In the fall of 1993, a half-elf thief named Roland of Gilead (let he who is without this particular sin cast the first stone) wandered into Shadowdale’s famous Old Skull Inn, met up with some other adventurers, and nearly 20 years later I’m writing this blog. That was my first time playing D&D, and it was full of the requisite clichés: bar fighting, bandit attacks, fleeing from city guards in Zhentil Keep, and Mountain Dew. The Forgotten Realms can be divisive, and I’ll admit that I have little desire to game there again, but it will always have a special place in my heart.
For the first 6 months or so that I played D&D, various PCs power gamed or gruesomely died through short-lived adventures, only to be replaced the next weekend by a new crew of faces. At the time, the couple older guys (juniors!) who did most of the DMing ran the Realms just based on the info in the FR Adventures hardcover, Drow of the Underdark, and what they knew from tie-in novels. The world didn’t really open up for me until that Easter, when I got my DMG and the Forgotten Realms box set.
I laid out those maps, read A Grand Tour of the Realms front cover to back, back cover to front, and from the inside out, and unintentionally set about running my first real campaign, strictly populated by my fellow underclassmen. It started with a pick-up game on a school night near the end of May and it only lasted until the late days of August, but in between we played 3-4 days a week, anywhere from 6 to 12 hours a day. Summer vacation and the campaign were one and the same. An epic tale unfolded, sweeping characters from one end of the Realms to the other, embroiling them in the machinations of the Red Wizards of Thay, the Zhentarim, and an invasion of extra-dimensional orcs of superior intellect and malice.
The Realms has a bad reputation for taking the focus away from the PCs and a group’s own game and shifting it toward NPCs and world-changing events that help sell novels and new supplements. With the perspective of time, I have to admit that it’s somewhat deserved. However, for that game and a couple others that came later, the Realms were ours. The sinister organizations challenging the PCs may have come from published materials, but the individual NPCs conspiring to ill ends and the heroes challenging them were strictly the creation of my friends and I.
Next up is Dark Sun, a post that will hopefully shape up to be a bit more of a review of the actual setting and product and a bit less Stand By Me by way of my parents’ basement.