenic, medieval, and Renaissance influences
As the book progresses, Greenwood takes many detours to expound on topics when information pertinent to a specific section of the Realms presents itself. Readers will be treated to many a sidebar that explains how life, government, families, money, religion, and magic all differ from Waterdeep to Cormyr and beyond. A common criticism of Dungeons & Dragons is that it’s built for hack and slash fighting, but when a quality DM is armed with such detail as 15 pages on what a setting’s denizens eat, you’re going to get a true story that tells more than just combat tales.
“Elminter’s Forgotten Realms” is one of the best Dungeons & Dragons books released in recent memory. This transcends the traditional splatbook, and is useful book for players in the Forgotten Realms setting and also a good read for anyone with an appreciation for fantasy world-building. When I was younger, I’d often sink my teeth into an RPG sourcebook for a system I knew I would never get to play, simply to sink my teeth into some deeply nerdy lore.
I can’t say for certain how much of the information I learned about the Realms is brand new; After all, I won’t claim to have read even a small portion of the 11,682 pages in the Forgotten Realms Wiki. What I do know, though, is that “Elminster’s Forgotten Realms” did a fantastic job of compiling encyclopedic information into a compelling package. Twelve-year-old me would have lost a night’s sleep over this book, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy it almost as much.