Sunday, September 23, 2012

I wish I could forget the Forgotten Realms (Part 1)

"'Man, this City of Greyhawk campaign bites. You people should dump this stupid world. It's dead anyway. Let's get a Realms campaign going. I had a character once who was Elminster's nephew, and he--"

--Roger E. Moore, "Final Quest," Dragon Magazine #228

I'll state my bias up front: I'm firmly in the pro-Greyhawk camp, whether it comes from the original material (the booklet or the boxed set) from the early 1980s or From the Ashes. I even like some of the fan-created stuff on the Internet.

Moore was coming up with famous last words one might hear from a character just before every member of his own party kills him. For me, this quote sums up the Forgotten Realms vs. Greyhawk friction I experienced in the 1990s. Moore wrote in 1996. But before, and after, I had potential players turn their nose up at me when I stated that I ran Greyhawk. Turn about is fair play, I'd already turned my nose up at them when they said they liked the Forgotten Realms.


Well, maybe it's because of the guy who cornered me in the RPG section at a Waldenbooks so he could brag about his character who just happened to be Elminster's nephew. I was still a teenager, but even at that age I understood that nobody outside my gaming group really wants to be regaled about my favorite character's exploits. Yet there I was, with this man who was at least in his 30s, telling me about how his character, who was third level, got a magical staff from Uncle Elminster. The staff allowed him to do all kinds of things like vanish into the shadow realm and la-de-dah. (I still wonder what kind of DM would allow a low-level character a staff that powerful, or if the player in question just created the character that way).

Or perhaps I don't like the Realms because Ed Greenwood seemed to mimic the behavior of that guy in Waldenbooks. Elminster appeared in nearly every single Forgotten Realms rulebook and supplement in the 1990s, at least in the form of a quote. I got tired of seeing Dragon Magazine waste space so some guy could brag about his character. It turns out that Greenwood has been writing about Elminster since he was seven years old, according to an issue of Dragon in the 2000s. Elminster was a kind of childhood imaginary friend. 3e Realms seemed all right, even though Elminster massive stat-block on page 5 of the campaign setting sourcebook.

I've witnessed this behavior in the handful of Realms session I've experienced over the years. Almost every time somebody wanted to tell me everything about their character, even though I didn't ask. Usually they possessed magic items that defined their character. I recall another person who showed me his 14th level half-elf ranger, who possessed a Sunsword and a +4 longsword that was intelligent with many kinds of powers. He wanted to bring that character from the Realms into my Greyhawk campaign, even though the PCs were still low-level. I told him "no." He got a little frustrated at first. I think he played one session with yet another character who was a half-elf ranger, before leaving the game.

Do the Forgotten Realms, both then and now, encourage players to brag about their characters and the magic items they possess? I don't know. Maybe you can shed some insight. Yet Greenwood certainly leads by example.

To be fair, I've heard people brag about their favorite elsewhere in the hobby. I've done it occasionally, too, but only if asked. But the image of that guy in Waldenbooks, and Ed Greenwood constantly writing about Elminster still puts a negative bias against the Realms in my mind to this day.

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