Friday, October 2, 2015

AD&D in Forgotten Realms

The campaign we open tomorrow night will be set in the Forgotten Realms, a high fantasy setting with decades of history told through various product authors, novelists, storytellers, and DMs. The decision to use a published world is not one that I took lightly, but one that became more and more apparent to me over the course of my planning. Everything I wanted for the setting, the party, and the individual characters continually fell into place around a specific area of Faerûn.

In addition to its published history, I have a great deal of personal history with the setting. As a player, the Realms was home to my longest-lived PC, Cadazcar (of Mordenkainen's disjunction fame). As DM, my most successful in-person and play-by-post games were run in FR.

The Realms provides a richness that a homebrew setting would find difficult to match. While I have a desire to homebrew again in the future, FR will provide a deep and immersive game for our group that should keep everyone invested for as long as we care to play.

Below are the required core values for the setting that I outlined in a previous post, with brief notes on how FR satisfies each:

Value #1 - The setting must accommodate a player-driven campaign. As my planning came along, the adventuring options around the starting city felt endless. Every time the need for a hook or specific type of location arose, the region accommodated it. Nothing felt forced. The party will be free to explore frontier wilderness, political intrigue, and everything in between.

Value #2 - The setting must be able to feed the primary motivations of the starting characters. When Sara recounted her character's backstory to me, a series of checkboxes ticked in my mind as I considered how the details fit the starting region. The background elements and primary motivation words given by the players (discoveryexplorationriches, and vindication) all melded.

Value #3 - The setting must provide verisimilitude. There wasn't much to worry about here, as I'd not have considered a setting or region that didn't satisfy this value. None of the options I looked at involved anything gimmicky that would keep the campaign world from being believable.

Value #4 - The prep work needed to run the setting must be sustainable. Having historied "anchor points" to build around gives me some helpful mental guardrails. Combined with the simplicity of the AD&D mechanics, I don't expect prep time to be much of an issue.

Value #5 - The setting must "speak to me" and keep my interest as DM. My history of reading, playing in, and running the Realms gives me confidence that sustained interest won't be a problem once the party starts making the world their own through our games.

Value #6 - Preexisting player knowledge of the setting must not be exploitable. While this is always a risk with published material, none of my players are what I'd consider "Realms-savvy." Players that want to wiki every proper name I give will stumble upon pieces of high-level information, but I don't envision the campaign unfolding in a way that will make this very exploitable. Also, see below...

Inspiration vs. Canon

A few years ago, Keith Baker wrote a great blog post on the subject of homebrew vs. established RPG worlds. I ended up reading this a few times over the past several weeks, and it definitely helped solidify the direction I wanted to go for the campaign. One of the biggest takeaways is how it's important when using a published setting to draw from the inspiration it offers without feeling overburdened by its canon. It's very much what I was able to do with Falkovnia, but even more challenging with Forgotten Realms due to the vast amount of canon that exists. The goal is to benefit from the depth and breadth of the world while still creating something that's our own. While I don't have specific plans to overhaul canon or desecrate FR sacred cows, the reality is that the moment the PCs set foot in the setting, they have the ability to enact change and cause the world to deviate from anything that might already be written or published.

And that's the way it should be.

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