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Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (4e)

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Dark perils and great deeds await!

Welcome to Faerûn, a land of amazing magic, terrifying monsters, ancient ruins, and hidden wonders. The world has changed since the Spellplague, and from this arcane crucible have emerged shining kingdoms, tyrannical empires, mighty heroes, and monster-infested dungeons. The Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide presents a world of untold adventure, a land of a thousand stories shaped by the deeds of adventurers the likes of which Faerûn has never seen before.

This product includes everything a Dungeon Master needs to run a D&D campaign in the Forgotten Realms setting, as well as elements that DMs can incorporate into their own D&D campaigns. The book provides background information on the lands of Faerûn, a fully detailed town in which to start a campaign, adventure seeds, new monsters, ready-to-play nonplayer characters, and a full-color poster map of Faerûn.

Product History

Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (2008), by Bruce R. Cordell, Ed Greenwood, and Chris Sims, is the core GM's book for the Realms setting in D&D 4e. It was released in August 2008.

Introducing the Campaign Settings. D&D 4e (2008) was released in June 2008. H2: "Thunderspire Labyrinth" (2008) followed in July, then the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (2008) appeared in August — demonstrating how important Wizards thought it was to renew their best-loved campaign setting.

However, Wizards had a new plan for how they were going to release settings in the D&D 4e era. Settings would no longer be endless lines, whose sourcebooks and adventures proliferated year after year. Instead, Wizards planned to highlight a different setting each year, then move on. Each setting's line would consist of just three books: a GM's book, a player's book, and an adventure. Early on, there was talk that there might be additional adventure if the first one did well, but that would never actually happen — at least not for the mass-market parts of the D&D 4e line.

Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide thus marked the first book in 4e's first setting trilogy. It was followed by Forgotten Realms Player's Guide (2008) and FR1: "Scepter Tower of Spellguard" (2008) in September, and that was it until the 2009 release of Eberron.

Hinting at the Future. Development on the updated Forgotten Realms campaign setting began in 2005, with writing starting in 2006. That meant that the D&D developers knew where things were going by the time the D&D 3e (2000-2007) line was ending. Hints at the setting's future direction could be find in final books like the "FR" adventure series (2007). However, there were two especially notable reveals that both occurred in September 2007.

In The Grand History of the Realms (2007), Wizards moved the Forgotten Realms chronology up from the 1374-1375 timeframe of those final adventures to 1385. It revealed that Shar and Cyric had slain Mystra, releasing a Spellplague.

Meanwhile, Dragon #359 (September 2007) included a discussion of the great mysteries of D&D, one of which was "What is Abeir?" This referred to the name of the planet that the Realms lay upon, "Abeir-Toril", a term coined by Jeff Grubb. Most people just called it "Toril", so the Dragon article asked, "What's up with Abeir?"

Both the Spellplague and Abeir would soon become major parts of 4e's Forgotten Realms.

What A Difference an Edition Makes: The Philosophy. A major timeline advancement, a Realms-shaking Spellplague, and the mystery of Abeir combined to suggest that there were big changes coming in the 4e Forgotten Realms. And, there were. The Forgotten Realms designers were reimagining the setting in much the same way that everything about D&D 4e was being reimagined. That started with a new nine-point philosophy for the Realms, which Senior Managing Editor Phil Athans and designer Bruce Cordell outlined in Dragon #366 (August 2008).

1. It’s exactly what it says it is: a world of ancient realms to explore and discover.

This matched Ed Greenwood's original conception of the Forgotten Realms. It's what he'd imagined in his early campaigns — which had begun in Cormyr, the Dalelands, the Savage Frontier, and the Sword Coast, and only then explored outward. However, over the intervening decades TSR and Wizards had detailed so much of the Realms that little of it was Forgotten any more. Now, Wizards wanted to restore that sense of mystery.

2. It’s a thousand stories, all happening at once.

The early Realms had succeeded not just based on Ed Greenwood's vision, but also the contributions of developer Jeff Grubb, writer R.A. Salvatore, Moonshae-creator Douglas Niles, and others. Together they told numerous stories of the Realms from numerous points of view.

3. It’s a place where your character can be the most important person in the world or die in anonymity.

This might have been one of the biggest flaws of the published Realms. At least as far back as the Avatar books (1989), NPCs had risen up to take the prominent roles in Realms-shaking Events. Now, the Realms designers wanted to turn that around, to gave players a chance to shine.

4. It’s a fully realized world, full of history and legend.
5. It’s a vibrant, ever-changing world that is constantly moving forward.

These were more philosophies that were drawn directly from Greenwood's original ideas about the Realms. He'd attracted TSR's attention in the first place through Dragon magazine articles that namedropped people and places to hint at the rich histories and legends of the Realms. Meanwhile, his own campaigns had always seen the Realms as a changing, evolving place — something that TSR and Wizards continued with its Realms-shaking Events from the Time of Troubles onward.

6. It’s core D&D “plus.”

This was a new marketing precept for D&D; it presumed that the Realms was a superset of D&D, not a variant. This meant that the Realms had to include the cosmology, races, and classes that were being developed for the core 4e game.

7. It’s contemporary fantasy.

The Forgotten Realms was first published by TSR in 1987, but the setting dated back to 1968 or 1969 when Greenwood started writing short stories in the Realms, while D&D play had begun in 1978. This meant that the setting needed some polishing to make it look more like modern fantasy, and less like the fantasy of the '60s, '70s, or '80s.

8. It’s 50% all new.
9. We’re not retconning. We’re assuming that everything that was, was.

Wizards planned big changes as part of the new 4e Forgotten Realms, but they were intended to be part of the continuing evolution of the Realms, not a reboot.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: World Views. Making Forgotten Realms into "core D&D 'plus'" required adapting it to the new world views of D&D 4e: the Points of Light world and the World Axis cosmology.

Creating a Points of Light world required plunging the Forgotten Realms into darkness. This was accomplished primarily through the murder of Mystra by Cyric and the Spellplague that followed. Kingdoms were destroyed, cities were ruined, and plaguelands were beset by wild magic. Civilization is waning in the Forgotten Realms.

These massive changes also tied to a number of other design philosophies. It made the Realms mysterious again, while simultaneously making them a better place for adventure — a core idea for the whole 4e revamp. Finally (whether intentional or not) these changes made the Realms more accessible to newcomers, not dependent upon decades of Realmslore.

However, the Spellplague wasn't the end of the Realms' revamp. There were other big changes which also helped to support these design philosophies:

  • The timeline was advanced by 100 years(!).
  • The parallel world of Abeir had crossed over and fused with Toril.
  • The ancient empire of Netheril was fully restored.
  • Parts of the Sea of Fallen Stars had collapsed to create a massive opening into the Underdark.
  • Thay had become a land of undead.

The Realms simultaneously had become a grittier setting, on the edge of collapse, while also becoming a more fantastic one, full of wonder and mystery.

The updates to the World Axis cosmology were largely based on fallout from the Spellplague. The World Tree of the Realms drifted apart into an Astral Sea; planes from Abeir and Toril fused together to form the Elemental Chaos; Shar reshaped the Plane of Shadow into the Shadowfell; and the Feywild drifted back into Abeir-Toril's orbit.

Ironically, these changes to the Realms' cosmology actually originated with the Forgotten Realms revision team. They were then coopted for D&D 4e by the SCRAMJET World Design team before being fed back to the Realms as part of the 4e update!

The Resurrected Races. The new edition of D&D also required the insertion of numerous races. The primordials are introduced as the lords of Abeir, while dragonborn and genasi both appear as races from that land. The eldarin come from the newly returned Feywild, while tieflings are sprinkled throughout the Realms' peoples.

Exploring the Realms. Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide is the fourth major campaign book for the Realms, following the 1e Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987), the 2e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (1993), and the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2001). It also represents the biggest change. It's unclear if it is actually 50% new, but it's got quite a bit of new material due to the update from 1372 DR in the previous Setting to 1479 DR in this new Guide.

The Campaign Guide overviews the whole world, from Aglarond to Waterdeep, with many favorites in between such as Baldur's Gate, Cormyr, the Dalelands, the Hordelands, and the Moonshae Islands. It also contains longer sections on the entirely new Returned Abeir and the newly revealed and accessible Underdark. Cormyr and the Northlands are probably the most similar to previous editions, but even they might meet the 50% levels thanks to the changes caused by the Spellplague.

One town also gets particular attention: Loudwater. It had been a minor part of the Realms since it received some attention in FR1: "Waterdeep and the North" (1987). It got another page of detail in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier (1996). However, the Campaign Guide gives it a whole chapter, positioning as an introductory home base for the "Barrow of the Ogre King" short adventure.

NPCs of Note. NPCs had long been a major part of the Realms, but as part of the plan to make PCs more important, many of them were either killed or crippled in the 100-year interim; for example, most of the Seven Sisters are listed as dead or missing and Elminster himself is decreased in power.

Love It or Hate It? Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide may be the most controversial D&D book ever produced by Wizards. That's entirely due to the large-scale destruction of the Realms. Similar updates have been tried by other companies — to reinvigorate settings, to make them more accessible to new players, or to make them more adventuresome. GDW shattered their Imperium in MegaTraveller (1987) then destroyed it (after a 100 year jump!) in Traveller: The New Era (1993); players were unhappy enough that both Steve Jackson Games and Mongoose Publishing later rebooted Traveller continuity. Similarly, R. Talsorian tore down their future world in Cyberpunk v3 (2005) to quite a bit of flaming on the internet. It never seems to go well, because old fans feel left behind.

With that said, some folks did love the changes, because the setting was now more playable, more accessible, more fantastic, and more PC centered.

Future History. As planned, Wizards of the Coast only supported the Realms in 2008, then moved on to other settings. However, they broke down and returned to the world in 2011, when they published a second campaign for the Realms, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting (2011), and then a second mass-market adventure, Halls of Undermountain (2012).

By 2012, Wizards had restored the Realms as their default campaign world. Since the publication of D&D 5e (2014), they've never looked back. Meanwhile a series of adventures and novels called The Sundering (2013-2014) reversed many of the 4e changes to the Realms, but without rebooting the timeline. Instead, the Realms continues to evolve and advance, as it has since its earlier days.

About the Creators. Cordell had been a D&D designer since the mid '90s. Greenwood is of course the creator of the Forgotten Realms. Sims was the youngster of the trio, coming onboard as a freelance editor for Wizards' RPGs in 2003.

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

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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Remi P January 11, 2020 7:47 am UTC
Have reviews been disabled? I just bought a pdf copy, and have loved this iteration for ages.
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Timothy B September 15, 2017 7:00 pm UTC
This PDF is usually $7.99 on DM's Guild. The September Settings sale has actually increased the price to 33% off of the printed book's cover price, which is higher than the typical PDF price. Is there any way to get this corrected? Thank you.
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