Since playing Neverwinter, I’ve been thinking of the Realms again, and just got through re-reading the original box set I got back in ’87.

This served as the introduction to a new setting for the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game. One booklet held general geographical and cultural information on the Realms, and the other was oriented to use by Dungeon Masters. Two of the maps joined together to give an overview of the setting as a whole (an area about twice as large as the United States), while the other two joined together to give a more detailed look at the main area of the setting. Many further ‘FR’ series modules included more maps as the reduced scale that would fit with the pair here.

Forgotten Realms was far from the first RPG setting produced, and not even the first from TSR, but it set a new bar in presentation. The two-booklet, multiple-map box set would be re-used several times by TSR. This is marred by some poor editing with typoes and mistaken word choices abounding and some missing illustrations in the second booklet. One gets the sense that this was rushed through editing and proofing in a big hurry.

But the real value comes from the Cyclopedia of the Realms (the first booklet), which lists scores of places in the Realms and gives some description of them. Unlike the earlier Greyhawk set, which tended to be dryly biographical, the Cyclopedia helped instill a sense of the lore and history of the Realms with descriptions that often give a bit of history and some of the important people. While some of the book can go into a bit more detail than a player should probably know, it is still pretty safe for a player to read through, and will not spoil any big secrets that the DM may wish to keep.

The DM’s Sourcebook of the Realms (the second booklet) is a little more disappointing, with about half the book taken up by descriptions of various spellbooks known to be wandering around the Realms where adventurers might come across them (this is actually a good idea, and helps add some more flavor, especially with the histories provided, but a quarter of the available page count in the introductory product is a bit much). Important sections include two years of ‘rumors and events’ (tavern talk), which help give a sense of recent events and the Realms as a place where things are happening, and fuller descriptions of several NPCs already met in the first book. Rounding it out are some DM advice, and a couple small sample adventures (one merely okay, and one with some real possibilities).