A Campaign World in D&D

When I stopped play Dungeons & Dragons around 1991, I left it all behind for many years, including my favorite campaign setting. I didn’t read any novels. I didn’t flip through books at the local game store. There wasn’t any internet to follow a labyrinthian wiki full of info pulled from 35 years of published material. The Forgotten Realms, at least for me, was stuck in 1357 Dale Reckoning (DR). With great fondness, I remembered devouring the campaign books from the legendary Grey Box and pouring over the impressive maps that were included.

When I next stepped foot into the Realms, I was smashed with great confusion and felt quite lost. It was about five years on and I was in the Army. One of my buddies had a book set in the Realms called Spellfire which I borrowed. Written by the actual creator of the Forgotten Realms setting, I found the book to be awful[1]. To be fair, every book this particular buddy had was awful, but Spellfire was a particularly bad book. Save Elminster, nothing was really familiar. I won’t go into details, but my fond memories were somewhat damaged. I stayed away for a few more years, though I occasionally dug the Grey Box out of storage to flip pages and read a bit.

A few years later I found a book called Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad. If Spellfire confused me, this book sent me reeling. Gods walking the land? Deities murdered? The Spellplague? What in Ed’s mindless wanderings was going on?

I get that timelines must continue, and no setting should stagnant in a single year. This though? Wow. It was a bit too much. I admit to laziness. I didn’t read a few more books. Or pay attention that Crucible was actually the 5th book in a series. What I did read was enough to cause me to protect my fond memories, and try to keep them untarnished by what I perceived as garbage. I wasn’t playing D&D anyways, so I didn’t need to catch up. I was busy enough diving into Warhammer (Fantasy and 40K) and then into historical wargaming. Plus, I didn’t know a soul that even played an RPG.

Through a few moves, college, marriage, and kids, I had a box of D&D books and boxed sets carefully stashed. It followed me everywhere. Generally, it sat in a storage unit, since my college and first married apartments were so small. Eventually I had room to finally bring that precious box home. Sometime around 2004 (best guess) a 40K buddy from Utah offered to buy a bunch of game stuff I wasn’t using. And like an idiot, I sold him most of my D&D books. I held onto the Grey Box, a Forgotten Realms book from 2nd Ed, and the Ravenloft module. About six months later, I deeply regretted the sale, even though I still wasn’t playing. Over the next few years I repurchased a couple of the books I enjoyed the most including the Complete Fighter’s Manual and the Castle Guide.

Sometime after 2007 I was the youth group leader at my church and several of the teen boys played D&D. They were playing D&D 3.5, even though 4th Ed had been released. They invited me to join their campaign, but a busy job and two young children kept me out. Plus, when we chatted about the game, there were bits of 3.5 that I didn’t care for. It seemed a bit confusing, there were too many rule books, and it didn’t feel right to me. I was listening to a D&D podcast at the time, whose name has slipped into the abyss of my brain[2], that used 3.5 rules. Even listening to others play, there were bits about the rules that I didn’t like. To be honest, though, I can’t remember exactly what turned my off to 3rd and 3.5 editions. I just didn’t like the feel.

As I have mentioned, when my son was about 12 or 13, I bought the 2nd Ed Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Player’s Handbook, and a semi-complete Monstrous Compendium. I offered to DM for him and his friends, but he turned me down. I found the Drunks & Dragons D&D podcast by then, and was listening to that. Plus, one or two others. Also lost to my useless brain. I can remember 80s songs and artists like nothing. Podcasts I really enjoyed? Nope.

When my finally decided to play, urged on by two friends at school, 5th Edition was in full swing. He asked for the Player’s handbook and dice, which I was super happy to buy despite the steep increase in prices since I last bought D&D books retail. I paged through the PH and was pretty excited by the layout, character design and options, and the game play. 5th Ed seemed solid, and given a chance, I would definitely play. He got a few more books, including the awesome Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and a DMs guide.

 It was several more years before I got a chance to play, as I have written about previously. When I did, I headed straight back to the Forgotten Realms. There was no question, I loved the Realms, and if I played, it was going to be there. Obviously Wizards of the Coast are also fans of the Realms, as nearly every adventure module is set in the Realms. Even when my son picked Ghosts of Saltmarsh as the campaign we would play as a family, I ported the adventures over to the Realms. For those not in the know, the adventures in GoS are classic adventures from previous editions. And, if I am not mistaken, all set in the world of Greyhawk. My D&D is in the Forgotten Realms, and always will be.

Before any fans of Greyhawk get nasty, I did actually own the Greyhawk box many moons ago. I did read about that setting, but it wasn’t for me. I sold the box to my gaming buddy, and did not regret it. I know, its the founding campaign setting for D&D, I just like the Realms more.

Looking at the timeline for D&D, I found that we had leapt over a hundred years into the future. It took a bit of research to catch up, mostly on the humongous Forgotten Realms wiki here. Many kind souls and fans of the Realms have copied page after page from many campaign books, modules, and novels. Doing research for my campaign, I spent a lot of time deep diving through that wiki. Many references came from the 3rd and 4th Ed campaign guides to the Realms, and after much though, I finally ordered both of those. Prices were kinda stupid for the 4th Ed book, until I realized I could buy it Print-On-Demand from DriveThruRPG. Brand new, for much less than good condition used books. I found a decent price on the 3rd Ed book a bit later, and now I have the full set, 1st through 5th (if you count the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide). Flipping through the 3rd Ed book, I am sure glad I skipped that edition. They type font is tiny, and pretty hard to read. Maybe its my age, but that type font and size was poorly chosen.

I will use all the books I have to continue to flesh out my campaign. I will use names from all the books for NPCs, and will definitely create descendants from important individuals from the past 150 years or so. This is world-building on a scale I can’t compete with on my own. Ed Greenwood is one of the top world builders in my opinion. Only Tolkien does it better. There is detail stacked on detail. Certain regions have far more information that other areas, but there is so much to use. I fan boy over the Forgotten Realms, and I am not ashamed.

Our current campaign takes place in and around Daggerford on the Sword Coast. From the small village of Oakdale, to the ducal seat in Daggerford, and out to the coast past the tiny hamlet of Bludhom, the Four, and an occasional friend or two, roam through an area I am attempting to detail and populate. Twenty-two of the villages and hamlets have at least the number of buildings and residents, the principal products, and any important NPCs detailed. So far, my players haven’t really explored the area, as their services have been in constant demand. Another few weeks of campaigning, and they should earn themselves a few days’ rest.

A blog is no place to go into great detail about the Forgotten Realms. Suffice it to say that it is a vast continent of blistering sand deserts, frozen tundra, soaring mountains and trackless seas. And decades of gaming to be had. Now that I have shared my favorite place to play D&D, what is yours? The Realms are not the only place to be published, and by far are not the only place to be created by Dungeon Masters around our own campaign world. Share your favorites in the comments, I am always interested in the worlds people play in.

BG out

[1] The other terrible series I borrowed was the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy based on the Star Wars universe. It was literally so bad I didn’t read another SW book for more than a decade.

[2] I listened to 200+ episodes of that podcast, and it really bothers me that I can’t remember what it was. I can’t even remember the players or characters anymore. I don’t recall any head trauma that would have led to completely losing nearly every memory of that podcast, but maybe I don’t remember the injury either. I downloaded the podcast and used a Sansa Fuse mp3 player to listen to it at work. I was listening to the What Would Patton Do podcast at the same time. Which I distinctly remember. Seriously, it bothers me that I can’t remember…

6 thoughts on “A Campaign World in D&D

  1. Dave Stone March 30, 2022 / 11:50 am

    It’s great that you found a place, in that ever expanding world, that you really enjoy Harry, as gaming about in a place you have passion for, will result in much better games played.
    Couldn’t tell where the games I played were set, as the two different GM’s I played against made their own worlds and just used the scenarios within their worlds, although I remember one had a real thing for Lolf Demon Queen of Spiders, and most of our campaigns were spent trying to avoid being killed by her and her minions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • borderguy190 March 30, 2022 / 12:16 pm

      Thanks Dave. You are so right. Passion for the world means you get into it and care about what happens.

      Lolth is pretty good at killing her enemies, so good in you for surviving her evil intentions!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Guru PIG March 31, 2022 / 3:24 am

    Agree passion is important. I love world creation, the narrative and the characters. It all adds to the experience and game enjoyment!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. borderguy190 March 31, 2022 / 3:31 am

    Agreed! A good narrative can make up for not-so-good game play. I get lost in the story. The dice just keep things moving.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John@justneedsvarnish March 31, 2022 / 5:02 pm

    Really good that you’re using your past experience and favourite realms to help populate your latest adventure and it sounds like you’re making good progress setting it all up. 🙂 I’ve never been an RPG player but I did set up my own timeline and events to fit into the 1930s Crimson Skies worlds when I played that. I’ll hopefully continue that some time in the not too distant future as I try and make a start on my own Crimson Skies ground combat campaign/games (I usually refer to it as Crimson Dust). And I’ll have a Victorian Sci-Fi world to set up as well, based on history but with twists hopefully!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. borderguy190 March 31, 2022 / 5:17 pm

    That’s really cool, John. I believe adding narratives like that really adds to all games. Everything has its place and becomes part of an ongoing story. Games matter. Units have histories. Twists are even better. Good luck with your plans! Sounds fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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