November 8, 2014
Friday was eventful. I went to a seminar on world building by Ed Greenwood, and it was fascinating to hear the creator of the Forgotten Realms talk about how to construct a game world and how the Realms evolved. The Realms were first born when he was 6. It made me wonder if I should somehow incorporate my first fantasy world, Flodoria, into Eiridia. It would make an interesting addition. I’ll have to think about how the two would integrate.
One of my favorite takeaways from the world building seminar was Ed’s description of how he builds short little “phrasebooks” for his NPCs and monsters. He takes common phrases and translates them into how a given type of NPC would say them, whether that’s in a different language or just a different dialect. This gives him a way to increase immersion for his players without having to invent entire languages whole-cloth.
Another thing he emphasized was that the game world must evolve without the players. Powerful agents outside of the PCs’ control need to be operating on the world, so that the players get the sense that they’re in a living, breathing world and not just a stage for them to play-act upon. Ed himself spends about 3 hours of design time for every hour of play time. Given that he’s a prolific writer and the father of one of the most beloved fantasy settings of all time, I’m not surprised. I wonder if I should be spending that much time on my own adventures.
A helpful tip that Ed shared about building out a game world was to figure out what trade lines exist to the players’ current location, and start building from there. This makes sense; if the town imports iron ore from the northwest, what kind of people would have a society built around mining? Would merchants from that region be dwarves, or maybe something else? How would they act in a tavern after a long day on the road? What stories might they tell?
The second seminar I went to was a panel on Forgotten Realms hosted by Chris Perkins and Ed Greenwood. Chris Perkins is the story lead for Wizards of the Coast’s D&D division. The two of them talked a lot about the plans for Forgotten Realms and, surprisingly, the incorporation of other settings into the Realms. The first such thing was the Tyranny of Dragons story arc, which borrows heavily from Dragonlance thematic elements. The second story arc they have planned deals with a cult of elemental evil, which is a nod to the Temple of Elemental Evil, done in a Forgotten Realms style. The third and fourth story arcs they have in the works similarly bring new things to the Realms. The third is being produced in consultation with Bob Salvatore (creator of Drizzt Do’Urden) and thematically mimics Alice in Wonderland. The fourth they were very tight-lipped on, but Chris mentioned that the consultant for it was a name we would recognize from the old TSR days.
I got a look at the new DM Screen for 5th edition, as well as the new DMG. I got some acceptable shots of the screen.
They also talked about brand recognition for D&D and Forgotten Realms, and what they hoped the future was for both. They definitely dream big, though Chris and Ed both are keeping one foot firmly on the ground when it comes to product ideas. A Forgotten Realms movie was mentioned several times as a wish, but it was stated in such a way that I think they’re only hoping it comes true, not actually planning for it. Ed’s thoughts on Forgotten Realms brand recognition can be summed up in this quote from him: “Being the creator of the Forgotten Realms is like being the champion of downhill skiing in the Saharan desert.” He obviously wishes he had the fame of George R. R. Martin, whom he mentioned in the seminar.
The final event of the day was an AD&D 2E session run by Ed. I played a human wizard with a penchant for laughing at danger – a trait that got him into trouble more than once during the session. Despite some of the dire circumstances we got ourselves into, we managed to complete the quest and return the missing eyeball to its owner, none the worse for wear. Ed’s GMing style reminded me of Kevin Rohan‘s, though the former has decades more experience and isn’t shy about using funny voices for each of the NPCs. He definitely runs a game like a story, not a combat simulation.