I’m sure folks don’t need to hear WotC’s announcement from me, but just in case, here’s a link.
This raises the question of the fate of the Forgotten Realms in 5e. According to EN World, The Forgotten Realms will be supported from the start, and a video game art studio from China has been hired to fully detail the Realms. I asked if going forward support would be continued for the current time after the Spellplague and the Neverwinter Campaign. A WotC spokesperson answered, “The Forgotten Realms has a rich history and we will support all of it. It is for the gamers to decide which time they would enjoy playing in.” That would allow Wizards to take advantage of a massive back catalog of products; however, there are no current plans that we know of for other settings – we assume these will follow in later years.
That’s promising but not very specific.
What follows is my list of what WotC should do, IMO, to make the Forgotten Realms the awesome, financially successful, flagship setting it deserves to be.
1. Don’t retcon 4e out of existence–rather than destroy, BUILD:
Personally, I would not do a retcon. That would be bad from a business standpoint, a fan standpoint, and a story standpoint. Not only would they burn bridges with all their fans of 4e, but they’d also demolish story hooks that are being advanced in 4e. Erevis Cale? Done. Shadowbane? Done. Even DRIZZT? Done. Fortunately, I also don’t think WotC is going to go that way. They already saw the havoc that wreaked on Dragonlance. Do they–or we–really want to see our beloved Realms go down in flames like that?
Also, we saw what happened when we tried to enact sweeping, unprecedented changes to the setting.
What would be BEST is if we could get to a place where we all agree on the setting, and just go with it there. But since that isn’t going to happen, what *I* would do is release stuff that supports all eras of the Realms, so that people playing 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e, or 5e can still use anything that comes out. I’m completely fine with seeing the mechanical stuff that comes out support whatever edition is *current*, but story material should support any edition. I’d like to return to the days of 75% flavor, 25% crunch. (Which is where I think WotC design is headed, actually.)
2. Support all eras–sourcebooks, novels (more, please!), and online fiction included:
Give the eras of the Realms the Star Wars Expanded Universe treatment. Release sourcebooks that support multiple eras–that give you a baseline of what a place is like (Waterdeep, Suzail, Silverymoon, Dalelands, etc.), then give you customizing tools to tailor it to whatever era you want to play in.
Authors and designers should work in all eras. I want to see this made not only more possible but actively encouraged. The problem is a little bit the business case–people want to feel as though they are witnessing progress, so novels set mostly or entirely in the past need to have some clear connection to the future–they still need to move things along. Thankfully, Realms history is so rich with mysterious events and cool happenings (see Grand History of the Realms) that I don’t see this being a problem. I would love to write a whole series about more than one of my “post-dated” characters–Fox-at-Twilight and Arya Venkyr spring to mind.
I would like to see WotC put out more novels (15-20 a year, not the 10-12 we have now) and I’d like to see them move into inexpensive online fiction, which hits every other week or so. $1-$2 for a 6k-8k story, downloadable from WotC, from Amazon, the iTunes store, or whatever you want. These may be included with your DDI subscription (up to WotC to decide that–I would personally do it).
A thought occurred to me, to have our cake and eat it too: what about TWO Realms novel lines? The regular Forgotten Realms line (which features stories set in the 1480s), and then “Forgotten Realms: Legends,” which features stories not only from the pre-Spellplague era but also from far-removed times/places?
3. Work hard to give us a strong mechanical system and also ACRES OF STORY:
I don’t know about 5e’s mechanics–they’re still in the works. But the big opportunity here is to build a system that lends itself to ALL ERAS of play. You could pull this off with previous editions, too, with a lot of work. But 5e can be integrated–can bring all eras together under one umbrella so that you can flow into anything you want. This game should be so badass that you’ll WANT to use the system.
And for those players who don’t want to use 5e? What about people who are perfectly happy with 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e, or (yes) Pathfinder RPG? (Because no matter how good the system is, there will be some, I promise!) Fortunately, there’s everything that goes along with it: story, sourcebooks, content up the wazoo. The business case for this is simple: reach out to everyone who plays any sort of D&D and say “here–here’s a setting you can use whole-cloth with whatever you’re doing. Have at it.”
Anyone playing any edition should be able to pick up a 5e Forgotten Realms sourcebook and use it in his/her game. It’s as simple as that.
The Realms is vastly underdetailed, especially considering the scope of its history. Start with better explanations of the 4e transitions. There’s a lot of story there, and I think we can get to a narrative point where some of the big shenanigans are resolved. And I think that a lot of this is being dealt with as we speak, er, type. Let Ed deal with the Mystra situation, for instance (which he’s currently doing). Give us another piece about the drow and their pantheon (hint hint, Menzo sourcebook). Let me deal with Helm (which I’m currently doing). Give Paul time to work the Shar/Mask/Erevis Cale thing (again). Continue this trend.
Also, let us fill in some of that gap. I know it’s nice for DMs to have an open area they can “fill in” with their own stuff, but it’s far better for them to have the information to use if they want, and ignore it if they don’t, rather than be FORCED to make it all up.
5e is our opportunity to pull everything together and move forward with a strong, vibrant Realms that is better than ever before.
Now let’s get to work.