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Forever Fantasy: The Forgotten Realms MMOG Dream

Updated Thu, Jan 29, 2009 by Dalmarus

This seems to be the year of "What IP will be turned into an MMOG next?” Everyone and their mother has been jumping on this dog pile recently and I have to admit, I couldn't resist doing the same this week. Of all the ideas being batted about I can't believe no one has mentioned the Forgotten Realms setting. Is it because Dungeons & Dragons Online hasn't been the raving success geeks across the world hoped it would be? Perhaps, but if so, that's like saying BioWare's upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic has no chance of being a success because of the turbulent history of Star Wars Galaxies.

Beloved by millions.

Players and industry insiders alike are always talking about how an MMOG has to have a fully realized setting to be a success. It has to have a sense of history, solid lore, and unless you want to count on hitting a miraculous fluke by creating an original world, you'd also better be sure the IP you’re using has an impressive following. If you take all these things into consideration you'd be hard pressed to find a more popular setting for a game than the Forgotten Realms.

Before the collapse of TSR and the subsequent revival by Wizards of the Coast, there was one last hurrah for Dungeons & Dragons in the form of the most popular campaign setting ever devised - The Forgotten Realms. Published in 1987, it marked a high point in the game's history and has met with far greater success than its creators could have ever imagined.

The Forgotten Realms may have been inked out and gathered into a campaign boxed set in 1987, but Ed Greenwood originally created the Realms for his personal D&D campaign over a decade prior in 1975. Twelve years of gaming and play testing is a long time to create a mind blowing amount of lore and history for a world, never mind the fact that Ed continues to run his campaign to this day.

For years, he also wrote a number of articles for Dragon magazine in which he was visited by Elminster, a mage of unimaginable power from the land of Abeir-Toril, to learn the secrets of undiscovered spells and ancient artifacts. The truly geeky among us remember those articles with something approaching reverence. With more style than I'll ever possess, Ed brought Elminster into the land of the living and a new Golden Age of fantasy was born. To this day, Spellfire is one of my favorite books. And Ed's writing wasn't the only reason the Forgotten Realms exploded onto the world like a 250 megaton nuke.

When he's not whining, is there a cooler character?

In the spring of 1988, a little known author by the name of R.A. Salvatore released a book (the first of many set within the Realms) entitled The Crystal Shard. The world of fantasy has never been the same with the birth of Drizzt Do'Urden and we've been tortured with every possible iteration of that name in every MMOG since. Along with a string of books detailing the origin and exploits of Drizzt and his friends, R.A. also penned the Menzoberranzan boxed set, visualizing the famous Dark Elf city. In it, he fleshed out the Dark Elf culture in more detail than ever before, complete with its intricate political structure, every geek-loving statistic needed for Dark Elf characters, and the driving force behind their fanatical religion driven city, the Spider Queen, Lothe.

People of all ages have been playing Dungeons & Dragons for over thirty years and it would be a crime to ignore the potential of such a powerful fan base. Sixty million pizzas plus one hundred and twenty million cans of Mountain Dew equals a staggering number of geeks begging for the chance to relive their favorite memories. The argument can be made that this has already been tried, but aside from creating a nearly completely instanced world, Dungeons & Dragons Online also made a mistake in choosing to use the newly conceived campaign setting of Eberron.

Herein lies another critical reason why DDO was destined to face an uphill battle straight out of the gate. Aside from the number crunching mechanics behind the classes, races, and combat of Dungeons & Dragons, there was nothing familiar enough in the world of Eberron to hold the interest of the average D&D player. The setting was too new, too little was known about it, and to be frank, it wasn't the setting fans wanted to play in.

We've been reading, dreaming, and arguing about everything within the Forgotten Realms for over twenty years; now give us the chance to play there. I want to explore the dungeons of Undermountain, engage in political intrigue in the city of Waterdeep, and brave the horrors of the Underdark. There are more places to see and trouble to get into than most people can imagine, and they've all been discussed in great detail for years. All this just covers the background of the Realms as it stands today, let alone the staggering possibilities for adventures that have yet to be realized.

A classic tale.

EverQuest chose to involve the gods and goddesses of Norrath with the players, even directly interfering and changing the scope of the lands in its earlier years. A Forgotten Realms MMOG could take this concept to the next level and precipitate more conflict than any developer could ask for by recreating the Time of Troubles. The gods had been forced to walk the land in their avatar forms, but without the safety of a body back in their home realms. Gods and goddesses died, while some mortals rose to power, taking their place. Imagine a system in which each year, a select few players could ascend to godhood through trials and exploits or simple luck. The new god characters could reside on their chosen plane, still interacting with the world in avatar form, putting them at risk as well. Tell me the opportunity to become a god or goddess wouldn't drive even non-D&D fans to the game.

I think the possibility to play a truly evil character would be the final step necessary to solidify their base of players. I'm tired of playing "evil" races that whine and cry and are about as dastardly as Gargamel. Give me a character and let me actually *be* evil. The Forgotten Realms has multiple races that would be perfect for such an endeavor. Not only are there various races readily available, but cities and nefarious undergrounds already created and detailed beyond belief, all just waiting for the chance to be realized in a three dimensional world. The premise and execution of such characters has been noted and categorized in great depth throughout numerous Forgotten Realms source books (as well as novels), so the creation of these aspects should not prove traumatic to the soul of any potential development team.

There's a reason the Forgotten Realms setting has endured so well and continues to expand its history and future. I talk about it all the time, but until publishers realize that it’s an honest sense of depth in a game that keeps players engaged for years on end, MMOG's will never realize their full potential. Talk about your Halo, Harry Potter, and Fallout MMOG dreams until you're blue in the face, but they just can't compare. The Forgotten Realms is bursting at the seams with all the lore, content, and fans any company could wish for so I have just one last question... Why am I still waiting?

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