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Arian Dynas

36 Posts

Posted - 06 Aug 2019 :  13:28:21  Show Profile Send Arian Dynas a Private Message  Reply with Quote  Delete Topic
I've lurked here for a couple years, largely not getting on much, but I got a chance to show my gaming group what I'd gotten my start on with the Realms. And since then I've been struggling a bit. So I've come to ask the wisdom of the learned - 'What is The Realms'? Forgive me if it seems off base, but I'm trying to 'bottle' a feeling. To have something I can point at and go 'That! That is what I am doing, that is what this game is.'

Let me preface that a little. The Forgotten Realms changes heavily from edition to edition, 4e was a radical and pretty clear shift, one I didn't like, and 5e is an attempt to return to form. 3e was a more subtle shift, toward 'newer' fantasy. The best way I can explain this is 'Storm stopped wearing white shirts and leather vests, and instead wore green, ankle-length leaf-covered chainmail'. The timbre shifted.

I'm trying to walk my group back from that, to the Realms I'd fallen in love with, but the problem is it's proven pretty hard for me to grasp firmly. It feels constantly like an idea on the tip of my tongue, but I can't ever express it properly. I'm trying to find a concrete way to show them the 'Old' Forgotten Realms, possibly even before the Time of Troubles, the Realms of the Grey Box (which I do have a copy of), the one where Myth Drannor was a ruined and distant dream. Where heroes were more concerned about their wallets and local politics than saving the world on a bi-weekly basis. Where Beholders and Ilithids were strange and unusual enemies, and Wizards were the only kids on the block, when Dwarves were going extinct and had to deal with that, and Elves were on 'The Retreat'. The Realms that were 'Forgotten' by Earth, and its portals closed off.

I can express some of the things and feelings I've been trying to get from them. I've partially boiled it down to what I've termed 'the core appeal'. For some actors, a single sentence in an accent can be the 'trigger' and I've been trying to apply the same sort of thing to the 'atmosphere' I'm looking for with a single scene;

A group of haggard travelers and mercenaries, hard people with difficult, but tale-filled and exciting lives, in practical clothing and chainmail sitting around a table in a wooden building, filled with the sound of minstrels playing as they drink and swap stories, swords belted at their hips while dogs fight over a bone in a nearby kitchen, and the sounds of laughter mix with the dull roar of a small crowd. People are smoking so much that the room is filled with a mysterious-fantasy-like haze, and there's the click of dice somewhere. Someone is telling a ghost-story about a pale knight who charges down a street every night, while rain patters on a gently waving wrought-iron shingle outside.

It's very much not the Dung Ages, but it's also not very realistic. Romantic, but not in the sense of 'noble knights on white chargers' rather in the sense that every day is an adventure, and a rogue with a heart of gold is more of a hero than most knights. It glorifies the people who skirt around at the edges of life and society, professional wanderers, mercenaries and thieves, but good hearted rogues, who find themselves thrust into being heroes by circumstance and conscience, more than being crusaders, though even the crusader who could join them would be more like them than his fellows.

A focus on the adventure itself, adrenaline junkies who adventure for wealth and a love of excitement, and because fighting or stealing are their most marketable skills, not because they're true outcasts (once again, romanticization) but because they choose it. They're not forced out of society by being outcasts.

It's almost Lord of the Rings-y (not the movies) but not quite. In the sense of 'let's sit in the den and talk about elves and smoke all day' sense. It's north of Cona and South of King Arthur. It's not historical, and it's filled with weirdness like Beholders and Deepspawn, and Scaladars and Winged Wonders, but it also doesn't make the place feel 'unreal' or so stylized you can't picture yourself in it.

It's not 'the tales of 6 heroes' but rather 'The Tales of the Black Company' The everymen that have adventures and grand journeys. And don't become supermen. Because you don't need to be superhuman to slay a dragon. You just need your comrades in arms by your side, a sword at your hip, and the heart for it. Many fail, and history forgets them and their names.

I can say what things give the feeling, and what don't, but I've struggled to come up with 'do's' and 'don't's'. Eye of the Beholder II in particular, for those who remember it. Baldur's Gate I somewhat, and Icewind Dale I, but not Baldur's Gate II - it gets *too* out there and weird, for all that I love its story more and that Baldur's Gate I feels boring at times. The Dark Elf Trilogy and The Icewind Dale Trilogy, but not The Legacy of the Drow. Spellfire to a lesser extent. The DC comics with Minder and Omen have some of it, but they feel like the 'roided up' comic book version, if that makes sense. The Cleric Quintet somewhat and the Grey Box, but not Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide or Storm of Zehir. The Realms in old Keith Parkinson and Jeff Easely paintings, but not the 'comic book style' of 3e, or the 'historical woodcuts' of some of the 2e books. I feel like if I just read enough old 1st Edition Forgotten Realms books I'll catch the je-ne-sais-quoi that I can't manage, but it hasn't happened so far.

Because I can't 'name' what I'm trying to reach, it's left me paralyzed in planning! I can't decide to go to Waterdeep or Shadowdale, I can't pick a place to start, let alone one to stay. I know some things I want to do and places I want to take them to see in a sort of 'grand tour' of adventures, but I'm not really certain what to do, and it leaves me unable to decide, and unsure of what I want - because how can I show *them* if I can't even describe it without a page of yammering?

So any insight some old saw to the Realms can give, I'll happily take. Do's and Don'ts. Sources to examine and others to ignore. Adventures to look at, anything anyone thinks would help my predicament!

George Krashos
Master of Realmslore

5615 Posts

Posted - 07 Aug 2019 :  00:44:20  Show Profile Send George Krashos a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I think the vibe you are talking about stems from the first time anyone read the Ol' Grey Box. A host of individuals and organisations. Events happening in "real time" and in that, somewhere, a place for you to choose to run a campaign taking all, some or none of that. I haven't played D&D in decades. My experiences as a young student were so awful (juvenile DMs and even more juvenile players) that it turned me off - to the point now that I don't have the confidence to get out of my shell and even roleplay properly if the opportunity presented itself. But I always dreamed of starting a campaign in somewhere small (Amphail outside of Waterdeep was my chosen "sweet spot") and having everything around it mapped and planned out, as well as a year of events and people coming through, in and around the town - with Waterdeep beckoning when the players had some gold and experience to visit. And I think that is the most important "do" - make your players feel part of a greater whole. Make them realise that they can be heroes, but that they are not the Justice League (well, maybe not for a while) and that while there will be times when they triumph and gain riches and coveted magic, there will also be times when they will have to retreat, run, seek help and hide. There will be times when all will be clear, other times when their lives will be confronted by mystery, and many times when people and 'things' will look to manipulate them and take advantage of them. To me, that is the "vibe" of the Realms - and in my view, the "vibe" of any exciting, engrossing D&D campaign. Just my 2cp.

-- George Krashos

"Because only we, contrary to the barbarians, never count the enemy in battle." -- Aeschylus
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Arian Dynas

36 Posts

Posted - 07 Aug 2019 :  04:36:52  Show Profile Send Arian Dynas a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by George Krashos

Some good stuff

-- George Krashos

A strong sense of community and interconnectedness, yes, i've also been told to focus on 'richness' this feeling like you can smell the dust. To not pass over the details. Like Ed had said of the Haunted Halls, he'd have the place filled to the brim with dusty gold snuffboxes and unexplained bloodstains.
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Great Reader

3690 Posts

Posted - 07 Aug 2019 :  05:36:42  Show Profile Send Diffan a Private Message  Reply with Quote
The word, I think you're searching for, is nostalgia and it's possibly one is of the hardest feelings to describe because it's so personal.

Gritty feels too cliché and Old School feels too manufactured. Now personally I've never gone back before 2e AD&D in both terms of lore and system but I've read what I can and to a degree I think I understand. In the terms of what you describe, what word jumps to mind is 'Classic'.

Classic Realms brings about, to me at least, a sense of nostalgia where not everything is detailed specifically and stats aren't thrown into it like a rug. Where these a sense of both wonder but with a homey comfort of wooden walls and a burning hearth. Of the sense that there are true terrors in the night but the smell of fresh rain and the dampness of dirt on your boots and pack bring you back to reality.

I don't think this is largely edition or even timeline dependent, but rather how one spins their story and brings out the details in their dialogue. What you described above was awesome, but could've applied to any of a hundred taverns in the Realms in 1123 DR or 1479 DR (well Myth Drannor in certain times was semi-established vs. a den of stinking evil).

For what to show them, I'd say stick with what region you're the most comfortable with because with that base you can more easily maneuvers aspects the PCs do that you might not have foreseen. If you're really familiar with Shadowdale and the Dalelands, pick that area. Orcs, humanoids, and magical beasts are usually great go-tos for that classical enemy feeling that also has a gritty down-to-earth aspect without going into crazy concepts of world domination.

Just my 2cp.

4E Realms = Great Taste, Less Filling.

"If WotC were to put out a box of free money, people would still complain how it was folded."

Edited by - Diffan on 07 Aug 2019 05:40:04
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Learned Scribe

193 Posts

Posted - 08 Aug 2019 :  03:44:08  Show Profile Send Renin a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Based on how you described your thoughts, Arian, I'm ready to roll dice! That feeling sounds great!

Diffan's cause for nostalgia also rings true. I continue to try and play out the Realms feel I had as a teen. Like George says, make it some place that the players want to know of, and be a part of.

For me, I think I try to use Ed's words-the Realms is a 'living place.' Daily life, adventures, attacks, lords and politics; none of that revolves specifically around the players waiting for their input. All that exists and breathes on it's on, and its about how your players will make the Realms theirs.

For me, an adventure is always over the rise of the next hill. Each tomb and lost tower is filled with danger that can be met and bet, and riches and magic to gain and share and celebrate. Enemies are made, enemies are thwarted. And tomorrow, something else will come along.
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Arian Dynas

36 Posts

Posted - 08 Aug 2019 :  08:33:42  Show Profile Send Arian Dynas a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Thanks guys. This is helping alot - I'm not entirely sure what to do and where to go precisely but I think I've got a stronger handle on it. I've been considering adapting Dragonheist using the Alexandrian's suggestions for making it better and more coherent, but I'm unsure if Waterdhavian politics fit with the 'Greybox feel' - I think they might in part, looking at the likes of Baldur's Gate, but probably not exclusively. So I'm unsure if I should set it in the Dales and move west through the Heartlands or not.
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Senior Scribe

685 Posts

Posted - 08 Aug 2019 :  16:08:09  Show Profile Send Cards77 a Private Message  Reply with Quote
There are two distinct things here:

Richness: The ability to describe the world and the people who live in it, in sufficient detail as to make the PCs, NPCs and monsters a part of the whole tapestry. To understand that players decisions (or indecision) MATTER, and affect the world. The trick is that the players should be the focus of the game, but a part of the greater world where their actions can influence events and things around them to a degree requisite with their power and renown.

Realism: Adventurers are just people, albeit uncommonly talented, driven or both. They have thoughts, feelings, emotions, past experiences and goals aside from what the powers that be project onto them.

They struggle with common and uncommon issues alike: racism (orcs), finances, life choices, career path, risk/reward, needs and wants. They bleed, they laugh, they cry. They know great joy and great sorrow.

This is the life they have chosen. Heros can be every day people doing extraordinary things.

The other trick is to weave ALL of these things into the campaign and story arcs. To make the life of adventuring MEANINGFUL to the players. Where their decisions and actions have subtle but meaningful effects on the world around them (and VICE VERSA). Thus driving growth of the PCs, NPCs and the story as a whole.

Not to rush from one crisis to the next.

But to strive, live, grow, change, love, win, lose and sometimes die!

GoT is a very very good example of how to weave numerous story and character elements into a cohesive whole (ignore the final season).

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