Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Forgotten Realms Personalities - what levels are they again?

Everyone knows about Elminster, right? Lot of people have also heard of some dark skinned elf with some feline companion from some kind of novel or three, right? Mary Sue, anyone?

So everyone knows that there are multiple high level personalities in the Forgotten Realms. Many of us feel that those long lists of people in the setting books are slightly intimidating. Is there any space for the stories of my character?

I decided to sum the level of the named personalities in the grey box for Forgotten Realms, FR1 Waterdeep and FR5 The Savage Frontier (all for 1st ed. AD&D) and see what the average level is of them. It might give you a hint of what might be the best books to use, and if FR is a place for your heroes to make their mark. The results are interesting.
Grey Box - 9
Waterdeep - 6.5
Savage Frontier - 13.333
What do you say about that? Considering the box is detailing a significant part of a whole continent, it's not surprising to have a few level 26 individuals in there. But, the average lands right in the sweet spot for "name level", which kind of makes sense if these are the people who are significant enough to stand out. They have begun to make their mark in the world, which with player characters happens at "name level". Maybe FR is not so filled with demigods after all?

Lets then look at the metropolis, Waterdeep. Considering this is the most densely populated place in the realms, you would imagine this is a place you are quite likely to find those big wigs.  Interestingly, there are some character in the upper teens, but not as many as I expected. The movers and shakers are described in vague terms, and the so called "Lords of Waterdeep" are actually secret, which makes it easy to slip in a player character or two in there.

Then, finally, we have Paul Jaquays. While I have a healthy amount of respect for the man as a dungeon designer, I think I know where I don't like his world building. In the Savage Frontier we have him fleshing out the wilds around Waterdeep and he adds a few high level personalities. By adding in his marvellous The Enchanted Wood adventure material for DragonQuest (which I happen to have an extra copy of, if anyone is interested), he manages to up the epic feel quite a bit. I remember someone posted that they felt FR5 was a bit much, when a section about random events mentioned two flying castles with dragons crawling over them passing overhead, locked in a wizardly duel. I think I agree. This book adds way to much. In my FR I think I will pass on it, however much I like Jaquays' dungeons.

I don't have many more of the earliest FR books for 1st ed. Since Ed Greenwood wrote the one on the Red Wizards, and they are all over the Grey Box as the big evil force, I feel tempted to to a similar analysis of that one. I have Moonshae, but it feels a bit separated from the rest of the world.

So, while it seems like the reputation FR has of a myriad of high powered NPCs is not totally unfounded, I think it is not found in all the sources. Personally I can't stand game novels, and I have stayed away from most of the 2nd ed. source books as well, since most of those are written after the novels started to flow out of TSR. If those are ignored, and some source books are screened, I think there are space left in the Forgotten Realms for your heroes.

A campaign which uses the Grey Box as a basis, adds Waterdeep and takes that Old West feel, might be a "Greenwood-ian" realms, and one wherein your adventures might not only fit, but also make an impact on the world. That's how I would run it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Where to start a campaign in the Forgotten Realms?

It has been fairly quiet around here a while now. I have been playing some D&D 3rd ed. but it is summertime and the regular slow down when everyone is on vacation this or that week until September.

Like I wrote before, I have been reading DragonQuest and different Forgotten Realms source books, and nurturing some hope of combining the two. Today's question is where to place the "home base" and centre of adventures? I'm going to think out loud somewhat.

Ed Greenwood detail the Dalelands in the grey boxed set, and it's clear that that area and the kingdom of Cormyr is where his players spent a lot of the early years. I have the module FRQ1 Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, which is situated in Cormyr, but suitably close to the "wilderlands" and the "borderlands" or high adventure. Sure sounds like a nice place to start off, eh?

One good thing with Eveningstar is that there are enough NPC detailed for them to be fun to interact with without being drowned in them. Also, the average level is actually around 5-ish and that makes them "within reach" so to speak. Secondly, there's a dungeon near, and a small keep with traps and some badlands with monsters. A little bit of everything, wilderness, "city" and dungeon.

The Dalelands then. There are lots of people to interact with in Shadowdale, but maybe a little too many. In the grey box there's a census report of every stead and its inhabitants! I'm vary of trying to fit a bunch of PC in there. Maybe it can be used as a blue print for another similar dale, but frankly I am a bit confused. What did TSR think you would use all that data for? The good thing is there are some small hills with nasty rumours, some holes in the ground and some intrigue. I'm not sure about the Dalelands, though. It feels like Harn in a way, and for me that is not positive. Who's pig is that again? How many silver does a farm hand need to be paid per fortnight? Anyone?

The third alternative is the city of Waterdeep. Now, that would mean no wilderness adventure, and the dungeons would in all likelihood mean Undermountain. That sound kind of intriguing. The myriad of NPCs is another thing to think about. How many movers and shakes do I want to juggle? A quick sum shows that interestingly enough, the average level of the named personalities of Waterdeep is actually just 6.5! Considering FR has a reputation of NPC demigods that is very interesting! I foresee many opportunities for players to make a difference in a not too distant future with that kind of competition. Suddenly Waterdeep looks like it just passed the Dalelands in my personal list of starting locales. There's enough going on, and you could easily find work both honest and more shady. Eveningstar is slighly smaller and manageable, though.

I'd love to hear if anyone has any experiences to share. The feel I got from the grey box of something like the Old West, with an interesting dichotomy between the wild and the civilized intrigue me, and I'm still pondering how to emphasize that, in whatever local I choose as a starting point.
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