There Are Now Two Gorillas in the Room – D&D and PFRPG Tied in Sales

Yesterday, ICv2 released their list of Top 5 best-selling roleplaying games in the third quarter of 2010. There was something surprising in there.

While Pathfinder RPG had held the second place ever since its release, it is now tied with the sovereign market leader of over three decades, Dungeons & Dragons (with the possibly apocryphal single month in the early 90’s when allegedly Vampire: The Masquerade held the top spot).

Of course, there are no actual numbers shown and the methodology is a bit fuzzy, neither WotC nor Paizo release their internal sales data, and it lacks stuff like DDI and Paizo product subscriptions and RPGNow. However, I can easily believe there’s an element of truth to those rankings. WotC will probably reclaim the top spot in the fourth quarter since the Essentials release falls there, but Dungeons & Dragons is no longer the only 800-pound gorilla in the room, whose dominance has been seen as unshakable, unyielding and eternal.

The third and the fourth spots have been occupied by Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play and the 40K roleplaying games for some time now. I expect they will continue to hang in there, especially with the recent release of Deathwatch, which has… strong appeal. I haven’t yet got a copy, but expect a post once I do. There are issues I desire to address.

The fifth spot is taken by Dresden Files RPG, which isn’t surprising since it sold like hotcakes on its release. This is interesting also because Evil Hat has released numbers on their developer blog. The initial print run of a total of 12,000 copies sold out, and they printed up 7,500 books more. So, the cutoff point for the list is somewhere thereabout. I don’t know enough to start speculating anything from those figures, though.

I don’t think DFRPG is going to hang around on the list much longer, though, since there’s no new product in the pipeline the release schedule is very sparse and sustaining core book sales like that is probably not possible. However, I must congratulate Evil Hat for a job well done!

It is an interesting time to be a gamer.

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Free RPG Day 2010 Offerings – Deathwatch! Pathfinder! Dark Sun! Sort of!

The Free RPG Day happened, once again. For the first time ever it wasn’t during the Finnish Midsummer celebrations, but our local game store chains still failed to participate, probably because of a lack of game space and because they make their money off manga and Warhammer, not roleplaying games.

However, the Internet comes to the rescue, and now, a couple of days after the event, there’s a wealth of free adventure modules online.

First off, from Fantasy Flight Games, we get the one item I’ve been waiting for the most – Final Sanction, the preview scenario for Deathwatch. They’ve also put up two additional characters and a FAQ link on their product support page. It’s the biggest of the WH40K RPG preview adventures, at 40 pages, and looks very promising. It also includes rules for hordes and demeanours. The available characters are a Dark Angel Assault Marine, a Blood Angel Devastator, a Space Wolf Tactical Marine, and an Ultramarine Apothecary. The additional characters are Ultramarine and Storm Warden Tactical Marines.

Paizo Publishing, in turn, gives us the adventure Master of the Fallen Fortress, which is your average, run-of-the-mill dungeon crawl, nothing in particular. More noteworthy than the module itself are the characters, which are a preview for the upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide – an alchemist, a cavalier, an oracle, a summoner, an inquisitor and a witch. It’s also Pathfinder Society -compliant and comes with a Scenario Chronicle sheet. It only gives the first-level stats for the characters, but if one is interested in levelling them up, there’s always the final playtest PDF before the book itself comes out for GenCon. As a side note, now that I’m browsing, it seems that the GameMastery Guide is finally out and the PDF is $10, for 320 pages.

From Alderac Entertainment Group, we get another preview module for an upcoming game, the fourth edition of Legend of the Five Rings. Legacy of Disaster is available from their RPG downloads page. The actual adventure seems to take up just eight pages of the 32-page PDF, the rest being quickstart rules and pregenerated characters. Personally, I’m looking forward to this. Though I never got to play it, I have a soft spot for L5R. I usually hate, hate, hate the katana-fetishism that occasionally pops up here and there, but L5R is fantasy and Rokugan is such an unabashedly Hollywood take on feudal Japan that I can forgive pretty much everything. Except the metaplot-centrism. And they seem to be finally getting away from that. Good job.

White Wolf, in turn, is still sorta apparently in the RPG business, and we get the adventure Under the Rose for Exalted. It’s set in the possible future of the Creation, where the Scarlet Empress has reclaimed the throne, and interestingly, the module suggests that it’s played with its own pregens as a plot point inside an ongoing campaign, such as… The Return of the Scarlet Empress. If it ever comes out.

Finally, there’s Wizards of the Coast, whose Free RPG Day offering was a Dark Sun module of some description. Instead of the module, the online crowd gets to settle for the pregen characters. At the time of writing, the file is corrupted and cannot be opened. The damn file can only be opened with WinZip.

There are other participating companies that haven’t yet uploaded their offerings or don’t intend to do so – and for the dice manufacturers, at least, that’s pretty understandable. I refer you to the event’s Facebook page, where they seem to be posting download links as stuff becomes available.

Personally, I think this event is awesome, even if our local stores don’t participate. We get free swag, the companies get advertising, the stores get customers coming in and maybe buying something else. The people who came up with the Free RPG Day and managed to sell it to even the big companies are likewise awesome. That is all.

Award News – Bleargh

The results of both the ENnies and the Diana Jones Awards are now in.

The Diana Jones people haven’t yet updated their website, though. According to Robin D. Laws, it went to Dominion.

The ENnies, this year, featured a lesson on why the popular vote doesn’t work when one of the contestants is orders of magnitude larger than all the others combined. WotC sweeped nearly all categories it was nominated for just by being better known, including the Fan’s Choice for Best Publisher, which is beyond ridiculous. Their marketing has featured outright lies (At D&D Experience 2007, the official line was that 4E is not in the works. At Gen Con…), promised products have never materialised (The online game table is now over a year late and still not in sight.), their website is a travesty, the first draft of the GSL was a direct attack against the open gaming movement, and their policy on PDFs has less connection to the real world than the D&D economic system.

I would also contest the Product of the Year going to Player’s Handbook, which is only a third of a game and despite being laid out for eight-year-olds with lots of white space and a ridiculously huge typeface still doesn’t contain enough empty margins to write in all the errata.

Best Aid or Accessory to D&D Insider? A user-hostile collection of occasionally functional applications and features that never were? Are you kidding me?

Howl of the Carrion King, at least, won the Best Adventure it deserved – and it really is a splendid module. Still, WotC’s King of the Trollhaunt Warrens, which nobody seems to have even heard of, nabbed second place apparently just by being 4E. Seriously, I can’t even find reviews for it outside of Amazon.com, and even there the most positive one of the three states that “The module is similar to all WOTC and TSR adventures and has little to no role-playing. This adventure is basically fight after fight.”

Silver. Over Purge the Unclean or Barrow Grounds. My ass.

Then there’s Best Monster Book, with Monster Manual, a collection of stats and occasionally questionable art choices beating Creatures Anathema, a book chock-full of flavour, great ideas and adventure hooks. It also contains the following: “The most infamous of Attack Squigs is the Ravenous Face-Biter, appropriately named for the way in which it tries to bite the faces off of its enemies, ravenously. Other less well known, but no less vicious, varieties include the Drooling Snapjaw and the Pig-eyed Gouger.” It’s got orks! It’s got the eldar! It’s got ‘nids! And it got beaten by the adorable dire puppy!

Another serious issue is that the Best Free Product category pitted freebie quickstart rules – marketing materials, essentially – against genuinely free games, and then one of the damn things was actually allowed to win. The D&D retroclone game Swords & Wizardry got silver, at least, but in my view, and the view of quite a few others in the blogosphere, there were only two nominees there that should have been eligible in the first place. The other was Trial & Terror: Supernatural Victims Unit.

Dark Heresy received a well-deserved Best Production Values award. I mean, you can say what you will about recycling art, glorious though it be, but that book, as a physical object, is one of the finest items in my game collection. I accidentally dropped it a while back, and the pages tore away from the covers. I pushed them back in, and they stuck. In normal use, you wouldn’t know anything had happened. That’s quality. I can’t say how it stacks up with the competition (except that CthulhuTech is also a very pretty book, though I understand that an early print run was somehow faulty), but it is not a misplaced victory.

Also, Best Setting went to Paizo’s Pathfinder Campaign Setting, which really is one of my favourite fantasy settings, nowadays. It combines elements of classic pulp fantasy and horror literature with Dungeons & Dragons to great effect and manages to create a kitchen sink setting with a distinct feel of its own instead of just a mishmash.

In other news, WotC has announced that in 2010 they shall be revisiting Dark Sun for 4E. I shall politely refrain from posting my thoughts on this.

Upcoming Stuff, PFS in Finland

I appear to have failed some Fort saves in the last week or so and am now struggling with a particularly nasty flu. When I haven’t been leaking blood and mucus on the keyboard, I’ve been keeping up with the gaming world.

4E Settings

A lot of news from Gen Con still don’t seem to have trickled into the general consciousness, even though it was weeks ago. From the Dragonlance Canticle podcast we learn that Dragonlance was confirmed to be on the way as a 4E adaptation. It’s now a toss-up between Dragonlance, Dark Sun and Greyhawk for the 2010 setting. Thee horror setting Ravenloft, it seems, will be “folded into the core” in the online Dragon, which is even worse for setting integrity than Forgotten Realms 4E. I’ve actually levelled this criticism at the “points of light” concept itself, but it works even better for Ravenloft, because the xenophobia isn’t just implied, it’s a significant trope. When you have secluded, superstitious villagers, tiefling warlocks and dragonborn get burned at the stake.

Also, I don’t really see horror gaming working with a system that’s weighted toward tactical combat and based on the concept of character empowerment even more than any of its predecessors.

Rogue Trader

On a far more positive note, Fantasy Flight Games announced that they’ll be going ahead with Black Industries’ original plan for the Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games, and will be releasing Rogue Trader sometime next year.

For those of you who don’t remember the original announcement, the concept is that the first game, Dark Heresy, covers playing Inquisitorial agents, members of the retinue of an Imperial Inquisitor. They ferret out plots against the Imperium, hunt down mutants, heretics and aliens, and are generally a cheerful bunch. As a point of note, Dark Heresy has the grisliest critical hit charts I’ve ever seen.

Then, there’s Rogue Trader, where you play as members of a rogue trader’s crew, which should open up the possibility of alien characters or even full-fledged Inquisitors (something Dark Heresy does not cover).

Finally, we ought to be getting Deathwatch, where you play the best of the best of the best – the Adeptus Astartes of the Deathwatch Chapter, subject to Ordo Xenos of the Inquisition, picked from their home chapters for a tour of duty as heavy muscle for the Inquisition, for when a pocked of alien scum needs to absolutely, positively, be scoured off the face of the planet. Mmmm, space marines…

Tangentially related, here’s the funniest summary of the WH40K setting I’ve seen: TVTropes.org’s article.

Rogue Games Announces Contest for Game Design and Art

Rogue Games wants amateur game designers and artists to submit their work for a global contest for their Thousand Suns supplement. The winning entries will end up in the supplement, which will be released at Gen Con 2009.

So, if you’re a young hopeful, can hold a pen the right way up, and want your name in a book, and haven’t been published professionally in the gaming field, here’s your chance.

I think this is a fairly cool idea. The pay is crap, but I’ve received considerably less compensation for most of the stuff that makes me ineligible for it.

(Via LivingDice.com.)

Pathfinder Society Continues in Finland

We’ve been working hard on getting the PFS campaign really up and running. We’ve set up a page on a local gaming wiki for campaign info in Finnish, and I’m putting wheels in motion over here in Tampere. Should be getting games together starting next week, if I’m lucky.

In addition to being the first Finnish Pathfinder Society DM a couple of weeks back, I also ended up the first character death last weekend. My cleric of Cayden Cailean, Glen lhap Roy, was shot through the head with a longbow. From full hit points to -18. Critical hits can be cruel.

I don’t mourn. Didn’t lose out on experience points, didn’t die until the end of the (very good) module, and had fun playing. My next character is Adhemar of Senara, a Chelaxian hellknight armiger.

A Rant and a Review: Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide

It was originally not my intention to review this book. Indeed, it was not originally my intention to ever touch this book. However, due to popular demand, a review copy being offered to me and me having nothing better to do with my time, I give to you… my unabashedly biased and uncensored opinion.

You want objective, read Gnome Stew’s review. They did it, I don’t have to. I also recommend it for the map links. Indeed, the quality of the poster map is one of the few things I agree with Martin Ralya on – it’s an ugly mess. It’s also riddled with errors; there are the ones he mentioned, and a cursory glance also reveals Candlekeep, Ankhapur and Veltalar, all described as cities by the sea, all drawn inland.

The Backgrounds

Now, let it be stated upfront that, unlike many other angry white males prowling the forums and chats of the internet, I like the Forgotten Realms. I own probably in excess of a hundred Forgotten Realms novels, and have read most of them. I even thought some of them were good (Paul S. Kemp’s novels are my favourites).

I think the setting’s strength is in the depth of lore and the intricate details that bring it alive. It oozes atmosphere, and it is a delight to weave the plot of a campaign into the setting, bringing elements of the background together to support it.

When WotC announced the new edition of the Forgotten Realms was going to be moved a century into the future, I just knew it wasn’t going to end well. And, well, I was right. The marketing screed was much like with 4E, except even more ridiculous, directly portraying the strengths of the setting as a problem they were going to solve – apparently, having depth and detail is a bad thing. Somewhere in there, we got a line about how the design team didn’t really like Forgotten Realms (I’d love to be able to source this, but have been unable to find the link again. The only reason I know I didn’t dream it up is that I’ve seen other people reference it.), and a promise they were not going to retcon anything.

That could be termed false advertising, or just plain old bullshit.

“Retcon” is a term that’s been bandied about and misunderstood a lot in this particular conversation, so I’ll just go ahead and make sure that everyone’s on the same page here as to what it means. It comes from the words “retroactive continuity”, and means the changing of previously established facts in a work of fiction, saying “that’s how it always was”. It is different from changing things by advancing the story. To contrast, the Spellplague that hit the Realms after the death of Mystra and brought about all this crap is storyline development. The invention of the world of Abeir is a retcon. Wikipedia actually has a handy article on the topic.

The name of the planet, Abeir-Toril, meant “The Cradle of Life”, according to the 2E campaign setting. In the 4E version, Abeir and Toril were originally different worlds. After a great war between the primordials and the gods, the gods claimed Toril and the primordials took Abeir. There’s a lot of retconning going on with the pantheon, too, with Talos suddenly being an aspect of Gruumsh, Sehanine being an aspect of Selûne, and suddenly it being the eladrin instead of the elves who were born of Corellon’s blood when he fought Gruumsh. The dwarf pantheon was renamed from Morndinsamman to Moradinsamman.

Now, in the 3E Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, there was some retconning going on as well. I don’t really mind slapping sorcerer levels on the Simbul, since that’s rules and a different issue entirely, but what really annoyed me was changing Eldenser, the Wyrm Who Hides in Blades from a gem dragon to a brass dragon. It was a change with no real purpose. However, I can forgive this, because it’s a small thing to change back and the 3E FRCS is an awesome book in most other ways, and a textbook example of how to write a campaign setting. It’s easily among the best works of the 3E era.

The problem with the changes of 4E is that they’ve failed to sell them. They have failed to convince me that they are a good idea, that they make the setting somehow better. What they would do, if I were to accept and use their version of the setting, is render obsolete most of my former Forgotten Realms collection. The material is simply incompatible. NPCs have died, organisations have changed, the pantheons have been extensively shuffled around and even the maps no longer apply. It bears so little resemblance to the old Forgotten Realms (except for Drizzt, who just keeps on going) that it’s really a different setting altogether. They should’ve found a bit of spine and just developed a new one if they hated working with the Realms so much.

Additionally… has any one of these setting reboots ever resulted in anything good? Greyhawk and From the Ashes is probably the most successful of these, in that it managed to garner enough popularity to create a rift in the fanbase that persists to this day. In the Realms, the Time of Troubles was widely panned. Dragonlance has been getting steadily worse with the repeated reshufflings of the setting. I’ve never met anyone who preferred Dark Sun’s second edition over the first. Ravenloft’s Grand Conjunction was just boring and the situation was eventually reset. Planescape’s Faction War is universally reviled, even though, objectively, it’s easily the best-written of this bunch.

The thing is… they never manage to improve the setting. In the best case, the transition supplements will be hated for all eternity while the setting itself makes a recovery (Greyhawk or post-ToT Forgotten Realms), and in the worst, the setting ends up as a lesser, derivative work, a shadow of its former self (Dark Sun 2E, and this one here).

Production Values

The book is a 288-page hardcover, in glorious full colour. It retails for $40. However, it’s not the entire setting. It has a companion volume coming out later this month, the Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide, which is another $30. The Campaign Guide here is supposed to give you the world, while the Player’s Guide gives you the rules items like a new character class and the drow race.

After these books and an adventure module that’s coming out around now-ish, that’s it for the Realms. It’s the new three-book model WotC has for campaign settings. One setting a year, three books per setting, that’s it. I actually advocated something like this for the 3E era, as a way of bringing back the old favourites like Planescape and Spelljammer. However, it’s too late now and after seeing what they’ve done here, I’d prefer them to keep away from anything else that I like, especially with the rumours of 4E Greyhawk that are making the rounds.

The layout of the book is the same as in the core books – annoyingly large font, lots of white space. Had I paid money for this, I’d feel ripped off. The art ranges from passable to some truly hideous scrawlings. The best of the lot are the chapter opening splash pages.

What’s in the Book

The book starts with a brief summary of what the setting is about, headed by a quotation from Elminster. There’s a list of ten things that have changed in the Realms, which I think was a stupid idea to include. For one thing, to get to an even ten, they included this gem of a sentence:

10. Most portals no longer work. The breaking of the Weave destroyed most of the portals that crisscrossed Toril, because it destroyed the hard-won knowledge of arcane casters.

Because, you know, one thing logically follows from the other. Also points for repetition. This, friends, is bad writing. It’s a common theme throughout the book.

It also feels like I’m being talked down to. It’s something easily digestible for the Xbox generation, much like the rest of the book. There’s little in the way of substance.

But we move onwards, to…

Chapter 1: Loudwater

The first chapter presents us the small town of Loudwater, nestled in the northern frontier. It’s tied with a series of short “adventures”, to introduce the players to the setting. I believe one source stated the purpose was that you could pick up the book and start playing within 15 minutes.

Me, I’m of the school of thought that if you have only 15 minutes to prep for a game, it’s better to just wing it than even try to run something off a book. If you have more than 15 minutes, I’d advise to run something else than this, because… damn.

It opens up with an encounter where, in bright daylight, a raiding party of 13 goblins blows a 20-foot hole in the 10-foot-thick stone wall of Loudwater, to capture a MacGuffin from a nearby store.

The encounter leaves certain pertinent questions unanswered, such as the following:

  1. How did the goblins bring about such a massively destructive explosion?
  2. How were they able to remain close enough to the explosion that they could move straight into the town during the same round?
  3. How come they weren’t noticed by guards on the walls when they approached the town and prepared the explosion?
  4. Why did they opt for a frontal assault in broad daylight when sneaking over the walls at night would have likely yielded better results – if the wall patrol is blind during the day, they can’t be that much more alert during the night.
  5. How did the goblins know where the MacGuffin was in the first place, since it’d changed hands once after being taken from them? They had to know to blow up the wall at the correct spot.
  6. Why is it nobody thought of these things during the design process?

What follows is an adventure location straight out of a subpar computer RPG. There are things labelled as “roleplaying opportunities”, which are mostly just attempts to prod the adventures to the direction of the local thieves’ guild – except for the one with the local smith, whose “roleplaying opportunity” is about how she will fall for any guy who’s taller than her.

We also get a map of Loudwater, evidently done with MS Paint, which shows that the 2,000 residents of the city have about 40 buildings between them. The housing problem is not as bad as it was in Winterhaven, but it is somewhat exacerbated by the fact this is the second time they did it.

Then there’s the NPCs, who read like inferior Neverwinter Nights scripts. I especially love the dwarf named Zark, possibly in homage to another abject failure in the middle of an otherwise brilliant property. Zark trades child slaves for the serpentfolk living nearby. They’re stored in barrels, shipped down the river to Loudwater, and there Zark hires the PCs to unload the cargo.

There are hundreds of ways to handle slave trade well, and none of them involve bringing outsiders in direct contact with the merchandise. Another spectacularly idiotic plotline, here.

This chapter is concluded by two pages on the High Moor, which aren’t bad. However, we’re now 37 pages into the book and they’re far too rare for my liking.

Chapter 2: Adventuring

This is a short chapter on how to run a campaign in the Realms or how not to write a chapter on running a campaign in the Realms, depending a bit on your point of view.

It has a few suggestions on how to wind up your old campaign, such as running it through the Spellplague and onwards post-Spellplague until it ends naturally. This is an interesting suggestion, since we have no information on what the Spellplague was actually like, or really, any substantial information on what happened in the intervening years between the Spellplague or the present day. This chapter, see, also contains the history of the Realms and the timeline. From the creation of the world to the present day, this takes up two and a half pages. The post-Spellplague era gets one paragraph. It’s a joke.

As a point of note, the 3E FRCS had twelve pages of history.

Then we get a couple of pages of objects of art to use as mundane treasure at different tiers and a brief, incomplete and random glossary. The objects of art are interesting, I suppose, but I can’t help but feel that space could have been better used.

There’s also the return of the coinage and currency sidebar, reprinted nearly verbatim through the ages.

Chapter 4: Magic

The Magic chapter gives the most information on the Spellplague, mostly in how it shaped the landscape. The Realms now has “earthmotes”, or “floating rocks”. We also get “spellscars”, which sound a lot like Eberron’s dragonmarks, and “plaguelands”, which are areas still affected by the Spellplague. Here there be weird stuff. We also have a lot of “ridiculous names”, but that started back in the late 3E era.

The chapter ends with a smattering of magic items and a pair of rituals.

Chapter 5: Cosmology

Here we have ten pages on the new cosmology of the Realms, telling in one paragraph of each of the deities’ domains and mentioning who lives there. The 4E brainfarts of Elemental Chaos, Feywild and Shadowfell get one or two pages each.

Shaking up the cosmology with the Spellplague was a bit pointless, in my view. Even going by their explanation of shaking off excess baggage, as depth and atmosphere are nowadays called, it doesn’t make much sense since the tree model had been explored in only two books. There was nothing there.

Now, there still isn’t anything there. While in the last edition, I would’ve applauded bringing the Realmsian cosmology in line with the core cosmology, in this case it’s just a case of replacing something lame with something even lamer.

And why must the names sound so dumb?

Chapter 5: Pantheon

The chapter on gods gives us the new pantheon after the old one was first hit by the decimation of the last two pages of Grand History of the Realms and then the post-Spellplague retcons. Well, at least parts of the new pantheon.

So, quite a few gods are dead now, or gone, or turned out to be completely different gods. Tyr just up and left, nobody knows where, in a plot twist taken straight off the WotC forums (a good indication, I feel, that the designers were really out of ideas). Most of the former lesser deities and demigods who didn’t get killed or retconned or ignored into oblivion are now called exarchs, not all of whom even have churches of their own. This change isn’t explained anywhere. There’s a preview article somewhere on the WotC website that explained how the exarchs were meant as endbosses for campaigns. None of them are statted out or even detailed, however. Marthammor Duin is given as an example of an exarch and gets two sentences’ worth of fleshing out.

Actually, only the eighteen greater gods get their own entries here. Of the 19 gods, only Umberlee is given as an example, the Primordials aren’t all even named, and of the archdevils, they only give Mephistopheles as an example. And, well, Asmodeus, who’s now a greater god after killing Azuth and rising in the ranks.

Normally, I wouldn’t be opposed to such brevity. There’d be a deity book coming out sooner or later. However, with the three-book model they’re now using for settings, no such luck. There’s only the uncertain promise of additional material in the online Dragon and the dim possibility of additional sourcebooks if these sell enough. One would hope that the brand’s strength would falter before this crap sells to that critical mass. At least that would indicate there are still some buyers out there with a bit of taste.

Chapter 6: Faerûn and Beyond

Now, 82 pages into the book, we come to the big one. Here, after some 80 pages of mediocrity and stupidity, is the atlas of the 4E Realms.

Some 152 pages more mediocrity and stupid. Yay.

It begins with a short rundown of the different areas. Basically, if the place was popular and central, such as Waterdeep, Silverymoon, the Dalelands or Cormyr, it’ll still be there, for the most part. If it wasn’t, such as Calimshan, Halruaa, Chult, the Old Empires, Thay, or Sembia, anything may have happened.

The actual nation entries are a mixed bag, and nothing really jumps out at me to make me say “oh, cool!”

What they’ve done with Thay especially irks me. In 3E, it was an evil nation ruled by the Red Wizards, a proper magocracy, with lots of intrigue, backstabbing and so forth going on, and with enclaves in faraway lands to sell magic items to fill the coffers of Thay and possibly as part of some greater scheme.

Now it’s a Mordor-ripoff full of undead that occasionally assaults Rashemen and Aglarond. Some of the enclaves are still around, dealing in magic items, no strings attached. In one fell swoop, the whole region just became less interesting.

Impiltur is another gelded region. It was only recently detailed in George Krashos’ marvellous article in Dragon, but in the 4E era, all that is gone, to be replaced by an anarchic nation of random encounters and demon worshipers.

Halruaa went boom. Chult is now an island.

In the Western Heartlands, there’s now Elturgard, a country ruled by lawful stupid Amaunatori paladins. Of all the annoying character archetypes they could have enshrined in setting material, they chose the most annoying one.

We also get another returned ancient nation in addition to Netheril of the shades. The Imaskari crawled up from under their rock and reinstated High Imaskar, taking over the land formerly called Mulhorand.

Unther is now Tymanther, land of the dragonborn, that was ported over from Abeir. It’s neighboured by Akanûl of the genasi, from the same place. The sarrukh are back, now ruling the state of Okoth on the northern coast of the Gulf of Luiren. The Gulf of Luiren, incidentally, is where the nation of Luiren formerly stood.

There’s also a section on Returned Abeir, which seems to be missing the description of a fairly large country visible on the map, and another on the Underdark. The Returned Abeir section is somewhat better than most of the book, though. The writing feels somewhat more inspired and there are fewer ghosts of a better setting lurking underneath.

Overall, this chapter feels like a patchwork of different nation entries with no proper ties between them. It doesn’t feel like a world, just a pile of countries. They feel disconnected from each other.

Chapter 7: Threats

And we come to the final chapter, where the DM is given a number of power groups and creatures for the PCs to kill. It’s got all the usual suspects – church of Bane, church of Shar, the Zhentarim, Cult of the Dragon, and so forth. Then there are a couple of new faces, like the Eminence of Araunt, an undead state that claims every tomb, crypt and grave in the world as a principality and endeavours to bring even Thay and the Twisted Rune into its fold. It is remarkable for having no hooks whatsoever or any real reason for living characters to interact with it, or even care about its existence. Then there’s the Warlock Knights of Vaasa, with their mystical metal “ironfell” that they got off the Random 4E Name Chart.

We also get Halruaan sky pirates, which is pretty cool.

In Closing

Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide is not a good book. It fails to live up to the standards set by its predecessors in terms of compelling lore and interesting adventure hooks, and even if you judge it as a standalone, the writing is mediocre and the whole is incomplete. First of all, you will need the Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide to get all the rules material, and even then you will lack a lot of important stuff, like descriptions of deities. It doesn’t make me want to run games with it, it makes me want to write reviews like this.

For the prior editions, all of that stuff exists, but the changes of the edition switch render most of the lore incompatible. The three-book model (the third being an adventure module) also ensures that we’re unlikely to actually see any expanded material in print. The whole thing smells of an attempt to artificially channel buyers to Dungeons & Dragons Insider, an online service that remains a laughable joke.

The book closes with a rather crappy index, complete with a disclaimer:

This index is meant as a source of inspiration rather than as a comprehensive reference.

There is no excuse.