Forgotten Realms Campaign Set
Forgotten Realms Campaign Set Capsule Review by Jake de Oude on 04/09/01
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
This first incarnation of the Forgotten Realms has a wealth of information. The presentation could have been better, though.
Product: Forgotten Realms Campaign Set
Author: Ed Greenwood
Line: Forgotten Realms
Cost: US$ 15.00
Page count: two books of 96 pages
Year published: 1987
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Jake de Oude on 04/09/01
Genre tags: Fantasy
Hail and well met! Welcome to the Realms...
The forgotten what?
For those few who haven't heard of the Forgotten Realms, I'll briefly describe them. The Realms are the western end of a continent. (On the eastern end of the continent the Kara-Tur setting is placed.) The continent is set upon the world Abeir-Toril, which has the same characteristics as Earth: same size, one satellite which is of the same size as the Moon, its year numbers 365 days and has a leapyear once every four years, etc. This familiarity with our own world helps to get a grip: why make a year longer, or physics work different, if the rest of the setting is so fantastic and difficult to get?
Opening the box...
So what did you get for you bucks in those days? Hmm... two soft-cover books following the time-honoured tradition of having one for the players and one intended solely for the DM. Both are adorned with a beautiful cover by Keith Parkinson. The pages in each book have a faux parchment background and dark sepia printing. Illustrations are few by standards nowadays, with whole chapters without a single drawing. Too bad, because the pictures are by Keith Parkinson, Clyde Caldwell, Jeff Easley and Tim Conrad and depict the epic feel quite well.
Cyclopedia of the Realms
The Cyclopedia is the Player's Handbook for the Realms: it contains all the things the player can know. This knowledge is presented as an encyclopaedia. Each entry is separated in 3 portions:
In front of the actual entries are treatises on the calendar of the Realms, guidelines for naming your (N)PC's, languages, currency and deities of the Realms. This information gives you a solid foundation to work from.
The big thing that was missing here is a timeline of the Realms. The Realms are now at the beginning of the Year of the Shadows, but the players lack any information on what has happened before. Sure, you can get some information from the entries, but that's hard work. Actually, that's my major gripe with this presentation as an encyclopaedia: the information can be found, but you'll have to read the whole book first and then connect the lines for yourself.
DM's Sourcebook of the Realms
The DM's Sourcebook contains the things a DM will want to know. It offers you statistics and advice. The first meaty part after the Introductions are notes on how to use the Forgotten Realms: what to do if your players are newbies, what if they have characters on other worlds and want to come to the Realms, that kind of stuff. Very helpful! The advice for new players probably well known to more experienced players, but helps the new DM a lot. "The basic requirements for a first-time campaign are a home base and an area the player-characters can explore and adventure in (a 'dungeon')." As you can see, it's leaning towards the hack-and-slash style of playing, but the advice is sound. Following are the aforementioned notes on how to use the maps and instructions on how to make your own random encounter tables.
The prose is eloquent and nice to read, if sometimes a bit flowery and overwrought. Having read some articles by Greenwood in Dragon magazine, I know that this is just his style. There are quite a few typos however.
What do you do with it?
The books sketch a high-magic world, with many kingdoms which are often in conflict. If you want to build a world-shattering campaign, you can do that. Want to start small? You can do that, too, with maps of several cities. One area, Shadowdale, is presented in an appendix in minute detail: every citizen is portrayed, complete with occupation and demeanour. This makes for an ideal starting ground. Want to explore dungeons? You get two sample dungeons, and a plethora is mentioned throughout the texts. Want to elaborate on a rumour, or a place, without your actions affecting the world? There are small towns mentioned in the Cyclopedia which only get two or three lines of description. Whole areas of the map can be fleshed out. The Sourcebook specifically mentions rumours that will never have follow-up in the published Realms. Likewise, there are areas that are left solely for the DM to elaborate, without having to fear that later publications will 'overwrite' her setting.