In this month's exclusive interview, the designers of Player's Guide to Faerûn discuss breathing new life and cosmology into a favorite setting.
Wizards of the Coast: The introduction to the Player's Guide to Faerûn says that one of the book's primary purposes was to update the Forgotten Realms setting for v.3.5 D&D rules. How complicated was that transition?
James Wyatt: I've worked on a lot of 3.5 updates now: I did the updates for Deities & Demigods, Monster Manual II, and Fiend Folio in the revision update booklet, and my update of Oriental Adventures will be in the April issue of Dragon
}}magazine. The Player's Guide to Faerûnis really a different beast than any of those, more akin to what Andy Collins did with the Player's Handbook. With the others, the goal was simply to find the places where the new rules had created an inconsistency and then fix those places -- making sure monsters have all the right skills and feats, for example. With the Player's Guide to Faerûn, we really went through all the rules for FR in 3.0 with the same kind of attention that Andy gave to the Player's Handbook, catching not just inconsistencies with the 3.5 rules but trying to improve all the rules across the board. So, a lot of spells that didn't quite work the way we wanted them to were updated. We weren't happy with the regional feat system, so that got an overhaul. Deity-specific spells had lost their particular flavor in 3.0, so we brought them back (to some extent). That sort of thing.
Travis Stout: Speaking strictly from my perspective, the update wasn't hugely complicated. Most of my work involved updating the 3.0 Forgotten RealmsCampaign Settingprestige classes, which in my opinion were already some of the best prestige classes in the game to that point. Most of the changes there were small things: correcting skill lists, bringing certain abilities into line with the revision, and the like. I also took the opportunity to make a few changes to help these classes fit with the new rules presented in this book. The hathran and the Harper scout (now called the Harper agent) got pretty major overhauls, though the Harper agent ended up fairly close to its original state after editing.
Rich Baker: In the end, the transition really wasn't that hard, but it was necessary. For example, we rethought spell save DCs in 3.5, and concluded that "spell power" and similar DC-boosting prestige class abilities or feats were simply too good. So, most of the "spell power"-granting prestige classes were changed to offer caster-level boosts instead -- still good, but not as likely to result in save-or-die spells with unbeatable DCs.
Wizards: You also updated some 1st and 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms material that hadn't been brought up to code.
Travis: In terms of the 1E and 2E material, I was really quite surprised at how easy it was to update. It really says something about the versatility of 3.5 that 95 percent of the time, a spell or magic item's effects from older editions slid right into the new rules. There were several cases where a spell effect from a 2nd Edition source that was originally half a page or more was easily condensed down to a few lines because there was already a status effect or a rule subset in 3.5 that did the same thing.
Rich: The older material included some materials from the 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms Adventures hardbound, Volo's Guide to All Things Magical, Hellgate Keep, Seven Sisters, and other sources that hadn't been mined very deeply for Forgotten Realms 3.0. So, we've got items such as the Baneblades of Demron, some of the old unique swords, and spells such as howling chain, ruby ray of reversal, and skull watch.
Wizards: The book's introduction identifies its other primary purpose as serving "as a player's single best collection of Faerûnian lore and arcana for building an infinite variety of characters." To this end, you've supplied a nice list of other Forgotten Realms products and how 3.5 affected them. What distinguishes Player's Guide to Faerûn from these other products to make it the single best collection?
James: One-stop shopping. We had to make a tough call with this book. We were updating so much of the core Forgotten Realms material that it started to feel like we'd better reprint even the material that we weren't updating. It would have been awkward for players to make characters, knowing that they had to check everything in two books because what was in the Forgotten RealmsCampaign Setting might have been updated in Player's Guide to Faerûn. So, even material from the Forgotten RealmsCampaign Setting that didn't change much or at all, such as core racial abilities, was reprinted in this book. It doesn't make the Forgotten RealmsCampaign Setting obsolete -- it's still the best and only source for all that geography and real setting material -- but it does provide one handy location for everything you need to build a character.
Travis: I think the sheer volume of stuff in this book really sets it apart. This book has everything, from regional feats (which have an entirely new rule system to support them now) to prestige classes to spells and magic -- and that's just the first three chapters! As James pointed out, this is also the first time a Forgotten Realms product has gone in-depth about how to use content from the general D&D product line in your Forgotten Realms campaign. The epic content and the vile and exalted content are my personal favorites, but all of it's useful and cool.
Rich: The Player's Guide to Faerûn really is the book that brings Forgotten Realms fully into D&D v.3.5. The convenience of collecting so much character generation information and character options (such as spells) in one place really can't be overstated. Before you might have been toting the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Magic of Faerûn, Faiths & Pantheons, and Races of Faerûn to your Forgotten Realms game. The Player's Guide to Faerûn collects and updates much of the information in these books in one consistent and convenient spot.
Wizards: How did you balance updating material with introducing new stuff?
James: We couldn't have justified making this book if it had been just a collection of old material, even updated. If that had been the approach we wanted to take, we would have put a free update on our website like we did with the accessory update. In early concepting of the book, we came up with the idea of presenting -- for the first time -- rules about how to use some of the other core D&D products in your Forgotten Realms game. So we included rules about psionics, planes, exalted deeds and vile darkness, and epic-level play. That was what got me excited about working on the project in the first place. The rest was just gravy.
Travis: Well, I was brought on after most of the book's content was pretty finalized, so I wasn't really involved in those decisions. Just within my own work, though, I tried to approach things from the angle of "Am I changing this because it needs to change to bring this in line with 3.5, or just because I think it's neat?" 95 percent of the time, if it was just "neat," it didn't make it in. For example, at one point I tried to reword the divine champion's requirements so that you could swap out Weapon Focus in the deity's favored weapon for Weapon Focus in an alignment weapon (à la the spiritual weapon spell). Ultimately, though, it just proved confusing and generally extraneous, so it was dropped. It can be a big temptation for designers, as gamers, to want to put our house rules into a rulebook and make them official!
Rich: We started by carefully comparing the D&D v.3.5 core rulebooks with the existing Forgotten Realms sourcebooks and identifying things that had to be addressed. For example, the Player's Guide to Faerûn picked up the Stealthy feat from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, so Stealthy no longer made sense as a regional feat -- anyone could take it now. We needed a replacement for Stealthy. Similarly, we examined prestige classes, spells, and other Forgotten Realms "stuff" to see what needed to be brought in line with 3.5. After that, we went to the RPGA and our errata files to find things that hadn't been working well in play and could stand another take.
As James said, we wanted to make sure that this book was something more than material you'd seen before, so we tried hard to shoot for 50 percent new content. We didn't quite get there, but even with the updated older content, it's often the case that we've got interesting new takes or streamlined mechanics that make it new all over again.
Wizards: How did the three of you work together? Did you divide up the work by sections or all work together on particular bits?
James: Let's see. I did the races, Rich did the overhaul of the regional feats, and we each did some prestige classes. We divvied up spells and magic items as well. Our development team (Andrew Finch, Mike Donais, and David Noonan) did a lot of the work on revising spells. I did the bulk of the work on vile/exalted, planar, and epic stuff. Dave Noonan actually wrote the psionics stuff during his time developing the book. And Travis did the campaign journal at the end.
Travis: Mostly we split the book up by sections -- it can be hard to collaborate when designers are on opposite ends of the country! The sections we did split amongst ourselves were generally discrete elements with little overlap, like prestige classes. My work was mostly on prestige classes (updating a lot of the old Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting ones and adding some of the new ones), spells (new spells and spells imported from 2nd Edition sources), and magic items (again, updating from 1st and 2nd Editions). I also, as James pointed out, wrote the Campaign Journal chapter, which discusses the recent major events detailed in the Return of the Archwizards trilogy and the first three books of the War of the Spider Queen series.
Rich: My major contribution to the book was the overhaul and redesign of the regional feat system. That was a very involved bit of work that took me quite some time. I also collated a number of the spells and did some prep work for the developers there. Ironically, the other major section I worked on (monsters) was cut for space. Fortunately, we've got an upcoming product that they'll fit in just fine.
Wizards: For the player well versed in both Forgotten Realms products and v.3.5, what are some of the highlights of this particular edition -- either brand-new material or updated work?
James: I'm still most excited about the new possibilities for planar adventuring in the Forgotten Realms cosmology. We made some tweaks to the cosmology presented in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, listening to some of the questions and complaints that came up on the message boards and mailing lists. Giving the planes the full treatment was a lot of fun to do. I'd like to play in an adventure that takes me to Warrior's Rest!
Travis: I think a lot of people are going to love the new regional feats. They've really been punched up, and now they are tempting options that easily compete with staples like Power Attack and Spell Focus as choices for 1st-level characters. Getting to see some of the classic Netherese spells like Proctiv's move mountain and elven high magic like gift of alliance treated in epic format is quite cool as well.
Rich: In the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, we covered the notion of regional feats (regions, plus the feats themselves) in only 10 pages. In the Player's Guide to Faerûn, we gave this section almost 40 pages. We really tore down this idea to its foundation, thought hard about what we wanted it to do, and gave it the lavish attention it deserved from the get-go. It's not just mechanics, either; there's a brief text description of every region that tells you exactly what it's trying to cover and introduces the place to the player.
Wizards: Players will undoubtedly find the comprehensive spell lists -- which outline all the spells from a wide variety of Forgotten Realms sources -- valuable as a quick-reference guide for locating them. As you reviewed most, if not all, of those spells, was this an opportunity to really overhaul the functionality of any of them, making them a noticeably different spell than how they originally appeared?
Rich: As I noted before, we had a lot of feedback from the RPGA and our players regarding which spells were problematic and which were underpowered. We also took steps to simplify some older spells that had pretty complex descriptions and mechanics, to "cut to the chase" and be clear about what the spell was for and how it worked.
Wizards: The Player's Guide to Faerûnhas a quite extensive section on planes and their traits, links, inhabitants, and features. How did you determine the depth of detail needed for this particular cosmology without repeating too much material from the Manual of the Planes? And in general, did you find it challenging to not repeat wholesale material from other sources in trying to outline new material for the Player's Guide to Faerûn?
James: The 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide presented the planes in a more streamlined format than the one in Manual of the Planes, and that's the basic format I went with in presenting the Forgotten Realms cosmology. It was tough work, and ended up being a lot longer (and taking a lot more time) than I had planned. Building a planar cosmology involves a lot of creative piecing together of some pretty standard components: energy dominant traits, alignment traits, that sort of thing. I created one new kind of trait for the Forgotten Realms cosmology (faith traits), so that gave me a new component to play with. The planes that are very similar to their core counterparts got no treatment in the book -- there's no discussion of the elemental planes, for example. Hell and the Abyss got shorter entries because they're very similar to the core planes. For the rest, I pieced together a lot of information from 2nd Edition sources like the Faiths & Avatars series and the Planescape setting that described the homes of the Forgotten Realms deities. I tried to put inventive new twists in as much as I could. But yeah, it was challenging as Fury's Heart to put it all together.
Wizards: Do you have a favorite contribution to the Player's Guide to Faerûn -- something that you were particularly proud of? Which contributions from the other designers particularly impressed you?
James: Well, I guess you've probably figured out by now that I'm particularly proud of the planar material. I'm also really happy with many of the prestige classes I did for this book, particularly the vile and exalted ones. I'm really pleased with the new regional feats that Rich did, and I'm really glad the campaign journal is in there, giving an update on what's been happening in the setting lately.
Travis: I think my personal favorite contribution to the book was the justicar of Tyr prestige class. Tyrran paladins have been one of my favorite Forgotten Realms character archetypes since I first started playing in the Realms about six years ago, so getting a chance to write a prestige class tailored to that was a lot of fun. As far as the other designers' contributions go, I really like the new regional feat system that Rich designed -- and that's about really all I can say at the moment, because the FedEx man just delivered my copy of the finished book five minutes ago, and I haven't had a chance to read it thoroughly yet!
Rich: My favorite part was finally getting the space to do justice to the regional feat system. As far as the other guys' contributions, I really enjoyed seeing James pull all the cosmology together -- it's truly outstanding, something the Forgotten Realms fans have been clamoring for for some time. And Travis did excellent work on the magic items and prestige classes.
Wizards: Were there things you'd hoped to include that just didn't make the cut?
James: Lots of good stuff got squeezed out, like some new archfiends, but we're trying to find a home for all the orphaned material.
Travis: I was a little disappointed that my write-ups of the three Coronal blades of Myth Drannor didn't make it in, but I think I can squeeze them into my next project!
Rich: As I mentioned before, we had a monster chapter that was squeezed out for space, but we hope to get those critters in front of everyone soon.
Wizards: Finally, what are each of you working on now?
James: I am finishing up work on a book for the d20 Modern line, and started a new project in February that I'm really excited about. It's something entirely new that's never been done in D&D before, and I can hardly wait to get started working on it.
Rich: I'm working on a core D&D book that I can't really talk about yet, as it's too far down the pipeline. At home, I'm finishing the rewrites for my novel Forsaken House, . first in The Last Mythal trilogy
Travis: I'm currently working on another Forgotten Realms product that I think a lot of gamers are going to find very useful. After that, I've got two Polyhedron mini-games and a few Dragon articles to write, and by then it should be about time to go to Gen Con and get more work!