To celebrate the long-awaited release of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, we asked the design team to share some highlights of the new Realms, what they enjoyed most about working on the setting, and how to add Realms flavor to any character.
Wizards of the Coast: Is there anything in the new Forgotten RealmsCampaign Setting that you think will really shock or surprise readers?
Michele Carter: People will be surprised by how much information we got into the book! We managed to fit in quite a bit of new information about areas that haven't been explored in depth, like the Great Rift in the South. This book is packed.
Ed Greenwood: I think people will be surprised at just how much we managed to cram into the book. [Hmm, are you seeing a trend here yet?--ed.] A lot of stuff had to be cut, but the book is as crammed with Realmslore as the inside of Elminster's notorious pipe! That was my job. I helped provide Realmslore -- facts, hints, rumors, and color, such as the opinions of merchants in one place and that of the Harpers in another.
John D. Rateliff: People will be blown away by how much detail there is. There's an enormous amount of information here for a single book, and yet it's all very accessible.
Skip Williams: Several of our villainous organizations have new agendas that will really surprise people.
Wizards: I'm sure it's difficult to choose, but what did you most enjoy about working on this book?
Ed: It was great to take a fresh look at the Realms. Even more, though, I liked getting a sneak peek at all the feats and "hard, chunky rules stuff" that everyone else involved with the project was doing.
Rob Heinsoo: I'm really fond of the approach we took to regional feats -- they really allow characters from the scattered areas of Faerûn to be different from one another.
Julia Martin: I enjoyed how people on my team took the well-established setting and made it flare vibrantly to life in the framework of the new rules. The new Realms has as much story and "crunch" as any D&D mainstream product now, and special attention has been paid to both its logical and internal consistency.
Skip: It was very satisfying to consider elements of the Forgotten Realms setting that had always been problematical in the past, and realize that with the arrival of the new edition of D&D we can handle all of those problems now! For example, Elminster's various careers have always been something of a problem. With the game's multiclassing rules, it's no longer a problem.
Wizards: Tell us about some of the new characters making their first appearance.
Michele: We introduced a lot of new characters. Some were designed specifically to showcase new rules and areas; some were based on concepts we wanted to explore. One of my new favorites is Scyllua Darkhope, a blackguard in the service of the Zhentarim -- she's going to become a major player in Realms' events. Sahbuti, a monk-sorcerer of Shar, can potentially be a thorn in the side of any group of adventurers, while King Obould of the orcs of the North promises to cause much trouble for that region in the years to come -- just like a good villain should!
Rob: My favorite new guy is a surface drow named Jezz the Lame -- who's anything but lame! You'll meet him in a place he wouldn't have belonged in the earlier days of the Realms, when the good guys had a better handle on always squashing the bad guys down.
Julia: There are many new villains and new bad-guy organizations -- they're evil and smart. They will kick your butt.
John: In addition to quite a few of the old favorites everyone associates with the Realms, there are a number of interesting new characters for players to interact with, either as foes or allies. Intriguing NPCs are one of the things I prize most in roleplaying material, and I'm happy with how well the new book delivers on that score. My personal favorite is the fallen paladin Scyllua Darkhope; she's just the kind of character I'd like to add to my campaign.
James Wyatt: Let me speak about monsters specifically, since I am the Forgotten Realms "Monster Boy." New monsters include the kir-lanan gargoyle and full statistics for some of the common animals of the Realms -- including two varieties of rothé that have never seen print before.
Wizards: Which old favorite characters return?
Julia: Some old favorites include Fzoul Chembryl, Khelben, Manshoon, and many others. Now we get to see them through the filter of the new edition of D&D, and more of their capabilities come to light. Some abilities are even better explained with the new rules than the old -- fewer people have odd special abilities that bend the rules, for instance, because the new rules can better accommodate their abilities. This showcases the versatility of the new edition as well as the evergreen possibilities of the Realms setting.
James: Old favorite monsters include yet another beholder variant, the shade, and the dracolich.
Wizards: The Realms is full of epic-level characters. What does the book offer for low-level adventurers? What would you tell a new group just starting out?
Michele: There is every opportunity for low-level adventurers to make a place for themselves in the world. While there are a number of existing epic-level characters, the Realms is a very large world with plenty to interest heroes of all levels. The Dales and the North are good starting places for low-level adventurers, but with the existence of portals and the tendency for adventurers to travel, a group starting out could be based literally anywhere in Faerûn.
We introduce a number of new options in the form of races, classes, feats, and prestige classes. As with any new, beginning character it's best to look at the choices available and pick one you like best. The character regions and regional feats will really help define a character, so flipping through the chapter on geography to find a place you like might be helpful, too.
Ed: The Realms is a rich, fully detailed world; there's room for characters of all levels. The regional feats might influence where newly created characters come from. If players end up with a variety of backgrounds and origins for their characters, the DM should think about how these disparate adventurers came together. Have they all run into each other in the same tavern, at the same trade fair, or in a crossroads place like Waterdeep? Perhaps they got dragged into an adventure by a chase of monsters or brigands.
Rob: We laced the book with places for 1st-level characters to start, and filled it with neat things that work well for low-level characters. We tried to show that evil has to be confronted on all levels, because while the high-level characters are off fighting high-level menaces, somebody has to take care of the small problems created by evil people and evil powers. These lower-level evil people can kill or harm just as surely as the larger menaces if they're not confronted.
John: There's always a place for 1st-level characters in any D&D world. I think low-level play is the most challenging and rewarding of all. I'd tell a new group to watch each other's backs, to pull back when they think they might be in over their heads, and not to insult the old wizard in the corner. Pretty soon they'll get a sense of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and develop new ways of working together as a team. It doesn't really matter where in the Realms they start -- though I have a particular fondness for Daggersford -- so long as they keep their eyes open.
James: We made an effort to include not just the major villains that lead to the great villainous organizations of Faerûn, like Fzoul, Manshoon, and Szass Tam, but also low- to mid-level lieutenants of those organizations. These make great campaign villains for low-level PCs. Even a 1st-level character can fight against the Zhents or the Cult of the Dragon; you just need to start small, and make sure you stay below Fzoul's radar until you're ready for a bigger challenge!
Skip Williams: There is a section in the book called "Running the Realms." It tells you where to start -- the Dales or the Silver Marches -- and offers a lot of helpful information. Faerûn is a big, big place, and there's plenty of room for new heroes.
Wizards: What will mid-level adventurers find interesting in the book, and what would you tell them?
Michele: Mid-level characters should be starting to view Faerûn as a whole, rather than just attending to affairs in their own city or country. With portals, characters can literally cross the continent in the blink of an eye, and they should take advantage of that fact to adventure in locations far outside their usual haunts.
Julia: Players with mid-level characters will find that they can engineer their character's path with both core and Realms feats and classes, and make some particularly cool and cunning choices to optimize their abilities and showcase their roleplaying features. They also get different cool magic to play with.
Wizards: How can players give their new or existing characters "Realms flavor"?
Michele: One important thing to consider is whether or not your character might want to eventually qualify for a prestige class. A Cormyrian fighter might want to someday join the ranks of the elite Purple Dragons. In designing that character, the player can then choose skills and feats that will set her on that path. Where you're going can be as important as where you are from in the Realms!
Julia: From a background or roleplaying standpoint, think about your character's relationship or potential relationship with some of the Forgotten Realms power groups. Did a Red Wizard threaten you as a child? Did you want to join the Harpers? Did they turn you down or accept you into their group? Find something interesting about some of the power groups and play off of that where appropriate when composing motivations and developing your character.
John: Don't be afraid to give an unusual twist to your character! When you create a character for the Realms, stop once you're down and think of something that makes the character different from others of his race and class. The Realms isn't about being just like everyone else you superficially resemble; it's about how different folks are under that surface.
James: This book makes it easy for players to give their characters Realms flavor. By choosing a region of origin for your character, and shaping that character's class and feat selection appropriately, you've already gone a long way toward locating your character in the concrete realities of the Realms.
The real test, however, is in the roleplaying. The most concrete advice I'd give to players is to learn all you can. Read up on the campaign setting so that you know what people from different regions are like. If your sophisticated rogue from Waterdeep wrinkles her nose at the thought of going to the Dales because it's full of stubborn, backwoods farmers, that's a great step. If she then risks her life at the side of one of those backwoods farmers fighting a group of drow in Cormanthor, learning to overcome her prejudices in the process, then you're in the Realms.
Learn more about the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting: