Tag Archives: Forgotten Realms

Or an AL-Series perhaps?

A few weeks ago I’ve been pondering what kind of format to use to turn all my ideas for the Ancient Lands into a single unified document. A task that turned out to be more daunting than I anticipated and as of now progress is still negligible, to put it diplomatically. One particular source of grief would be chapter two, after the section on classes and special rules. The races and cultures of the world. Right from the start I knew that I didn’t want to continue the lamentable practice of having a dozen human cultures, three or four elven ones, and then one dwarf culture, one orc culture, one gnome culture, one lizardman culture, and so on. Aside from just being lazy it’s blatantly using the silly racist mode of thinking that all members of a group of foreigners look the same and are the same. Diversity doesn’t just mean that you need a few African and Asian looking humans in your Anglo-French fantasy land. You need to consequently carry this mode of thinking through the whole setting. The problem that arises from this is that when you already start with 7 different humanoid species, giving each one of them multiple ethnic groups leads to really large numbers very quickly. At my last count I was at 15, which is already way too many for a semi-lightweight setting, even when you give them only one page each. And I’d actually want to diversify them even further. This would be much too unwieldy and not result in the kind of content I want to deliver.

Similar problems have been troubling me with the geography aspect of the setting and how to present the different regions and the vast amount of efectively empty space between them. Thinking about this conundrum led me to consider a different kind of format to present the setting to readers. I’ve frequently been praising the Forgotten Realms sourcebook The Savage Frontier as a really good way to present setting information in a useable way to GMs, and it’s actually only one entry in a series of 10 or so setting modules. The same approach was also used in the Gazetteer series that comprised the Mystara setting of BECMI. While I think that doing 12 region books of this scope would be both too large a project for me and also an overload of information for readers who actually want to play the setting at the table, presenting each region as a semi-contained and complete setting on 10 to 20 pages would have some real merit to it. It’s something that I should be able to do in a reasonable time scale (even if it’s only one or two per year), that would be compartmentalized in small projects that would result in regular accomplishments even if I don’t end up completing it but also could be expanded to additional regions added later, and that would also set a low entry barrier for people who are interested in the premise but don’t want to invest the time of reading a 200 to 300 page tome.

A regional module would allow me to present the local people as tribes specific to that region, with maybe three or four of them per module. In the end I might very well end up with 40+ tribes, but they would be spread around over the different modules and readers would only be faced with the descriptions of those tribes relevant to the region. Regions would probably be rather small and even when taken together not represent the whole world and all it’s people. I find it difficult to really get this aspect across in a continent book, but it would be quite easy in a region book. Instead of a book that covers The North, it would be a module about Icewind Dale, one about the Moonlands, and one about the Fallen Lands, and the other 90% of the broader region just wouldn’t be covered at all. This approach obviously only works in settings where populations are widely scattered in small clusters. And it really lends itself to making effectively sandboxes in different parts of the world. But since that’s the type of setting the Ancient Lands are and the kind of game they are made for, this isn’t an obstacle in any way.

Forest of High Adventure sandbox campaign

The Forgotten Realms were my first campaign setting back when I first got into RPGs and while I eventually got put off by its kitchen sink approach I still have some fondness for The North. The North is maybe 5% of the area of Faerûn but can stand as a complete setting on its own. The Sword Coast has become the default region for Forgotten Realms material and I believe the de facto officially supported region in 5th Edition for good reasons. While I don’t have a strong yearning to revisit this setting, I am still very fond of the High Forest in particular. I really got into RPGs when I played on a Neverwinter Nights server set on the eastern edge of the High Forest and eventually became one of the GMs and senior level designers. And my first steps into worldbuilding began with an attempt to take the hinted at past of this region and expand it into a proper playable setting. Eventually I dropped the connection to the Forgotten Realms entirely and now over a decade later it led to the Ancient Lands in its current state. But I always was a bit disappointed that I never got to run a campaign that goes really deep inside the forest and has the players explore its ancient mysteries.

I had planned to start a new Ancient Lands campaign next winter, but by now “next winter” has become “this winter” and its going to be delayed until next spring. And with still a good amount of time ahead, I still have not entirely commited to what I am going to run. Earlier this week I read a great recent post by the Angry GM about making wilderness travel more fun. And though I had last planned to do something simple and episodic, it put the sandbox bug back into my ear. I had written about a workable travel system for pointcrawling in the wilderness a while back which is quite similar, but as usual Angry made a great improvement over it by making it work without prepared precise maps. A pointmap was to be a compromise over a hexmap, but being able to track travel times and random encounters without a highly detailed map is even better. And unlike with a pointmap it’s really easy to handle a party getting lost.

In previous attempts to make a sandbox I found it very efficient to simply grab a bunch of old modules that fit the theme and put them all together on a map. One that came to mind was Hellgate Keep, which is set on the edge of the High Forest. And that got me the idea to use the whole High Forest chapter from The Savage Frontier as the base for my sandbox. It’s the original inspiration for my Ancient Lands setting and as such pretty much everything from it fits perfectly into it. While the North in later publications is a nice place, I think the original version from The Savage Frontier is by far the coolest. It’s classic 80s Jaquays goodness that still has a nice lingering Judges Guild smell. I am not exactly sure why, but the next time the region was described all the best places where destroyed and the most interesting characters dead. And a lot of it is great sandbox material:

    • Hellgate Keep: An old elven fortress city overrun by demons and their half-demon and undead minions. It’s not just a dungeon but a city, and one way too powerful to assault head on. Not really suited for a dungeon crawl but in a sandbox it can get a lot more interesting to visit.
    • Nameless Dungeon: This ruin of an underground stronghold has been closed off and put under heavy guard by elves after adventurers found some magic weapons and armor there. Later books provided an explanation for this odd behavior by making it the long forgotten prison of elven sorcerers who had consorted with demons to usurp the throne of an ancient realm. And now they are waking up and some have already escaped into the forest. I really quite like this one.
    • Blue Bear Tribe: This barbarian tribe has fallen under the control of their evil shaman who is a disguised hag in league with the demons of Hellgate Keep. They were banished from their ancestral shrine by its spirits for their evil ways and are unable to find it again.
    • Tree Ghost Tribe and Grandfather Tree: Some of the Blue Bear tribesmen have split of from their kin and renounced their evil ways. They hope to become worthy again in the eyes of the spirits and rediscover the location of the giant magical tree that they worship.
    • Star Mounts, Endless Caverns, and Stronghold of the Nine: The Star Mounts are a mountain range of incredible hight and somewhere below them are the Endless Caverns that lead into the Underdark and hold the bones of a huge dragon whose treasures have never been found. Not far away is the Stronghold of the Nine, the base of a group of famous heroe who have been turned mad by an evil artifact they discovered and begun to turn the castle into a battlefield fighting each other.
    • Citadel of the Mist: A magic castle that is home to a powerful sorcerer who is one of the main opponents of Hellgate Keep and ally of the treants that live in the nearby forests.
    • Lost Peaks: Mountains that are said to hold the Fountains of Memory that show visions of the past.
    • Dire Woods: A strange part of the forest that is much larger on the inside than the outside and somewhere near its center lies the ancient city Karse, which holds the giant undead heart of a demigod sorcerer.
    • Ruins of Decanter: An old mine that is crawling with monsters created by sorcerers of old and left to their own devices, but recently an illithid known as the Beast Lord is bringing them under his control.

There are also some other places in the Savage Frontier that can easily be transported into the High Forest and fit very well into it.

  • Cave of the Great Worm: This huge cave is home to a tribe of barbarians who are led by an ancient benevolent giant reptile. Would fit well into the Star Mounts.
  • Gauntlgrym: An ancient dwarven city that was famous for its wealth but was lost for unknown reasons. It supposedly can be reached from the Cave of the Great Worm and would be well placed under the Star Mounts so it can be reached through the Endless Caverns as well. I say its mysterious fate is something inspired by the Dead Trenches from Dragon Age and Dead Space!
  • Lonely Tower: A tall tower with no visible doors and windows standing in a huge circular clearing in which no plants grow. It’s the home of a alchemist sorcerer from another world.

That’s a lot of great sandbox material, but to make my work easier I also want to add some classic modules that make for great additions.

  • Against the Cult of the Reptile God: I’ll make it Against the Cult of the Succubus Princess and it should provide a great introduction for the demonic forces of Hellgate Keep.
  • Hellgate Keep: This module describes the keep after its destruction but provides a lot of information on how it looked and what was going on when it was still there. It includes the half-demons Kaanyr Vhok, Aliisza, and Sarya Dlardrageth, who all could be interesting NPCs.
  • The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun: I love this thing. I’ve wanted to run this for a long time and always felt that it would work best if the players have no idea what kind of crazy awaits them beyond the empty gate of this black ziggurat. It’s perfect as a random location that is spotted in the distance as the party is travelling through the wilderness on their way to somewhere.
  • Rahasia: This one lends itself very well to be adapted to tie in with the Nameless Dungeon. Instead of a chaotic priest randomly finding the spirits of three elven witches in a temple, it can be one escaped half-demon from the Nameless Dungeon trying to resurrect his daughters who were killed in the uprising and whose spirits he stored in the basement of his mansion before he was captured and imprisoned. Or he’s a loyal minion who is resurrecting his mistresses who had a somewhat flawed plan to avoid falling into the hands of the attacking elves.
  • Escape from Meenlock Prison: I had so much fun the first time I ran it and meenlocks make for great creepy fey monsters.
  • Sons of Gruumsh: A straightforward but interestingly build dungeon that is occupied by three warlords believed to be blessed by their god. Would make great opponents for the tanarruk of Hellgate Keep.

Additional ideas include making Gauntlgrym inhabited by derro who are descendants of the original inhabitants and making the local orc tribes enemies of Hellgate Keep who want to take revenge for their people being taken to create the demonic tanarruk. Good factions are the key to a great sandbox and there are already a good dozen of them with none of them necessarily attacking the party on sight but all of them having lots of enemies and potential allies.

So much material and I’ve not really lifted a finger yet. This is about four hours of thinking what existing material I can use to make my own sandbox. I am still going to make this an Ancient Lands campaign, but I think most changes will be primarily cosmetic. There are different gods and races aren’t exactly the same, but overall I think it will be still very recognizably the High Forest.

Fantasy Safari: Monsters of Faerûn (D&D 3rd Ed.), Part 5

Sharn

Sharn

The phaerimm were weird, but the Sharn are even weirder. They are large black creatures with three eyeless heads and three arms that each end in three hands with three fingers and an eye in each palm. Like that phaerimm, they are powerful sorcerers but also clerics and they can create three small portals through which they can stick their hands to cast spells at targets behind walls, around corners, or similar situations. To make things worse, sharn are always under the effect of the haste spell, which under the rules version of this book allows them to cast two spells every round. Not surprisingly, these creatures are so alien that they are immune to any magic that manipulates their minds or changes their bodies. A somewhat unusual quirk is that no magic can change the shape of another creature to look like a sharn. Why that is the case seems to be simply an oddity of the universe. While the sharn are both very weird and alien, they are thankfully not really evil and they also hate the phaerimm. In fact it was the sharn who created the magical barrier that trapped the phaerimm under the Anauroch desert. These guys are some really trippy stuff. They first appeared with the phaerimm in the sourcebook Anauroch, which I didn’t know was actually written by Ed Greenwood himself. It’s strange that they have such a tiny presence in the Forgotten Realms. I only ever saw them in this monster book and the Return of the Archwizards novels, which are about the return of the Netherese Empire from the Plane of Shadow, which got the phaerimm all rilled up.

Siv

Siv

The Sivs are a race of frog people similar to the classic bullywugs, but also very different. While bullywugs are primitive savages, the sivs are as smart as humans and usually Lawful Evil, and even have training as monks. I’m not sure if there’s a kung-fu toad style. They also have the ability to run on the surface of water, which is very kung-fu indeed. It all looks like a quite intriguing idea, but sadly there isn’t really any useful description to how they behave and what they want.

Tall Mouther

Tall Mouther

The Tall Mouther is classic old-school D&D weirdness. It’s a big head with a big maw and six arms, covered in blue fur. Otherwise it’s a bit like an ogre and especially loves to eat halflings.

Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Monsters of Faerûn (D&D 3rd Ed.), Part 4

Helmed Horror

Helmed Horror

The Helmed Horror is probably one of my favorite monsters of my favorite monster book. I first saw these guys in Baldur’s Gate back in ’99, and they were terrifyingly strong. Good times. On first glance, the helmed horror is simply an animated suit of armor. But like many monsters in this book, it’s made into something much more interesting by giving it a small handful of magic abilities. Compared to true golems, it is relatively weak. But golems in Dungeons & Dragons are absolute terror beasts, so this guy is still amazingly dangerous. The main ability of a helmed horror is that it can make the blade of any weapon it holds burst into flame, covered in magic ice, or charged with lightining. It really only increases its damage by 1d6 points of damage, but it’s still an impressive looking effect that immediately tells everyone they mean business. They can also see any invisible creatures, which makes them great guardians for wizards. In addition to being made of full plate armor and difficult to hit, they are also have all the immunities of constructs and are enchanted to be completely immune to three specific spells. Usually those will be classic attack spells like fireball or lightning bolt, and while casting a spell that affects everything in a large area on a single enemy is not particularly effective, there aren’t that many other spells that can really hurt helmed horrors to begin with. As constructs, they are already immune to almost all illusions, enchantments, and necromancy spells. Disabling a helmed horror other than by hacking it to pieces is quite the challenge. Fot added fun, it also has the spells air walk and feather fall, which make it almost impossible to use the terrain against it. Pits and barriers won’t stop it at all, and even though being a heavy suit of armor, a helmed horror is just as fast as any ordinary human. It’s a fucking Terminator.

Hybsil

Hybsil

The Hybsil is one of the rare fey creatures in D&D 3rd edition, which for some reason never got much love beond the dryad, nymph, pixie, and satyr. Hybsils look like a small deer with the upper body of a small human or halfling with short antlers on their head. Though individually they are quite weak and vulnerable, they usually live in groups of several dozens and their high speed combined with their reliance on bows and arrows can make them formidable opponents. They also have the magical abilities to move without leaving any tracks and to greatly increase the distance of their jumps, which makes them amazingly well suited for ambushs. For emergencies, they also have a few magical sleep arrows they get from pixies, which can knock out many enemies instantly. They are also lead by druids and have their own rangers and sorcerers, which makes things a lot more complicated for any potential attackers. Picking a fight with any hybsils in their forest homes is much more dangerous than it looks from seeing just one or two of these small creatures.

Leucrotta

Leucrotta

The Leucrotta is a dangerous predator based on sketchy descriptions of hyenas by the Romans. This creature simply runs with it and is exactly what was described. It has the body of an antelope, the tail of a lion, and the head of a badger, It is as large as a horse and has jaws that can even bite through armor. Leucrottas are intelligent creature and completely evil and violent. They simply live for killing. Quite surprisingly to many people, they also can talk and are very capable of immitating the voice of other animals and even people. These guys are some really viscious murder machines and that they are very able at climbing and jumping doesn’t make things better for anyone. Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Monsters of Faerûn (D&D 3rd Ed.), Part 3

Ghaunadan

Ghaunadan

The Ghaunadan is a slime creature very much unlike any other in Dungeons & Dragons. In addition to being an ooze, it also is a shapechanger that can take the form of any kind of humanoid. It is also far from mindless like other oozes and instead a highly intelligent creature. It’s slime has a paralysis effect on living creatures and it also can easily disarm enemies by pulling their weapon into its body. A ghaunadan also has a limited form of charming gaze, which gives it a significant boost to all Charisma checks against a creature it has charmed, which makes ghaunadans excelent for infilitrating humanoid cities and palaces. Ghaunadans are associated with the ancient and evil god Ghaunaur, who rules over slimes and all kind of weird Underdark creatures and is sometimes worshiped by drow. Since all his traits are basically the same in every way as those of the demon lord Juiblex, I always consider them to be actually the same being. I don’t remember seing any hint of ghaunadans in any works older than this book, so it’s quite likely that they were inspired by the Shapechangers from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who are mostly the same thing but can also take the shape of objects and nonhumanoid creatures.

Fog Giant

Fog Giant

I can’t really say anything about the Fog Giant, other than it’s a giant without special abilities who ranks in power between a stone giant and a frost giant, but is taller than either. But look at this picture! When this guy hits you, you’re paste!

Phaerlin Giant

Phaerlin Giant

The Phaerlin Giant is a creature native to the Phaerlin region of the Underdark in the Forgotten Realms, which lies under the huge Anauroch desert and was once the location of the mighty wizard empire Netheril, but is under control of the phaerimms (more on those later). Phaerlin giants look like slightly mutated stone giants and live entirely underground, which I think is a neat idea. Reminds me of grimlocks. But their stats in this book are pretty wonkey. They are probably the only creature in D&D that is size category Huge and has a Challenge Rating of 3. Like any self respecting Underdark creature they have magic resistance and being primitive and feral they can sense nearby creatures by scent. Almost 70 hit points is also nothing to laugh at, but their backs are bent so badly that they move only very slowly. And for some unexplained, but nonmagical reason, they are so terrifying that characters who fight them have to make a saving throw or suffer penalties to all their attacks and saves because of fear. This is usually an ability reserved for the most powerful beasts and inhuman abominations. Here it just seems out of place. I like the cave giant from Pathfinder a lot more. Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Monsters of Faerûn (D&D 3rd ed.), Part 2

More Forgotten Realms goodness:

The Chosen One is essentially a ghoul who causes temporary Constitution damage instead of paralysis. It doesn’t say why it is named that way, and only that chosen ones are made by the Red Wizards of Thay as servants. Very weak entry. (Variant Ghoul +1)

Crawling Claws

Crawling Claws

Crawling Claws, on the other hand, are awesome. They also are the other hand, as they are created only from left hands taken from dead or even living humanoids. They don’t have any special abilities or fancyful backstory. They are just animated hands that crawl around and attack people, which is cool and fun enough by itself. Creating one is only a 3rd level spell and each claw is automatically under the command of its creator. For some reason the spell is also evil, even though nothing about it indicates why. Ah well, alignment! Never made any sense, never will.

Darkenbeasts

Darkenbeasts

I am not sure where the idea of monsters being the creation of crazy wizards comes from, but it might very well have been Forgotten Realms. Darkenbeasts are somewhat reptilian and bat like monsters created from ordinary small animals by the Red Wizards. As their name hints at, darkenbeasts can not tollerate sunlight and after each ten minutes of exposure there is a 25% chance that the magic will end and the monster return back into an animal. In addition to being winged servants with a high resistance to magic, a wizard can also use a darkenbeast to store a spell for later. When the darkenbeast is near its master, he can retrieve the spell and aim it at whatever target he pleases, which destroyes the darkenbeast in the process. I think these are cooler than winged monkeys.

Deepspawn

Deepspawn

The Deepspawn had the potential to be one of the truly iconic weird monsters of Dungeons & Dragons, but somehow it remained limited to Forgotten Realms and didn’t really make any appearance after 2nd edtition. It’s on the cover of Lost Empires of Faerûn, but I think that’s it. When I first got into D&D with the Forgotten Realms campaign setting box (the 3rd edition FRCS had not been released yet), I thought that this creature was the fourth member of the exclusive group of aboleths, beholders, and illithids. But no it’s not, which is a shame. The deepspawn is a monster with a large spherical body over 5 meters in diameter and has six long tentacles. Three of the tentacles are used as arms, while the other three end in large maws full of sharp teeth. Its eyes are all over the body. The deepspawn by itself is not a terribly dangerous fighter and has only little magic abilities that would make any difference in a fight, but is completely immune to any poison and has a high resistance to magic. Its main ability is to spawn copies of any kind of living creature it has eaten, which takes between 1 and 4 day for each spawn. As a result, a deepspawn is never encountered alone but always surrounded and protected by a considerable force of other monsters it created. While the spawning ability is a bit dubious to me, I really do like its appearance and the idea that something like that would be the mastermind of a dungeon that rules over all the lesser monsters. The deepspawn got updated in Lost Empires of Faerûn, since the stats here are pretty shoddy. Size got increased from Large to Huge (which for a 5 meter sphere with long tentacles seems more correct), Strength got increased from measly 19 to 29 and Charisma bumped up from 4 to 10, which makes much more sense for something with Intelligence and Wisdom of 17. Now that looks a lot meaner, like something of this appearance should. Continue reading

Fantasy Safari: Monsters of Faerûn (D&D 3rd ed.), Part 1

I have been given a number of interesting suggestions for more monster books, among them Creatures of Barsaive for Earthdawn and Creatures of the Dreamseed for Engel, which I am currently trying to hunt down. In the meantime, we’re going to explore Monster of Faerûn, the last Dungeons & Dragons book I have on my list of books I want to cover.

Monsters of Faerûn was one of the very early books for D&D 3rd edition and the first monster book after the original Monster Manual. The cover of the book matches the Monster Manual and not the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting as all other Forgotten Realms books later would. It is also the only book that has the title “Monster Compendium” in it’s name. I assume it was planned to have it as a distinct product line, but all further monster books were 200+ pages hardcovers, unlike this 100 page paperback.

I started with fantasy stuff in 1999, the year before 3rd edition was released, and that start was Baldur’s Gate, the game that made BioWare the giant of Western RPGs that it had been for until recently. (Really not a fan of any of their games since Mass Effect 2, which is the best videogame of all time!) A game that just so happens to be set in the Forgotten Realms, so I had to get this book right when it came out. And even though it’s by far the smallest monster book ever released by WotC, and also just the second they made, I think this one really the best one by a far margine. When I went to get the monster pictures from the old art archive from WotCs website (they are still up, but you’ll only get there through search engines), there was barely amy that I didn’t download. And most of those that I am not going to cover here aren’t boring, but they are either beefed up versions of monsters from the Monster Manual (cloaker lord, greater doppelganger) or I already covered them when I did the 1st edition Fiend Folio (bullywug, fire newt, giant strider, gibberling, quaggoth). Truly wonderful book and almost all of the creatures can be imported to other settings without problem. I think a good dozen of them directly inspired monsters for my own Ancient Lands setting. If this book were Star Wars, it would be The Empire Strikes Back.

Monsters of Faerûn

Monsters of Faerûn

Monster Compendium: Monsters of Faerûn for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition by Wizards of the Coast, 2001; 86 pages of monsters.

Aballin

Aballin

The Aballin is a type of ooze whose most distinguishing trait is that it looks just like water. It also can change between two different states, one being a thick slime, the other a water like liquid that is almost impossible to harm. It is one of the many classic creatures of the type “everything is trying to kill you”, but I think actually one of the less implausible ones. It’s just another slime like all the others, except that it has a clear color. When in its semisolid state, an aballin is quite strong and can slam enemies with considerable force. However its main mode of attack is to engulf its victim and simply drown him.

Banedead

Banedead

The Banedead is a variant ghoul created by clerics of the evil god Bane. One of their hands is a large claw, which also happens to be the holy symbol of Bane, and also deals 1 point of Dexterity damage. Which is not as measly as it sounds. Since it’s tied to a melee attack, there is no saving throw and there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter them in significant numbers. This can get quite bad over time, especially as banedead are not very strong otherwise and therefore likely to be fought by PCs of low-medium level. Dealing with larger numbers of them over several encounters could make for a very interesting adventure. An interesting detail of the banedead is that they are also created by priests of the Banes son Xvim, which tells us that this book was actually released before the FRCS, as from that point on Xvim is dead and Bane is back! (Variant Ghoul +1) Continue reading

Forgotten Realms, the North, and the importance of art

Over the past couple of days I was rereading the old Forgotten Realms supplement The Savage Frontier. Released in 1988, it was one of the very early Realms product that expanded upon the original Grey Box set. Waterdeep and the North had been released the previous year and The Savage Frontier greatly expanded the “and the North” content. I got into RPGs and Dungeons & Dragons much later with the Baldur’s Gate videogames and when Neverwinter Nights followed four years later, there was a very active German scene of homemade online games based on that game. And for reasons that always have eluded me, that German scene was almost completely in line with the North sub-setting of the Forgotten Realms. I think there were about a dozen or so big servers and almost all of them had their game world set somewhere in The North. That was before World of Warcraft and we playing online with 20 people in the same game at the same was quite a big deal back then. We played that a lot and I even became one of the admins for the server I played at. Since I was good with the level editor I did quite some work on expanding the game world with new areas and dungeons. And if you think RPG geeks are obsessive about canon and accuracy, remember we were German RPG geeks! So I had to know all the source material inside out! Which I very gladly did.

The 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting was very brief on The North and Silver Marches wasn’t really covering the area we were building on. (Looking back, we were way too obsessed with realism and the world would have been much better if we had skipped all those huge outdoor road maps and focused more on actual adventure sites.) So our main source was the 1996 box set The North for 2nd edition. I also got The Savage Frontier on ebay, but being young and stupid and obsessed with detail, I found it very lacking and much to short and brief and didn’t really pay it any attention. It was kinda cool, but The North is about five times its size and more detail and more up to date information is always better, right?

The past couple of years I’ve been doing quite a lot of work with my own Ancient Lands setting and been doing a lot of research on what other settings did right or wrong, and I also did a complete 180 from d20 games and fully embraced rules light games. Both led me to greatly appreciate the older editions of Dungeons & Dragons and take a more serious look at the 1st edition Forgotten Realms material in particular. And as the very first outline of my Ancient Lands setting was “The High Forest, 4,000 years in the past”, I also came back to The Savage Frontier and gave it another close look.

SavagefrontiercoverAnd I have to say, I now actually greatly prefer it over The North, even though it’s much smaller. But for the last years I never really was sure why I like it more and what it actually does better. Having read the wonderful thread Let’s Read The Known World – ALL of it by Blacky the Blackball and NPCDave, I dug up The Savage Frontier another time to read the whole thing and compare to how things changed in the later versions of the sub-setting I am much more familiar with.

First thing I noticed is that it is really very short. 64 pages plus maps, you can read the whole thing in one go. But at the same time, it is still a complete setting. You could perfectly run a whole campaign with it that runs for years without having the main box set or even knowing anything about the rest of the Forgotten Realms at all. The only thing that is missing are the descriptions of the gods, but these don’t actually play any role in this sub-setting and all you need is a post-it note that tells you which domain each of the listed gods has. This book doesn’t tell you how everything works, it just tells you what it is called, where it is located, and what its purpose it. That really are the most important parts a GM needs to know to be able to create some own content based on it. The exact amount of orcs that inhabit a fortress and the name of their chief and the level of their shaman really are not that important or barely relevant. By letting the GM come up with these things the setting becomes actually more usable. You think it might be a good idea to have the party sneak into a goblin lair and fight their chief? But the PCs are only 3rd level and it says the chief has 12 HD and is always guarded by twenty warriors with 4 HD each, so that’s not really an option. We’re actually better off when these things are left to the GM. As a result, the descriptions of towns, dungeons, and regions are usually very brief, rarely more than a short paragraph or two. The Savage Frontier may be short, but it’s long enough. Continue reading