What Time Is It?

I love the Forgotten Realms game setting.

I do not love Forgotten Realms fiction.

I am not unique in this. NewbieDM did some posts a few months back about playing the AD&D 2nd Edition era Forgotten Realms with the D&D 5th edition rules, and I now find myself in a similar situation. As previously mentioned, I’m starting my own 5e Forgotten Realms campaign, and now I have to figure out when in the Realms’ history that game is set.

Well, I say “I,” but the whole situation is complicated by the fact that I’ve agreed to co-run this game with one of my players. We’re supposed to alternate campaign arcs (at least, I assume that’s the idea; I doubt either of us was considering alternating game sessions). He’s a much bigger fan of the fiction than I am.

Off the bat, I can say that neither of us is interested in running the “current” Forgotten Realms. Neither of us liked the Spellplague or any of the dumb plot twists that occurred since then (though I have recently discovered that Alustriel – my favorite Realms super-NPC – actually survived the plague). The assumption has been from the beginning that the campaign would be set in the late 1300s DR, somewhere in the time covered by the setting’s introduction in AD&D 1st edition through the 3.5 era. To that end, I’ve been reading through the various setting books I own.

After reviewing those modules, I have to admit that I would prefer to rewind all the way back to FR5: The Savage Frontier. It seems to me that all of the metaplot developments since that book was published have closed off adventure possibilities rather than opening them up. As early as the 2nd Edition boxed set The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier, Hellgate Keep has been quelled and the independent city-states of the North have all banded together. By the time you get to the later Drizzt novels, there’s a truce with the orcs and a bunch of new settlements that really crowd up the map. I’m not somebody who complains about all the high-level NPCs in the Realms, but it does sometimes feel like the novelists and designers are trying to take away the players’ ability to matter.

Even if we rewound, though, it’s going to be a bit of a Frankenstein continuity. Two of the PCs are drow who were explicitly inspired to come to the Savage Frontier/Silver Marches by Drizzt. Another is a dragonborn (who weren’t introduced to the Realms until 4e) and an important NPC that I introduced is a tiefling (introduced in 2e but really developed in 3e).

Maybe a Frankenstein continuity is the solution. My co-DM can run the setting his way and I’ll run it my way. If the party goes out and kills some orcs for fun and profit when I’m running the game, he can ret-con it later as those orcs were renegades disobeying Obould’s truce. If Hellgate Keep is active when I run it and he doesn’t want to deal with it, then perhaps some NPC adventurers cleared it out – and then I can just have the demons move back in. It might actually help give the setting a sense of reality as politics and boundaries shift between arcs.

In any case, I just know that orcs are a great early-level threat and I’m not taking them off the table, no matter what year it is. "Adventure time," to me, means punching orcs in the face.


  1. I'm of the opinion that the first Forgotten Realms gray box should be the first and last FR resource any GM needs.

  2. I would agree with you if I didn't love the Sword Coast and the North more than the Dalelands. I have to admit to getting more mileage out of "Waterdeep and the North" and "The Savage Frontier" than I've gotten from the old box.

  3. Oh I'm not a fan of the Dalelands either. But I think they're worth knowing just enough about to let you kick off a campaign by setting Shadowdale and Elminster's tower on fire. Though I suppose you could do the same thing with Waterdeep and Whatshisface Blackstaff.

    1. I love Ed Greenwood but he really has written some wrongheaded, players vs DM garbage -- like saying in Waterdeep and the North that Khelben Blackstaff should always be higher rank than the PCs to keep them in line, and that PCs can never be lords of Waterdeep. Setting Blackstaff Tower on fire seems like a great way to begin a Waterdeep game.


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