From a project initially pitched to the D&D website, to a hardcover book released this month, Brian James discusses the history of the Grand History of the Realms. Along the way, Brian stops off at Phlan, Katashaka, the Ironfang Keep… and a host of Realms’ landmarks!
Wizards: What sparked your interest in creating the Grand History of the Realms? I’m assuming some obvious love for the setting, of course! But when did you start playing in the Realms? Have memorable campaigns to specific corners of the world? Are you a fan of including some of the more famous NPCs (Drizzt, Elminster) in your game, or do you keep them the stuff of rumor and legend?
Brian James: My first experience with the Forgotten Realms began in 1988 when I loaded up the computer game Pool of Radiance on my family’s Commodore 128. Enjoying the rich setting and its detailed history, I picked up a copy of the Ruins of Adventure from my local hobby shop and started a new D&D campaign set in the ruined city of Phlan.
Famous NPCs help bring the Realms alive through the setting’s fiction, but I never include them in my campaigns, preferring the focus to remain on the PCs themselves.
Wizards: How did the Grand History project begin for you? Was it something you’ve been compiling all along through the years, or was it more a case of sitting down at some point to consolidate the enormous amount of information that’s been put forward?
Brian James: Work on the Grand History actually sprang from an earlier timeline project called A Temporal Chronology of the Primes, which I began in 1997. It was a chronology which combined the events from many popular campaign settings of the day (Dark Sun, Dragonlance, and the Forgotten Realms among others) into a single unified timeline. Planescape and Spelljammer were popular at this time and DMs were very appreciative of my timeline which allowed their campaigns to more easily span different settings.
In 2002, 3rd Edition D&D was king and I decided to focus my efforts exclusively on a Forgotten Realms timeline, which ultimately led to the Grand History. It was certainly a labor of love requiring quite a few hours flipping through stacks of sourcebooks and novels. Thankfully my wife was quite patient throughout the process.
Wizards: When it came to the amount of information you collected, how far back did you look; not in terms of years within the Realms, but in terms of editions? Was everything fair game to explore, or did you try to keep to 3.0/3.5 edition material? If earlier editions were consulted, how often did conflicting information need to be sorted out?
Brian James: It was a goal from the very beginning to create a chronology as complete as possible. As such, it was crucial that the product contain events from all editions of D&D, as well as including details from novels and more obscure source material such as the Forgotten Realms comics and video games. The text also needed to be accurate and deemed canon within the setting. In the process of compiling the data, I would occasionally run into conflicting events or other inaccuracies. In such cases I would adopt the text I felt was most accurate, and included an explanation in the timeline explaining my reasoning.
Wizards: In general, how tangled a task was it to lay forth a clear and complete timeline of the Realms? Did you encounter significant gaps or areas that you had no way of navigating (and if so, where did you turn to guidance or edification)?
Brian James: I decided early on that I would break up the history of the Forgotten Realms into smaller geographical areas. It soon became apparent that the history of certain regions of the Realms was greater detailed than others. It was tempting to fill in some of these gaps with events of my own design, but I refrained. An important distinction between the Grand History and other timelines available on the Internet, was that everything in my work was 100% official. And I didn’t expect readers to merely take my word for it, so I provided a reference after every single event indicating the original source(s) and often the exact page number.
When George Krashos later came on for the print edition, he was instrumental in editing the timeline and providing many additional entries my copy was missing. George was a significant guiding hand along the way and I cannot thank him enough.
Wizards: How did this project come to fruition, in terms of working with Wizards of the Coast?
Brian James: One day early in 2006 while browsing the Forgotten Realms message board on wizards.com I received a private message from Rich Baker. He had seen the PDF of the Grand History and was impressed. I asked if Wizards would be interested in hosting the document on their website, and he said he would get back to me. A few weeks later I received an email from Chris Perkins informing me that Grand History would not be hosted on wizards.com. My heart sank before I read on and discovered he was offering me the opportunity to have the Grand History published. Needless to say this was a dream come true and I quickly agreed.
As to the crafting of the actual manuscript, the process was at once overwhelming and exhilarating. In addition to the timeline events, esteemed masters of Realmslore Ed Greenwood, Eric Boyd, George Krashos, and Tom Costa joined me to contribute additional essays and vignettes to the product. Gwendolyn Kestrel managed the project as the team furiously sent emails back and forth to each other over a period of four weeks. Overall I was very pleased with the process and I cannot wait to hold the finished product in my hands.
Wizards: Did you have any favorite events or periods that you especially enjoyed detailing? What new information about the Realms or its history did you yourself learn during this project? Anything that might surprise Realms’ players?
Brian James: By far the most exciting part of working on the hardcover edition of the Grand History was the opportunity to have my own creations included into the ever expanding history of the Forgotten Realms. For the first time I wasn’t merely cataloging the events of the world, I was contributing to it.
In particular I was given the opportunity to expand upon the histories of two of my favorite lost civilizations, Imaskar and Jhaamdath. Not only was it a thrill to explore these ancient empires through vignettes, I was also granted an opportunity to draw the maps of these regions (and more).
The area of the Realms I learned most about during this project was the history of the lands beyond Faerûn. Until this time, all of the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms sourcebooks had focused on the main continent of Faerûn. The Grand History was a great opportunity to give a little back to the fans of Kara-Tur and Maztica, as well and give readers a glimpse at the dark continent of Katashaka.
Wizards: As I understand it, you’ll be continuing to contribute to the D&D Insider website (after all, the Grand History originated as a web proposal); what else do you have in the works? What can you tell us, for example, about what’s taking place with the Ironfang Keep?
Brian James: I am pleased to report that I will continue to explore new regions of the Forgotten Realms through Realmslore articles on D&D Insider. My first piece will uncover the history of the Moonsea’s most enigmatic landmark, Ironfang Keep. The Keep’s occupants will be revealed for the first time, as well as their goals and the mysterious master whom they obey without question.
I also contributed to the Volume IX of The Candlekeep Compendium which is scheduled to be released early in September. I am very proud of this piece, which details The Bozeman Line, a new sea coster operating out of the Sea of Swords and expands upon the events following the discovery of Maztica and the Deepwater War which left ports all along the Sword Coast in ruins.