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4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide Review: Big Changes, Good Book, Crappy Map

As soon as I’d read — and loved — the 4e core books (reviewed right here on the Stew [1]), I was excited about seeing the 4e Forgotten Realms setting book. I paid full price for the privilege of getting it at the one store in my area that had it on release day (our lone Borders), and tucked into it right away.

After several days with it, here are my impressions of this book — a 3,000-word review from a longtime FR fan and GM. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first in-depth review of the FRCG to appear anywhere.

Pigeonhole Me

There are lots of ways to love (or loathe) the Realms, and I think it’s important to tell you where I’m coming from before I dive into this review.

I’ve been a fan of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting ever since I got my hands on the old grey box back in 1989/90 (or thereabouts), and I started GMing campaigns set there shortly after that. It’s my favorite D&D setting by far, and my default when I want to run a game. I own and love most of the 1e and earlier 2e supplements (especially the pamphlet style regional guidebooks), as well as about half of the 3e and 3.5e material. I thought the 3rd Edition revamp of the Realms was excellent.

The fiction, on the other hand, has never really grabbed me. I enjoyed the original Dark Elf trilogy, but have never been able to get past the first book of the classic Icewind Dale series. I’ve read a couple of other random Realms novels, and found them to be poorly written and not all that interesting. (My last attempt was The Thousand Orcs, which was so bad I put it down after a chapter or two.)

When it comes to running games in Faerûn, I’ve always made the setting my own. For example: I thought the concept of the Time of Troubles was lame, so I ignored it. You can do this with any setting, but some folks seem to worry about ignoring canon — and ALL the dozens of novels of varying quality are considered canon — when it comes to the Realms. I never have.

Why I Love the Forgotten Realms

I love the Realms as a campaign setting for three big reasons:

1. It’s HUGE, incredibly detailed and built for adventuring. You can set a campaign nearly anywhere in Faerûn and have plenty of published support, or range further afield and create new material on your own. There’s a ton of diversity among the different regions, and all of them just scream “You can adventure here.” It’s hard to pin down, but something about the setting has always spoken to me on an unconscious level — it just feels right for a D&D setting.

2. Open the book and point. Ed Greenwood once said that you could close your eyes, open the core FR campaign guide to a random page, point to any spot on that page and start a campaign based on what was written there — and he was absolutely right, both about the original AD&D core books as well as the 3e campaign guide. Faerûn is bursting with ideas.

3. The little stuff. In the old grey box, Sembia was left completely blank, so GMs could mold it however they saw fit. The Forgotten Realms Adventures hardcover listed the collective nouns for inhabitants of different places, so citizens of Mulmaster were Mulmasterites but the people of Hillsfar were Hillsfarians. Little stuff, but very cool. These kinds of touches dropped off in 3e, but not entirely — there’s always been an attention to detail in FR products that I love.

When I read the new Campaign Guide, those three things were uppermost in my mind. So how did it stack up?

OK, Let’s Do It: The 4th Edition Campaign Guide

Here are my impressions of the Campaign Guide, more or less in the order they came to me. SPOILERS ABOUND, obviously.

The art rocks: As with the 4e core books, I love the cover (and the whole shiny/matte thing) and the splash page approach to the chapters really works for me. When I saw the illustration for the Chapter 1: Loudwater, my first thought was “I want to adventure here.” That’s a great lead-off impression for a setting book. (And I love the homage to the cover of the old grey box in the Magic chapter’s splash page.)

This is a pretty slim book: Given how big Faerûn is, that seems like a weird choice. On the other hand, the forthcoming Player’s Guide will have all the crunch in it, so maybe it’s just slimmer by that margin?

I decided to compare the page count of the section of the book I care the most about as a GM — Chapter 6, which is entirely devoted to describing the lands, cities and wild places of Faerûn — to its analog in the 3rd Edition and 1st Edition (old grey box) versions of this product, and just set aside the sections on gods, monsters, etc. Here’s how that shook out:

That was a real surprise for me. Despite being 32 pages shorter than the 3rd Edition FR core book, the new one actually offers up 20 more pages of setting material. I’d love to have that extra 32 pages back in the form of still more detail on the world, but given that that’s not the case, I’m glad the setting section got a boost in pagecount.

Pagecount versus the amount of info presented: Type size and layout play a role, though — this book uses a larger typeface and more whitespace than the 3rd Edition FRCS. That makes it easier to read (I found the 3e core book’s type to be slightly too small), but also means there’s less information on any given page. Word for word, I think the 3e version covers more ground in fewer pages; if it had been produced with the same type and layout as the 4e FRCG, I think the 3e FRCS would actually have more pages of setting material.

Despite that, I would still say that the 4e FRCG offers more directly useful information than the 3e FRCS — everything in a 4e region entry is useful to you as a GM, whereas there’s info in a 3e region entry that many GMs likely won’t use. This is doubly true for adventure hooks. For example: The 4e Aglarond entry includes 13 adventure hooks; the 3rd Edition entry includes just four. That plus the improved readability makes me very happy with the amount and style of the setting info in the 4e FRCG.

The mother of all reboots: One of the things I was most curious about was how WotC would adapt the Realms to 4e’s new “points of light” philosophy — where D&D worlds are largely wild and dangerous, but dotted with outposts of civilization. As it stood in AD&D and 3rd Edition, Faerûn just flat-out doesn’t fit that design approach — although parts of it do, like the North.

So how did they do it? This is covered on the very first page of the book, and for longtime fans it’ll hit like a ton of bricks.

My first thought was Wow. My second thought was I’m not sure how I feel about that, quickly followed by That’s actually really cool, and fits perfectly for 4e. I predict that most gamers will love or hate this book based largely on this single page of text.

I wasn’t sold on it until about 80 pages later, when I read the overview of “new Faerun” — those intervening 80 pages aren’t so hot. But the overview, followed by the very first region entry, Aglarond, cemented it for me: This isn’t the Forgotten Realms you know and love, but it’s balls-to-the-wall crazy in a good way, and it makes a perfect 4th Edition setting.

Great layout, with one exception: The white background and minimal, software manual-style layout carries over from the core books, and it works just as well here. This is a very readable book, with one annoying exception: the sidebars. They’re shaded, which sets them apart nicely, but they have no padding (gutters) around the text — so the edge of the shading runs right up to the letters. I have no idea if most people will care, but it drives me nuts every time I read a sidebar.

All the wrong stuff comes first: You know how the 3e campaign guide slapped you in the face with Elminster’s huge statblock? The 4e guide does the same thing, but with an adventure section. I see the thought process (jump right in without needing to read anything else), but it doesn’t work for me. The adventures in the previous editions of this book have always looked pretty lame, and these look about the same — and they take up 32 pages. This section should be at the back of the book, and a lot shorter.

The same goes for the next four chapters: With the exception of the glossary and magical features sections, I would have liked all of them to come after the setting material. I love the Realms, and I got bored reading large chunks of the first 80 or so pages. I actually set the book aside for an entire day out of frustration — which helped, because when I came back to it, pushed through to Chapter 6 and got to the awesome stuff, I came to it fresh rather than crabby.

Chapters 2-5 are a very mixed bag: Next up are the Adventuring, Magic, Cosmology and Pantheon chapters, most of which should have come at the end of the book. The timeline in Adventuring is snooze-worthy, and the selection of mundane treasures should have been skipped entirely in favor of more setting material. The glossary is nice, and in the right spot — but it doesn’t include “Well met,” the traditional Faerûnian greeting since the setting was first published back in 1987, which seems weird to me.

I liked the first half of the Magic chapter, which describes magical features of the world — portals (many of which no longer work); earthmotes, which are airborne landmasses that can support forests, strongholds, whatever; the plaguelands — but disliked the second half, which sketches out a cool idea (give every magic item a story tied to the setting — not new, but still good) in too little detail to be useful; it should have been cut or expanded.

I found the Cosmology chapter unlikely to be of much use to me, but I can see how other GMs would enjoy it. I would have liked it to be a lot shorter, so that extra space could go to setting material.

The Pantheon chapter does a nice job of describing the Greater Gods in ways that give you and your players some good details to work with, but slips at the end when it lumps all but a couple of the lesser powers into a huge list with no details whatsoever; that felt unsatisfying to me. If you want less gods to worry about, though, you can just stick to the biggies and leave it at that.

Minimal crunch = awesome: I like rules material (crunch) as much as the next guy, but it’s not why I buy setting books. I love that this edition of the Realms does away with the rules-heavy approach of the 3rd Edition core book. Apart from the adventure and a chapter of monsters and NPCs, the book is pretty much rules-free. That’s my cup of tea, and as a GM I like that they included only the crunch I’m most likely to care about.

The poster map is godawful: Partway through reading the first section, I carefully pulled out my poster map — and was immediately disappointed. The maps have always been one of the strong points of published Realms material, from the macro view of the world and the detailed regional map of the Heartlands included in the original grey box and the beautiful and incredibly detailed world map in the 3e hardcover to the excellent maps included in supplements.

A good map should do two things: be useful at the gaming table, and inspire you to want to game in that world. The 4th Edition Realms map does neither. It’s an undifferentiated brownish-green blob overwhelmed by heavily-outlined text, and it doesn’t even use the entire sheet it’s printed on (the edges are blank).

Add to that the errors (for example, in the Dalelands: Tilverton Scar is marked as a city, when it’s a ruin/site; Harrowdale is marked as a city, when it’s actually a Dale — its main city is called New Velar, which isn’t on the map at all), and you have a complete waste of paper.

Here’s a closeup of the Heartlands (and a bigger version [2]):

…and here’s a comparison between the new map (bottom) and the one in the 3rd Edition FR core book (show me the big one [3]):


(For completeness’ sake, here are large images of the entire new map [4], the 3rd Edition map [5] and the old grey box’s local map for the Heartlands [6].)

The index sucks: Indexes aren’t WotC’s strong suit, when they’re included at all, but this one is a joke. This disclaimer is included at the top:

This index is meant as a source of inspiration rather than a comprehensive reference.

I shit you not. It mostly refers to sidebars, which I’m never going to remember by name anyway (and therefore won’t be able to look up), and leaves out all the details I might actually want to find in a real index. Contrast that with the 3e FRCS’s index, which took up 4 1/2 pages and was insanely comprehensive. Why not cut some of the cruft from the first few chapters to make room for a comprehensive, multi-page index, rather than a glorified appendix of sidebar titles?

Awesome overview of the world: This is what should have come right after the introduction: the section that briefly describes each region of the world is excellent. Every region sounds like a neat place to adventure, and it really helped sell me on the cool factor of the massive changes that have taken place in the Realms. For such a short section, it makes a big impact.

Chapter 6: Faerûn and Beyond, the reason I bought the book: This is where the book starts to get good — really good, actually.

The depth and volume of setting material has always been one of the Realms’ greatest strengths as a campaign world. With 1st-3rd Edition, there was guaranteed support in the form of a raft of supplements for individual regions, power groups, etc. — generally quite good (the tail end of TSR’s 2e run was awful, though), and always excellent timesavers and sources of inspiration.

From what I’ve heard, that’s not a given for 4th Edition campaign settings. The Realms and Eberron (the only two announced so far) will each be getting a Campaign Guide (the fluff), a Player’s Guide (the crunch) and an adventure, with the publication of further supplements being dependent on the sales of the first three books.

Now, with the Realms it’s a reasonably safe bet that the line will continue to grow, but without that being guaranteed I think the core book becomes much more important. This is potentially ALL of the setting material you, as a GM, are going to get for 4th Edition’s rebooted Realms — which is why it’s awesome that this edition of the core book devotes more pages to pure setting description than any previous edition.

And those pages are good.

By the time I’d finished the first entry, Aglarond, I wanted to start a campaign there. After reading the next one, Akanûl, I wanted to start a campaign there, too. The region entries are well-written, concise and jam-packed with fun stuff. There’s a whole section on the Underdark that’s particularly good, with overlay maps showing where major underground settlements are located relative to the surface world, a great map of Menzoberranzan and tons of cool details about the different sections of the subterranean world.

Let’s stick with Aglarond for a minute, though. Aglarond — an area I wasn’t too familiar with — is a nation clinging to its sovereignty in the wake of a Thayan invasion, its coastline affected by the retreat of the Sea of Fallen Stars and its northern border under constant assault from the undead fortress of Undumor. In two short pages, I counted 13 adventure hooks, ranging from the tunnel the forces of Undumor are rumored to be digging to strike deeper into Aglarond to the goblins lairing in the abandoned silver mines of the Tannath Mountains to the evil malaugrym on Veltalar’s ruling council.

Cormyr offers a great example of how the changes in this edition have impacted an area most FR players are familiar with. They fought the Netherse to a standstill, and that uneasy peace continues. Marsember was hit hard by the draining of the Sea of Fallen Stars, so Suzail, the capital, has also become Cormyr’s main port. The entire city of Wheloon has been walled up (both physically and magically) and is now one big prison for Shar worshippers. Tilverton has been swallowed by a shadowy blue magical funnel, at the bottom of which lurks a malevolent entity that has yet to reveal itself. The fundamentals — strong monarchy, Purple Dragons and War Wizards, chartered adventuring companies — haven’t changed, though: it’s still recognizably Cormyr.

The region entries hit the “Close your eyes and point” mark, too — which is a big thing for me. This entire chapter is full to bursting with adventuring opportunities, with no clutter or cruft whatsoever. Each region gets at least a page, and most get two; the famous bits get more than two. And every section features a snippet of the map for easy reference.

What’s missing when compared to the 3e FRCS are the cultural and societal details. The 4e FRCG mentions the populations of most major settlements and gives you a few tidbits about the people, but covers nothing like the import/export lists and “Life and Society” sections of the region entries in the 3rd Edition version. Some of that I can do without (like 3e’s population breakdown by race — who cares?), but it would have been nice to have a few more fluffy details than are presented in the new book.

This somewhat stripped down approach fits very well for 4th Edition, though — it matches up with the feel of the PHB and DMG. It’s all about adventuring opportunities in a points-of-light world, and less about painting a rich tapestry of cultural details about the Realms. If they do more supplements, that’s fine; if not, part of me will miss those details.

Crunch for GMs: Rounding out the book is a solid chapter of NPCs, power groups and monsters, from the Five Companies (sky bandits out of fallen Halruua) to the Order of Blue Fire (a spellscarred cult) and the forces of Netheril, all with stats and excellent illustrations. The Threats chapter is pure GM-oriented crunch, and it’s a big improvement over 3rd Edition. This is 49 pages well spent.

Closing Thoughts

What a weird ride: I’m so glad I reviewed this book, because if I hadn’t been planning to review it I might have stopped reading partway through the first few chapters. The combination of “Holy shit, they did what?!” and the lackluster chapters that open the book could easily have kept me from getting a chance to enjoy what’s actually a damned cool setting — and one that I think will be a ton of fun to GM and play.

Skip around: I recommend reading it like this: Start with pages 4-5, then jump to 46-55, then skip straight to 82 (the start of the setting chapter) and read from there.

Please remake the map: The included map is like all of the Highlander movie sequels for me: it shouldn’t exist, and I’m just going to pretend it doesn’t.

Swing for the fences: Unlike the incremental changes the 3rd Edition FRCS brought to the setting — which, while major, didn’t fundamentally alter the entire world — 4e’s changes are HUGE. They’ve essentially created two strongly distinct versions of the Realms for GMs to consider: pre-Spellplague and post-Spellplague — they’re dramatically different in tone, tenor and feel, while still both being recognizably the same setting in a lot of ways.

The next time I want to run a Realms campaign, I would decide which of those two versions fit best for what I had in mind. Right now, I have to say that the craziness of the post-Spellplague, post Abeir-fusion, 4th Edition take on the setting really appeals to me. Overall, I think the changes are cool, and I like the unabashed, “all adventuring, all the time” vibe of the rebooted Realms. It looks like a killer place to run a game.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for reading!

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide Review: Big Changes, Good Book, Crappy Map"

#1 Comment By davethegame On August 25, 2008 @ 7:35 am

Great review, Martin. It’s really interesting to me to read this, because as you know, I’ve never really been a Realms player. I was actually looking forward to more crunch, and this book doesn’t deliver nearly as well as I was thinking- the magic items and rituals aren’t useful at all, and the monsters are mostly very specific, like certain NPCs. But I agree with you that it’s jam packed with new setting material and ideas, which if I were planning on running a Forgotten Realms game, would provide loads of inspiration. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

And I’m with you on the gutters… though fortunately, I haven’t caught any widows yet, unlike the core books.

#2 Comment By PaPeRoTTo On August 25, 2008 @ 7:36 am

Hey Hey.. Great review! omni-comprehensive πŸ™‚

I never played in the Forgotten realms, but if this setting is a real setting and not a fully-loaded stats block of city and numbers and dices, maybe i’ll give it a glance! πŸ™‚

p.s. First Post Dance ^^

p.p.s D’oh! 1 second after my click DAVE!!! πŸ˜›

#3 Comment By raineym On August 25, 2008 @ 7:40 am

This was my take on it as well. Some of the changes are a bit hard to get used to since I’ve been following the Realms since it came out.

Most of my campaigns took place around Neverwinter and Luskan, and now both are considered in ruins. Guess I’ll be looking for a new place to start my campaigns.

#4 Comment By tman On August 25, 2008 @ 8:01 am

I would agree and disagree.

Agree: Good stuff, good setting changes and campaign ideas.

Disagree: Amount of content. I would suggest this – take your 3E book and open it to a detailed writeup of some area. Find the same area in the new book and compare how much you get. The old writeup will give you a couple of paragraphs on each city and major map feature in the area. The new one skimps out hugely, starting with the much larger typeface and whitespace to the overall amount of hooks and crunch given. It’s almost an expansion to the 3E book rather than a complete setting on it’s own.

Not worth $40 in my book. Maybe $20 for a soft cover book, but I’m very disappointed with how much there *isn’t* in this book.

None-the-less, my next campaign will be in the FR and I’m just putting in the things I need back in from the 3E version and modifying to suit, which every DM should do all the time anyway.

#5 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On August 25, 2008 @ 8:34 am

Can Wizards be matched for creative, engaging and playable ideas? Not in their own backyard — the Realms — they can’t.

But when it comes to presenting those ideas in a fashion to encourage “buy-in,” that meets customer expectations, or provides a gaming template that a broad swath of discerning players finds satisfying, they often stumble over themselves. Case in point: holding back the meat of the book until the 6th chapter.

(As for why indexing is such a bugaboo for Wotc, when it consistently is something you see messageboard traffic begging them to them to include in a comprehensive fashion, beats me. I’m betting they no longer allow for the sufficient time in the production schedule to do it right. If so, that’s a shame.)

Conceptually, I love the approach of making the Realms more accessible to new players. This “reboot” of the Realms is probably the only way to accomplish that. But such a daring endeavor demands a rollout to match it, a presentation and marketing effort worthy of it.

And when I see a map that is a far cry from the lovingly detailed third edition version, I wince.

The final judgment on this edition of the Realms isn’t really how it compares to previous ones. Frankly, whether it has more pages or a lower word count are not relevant to the present.

Does it stand on its own as a setting that enables DMs to tell engaging, compelling and epic stories/campaigns?

#6 Comment By Bastian.Flinspach On August 25, 2008 @ 9:02 am

INteresting Review. Especially, since I never liked the realms much. I always found the books to be to broad in subject (The Realms are in my opinion far to big to pack them in one campaign guide. I would like it more if the campaign guide contained just one region of the realms but detailed that one in much more detail). Besides that, I always found to wirting to be somewhat boring.
I have the grey box at home in a german version and skimmed through the guide in its 3E release.
However, what really suprises me is your take on the map. As one can clearly see in your pictures, that map is far from pretty. But at least the map in the grey box here at home is one of the ugliest maps i have ever seen in any roleplaying game! Maybe it is a different one from the english Version, but I would prefer the new 4E map over that ugly and oversized bastard anytime. πŸ™‚

#7 Comment By jonathan On August 25, 2008 @ 9:46 am

honestly, after 4 campaigns in the Realms i was not planning on buying this one (based on the hype). But.. your review has me thinking: hmmm… maybe me new campaign could be set in the new FRCS. Crap! time to shelf my own homebrew yet again. At least… i’ll probably buy the book – you tipped me to the other side.

#8 Comment By Martin Ralya On August 25, 2008 @ 10:15 am

@TMan: I can definitely see both sides when it comes to the amount of info presented in the setting chapter. While I’ll always say “Yes, please” to more detail in a setting book, what I’m really looking for is 1) adventure hooks, 2) places that look like great areas to set a campaign and 3) stuff that I can use right away.

In those three areas, I think the 4e version presents a lot more info than the 3e version — just comparing the number of adventure hooks between editions is enough for me. (I do wish the cultural details had been left in, though.)

@Troy: “Does it stand on its own as a setting that enables DMs to tell engaging, compelling and epic stories/campaigns?”

Yep, I think so.

@Bastian: I have a soft spot for the 1e maps — I GMed and played with them for years. To me they feel more like actual artifacts from the Realms — they look like a map you could find in-game (and in fact I usually gave my players one of the maps as an in-game prop).

They definitely don’t hold a candle to the 3e map, which is just beautiful — but I’ll take the 1e maps over the new one any day.

#9 Comment By tman On August 25, 2008 @ 10:22 am

Comparing the 1E maps to current day would also require you to remember what was even *possible* when they were made. Back in the day, those maps were pretty awesome.

It’s kinda like comparing graphics in computer games. The first Doom was incredible when it came out compared to everything else. If you stood that next to the games of today, it’s completely unfair to hold them to the same standards.

#10 Comment By wampuscat43 On August 25, 2008 @ 10:32 am

Thanks for doing this, Martin. I’ve been slogging through the pantheon, waiting for the really juicy bits, and you’ve created a good roadmap.

I’d be interested in your take on something. My campaign takes place in Hills Edge (a town of 10,000+ that, sadly, doesn’t even warrant mention in the new book). My players have been to very few other places (Waterdeep, Daggerford, that’s about it). I was considering skipping the 100 years RSE. It appears that was just in there to explain some of the culture shifts since the Plague broke out. I was going to make the Plague a sudden, cataclysmic event resulting from their failure to take down the final bad guy in the Age of Worms.

Does this sound feasible? I’m trying to avoid having to rationalize the characters being 100 years older suddenly (especially since they’re mostly human). Any changes to other locations they may visit may have “been that way all along”, as far as they know. Anything going to bite me if I try that?

#11 Comment By tman On August 25, 2008 @ 10:54 am

Wampuscat – I’m doing something similar. My town of choice also got rubbed off the map. So, I put it back! πŸ™‚

One reason for the 100 year change is there to help explain the change in magic from the 4E rules change and appearance of Dragonborn and Tieflings. Your idea would do just fine – I say go for it!

Hmmm – wonder what kind of sessions you could have gaming the ‘Night Of The Spellplague’? Kinda like all those disaster movies from the ’70s!

#12 Comment By Ishmayl On August 25, 2008 @ 11:22 am

Nice review – I’ve always personally loved the Realms quite a bit, even though I haven’t played a campaign there in many years now. I was very worried about some of the changes that had been announced, but this has made me want to go to Barnes and Noble and check it out now. That’s a damn shame about the map though, I can tell from the pictures you provided that it’s not what I was hoping for.

#13 Comment By wampuscat43 On August 25, 2008 @ 11:26 am

@Tman: Thanks. We’re playing a undead-themed campaign now, so this Spellplague may be just the thing at some point (“Kyuss is back and he’s PISSED!”).

@Ishmayl: Yeah, the map is a little small and lacking in detail. Part of it was to support PoL, I suppose, but I was really hoping for something big and flashy to hang on my game room wall.

#14 Comment By Sarlax On August 25, 2008 @ 11:47 am

Nice review Martin.

I’d have written one myself, but I flipped through the book at our local store and was immediately turned off. It matches the format of the core three, and that’s a bad thing. The three core books are all about simple rules and a light approach. That’s not what a setting book should do, however.

I like setting books that immerse the reader in the world. In 3E, I always held Realms books as the standard for presenting setting information. The FRCS was so packed with information that you could use it as a textbook in college courses (FR 1010, 1020, and 2010). Races of Faerun, Underdark, and Serpent Kingdoms were all loaded with information. I flipped open FR4E and saw big margins, lots of whitespace, big fonts, and bullet-point style information presentation and could see that most of what I loved about FR presentation from 3E was gone.

I don’t find much value in adventure hooks. Why not? Because they have almost no relation to the PCs you’re going to wind up with. I want my setting to connect to the PCs in my game, but a hook like, “Rumors of undead crocodiles stealing wagons at midnight spread in a Sembian tavern. Are the stories true, or is the old codger advancing a mysterious agenda?” aren’t very useful. If my players are even in Sembia, what’s to say this has anything to do with the campaign?

Generic adventure hooks are fine things if your campaign is a string of random dungeon crawls, but I don’t want space devoted to them. I could pop onto almost any RPG message board and get inundated with adventure hooks. What I won’t be deluged with is quality, detailed setting materials.

Of course, I recognize the counter that a setting doesn’t necessarily connect with my actual group, either. The difference is that a detailed setting both gives the players information they can use to make characters that connect to the world and that I, as a GM, can fall back on those details if the players ever surprise me.

#15 Comment By itliaf On August 26, 2008 @ 7:43 am

“3e’s population breakdown by race β€” who cares?”

*huddled stat geek raises hand*

Great Review Martin,
I have skimmed over most of the setting, and I agree with your assessment of the relative usefulness of each section. Although I love to be wowed with some of the truly unique cultural details, the best details in FR are the ones that are interesting, but also lend themselves to inspiring adventure. The best ones are often to be found outside of the designated “Adventure Hooks” section, and I will be missing those sorely I am sure, but then it’s not as if I chucked all my 2nd and 3rd edition books when 4e came out.

I found the threats section to be an especially great way to organize the monsters and npcs baddies for the setting. In previous editions I always found the monster sections to be a bit tacked on, as in “Oh, more monsters, what am I supposed to do with these?” Having them placed in immediate context is very handy. At the same time I have no problem with grabbing a stat block, filing off the serial numbers, and using the stats for something completely different (as if the players will ever know that the Goblin Warchief they just fought began life as a halfling skypirate)

In addition to your minor gripe about the layout, I would add the prose in this book is not edited to the quality the core books were. Awkward phrasing and abruptly finished paragraphs abound. It seems like they had to cut a lot of material in a hurry to fit their layout. Which is a shame. I bet there is a truly awesome 400 page draft of this out there somewhere.

#16 Comment By wampuscat43 On August 26, 2008 @ 7:55 am

“This is a very readable book, with one annoying exception: the sidebars. They’re shaded, which sets them apart nicely, but they have no padding (gutters) around the text β€” so the edge of the shading runs right up to the letters. I have no idea if most people will care, but it drives me nuts every time I read a sidebar.”

Thanks for pointing this out, Martin. Now it’s driving me nuts as well.
*shakes fist*

And you’re right, that index is a joke. Hopefully, someone will publish a more complete one soon.

#17 Comment By Martin Ralya On August 26, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

@Wampus: Re: scrunching down the timeline, I think you’d be fine for the most part. Some of the regions definitely wouldn’t look as described, since they explicitly required the passage of that century to reach their current state, but that’s all I can think of.

The book proposes another option that I really like: Portals get fucked in all sorts of weird ways during the Spellplague, so have the PCs enter a portal, spend 100 years stuck there in stasis and then pop out in the new Realms. Tidy.

@Sarlax: Well put — I respect where you’re coming from. I think in some ways we need different things out of our setting books. For me, the adventure hooks are cool because for the most part they’re tied into the setting in ways that give me ideas — they make great Realms-specific seeds.

@Itliaf: OK, I’ll bite: Apart from personal enjoyment as a stats geek, did you actually use the percentile population breakdown data for each region? I’m not calling you out here — I’m genuinely curious.

@Wampus again: Re: the lack of gutters in the sidebars. Glad I could “help” you with that. πŸ˜›

In the same vein, ever since I spotted the errors on the map, I find errors on the map every region or two. It’s like they threw darts to determine whether a place was a ruin/site or a settlement.

#18 Comment By Magnificat On September 5, 2008 @ 11:18 am

Thanks for your useful review. I should get my copy in a few days’ time and I am going to find out… πŸ˜‰ One thing I must tell you: your review made me pretty curious about the new FR reboot even though I’ve never been a huge fan of them and I’ve barely played there so far… but Aglarond was a place that interested me and so now I am very curious about it! Thanks again!

#19 Pingback By A Rant and a Review: Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide « Worlds in a Handful of Dice On September 6, 2008 @ 5:50 am

[…] want objective, read Gnome Stew’s review. They did it, I don’t have to. I also recommend it for the map links. Indeed, the quality of […]

#20 Comment By Scratch On September 18, 2008 @ 1:02 pm

Thanks for a great and thorough review.

As a believer that role-playing is more about creating a story than just hack’n’slash action, I was very sad to see D&D become a World of Warcraft style game of power-ups. However, that just gives me even more incentive to create characters who can cut through the stats and enhancement bonuses to create a lasting impression for DMs, GMs and other players.

I loved the details of 3e and the landscape felt like a place you’ve read about and placed on your travel list somewhere between Rome and Bora Bora.

I guess I’ll just take my quarter elf, quarter celestial, third human, half dragon wizard/sorceror/bard/ranger/fighter/chosen of mystra/doomguide/epic arcane archer/devoted disciple of hoar with his holy energy aura throwing returning smoking gelatinous cube bane vorpal +17 kukri and adapt him to the new rules.

#21 Pingback By 4e / GSL Lets try this again- 4E FR Campaign Guide – EN World D&D / RPG News On July 5, 2009 @ 12:37 am

[…] Worlds in a Handful of Dice For a second opinion, there's Gnome Stew's review, which is positive: 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide Review: Big Changes, Good Book, Crappy Map – Gnome Stew,… There's only one thing that we agree on – the map is ugly and riddled with errors. […]

#22 Pingback By Gnome Rodeo: Evil Robots Made Me Write This in Binary | Gnome Stew On May 5, 2016 @ 5:00 pm

[…] Design & Development article on the Forgotten Realms sheds a lot of light on why the 4e FRCS (reviewed here on the Stew) is the way it is. (Via EN […]