The title of this post is to be read in an overly dramatic movie trailer narrator voice.
When I got my first copy of the Player’s Handbook in 1993, enthralled though I was by the classes, races, spells, and all of the great illustrations, I was just as fascinated (perhaps even more so) by the gatefold advertisement on the inside front cover. This series of small cover images and short blurbs probably would not have been nearly so intriguing were it not dominated by a plethora of fantastic worlds to explore: Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, and Al-Qadim. Not to mention the Forgotten Realms, the setting through which I had recently been introduced to the hobby.
James Maliszewski has referred to this period as the Bronze Age of D&D, the “age of the boxed campaign set,” and I have to agree. TSR’s published campaign worlds and their related fiction were the dominant force in RPGs during the 2nd Edition era. In fact, pre-published settings were arguably the defining aspect of 90s RPGs even outside of the D&D brand — White Wolf’s games are known more than anything for their shared World of Darkness setting and its ever-evolving metaplot.
One of the tenants of the OSR philosophy is that the creative freedom of the earlier era, when the rules assumed that each DM would craft his own setting for sandbox-style exploration, allowed for a more vibrant and engaging hobby, as opposed to the more creatively one-sided producer/consumer dynamic that emerged later on. I can’t disagree; there’s no denying that building your own setting leads to more activity away from the table, such as amateur cartography and encounter table creation, things that are close to my heart. I used to love to draw maps of make-believe lands even when all I knew of fantasy was Narnia and Choose Your Own Adventure. And not long after I got my first Dungeon Master’s Guide (only 4 months after the PHB), I began drawing a sprawling map on a big piece of poster board.
But there was a powerful magic in those published settings as well, and entering into the game when I did means that they left an indelible mark on my imagination. I may have started drawing my own map right after getting my DMG, but it was the Forgotten Realms box that served as the back-drop for my first real campaign. So this is intended as the intro to a series of posts exploring the published worlds of TSR, such as they were in those early 2nd Edition box sets that I encountered in my first year or two of gaming. First off will be the Forgotten Realms … same as it ever was.