My answer is “Because I’m as freaky as Ed Greenwood.”
I kid, I kid… I know Ed Greenwood has developed a reputation among certain (presumably younger) gamers as a pervert because of his sexualized depiction of the Seven Sisters, Elminster, and the festhalls of the Forgotten Realms, but I doubt he’s as freaky as me.
I kid, I kid! There’s no way he could be as freaky as me.
The majority of the settings I use are homemade (or might as well be, for as little as I usually use the canon setting of Pirates of the Spanish Main – though I have to admit my recent campaign was an exception). Elsewhere on this site you’ll find the development notes for a project currently called Regency/Gothic and the associated setting of Thornshire as well as the pictorial history of a recent homebrew campaign. The Forgotten Realms are the singular exception of a published setting that I return to again and again.
Forgotten Realms novels led me to role-playing games, not vice versa. Before I read Fritz Leiber, before I read Robert E. Howard, before I even read J. R. R. Tolkien, I read the Avatar Trilogy. Yes, the first epic fantasy novels I read were the original “Realms-Shattering Event,” and somehow I still came back for more. I followed this up with R. A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard and lo! a Realms fan was born! I soon bought the AD&D 2nd Edition core books, the old Gray Box, and the Forgotten Realms Adventures hardcover and launched my teenaged male friends into what turned out to be a rollicking, picaresque tour of the festhalls of the Heartlands.
What? We didn’t have girlfriends!
(Festhalls are actually one of the most brilliant, progressive elements of the Forgotten Realms. I’m not sure what they’re actually like in Ed Greenwood’s home game, but the politically-correct gloss TSR put on them is great. They’re brothels, but they’re equal-opportunity brothels in a sexually-liberated society; all genders, young and old, enjoy them as a respite from the cares of the world. They’re clean, they’re friendly, and they let their workers keep their dignity. They are possibly the most unrealistic concept in all the Forgotten Realms, but they’re a dream I can believe in.)
The 2nd Edition Realms as a whole were filled with a sensuality practically designed to sucker in geeky guys; in addition to the loving descriptions of festhalls in the Volo’s Guide… series, there were Alias and her Red Sonja cosplay, the naked drow priestesses of Eilistraee, and – of course – the Seven Sisters.
The Seven Sisters were the unaging, beautiful children of the goddess of magic: Storm Silverhand (the one who pals around with Elminster), Quilue Veladorn (the one who was also a drow), the Simbul (the crazy one Elminster dates),Sylune (the one who died re-enacting “Dragonslayer”), Dove (the ranger), Laeral (the one who used to be nuts), and Alustriel.
Wise, sensual, magical, beautiful... The Lady Alustriel, ruler of Silverymoon, snagged my heart. She was like a good version of Morgan le Fay, or a sexy version of Galadriel. In any case, she came into my imagination at just the right moment in my life to stick in there forever – just like some of you remember Farrah Fawcett or Lynda Carter.
I stopped reading Forgotten Realms novels years and years ago. I stopped buying Realms products years before WotC bought out TSR. In the years since, I’ve used and re-used my Gray Box, my Black Box, and all of those early modules whenever my imagination has wearied and I’ve needed to go home again. I’ve played the setting with Dangerous Journeys, Unisystem, and Savage Worlds. I’ve played it with friends and I’ve played it duet with my wife. My brief, frustrating experience with 3.5 was set in the Realms, and my new, delightful experience with D&D Next is set there too. I am practically bouncing off the walls waiting for Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms to arrive.
I play in an established setting because it’s just plain sexy…