Just a while ago, Elminster's Forgotten Realms was released. It's a great, well written sourcebook. It's 'crunch' free, and written by the guy who created the setting, Ed Greenwood. But aside from all those things - it's a signal. Not only is it edition-free, but it's also the first new Dungeons and Dragons release that bears a difference in cover style and layout design. Put that and the upcoming product page on the WotC website together and you have this equation. Fourth edition is done. Over. That's it folks.
Sad, isn't it? In a way, I feel really nostalgic, but I also feel like I took a lot out of fourth. More than I ever thought I would. I played in a campaign spanning nine levels and DM'ed one that took my players all the way from one to seventeen, ran countless seasons of DnD Encounters (actually, they are very much countable) and quite a few one-shots. But it's time to move on to other things, new and old, and Elminster's Forgotten Realms should pave the way and bring us back to a style of DnD much forgotten but not at all lost. It's a style steeped in detail and lore and, frankly, I couldn't think of a better book to guide us on our path.
I want to thank Wizards of the Coast Europe for sending me all the wonderful material to review, and I was going to originally post a review of the 3.5 Premium Reprints, and then review this book, but I've done that mistake where I opened a book and got so absorbed that I couldn't put it down. Unlike any other roleplaying game sourcebook, I read this cover to cover. Mostly because I wanted to immerse myself in it and take everything it had to offer.
I think that anyone who has listened, watched or actually met Ed Greenwood knows that the man does not live on this planet anymore. He has written Forgotten Realms for decades and after reading this I'm more than ever convinced that he sees, breathes, eats and lives Forgotten Realms. The man is there, telling us all about it through extended sending rituals. Some sourcebooks I've read try to take on an observer's view point, but this is not quite the same. Ed Greenwood is not just an observer, he is an undeniable part of his imaginary world.
The book is split into six six chapters: Life in the Realms, Laws and Orders, Hearth and Home, Money Matters, Gods and Followers and The Art. Each chapter goes into various aspects of living in Faerun, and it delves so deep into the nitty gritty and mundane, that the mundane becomes fascinating. Whether it's Cormyrian fashion you're interested in, or an actual recipe for Baked Stirge on Toast - you'll find it. Naturally, the book has a slant towards the adventuring career, as, after all, that's what most player characters are.
But don't mistake the book for one that's just Forgotten Realms lore. It's also Mr Greenwood's way of sharing his DMing experience with us. He talks about his past campaigns, what preparation he'd done and how he kept on top of things. It's a vault of knowledge and it addresses some very key issues that have arisen after fourth edition. A particular quote struck very close to heart:
When every player read every rulebook, "module", and The Dragon issue, all too often every last spell, magic item, and monster would be part of players' metagame knowledge. So, drown them in too much Realmslore for anyone to keep track of - and presto, it's real roleplaying time again.
And I think, personally, that's what I've really missed. Real roleplaying time. I've missed books that delve deep into lore and don't let you go and Elminster's Forgotten Realms is definitely it. What I want, I think, is for anyone who's ever played fourth edition to pick up this book. And not just pick it up - read it. It brought me back to when I was twelve years old and read Lord of the Rings for the first time and got completely overwhelmed with that wonderful world. It's the same feeling here. It's overwhelming - in a good way.