Refugees from the Forgotten Realms

Started by Judd, October 30, 2011, 06:18:05 AM

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Read Ron's article and it reminded me of the gaming I have done in the Forgotten Realms using the original grey boxed set, a few early supplements and Burning Wheel Revised and supplements and Burning Wheel Gold.

There are links to individual AP threads over on the BW forums and the play-by-post game, The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm is still going strong on the Obsidian Portal site.  The Ballad's wiki also has a list of the supplements I've used as inspiration.

There's a group of friends who have really strong nostalgia for the Forgotten Realms, folks who had the maps on their walls and ceilings as kids.  Some played in the Realms and some did not.  For many of us, we grew distant with the realms as the novels took hold and things began to change. 

The first few supplements are for AD&D and not AD&D second edition.  Its a real different feel between the two.  The boxed set has the Cyclopedia of the Realms, with a header for each area on the map and a paragraph or two about it and some entries on classes and races thrown in the mix (sound familiar?).

I never read those books as a kid.  While perusing a friend's book shelves a few years ago I found an old, dog-eared copy of Darkwalker on the Moonshae and it was my copy from when I was fourteen years old.  I had written a review on the inside cover and evidently, did not like the book one bit except for a part of the book told from the POV of a hound running across the quasi-celtic isles, gathering a pack to fight evil.

Other than that my interaction with the Realms was pretty light.  Because I'm fascinated with setting books, I picked up the Forgotten Realms Campaign Book that came out for 3E and despite the beautiful art it didn't inspire me to play in it. 

I picked up the grey boxed set when my buddies and I started up a game set in Waterdeep.  I really liked what I found.  The Sword Coast has a gritty feel to it, a nearly lawless frontier with a Council of Lords holding on against a horde of monsters, feuding vikings fighting pirates and monsters all built on the shaky remains of long lost empires.

With every edition of D&D, the setting lost a bit more of that original flavor that I have found so much fun.  Its daunting to start a game in the realms.  There is so much damned information out there.  Even without the hundreds of books, I could have easily run a game based on the information from wikipedia or any number of realms-related wiki's or sites.  I bought a few Volo's Guides but didn't like them - they were information dense but not situation and/or inspiration rich for me. 

Narrowing it down to those first half a dozen or so supplements and the first boxed set made the information manageable and, as it turned out, those are the books I dig.

Next up, the campaigns in relations to the essay.


Aaron and Pete in Waterdeep

Quote1: Introduction to setting
• Situation-rich location

I had been dragging around this idea of a gritty campaign set in the Realms city of Waterdeep for a while.  I wanted Captain Alatriste in Waterdeep, essentially.  When I pitched the idea to my buddies, we talked a bit about what we liked about the Realms and hit on the same touch-stones: Waterdeep as an amazing city where everything could be bought and sold, the most dynamic, magical place in the realms.  We all liked Mirt the Moneylender, the portly NPC who is often overlooked by folks who tend to mention the powerful wizards, Khelben and Elminster.

I proposed they make characters who would be called in to deal with the murder of several Masked Lords, members of the ruling council of Waterdeep.  Looking back, this was a bit too whodunnit and less bodyguardy but despite the premise being kind of a mess, BW's beliefs pulled us out of the fire and got the game firing on all cylinders.

What quickly occurred is that the characters came into their own and once this situation was resolved, we moved on to other things that were more important to the players, as they came up in play.

Quote2: Make characters in that spot
• Relationships, obligation

Aaron and Pete made up five lifepath characters, real movers and shakers and I would have asked for more gritty characters but their ideas were really solid and I knew that BW would provide plenty of grit through play.

Aaron made up an elven Althing, a community leader who owned a tavern/inn in the elven part of town, called Little Evermeet.  We looked at our map of Waterdeep and found where we thought Little Evermeet might be and decided on a place on the map for the inn.

Pete made up a War Wizard from Cormyr and things just weren't clicking.  I think he was worried about keeping up with a powerful elf.  The real trouble came up with his relationships and affiliations.  He just wasn't linked to anything in Waterdeep.  He scrapped that character and made up a fallen dwarven prince who owned a chapter house for his adventuring company, the Deep Six.  He took a relationship with Mirt the Moneylender and Khelben Blackstaff, the most powerful wizard in Waterdeep's wife.

Now we're cooking.

QuoteCharacter goals
• Trigger even

Beliefs drove play and they change as new interesting things happen.  The players are attached to the people and places they created through Waterdeep and this led to adventure.  Its not as simple as, "They own something in the city, so I threaten it and they jump."  Honestly, I never threatened the elf's wife, inn nor the dwarf's chapterhouse.  But having these things tied them to Waterdeep and made us all care about the city's well being.

Quote: Emergent story = transformed setting

You can't help by change the setting in this kind of play and that worked well.  The players killed a vicious cannibal dragon, brought in a city of pirates and rogue wizards into the Lord's Alliance.

Beliefs are challenged, traits are added and dropped and the characters shift and change, as does the setting.

Next up, giant fucking spiders, old thieves and that character from ye olde junior high notebooks.


I'd like to note that Aaron's elf was around 400 years old and when we looked over the timeline we realized that he had seen Waterdeep grow into a city.  His character had seen the city grow from a fenced in cow-poke where sailors would stop to get fresh meat and water into the metropolis, the City of Splendors.


One thing worth noting is that the maps from the boxed set became part of the ritual of play.  Aaron, Pete and I would catch up and socialize for a while before the game and once the maps were on the table, game was on and we'd begin.

While I was gaming with Pete and Aaron in Waterdeep, I went to a con where some old buddies, Rob and Witt would be attending.  We agreed to get together and play a game off of the books, just the three of us, so we didn't have to stress about getting into a game at the con.

I really dislike spiders and so I find the great spiders from the Monster Burner fascinating and awful.

I pitched an idea of playing a game about spiders landing in distant Evermeet, and using that occupied island to invade the rest of the Forgotten Realms while feasting on elven flesh.  I sent the following e-mail.

QuoteThese plane's meats are generally ruled by weavers of the wyrd.  Their history is that of wyrd weavers grasping beyond their reach and through arcane abuses, bringing down their own civilization into dust.  Their descendants build upon this dust, only to make the same mistakes.  Before this era of wyrd-rule the dragons ruled, now they are endangered, bickering, consumed with greed for useless minerals.

In the undernest, some cursed meats worship a bastard daughter of the Matron Mother, an egg that should have never hatched.  It crawled into the hells and now proclaims itself worthy of temples.

Their wyrds are not to be underestimated.  Those with the Gift can summon beings from other planes, mostly spirits but in rare cases, deities.

Their metal tools are to be expected, out of which they build themselves mineral claws, teeth and armor, some are wyrded.

This world has an epidemic of death-cheats, so much that cults have formed to deities dedicated to thwarting their own natural order.

We have taken an isolated island, ruled by a group whose long life-span means they are known for not making contact with their neighbors.  Our Matrons believe we have several winters before our presence is a known fact, rather than the vague rumor it will soon become.

Your Matron asks that you land on the nearest shore and look at their above-ground nests.  Assess their defenses and if possible, web any meats whose understanding might be of value.  They will see us as monsters, a class of peoples in their society without any rights and have an entire caste of folk who seek glory through the destruction of what they consider monsters.

We are spreading the Matron Mother's web over this world and do as we always have done; we will feed.

Wyrd Weaver
Cool stuff: spells: Galvanizing Web, Wyrd Sail.  Has a relationship with an orc, Master of Eight.  Can speek both high and low speech.

Wandering Star
Cool stuff: Relationships with a human partner (who rides him) and a murderous mate.  Has some cool wises, might change them up just a little bit.

Wolf Hunter
Cool stuff: Good skill set, probably the best suited for scouting and killing.

Cool stuff: A sailor, also well suited to the adventure.


Write a belief about your relationship with the extra-planar arachnid empire that you currently serve so that your clutch-mates might feed.

Write a belief, something that you think of the humans, even if it is wrong.

Write a short-term goal, something you can solve in one adventure about the scouting mission.

This game has a very different relationship than the other campaigns I will write about.  This isn't about nostalgia but is using the Realms as a toy that is fun to smash against the sidewalk with eight legs and mandibles.

Once again, the map from the old boxed set, the one detailing the Sword Coast was a key tool during play.

C. Edwards

Just want to say that I'm enjoying these posts. The grey box was the very first rpg product I purchased and has a significant presence in my early memories of play (along with "The Keep on the Borderlands").


I've been enjoying the whole Burning Realms series of posts. Sometimes makes me wish I had held onto that grey box and a couple supplements.

But I never dug into it back in the day. Oh, I read the boxed set, and we even had a campaign move into the Forgotten Realms for a while. But it never stuck on me. I will continue to enjoy the Realms through the stories of Judd's games.

Frank Filz


Of course I thought of something more to say after I hit post...

I am really digging the idea of enjoying these mega-settings by taking a few choice bits, often from the early publishing of the setting and go from there, and let go of the need to be confined by the volumes of information, with all it's revisions, and status of who knows more.

I have used the Blackmoor setting in this way. Oh, I use the newer maps from the TSR DA1-DA4 series modules, but I ignore most of the text of those modules, and have totally ignored the D20 version.

I have resolved that when I play Glorantha again in the future that I will stick mostly to the RQ2 era materials, perhaps pulling in a few of the Avalon Hill era bits, and mostly ignoring the Hero Wars/Quest era materials.

I have had fun with these settings when limiting myself. I got caught up in a materialistic hoarding habit with the newer materials and never even really dug into them much.

Frank Filz


I lost a post just after I posted about the spiders and lost momentum for posting the last bit.  Here we go:

The spiders game used the realm as more of a chew toy than a setting but its good fun so far.  Really, the setting has been the hierarchy within the spiders, with Witt and Rob learning about this odd eight-legged, alien society.

Worth noting: I really hate spiders.  Once they get big enough that they have facial expressions, they scare the shit out of me.

While running and posting about these games set in the Realms, an old buddy, Jason, commented that he was jealous.  Jay and I had played together as teens and all through college.  I ran my first one-on-one campaign with him in his parent's kitchen with GURPS, in which he played an albino gunslinging minotaur in a fantasy western thing our teenage minds dreamed up.  Good times.

He had planned to visit, so we set up a Realms game set in Waterdeep.  He was an old thief who had operated on the periphery of the Shadow Thieves before they were driven out of the city a few years ago.  There are rumors of a crime lord gathering power in the city now but no one is sure who.  Naturally, we knew who, because a prominent NPC in Waterdeep and the North was Xanathar, a cross between a beholder and Keyser Sjoze.

The game ran almost like a whodunnit but we knew damned well who done it, so it was more of an excuse for Jason to run his old thief, me to set up some meaningful conflicts and finally pit two beliefs against each other.  The game ended with him playing double-agent for a Masked Lord and the beholder but the thing is the beholder treats him better and pays him better, doesn't condescend to him and his thief believes that the poorer parts of town are better off with a strong criminal leader putting an end to gang wars.

Like many one-shots, particularly with Sorcerer, BW and Dogs in the Vineyard, I was left with the feeling that the best games were just coming up.  I'm hoping that when I move to NYC, Jay and I can pick up where we left off and see what happens to Arlen.

And then there's me and Daniel's play-by-post game, The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm.  We're using Burning Wheel Gold and its in the Dalelands, a part of the setting I didn't have any familiarity with but sounded a bit like human settlers easing into now-open elven lands.

The character is Daniel's teenage dream character, a guy he wrote short stories about in junior high notebooks.  This worried me but BW's lifepaths would let me know if he really wanted to play the game with Hal or not.  If Daniel had hit his head against the lifepaths and said something like, "Judd, this just isn't how I pictured Hal," it would have been a pretty good sign that he doesn't want to play Hal with BW.  The lifepath system in that game is pretty good at making changes in character concepts, offering surprises. 

It turned out that he liked the surprises, enjoyed that he had to take some lifepaths that put Hal into slavery in his early years. 

The game is going well (though this week has been our slowest posting yet) and the whole play-by-forum thing is interesting to me.

Its nice to be able to hyperlink to a map of the town the game is taking place in, or a picture of the monster they are flying on.  But with a setting that has this much material, I have to really pick and choose.

I noticed this when I was burning up Khelben Blackstaff for the BW game.  I could have really been mired down in his history, even bits that I found dull and sort of annoying.  That whole process of burning up and NPC or monster that is based on something is picking and choosing one's sources.  That was satisfying.

There is a first edition grittiness to those first supplements and its been fun to dig them up and using the BW rules, highlight them.


What has been the best thing to me is that, because we are using only the gray box, it's all open for exploration. There are details I know about the Realms (okay, there are a lot of details), but they aren't necessary. If I can work them in as part of the narration, they are a nice little stake that grounds us in the setting, but if they're not used in lieu of something we create that's better, so be it. So I can write about Hal going to see the phoenix-shaped Temple of Lathander in Shadowdale or him drinking Highmoon stout, or I can explore the hell out of that cursed natural pool in the middle of the Cormanthor by the name of Drowned Hope and make it part of OUR Realms. Both are awesome.