And now, my long-awaited summary of the events of the Candlekeep Seminar at GenCon 2012. Please excuse the delay—I couldn’t very well write a document of this length from the Con itself, and I’ve only just got back and started the process of paying off a 12 hour sleep debt. Also, I wanted to run this past some of the other panelists for their input. Also, if I leave anything out, I hope and expect that folks will chime in to correct me.
The event took place on Thursday, August 16, 2012, and went on from 8 p.m. (during the WotC Keynote address) to 12:30 a.m. (when security finally kicked us out). It was purposefully timed to overlap with the Keynote, to provide Realms fans a chance to receive the announcements and then have a place to go to talk about them.
We had about 80 Realms fans in attendance throughout the evening, some of whom had tickets and some who did not. It filled up the room pretty well.
Because the event overlapped the Keynote, people trickled in gradually.
In attendance at the start (8 p.m.) were myself (Erik Scott de Bie, author of the Shadowbane series and Neverwinter Campaign Setting designer) and the illustrious Jim Lowder, former Realms editor and guru and author of several novels in the setting such as Ring of Winter, Prince of Lies, and others. Dave Gross (some of the Sembia series and currently lots of Paizo novels) was there briefly at the beginning but had to skip out.
Eric Boyd (classic designer and Realms legend) and Jaleigh Johnson (author of Mistshore and the Unbroken Chain series) tried to sneak in the back but were identified by yours truly.
Around 9:00, the James Brothers showed up (Brian and Matt, Grand History of the Realms and numerous history-loving, lore-heavy DDI articles).
The fourth host, Brian Cortijo (Cormyr expert), showed up around 10:15, and numerous Realms heavy-weights appeared over the next hour, following their participation in the Keynote: Ed Greenwood (creator and Elminster author), Paul Kemp (Erevis Cale series), Erin Evans (God Catcher and Brimstone Angels series), Troy Denning (Waterdeep, Return of the Archwizards).
Note: Once Ed showed up, he and Jim Lowder basically owned the show. The two have more charisma between them than I could imagine.
Starting at around 11:00, we also had official WotC support in the form of James Wyatt (book department head), Mike Mearls (story lead and head designer), and Jeremy Crawford (head developer). Note these aren’t official titles, but rather a concept of what they do at WotC.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The comments and opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone, and should not be taken as anything else. I am not now nor have I ever been an employee or spokesperson for WotC or TSR, nor am I a designated voice for any of the authors or designers mentioned herein. After this point, I will rarely ascribe specific announcements to particular individuals, but rather just convey the information as presented.
Forgotten Realms: A History
I started off the panel saying I was unarmed and to please not strangle me—I would announce things as I was able, and not before. Fortunately, this was enough to keep me alive, so we delved into it.
The first hour and a half or so of the Candlekeep seminar was mostly yours truly offering a summary of the foundation of the Realms, from its humble beginnings in the mind of a pre-adolescent Ed Greenwood to its sale to TSR and flourishing into the diverse panorama it is today. I punctuated the panel with occasional twitter-readings of what was being announced at the Keynote, which I attribute to my flair for the dramatic and because I didn’t want to steal their thunder and announce things before their time.
Special focus was placed upon the early novels that shaped its course, from Darkwalker on Moonshae to Spellfire to Elfshadow to (of course) The Crystal Shard. Jim chimed in from the audience (and was eventually promoted to an official panelist) about the Harpers series, which he had originally helped create and push. The concept was to avoid the mistakes made with the well-intentioned milestone Avatar series (specifically, having such a huge scope that reshaped the Realms and kicked off the escalation of RSEs). The Harpers books would tell small-scale, locally important, personal stories that were driven by the author’s vision, not the metaplot of the setting.
We discussed the continuing growth of the setting, until we reached a point where the powers that be decided that the Realms needed a rebirth to allow for a new generation of gamers/readers to join the world without the hurdle of hundreds or even thousands of books of canon lore to plough through. Thus the Spellplague was devised (to reshape the world), along with a hundred year time-skip (to give your campaign plenty of space to end as well as offer the DM plenty of elbow room to say “this is where such-and-such came from”). The analogy I used was that of a run-away truck ramp: your campaign pulls off the highway and just ploughs into the ramp until it’s done, then you can hop out and get on with the next adventure.
The problems with this approach were discussed as well. A show of hands was taken, and the majority view was that the 100 year jump was the more egregious problem with the transition into 4e. The Spellplague itself has issues, but the time-skip was what turned off most old guard fans, who wanted a continuous train of Realmslore. The massive culling of gods was discussed as well, and the loss of many iconic characters.
It was then that more folks started showing up, and the announcements started coming. Some of this borrows from The Sundering panels over the next days, but I’ll include it here to have all the info in one place.
(Also note that what follows is subject to some flux. One should not take this as gospel—it needs to be fleshed out and has some room for development.)
The Sundering: Lore
(Note that the following lore/explanation is the work of many designers and authors. Much of it comes from Eric Boyd and Ed Greenwood in conjunction with James Wyatt, but the efforts of Brian James, Brian Cortijo, George Krashos, and myself are all included herein.)
When the Elves carried out their Sundering thousands of years ago, it frayed time in both directions and allowed some fortunate (or cursed few) to glimpse the past and present of Realmspace. One of the mages who witnessed the event had a vision of two other Sunderings, massive in scope and far mightier than what the Elves accomplished. One stretched far into the past, while another waited in the future.
Far back in ancient history, the creator races of Faerun were engaged in great battle that threatened to destroy all of Abeir-Toril. Powerful creatures called Primordials rose, each attempting to conquer the fledgling world for themselves, and the gods met their challenge. The battle became so fierce and the consequences so destructive that it got to the point that the Primordial Asgoroth the World Shaper threw an ice moon at the world, claiming that if he could not rule it, then no one could. This cataclysm (known as the Tearfall) caused massive damage to Abeir-Toril and is recorded in history to this day.
At this point, AO stepped in and worked a great Sundering, the first of its kind. He twinned the world and split it into two: Abeir for the Primordials, and Toril for the gods. Each world would hold onto the vestigial name of the other, but it was primarily a point of sagely academic research. Part of this Sundering was the creation of the Tablets of Fate, wherein AO inscribed divine reality as it existed in both worlds: in Toril, the tablets list the names and purposes of the Gods in Toril as well as the Primordials in Abeir.
For all intents and purposes, the worlds were separate, and allowed to evolve on their own. Under the aegis of the Gods, Toril saw the fall of the batrachi and the sarrukh, the rise and fall of the dragons, elves, Netherese, and finally the spread of human and demihuman kingdoms. Abeir saw a far more chaotic history involving unpredictable elemental magic, rule by the powerful and destructive Primordials, and the emergence of potent races of beings such as the genasi and dragonborn. These creatures existed in limited quantities in Toril (the consequence of planar travel or the occasional cross of genies and dragons respectively with humans), but in Abeir they flourished and built kingdoms all their own.
Then came to pass an event in Toril known alternately as the Avatar Crisis, Godswar, or the Time of Troubles. Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul (three of the younger gods who had not ascended when AO sundered the worlds) stole the Tablets of Fate, thinking them key to great power, perhaps even control over the Overgod himself. Their schemes were eventually thwarted, all three slain, and the Tablets returned to AO. The Overgod decreed that the Tablets clearly meant nothing to the gods, and so he destroyed them and left the deities to their own devices in the chaos that would soon ensue. This began the unraveling of AO’s great Sundering through the time called the Era of Upheaval.
This era (lasting from 1357 through 1486) was marked by extreme turbulence, from the invasion of the Great Kahan to the fall of Cormyr’s King Azoun IV, from the rise of Cyric and the rebirth of Bane to the silence and empowerment of Lolth, to the Rage of Dragons and the Reclamation of Myth Drannor, and finally to the death and merging of gods and the unraveling of the Weave of Magic. This last event touched off a great mystical curse upon the world called the Spellplague, which would reshape the world. The Sundering fell apart with the Weave, and pieces of Abeir merged with pieces of Toril and vice versa. The world was truly in peril and in need of great heroes to save it.
Then, as the 15th century came to a close, the third and final Sundering envisioned by the elven prophet so many years ago would come to pass. AO would once again forge the Tablets of Fate, inscribing the names and purposes of the gods he chose to serve in a new, inclusive divine reality, free of the petty schemes of unchecked gods. The worlds Abeir and Toril would be split from one another once more, though both would carry echoes and marks of the experience. Many of the gods lost to the ravages of time would return, reawakened to fulfill their inscribed purpose. AO would end the Era of Upheaval and reforge Toril as it had existed before the series of cataclysms brought on by the actions of the Gods. A new world, true to the old and moving ever forward, would dawn, and heroes would once more be called to prevent such a cataclysm from occurring ever again.
The Sundering: Six Novel Series
The Sundering is an event in which AO is reforging the Tablets of Fate to once again break apart the worlds Abeir and Toril, this time hopefully for good. It is a RSE, yes, and at the end of it we should see the Realms stitched back together into the setting they have always been, free of continuing shake-ups. After that, we shouldn’t see RSEs in novels for a good long time.
The Sundering will take place over six novels (The Companions by Salvatore, The Godborn by Kemp, The Adversary by Evans, The Reaver by Byers, The Sentinel by Denning, and The Herald by Greenwood), by the end of which we will see the end of the Era of Upheaval that has gripped the Realms since the Time of Troubles. The six authors had a story planning summit in November at which they hammered out their plans, and we will see an awesome series. The release dates (subject to a little fudging if necessary) are planned for August 2013, then one novel every two months thereafter through July 2014.
I don’t want to spoil any of the novels, but I’ll include a little about each one (what was announced) to tease you:
The Companions will feature Bob’s classic heroes, Drizzt and his companions. Who exactly do I mean? You’ll have to read it and see. It is the book Bob was planning to write before the discussion of the Sundering happened, and so he could just stand up and say “this is what I’m doing,” and WotC gave the thumb’s up.
The Godborn is Paul’s long-awaited novel about Vasen, the son of Erevis Cale, forging his way in a new, rapidly-changing world. The events of the Sundering only make Paul’s planned novel cooler, and he’s so stoked about the book.
The Adversary continues Erin’s series about the Brimstone Angels sisters, and particularly deals with her tiefling warlock Farideh, one of the best female characters in the Realms (coming from someone who loves writing female characters!).
The Reaver picks up the story of Anton Marivaldi, a pirate turned adventurer. If he bears any connection to Richard’s Brotherhood of the Griffon series is unknown at this time. (Perhaps Richard will comment on that at some point!)
The Sentinel tells the story of a knight whose family worships the dead god Helm. No, he’s not Shadowbane—Troy and I sat down a long time ago and made sure our characters don’t cross. There may be a reference to Shadowbane, however, seeing as he’d be pretty famous by 1486.
And finally, Ed will wrap up everything with The Herald, a tale about Elminster furiously training his replacements so that he can finally lay down his burden and rest.
The Sundering will take us into a new era of the Realms that will bring together all the best things we know and love about the setting, bring back slain deities, and re-build what has been broken.
Forgotten Realms: Novels
Going forward, the Realms will focus on smaller, character-driven stories that don’t reshape the world every six months. We need to break the “bigger = more exciting” bias that we have. There will be stories about iconic characters–you better believe Drizzt is alive and well–they just won’t be saving the world every book.
The Harpers series analogy (brought up by Jim Lowder) is a really good one. That’s where WotC is aiming as we move forward: small-scale, exciting, personal, character-driven novels. We don’t have to blow up the world every few months to sell novels and tell good stories. (Or, at least, we shouldn’t.)
This prompted some discussion. The opinion was advanced (not mine) that the cycle of ever-escalating RSEs seems to have been sales-motivated, the thought being that everyone who participated in the Realms HAD to read these novels, to know what was going on. Another perspective cast it as a kind of one-upmanship, where each series tried to blow the Realms up more completely than what had come before. And of course the problem with the cycle of RSEs is that you’re constantly rewriting your setting after every book, and it gets wearisome for the fans. (This is not to suggest that we won’t see novels about powerful characters or movers and shakers—we will. We just won’t see them take things apart and reshape the Realms, so you have to scramble to adapt if you want to “keep up” with the canon.)
Novels will also (presumably) still be canon, but they will be way, WAY less intrusive. They will have little bearing on the course of world-wide events, but rather merely concern that small group of people in that small area. You won’t be faced with the option to ignore them or not, but rather the option to incorporate them or not. This small-scale focus draws inspiration from the Harpers line, the stand-alone novels like the Fighters, Wizards, Dungeons in 3e, and many of the novels released in 4e, particularly the Ed Greenwood Presents series.
We want to put the fate of the Realms in your hands: the players, running through campaigns. WotC is going to the plan of “collect feedback from DMs about what happened in a set of *specific* campaigns, and incorporate that going forward.” Did the majority of people playing this adventure in Sundabar assassinate the king? Then it happened. Did such-and-such thieves’ guild get destroyed in the course of an adventure in Baldur’s Gate? Then it happened in the lore. Shared-experience events will be canonized.
These won’t just be your campaigns—they will be specific set campaigns that WotC puts out. There are currently plans for two such adventures (one by Bob Salvatore, one by Ed Greenwood), and after those come out, DMs will be able to submit “what happened” in their games, which will be reflected in the changing Realms. The designers will allow a certain margin for changes and won’t be bound by any particular campaign—the idea is just to give you a say in how things happen in the world. This is similar to how LFR was set up back in the day, with actual player actions sculpting actual canon.
Don’t worry about “a bunch of people destroying popular places.” If such places are popular, odds are they aren’t being destroyed in campaigns. And as I implied before, the designers are going to control what is open for change. The days of blowing up and rebuilding the Realms are over.
Forgotten Realms: The Big Idea
There is no retcon. No reboot. No restructuring. The Realms is the Realms. WotC is not going to invalidate the work of any designer working in any era, but is going to respect and honor it.
This is not to say things aren’t happening. The Spellplague, for instance, is being addressed—ended, for lack of a better term. No doubt there will remain pockets of Spellplague, but at that point it will join Wild Magic, Dead Magic, Spellfire, etc., as just another magical quirk that can be used in your campaign at your will, or safely ignored if you don’t like it. The world is no longer defined (seemingly or in actuality) by the Spellplague.
But there’s a difference between undoing the effects of an event that has gone before, and pretending the event never happened. WotC isn’t pulling a Dragonlance and going back in time to revise who becomes a god, whether a certain cataclysm happens, etc. No. The Realms is the Realms is the Realms, and it all exists, it all happened, warts and scars and beauty marks and all.
Forgotten Realms: Eras of Play
Moving forward from the Sundering, we’re looking at a new dawn of the Realms. The Era of Upheaval has ended. The Realms can finally return to the way it was before the Time of Troubles, a land of infinite impossibility and buried secrets and ancient evils awaiting heroes to counter them. If you play in the 1480s world, you should be finding yourself in a land not unlike that of the original OGB, without all kinds of crazy world-shaking events happening. The Realms is yours to sculpt.
But this isn’t to suggest you should be playing in the 1480s Realms. WotC’s current slate of products (Menzoberranzan, Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms) are era-neutral—they contain information that applies to all manner of eras and is useful regardless of where/when you choose to set your game.
WotC is reprinting all of its old material (1e, 2e, 3/3.5e, etc), some of which (probably) will be updated into “director’s cut” versions. Ed Greenwood called down an example of adding some 30-40 pages back into the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. Eric Boyd recently took the classic Under Illefarn and adapted it into a 300-page (3.5) campaign setting to run for his kids—that’s the sort of thing WotC is hoping to release, probably with lore adaptations for multiple editions.
Basically, if you want to play OGB games, there is product support for that. If you want to play in the Time of Troubles or the era after (2e), there is support for that. Same goes for 3e or 4e. DnD-Next is going to be a game that supports play with all different edition styles, from throughout the history of D&D, but you don’t have to use 5e for your games. Break out your favorite mechanical system, your favorite Realms product, and go nuts. What WotC cares about is that you’re playing in the Realms, not what edition of the game you’re playing.
Also, and this is key: you are ENCOURAGED to prevent/ignore/retcon events that you don’t like. You should have plenty of material to run a game where the Time of Troubles never happened or the Spellplague happened in a different way (or not at all).
Forgotten Realms: Gods
After the Sundering, Gods are coming back. Which ones? Whichever ones you want. Some of them. All of them.
The Gods are going to take on a much less surface role in FR Next. They will recede into the background, continuing to grant spells but interfering far less in the affairs of mortals. At that point, who’s to say if you’re getting spells from Helm or Torm or Tyr? You might be praying specifically to Helm, but one of the other gods receives your devotion and grants you the spells. It’s up to your DM what gods are actually there, however powerful they are, and what they do.
This is not to suggest churches aren’t going to be significant, because they are. The people who serve the gods are just as prevalent and effective as ever, and there might be hundreds of cults to deities you have never heard of in your game. Such deities may exist or not, and it’s not particularly relevant whether they do. The focus falls upon the mortals—their schemes, actions, and choices. That’s where we get the morally significant stories.
Forgotten Realms: Progressive Themes
At the Candlekeep Seminar, it was noted that Realms fiction has a tendency to be masculine, ethnocentric, and hetero-normative; basically, it needs to get past that and open up to exploring gender, diversity, and GLBT issues. We’re no longer writing in an industry that’s all about teenage white men. Female heroes need to be that: female (not men with breasts) and heroes (not feminist stereotypes). We want characters of different skin tones and backgrounds, so that not all our heroes are clearly “white people.” We want actual gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual characters who show up and are treated responsibly, rather than through stereotypes. We don’t want tokenism, of course—we want good writing that is pushing in a progressive direction.
One example of doing it wrong is from the 4e FR guide, re: the Royal Family of Cormyr. We’ve had a long history of powerful women calling the shots there (particularly Filfaeril, Alusair, and Caladnei—who isn’t a white person, either!). Then in 4e, all of a sudden all the women are gone, and all the rulers we have listed in Cormyr are stodgy white guys: Foril, Erzoured, Irvel. Brian Cortijo did a great job with the Cormyr Royale article in bringing back some female power and making it shine (particularly Raedra), and he has a Cormyr novel concept in the works that takes it the next level. (Author’s note: Really hope that gets published!)
Flatteringly, my work was called down as an example of doing it well. My Shadowbane series has already dealt with GLBT stuff in a minor way, but in my next novel I want to have an openly gay male character (no spoilers!). I think ethnic diversity is important too (my heroine Myrin is basically half Egyptian, quarter white human, quarter something else!) The argument was made that we’re at a point (particularly in the much-more-open Realms) where we shouldn’t be pretending that alternative sexualities don’t exist or the only views that matter are those of straight white guys.
We had Candlekeep 2012 pins, free for attendants, to commemorate the historic event.
Thanks to all who attended or have expressed their support and best wishes online. The event was a rousing success, and we plan to do a Candlekeep event next year. 2013 pin designs are already being discussed. :)