Showing posts with label Forgotten Realms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Forgotten Realms. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Reviews: The Villains and Heroes of the Forgotten Realms

 Getting back to my Realms reviews I am still in that strange liminal times of 1988-1989 when both AD&D 1st Edition and 2nd Edition were still being supported. I have two books today from the "FR" series that ride that line. 

FR6 and FR7 Villains and Heroes of the Forgotten Realms

Both books have very similar trade dress, if not identical. I am reviewing the PoD and PDFs from DriveThruRPG. 

FR6 Dreams of the Red Wizards (1e)
FR6 Dreams of the Red Wizards (1e)

By Steve Perrin (1988)
64 pages. Full-color covers and maps, monochrome interior.

Even with my comparative lack of Realms knowledge I knew about the Red Wizards of Thay. I guess I didn't realize how quickly they had been introduced as the big bads. 

This book reminds me a lot of the old D&D BECMI Gazeteer series in that we we get some history and geography of the lands with some NPCs.

The book teases that it is compatible with the BATTLESYSTEM  rules, but you have to build all of those armies on your own. Too bad, I wanted to do a big battle with the armies of the undead from Thay. Though I still might do that.

The Introduction tells us what this book is about and who and what the Red Wizards of Thay are.

History of Thay. This section gives us a brief overview of Thay's foundation. There is a brief timeline, but it works well here. Some of this information is also found in the later Spellbound boxed set, but that is a way off yet. 

We cover the People and Society of Thay next. Perrin does give us a good explanation of how a whole country can, in fact, be evil, from the Zulkirs to the middle class to the masses of slaves. Honestly, the place sounds like a powder keg waiting to explode, and it is the will and fear of the Zulkirs that keeps everything in check.

Geography of Thay is next and it is good read, though I think it could have been combined with the History of Thay chapter since much of Thay's history has been shaped by its neighbors. This is also a good chapter for me, the newbie, to have a map handy.  I think I am going to need a big wall map of the Forgotten Realms like I do for Victorian London

We get get two chapters that cover the Current Economy and Politics of Thay, respectively. This includes a helpful glossary and a player's guide to Thay.

Magic in Thay, as expected, is one of the larger sections. It has what seems to be a Realms staple; lots of new spells. 

Religions in Thay, is actually an interesting chapter. The Red Wizards themselves seem to be areligious, but not atheists. They acknowledge the gods and do their best not to piss them off. I imagine there are big "media circuses" for when a Zulkir visits a local temple to Mystra for example. 

This has given me an idea. So, according to this book, the slaves of Thay mostly worship Ilmater, who we know from Ed Greenwood's "Down to Earth Divinity," that Ilmater is derived from Issek of the Jug. What if there were some events like "Lean Times in Lankhmar" where Ilmater, via a new follower, took on a role like that Fafhrd did for Issek, but instead of a religious conversion/resurgence, it became the basis for a full-scale slave revolt. Now that is a BATTLESYSTEM game I'd enjoy running. 

Personalities of Thay cover the expected cast of neer-do-wells. OF note here The Simbul does not have a personal name here, yet.

Adventures in Thay give the reader some ideas of things to do in and around Thay. But let us be honest. It is an evil filled with Nazi-like evil wizards who keep slaves. The ideas abound already. 

FR7 Hall of Heroes (1e/2e)
FR7 Hall of Heroes (1e/2e)

Many authors (1989)
128 pages. Full-color covers, monochrome interior.

This book looks like a 2nd Ed book on the cover, but 1st Ed inside. 

This is a "robust" rogues gallery of early Realms characters, and frankly, I am happy to have it since so many of these names are new to me. The stats are an odd mix of AD&D 2nd Ed and 1st Ed, but mostly 1st Edition. So yeah, there are Neutral Good Druids and lots of classes from Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures. 

It also has something that is not entirely a Realms-specific problem, but one I associated most often with the Realms. There are lot of characters here that straight up break the AD&D rules. Yes I get that some (many) are here because of the Forgotten Realms novels. So people like Shandril Shessair is a "Spellfire Wielder," and Dragonbait is a Lizardfolk Paladin. This used to bother me. Not anymore. I am more irritated by the fact that most of the women NPCs all have Charisma 16 or 17 (11 out of 15). Where are my hags? 

There are some personal spells and again The Simbul makes an appearance sans proper name. 

Still, this is a good resource for me to have. I like to have it on hand as I am going through other books to double-check who I am reading about. 

The POD versions are nice. The text has a bit of fuzziness, but far less than other PODs I have seen. They are not perfect for, say, collectors but perfect for what I need them for, and that is used at my game table. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

Monstrous Monday: Forgotten Realms Monstrous Compendiums

Forgotten Realms Monstrous Compendium
It's June! As an academic there is still something not wholly tangible in me when June hits; it is just something I feel. Starting in the 1980s, June also meant days at the library, riding my bike, rolling skating (yes, I used to be really, really good), and nights playing D&D. For seven years straight that meant Basic and Advanced D&D.  So these days I try to focus on Basic D&D in June, but this year is different. 

I am celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons AND I am also doing my deep dive into the Forgotten Realmsthe Forgotten Realms. Plus in addition to the weekly 5e games, my oldest son and I are starting a new 2nd edition AD&D game set in the Forgotten Realms. This works very well for me since I am already shifting my Realms focus to AD&D 2nd Edition.  

To this end I have been buying a lot of Forgotten Realms PDFs from DriveThruRPG. This has also given me many new monsters from the AD&D 2nd ed era in "ready to print" Monstrous Compendium format. 

Forgotten Realms Monstrous Compendiums

I have talked about the AD&D 2nd Monstrous Compendiums at length before. I have even talked about the Forgotten Realms ones in detail.  So when I began printing out the various Monstrous Compendium sheets from the various PDFs I have bought it became very obvious to me I would need a binder just for them.

This was sealed for me when I remembered that the Forgotten Realms MC Appendix had been labeled "Vol. 3" on the cover. My choice had been made for me. Turns out is was a good choice, because there are TONS of Forgotten Realms Monsters.

Forgotten Realms Monstrous Compendium Vol. 3

I grabbed some alphabetical tabs and began loading this up. I concentrated on monsters from the MCs I already had that were Realm-Specific. Then, I went through the pages of monsters I rescued from my This Old Dragon copies, unless they were too far gone due to water or mold. In these cases, I printed them out from my Dragon Magazine CD-ROM. But my "rule" was I had to have had a physical copy first. There is some 1st Ed monster material here, but that is fine, really.

Monstrous Compendiums

Then, every time I bought a Forgotten Realms PDF, I printed the monsters.

Monster pages from the Forgotten Realms
Campaign Setting boxed set

Monster pages from the Forgotten Realms

Monster pages from the Forgotten Realms
Dragon Mountain

Monster pages from the Forgotten Realms
Oh, look at that. Lawful Good orcs from 1995.

In the cases where I had loose Forgotten Realms pages, like from the AD&D 2nd Ed Campaign Setting boxed set, I made copies to keep the set intact. 

It has been a great experience to discover all the unique creatures I have found in the Realms versus Greyhawk or other worlds.

Currently, I do not have monsters for I, J, and Y. I could mine my other compendium for these, but I am also waiting to see what creatures I might find in other PDFs of Realms material. I still have a few I bought before I started this project, and they might have a few treasures for me. There are also more monsters in my Dragon magazines. Ones written by Ed Greenwood go to the top of the list. 

Right now my Forgotten Realms campaign has no focus. This is on purpose. I have so many campaigns with Big IdeasTM and Lofty GoalsTM. I don't need another one. Maybe I'll just do an old-fashioned monster hunt to mirror my real-life monster hunt.

This has, though, given me another realization. I had planned to get through all of my Realms books this year, but that was before I started buying more. Now, I think this year will just be about AD&D 2nd Edition. Who knows, really? 

BUT I will say this. I am having a lot of fun with this.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: X is for Xanathar

 Something different for me today.  While I have been writing about D&D all month, they are all topics I have quite a bit of knowledge about. This is not one of those days.

In the past I have used X for "Expert" which not really a cheat since X was always used for the Cook/Marsh Expert set, but I already did Expert this year

So today I am going to talk about a character, or a series of characters, all named Xanathar.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything covers

Xanathur, Beholder Crimelord of Waterdeep

Greyhawk Supplement I

Xanathur is not a typical character for me to like. I lean more toward magic-using types. If I want a big bad, I have plenty of demons, devils, faerie lords, vampires, and witches. I am flush with choice. 

So what is so special about Xanathur? 

Well, for starters, he is a beholder. What's a beholder? Well...it certainly began as a joke or pun in Gary's games. It is a giant floating sphere of eyes and teeth.  

They are evil, psychic xenophobes who hate everyone and everything that doesn't look like them. Even other beholders often fail to meet their standards. 

They are one of the original creations for D&D and were even featured on the cover of the Original D&D Supplement I book Greyhawk.  But even in Gary's Greyhawk world, I don't think he had planned for what Ed Greenwood was going to do in his Forgotten Realms world. 

Though Ed has done a lot of GREAT things to expand D&D's world-building, I consider beholders to be part of the World of Greyhawk, and they found their way to the Forgotten Realms

Xanathur

Xanathur, or more to the point, the first Xanathur, was odd by beholder standards. He lived in the city of Waterdeep where he acted as the hidden crime lord of the city. Think Kingpin from Marvel or even The Godfather.  He had only a few close aides who knew who he truly was.  

"He" (and I am not sure if beholders have a gender, to be honest, but this is how he is referred to) was introduced to us in the 1st Edition Forgotten Realms book, Waterdeep and the North. In fact, he was on the cover with his trusted lieutenants.  

Shindia Darkeyes, Xanathur, Shadowheart, and Sinéad
Shadowheart and Sinéad seek information from Shindia Darkeyes and Xanathur

As editions came and went, we learned that the first Xanathur was killed by another beholder, who took over his business and name and ruled the crime of Waterdeep as "The Xanathur." This would happen a few more times. In total, there have been five Xanathurs

Why am I posting about this guy? I mean, I very, very little about him. I remember that Waterdeep book at Waldenbooks, and I thought it looked cool, but the idea of a Beholder hanging out with humanoids and not eating them felt weird to me. Never mind, he was a criminal and working them all. Ok, he was their overlord, and his opinions about non-beholderkin had not changed. 

But this is why he is also great. Ed Greenwood when he started building the Forgotten Realms began to challenge us early on as to what was true about a D&D world. The Realms are NOT Greyhawk, and nor should they be. This is exactly the crazy sort of thing that doesn't sound it should work, but it does and it works well. I mean I never would have done this myself, and that bothers me that I didn't think of something like this. It is so great.

This is the strength of this game. You can do anything you want with it! There is no such thing as too crazy really.

Floating cities? Of course. Dragons sleeping under a city to rise in a time of great need? Ah...hello Ansur still sleeps under Baldur's Gate! Undead tyrant leaders of a xenophobic nation of mages? Ok, that one is actually really easy to believe. 

This is why we game. This is why, 45 years later, I am still finding something new!

Tomorrow is Sunday, and so I'll talk about Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition for my last Sunday Special.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: L is for Larian Studios

 I have been talking a lot about D&D history this month, but today I want to shift focus for a moment and talk about D&D's present. Honestly, the best Dungeons & Dragons content is not coming from the current owner and publisher, Wizards of the Coast (Hasbro), but from other companies. One in particular is Larian Studios, and the content is Baldur's Gate 3.

Larian Studios

It is not really hyperbole to say that Baldur's Gate 3 is the biggest video game of the last couple of years and might be the best video game I have ever played.  Larian is a smaller independent video game company located in Belgium. They have had a great track record of producing engaging, high-quality games for a small studio. Their big claim to fame prior to BG3 was their Divinity series. In their game Divinity: Original Sin 2, you can see the elements that would later be enhanced and perfected in BG3.  They are notable for their constant and rapid support, their desire to listen to their fans and give them what they want, and their games do not have microtransactions. These are little features in other games. Want some cool armor? Great, just $0.99 on your credit card. Cool sword? $1.99. For Larian, if you want those things, they are in the game for you to find somewhere.

They are a small independent studio producing games that rival, and in many cases surpass, the ones made by larger and more well funded companies.

Baldur's Gate 3

Baldur's Gate 3

Larian Studios shocked me with this. Baldur's Gate 1 was released in 1998, and Baldur's Gate 2 was released in 2000, with updates up to 2016. They had been rumors before of a Baldur's Gate 3, but nothing ever came from it.

Then in 2020 Baldur's Gate 3 went into "Open Beta" with little fan fare and almost no mention in the wider Dungeons & Dragons community.

In August 2023 it got its official release on PC and PlayStation with Mac and Xbox versions close behind.  To say it blew up is putting it rather mildly.

Right now, the game has an aggregate score of 96/100 from all reviews. I has also won pretty much every Game of the Year award for 2023 there is, including sweeping all five of the industry's top Game of the Year Awards. It even won more BAFTA awards while I was writing this post!

Like all the other Baldur's Gate games, this one takes place in the Forgotten Realms, but 120 or so years after the first two events (and a few months after the published book adventure Descent to Avernus). This corresponds to the published Forgotten Realms game books and novels, which had 100 or so years between the 3rd and 4th editions. This game uses some of the same mechanics and feel of Divinity: Original Sin II, and it is heavily influenced by the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules.  It feels like a 5th Edition game. The classes, spells, magic, and combat are all from the 5th edition rules.

Want to know how D&D plays but don't have people to play with? This is not a bad substitute.

I am currently on my third play-through with an eye toward's completion. I am half way through Act II. In this one I am running as a "companion run" to my 2nd play through. Same basic outline with similar characters, only swapping who is the main character. 

My first full play-through was with Larina. This was followed by Sinéad. Now, I am mirroring my Sinéad run with Taryn. They were "NPCs" in each other's run.

Larina
Larina

Sinéad
Sinéad

Taryn
Taryn

I have incomplete runs with Kelek, Skylla, Rayne (Bloodrayne), and, of course, my Paladin Johan.

Rayne
Rayne

Kelek and Skylla
Kelek and Skylla on an "evil run."

Larina and Johan
Johan's run with NPC Larina

Johan
Johan

I have been using a combination of hirelings, "Withers" (an in-game guide), and the "Magic Mirror" to turn the various NPCs into previous playable characters. So my Johan run for example has Larina in it, She can't interact like Johan can, but game-play wise she is the same. 

Same with my Taryn/Sinéad runs. In my mind they are the same run, just from each character's point of view. 

This has also allowed me to try out different "romance" options. Karlach for Johan, Gale for Taryn, Shadowheart for Sinéad, and Shadowheart, Halsin, Wyll, Mizora, Sorn and Nym Orlith, (!) all for Larina. She is a lover. She is also a fighter, but mostly a lover.

Bloodrayne *might* go for Astarion. She is based on the video game character Rayne from Bloodrayne, after all. But I have never had my approval rating high enough with him in any run. My Kelek and Skylla runs are all about violence, not romance. Which come to think of it, might be what I need to do for Astarion. 

The game is bloody, violent, very often NC-17 and NSFW, and an absolute ton of fun.

I am just over 350 hours into all my runs and I am STILL finding new material. Both of my kids play it, and they tell me about things they found that I haven't! I even found another hidden door last night in Act II. So yeah, I have in no way exhausted all of this game's options. 

This is the most fun I have had with a video game in a very long time.

Sadly Larian will not be doing Baldur's Gate 4 despite their overwhelming success. They have been super gracious about it online, saying they loved doing BG3, but they want to do new things now. Reading between the lines, it was obvious that Hasbro was asking for a LOT more in licensing fees for the Forgotten Realms world, and Larina didn't want to lay people off to pay for it. So, kudos to Larian Studios.

Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro now has full rights again to all these characters. Back when Baldur's Gate 2 came out Wizards published game material to support it. Now? Nothing for Baldur's Gate 3. I hope they do something; otherwise, they are leaving money on the table. 

Tomorrow is Sunday, so there will be no A to Z post, but I will continue my Sunday Specials. So tomorrow is Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


Saturday, April 6, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: F is for the Forgotten Realms

 This one might feel like a bit of a recycle; I have been talking about the Forgotten Realms all year long so far and will keep at it. But today is different, I think.

My collection of Forgotten Realms books

For people new to D&D and my blog, the Forgotten Realms is a campaign setting, a world filled with people, creatures, gods, and history for use with the Dungeons & Dragons game. It was created as a world to tell stories in by Ed Greenwood. It was first published for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition game system back in 1987. I reviewed that set earlier this year. Now I was playing D&D when this game came out; I was about ready to enter my second decade of playing, so I was not a newbie. But I felt the Forgotten Realms was the "Johnny come lately" of D&D, and I really wanted no part of it. 

That was a mistake on my part.

Well...I mean at the time I going to University, my funds were limited and soon I would be HARDCORE in another campaign setting, Ravenloft. I will talk a bit about the Campaign settings for AD&D tomorrow and about Ravenloft on R day. 

So, going back a few A to Z Challenges (2016), I posted about how I was changing my mind about the Forgotten Realms. It actually began back in the 3rd Edition days, and solidified to me in 4th Ed days. Now, in the later days of 5th Edition, I find myself drawn to it more. And I have REALLY had a great time with it. 

The Realms are wildly popular. There is over 35 years of RPG publications, hundreds of books with many as New York Times best sellers, a few dozen or so video games including the amazing Baldur's Gate 3, comics, an actual play podcast (I am sure there are more), and yes the most recent Dungeons & Dragons movie.

I freely admit, I was gearing up for a big push into the Forgotten Realms anyway, but it was Baldur's Gate 3 that really pushed me over. 

Me and the Realms

My regular readers know I have a campaign world that I really love, Mystoerth, which combines aspects of two other published campaign worlds Mystara (published with Basic D&D) and Oerth, the World of Greyhawk (designed for Advanced D&D). These two worlds were smooshed together so my old High School DM and I could have one world. This suited me well for a very long time. 

But there is something to be said about living in a shared world. You can talk to others about adventures in a place, and they have their own stories. It makes the world alive in a way I can't really do with my Mystoerth. 

These blog pages document my attitude shift towards the Realms fairly well. However, they don't really capture how much I disliked them initially, especially in the 1990s. 

I was never a fan of Forgotten Realms. I dismissed it in the 1980s as an "upstart," ignored it in the early 1990s, and actively disliked it in the late 1990s. But it seems my ire was misplaced. Around the time the 3rd Edition Realms book came out, I was beginning to soften my stance. By the 4th Ed era, I considered moving a campaign to the Realms. In the 5th Ed era, I made it official, more or less.

It was my coverage of Ed Greenwood's work in Dragon magazine that changed my mind. 

To this end, I have amassed a small collection of Forgotten Realms books—nothing special, just ones that I have easily come by either at game auctions, Half-Price Books, or, as in the books pictured above, Print on Demand from DriveThruRPG. So, I have been going through them in detail throughout the editions.

The Forgotten Realms to me was always viewed through the eyes of a character, whether that was Elminster or Drizzt or whomever. Likewise, I am going to look into the Realms through the eyes of a new character. So I am opting to also experience the Realms through the eyes of my characters. The one I am starting with is Sinéad. She began as an AD&D 2nd Ed character, moved over to become a very successful Baldur's Gate 3 character, and now she is my "Ego" character for my Realms games.  She even has her own set of dice.

I have some others that I have discussed and there will be more.

So far, this has been nothing short of fantastic. There is not a moment of this new series of posts and these new explorations I do not love. If you are here from the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I recommend coming back to check these out if you want to learn more about the Forgotten Realms. I know a little bit more than you do, so we can all learn together.

Tomorrow is Sunday and normally not a day we post in the A to Z. But I am doing my Sunday Specials again this year and posting about numbers. Tomorrow is AD&D 2nd Edition.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


This is also my next entry of the month for the RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Codex Anathema on Favorite Settings.

RPG Blog Carnival


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Reviews: Cities of the Forgotten Realms

 I am going a little out of order today with my Forgotten Realms reviews. I still have one (or two) 1st Edition products to review, but I wanted to cluster these three together—all three, not my originally planned two—since I am opting to add in a PDF when my original plan was only to review items on my shelf. So, I am breaking all my rules in one post. It does tie into the mini-city adventure I did with them this weekend.

Forgotten Realms City books

Given some recent movie announcements, I could not help but popping in my well-worn soundtrack to "The Crow."  Every city in the 90s was dark and rainy. 

I also want to state that NONE of these products were what I once thought they were and I often mixed them up.

FR1 Waterdeep and the North
FR1 Waterdeep and the North

Design and Development: Ed Greenwood, Product Coordination: Jeff Grubb, Editing: Karen S. Martin, Cover Art: Keith Parkinson, Interior Art: Chris Miller. Maps: Frey Graphics and David Sutherland, Heraldic Escutcheons: David E. Martin, Typography: Kim Janke, Keylining: Stephanie Tabat.

1987. PDF, Full-color covers, and maps. 78 pages.

I am basing this review on the PDF from DriveThruRPG only. If I can find a good copy (game store auction tomorrow night!) then I will grab it. And this is one where the boxed set would be nice to have.

This is the first proper Forgotten Realm reference, with the Moonshaes the second

You might have noticed that I listed everyone involved with this product above. The Realms, in this iteration, has become a joint effort. Yes, Ed Greenwood is the father to this brain child of the Realms. He has suitably impressed me here and in the pages of Dragon Magazine. Ed's position here is solid and secure. But if "it takes a village," it takes much more for a city like Waterdeep.  Even *I* know about Waterdeep, I still call myself a novice here.

This book introduces us to Waterdeep, the "City of Splendors", and the surrounding countryside of "The North."

It is a good introduction really, starting with Chapter 1: An Introduction to the North. The surrounding lands are detailed. While I knew of some of these, this put them into better relationship with each other. For me? I like having a map open to see where I am while reading. There are no maps of this area in this product. Not a huge deal, really, since they are with the Forgotten Realms boxed set. But a small one might have been nice, at least of the area in question. Thankfully there are also plenty of good maps for this area online.

Chapter 2: An Introduction to the City of Waterdeep, takes us to the City of Splendors. We get some history, some names of important people, and (most importantly to me right now) the city's legal code. 

Chapter 3: The City Wards divides the city up into various wards. As a Chicagoan, this makes a lot of sense, and I am sure to anyone that has ever lived in a good-sized city, it will as well. I will point that while this is all about Waterdeep there is an assumption here that you can use this information to also build your own cities. Each ward has a name (Castle Ward, Sea Ward...) and various locales are mentioned. Some are just a name and what they are ("The Blue Jack," Tavern) so it leaves a lot of room to expand on what you can do with own Waterdeep. There are over 280 named locations, not counting the sewers, here.  There is a lot of life here and almost none of it is detailed. YES, I mean this as a GOOD thing. I don't want the names and detailed back stories of every magistrate down to beggar orphan here. I want room to discover and grow. Give me enough and then back off. 

Chapter 4: Life in the City. (Yes...Despite listening to the Crow Soundtrack, this is the song going through my head as I type this. Any resemblance between my Sinéad and Kate St John of Dream Academy is purely coincidental, I am sure.) Everything that makes a city work. Religion, money, goods and services. This is the life blood of any city and Waterdeep is livelier than most. There are notes about spending the winter in Waterdeep as well. The Forgotten Realms always says the quiet part out loud, and this is a world full of adventurers. To paraphrase the old saying, "All roads lead to Waterdeep." And while you are there, behave yourself. There is even a section on the going out at night, manners and dress. Now I want all my characters to go out an buy some nice part clothes for an after-hours party.

Chapter 5: The Guild and Factions of the City covers exactly that. Ever since Fritz Leiber (and of course WAY before) and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, FRPG Cities have had thousands of thieves' guilds, merchant's guilds, secret guilds, and, in a Forgotten Realms trademark, Adventuring Guilds. The guilds of Waterdeep are listed in three columns and then detailed in the next 7-8 pages. Again, there is the tacit notion here that you can lift these and use them in your own Forgotten Realms city. This becomes more implicit in future products.

Chapter 6: Noble Families of Waterdeep gives us some names and crests, the most "Greyhawk" like chapter so far.  

Chapter 7: Selected Non-Player Characters of Waterdeep covers some notable NPCs in greater detail. It would not be a Forgotten Realms product without some notable NPCs.

Next are adventure hook chapters.

Chapter 8: Beginning a Campaign in Waterdeep covers exactly that. And there are some great ideas here too for such a short chapter. Though to be honest if you get to this chapter and don't already have ideas then this one won't help you.

Chapter 9: Adventures in Waterdeep is the one chapter I wanted to read the most. Chapters 1-7 are great and full of ideas, but I want to discover this city as an adventurer, not as a scholar. Back when I lived in Southern Illinois, right before I moved to Chicago, I had a map of the city on my wall. I would go over that map for hours on end just fascinated by it. When I moved to the near West Side (just a notch north of Little Italy and west of the Loop) I was surprised for how little that prepared me for all of it. The City is a living place. Chicago is. New York is. And so should Waterdeep.

There are seven "mini" adventures here. I ended up using none of them!

After this (what would have been the inside covers), there are maps of the major wards and a large piecemeal map of the city for the next 10 pages. Yes, I could print them out, but I am holding out for now.

This is not the final nor most authoritative word on Waterdeep by any stretch. It is a start though and a good one. 

The next two products should have probably swapped names. 

City System

by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb, Editing: Karen Boomgarden, Typography: Betty Elmore, Cover Art: Larry Elmore, Keylining: Stephanie Tabat, Cartography: Dennis Kauth and Frey Graphics.

1988. PDF and Print on Demand. Full color covers and maps. 

Again this one takes a lot of work from a lot of people. This book follows quickly on the heels of FR1 Waterdeep and the North.  It was a boxed set, but for this review I am considering my PDF and Print on Demand versions from DriveThruRPG.

There is some repeated information in this set from the Waterdeep set. For example the entire legal code on Page 7 of this product is the same to the one in FR1 Waterdeep and the North starting on page 18. I am not 100% sure if I mind this though. I mean in truth back in 1988 this might have bothered me, but now? Well, I have the PDFs I could print them out and put them into a big binder called "Waterdeep" and organize how I see fit. I might do that in fact.

This book is more like a tourist directory to Waterdeep. The laws are discussed, the buildings are numbered and given a name. The BIG attraction to this set are the maps (which are printed here and given as a separate ZIP file.) Well, the Larry Elmore cover is striking as all hell to be honest. 

If you like random tables then this is your book. Lots of tables on encounters, goods, items gained from pick-pocketing, and more. 

Ignoring the use of this as an independent product it makes for a great addition to FR1 Waterdeep and the North. The two together would be a perfect product really.  Looking ahead to my other Forgotten Realms books I see I don't actually have a giant map of Waterdeep. Should I rectify this?  The maps in this product are gorgeous, and it would be worth my time, effort, and money to get them combined and professionally printed. Or burn through my printer ink to do it on my own and mount them to some cardboard with Scotch tape. Depends on how much I end up playing here. If I don't, it certainly will not be for lack of options!

FR8 Cities of Mystery

by Jean Rabe. Art Larry Elmore (cover), Dennis Kauth (buildings), Christopher T. Miller (interior art).  Editing Kim Mohan. Product Manager Bruce Heard. 

1989. Boxed Set and PDF. 64 page book, 2 large 25mm compatible maps, 4 6-page card stock buildings.

This is a fascinating product, and there is a lot going on here. I am reviewing my boxed set for this. There is a PDF and a softcover Print on Demand from DriveThruRPG as well. 

What do I love about it? Well, for starters, that Larry Elmore cover is one of my favorite covers of all time. Really. I love how if looks and while the old adage is true, this cover made want to buy this product. When my old DM and I talked about our "Urban Survival Guide," this was the cover we thought about. 

Also it came out in the liminal time between 1st Ed and 2nd Ed with a note on the cover that is was compatible with both. That is not entirely true. It is broad enough to be compatible with ANY fantasy RPG that has a city. There are almost no game stats here save for the adventures at the end. 

In truth this product should have been called "City System" since that is what it is. This not about Waterdeep except in the most broad of terms. 

The first part is a 64-page book that covers all sorts of details on building your city. This includes details like where it is (and how that changes the city), how big is it, taxes, defences, the government. Everything that was laid out for you in the Waterdeep and the North and City System sets are now up to you to figure out. 

There is also a section how make Characters work in a city based adventure. Honestly that would have been the gold right there. 

The rules are put to use in Sauter, City by the Sea, and there are five mini-adventures to help the DM and Players along. Honestly I want to run the Maltese Roc based on the name alone.

If that were all then yes, this would be a fine product. Not great, but added to the Waterdeep and the North and City System books it would make a great trilogy of playing in the city (sounds like a Stevie Wonder album). But that is not all there is. 

There are two large double-sided maps for 25mm scale minis and four packages of 6-page cardstock building to build.

Cities of Mystery set

Since it is a boxed set, I am also keeping duplicates of old Dragon magazine articles about cities in it. 

This is from 1989. D&D would not get this mini-focused for another 11 years. And it all still works with any edition you care to play with it.  I read that this was going to be the first of some similar products to expand the cities even further. But honestly I am not surprised that there were not more. This looks like an expensive thing to make. 

Sinéad encountering two desperate thieves
Sinéad encounters two desperate thieves

For the PDFs you would need to print out the maps and buildings to build them. I would glue them to some cardstock or print them on cardstock if your printer can do that. The advantage of the PDF and this system? As long as you can print, you can have as many of these buildings as you need.

Looking at All Three City Sets

FR1 Waterdeep and the North, City System, and FR8 Cities of Mystery are all great for that late 80s feel of the Forgotten Realms AD&D.

While each product is good individually and does what it sets out to do, one of the others points out its minimal shortcomings. Combined, they work fantastically together. So well, it makes me wonder whether I even need to leave the city! 

Regardless of what city in the Realms becomes my home base (I am still partial to Baldur's Gate, but Waterdeep might win me over) I have the tools and the means to expand on it all.

Ill Met in Waterdeep

So, for my first foray into Waterdeep, the characters were all arrested. No "we met in a bar." It is "we met in jail." Sinéad, Arnell, and Rhiannon meet up with Nida (I wanted her introduction to be memorable), Jaromir, and Argyle. Who are these characters? Well, Nida, I have talked about already. Argylle is my experiment on having a character from another world end up in the Forgotten Realms. In this case a Dwarf from Rockhome, aka Mystara and the D&D B/X set. In his world his class and race is Dwarf. Here he is now a Dwarf Fighter, but I started him off as a BX Dwarf. My oldest loved that since he is playing an alternate game with his groups using D&D Basic. 

Ill met in Waterdeep

Jaromir is my first real barbarian character ever. I will full admit I am playing him like I played Minsc in Baldur's Gate 3. In the video game Minsc is a Ranger, but I always gave him levels in Barbarian. Jaromir is my Minsc stand-in. Big, dumb, blonde, but a heart of fucking gold. He is so very different than anything I have ever played before. Well...he is Rashemi (like Minsc) and he is on his Dajemma. But he set out without a witch (I have no idea why yet; I only recently learned about Dajemma), so he has decided that Rhiannon MUST be his witch. Which gets him fighting with Arnell, who turns into a wolf. Nida is there picking pockets in the ensuing chaos (gotta use those tables!) and the lot of them get thrown into jail.

Since I am moving ahead in time with my reviews I also opted to use the revised AD&D 1st Ed sheets here. Except for Argyll's he has a Basic Sheet.

I wanted to get a bit further than that, but this is where I am now. I know that the characters are bailed out by a minor magistrate named Eldrith Dunslaughter, a rather pompous and unpleasant human with designs of his own. I also know the characters need to work together to find a minor stolen item called the "Stargazer's Compass," which he claims was stolen from his own collection. I have my doubts it was his. (note: no idea if this is related to the MTG item of the same name. No one here plays.)

Find the compass, and their debt to society is paid. Fail? Well, there is always community service. 

Hope to learn more soon!

If you like cities and the Waterdeep in particular I highly recommend checking out Oneiropolis, the new Patreon site from game designer Joseph D. Carriker.  He was the one who helped me bring Garnet to life in Blue Rose, and now he is taking his skills to a wider audience. Well worth checking out.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Review: N5 Under Illefarn

N5 Under Illefarn
 My exploration of the Forgotten Realms continues with the next adventure on my list, N5 Under Illefarn by Steve Perrin.  I actually ran this adventure a while back at the start of my 5e Second Campaign long ago. My first real attempt at getting a Realms game going. While that game would end up in different directions, the adventure is still a solid one. 

N5 Under Illefarn

by Steve Perin. 1987. 50 pages, color covers (Jeff Easley) and maps (Stephen Sullivan), black & white art (Luise Perenne). 

I am reviewing the PDF and Print on Demand versions from DriveThruRPG. 

This is a "Novice Level" adventure and, likely due to timing, became connected to the Forgotten Realms.  It is also the first of the N series to feature the Forgotten Realms banner. Something similar happened to the H series on the other end of the level spectrum.

When I talked about Module N4 Treasure Hunt, I mentioned that it was a great starting adventure that missed a little of what also made B2 Keep on the Borderland so great. This is fine since we already had Keep on the Borderlands. N5 strikes a middle ground. There is a base of operations, plenty of "wild" areas to explore, and a hook. It also works as a direct sequel to N4. You can play it stand-alone (as I did in 2017) or as a follow-up.  Both have advantages.

Like N4, we are given an overview of the AD&D 1st Ed game, in particular the races and classes. Now, back in 2017, I said: "I am going to run it through like an AD&D game. So no tieflings or dragonborn. More gnomes, though, never have enough of those." That was a mistake in retrospect. If anywhere is open to Dragonborn, Tieflings, and all the new post-AD&D 1st-ed races (remember, tieflings are AD&D 2nd-ed), then it will be Faerûn.  There is a bit on how you all get to Daggerford and what happens once you are there. I admit I did not like the idea of the characters needing to be in the Town Militia until I started thinking of this adventure as akin to an episode of "Cops" or, more to the point, the parody "Troops."

The base of operations for the characters is the small frontier town of Daggerford. So, like the Keep. From here the characters can go on quick adventures and then come back. An idea implicit for B2 KotBL, but here it is baked in. 

Forgotten Realms, Starter Sets

The DM's section gives some background on the village of about 300 people and some 1,000 total living in the surrounding area. Sounds like where my wife grew up. The area and the city make are given. This includes many of the shops and building and what surrounds the village. There is even a bit on the "Big City" Chicago,  I mean Waterdeep. 

The main personalities of the town are also detailed. One of the things I had to used to (and get over) was that the Realms is about people. I can choose to use who I want. In 1987 this annoyed me, but in truth I was already switching my point of view then. Now? Now it is great. I mean, do I need to use Duke Pwyll Greatshout Daggerford? No. But why would I not want to? 

This covers about the first half of the book. After this are adventures.

What kind of adventures? Lots! The first page has the AD&D staple, the Random Encounter Tables. One of the outcomes is a Ceratosaur! Imagine this. You are a still a newbie adventurer. You just recently learned which is the pointy end of the spear and which is the end you hold. Now you are on milita duty, and someone finds dinosaur tracks on your very first day on what you were told was going to be dull work making sure kids don't steal apples in the marketplace.

Kudos to Steve Perrin for getting going. And that is just one random encounter. I mean there is also a hermit. Yes, I said he is the same one from the KotBL. Why not. There are also werewolves, which I am using later on. 

Among the detailed adventurers are a raid by Lizard Men (why I grabbed this in 2017 to be honest), basic Caravan duty, a kidnapped daughter of the Duke, and the titular Illefarn in the Laughing Hallow. The adventures range from a couple of pages to several. 

The best thing about this adventure. Well, one of the best things. You can run it in many short adventures to get new players into the game. Need to spend an extra hour explaining rules? No worries, do that and send them on Militia duty to guard a caravan against orc raiders. That's a solid session.

Note About the Pring on Demand Print

The PDF from DriveThruRPG looks great and served me well in 2017. Recently I also grabbed the Print on Demand copy from DriveThru. There is some dithering from lower resolution art being brought up to print quality, but the text looks like it has been redone so it is nice and sharp and easy to read. I should note that it is not all the art. Some look rather crisp and clear as well. They may have had some of the higher resolution versions still on hand.

Under Illefarn text

Under Illfarn, Print on Demand cover

Again, we have a great introductory adventure. Not just good to introduce people to the AD&D 1st Edition game but also a great way to ease into the Forgotten Realms. Waterdeep is too big of a bite for new players (and characters) and many of the "big names" are still too big. This is nice little village with some fun problems to solve. A taste of adventure. An appetizer in small portions OR more akin to Tapas or Dim Sum. Small plates that can add up to a nice full meal.

Sinéad's Perspective

"Just a small-town girl. Livin' in a lonely world..."

At the outset of these reviews, I said I wanted to explore the Realms through the eyes of a native, but one that was just as naïve as me. Sinéad is that character. 

She finally made it to the main land after surviving her own kidnapping and adventures in the Moonshaes and the Korrin Archipelago. And was absolutely broke. Like I said, at first I balked at the idea of forcing the characters into the Daggerford Militia, but in truth it works very well. Sinéad, given she knows how to play an instrument was given the job of trumpeter. She at least gets a spear too. 

This actually works. I went back to look over her Baldur's Gate 3 setup and her background there was Militia as well. This was before I knew I could change it. So, yeah. I guess that is what I am doing.

When my oldest son gets off of work from his bakery job (he is a pastry chef and a damn good one) we work out what these characters are doing and roll some dice. It has been great really.

So. Sinéad is in the Militia. She has a shiny new trumpet, a not-as-shiny new spear, and a blue tabard proclaiming she is part of the militia. If she is going to survive the Realms, she will need some friends.

My Realms Crew

So, who do we have here?

Nothing Like the Sun...

Up first is Rhiannon. Yeah, I am embracing the clichés here. But in my defense, I did start her up with that in mind.  She is a Dragon Magazine #114 witch. There is some evidence that Ed used the Dragon Magazine witches in his own game. She is a member of the "Sisters of the Moon" coven, something that will become important later on. If Sinéad is my Realms exploration character, and Larina is my witch exploration character, then Rhiannon is where they meet. Again. Expect clichés here. This my chance to go all out.  

I already decided that Sinéad honors Sehanine Moonbow as her personal Goddess, even above that of The Earthmother of the Moonshaes. Maybe this is one of the reasons she wanted to leave. Rhiannon knows about Sehanine. She also knows about Selûne and, oddly enough, Shar.  At this point, Sinéad doesn't know enough about Shar to find this odd. 

Rhiannon is not in the militia, but she is the friend of someone who is. 

Bad Moon Rising

The next character is an in-joke with my son and me, but I really liked where the character is going.  Arnell Hallowleaf is a male moon elf cleric of Selûne. He is in the militia as a healer. There are obvious reasons why Sinéad would seek him out. He is a cleric for starters, also he is the first full-blooded moon elf she has met other than her own mother. So, this has given her a chance to find out more about the moon elves.  Players of Baldur's Gate 3 might recognize this name. He is the father of Jenevelle Hallowleaf, aka Shadowheart, in the game. But that is not until DR 1492. Jenevelle is not born until DR 1447 and this is still DR 1358.  Arnell is a young elf. His future human wife, Emmeline, has not even been born yet. So maybe (taking a page from Sarek of Vulcan's book) Rhiannon (a human) is his current girlfriend/wife. Which? I don't know, I have not gotten there yet. 

I do know that at some point in this adventure, he is bitten by a werewolf and becomes one. His devotion to Selûne is what keeps his lycanthropy in check. 

Arnell HallowleafRhiannon

Both characters are here to let me explore some different ideas. Talking it over with my oldest, he suggested that if Johan were from the Realms, he would have been a cleric of Selûne. Arnell is not a Johan stand-in, but he will let me explore playing a cleric in the Realms. Rhiannon is my "don't just embrace the cliché, live it character." I'd love to see how far I can get with her as a "Dragon #114" witch. 

Sinéad and Arnell finish their tour of duty and, along with Rhiannon, venture out into the wide world.

Friday, February 23, 2024

#FollowFriday: Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood
In my efforts to expand my knowledge of the Forgotten Realms, I am going to Master Sage himself, Ed Greenwood.

Official YouTube Channel
https://www.youtube.com/@edgreenwoodofficial

Patreon Page
https://www.patreon.com/EdGreenwood

X/Twitter
https://twitter.com/TheEdVerse

Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/ed.greenwood.142

I am not a subscriber to his Patreon page, but I hear wonderful things about it. It sounds like a great forum for his ideas and of course exclusives.  I'm a fan, but not at the level I need exclusives before everyone else.

The real treasure trove for me in my explorations of the Realms has been his YouTube page.

Now, typically, I really hate videos. I don't have the time to listen or watch, and frankly, most of the people doing video neither have the voice nor the presence to do them. This is not so for Ed. Ed, among everything else, is a natural storyteller. The Realms are his canvas.

He has had a few I have found really interesting too. 

This one because I a. remembered the picture, and b. loved the idea that Ed could use this channel to talk about things he could not before.  Plus he says "Drau" like Cow. Actually one of the best things about his videos is knowing how he pronounces some of the names he comes up with!

This one because I loved the background on this character and was a fan of Symgharyl Maruel, aka The Shadowsil.  But this one is also fun because Ed has such a love for all these characters.  

That was always obvious to me reading his books and Dragon articles. And he extended that love to characters he was borrowing.

And extends to others who treat his characters with the same love.

So give the Father of the Realms a follow. I hope you find him as entertaining and as educational as I find him.