Later today, I’m going to be starting a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign with a bunch of kids aged 10-12, including my son. When I was planning this game, I considered a number of different system, including various editions of Dungons & Dragons, RuneQuest, the Omega system (found in the excellent Atlantis: Second Age), and the very well designed Shadow of the Demon Lord.
Ultimately, I settled on the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. There were a number of reasons for this choice, but I’ll go into that in another post.
The second thing I had to decide was where I was going to set my game. Some of the campaign worlds I considered included Athas (the world of the Dark Sun setting), the amazing Ptolus, Pathfinder’s Golarion, and the world of Green Ronin’s Freeport.
But ultimately, I chose the Forgotten Realms.
There are, of course, rabid fans of the setting, and major detractors. It seems as if the Forgotten Realms is a setting that people either love or hate.
But it is a setting I discovered with the original grey box campaign set back in 1987 and one that I’ve enjoyed ever since. I’ve run countless campaigns in the Realms, and flipping through the various books always gets my imagination running.
There is so much to the Forgotten Realms, however, that it can overwhelm a DM when trying to plan out the early stages of a campaign.
I was helped out when planning my campaign, though. I knew I wanted to run the original adventure The Temple of Elemental Evil, a rather large adventure originally published in 1985 as an expansion of Gary Gygax’s The Village of Hommlet adventure from 1979.
So my first step was to figure out where to set the Temple. The adventure as originally published was set in the world of Greyhawk, a setting that has been around even longer than the Realms. But the Realms has so much written material that it can be difficult sometimes to take a place on the map and do your own thing with it without contradicting some other published book.
Luckily, I don’t really care about that kind of stuff. I like the Realms because of the material that is available to me as a DM, but I’ve never felt the need to adhere to canon just because TSR or Wizards of the Coast published a book.
It’s my game, so it’s my setting.
While the original village of Hommlet is a great place, I decided to take an existing village in the Realms and use that instead of the village as presented in the original adventure. In my campaign, the village of Loudwater is where my campaign will begin.
Loudwater is located just south of the High Forest, and not very far from the Sword Coast. And I’ve been itching to return to the Savage North for a long time—the last three D&D campaigns I’ve run have all taken place in the Moonsea region.
The next thing to consider is when to set my campaign. In the Forgotten Realms, that’s a real concern.
If you are at least passing familiar with the Realms, you know that the timeline of the setting keeps getting moved forward. With each new edition of Dungeons & Dragons that has been published, the Realms timeline has shifted so that the changes inherent in a new rules set could be reflected in changes in the setting.
What this means is that countries have change, gods have changed, organizations have changed, and major NPCs have changed.
And it’s even worse, because every era has had some fantastic stuff going on that I want to steal for my game.
Luckily, I happen to have the excellent Grand History of the Realms. Originally compiled by a fan of the setting, it was purchased and published by Wizards of the Coast as an amazing reference for major events that have taken place in each year of the setting.
Consider that the original grey box version presented the Realms in the year 1357 DR, the AD&D second edition Forgotten Realms setting moved that up ten years to 1367 DR, the third edition advanced the timeline again to 1372 DR and progressed it through 1376 DR, the fourth edition jumped ahead a hundred years to 1479 DR, and the current fifth edition started in 1484 DR and has moved to 1489 DR.
So more than 130 years of history have passed in the official timeline of the Realms through the editions of the game.
But since I was going back to the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, I wanted to jump back to an earlier time as well. In fact, I decided to jump back to before the year of the original boxed set.
I’ve gone all the way back to 1340 DR. This was the year of the old Pool of Radiance computer game, set in the city of Phlan. The events of that game probably won’t affect my campaign, as my players are unlikely to head for the Moonsea on a whim, and I’m far enough in advance of the Time of Troubles that I don’t need to worry about that timeline and consider if I want to include it in my game or not.
However, the one problem is that there are a ton of interesting things that happen later on in the setting. In fact, they happen so much later that there’s little chance they will ever come to pass in this game.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t use them.
In particular, some of specifics from the 4th edition campaign guide to the Realms are fantastic. And since the setting is over a hundred years in the future, anything I take from there isn’t going to cause me headaches later in the campaign. These include:
- The Red Wizards of Thay: Thay is an interesting land and a spawning ground of great villains. It’s gone through some changes as the game has gone through editions, and in the years of the fourth edition, the kingdom was ruled by a powerful necromancer. This is my favourite version of Thay, and it gives me a chance to have Red Wizards allied with all manner of undead creatures.
- The destruction of Neverwinter: The city of Neverwinter was famous for the hot springs that run through the city, keeping it from freezing in the winter. A nearby volcano was the source of the heat, powered by a vastly powerful primordial being of fire that was magically imprisoned under the mountain. A group of villains released the primordial, and the volcano erupted, nearly destroying the city of Neverwinter. Now the city is a battleground for multiple evil factions.
- The Abolethic Sovereignty: I’ve always considered Aboleths to be really cool monsters, and the Abolethic Sovereignty is an amazing idea. The presence of their great flying city warps reality and is filled with huge, ancient elder aboleths that alien to the Realms.
But most of those elements are for later on in the campaign. The kids are starting with brand-new, first-level characters. They are going to be presented with a few low-level adventures to give them some experience with the rules and their characters, and then I’m going to introduce the Temple of Elemental Evil.
I’ve got a lot of plans on how to make that mega-adventure more exciting and interesting, and I’ll be posting some of my ideas here as the game progresses.
But the kids will be here shortly and I’ve got a little more prep to do.
Have you ever set your game in the Forgotten Realms? Where did you set it? What year (in-setting) did you start with? Tell me about it in the comments.