The march continues through the 30 Day Challenge from Polar Bear Dreams and Stranger Things.
4. What is your Favorite Game World?
There are two answers to this question. The first is that my favorite game world is my own game world, one that I have created to suit the vision I want to convey for my campaign. But I feel that the spirit of the question is about what official game world I like best so that’s what I’ll speak to.
My favorite of the official game worlds would have to be the Forgotten Realms.
For years the only official world my friends and I knew much about was The World of Greyhawk, which to our AD&D-filled minds overshadowed the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. This was largely due to Greyhawk’s beautiful boxed set with its stunning artwork and the fantastic map by Darlene, a map by which all game maps are still judged. There is something about maps that can have a huge impact on the imagination. Tolkien knew this and I’ll wager there are few fans of the Lord of the Rings who didn’t spend a lot of time scrutinize the maps in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, especially among the fans who discovered the books in our youth. In like style my friends and I knew the map of Greyhawk in a way that would have driven our geography teachers mad with envy.
But the actual content of Greyhawk? That was something that never took root with us. There is a fine line in presenting a world, a balance between providing enough information to fire creativity without giving so much that it creates limits. In the case of Greyhawk, based on what was in the boxed set, it proved to be too little.
Then after years of gaming came a momentous announcement; TSR was creating a new world for AD&D known as the Forgotten Realms. This captured our attention and we watched in anticipation as information slowly came out in the pages of Dragon Magazine. Finally the grey box was released and we rushed out to get our copies.
It was a good world. We had all new maps to pour over and new gazetteers to delve into. Best of all the descriptions of the various places provided more detail, enough that I could get a sense of the differences between the lands of Cormyr and the lands around Waterdeep. The insidious story of Hellgate Keep is still one of my favorite concepts, that of a city slowly being taken over by devils until a desperate populace unleashed a gateway to the Abyss in hopes that a demon horde would be their deliverance. Future source books like the original Waterdeep and the North soft cover continued to flesh things out without overwhelming us with detail. Watterdeep ranks with Lankhmar as my favorite city supplements.
We were invested in the Realms. We were there at the unveiling of the setting, we felt a part of it, and we knew enough about it that we could build our own empires within it. But there is another reason why I love the Realms. We knew when to stop.
As I said, there is a balancing point between not enough and too much information and those early supplements hit that sweet spot. Their goal was to give us tools and a foundation to build on, not to guide how things would go afterwards. But as TSR moved into 2nd Edition, as it began to make money on the Realms as an intellectual property instead of a game setting, things changed. TSR and Wizards of the Coast began publishing novels in the Realms and that required a progression of the story. The novels provided more details which were reflected in the game materials and followed a collective narrative. Lands changed, gods died, and epic events happened that would change the Realms forever. This made sense from the standpoint of a publishing house. But from a gaming standpoint?
The problem is, those were other people’s stories.
I love the Forgotten Realms, but I have never read a Forgotten Realms novel. I have no aversion to them, but I have no special interest in them either. My interest in the Realms is in the adventures that my players have and the conflicts I create. A unified narrative is a hindrance.
Because in the end the best game world is always your own, even when you build it on the foundations of others.