The Many Portals to the Forgotten Realms

The reason our Forgotten Realms game is working is because we all got to the realms via the same portal, the original boxed set. Pete has vivid memories of first opening the boxed set with a buddy when he was a young teen. Aaron had the maps on his childhood bedroom ceiling.

In posting stuff about the Forgotten Realms online, it is wild to see how many different portals there are. There the novels, the old SSI video games, 1st edition supplements, 2nd edition supplements, 3rd edition supplements, Volo’s Guides, 4th edition books, Neverwinter Nights and on and on (did I miss any? if any come to mind that I missed, please post to comments).

It was really interesting to ask on twitter/facebook which iconic characters I should burn up and having people name vastly different people. There were NPC’s from old video games who I didn’t know at all and I am sure that folks on the Candlekeep forum could name dozens of names that would fly right over my head.

Luckily, we are all playing through that same portal and our iconic ideas are similar…Mirt the Moneylender, Khelben, Elminster, Azhoun IV, the Harpers, Peirgeiron the Paladinson, Obould with some cherry picks from the 3rd edition books like Old Snarl.

I’m not sure if this is a feature or a bug because we have no other portal-goers trying to integrate into the game. We’ve kept it nice and small and haven’t had to deal with anyone who has a vastly different idea about the Realms or *gasp* someone who doesn’t care for the setting at all.

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10 thoughts on “The Many Portals to the Forgotten Realms

  1. This speaks so much to the importance of the pitch session. However it happens, getting everyone on the same page about what this world is about is huge.

    As Forgotten Realms really has the kitchen sink thrown in, I think you guys are really fortuitous to have that same perspective.

    Now, how to bottle those same influences so during a pitch session folks can share what they want in a game by reflecting on what brought them to the game in the first place… I want to play Star Wars because I loved that opening scene in Phantom Menace where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were trying to sort things out with the trade delegation is as way different statement than I want to play Star Wards because telekinetic light saber duels in all the FPS games are awesome. Both Jedi things but coming from a different background.

    • Agreed. I think Star Wars, comic books, and Tolkien-inspired fantasy are areas where folks often think they have consensus but are often coming at them through different portals, leading to some serious in-game disconnects.

  2. Not what I’d been expecting to read about based on Portals.

    What do you think made particular gray box NPCs seem like “must haves” compared to the others? As a visually oriented person I think I tended to remember the ones with an illustration, which off of that list was only Azoun and Elminster unless my memory is worse than I think it is. The SSI games were odd in that often NPCs you interacted with had no portrait, or a generic one; usually the graphics seemed to be saved for enemies you blundered upon and summarily killed.

    I am not sure any of your list of NPCs have turned up in any “serious” game I’ve played in the FR, nor can I think of any of the named NPCs from the books or games who did. I’m sure there must have been someone; maybe using the famous characters did not really occur to anyone in the high school days – it was more of a maps-and-gods portfolio to begin with.

    This seems a little weird in retrospect : sometimes a name like Piergeron would come up if anyone asked whoever was in charge of a city, but just as often the GM would make up a name on the spot and that’s who was in charge – but if we did discover an ‘official’ character’ later, rather than ‘retcon it’, we’d assume him dead the campaign NPC to have assumed the position of power. Back in the day, one of us wouldn’t have bragging rights on having killed, say, Fzoul Chembryl, but might well have bragging rights on having killed the guy who killed him!

    Portals : In a much later, far from “serious” game, my group up here ended up ruling that the Forgotten Realms was at only 80% scale compared to earth, such that when someone’s replacement PC was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar he could be size Large!

    • I read up on Waterdeep in particular before the game, using the gray box and Waterdeep and the North to get us all on the same page. It has been neat to meet and discover these characters, give them context but there’s no doubt, the movers and shakers, the centerpieces of our play are Pete and Aaron’s characters.

      I’ll finish my response later. Thanks for posting, your thoughts have me thinking.

  3. My portal to the Realms was the Baldur’s Gate series of PC RPGs from Bioware. Man, but those Baldur’s Gate games really made the Sword Coast come alive.

    I’ve really only recognised Entar Silvershield (?) of the Flaming Fist Mercenary Company from your various AP posts, because I’ve never owned any of the various editions of the FR campaign setting. I just played the games and picked up bits and pieces from there. Elminster and Drizzt pop up in thise games, but only in cameos – the action is centered right on you, and you get to see a lot of the Sword Coast between Baldur’s gate and Nashkel, and some of Amn such as the city of Athkatla.

    I know squat about Waterdeep or the rest of the Realms, so while your AP posts are fine reading and sound like a cracking game, I don’t really have a solid footing in the setting to do what you guys have done. I’d be pretty lost in the pitch session.

    Cheers
    Pete

  4. <>

    Burn up? Are we talking “in effigy” or actually “at the stake”? Even twenty years after the whole “Avatar Trilogy” fiasco, I’d still love to see a bonfire lit under old Elminster, or any other NPC to show up in those adventures.

    • Sorry, the terminology needs to be explained. We are playing the Forgotten Realms with Burning Wheel. So, when we make characters, it is called character burning and creating a world together, for instance, is called world burning.

      Hope that explains.

      We’ve had good experiences having iconic NPC’s show up without taking the spotlight away from the player characters.

      • Mystery explained.

        Wish I’d been so lucky with the iconic NPCs, but they became my portal _out_ of the Realms. Never been back since that Avatar Trilogy railroad finally chugged into the station, and I would happily nominate them as the worst modules written for any RPG, ever.

  5. I just recently discovered your blog and am looking forward to be an avid follower!

    One question- why did you guys choose the Burning Wheel system? I have heard of it- along with Mouse Guard, but if there was a solid selling point, what would it be?

    • Thanks for reading. How’d you find it?

      Pete, Aaron and I have been playing Burning Wheel for some years now. Its a dense system, no doubt. The selling point for us is how character driven it is. Beliefs, written by the players, drive the direction of the campaign and the reward mechanics. It is a delightfully tight machine.

      If you have any more questions, please don’t be shy.

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