Peter
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Carol Stream
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**Disclaimer** - I’m a long time role-player. Almost 30 years of experience. Examples and references below are based on my personal experiences and average responses of the people I’ve played with. This review assumes you have familiarized yourself with the publicly available information about the material discussed. (i.e. Advertised descriptions, RPGG game information entry, Possible publicly available rules, etc.) If you’re concerned about spoilers do not read this review. I try to limit details in my reviews, but some things have to be mentioned to give readers an idea of what is being discussed.

RPG ITEM: Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting


Overall Quality: -

The Product - The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, (FRCS), is a hard covered book detailing the campaign setting of Forgotten Realms. Forgotten Realms is a continent called Faerûn on the planet Abir-Torril. This 320 page book attempts to give the reader an in-depth look at this particular fantasy location. The book is well produced being printed and bound in very good quality, though not to the quality of a premium or leather-bound edition book might be. This book is of the standard high quality RPG type. The font and graphics are well chosen making the book easy to read for the average person. (The graphics are designed to give you the impression you are reading a very old tome, though the feel of the book breaks this verisimilitude.)

The book contains some very high quality art and is decently written for the time period it was released. Unfortunately, nowadays it is rare to purchase any RPG book which contains no errors, and this includes the FRCS. An errata document was released by Wizards of the Coast, (WotC), which is 4 pages long detailing the necessary corrects. This errata document was available as a free download from the publisher’s website.

Reading the book is much easier than a standard core mechanics book as the book is designed to impart background information and stories about the locations within Forgotten Realms, as opposed to simply trying to recite game mechanics. Though the book contains plenty of mechanical information specific to Forgotten Realms.

LayoutUpon first read the book feels to be designed very well and gradually takes the reader though the Realms. It begins with discussing characters and how they fit into the Realms, then follows with a discussion of magic in the Realms which continues into daily life and geography. Each section adds more information about the Realms to bring the reader up to speed on how things work in this fantasy setting and the order makes sense.

What will begin to show after repeated use is the lack of any index. There is a good quality table of contents in the beginning, but as any experienced RPGer will tell you a good index is almost a requirement for a book this large. Rules or fact checking can be a bit tedious at times depending on what you’re looking for.

Finally, Forgotten Realms, as a setting, has been around for a long time when this book was published. Many, many supplements detailing the lands have been published, as well as novels written and adventure modules designed. The sear number of references for this setting has required an entire fan supported website to help track and document them. Trying to capture all this information in a single book is an epic challenge. The designers did a decent job but several areas only receive a glossing over with minimal real information.


Product Content:

Mechanics:The FRCS includes quite a bit of mechanical information. Probably more so than you may be used to seeing in a setting supplement. This is due to the large number of setting specific traits and abilities offered. As was mentioned above, Forgotten Realms has been around for a very long time. Trying to capture the flavor of the already existing setting requires quite a bit of mechanical information specific to the campaign setting. This mainly includes things like character abilities, feats, spells, and monster/NPC stats. These rules help to differentiate the world of Faerûn from the core D&D feel.

The mechanics in this were written under the 3.0 version of Dungeons and Dragons, and in order to update this information to 3.5 you’ll need the Player's Guide to Faerûn. In reality most of the information in the FRCS is still usable and owners could do without purchasing the additional book.

FluffThis book is largely filled with information fleshing out the lands of Faerûn. You will get to meet new and interesting NPCs, visit exotic and strange lands, and read about incredible and inspiring opportunities for adventure. The book contains information about countries, cities, people, locations, organizations, deities, how magic works, etc.

The only drawback I found here was that there is too much existing information about Forgotten Realms for even a book of this size to do the setting real justice.


Player’s Side:

Character OfferingsThe FRCS offers lots of information which will be useful to players looking to design characters. The book contains setting specific feats, character abilities, prestige classes, magic items, spells, etc.

Players looking to spice up their character options will be happy with the offerings found in this supplement. Of course they also have to take all the campaign fluff as well. Again the Player's Guide to Faerûn can help here, as it contains players specific information without the larger fluff sections, but even so there will be some missing information. The Player’s Guide, to save room, didn’t reprint the mechanics for feats, spells, etc, from the FRCS if the rules didn’t change. The Player’s Guide refers you back to the FRCS for that information.


GM Side:

Behind the Screen UseAs mentioned above, the book is a treasure trove of background information and area detail. The two issues I’ve experienced though is the fact that referencing information in the book can be difficult. Also some areas do not include detailed information. An example is the deities for the Realms. The shear number of pantheons, let alone deities within each pantheon literally fills two books. (Faiths and Pantheons & Demihuman Deities*.) The FRCS attempts to give the reader the bare essentials regarding Faerûnian deities but really only glosses over them.

Regardless, the book is valuable in informing the reader about the current, at the time, changes to the Realms. Due to the age of the Forgotten Realms Setting, time in the Realms has advanced just as it does in the real world. There are canon events which are widespread in their effect on the Realms. Most notably the changes to how magic works within the Realms between different editions of D&D. The FRCS does a good job of updating readers on these changes.

* - I know this item is 2nd edition, but WotC never revisited all these pantheons in detail in 3.X.

Campaign / Adventure OfferingsFor me, and many I’ve spoken to, the FRCS offers a mythical ton of opportunities for adventure and campaigning. The current geopolitical temperature of the realms poises almost every major realm or city on the brink of conflict of some sort. Tensions between rivals is high, sporadic conflicts threaten to boil over into open war. Many NPCs are looking for assistance of some sort or another.

Even locations and areas which have had past problems resolved in novels or previously released adventures seem to have new opportunities for adventure available. If you have an adventure or campaign idea, you are just about guaranteed to find a place within Forgotten Realms which fits it like a glove.

Actually the only complaint I’ve really ever heard about adventure opportunities with this setting is the fact that there are so many GMs have had difficulty focusing on just one.

RoadblocksAs stated previously, the biggest issue for me is the lack of an index and difficulty presented in fact checking certain information. Depending on how minute the information being checked, it can end up being tedious, or simply require adlibbing as opposed to referencing.

The timing of the book’s printing was unfortunate. It was printed before the decision by WotC to switch from 3.0 to 3.5. So the mechanical information in the book was dated soon after the book’s release. This required the publishing of the Player's Guide to Faerûn, which then suffered as well due to having to squeeze in rules updates as opposed to simply consolidating player only information from the FRCS.


Summary:

I’ve been a long time fan of Forgotten Realms since I purchased the first box set back in the late 80’s. I loved how immense the setting was and how there was a little something for everyone, as far as medieval high-fantasy settings went. I’ve avidly collected many of the supplements released which expanded and further detailed the seemingly endlessly growing realm. When I finally decided to take the plunge into 3rd edition D&D I also wanted to ensure I gathered the updated material for Forgotten Realms. To that end this book was a valuable addition to my collection. I found I used this book quite a bit when planning and developing my Forgotten Realms based adventures and campaigns. Player’s in my groups used it quite a bit as well to give their characters a Forgotten Realms feel.

But the reality is, if you already own older versions of Forgotten Realms supplements and really don’t feel like shelling out the cash for another book which revisits that old information, you don’t have to. You could easily do without this book if you have the older FRCS box sets. Simply convert whatever mechanics you wish to 3rd edition and continue on your way. On the other hand, if you do not own any FRCS supplements and would like to get into this setting, this is a definitely not a bad place to start.

Thank you for reading my review. It makes the effort worthwhile.
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