Monday, 10 April 2017

The Real Forgotten Realms

Thinking about Mentzers (EDIT, it's Greenwood, I was reading his interviews ond for some insane reason put Mentzers name in there? Just dumb I guess.) Forgotten Realms, its origins and what seems to be a sad descent, and imagining a version of that imbued with what I take to be the power and beauty of its first conception, lead me to think about our actual forgotten realms.

Nations on the edge of memory. The "oh really?" places. Burgundy, Novogrod, the Quara-Khitai, the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Cahokia Mounds in the United States, the Khazaria, the green Sahara, the tower of the Ghorids. There are so many. The thing about a lost nation or a lost memory is not that it is lost but that it is in the act of being lost, an object becoming a process, showing us the existence of time. What is truly lost, we know nothing of, what we call lost or forgotten is only half-lost and half-forgotten. Just enough remains to let us know that something was there. So when we talk about forgotten realms, we are talking about occluded realms, cast into shadows by time, where we can see times action, where we can see the event horizon of entropy that will ultimately consume us.

Perhaps I see only one side. Our real forgotten realms were not just forgotten, but recalled, re-discovered and found again. Resurrected with research and archaeology. Perhaps the important thing about the real forgotten realms is not that they were forgotten but that we are reaching for them. This sense of new-old or freshly ancient history has its place in our schema of creation. It's not just that this place disappeared, never to be recalled, it's that we are going into it and finding out more about it. The genre may want to be a tragedy but the story is an adventure. The D&D 'story' in particular, finds the future in the past.

(Of course there is a conversation to be had somewhere about what counts as a 'Real' Forgotten Realm and what is merely history. Opinions will differ.)

Then add to that the mood and feel of Greenwoods original, as seen through the stories he told about it in interviews. The feeling of that is elegiac. It's about warmth and friendship and adventure. It's a summery aesthetic. Its a world based on the feeling you get on your summer holidays, where time seems to wheel away without hours and, in Greendwoods case, where you were hanging out with your friends in the woods, pretending to be in another world, and I bet if you were there for a while it did feel like you were almost in another world. (In my case these months were spent indoors, alone, reading bad fantasy novels and playing Baldurs Gate, but whatever).

We do tend to see forgotten kingdoms in an elegiac way. Nobody considers the Quara-Khitai and thinks "Wow, I bet they had to skull-fuck a bunch of people to build that", although they probably did. If the kingdom itself was forgotten then the truculent minority that kingdom was dicking around is twice forgotten.

It brings to mind the idea of a kind of civilisational Elysium where all of the worlds forgotten realms go to exist in the summer of their power and in their best possible selves like Kennedy's Camelot, and Forgotten Realms, when related through Greenwoodss stories about it, does remind me of Ray Bradbury and Louise Bogan and Kennedy on Cinefilm.

The fact that you are playing you is important becasue it's not just about this other world,  it's this other world compared to your original world, the world of release compared to the world of constraint.

An aspect of the Summer Realms is that bad things are generally done by villains and are not an inextricable part of the world. It's not that horror doesn't exist, it's that it is defeatable, resolvable and impermanent like summer storms, and that when it is removed an already-existing harmony is restored, a world where it is visible that history does truly arc towards justice, where evil is a mistake, and not part of the design.

But, if there were summer realms there must be winter realms as well, where there is only work, where you spend your time with whom you're told to, where you do not decide what you do, where you are indoors, where you do not see nature or move within it
and where there is no romance, only need.

Maybe the difference between romance and need is between a desire that enjoys its own expression and hopes that it will be returned and a desire that loathes its own expression and believes it will not be returned.

Not a great post, but I got shit to do.


  1. Patrick: what connection are you making between Frank Mentzer and Ed Greenwood's FR setting??


    1. Sorry. Must have been a brain spasm. Apologies, have corrected.

    2. Yeah, you can leave me out of this one. ;>

  2. It's a good post - but I also spent months indoors playing Baldur's Gate - and I also like to peek into those occluded realms and decipher what the shadows foretell, so I guess there's a certain amount of bias involved.

  3. Wait, so were the original Forgotten Realms a patchwork of optimistic, fantasy versions of Burgundy, Indus Valley, green Sahara, and so on?

    Because if not, they should be.

    Burgundy could be a kind of sophisticated, technological Rivendell.

    I know next to nothing about others, but reading about them feels tempting.

  4. There's a book about a number of European vanished kingdoms ...

    it was a good read.

    1. Yeah, I was going to suggest that. I've got a copy if you want it, Patrick.

    2. Thanks guys but my reading list is currently three feet long and I don't spend nearly enough time actually reading to get through it.

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  6. Thats a gold post. (Btw, my Summer Realm was playing Mentzer D&D amd an italian game called Kata Kumbas and age of empires II and reading a library Worth of history books about lost civilizations, and in this post you pretty summarized all of that...).
    The whole point of this is that Paradise can be dangerous. It can be grim and terrible. In a way, i feel like the Red and Pleasant Land is Zak's Paradise. This whale theme was worked out by Erwin Tucker Eddison inn his Zimiamvia novels.
    Furthermore, about the concept of history. The first one to imagine historian as someone who set himself in front of ruins in order to make out Sense from them was Herder. With that stanco start the idea that history as data and history as narration are Polar opposite. Henceforward, history is no more a part of human work in this word, but (taking away the words of a poet) a dream within a dream (same for scienze but why bother).
    Thu from Herder time on there was an opposite stream, wish in to let ruins be ruin... think about Piranesi... think about Howard! In this stream (and, but this is just my guess, ONLY in this stream) we can found a Sense of wonder which is not esca post (a Sense of unity of the real which is not analitical).
    Thats why fantasy litterature.

    (Please please please forgite me the talkative smug and the Gross english if you can)

  7. I always thought the original idea behind the forgotten realms, a kind of Narnia like place but instead of woodland creatures you have this huge world of ancient empires and many different civilistions, was one of best in RPGs.

    The problem with it imo is that it became too 'ordered', with too many set rules and standardisations which meant it lost its fantastical quality, AND thye just went mad on the power creep.

    For example, it just got ridiculous that there was Elminster, the Black staff, the Seven Sisters, and all these uber powerful good wizards, as well as having 24th level liches ruling the red wizards.

    In fact, what you want in these fantastical settings is to keep the power level LOW. So maybe you have ONE uber powerful good mage (the Simbul?), but the Blackstaff and Eliminster are 9th level, the Manshoon maybe something like 12th, with only the big bad of the world at something like 15th-18th.

    That keeps magic as being something strange and special, and then allows you to have heroes and villains use ancient Magic items that nobody can make any more.

    You never want to magic to be so common place that it is like technology, unless you are in a steampunk kind of setting.

    Just my two cents.