Forgotten Realms, 2nd Edition
Forgotten Realms, 2nd Edition Capsule Review by Gilbert Pili on 18/08/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)
The authors do a good job of laying out an enormous amount of information in an organized, sometimes engaging fashion. But something's missing.
Product: Forgotten Realms, 2nd Edition
Author: Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grub and Don Bingle
Company/Publisher: TSR, Inc.
Line: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Year published: 1993
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Gilbert Pili on 18/08/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
This review was originally written in 1993. It is being republished "as is."
There’s a daunting variety of roleplaying campaign worlds out there. After choosing which genre to play in, players have the job of choosing from the many settings, most of which have their own set of rules. In fantasy alone, there's Middle Earth, Harn, Glorantha, Melnibone, and Earthdawn. From TSR, there's Dark Sun, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, AlQadim, Lankhmar, Hollow World, and Forgotten Realms, not to mention zillions of GURPS supplements that can be pasted into any one of those.
But TSR has the numbers on the fantasy setting, with seven worlds floating around on your local game store shelf. Forgotten Realms started out as a series of articles in Dragon magazine, but Ed Greenwood's home-grown campaign became so popular that TSR released a boxed set in 1987 as an alternative to Gary Gygax's Greyhawk. A slew of follow-up supplements established the campaign as TSR's premiere campaign setting, and a good portion of new adventures took place there. The new edition updates older material and expands on areas previously undeveloped.
Game time has progressed to the Third Age, and a new set of events are there for players to experience. The new bad guys are the Zhentarim, a ruthless network of mercantilers who seek to dominate trade. A divine war resulting in the destruction of Bane, the god of death, has prompted new powers to take his place. The Red Wizards continue to pursue their own wicked agendas.
It's an imposing package. The boxed set holds three booklets, "Running the Realms," "A Grand Tour of the Realms," and "Shadowdale," a snapshot of a small but important village in the heart of the continent.
There's also a set of symbols printed on card stock with their meanings translated on the back, an addendum to the Monstrous Compendium listing creatures native to the realms, and two large fold-out maps. Plastic layovers to measure distance on the maps are included, along with the obligatory wall poster.
There's a lot here, and if you've used the Forgotten Realms setting extensively, you probably won't be disappointed. There's enough new material to keep you going for a good long while. But if you're looking for a truly original campaign setting without trodding the heavily worn path through Tolkienesque sylvan forests, halfling villages, and dark castles, you may want to look a little further.
Of the major sections in this book, the deities were the most interesting. A rivalry between two good deities, Helm, a god in decline after a divine war, and Torm, a newly successful warrior, hints at changing sociological values. Cyric, the replacement for the former god of the dead, regularly masquerades as other deities.
Also useful is the section describing events throughout the campaign year. Referees should be able to find good hooks in the pages devoted to describing strange weather, riots and odd sightings.
"Beneath the Twisted Tower," the adventure provided in the set, was a nice change. The characters are hired by the local militia to remap a series of caverns lying beneath the Dale. There's a balance between cave crawling and action, and the scenario provides tips for unexpected PC actions. It's one of the most open-ended, non-linear adventures I've seen in a TSR product.
The six symbol cards are kinda neat. There's five sets: holy (and unholy) symbols, elven marks, magical sigils, heraldry and badges, and elder runes. One side is the color symbol, and on the back is its name and a brief description of its meaning. Some of the drawings are more crudely drawn than others, but they make a nice visual hand-out for characters exploring uncharted territories.
Overall, the Forgotten Realms set is, well, fair. If you've played a good deal in this setting, you'll probably want to keep up with the latest events; the authors do a good job of laying out an enormous amount of information in an organized, sometimes engaging fashion. But something's missing. It seemed as if this could have been a truly fascinating setting if it had just been presented more creatively. As it was, I felt like I was reading generic fantasy without enough character to turn the stereotypes on end.
If you're looking for a new fantasy campaign setting, or just want to try something different, take a pass on this one, and try some of the more daring packages out on the shelves.