Sunday, March 20, 2011

[Gray Box Project] Returning to the Realms

When it comes to (A)D&D game worlds, few are as guaranteed to elicit extreme opinions as the Forgotten Realms. I myself have a typically ambivalent relationship with the setting. I'd say the majority of my D&D gaming as both player and DM has been in the Realms, but it was never a favorite of mine. For a variety of reasons, the Realms never made their way into my heart, and I've spent a lot of time working on personal game worlds that would address my interests more directly. And yet...

The Realms presented in the first Gray Box, released in 1987, are radically different from the Realms of the 2e to 3e era (to say nothing of what's happened to the setting since 4e came out...). Now that I have Pendragon and Dragon Warriors to tap my long-held desire for a fantasy setting that hews closer to folklore and faerie tales, and in light of my realization last year that I'll always be a Silver/Bronze Age DM despite my dabbling in OSR tropes over the past couple years, I've been giving some thought to establishing a de-facto game world for vanilla D&D.

For some years, I was hoping the Wilderlands would be that setting, but alas it is not to be. As much as I love the setting, I've found myself unable to fully engage with it as a DM. Nor has it been a great success with my players, who likewise find the setting a bit too old school in their sensibilities. I've tinkered with the idea of remaking the Wilderlands into something that works better for our collective interests, but I realized I'd end up rewriting most of the setting if I did so.

It was at this point that my mind starting turning back to the Realms. I haven't done any gaming in that setting in well over 10 years, but if I was going to be tinkering with and rewriting a setting, maybe they would suit my needs more closely. Perhaps it was time to give it a fresh look? One eBay auction later, I was in possession of the Gray Box, the first public version of the Realms. It was the first version of the Realms I experienced as well, and it seemed a good place to return. Yet I'm under no illusions that my old issues with the Realms have magically gone away. There will be much tinkering, oh yes...

And so was born this new series: the Gray Box Project. In the mold of Sham's D&D Cover to Cover or Jeff's similar Arduin Grimoire project, I intend to devote a series of posts to a very close and literal reading of the Forgotten Realms Gray Box. In so doing, my intention is to unlearn all of the non-Gray Box setting detail that's accumulated since its release, thereby forming a baseline for my own interpretation of the Realms. I will be looking for what is unsaid or implied as much as what is stated directly.

As I engage in the close reading, I will also use the posts as a sounding board for ideas on how to make the Realms my own. Nothing about the setting will be held sacred or canonical and everything's on the table for potential changes. By the end of the series, I hope to have both a more in-depth understanding of and appreciation for the Forgotten Realms as originally envisioned as well as a highly personalized version of the Realms for me to use as my D&D sandbox setting.
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