he Forgotten Realms
is rife with great characters—Drizzt Do’Urden, Elminster, Erevis Cale—to name just a few. But perhaps the greatest character inhabiting the Forgotten Realms
is Faerûn itself.
World-building requires the same care and attention as creating characters. Just like a good character, a setting needs specific, vivid details and a mood, an emotional life, to make those details come alive. A good setting must live and breathe—and change.
When Ed Greenwood created the Forgotten Realms more than forty years ago, he dreamed up a world so detailed that he even knows the kind of underwear that Cormyreans wear. Ed continues to be a catalog of Forgotten Realms lore; call him up with almost any Realms question, and he has the answer on the tip of his tongue, along with many more related details that inspire new ideas. And does the Realms have moods? As many as a teenaged orc. From the dark alleys of Luskan to the dulcet lanes of Silverymoon, there's a place on the map to suit any temperament of story you want to tell or game you want to run.
For authors and editors, in some ways this encyclopedic level of detail makes storytelling so much easier. When I want to check how much a ritual book might cost (something I just did as I was editing Erin M. Evans’s sequel to Brimstone Angels, Lesser Evils), I don’t need to make the author invent a system of currency, I can look it up (or better yet, ask Ed).
But in other ways, it makes it so much more difficult. For the "shared" part of "shared world" adds a hefty responsibility. I share this world not just with authors and other editors and game designers—but also with fans.
Just like a favorite character, this world means so much to people—to all different sorts of people. There are old-school fans who have been playing in the world and reading its stories since Douglas Niles’s Darkwalker on Moonshae. And then there are some (such as new members in our WoTC Book Club) who just recently picked up one of our novels and were hooked. When we tell stories in this world, our goal is to make sure the world feels like Forgotten Realms to all kinds of fans.
It’s a tall order, but Erik Scott de Bie is one of our authors who has worked hard to fulfill that goal. A fan since he was ten years old, his passion for and knowledge of Faerûn is extensive. He says:
“Reading, gaming, and writing there has taught me about heroism, about friendship, about the power and purpose of knowledge. I credit the early work of R.A. Salvatore, Doug Niles, and Elaine Cunningham in the setting with my interest in reading, then the old 2e boxed set as my foundation in gaming, then the Realms as a whole as kicking off my writing career. It was the perfect place to look for the breadth of stories I wanted, which felt realistic even as they obviously were fantasy. By the same token, the world fits so perfectly into the stories I want to tell, that writing in the setting wasn’t any kind of choice at all . . . I steep my material in old school Realms books, but I don’t make you have to know those books to appreciate my novel. If you know it, great, and you can enjoy it on that level—if not, that’s fine too, and you can enjoy discovering new things or just hang on for the ride.”
In his latest novel, releasing this month, Shadowbane: Eye of Justice, Erik Scott de Bie uses a classic Realms location (Westgate), iconic organizations (the Night Masks and Fire Knives), classic NPCs and gods (Helm), and all kinds of old-school lore (Cloak and Dagger was his reference bible). And yet he weaves a gripping tale with these elements, a cutting-edge story that could only be told in the 4th Edition Realms.
As a stalwart fan, Erik has seen the Forgotten Realms evolve many times over the years. In my time, I’ve stood on the sidelines as the Forgotten Realms transitioned into 4th Edition, and I’m right in the thick of discussions as we prepare for D&D Next and its implications on Faerûn.
For those who went to Gen Con, watched the videos posted on our site, or who have been frequenting various message boards, you’ve heard about our exciting new series planned for 2013: The Sundering. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry! You can learn all about it here and here.)
The Sundering is a series of six novels releasing every other month, beginning in August 2013. Each story will be set against the backdrop of an event (the Sundering) that will reshape and restore Faerûn. As Ed Greenwood announced in the Gen Con keynote:
“I shouldn’t give away too much about the Sundering, but let me just say that there will be war. And although there are gods and their Chosen, there are also just plain folks struggling to stay alive and defend what they hold dear—and you’ll see that in the Sundering, and your characters will be a part of that defending afterwards.”
I don’t want to give too much away either—watch this column as we’ll be talking more about it as time goes on. But I will say that Ed Greenwood will be walking alongside us as we chart this new path for Faerûn. I asked Ed to weigh in on how he feels about these changes facing the Realms:
“At its heart,” Ed says, “the Realms is people, not geography—the interwoven lives of folks living in the Realms, with all their dreams, struggles, intrigues, and strife. The Sundering plunges us into something very ‘big’ happening to everyone in the Realms, but in the novels, readers will look over the shoulders of individual characters dealing with the chaos of the Sundering, and their own ongoing lives before the tumult of the Sundering descended. So it takes the Realms back to where it should always be: folks living interesting lives (possibly more interesting lives than they’d prefer their lives to be) while we watch, and experience it all with them. Making new friends and foes, and sharing in the dreams and excitement. Way more exciting than paying bills.”
Change in a shared world is exciting but there’s no denying it’s scary, too, and not just for characters. Everyone involved wants to get this right, to make sure we are truly “righting the Realms,” as Ed likes to say. But I firmly believe we’re on the right track and that ultimately this change will be well-received. Just like good characters, settings need to evolve to keep the story-telling vibrant and alive.
Erik Scott de Bie agrees:
“I know a setting needs to change—needs to reinvent itself constantly to stay current and relevant. As an author, I love being able to participate in those changes—in sculpting them to fit with the setting I know and love. As a fan, I enjoy figuring out how to incorporate changes and spin them into my own vision of the Realms. But at the same time, it’s extremely important that those changes be handled in a way that is TRUE to the setting . . . I’m looking forward to seeing how the changes in Forgotten Realms will incorporate more backstory and integrate the setting in a way that is more inclusive of fans both new and old.”
As I told Erik, this is exactly the philosophy we’ve been taking of late in the storytelling in the Realms. Whether you’re new to the world or have every character in the Legend of Drizzt memorized, rest assured we’re keeping you in mind. Because no matter how much things change, they should still stay the same—and the Forgotten Realms should always be an old friend you recognize.