As a word of warning, this article is a work of highly pedantic nerdery to a degree that I feel such a warning necessary on a role-playing game blog. It is also of questionable use.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of the living campaign world, a place where things happen independent of the player characters, where history moves on even when there’s no party of adventurers to witness it. The 90s AD&D scene feeds right into this: Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and all the other campaign settings occur in the same multiverse, connected by the Spelljammer and Planescape settings, and brought together in its own way by Ravenloft.
The potential of crossovers raises the inevitable question of timeline correspondence. Where do the timelines cross? The major settings were heavy with metaplot, none so much as Forgotten Realms, and to a certain mindset, it’s relevant to know what’s going on in Waterdeep when the party of kender steps through the portal.
One reason this is such an interesting thing to study is that as far as I can tell, the designers and developers at the time did not coordinate for this and what little data can be harvested from the gazillion sourcebooks of the AD&D era is often vague and contradictory. The work of assembling a coherent canon is an exercise in cherrypicking your sources. I, for instance, choose to ignore anything in Ravenloft that would contradict other stuff because the Demiplane of Dread plays fast and loose with time anyway. However, others have trod this ground before me, such as Paul Westermeyer, whose Spelljammer Timeline research I use as a base for my own study. There’s also a timeline converter app largely based on it, though I have one quibble with it. I’ll come back to that.
We can pretty reliably state that Dragonlance’s 358 Alt Cataclius corresponds to Forgotten Realms’ 1361 Dalereckoning through the Spelljammer novels Beyond the Moons and Into the Void. Beyond the Moons is mentioned to occur about five years after the War of the Lance, and Into the Void, according to Dragon #196 article “Novel Ideas”, is set in 1361 DR. The novels follow one another and are set within a relatively short span of time.
Greyhawk can be connected to that through the first Wizards Three article in Dragon #185, “Magic in the Evening”, which describes the meeting of Dalamar, Elminster and Mordenkainen in Ed Greenwood’s living room. It’s set right after the events of the Forgotten Realms novel The Parched Sea and before the Greyhawk adventure Vecna Lives, set in 1360 DR according to “Novel Ideas”, and Common Year 581 according to Adventure Begins, respectively.
As a side note, though there is no point of connection between the world of Warhammer and Forgotten Realms, I do seem to have notes from around 2002 about a character who crossed over from a D&D campaign I ran in Old World to another campaign that took place in the Forgotten Realms
There are also points of connection for Birthright, Dark Sun, and Planescape out there, but they’re less relevant because the metaplot is not nearly as strong in those. Same for Mystara, though the points of connection are tenuous. Eberron is floating free to my knowledge. I may someday trawl the material for that, but for the time being, it’s less interesting to me.
What is interesting to me is, of course, Golarion. Of course, as the setting of Pathfinder RPG, it’s not an official D&D setting. However, it shares an interpretation of the same cosmology and the points of connection exist and are clearer than those of many AD&D settings with one another.
This ties in with my quibble above. The converter application ties the timelines of Earth and Mystara with the note “This vague link is provided by the official TSR document “Chronomancy and the Multiverse,” which placed Diane de Moriamis’ home time in around the year 1600.” However, what the document actually says is “Averoigne could be part of a magical Europe around A.D. 1600 in HR4 A Mighty Fortress, and this wizardess could be met at various times through Earth’s history prior to her move to the world of Mystara.” That’s a lot of “could”, especially for a time traveller. We also could disregard it and take a closer look at how Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms tie together – in Ed Greenwood’s living room, clearly meant to be in the present day at the time of writing, 1992. I thus posit that the Earth equivalent year to 1361 DR is 1992 Current Era.
From here, it’s just a skip and a hop to Golarion. The Reign of Winter adventure path happens in the year 4713 AR, the year when Queen Elvanna should be stepping down from her throne in Irrisen. Its fifth adventure, Rasputin Must Die! takes place in Siberia, in 1918. This is explicitly reinforced in the foreword to the fifth adventure of Strange Aeons, What Grows Within, which was released to subscribers while I was writing this post, where James Jacobs states “After all, if you do the math that we’ve established, the implied year that Strange Aeons begins in (4716 AR) does in fact correspond to the year of 1921 here on Earth…” Therefore, Golarion’s 4713 AR = Earth’s 1918 CE = Dragonlance’s 286 AC = Forgotten Realms’ 1289 DR = Greyhawk’s CY 509.
This does set Golarion very far from the “current eras” of most of the other settings – a good sixty years before the War of the Lance kicks off, Drizzt Do’Urden isn’t going to be born for another decade, and Oerth is going through the era of relative peace just after Iuz the Evil has been imprisoned by Zagyg the Mad. Back in AD&D, they were all happening more or less at the same time.
Then, the current year in Forgotten Realms is sometime in the late 1400’s by now, the newest timeline for Dragonlance I have ends at 419 AC, and Greyhawk only goes up to CY 598, when the Living Greyhawk campaign ended. Oh well.
Meanwhile, I do see the rationale for making the corresponding point in Earth’s timeline in 1600. Early Modern Era is roughly the level of the most advanced technology in Forgotten Realms. However, the game also has a history of bringing characters from strange places to the then-modern Earth. In Dragon #100, we can find the adventure “The City Beyond the Gate”, which takes a party of adventurers from Oerth to London circa 1985 to hunt down the Mace of St. Cuthbert. The D&D adventure Immortal Storm is set in 1980’s New York City. The Wizards Three meet not in a medieval castle but a Canadian librarian’s living room. It’s the crossover where D&D meets urban fantasy, where the high-level adventurer gets to be a fish out of water in the face of firearms. It’s where things get weird. London in 1600 is just a smaller Waterdeep, but London in 1985 is unfathomable.
Also, you know what is in 1918? The first entry in the timeline for Masks of Nyarlathotep, that’s what.