July 8, 2012 by Jeff
There has been a bit of discussion in some corners of the community regarding D&D Next and the Forgotten Realms. It started, from what I could find, with Matt James posting a statement around social networks that he was going to be booing at GenCon if they announced that they were rebooting the Realms. At it’s face, I think I agree.
So far we’ve that WotC plans to support the Forgotten Realms from the start of the D&D Next release. This isn’t as telling or meaningful as some people have made it. I’ve heard claims that the Realms will be the default setting for the new edition. I can’t confirm that anywhere other than speculation and some people turn to support at launch as evidence (why support it from the start if it’s not ingrained into the game?).
Of course, the 4e Realms were released very shortly after 4e launched (the same summer)…that’s support pretty much from launch, and we are all aware that the Realms are not the default 4e setting, that was what the Nentir Vale grew up to be.
The 3e Realms were released a bit less than a year after the 3e core books but more telling is that during the 3e era WotC published a new Realms sourcebook practically every single month. Can’t get much more supportive than that. But the 3e default setting was Greyhawk.
So suffice it to say, I have a hard time believing that launch-day support means that the Realms must be the core setting.
What’s more, they have announced that Ed Greenwood, creator of the Realms, would not just be involved in the new Realms, but would lead it’s design. This is a positive thing for any Realms fan, to be sure. But Ed is also a WotC freelancer.
He doesn’t work for the company. This might be more evidence that the Realms won’t be the default setting. Would they put the default setting into the hands of someone who doesn’t work for them? Well, maybe, they put the design of Next into the hands of some freelancers as well. So it’s not out of line to think it’s possible…but this, in my mind, leans away from a default setting of the Realms.
What’s more, the Realms are filled to the brim with a long, complicated, and sometimes unfriendly continuity. This would not make it a welcoming default setting to players who aren’t already fans of the setting except by great effort or a worldwide reboot. And thus we approach the statement originally made by Matt James.
Do the Realms need a reboot?
The sweeping changes made to the setting with the 4e launch were certainly not popular and a reboot would allow them to undo all that. But it’s happened, and people have played in that changed setting, a whole legion of 4e players have been exposed to the post-Spellplague realms through Living Forgotten Realms organized play, novels about some of our favorite characters and some new favorites have been written in the new Realms.
As unpopular as the changes to the Realms were with 4e, it’s spawned new fans who only know those Realms and gained acceptance amongst some long time, die hard Realms fans along the way. The Realms have a large continuity and history because there’s been an attempt to make as many of the stories (be they in novels, modules, video games, or comics) part of that world’s canon. Whenever possible the Realms have been added to, and only when blatant contradictions happened did something have to be taken out.
A reboot would break from the very thing that makes the Realms the Realms.
I love the Forgotten Realms because of the continuity, not despite it. If I wanted a low continuity world that doesn’t have all that history I have…well….pretty much every D&D setting ever published that wasn’t the Forgotten Realms.
The Realms, like them or leave them, have developed something unique and rare in it’s shared world concept and success that is a meaningful part of the culture that should not be taken lightly.
I know the taking massive story continuity properties and rebooting them is very popular (and so far successful) right now. I am specifically thinking of the DC Universe reboot (the New 52) and the recent announcement that Marvel is going to be following in their footsteps to some degree.
I am saying, however, that WotC need not do this. I’m a big DC reader and I’ve made the transition from the old continuity to the new universe. I can tell you, the reboot is not what is making the New 52 successful for me…it’s great story telling and creativity. WotC is creative enough that they can tell great stories without starting over or rewinding the timeline.
There has been talk that maybe WotC will support several different eras of the Realms at once (this seems well supported by things said by WotC staff). I’m okay with this at it’s face. I think it may constrain storytelling (in terms of novels written and modules designed) and someone is going to have to be very very careful about maintaining the continuity of the world (since all past stories have to fit in with all future stories), but I think maybe…MAYBE, this can be done if the writers and designers are very careful and maintain high standards over time.
Over time. That’s the trick.
I feel confident that they could do this and do it well at first, but 5 years, 10 years down the road (I may be optimistic about the longevity of the new edition)? That’s a much harder commitment to be hold out hope for such careful maintenance.
It’s good that Ed Greenwood is at the helm of the new Realms, if there’s anyone I trust to take on that role it’s him and I’m sure he wouldn’t want to invalidate his own work (he’s written a decent amount in the 4e Realms) and that leaves me with hope. I’ve mentioned that I don’t think the Realms will be the default setting…but should it be? I think that may be an article for another day.
Regardless, most of this is based on speculation. Speculation from people who have a lot of Realms knowledge and experience with WotC, it’s staff, and it’s history. Some people have taken their speculation to a place of some surety, even. But I can’t find any corroboration that is meaningful yet, and so I add my standard, “it’s not been announced and nothing is released…let’s not over-reach with our predictions yet”.
What do you think? Should the Realms be the default setting? Should they reboot it to a previous timeline? Is it reasonable to think that they might be able to support 3 or 4 points in the same setting’s timeline at once? Leave a comment below.