Thursday, March 25, 2010

Realms and Remembrance

The previous write-up on Marvel Super Heroes generated a lot of response, so I started in on covering one of the biggest worlds in FRPGs – The Forgotten Realms (I may double-back for Dragonlance, or not. I dunno). As with the MSH write-up, a lot of this material is already common knowledge, and some of it is not so much.

1) The original Forgotten Realms was a setting created by Ed Greenwood. I tag along as co-creator when it comes to the published product you’ve seen (starting with the Grey Box). I’m the sidekick in this relationship, or as I tend to put it - he's the architect, I'm the engineer.

2) The Realms predates D&D, and was a setting for Ed’s stories long before there were RPGs. It joins Greyhawk (miniatures game) and Tekumel (stories and language) in that category.

3) The first FR story was written in 1967 by Ed, One Comes, Unheralded to Zirta. It involved Eliminster, Mirt, Waterdeep, and magical crossdressing. Ed was eight years old at the time.

4) Ed was an early adaptor for D&D and soon began to send articles into DRAGON Magazine. He would couch them in a framework of “Elminster drops in on Ed and raids his fridge and tells Ed about Seven Magical Swords of the Realms”. Initially the editors would cut out those parts, but after a while they relented and the rest of the world would find out about Elminster and the Realms.

5) In the wake of the success of Dragonlance, TSR management were suddenly interested in publishing another world, because Dragonlance might peak and then where would we be? (quit laughing, it was a reasonable concern). I was the poor schmuck that pointed out that Ed was writing things about his world and maybe it would be interesting to find out more? And that was how I ended up working on FR and serving as product manager for the early years.

6) TSR bought the Realms for a relatively modest amount of cash, a Mac Plus computer, and promise to publish novels he wrote. Later, when we were very happy with him, we bought him a hard drive to go with the computer.

7) Ed started sending me his typewritten notes. At the time Ed had access to a photocopier (as a librarian) but not the now-ubiquitous cut-and-paste feature of the computer. So he would write stuff up, cut it up physically and photocopy the results. This resulted in huge masses of text. Plus the ‘t” key of his typewriter was non-functional, so he would go in afterward and draw in all the “t’s”. It was like reading a little graveyard on every page.

8) He also photocopied his original maps and sent them. I believe the original Realms map was on 24 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper. The original map of Waterdeep was larger still, and ended up being the inspiration for the City System product. When we got the maps, we spent a day fitting them together. I colored the originals in with yellow (roads), green (forest edges) and blue (water edges) highlighters.

9) The maps were hand-drawn and lettered, which led to some confusion. The “Lost Empire of Cavenauth” was originally a site on Ed’s map known simply as “cavemouth”.

10) Ed was always very accommodating about changes made to the original Realms maps. We drained half of the Great Glacier, redrew the Moonshae Isles, and added Ten Towns, among other things, before the product saw print.

11) The Moonshae Isles as they are known today were the product of Doug Niles. At the time, he was working on a Dragonlance-type world with TSR UK, and had half a novel written when that project (and the creative side of TSR UK) went casters up. At the time Ed and I were working on the campaign setting, and while both of us planned for novels, we had no time. That was how “Darkwalker on Moonshae” became the first Forgotten Realms book and the first Forgotten Realms product.

12) The initial wave of books were: “Darkwater on Moonshae” by Doug Niles, “The Crystal Shard” by Bob Salvatore, “Spellfire” by Ed Greenwood, and “Azure Bonds” by myself and Kate Novak (better known to readers here as The Lovely Bride). No, none of us realized that a supporting character from Bob’s book would be the breakout star, and would become the Fonzie Fonzarelli of the Forgotten Realms.

13) I contributed Festhalls to the Realms. Ed’s original city maps had a high population of brothels, which made them inadvisable to publish. Our choices were rename them or rekey all the maps. I came up with the festhall name, which by definition spread out to handle a multitude of sins (feasts of both foods and flesh, and a bit of day spa added as well). I am very aware when someone else uses them in a fantasy novel.

14) Ed called his campaign the Forgotten Realms with the idea that the Realms were always there, right next door, but we had forgotten them. The people that lived there called their area Faerun. Ed had no name for the planet, and I contributed the name of my home campaign – Toril (originally Toricandra – I was a CS Lewis fan (though not of Narnia, surprisingly)).

15) Ed’s gods emerged mostly unscathed. I added Waukeen because I felt we needed a merchant god. Waukeen was a god created by one of my players, who decided to worship money – in particular the Walking Liberty Silver Dollar (hence, Waukeen – no connection to anyone named Joaquin).

16) I checked with one of our editors who was wiccan if any of the gods would raise hackles from people who might worship them. The only one she tagged was Tyche, which I turned into Tymora but otherwise left intact. However, I did not remember the map tags, so the original project went out with Temples to Tyche marked on them. Later we would retcon them with Tyche being a Luck goddess separated into good luck (Tymora) and bad luck (Beshaba).

17) For the original maps I wanted a parchment-look for them. What we ended up with what a friend and manager referred to (loudly) as “urine-yellow maps”. He demanded they be replaced with future expansions, with a color I referred to (loudly) as “Fiestaware orange”.

18) I was always very proud of that plastic overlay in the grey box, by the way. We had done hexgrids for the beautiful Greyhawk map and Dragonlance, so I wanted to get away from a hexed look, but still be useful to players. The big openness on the map was so the players could add their own stuff. The idea was so cool Mayfair games lifted it for their City State of Invincible Overlord, keeping the plastic template and only erasing the FR logo on it. It didn’t fit with their product, but it was cool-looking.

19) Sembia was originally a territory that scheming merchants came from in Ed’s campaign, and we didn’t have a lot to go on past that point. The book was already groaning for space, so I decided that Sembia was to remain open space for players to toss their existing campaigns into. Later, the book department decided that for the Horde trilogy, the Tuigan Horde would roll through Sembia, and on that basis, I broke my own promise and went there in a comic book story. Then Horde ran out of steel in Impiltur. Hah! Fooled me!

20) Just as the maps were supposed to look like parchment, the interior was supposed to look like an old book as well. Which is why the original set was printed in brown ink on brown paper. I was worried it would be too dark.

21) A lot of what we concentrated on in the original boxed set was based on what Ed had written up. That’s why we had a lot on Rashemen and the Dales and not so much on, say, Impiltur and Sembia. Most of the material in the summary and game mechanics is mine, most of the material in Elminster’s Notes is Ed (well, edited Ed).

22) The guy on the cover? I have no idea who he is. I think we retconned him later. He was a great Keith Parkinson art piece, and I loved it.

23) I was also very happy with the cover of Forgotten Realms Adventures, which had a female paladin on a clydesdale unicorn. I think it is one of the few times I’ve ever convinced Clyde Caldwell to draw a woman in full armor.

24) The “Year of the X” construction for the years was Ed’s. It allowed him to pull some past year out of his ears in play and create the illusion of history. Years later we would fill in all the rest of them (Though I don’t think they kept my “Year of the Screeching Vole”).

25) We retrofit a number of D&D Products that were in the works into the Realms, including N5, Under Illefarn, the Bloodstone Pass H series, and I3-5, which were being repackaged. Part of what made this work was the idea that the Realms was everyone’s campaign from 1975, and was supposed to be able to handle most of what the DMs would throw at it.

26) One manager demanded zeppelins at one point. I rolled my eyes and called Ed. He pointed out that he had already done the Skyships of Halruaa for DRAGON about a year previous. I was pleased to present that material to the manager.

27) I ended up the de facto product manager for the Realms line because I knew where all the bodies were buried when we created the first boxed set. During that time, I ended up talking with Ed once or twice a week (he was in Canada) and working through things.

28) “Waterdeep and the North” was scheduled before we realized we would not have any room for “and the North” in the product. And as it was, we had to go to mouse type to fit in the Guilds. “The North” finally was addressed in “The Savage Frontier”.

29) One of my greater regrets (and I’m only sharing one) involves “Empires of the Sands”. Scott Haring did a marvelous job on the project, but in production, one of the plates for the maps was reversed and printed backwards. At the time, the company promised that they would catch it in the next printing, but they never did, to my knowledge.

30) My “era” of the Realms is pretty much framed by the Grey Box and the Forgotten Realms Adventures Hardback. I would write stuff after this, including the “Gold Box” version, but the schedule for the product line would be less impacted by me and Ed’s original notes, and after this takes flight with other people’s contributions. It includes the early sourcebooks and big 128 page perfect bounds and the comics and the early novels and the Time of Troubles. After that I was moving on to other matters, and leaving the Realms in good hands.

31) And to that end, thanks to Karen and Julia and Steven and Jim, who contributed to the original and kept moving forward. And the editors and designers who brought their own visions to the years as we moved forward. And of course, to Ed.