On the Forgotten Realms in 5th Edition

If you're running the Lost Mine of Phandelver, and you'd like to know a little bit about the Forgotten Realms, I've been doing some of my own research on what's changed and what you need to know about the area. This might be of interest to people that are looking to integrate their campaigns with material coming out later with a minimum of conflict.

Before I get into that, I'd like to say I've always had a pretty negative opinion of the Forgotten Realms. I've read some of the books and found characters like Elminster Aumar and Drizzt Do'Urden repugnant and put me off the whole idea of running a campaign where there are these super characters running around.

I'm actually impressed. I've never run a campaign world of someone else's before. The campaign materials for the Forgotten Realms are super helpful and really really well put together. There's a useful wiki.

When I start a campaign, there's so much to do. Design a calendar, work up cultures, setting, history, etc. The game materials I've been using have given me the actual things I need. If I didn't have them I would need to do work to create them. The campaign and game materials don't spend any time making things happen that I have to trip over. The map is big, areas that are interesting or historical are marked, and the rest is left as empty for me to fill. If I need to know something, I just look it up. It's pretty nice!

It's a pretty nice setting after you kill off every super NPC dead, dead, dead.

There's that whole "Fiction of the Forgotten Realms" thing that you can throw right out a window. Once you do that, you've got a pretty awesome setting. They can go anywhere, because I can just look and see what's there! And there is plenty of room to put whatever I want there.

Here are the current cannon facts I've been using about the Phandlever campaign which takes place on the Northern Sword Coast. Spoilers.

4th edition, per Mike Mearls happens around 5 to 10 years before the start of 5th edition. 4th Edition "Current Year" took place in DR 1479, with the latest current year given in the books as being DR 1486 DR. Mount Hotenow erupted in 1451 DR, and Phandelver mentions it's been 30 years from the eruption. Phandelver probably takes place in 1481 DR. I'm setting my campaign in 1486 DR. The official start date for Hoard of the Dragon Queen organized play is 1489 DR.

The Eruption of Mount Hotenow is probably the thing that effects the area of Phandelver the most.

  • Neverwinter is a ruin struggling being put back together by a Waterdeep noble
  • Neverwinter is under siege by Zombies and Aboleths and Ashmadai demons and Theyans and the returned Netherese
  • Thundertree a "logging" community that collected fallen timber and shipped it downriver to Neverwinter is a ruin. 
  • Luskan in the north, once a pirate city is now in ruins and run by gangs in a state of total anarchy. 
  • Conyberry has been sacked by barbarians and is nothing but ruins. 
  • Old Owl well and the surroundings has Orcs from the many-arrows tribe scouting hundreds of miles from their territory.
  • Neverwinter wood was unaffected by the mountains eruption and only Druids and Uthgardt Barbarians live there.
  • Helm's Hold (not on the map, but a few miles South-East of Neverwinter) used to hold victims of the spell-plague. I can't imagine it's in good shape.

There's a lot of missing information on how the realms have changed. 4e advanced the timeline 100 years and had a spell-plague that devastated the realms and changed a great many things. R. A. Salvatore and Ed Greenwood made a plan to correct it called the Sundering. Here's a quick summary of many of the changes caused by the Sundering, bringing the realms back to a 2e/3e state that is more popular with fans.

  • Old Gods have returned. Mask, Lathander, and Helm are back. Helm and Lathander only have chosen, not avatars. Mystra, the original one, was apparently hanging out being a bear in a cave. Eleminster died, only not really, and somehow fixed the weave.
  • Those chosen by the gods are all over the place, because the gods are trying to get in positions of leverage before AO rewrites the tablets of fate tying everyone down in a new order.
  • Abeir is leaving. The world of Abeir had merged back with world of Toril during the events of 4e. This is being undone. That means Dragonborn are gone, but I imagine that there are still a few hiding somewhere. Probably also means that other areas are coming back (Maztica).
  • Spellplague ended. Fixed. Victims healed. Plaguelands gone.
  • War time is war! Everyone is kung-fu fighting! The drama between returned Netheril and Sembia is somewhat resolved and the world is still here. 
  • The Underchasm has been filed.
  • Netheril is down. No more motes. No more flying cities. I read that Elminster knocked one of them out of the sky? The shades and Netheril are still around, but no longer a world shattering power.
  • Magic works like it used to.

What this basically means, is you are PRETTY OK using 1/2/3e forgotten realms sources for a lot of things!

Races in the Northern Sword Coast:
  • Shield Dwarves are Mountain Dwarves
  • Sun Elves and Moon Elves are High Elves
  • Wood Elves and Wild Elves are Wood Elves
  • Halflings are Lightfoot halflings (and very rare that far north)
  • Humans are either Illuskan or Tethyrian.
    • Illuskans are tall people with pale skin and light hair. The Illuskans towards the northeastern part of the region have dark hair due to their Netherese ancestry. 
    • Tethyrians are Olive to light skinned with brown or blond hair. They look much like Western Europeans, though their culture is more focused on mercantile ventures than military ones. 
  • Forest Gnomes, Rock Gnomes, Half-Elves, and Half-Orcs are rare but around.
I was uncertain about the status of the Sundering and how many actual dragonborn will remain, so for now I'm disallowing Teiflings and Dragonborn (though Forgotten Realms has a long history of races with extra-planar traits). Also Dragonborn are bulls*&t.

Languages Spoken in the Northern Sword Coast:

  • Common, which is pidgin Chondathan
  • Chondathan, the most common language in the west
  • Illuskan, The speech of the northern barbarians and native peoples
  • Daraktan is orc speech
  • Elven
  • Shantan is the norther shield dwarf dialect of dwarven
  • Bothii is a language spoken by the Uthgardt Barbarian Tribes
These other languages also are around but more more rare. 
  • Kurit is the dialect of the arctic dwarves who live north of the spine of the world
  • Uluik is the language of the ten towns and the hunters north of the spine
  • The north central glacial barbarians speak Reghedjic
  • Ghukliak is the language of goblins
  • Jotunhaug is a dialect of hill and mountain giant
  • Sylvan is the language of the fey
  • Yipyak is the language of kobolds and dragon servitors
  • Gnim is the gnomish language of research and acedemia
  • Ruathlek is a secret illusionist script.
These are ancient languages
  • Aragrakh, The ancient forgotten language of dragons
  • Primordia, The ancient language of Abier
  • Imaskari, Long dead human script
  • Hamarfae, Long dead elven script
The most common gods worshiped in the north are listed below:

Auril: Winter, Neutral Evil, Nature / Tempest
Deneir: Writing, Neutral Good, Life
Moradin: Dwarf / Creation, Lawful Good, Knowledge
Eldath: Peace, Neutral Good, Life / Nature
Lurue: Talking Beasts, Chaotic Good, Nature
Mielikki: Forests, Neutral Good, Nature
Milil: Poetry / Song, Neutral Good, Light
Mystra: Magic, Neutral Good, Knowledge
Oghma: Knowledge, Neutral, Knowledge
Shar: Darkness / Loss, Neutral Evil, Death / Trickery
Tempus: War, Neutral, War
Talos: Storms, Chaotic Evil, Tempest
Silvanus: Wild Nature, Neutral, Nature
Shiallia: Fertility, Neutral Good, Nature
Uthgar: Totem Spirits, Varies, Varies
Tymora: Luck, Chaotic Good, Trickery

Hack & Slash 
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  1. FR is an old darling, haven't played much RPG in the world but the Neverwinter Nigths PC game and the campaign book is a lovley read. I hadn't realised what kind of mess they made of it in 4e as I ignored that iteration pretty much. Nice that they go back to the many good thing about it, wish they would have done a Bobbys dream of it, but that is perhaps a bit to much.

  2. Were I to revisit the Realms, it would be pre-Time of Troubles. The ToT was fun for a while, but I like the conflict with the old religions. And you're correct: Toss the high-level NPCs into the void and everything's good to go. Excellent post.

    1. after reading the sword coast adventurer's guide it appers that we're damn near back to a pre-time of troubles realms

  3. Time of Troubles (and much of the crap that followed) ruined the Forgotten Realms for me. It seems like every time a new edition is released, they have to destroy or ret-con major parts of the Realms. I used to love the Realms back in the early days (gray and gold boxed sets), but they just kept #@$%ing with it until it was a hot mess. I don't even want to talk about what 4e did to the geography. Whole kingdoms were ret-conned out of existence.

    I am reluctantly being dragged back into the Realms with 5th Edition. It's possible that there is still some fun to be had from the old girl, but it's like running into your high school girlfriend when you had a bad break up 20 years earlier. The flame is long gone.

    Oh, and Mary-Sue super NPCs need to all die horribly. In a fire. While Greenwood and Salvatore are tied up and forced to watch.

  4. This is a great summary, thanks! Regarding fiction NPCs, I have no problem with their existing.. they just would never appear (or come up, really) in my campaign.

  5. "Also Dragonborn are bulls*&t." - I wanna have your man babies.

  6. "I'd like to say I've always had a pretty negative opinion of the Forgotten Realms. I've read some of the books and found characters like Elminster Aumar and Drizzt Do'Urden repugnant and put me off the whole idea of running a campaign where there are these super characters running around."

    I have the same feelings toward DragonLance, but still I played in a DL (3.5e) game for about 4.5 years in the late 2000s. The DM liked the books, but had a very, "screw canon, this is my world" attitude, which made it a great game. I imagine the same could be done with FR without much trouble.

    1. The setting is important and so are the high level characters. They all have some merit and a cunning storyteller uses them with zeal as quest givers, opponents, and even lovers. This gives another layer to the story and its day to day events.

    2. honestly all the people bashing the important characters and the gods is what lead to 4th edition.

  7. This is very useful.

    I'm also starting up a new 5E campaign in FR, simply because its the new default setting and I don't have time to concoct a new setting from scratch.

    I also used to look down on FR as bog-standard, vanilla fantasy. But now I can see the virtues of the setting. Its much easier to plop a published adventure or one-page dungeon into a blank hex in FR than into, say, a visioney homebrew that takes place on a mining penal colony inside the colon of the carcass of a huge demon catobelpas. Besides, its trivially easy to weird-up an NPC or location. But its nice to have a pre-generated normative world to fall back on.

    I think the "problem" of super-powered NPCs is a straw man. There's plenty of empty space in a world like FR. Just because Bill Gates and Warren Buffett exist doesn't mean that they will be meddling in your start-up business, or even rubbing elbows with you after you make the Fortune 500.

    1. agreed. abnd the over focus on the NPCs is part of what lead to the fiasco of 4th edition. you had a small but vocal group of people who complained about that, as well as there being too many gods etc,
      hopefully WOTC's learned to take the naysayers with a grain of salt

  8. Extremely useful information for my new 5e FR campaign, thanks.

  9. A player of mine sent me to this post in order to help me with my current campaign. I found all the info pretty useful. In fact I wonder if would be OK with you guys if I translated it to Portuguese and publish it in my blog.

  10. I'm starting to love this blog. Good job connecting 3e and 5e. Beautiful opinions about 4e. And I can't agree more: It's a pretty nice setting after you kill off every super NPC dead, dead, dead. 💀💀💀


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