|Media type||Game accessories, novels, role-playing video games, comic books|
Forgotten Realms is a campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fantasy role-playing game. Commonly referred to by players and game designers alike as "The Realms", it was created by game designer Ed Greenwood around 1967 as a setting for his childhood stories. Several years later, Greenwood brought the setting to publication for the D&D game as a series of magazine articles, and the first Realms game products were released in 1987. Role-playing game products have been produced for the setting ever since, as have various licensed products including novels, role-playing video game adaptations (including the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game to use graphics), and comic books.
Forgotten Realms is a fantasy world setting, described as a world of strange lands, dangerous creatures, and mighty deities, where magic and supernatural phenomena are quite real. The premise is that, long ago, planet Earth and the world of the Forgotten Realms were more closely connected. As time passed, the inhabitants of Earth had mostly forgotten about the existence of that other world - hence the name Forgotten Realms. The original Forgotten Realms logo, which was used until 2000, had small runic letters that read "Herein lie the lost lands" as an allusion to the connection between the two worlds.
Forgotten Realms is one of the most popular D&D settings, largely due to the success of novels by authors such as R. A. Salvatore and numerous role-playing video games, including Pool of Radiance (1988), Eye of the Beholder (1991), Icewind Dale (2000), and the Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate series.
Ed Greenwood began writing stories about the Forgotten Realms as a child, starting at the age of 8.:72 He came up with the name from the notion of a multiverse of parallel worlds; Earth is one such world, and the Realms another. In Greenwood's original conception, the fantastic legends of Earth derive from a fantasy world that can no longer be accessed. Greenwood discovered the Dungeons & Dragons game in 1975, and became a serious role-playing enthusiast with the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) game releases in 1978. Greenwood brought his fantasy world to the new medium of role-playing games when a university student named September introduced him to AD&D.:72 The setting became the home of Greenwood's personal campaign. Greenwood began a Realms campaign in the city of Waterdeep before creating a group known as the Knights of Myth Drannor in the Shadowdale region. Greenwood felt that his players' thirst for detail made the Realms what it is: "They want it to seem real, and work on 'honest jobs' and personal activities, until the whole thing grows into far more than a casual campaign. Roleplaying always governs over rules, and the adventures seem to develop themselves." Greenwood has stated that his own version of the Forgotten Realms, as run in his personal campaign, is much darker than published versions.
Starting in 1979, Greenwood published a series of articles that detailed the setting in The Dragon (now Dragon) magazine, the first of which was about a monster known as the curst.:72 Greenwood wrote voluminous entries to Dragon, and used the Realms as a setting for his descriptions of magic items, monsters, and spells. When Gary Gygax "lost control of TSR in 1985, the company saw an opportunity to move beyond Greyhawk and introduce a new default setting".:87 In 1986, TSR began looking for a new campaign setting for AD&D,:72 and assigned Jeff Grubb to find out more about the setting used by Greenwood as portrayed in his articles in Dragon.
According to Greenwood, Grubb asked him "Do you just make this stuff up as you go, or do you really have a huge campaign world?"; Greenwood answered "yes" to both questions. TSR felt that the Forgotten Realms would be a more open-ended setting than its epic fantasy counterpart Dragonlance, and chose the Realms as a ready-made campaign setting upon deciding to publish AD&D 2nd edition. Greenwood agreed to work on the project and began working to get Forgotten Realms officially published. He sent TSR a few dozen cardboard boxes stuffed with pencil notes and maps, and sold all rights to the setting for a token fee. He noted that TSR altered his original conception of the Realms being a place that could be accessed from Earth, as "[c]oncerns over possible lawsuits (kids getting hurt while trying to 'find a gate') led TSR to de-emphasize this meaning."
Jon Peterson, author of Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History, said that Greenwood "was that rare obsessive DM who just seemed to have more ideas and energy to pour into his world than even the folks at TSR did. Naturally when TSR was shopping for new campaign worlds as part of their cross-media strategy, they had to get the Forgotten Realms. RA Salvatore took Greenwood's world and created characters and stories for it that made him a bestselling author and sustained TSR as a major fantasy book publisher."
In 1985, the AD&D module Bloodstone Pass was released by TSR and is retroactively considered to be a part of the Forgotten Realms, although it was not until the module The Bloodstone Wars was released that it became the official setting for the module series. Douglas Niles had worked on a trilogy of Celtic-themed novels, which were modified to become the first Forgotten Realms books, beginning with Darkwalker on Moonshae (1987).:73 It is the first book in The Moonshae Trilogy, which predates the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set by one month.
The Forgotten Realms Campaign Set was later released in 1987 as a boxed set of two source books (Cyclopedia of the Realms and DM's Sourcebook of the Realms) and four large color maps, designed by Greenwood in collaboration with Grubb.:99 The set introduced the campaign setting and explained how to use it,:99 and reserved space on the map for SSI's Gold Box computer role-playing games set in the Forgotten Realms.
TSR began incorporating elements by other designers into the Forgotten Realms, including the Moonshae Isles by Douglas Niles, the "Desert of Desolation" by Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, and Kara-Tur by Zeb Cook.:73 The setting also gave TSR a new way to market its Battlesystem rules, which it had supported with the Bloodstone adventure sequence that began with Bloodstone Pass. The last two books of this series, The Bloodstone Wars (1987) and The Throne of Bloodstone (1988), were explicitly placed in the Forgotten Realms.:74 Some of the characters from Frank Mentzer's Egg of the Phoenix (1987) were incorporated into The Savage Frontier (1988).:40
The compilation module Desert of Desolation was reworked to fit into the Forgotten Realms. The module Under Illefarn published in 1987 is set in the Forgotten Realms,:108 as is the module released in 1988, Swords of the Iron Legion.:103
R. A. Salvatore wrote his first Forgotten Realms novel in 1988, The Crystal Shard (1988), which was originally set in the Moonshae Islands before being moved to a new location and introduced the drow character Drizzt Do'Urden.:73 Drizzt has since appeared in more than seventeen subsequent novels, many of which have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 1988, the first in a line of Forgotten Realms role-playing video games, Pool of Radiance, was released by Strategic Simulations, Inc. The game was popular and won the Origins Award for "Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1988".
Several supplements to the original boxed set were released under the first edition rules, beginning with Waterdeep and the North,:73 which was followed by Moonshae in 1987, and Empires of the Sands, The Magister, The Savage Frontier, Dreams of the Red Wizards, and Lords of Darkness in 1988.:96-97 The City System boxed set was released in 1988, and it contained several maps of the city of Waterdeep.:89 Ruins of Adventure, a module based on the computer game Pool of Radiance, was also released in 1988.:113
The boxed set Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms was released in 1988. It gives details of the lands of Kara-Tur, and was designed to be used with the 1986 book Oriental Adventures, which officially placed the book in the Forgotten Realms world.:103
In 1989, DC Comics began publishing a series of Forgotten Realms comics written by Grubb.:75 Each issue contains twenty-six pages, illustrated primarily by Rags Morales and Dave Simons. Twenty-five issues were published in total, with the last being released in 1991. A fifty-six page annual Forgotten Realms Comic Annual #1: Waterdhavian Nights, illustrated by various artists, was released in 1990.
|1988||Pool of Radiance|
|Curse of the Azure Bonds|
|1990||Secret of the Silver Blades|
|Eye of the Beholder|
|1991||Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon|
|Pools of Darkness|
|Gateway to the Savage Frontier|
|1992||Treasures of the Savage Frontier|
|1993||Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures|
|Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor|
|1996||Blood & Magic|
|1997||Descent to Undermountain|
|2000||Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn|
|2001||Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance|
|Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor|
|2002||Icewind Dale II|
|Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder|
|2004||Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II|
|2005||Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone|
|2006||Neverwinter Nights 2|
|2011||Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale|
|Heroes of Neverwinter|
|2014||Lords of Waterdeep|
|2015||Sword Coast Legends|
|2017||Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation|
|2018||Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms|
|2019||Warriors of Waterdeep|
|2020||Baldur's Gate III|
|Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance|
To transition the Forgotten Realms from first edition AD&D to the ruleset's second edition, a story of the gods being cast down was planned from the top-down by management and began in Hall of Heroes (1989) and spread into a three-adventure Avatar series (1989), a three-novel Avatar series (1989), and some stories in the comic book.:84 TSR adjusted the timeline of the Forgotten Realms by advancing the calendar one year forward to 1358 DR, referring to the gap as the Time of Troubles.
In early 1990, the hardcover Forgotten Realms Adventures by Grubb and Greenwood was released, which introduced the setting to AD&D 2nd edition;:99-100 the book also detailed how the Time of Troubles had changed the setting.:139 The Ruins of Undermountain (1991) was one of the first published mega-dungeons.:93 The Al-Qadim setting by Jeff Grubb was released in 1992, and the setting was placed in the southern Forgotten Realms.:95 The RPGA used the Forgotten Realms city of Ravens Bluff as the setting for their first living campaign.:93 Official RPGA support for this product line included the Living City module series. A number of sub-settings of the Forgotten Realms were briefly supported in the early 1990s. Three more modules were produced for the Kara-Tur setting. The Horde boxed set, released in 1990, detailed the Hordelands, which featured a series of three modules. The Maztica Campaign Set, released in 1991, detailed the continent of Maztica.
The original gray boxed set was revised in 1993 to update it to AD&D 2nd edition, with the release of a new Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting boxed set containing three books (A Grand Tour of the Realms, Running the Realms, and Shadowdale) and various "monster supplements". Additional material for the setting was released steadily throughout the 1990s. Forgotten Realms novels, such as the Legacy of the Drow series, the first three books of The Elminster Series, and numerous anthologies were also released throughout the 1990s, which led to the setting being hailed as one of the most successful shared fantasy universes of the 1990s. By the first quarter of 1996, TSR had published sixty-four novels set in the Forgotten Realms out of the 242 novels set in AD&D worlds.:20 These novels in turn sparked interest in role-playing by new gamers.
Numerous Forgotten Realms video games were released between 1990 and 2000. The Eye of the Beholder PC game was released in 1990, which was followed by two sequels: the first in 1991, and the second in 1992. All three games were re-released for DOS on a single disk in 1995. Another 1991 release was Neverwinter Nights on America Online, the first graphical Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). In 1998, Baldur's Gate, the first in a line of popular role-playing video games developed by BioWare and "considered by most pundits as the hands-down best PC roleplaying game ever", was released. The game was followed by a sequel, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, in 2000 and Icewind Dale, a separate game that utilized the same game engine as Baldur's Gate. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor was released in 2001. Several popular Forgotten Realms characters such as Drizzt Do'Urden and Elminster made minor appearances in these games.
When Wizards of the Coast took over publication of Dungeons & Dragons after purchasing TSR in 1997, they trimmed production down from six campaign settings to Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, and completed AD&D 2nd edition production sometime between 1998 and 1999.:146 They later hired Rob Heinsoo as a member of the D&D Worlds team to focus on Forgotten Realms in the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons.:162 An official material update and a timeline advance were introduced to the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition in 2001 with the release of the hardcover book the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, which won the Origins Award for Best Role-Playing Game Supplement of 2001 in 2002. The timeline was officially advanced from 1358 DR to 1372 DR. After the adventure City of the Spider Queen (2002) failed to meet its projected sales targets, Wizards of the Coast cut back on production of new adventures.:165
In 2002, BioWare released Neverwinter Nights, set in the northern reaches of Faerûn and operating on the revised 3.0 rules for D&D. It was followed by two expansion packs: Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark. A sequel using version 3.5 of the rules was produced by Obsidian Entertainment in 2006, and was followed by the expansion sets Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir. The Forgotten Realms Deluxe Edition compilation was released in 2006, containing the Baldur's Gate series (excluding the Dark Alliance games), Icewind Dale series, and all Neverwinter Nights games before Neverwinter Nights 2.
With the release of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition in 2008, Wizards opted for a publishing plan featuring a series of six books per year - three core rulebooks and three setting books - beginning with the Forgotten Realms. The company started the cycle with the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (2008), the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (2008), and Scepter Tower of Spellgard.:190 These books updated the Forgotten Realms to the newest rules system which altered the setting drastically to make it fit into the 4th edition's "Points of Light" concept.:190
The main lore change centered around an event called the Spellplague in 1385 DR. This cataclysm was unleashed when the goddess of magic Mystra was killed, "transforming whole nations and altering creatures. In addition, parts of Toril have fused with its long-lost twin world Abeir, whisking away some countries and adding new ones. The Underdark is more open to the surface. Thay has become a nightmare land of death and the Elves, sensing the newfound connection to the Feywild, have returned to Faerûn in force". The event moved the fictional world's timeline 94 years into the future to 1479 DR. The Spellplague acted as "a narrative justification for design changes.":107
In 2011, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting was released which launched the 4th edition's first major multimedia release. The Forgotten Realms city setting spawned four novels by R. A. Salvatore called the Neverwinter Saga, a comic book, and a board game called The Legend of Drizzt, as well as two video games - the Facebook game Heroes of Neverwinter (2011-2012) and a MMORPG called Neverwinter (2013). Laura Tommervik, from the Wizards of the Coast marketing team, explained the approach: "We use Neverwinter as the connective tissue across multiple product categories. The transmedia campaign is an opportunity for fans to experience the brand however they choose to".
In 2013, Wizards of the Coast announced a year-long event called the Sundering which acted as a multimedia project to transition the Forgotten Realms to the next edition of the game. This release included a weekly D&D Encounters in-store play event, a free-to-play mobile game Arena of War (2013), and a collaborative novel series: The Companions (2013) by R. A. Salvatore, The Godborn (2013) by Paul S. Kemp, The Adversary (2013) by Erin Evans, The Reaver (2014) by Richard Lee Byers, The Sentinel (2014) by Troy Denning, and The Herald (2014) by Ed Greenwood. Liz Schuh, Head of Publishing and Licensing for Dungeons & Dragons, said:
The Sundering is the last of a series of ground-shaking events. It really affects the whole world of the Forgotten Realms in a major way. You may remember when the Spell Plagues began, the two worlds of the Forgotten Realms, Abeir and Toril, crashed together. That created both geographic changes (the map of the Forgotten Realms and Faerun actually changed due to that collision), and also changed the way magic works. It changed the pantheon of the gods. The Sundering is all about those two worlds separating--coming apart--and the process of that separation is really the story that we're telling over the next year. At the end of this story arc, Abeir and Toril will be separate again, and many of the things that happened when they crashed together will go back to the way they were before. So magic will be much like it was before the Spell Plague. Markings that marked spell-plagued people and animals will fade and go away. It's really about moving the Forgotten Realms forward, but also about bringing it around to the most beloved and most fondly remembered Forgotten Realms.
When D&D 5th edition was published in 2014, Wizards of the Coast announced that the Forgotten Realms would continue to serve as the official campaign setting for its upcoming published adventure materials. The village of Phandalin in the Forgotten Realms acted as the primary setting for the new 5th edition Starter Set (2014) which was published before the release of three new core rulebooks. Tyranny of Dragons was the first multimedia storyline for the new edition and included two adventure modules, Hoard of the Dragon Queen (2014) and The Rise of Tiamat (2014), and an update to the Neverwinter (2013) video game. The next two storylines, Elemental Evil which included Princes of the Apocalypse (2015) and Rage of Demons which included Out of the Abyss (2015), were also set in the Forgotten Realms.
The first campaign guide for the new edition, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (2015), was released on November 3, 2015, and only covered a fraction of the Forgotten Realms. It describes the 2013 Sundering event, referred to as the Second Sundering in the book, and its consequences in game terms and lore. The video game Sword Coast Legends (2015) published by Digital Extremes was also released in the same month as the tabletop campaign guide.
The focus of the Forgotten Realms setting is the continent of Faerûn, the western part of a continent that was roughly modeled after the Eurasian continent on Earth.:6 The lands of the Forgotten Realms are not all ruled by the human race, with populations of many humanoids races and creatures ubiquitous in fantasy fiction works such as dwarves, elves, goblins, orcs. Technologically, the world of the Forgotten Realms is not nearly as advanced as that of Earth; it resembles the pre-industrial Earth in the 13th or 14th century. However, the presence of magic provides an additional element of power to the societies. There are several nation states and many independent cities, with loose alliances being formed for defense or conquest. Trade is performed by ship or horse-drawn vehicle, and manufacturing is based upon cottage industry.
The Forgotten Realms is part of the fictional world of Abeir-Toril (usually just called Toril:91), an Earth-like planet with many real-world influences and consists of several large continents. It was first detailed in the original Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, published in 1987 by TSR. The other continents of Toril include Kara-Tur, Zakhara, Maztica, and other yet unspecified landmasses. Kara-Tur, roughly corresponding to ancient East Asia, was later the focus of its own source book Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms, published in 1988.:103 There is also a vast subterranean world called the Underdark beneath the surface.:98,138
In early editions of the setting, The Realms shared a unified cosmology with various other campaign settings called the Great Wheel. In this way each of the Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings were linked together to form one interwoven world connected by various planes of existence. With the release of the 2001 Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, the setting was given its own distinct and separate cosmological arrangement, with unique planes not explicitly connected to those of the other settings.
Religion plays a large part in the Forgotten Realms, with deities and their followers being an integral part of the world. Deities interact directly in mortal affairs, answer prayers, and have their own personal agendas. All deities must have worshipers to survive, and all mortals must worship a patron deity to secure a good afterlife. A huge number of diverse deities exist within several polytheistic pantheons; a large number of supplements have documented many of them, some in more detail than others. Greenwood created a pantheon of gods for his home Dungeons & Dragons game, in his Forgotten Realms world, which were introduced in his article "Down-to-earth divinity" from Dragon #54 (October 1981).
When the Forgotten Realms was published as a setting in 1987, the pantheon added Waukeen, the goddess of trade, money, and wealth, who was created by one of Jeff Grubb's players, and added to the Forgotten Realms by Grubb. Tyche was replaced with Tymora, and the elemental lords from Melniboné were replaced by Akadi, Grumbar, Istishia, and Kossuth.
Much of the history of the Forgotten Realms detailed in novels and source books concerns the actions of various deities and The Chosen (mortal representatives with a portion of their deities' power) such as Elminster, Fzoul Chembryl, Midnight (who later became the new embodiment of the goddess of magic, Mystra:140), and the Seven Sisters. Above all other deities is Ao, the Overlord, who does not sanction worshipers and distances himself from mortals. He is single-handedly responsible for the Time of Troubles, or Godswar, as seen in The Avatar Trilogy.
The setting is home to several noteworthy recurring characters that have gained wider reception, including:
In his book The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible, Sean Patrick Fannon describes the Forgotten Realms as being "the most ambitious fantasy game setting published since Tekumel", and that it "may be the most widely played-in game setting in RPG history." Similarly, in literature, the novels written in the Forgotten Realms setting have formed one of "the industry's leading fantasy series". Over time these novels have gained "unprecedented popularity", which led, as Marc Oxoby noted in his book, The 1990s, to the novels having an "extraordinary shelf life", remaining in print for many years. This popular reception has also been reflected in public libraries; for example, Joyce Saricks states in The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction that the novels have been among the most requested books by fans of the fantasy genre.
Brian Silliman, for SYFY Wire, described the Forgotten Realms as "a classic fantasy backdrop" and highlighted that "at one time in our history, our world and this one were connected, but over time this magical realm was, well, forgotten. It is an ideal place for any D&D adventure, inspiring limitless possibilities for any smirking dungeon master".
Philip J. Clements called the Forgotten Realms "highly popular", "an unusually well-developed D&D setting" and "more-or-less the flagship setting for D&D". He also noted that it has received the greatest number of supplements.
The 4th edition update to the Forgotten Realms brought massive lore changes which were "tied to a number of other design philosophies" and the Forgotten Realms "simultaneously had become a grittier setting, on the edge of collapse, while also becoming a more fantastic one, full of wonder and mystery". Jason Wilson, for VentureBeat, highlighted that unlike the Time of Troubles cataclysm, the 4th edition Spellplague cataclysm was "one players never embraced in the same manner as the earlier disaster". Shannon Appelcline, author of Designers & Dragons, wrote:
[The 4th edition] Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide may be the most controversial D&D book ever produced by Wizards. That's entirely due to the large-scale destruction of the Realms. Similar updates have been tried by other companies -- to reinvigorate settings, to make them more accessible to new players, or to make them more adventuresome. [...] It never seems to go well, because old fans feel left behind. With that said, some folks did love the changes, because the setting was now more playable, more accessible, more fantastic, and more PC centered. [...] Meanwhile, a series of adventures and novels called The Sundering (2013-2014) reversed many of the 4e changes to the Realms, but without rebooting the timeline. Instead, the Realms continues to evolve and advance, as it has since its earlier days.
Salvatore was also publicly unhappy with the 4th edition changes to the Forgotten Realms. He said:
[B]asically, we authors were handed a document and told how things were going to be. We were asked our opinions, but they mattered very little - the changes were being driven from a different direction. [...] To have characters that have built such a strong history, then have that upset on the orders of someone else was very disconcerting. I will admit that the abrupt changes forced me into an uncomfortable place, and from that place came some of the better things I've written, but I very much preferred the way it was done this time, with 5th Edition and the changes, where we, the authors, were told what was happening to the game and asked how we could make the world and the lore live and breathe it.
Aubrey Sitterson, for PC Magazine, included the Forgotten Realms in a 2015 roundup of the "11 Best Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Settings" and wrote "for most people, Forgotten Realms is synonymous with Dungeons & Dragons, and with good reason: it's the setting that played home to the massively popular Baldur's Gate video game, as well as R. A. Salvatore's Drizzt books. Currently, it's the only campaign setting actively supported by D&D makers Wizards of the Coast, which would be restrictive if Forgotten Realms wasn't such an incredibly diverse place, housing classic European middle ages tropes, as well as a heroic fantasy take on African, Middle Eastern, and other real-world cultures".
Christian Hoffer, for ComicBook.com, reported that Wizards of the Coast's 5th edition publishing strategy, which focuses on the Forgotten Realms and newer intellectual property for campaign settings, has created a rift in the fan base where some "feel that this push for new players has come at the cost of keeping the game's current players sated" by not updating campaign settings that "predate the Forgotten Realms". Hoffer highlighted that Wizards of the Coast has a much slower publication schedule than with previous editions with a focus on quality and profit and "the D&D teams knows that they have plenty of great campaign settings in their back pocket and are either actively developing more settings or have ideas for them further down the line".