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View Full Version : Where should I begin learning about the Forgotten Realms lore?



Dachimotsu
2016-10-17, 09:52 AM
My group has been playing D&D 4e for years, with some small, non-D&D campaigns sprinkled here and there. Our 4e campaign takes some actual elements from D&D, but almost all of it is made up or borrowed from other sources. But now, my players want to run a 5e campaign that's as vanilla as possible. No spaceships, no cameos by Solid Snake or Cloud Strife, just the D&D world the way it was meant to be.

But... researching the WORLD of D&D is a nightmare. I can't quite figure out what era 5e takes place in, nor can I find accurate world maps. I've found a lot of different maps of Faerun, some with new/missing locations, some that are shaped differently, etc. How do I know which ones are correct?

As for learning the lore and culture of the towns, forgottenrealms.wikia is a useful source. That's useful if I know where the players are or where they're going, but if they end up going somewhere I'm not prepared for, I don't want to make stuff up on the spot, because if I'm completely wrong, it'd be cheap to retcon it.

How do other people learn this stuff? How does WotC keep track of their own world's lore? How do they consistently make games that don't contradict the lore they've already written?

EccentricCircle
2016-10-17, 11:23 AM
Forgotten realms is a complicated setting to keep track of, largely because it is so old and so much has been written about it. Wizards of the Coast can do it because they pay half of the people who came up with that stuff to keep track of it all. Doing that as a DM is much harder, even if you went back to the first edition books and read everything that had ever been written about Faerun you probably wouldn't be any better off, because, as you say, much of the lore is contradictory.

However the thing to bear in mind is this: Do you actually need to be up to speed on all of the lore to run a good game? If your players are no more familiar with the forgotten realms than you are then the answer is probably no. Don't try to exhaustively lean the setting, just pick a few elements of it that appeal to you and use them to fire your imagination. Don't try to stick to WOTC's version of the forgotten realms, create your own. If you like a faction or NPC, then use them, if they wouldn't add anything to your game then don't. Choose the map you like best and don't worry about the discrepancies. So long as that is the map that all of the players are referring to then it won't matter that the world looked different in fourth edition books.

This approach can run into difficulties if you have players who are massively well versed in the lore. If one or more of them has read all the books or played all the video games, and they are wanting to play a forgotten realms game to get back into that world then that is a different matter. In that case its best to look at what they want out of the game. Have they played Baldr's gate and are keen to explore that part of the world again? In that case it wouldn't hurt to brush up on your knowledge of that city, and maybe play the game yourself if you have the means. If they are a fan of the drizzt books then it would be worth looking for D&D lore about Menzobarranzan and the drow. Lots has been written on that subject so it won't all fit together, but you can take the bits you, and your players, like the most.

In this case it might be best not to try to pick a historical "era" from the published books, but to instead say that 200 years have passed, that gives you the flexibility for it to be a slightly different world. Anytime one of your players tells you "hey that's not right" you can say, "ah but things have changed and this is how it is now..." As DM it is your game, what you say goes, regardless of what Wizards have written on the subject.

But tell your players this upfront, as with a lot of things in gaming its all about communication. Find out what they are hoping to get out of the game, why they want Forgotten Realms specifically. Then cherry pick the conflicting lore to build the kind of game that you and they want to play. It won't be WOTC's version of Faerun, but no one elses is either. As I understand it the setting they publish today isn't all that true to what Greenwood originally pitched to them anyway.

Make it your own, and don't look back.
As an addendum to this: Wizards have recently released a book called the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide, which is basically an intro to fifth edition forgotten realms with a few new bits of rules for good measure. So that might be a good starting place for up to date realms lore.

Yora
2016-10-17, 11:37 AM
Forgotten Realms is huge. It's much bigger than what you could ever cover in a single campaign, no matter how long it run. I found it quite effective to think of it as a collection of 20 to 30 individual settings that are set in the same world. Back in the early 2000s I knew about dozens of campaigns here in Germany that were all set only in the North. This single land of the Forgotten Realms used to be a hugely popular setting here all by itself.

The best idea is probably to get either the 2nd edition box or the 3rd edition book of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting to get an overview of what countries there are and which region you are the most interested in. (They also have the information on the gods of the setting which apply to all regions.)
Once you know what region you want to set your campaign in (The North, Sword Coast, and Rashemen are all very popular with a lot of good material available) you could try to find a 3rd or 2nd edition sourcebook or box, or even one of the 1st edition books. With the main overview book and one region book you'd be very wel set up.

Aside from the Sword Coast guide, there has been no Forgotten Realms material for 5th edition. In 4th edition Forgotten Realms had been changed into a very different world and most of those changes have been rolled back for 5th edition. So the best most up to date information you can get would be the 3rd edition material,of which there is a lot. There is not a huge difference between 3rd and 2nd edition and we always used to mix sourcebooks of these two without any problems. For some regions for which there is no 3rd edition book there might still be a 2nd edition book that should also serve very well.

PrismCat21
2016-10-17, 12:43 PM
Begin learning about the lore by reading the novels. It'll paint a great picture in your head about the various lands and types of people and deities in it. Even better, it'll seem more real to you. :)
The books I like to start people with are Spellfire, the Cleric Quartet (4 books), and the Icewind Dale trilogy (3 books).

┬mesang
2016-10-17, 03:33 PM
I've thumbed through the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide, and as far as I can tell, the typical starting year for 5th Edition FORGOTTEN REALMS« is 1489 DR; 1st Edition started in 1357 DR, 2nd Edition in 1367 DR, 3rd Edition in 1372 DR, and 4th Edition in 1479 DR.

Not that you have to ever start an adventure in any of those years (personally I'd love to run a campaign during the Empire of Netheril or, for WORLD OF GREYHAWK«, the Suel Imperium). Still, it should at least give you an idea for the various "eras" of modern Faerűn. :smallsmile:

Beneath
2016-10-17, 07:15 PM
"D&D as it's meant to be played" doesn't conflict with things being weird and off-the-wall, and it doesn't necessarily mean playing the Realms either.

Elminster canonically visits our earth, or a close enough copy to be friends with his own author, and he's not the only one (the Imaskari had cross-dimensional travel down to a science). Compared to that, having to hold a magical forest island in the sky against Solid Snake and Cloud Strife (and maybe throw in Ness, Captain Falcon, and a giant hand) isn't that weird at all. I mean, it's not an every session thing but classically D&D's change of pace sessions out-weird anything you can name.

Also, a lot of the core "worlds" of D&D are compilations of the regions various groups defined for their own games; Greyhawk draws on Gygax's own, for instance, and Mystara was created to provide a default setting for the Basic line of games (BECMI, since I think this was after B/X?) after Greyhawk was taken specifically for AD&D. There's nothing more quintessentially D&D than building your own world, or your own little mini-region at least, to put your game in.

That said, if you want to mellow your game out for your own reasons, and go to a world where you can have a pace established for you so the weird cameos are a change instead of having them set the pace, and you want to go to the Realms for this because it's well-developed, then the advice to pick a place, read up on it on the wiki, and plop your game down there in your own version of it, is good. You might also want to read through a few published/organized play adventures to get a sense of place. You don't have to use the adventures; they can occur in the background, not occur, or even have already happened, or you can run them to save on prep, as you choose.

The northern Sword Coast (between, say, Waterdeep and Luskan) is probably the most developed region, recently; I remember hearing when I tried organized play that the packaged campaigns tended to center there, while the bite-sized packaged adventures did a different region each season, and there's a reason the FR book and the video game have it in the title, and it has a longer history of gaming besides (the 3e video games were also centered there, for one, though the 2e video games were further south); if you want a "default" place to be, that's a good choice, but there are plenty of other regions worth a look (the Silver Marches, Cormyr, and Rashemen all have things to recommend them, and the most famous FR video game of all was in Amn)

The timeline Amesang gave is correct to my knowledge; between the century-long time jump between 3e and 4e, and the massive divine intervention between 4e and 5e (and 3e and 4e), that means any region of the realms that doesn't have a canonical 5e source for you can make up pretty much anything you want inspired by the existing lore and not have to worry about being wrong until they publish more lore (at which point for your game you'll have precedence)

Finally, two tips for running the Realms:
1) I've never seen this explicitly spelled out anywhere, but call it a law of RPG setting canon: if canon material says x event happened, then it's canon that someone in-world tells people than x event happened, but not necessarily canon that they a) aren't lying, and b) have the complete facts. This very neatly resolves every bit of contradictory canon publications, solves the issue of how video games can be canon (Q: which playthrough? A: every playthrough you care about), and gives you free rein to do what you want as GM while still letting your players get the benefits being in the same world as the canon material.

The Drizzt novels one version of legends that people tell, not unbiased factual accounts of events. Drizzt is probably real, but there's no canon source saying "Drizzt is definitely real" because that's not the kind of statement canon is able to make. As for impact on actual play, there's not much; either way, the PCs exist in a world where people tell legends about Drizzt, though there's no guarantee that they've even heard the legends (or believe them), and they almost certainly haven't met the guy unless that happened during the campaign; the only difference is that as DM you aren't explicitly telling your players that the person who believes the Drizzt legends is right.

2) The driving force of the 5e Realms is nostalgia, in keeping with 5e's design philosophy of taking the best of all previous editions. The Sundering, which is what they're calling the act of divine intervention that changed things from 4e to 5e, undid several editions' worth of evolution in the canon, including things that the deity responsible for the Sundering pledged they would never undo, and has created its own contradictions (Myrkul and Kelemvor are both god of the dead, even though Kelemvor assumed his office by killing Myrkul during a time when the gods had permadeath enabled). So this means that if you see a bit of canon you like, even if it's an in-world century out of date or has been overturned by more recent canon, it, or an approximation of it, is probably still true. Human-lifespan characters, or others who were canonically killed, might need to be replaced*, but otherwise go for it.

*The reason for the magical apocalypse followed by a century time-jump going into 4e was to try to get people who preferred homebrew settings to the Realms because of the Realms's surfeit of powerful NPCs to play the Realms by killing off all but the most popular, and therefore most polarizing, of the Realms's powerful NPCs. So Drizzt and Elminster, who people who love the Realms sometimes like as characters but rarely use in their own campaigns and people who hate the Realms cite as why they don't play the Realms, survived, but e.g. Princess Alusair Obarskyr, who people who love the Realms rarely use because she's local to Cormyr specifically and people who hate the Realms have never heard of, died, even though she's way more gameable than a wanderer like Drizzt or a god-in-all-but-name-who-doesn't-grant-spells like Elminster. Needless to say, this did not work very well.

bulbaquil
2016-10-17, 08:36 PM
I would basically say, if you're running in the Realms:

After what essentially was a cosmic upheaval followed by a cosmic retcon of said cosmic upheaval, it shouldn't matter too greatly what year it is in-game. If you need to invoke a year, feel free to obscure it by not using Dale Reckoning - maybe use regnal years like "the fifth year of the reign of King What's-his-face".

Unless you have a hardcore Realmslore fanatic (in which case the answer to the OP's question is probably "begin by asking them"), getting the general feel of an area (e.g. Waterdeep) is more important than e.g. knowing all the notable figures and precise numbers of the area. If I wanted to run in Waterdeep, for instance, I'd skim the article on the Realms wiki and jot down important notes I think might be relevant in the campaign. (E.g.: party has a rogue who wants to do some thieving. I see that Waterdeep has no real thieves' guild or crimelord to speak of at present, so I probably shouldn't run the city as though it did.)

Nifft
2016-10-17, 09:37 PM
1/ Play Baldur's Gate (I and II).

2/ Realize that you will never be Minsc.

3/ Cry.

4/ Make it up as you go along.

Knitifine
2016-10-17, 11:03 PM
But... researching the WORLD of D&D
Ah, I see the problem here. You appear to be researching the wrong setting.
Try this one instead:Eberron (https://www.amazon.com/Eberron-Campaign-Setting-Dungeons-Roleplaying/dp/0786932740)

Mark Hall
2016-10-18, 01:51 PM
The simple method is to pick one and say that's your version of the Forgotten Realms, adding things from other sources if you like them. A useful source for this is the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms campaign setting... it gives an overview of most of Faerun, and is a solid, single-volume, source for most of the Realms.

Chambers
2016-10-19, 06:45 AM
There is a book called 'Ed Greenwood Presents Elminsters Forgotten Realms'. It is a system-neutral gazetteer of the campaign setting that I think will do nicely for you.

Dachimotsu
2016-10-20, 09:17 PM
There is a book called 'Ed Greenwood Presents Elminsters Forgotten Realms'. It is a system-neutral gazetteer of the campaign setting that I think will do nicely for you.

Oooh, that IS helpful! I'll begin reading this as soon as I finish the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.
Thanks!

GungHo
2016-10-21, 12:01 PM
My group has been playing D&D 4e for years, with some small, non-D&D campaigns sprinkled here and there. Our 4e campaign takes some actual elements from D&D, but almost all of it is made up or borrowed from other sources. But now, my players want to run a 5e campaign that's as vanilla as possible. No spaceships, no cameos by Solid Snake or Cloud Strife, just the D&D world the way it was meant to be.
Before you go too much further... I'll be honest with you, spaceships, Solid Snake, and Cloud Strife are more or less in the Forgotten Realms. They may call them floating cities of Netheril/Shade, Manshoon, and Drizzt, but damned if they aren't that. You never have to show that stuff, but it's there, clawing at the edges, saying "LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME". And I say that as a fan.

Irennan
2016-10-23, 08:23 PM
2) The driving force of the 5e Realms is nostalgia, in keeping with 5e's design philosophy of taking the best of all previous editions. The Sundering, which is what they're calling the act of divine intervention that changed things from 4e to 5e, undid several editions' worth of evolution in the canon, including things that the deity responsible for the Sundering pledged they would never undo, and has created its own contradictions (Myrkul and Kelemvor are both god of the dead, even though Kelemvor assumed his office by killing Myrkul during a time when the gods had permadeath enabled). So this means that if you see a bit of canon you like, even if it's an in-world century out of date or has been overturned by more recent canon, it, or an approximation of it, is probably still true. Human-lifespan characters, or others who were canonically killed, might need to be replaced*, but otherwise go for it.


They actually bothered to solve some of those issues, albeit in very simple ways. For example, Kel now is god of the dead, Myrkul god of death and decay as forces of nature.

wumpus
2016-10-24, 09:36 AM
Before you go too much further... I'll be honest with you, spaceships, Solid Snake, and Cloud Strife are more or less in the Forgotten Realms. They may call them floating cities of Netheril/Shade, Manshoon, and Drizzt, but damned if they aren't that. You never have to show that stuff, but it's there, clawing at the edges, saying "LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME". And I say that as a fan.

You do realize that Forgotten Realms (and lore) predate Final Fantasy and Metal Gear (Drizzt appears to predate Cloud Strife by a good 10 years). Drizzt always sounded more like a copy of Elric of Melnibone (something more familiar to Grognards and zeroth/first edition players). Or possibly Elric after being strapped into the rigid class/alignment system of D&D.

GungHo
2016-10-24, 09:49 AM
You do realize that Forgotten Realms (and lore) predate Final Fantasy and Metal Gear (Drizzt appears to predate Cloud Strife by a good 10 years). Drizzt always sounded more like a copy of Elric of Melnibone (something more familiar to Grognards and zeroth/first edition players). Or possibly Elric after being strapped into the rigid class/alignment system of D&D.
Yes, I do realize. I bought the gray box in 1987. I still have it, along with everything else I've bought which is everything else short of a couple of Volo's guides that my parents' dog ate. My point is, if you're looking to get away from strange things, Forgotten Realms isn't really the most "vanilla" place to escape to. There's a whole different cast of large characters to take over if they're introduced and not used well. There's a lot of space to go to ensure they don't get introduced, but it's all "there".

Darth Ultron
2016-10-26, 04:36 AM
As for learning the lore and culture of the towns, forgottenrealms.wikia is a useful source. That's useful if I know where the players are or where they're going, but if they end up going somewhere I'm not prepared for, I don't want to make stuff up on the spot, because if I'm completely wrong, it'd be cheap to retcon it.

A lot of places don't have too much detail other then a paragraph or so. So your free to add in whatever you want. This is even more so true for 5E as you can just say ''oh things changed after the awesome cataclysms''. Like you might find a old 2E book that says ''Millers town is a small town with a mill and brewery run by mayor maccheese''. But that was like 200 years ago, with no 5E lore, you can just make it whatever.




How do other people learn this stuff? How does WotC keep track of their own world's lore? How do they consistently make games that don't contradict the lore they've already written?

The fans learn it by reading and playing in the setting, slowly over time.

WotC does not ''keep track'' of anything. There are maybe two or three writers that care, and the rest just write random stuff for a pay check and scribble ''for-gotten realms'' at the top of it. Sadly. It has always been that way, though the last couple years have been even worse.

They contradict lots of stuff all the time, and either don't care or do it willingly. The vast majority don't care, are not fans, and can't be bothered to look anything up. The just write whatever, they don't care. Worse are the people that just change things as they want to, they don't like X so they change it. They might say ''oh, er, a magic quake changes the stuff'', but just as often they say nothing.

Mutazoia
2016-10-26, 05:08 AM
There are a couple of ways to go about it.

First, pick a style of campaign, and then pick the area of Faerun that corresponds. For example, if you are feeling like a Sinbad/1001 Arabian Nights style campaign, then look up the Al-Qadim setting. Feeling like a trip to the far east? Track down the Kura-Tur setting. The world of the Forgotten Realms is HUGE and TSR built the entire planet of Faerun to have a setting for pretty much everything you can think of, so this should be fairly easy.

The second way is to get your hands on the original boxed set, as as many of the suppliments as possible, and let your players wander freely. This can be a bit nerve-wracking as, as I said above, Faerum is a huge....I literally covered an entire 30' wall in maps at one time, and they (TSR) were still expanding at that point.

Half-way decent Google-Fu skills should turn up just about anything you need,

Now, that said, there is no reason you can't do sraight D&D and not have space ships....after all, that's what Spelljammer was for ;)


A lot of places don't have too much detail other then a paragraph or so. So your free to add in whatever you want. This is even more so true for 5E as you can just say ''oh things changed after the awesome cataclysms''. Like you might find a old 2E book that says ''Millers town is a small town with a mill and brewery run by mayor maccheese''. But that was like 200 years ago, with no 5E lore, you can just make it whatever.

There's not a lot of post 3.X detail, you mean? The 2nd Ed stuff can be converted quite easily. All you are really using is are the maps and location information. Any monsters and such you just use the stats for 5e (or what-ever edition you are running). You don't even have to use a specific timeline. You can easily say your campaign takes place before The Time of Troubles, or after, or during. It's up to you.


WotC does not ''keep track'' of anything. There are maybe two or three writers that care, and the rest just write random stuff for a pay check and scribble ''for-gotten realms'' at the top of it. Sadly. It has always been that way for WotC, though the last couple years have been even worse.

Fixed that for you.