Review: Dungeons & Dragons – Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide 4th Edition

Forgotten Realms CG SmallIt’s not really surprising that the first proper supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (D&D 4E) is a revision of Ed Greenwood’s long standing Forgotten Realms setting.

This is one of Wizards of the Coast’s most successful brands and the only campaign setting other than Eberron to feature AD&D, D&D V3 and D&D 4E versions. It also has a long history outside of the main D&D game, with a number of videogames and books being set on Toril.

The changes for 4E are numerous. Like the core game, a lot of rules have been simplified and a good deal of the setting has been simplified as well. There have also been ground-shaking changes to the Toril, which will allow players to explore a whole different world from that encountered in the V3 setting. However, the best place to start is probably with the physical book itself.

One of the most striking changes to book is that the logo and styles of artwork which once made Forgotten Realms stand out from the Core Rules are gone. They have been replaced with artwork and logos identical to that of the three Core Rulebooks. This is a sign that Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast are being much stricter with the design than in the past or that they are trying to make Forgotten Realms a bigger part of the core D&D experience (for reference, at least some of the pre-made campaigns which have been issued in the past few months are set in parts of the Forgotten Realms).

Physically, the book is slightly thinner than the previous edition, with around 280 pages compared to the V3’s 320 pages. The arrangement of chapters has also been improved and now bares a resemblance to the Monster Manual, with each country or major town receiving two (or occasionally four or six) pages to itself. Other short chapters cover new monsters, the history of Toril, the Gods, the Planes and a selection of sample adventures.

Unfortunately, the majority of these chapters appear to have had content cut since their V3 iteration. Much of what has been cut is of no great consequence and can easily be restored by the GM, or indeed, supplanted with homebrew ideas and rules, but it is clear that WOTC want you to purchase the forthcoming Forgotten Realms Player Guide as well, which will presumably contain cut content such as the additional character classes and races, further information about the deities and the rather useful information about running a FR campaign.

Having looked at the outside of Toril as it were, it is probably best to turn to the actual setting for a while.
The biggest plot change, and indeed the premise for much of the setting, is that roughly ten years after the information in the V3 setting was published (1375 DR in the in game calendar), a massive catastrophe known as the Spellplague destroyed The Weave, which was the main source for much of Toril’s magic. The consequences of this were far reaching, resulting in much death, destruction and the worlds of Toril and Abeir (or Earth) colliding in a massive inter-dimensional rift.

The year is now 1479 and while magic has been recovered, there are many scars left on the landscape and on the people of Toril and a large number of consequences in the world, such as the death of some of the Gods, realignment of some Gods (in line with the reduced number of alignments in the Core Rules), the destruction of some Planes and a redraw of much of the Southern portion of Faerûn.

I don’t have problems with the vast majority of these changes. In fact, I really like the idea of a campaign that runs through the Spellplague – something the book suggests as a way of updating older characters or allowing them to be replaced.

Overall, I do feel disappointed by the 4E setting so far. It seems less detailed and less comprehensive than the previous editions. On one hand, this is a blessing for GMs because they can just lift areas of Toril for use without using the rule changes that are forthcoming in FR Player Guide, but on the other hand, GMs may be asked to purchase (or indeed feel obliged to purchase) the extra book because players want the extra rule changes, races, classes and so on. I suspect that with the addition of the Player Guide, it will feel a lot more rounded and like a complete setting instead of just an empty world.

Other then that, my only real niggle is to do with the condition of the book. Unfortunately, I bought the last copy from the usually excellent Static Games in Glasgow, and it has a couple of very damaged pages which I didn’t notice until I got home. Not sure if they’d let me swap it, but I might mention it next time I’m buying from there and see if I can swing a discount.

Dungeons and Dragons – Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide is out now priced at £24.99 (±$50). It’s companion volume, the Forgotten Realms Player Guide is due out September 2008.

10 thoughts on “Review: Dungeons & Dragons – Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide 4th Edition”

  1. The lack of detail and info is very deliberate it seems. One of the big concerns with the previous version was there was barely an inch left on the map that hadnt been developed by the company leaving DM’s with little in the way of leeway to run games outside the big cities.

    Personally I don’t see why people have to run something completely new every time or for that matter have to take whats said in the book as gospel. That was a big complaint though. So those with the imagination to create a setting in FR didnt have the imagination to fit it in to the existing timeline or for that matter throw that timeline out and start their own.

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  2. Bah cut down, bah, I remember when the forgotten realms setting was a box set not a pithy book.

    They seem to be big on thier catastrophies in FR though they had the Time of troubles (as documented in the avatar trilogy and the shadows of the avatar trilogy) as the main focus of the 2nd ed campain setting.

    Now they’ve started releasing campaign settings I wonder if they will ever get around to re-releasing Darksun, it may actually be able to work with the new rules because from what I remember 2nd ed didn’t quite cut it, and they had to fudge a bunch of rule changes to let you use 2nd ed in dark sun.

    Spelljammer would be nice too, but to be honest it seems like WOTC are trying to steer away from the explosion of campaign settings they had with 2nd ed. Sad, I hear that a lot of the supplemental material might help with a planescape campaign though. that would rock.

    TBH I don’t mind reading FR novels (Much, or at least I didn’t when I was last reading them which was 10 or so years ago) but as a campaign setting it’s just generic fantasy, and if I want to play generic fantasy I’ll get out a napkin jot down some ideas and scribble out a map, at least it’s my generic fantasy then, and I won’t have to worry about why elminster isn’t butting in and assisting with my party’s quest to destroy the Jewel of Irrelevence.

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  3. Quite a few folk have been asking about new Version of Darksun but to be honest I really think they killed it off with the 2nd Version of the setting.

    The first one worked well although they had to introduce a lot of rules simply because they didn’t exist in the normal rules. The second version though just went all Pet Shop Boys on you. Sand surfing druids and a hidden lake paradise just being the tip of the iceberg. They killed the setting off with the novels and when they got round to redoing it it was almost like any other setting in the AD&D universe. If they go back to the original ideas with no free states and having the prism pentad never being written as canon you might actually get people to buy it.

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  4. The only two campaign settings that are confirmed for 4E are Forgotten Realms and Eberron, which doesn’t launch until June 2009.
    If it’s taking that long to get Eberron out, I wouldn’t hold out hold for massive hope for loads of old settings to be revived, especially as they seem to be pushing pre-made campaigns a lot more.

    What I like about FR is that it serves as good inspiration. That was why I bought the previous version of it as well. Otherwise just about every campaign I wrote would be set in Middle Earth or blatant rip-offs. As is, I’m mearly ripping off a Tolkien-like world when I use FR 😛

    No skin off my nose though – I picked up the core Cthulhu book when I was at Static as well. Looking forward to giving it a spin sometime. Seems like a good system.

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  5. There is a Third ed darksun it’s fan made and maintained but WOTC apparently recognise it as the official version…

    Wow my random deviation spawned a post on another blog… If this were just a minute I’d have lost points.

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  6. I think theres actually 2 version that WotC recognise but there is a link between them. Two of the guys in charge of the athas.org version have another one on the go but whilst it seems WotC recognise it I think alot of the mechanics have actually been amalgamated into the athas.org version.

    I just wish I could find my 1st Ed box set of it. It was bumped between our three GM’s quite a bit but I’ve got all the supporting books so I’ve no idea why I don’t have the boxed set as well 😦

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  7. I was just about to give you a nudge to say if you were going to keep this up then joining the rpgbloggers network might be a good idea 🙂

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