Why I fear the Forgotten Realms …

…and why I have high hopes for the 4E version

I always feared the Forgotten Realms. There were instances when I really hated them. And if you are a gamemaster there a lot of things that can make the Realms to become your nemesis when campaign settings are concerned. The Forgotten Realms campaign setting is one of the more popular D&D settings. So a lot of players have played in the Realms, they have read books about the realms or they have played the computer games set into this world. So you can expect that everyone has his version of the realms in mind when he or she sits down at the gaming table. So it becomes pretty hard to create your version of this campaign setting. You constantly run into discussions with your players about what the world should be.

The devil’s in the details
The Forgotten Realms is probably one of the most detailed D&D settings. Even small villages are somewhere described in detail, perhaps even with a map and some NPC stats. These rich details create the situation that it’s very hard for a GM to add things of his own creation. When I created a campaign for my group it took me ages to find a spot on the map that was not too far from the major cities but where the lack of details allowed me to create an interesting campaign. But I always lived in fear that there was some obscure book that contradicted what I has built up. And making changes in one place often forces you to rewrite large portions of the world in order not to run into further trouble later. The first campaign I led with 3rd Edition D&D was a Greyhawk campaign that was much easier to pull off then the FR campaign I did later. Since Greyhawk has a lot of grey spots and even the major places where much less detailed I could easily shape the world as I saw fit.

The good-aligned dual-wielding drow
I am also pretty sure that a lot of GMs hate the books about that (in)famous drow Drizzt Do’Urden. A lot of players who all seem to have read the books always want to play good-aligned drow characters. Rangers are preferred of course, so if you don’t intervene instantly, you get a whole group of Drizzt lookalikes. I never read the books and probably this particular drow makes a good hero for a novel, BUT it’s nevertheless more than silly to have a lot of good-aligned drow running around. It just ruins this great villainy (is that a word?) race.

Faerun vs. Vanilla D&D
With the popularity of the Realms comes another problem: players tend to think of Faerun as the “standard” D&D world. But there are a lot of things that are different in the Realms when compared to vanilla D&D. Those misconceptions can be easily cleared up when taken some time, but it just gets annoying when people think in FR concepts in your Greyhawk/Eberron/Homebrew campaign.
I’ve tried to run several campaign in the setting because a) my group asked me to it and b) it’s not that I dislike it myself. But the decision to use the Realms comes with a price. Because of the things I’ve written above I started to avoid the Realms at all cost. When Wizards announced that they will make major changes to this classic D&D setting I was very excited. If they really change the world of Faerun in a major way, some of the issues I had will be instantly blown away. It will probably still be popular but Wizards promised us to give the world back to the GMs. There won’t be long descriptions of every small village, nations will have vanished, changed, new ones will have risen. Somewhere I read that even whole continents changed. The “new” realms will be diffent enough that veteran players will not have an advantage over the GM. And obviously will be enough “grey spots” for you to flesh out. With a bit of luck my copy of the new campaign setting is being shipped as we speak. And this time I am really excited.