The Forgotten Realms Campaign Set ESD contains two books and four maps. Two of the maps are drawn to provide a general overview of the Realms, running from the Moonshae Isles in the west to the land of Thay in the east, and from the Spine of the World Mountains in the north to the Jungles of Chult in the south.
The other two maps are detailed blow-ups of sections of the former maps, covering that region from the Sword Coast to the Dragon Reach.
The book included called The Cyclopedia of the Realms is intended as a general overview of life in the Forgotten Realms, concentrating on those areas best-known to our source.
The Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987), by Ed Greenwood with Jeff Grubb and Karen S. Martin, is the boxed set that introduced the world of Toril to D&D. It was published in July 1987.
About the Title. The Forgotten Realms is, of course, the name of Ed Greenwood's campaign setting for D&D. Ed Greenwood says that the name of the Realms is derived from the fact that "a multiverse exists" with many "'parallel' Prime Material Planes" and that travel between them "was once far more common". But, no longer. As a result, the Realms "have been 'forgotten' by beings of Earth" … though they still remember stories "of dragons, vampires, and magic".
Much like the Greyhawk and Dragonlance lines, the Forgotten Realms brand name doesn't actually include the name of the planet. In fact, the planet of the Realms didn't have a name before it came to TSR; Jeff Grubb contributed "Toril" from the name of his own home campaign (1975+) — which was originally called Toricandra, influenced by C.S. Lewis' Perelandra (1943), before the shorter name took over. He then tacked on the "Abeir" prefix so that the world name would be first in the "Cyclopedia of the Realms"!
Origins (I): A Whole New World. TSR's traditional setting was Greyhawk, but with Gary Gygax's departure from TSR in 1985, that world no longer had a strong guiding force. Meanwhile, the Dragonlance Chronicles adventures (1984-1986) had introduced the world of Krynn, but that story had now come to an end, and TSR feared that the line had peaked. As a result, by 1986, TSR was interested in publishing a new world …
Origins (II): A Fictional Youth. The story of the Realms actually began some two decades earlier. A young Ed Greenwood was a voracious reader, influenced by Poul Anderson (1926-2001), Edgar Rice Burroughs (1975-1950), Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), Fritz Leiber (1910-1992), A. Merritt (1884-1943), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and others. Some time between 1966 and 1969 (sources vary), Greenwood tried his hand at writing too, penning the first story of the Realms. It was called "One Comes, Unheralded, to Zirta" and it began: "Now in all the lands twixt bustling Waterdeep and the sparkling waves of The Sea of Fallen Stars, no men were more loved and feared than the stoic swordsman Durnan, the blustering old rogue Mirt, and the all-wise, ancient wizard Elminster." It was the first of many stories of Mirt the Moneylender, and here Greenwood took particular direction from Fritz Leiber — whose tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser showed Greenwood how to reveal a world through the small adventures of its common folk.
In the years that followed, Mirt traveled up and down the Sword Coast in Greenwood's stories, and so the author discovered Mirabar, Luskan, Neverwinter, Port Llast, Waterdeep, and Baldur's Gate. Within a year he drawn a map showing these places, truly turning the stories into a world. And thus the Realms was born.
Unsurprisingly, a youth so interested in words would grow into a man who worked among books. By the '80s, when Greenwood brought the Forgotten Realms to TSR, he'd already begun lifelong employment with the public libraries of Canada.
But first there would be school and college … and D&D.
Origins (III): A Girl Named September. Ed Greenwood first saw D&D at Bakka, a science-fiction bookstore in Toronto. He was intrigued of course, but had serious doubts about the game's loose rules. Sure he enough, when he tried the game out, he discovered that "holes and flaws in the rules could cause huge arguments during play".
Fast forward a couple of years, and Greenwood was becoming won over by the more extensive descriptions of the Monster Manual (1977) and the clearer limitations and descriptions for classes and spells found in the Players Handbook (1978).
Enter: September. She was a fan of AD&D who easily convinced Greenwood and his nerd friends to play with her. She was also the "greatest Dungeon Master" Greenwood had "ever known, before or since". She made them love D&D, and though she tragically died from cancer within a year, it was her influence that led Greenwood to turn his Realms into an AD&D world, so that he could run games of his own.
Origins (IV): A Home Campaign. The Forgotten Realms saw regular play starting some time in 1978. Greenwood's first players were the Company of Crazed Venturers. They began their story in Waterdeep, exploring Undermountain and its adjunct, the Dungeon of the Crypt. They then turned to guarding caravans, which led them to Silverymoon, Everlund, Sundabar, and Secomber. Later, Greenwood developed Scornubel, Elturel, Iriaebor, and Berdusk, just to keep up with them. He eventually worked his way into what Jeff Grubb would later call the Heartlands, connecting Mirt's Sword Coast with Cormyr, the Dales, and the Moonsea.
When the Don Mills public library in North York, where Greenwood worked, asked him to run a campaign at the library, Greenwood was ready. He began the new story in Cormyr, in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. This led to the rise of a new adventuring company, the Swords of Eveningstar. They would eventually become the Knights of Myth Drannor and settle in as the lords of what may the Realms' most famous locale, Shadowdale.
Later, short-term campaigns at public libraries would give rise to the other adventuring bands in Cormyr and the Dales, such as the Company of the Unicorn and the Company of the Manticore, while the Baron's Blades of Amn could be found at many conventions.
When Greenwood ran his Realms adventures, they tended to have three characteristics:
- Freedom. The players had agency to do as they wished.
- Intrigue. The adventures hid conspiracies, mysteries, and secrets.
- Events. The adventures depicted the Realms as a living place that changed.
The open freedom of Greenwood's Realms is obvious in the world's wide maps, and the intrigue would appear through many published groups and organizations, but don't confuse the events of Greenwood's living world with the Realms-shaking events that would occur at TSR: they were very different beasts. Greenwood says that after twenty years of play, the Knights of Myth Drannor were just at 9th level. Their conspiracies, mysteries, and events were smaller things, not the massive upheavals that would begin at TSR just two years down the road with the Avatar event (1989).
Origins (V): It Came From Dragon. Ed Greenwood decided to start writing for Dragon magazine because of mistakes in the Divine Right boardgame (1979). His Divine Right article was saved until The Dragon #34 (February 1980) for a special feature. Meanwhile, Greenwood was also creating monsters for his D&D game, and so he kept writing for Dragon, and the first of those critters appeared in The Dragon #30 (October 1979): The Curst.
Greenwood was soon "flooding" the magazine with articles, so many that he was eventually named a "Contributing Editor" — which didn't provide any salary, just credit. Meanwhile, some of Greenwood's articles began to hint at an otherwise unknown world, full of legendary people and places. It was the Forgotten Realms, quietly making its first appearances in the pages of Dragon magazine.
It was Ed Greenwood's magic item articles that really got the ball rolling, starting with "Pages from the Mages" in Dragon #62 (June 1982). Each magic item included long histories; even that first one included a few references that later Realms fans would recognize, including a "Red Wizard" … and a sage named "Elminster".
Origins (VI): Buying a World. Which finally brings up back to TSR, where Jeff Grubb knew that his bosses were looking for a new world. He was also familiar with what Greenwood had been writing for Dragon magazine. So he called Greenwood (long distance, to Canada) and said, "Do you really have a complete, detailed fantasy world at home, or do you just make it up as you go along?" Ed Greenwood replied, "Yes, and yes."
Grubb suggested to Director of Games Development Michael Dobson that Greenwood's world might be what TSR was looking for. Dobson agreed, so Greenwood began sending Grubb typewritten manuscripts about the Realms. The "t"s were all written in by hand, because Greenwood's "t" key wasn't working. Grubb would later say, it "was like reading a little graveyard on every page". After Grubb read each packet, he'd send it on to Karen S. Martin for "perusal and comments". She says: "the more I read, the more I loved it". Greenwood also produced huge, hand-drawn maps for TSR. Grubb says that it took a day to fit them together. They were rather infamously laid out in the hallway in front of the bathroom, because it was the only space large enough.
With Dobson, Grubb, Martin, and (of course) Greenwood all on board, the only remaining question was the contractual details. TSR bought the Realms for "a relatively modest amount of cash, a Mac Plus computer, and promise to publish novels [Greenwood] wrote". Grubb says that TSR later bought Greenwood a hard drive to go with the computer. TSR (and later Wizards) owns the Realms and has the right to choose its editorial direction as long as they publish at least one novel-length original Realms work by Greenwood (be it novel or gamebook) every year. And decades later, that's how things continue.
Jeff Grubb became the de facto product manager for the Realms because of his work with Greenwood during the line's creation. His "era" of the Realms began with Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, continued through the first several "FR" books, and ended with Forgotten Realms Adventures (1988), by which time the setting had grown big enough that many other people were involved.
Origins (VII): Divers Hands. Over two decades, Ed Greenwood created a rich and evocative fantasy world in his Forgotten Realms. However, from the moment that he started sending type-written sheets to Jeff Grubb, his Forgotten Realms became something much larger: TSR's Forgotten Realms.
Jeff Grubb was the first person to modify and adjust Greenwood's Realms — the first to truly make it the work of divers hands — and that began with his editing of the original material that Greenwood sent him. It's perhaps unsurprising that this included some necessary bowdlerization, to adjust Greenwood's world, which had grown up during the more adult D&D of the '70s, to TSR's more kid-friendly D&D of the'80s: Greenwood's original city maps included brothels, and Grubb had to remove them, but he didn't want to rekey the maps; thus, the Realms' festhalls were born. Though the change is entirely understandable, it was also be a preview of the deeper bowdlerization that TSR would engage in when they published AD&D 2e (1989).
Meanwhile, TSR also decided to incorporate projects then in process into the Realms, marking the first major changes to Greenwood's worlds (and the first major additions by creators other than Greenwood or Grubb). They rolled back Greenwood's Great Glacier to make room for the Bloodstone Pass adventures (1985-1988) and they outright replaced Greenwood's own Moonshae islands with a Celtic-influenced Moonshaes created by Douglas Niles for a trilogy of novels (1987-1989). Meanwhile, Ten Towns got added in the North to accommodate R.A. Salvatore's upcoming novel, The Crystal Shard (1988). I3-5: Desert of Desolation (1987) was perhaps the easiest integration, because it was built on the history of a long-last land. FR10: "Old Empires" (1990) would later improve that integration.
So, if Ed Greenwood was the father of the Forgotten Realms, then it gained many uncles and aunts when it came to TSR, including Jeff Grubb, Karen S. Martin, Douglas Niles, Michael Dobson, R.A. Salvatore, and Tracy Hickman. They would soon be joined by many others, as TSR published its "FR" sourcebooks (1987-1993), ultimately making it one of the largest shared-world settings ever (and we haven't even gotten to the Forgotten Realm's Living City yet!).
Creating a New World. The Forgotten Realms was TSR's fourth-and-a-half major setting, following Greyhawk, Krynn, the Known World, and the semi-setting of Blackmoor. It was perhaps the most similar to Basic D&D's Known World, due to its inclusion of real-world-like cultures in a fantasy setting, but it was much more cohesive, probably due to the singular force behind its creation. It was also perhaps the most heroic of TSR's worlds. Greyhawk, with its primordial origins, was more likely to walk the line between good and evil; while Krynn was a world of epic warfare. The Known World varied widely due to its different levels of play, but it seemed most focused on exploration of vast tracts of land. In contrast, the Realms was simply good, a place of heroism, where goodness was meant to overcome evil, and where comradeship and love won out.
Greenwood may have explained it best when he wrote:
"Love is what the Realms has always been about; not just grand romantic passion, but simple, decent folk doing kind and noble things for others, up to and including laying down their lives for their friends."
The Components: Map Quest. One of the most notable elements of the Forgotten Realms box was its beautiful map of the Realms … which did not have a hex grid. This made it stand out when compared to the more game-focused maps of the world found in Greyhawk and Dragonlance products; it created what Jeff Grubb called an "openness on the map", which allowed players to "add their own stuff". To support gaming, TSR included a plastic overlay in the box, which let players superimpose a hex grid on the map when necessary.
Exploring the Realms. What was the original Realms? It began as a "Known World" containing The Sword Coast, The Savage Frontier, Cormyr, and The Dalelands. By the time that Greenwood sent his first manuscript packet to TSR, a 15-page "Look at the Forgotten Realms", Greenwood listed the following places as being important: The North, Amn, Cormyr, Anauroch, Tethyr, Calimshan and the South, The Dalelands, The Moonsea Area, Impiltur, Thay, and The Shaar. The Forgotten Realms Campaign Set offers a big overview of the Realms alongside a cyclopedia that concentrates on these places that Greenwood had already developed.
Though the Realms is seen as a big evolution in RPG settings, it actually wasn't that different from what TSR had done for the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting (1980, 1983) — though the Realms was somewhat more expansive, even in this first box. The big difference would come next, as TSR extensively supported the Realms with a series of 16 "FR" setting supplements — with many more to follow in later years. It was this constant stream of supplements that truly turned the Realms from a bare-bones overview of a world to the most detailed world in fantasy.
NPCs of Note. The most notable NPC in the Realms is of course Elminster, the sage of Shadowdale. He was in Greenwood's first Realms short story, but Greenwood only introduced him to the public in the "Pages from the Mages" of Dragon #62. There he was simply an "old storyteller", someone who could be Greenwood's "mouthpiece" for Dragon articles.
In his own campaign, Greenwood says that Elminster fulfilled a similar role as "the mind-wandering, irritatingly whimsical old man who could OCCASIONALLY be of help to PCs … but who would become VERY irritating, very fast, if they started to rely on him". However, Elminster would soon take on a much greater role in the published Realms, and Greenwood says this was largely at TSR's insistence. They wanted him to cosplay Elminster at Gen Con and they wanted him to write novels about the old wizard. Soon, he became the "signature character" or the Realms and an important figure in many "Realms-shaking" events.
Future History. Buyers of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set were encouraged to fill in a customer response card to join an "Order of Heroes" and learn the "Secrets of the Sages". They received one issue of a Realms newsletter, Secrets of the Sages (Summer 1988), which included a few new details on the world.
About the Creators. Greenwood soon got to writing his first Realms novel, Spellfire (1988). It would the fourth forgotten Realms novel (following the transplanted novels by Niles and Salvatore) and the first of Greenwood's many novels set in the Realms.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.