Monday, October 5, 2020

The Occidental and the Oriental in Faerun, Part 1

 I'm a giant fucking nerd, so when I was reading Edward Said's Orientalism for class today my mind inevitably went to applying it to the Forgotten Realms. And there's a lot to be gained there, by applying Said's critique and analysis of Orientalism to the Forgotten Realms.

So let's do it!

First off, a couple notes. I didn't read all of Orientalism in one go, just the first third; this isn't academically rigorous but is good enough for application to elfgame settings I believe? Also READ IT YOURSELF IT IS SO GOOD AND SO INFLUENTIAL.

I'm White and born and raised in Canada, same as the creator of the Forgotten Realms, Ed Greenwood. Just so you know my bias here.

Importantly, Said's definition of the Oriental (the historical/cultural use in the real world) is not the same as it has typically been used in D&D. In D&D it's used as a synonym for East Asian, like with the various Oriental Adventures rulebooks and settings. Historically the real world Orient has also included the Middle East and West Asia as well.

Keep this in mind because I'm not talking about Kara-Tur here (the Oriental Adventures setting, set far to the east of Faerun as an East Asian complement), but I'm talking about Faerun itself.

And what's Faerun? Here's a map:

(Map taken and hacked up from thank you for the simple outlined map)

This is Faerun, the chief continent where the Forgotten Realms takes place as a setting. Depending upon the edition, it generally ends to the east somewhere around Semphar or Durpar.

Even if you're a very very casual fan of the setting, you've likely heard of SOME of the names on this map, like Waterdeep and Cormyr. But why those two? Why haven't you heard of any of the rest?

Here's a quick edit to that map:

I've overlaid onto the map labels for the areas that are generally considered the main focus of the Realms from 1st to 3rd Edition: the Western and Eastern Heartlands, and the North. The vast majority of printed FR content - game sourcebooks, novels, even comics - occurs in these regions.

But what's the rest of the world for? Why is it there? Why not write more about those parts? There's so many books on Waterdeep and Cormyr and the North, why can't we get something different?

Well, that's where Said's Orientalism comes in.

Foreign Diplomats: The Other at Court

A quick synopsis: in Orientalist doctrine, the world is divided into two halves. The known, civilized, sociable Occidental half, and the exotic, mysterious, fantastic Oriental half. Said questions Orientalism as a cultural project: not the actual places collected as the Orient itself, but the stories and studies and writings Europeans have done of the Orient. Orientalism tries to explain the Orient to Europeans according to European worldviews, creating its own self-perpetuating idea of what the Orient is or should be, only informed by these stories and not actual experience with Oriental peoples, cultures, or places.

On that map of Faerun, the areas referred to as the Heartlands are so named because they're where Ed Greenwood set his significant home campaigns in the Realms prior to publication. The Company of Crazed Venturers came first, in Waterdeep; the Knights of Myth Drannor was the second, in Cormyr and the Dalelands. As you can see, one group fits in the Western Heartlands, and the other in the Eastern.

Both Waterdeep and Cormyr are stable, cosmopolitan places that are centres for trade and culture. As part of creating a living, breathing, believable world (a goal Ed has worked very hard at over the years), trade and culture require other places to exchange things with. And Ed named many of the places outside of the Heartlands as locations for trade and for cultural exchange with. In particular, much of the nations to the east of the Heartlands were originally named so that exotic or mysterious foreign dignitaries could make appearances at royal court in Cormyr!

Those nations, places like Turmish and Chondath, were originally constructed as Oriental narratives in comparison to the Heartlands as the known European/Occidental space. Ed created them as mysterious, exotic Others for his players to make comparisons with. These foreign dignitaries aren't always villainous, scheming, or opposed to the players and moral action (no, Evil is the Zhentarim and capitalism is Sembia) but they are definitively created as an Other.

Race is inextricably a part of creating this Other, as well. The peoples of the Heartlands are largely White and the assumed default; the Turmish are Black, and most of these nations to the south and east of Cormyr are home to people of colour.

From the very beginning of the Forgotten Realms, even its first few publications in Dragon Magazine, there is a division between the known and the unknown, the native and the foreign, the Occidental and the Oriental.

Multimedia Project 1987

I've talked about the publication of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set elsewhere so I won't get in to too much detail here, but the important detail is that beyond the Heartlands much of the Realms wasn't detailed prior to publication. Most of Ed's work had gone into the Heartlands, and places like Turmish and Mulhorand were his foreign dignitary NPCs and names on maps, not fleshed out full states.

This was great for the TSR of 1987, because when they picked up the Forgotten Realms to be their new flagship campaign setting (to replace Greyhawk), they had a significant corpus of existing information about the setting to produce in and around the Heartlands but also lots of empty spaces on the map for them to expand and fit in new products.

The first published Forgotten Realms product wasn't even by Ed Greenwood or really even a Forgotten Realms product. Douglas Niles' Darkwalker on Moonshae novel was originally an entirely separate project but the Moonshaes were rolled into the Forgotten Realms for publication and given space on the western coast. Other writers and developers added their own pieces: Vaasa and Damara come from the Bloodstone AD&D modules (also published before the FR itself), and R.A. Salvatore described choosing Icewind Dale as "his" part to write in by jabbing his finger at the map where no one else had claimed a spot yet. (Jeff Grubb at this point was coordinating the entire line and stitching Ed's original works together with the new additions by TSR staffers.)

This also applied to Ed's Oriental nations and places. FR3 Empires of the Sands covered Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan. Amn had been partially worked on by Ed (he used it as a small starter campaign setting he ran for kids at his job at the library); Scott Haring added the Orientalist trappings of caliphs, harems and genies to Calimshan. As written in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set Thay was a land of fell, evil magics - Steve Perrin expanded it in FR6 Dreams of the Red Wizards into a scheming place redolent of incense and with bearded, scheming wizards. (Another Orientalist archetype.)

Most significant was Scott Bennie's FR10 Old Empires, which took Mulhorand and Unther and filled them with extradimensional refugees from real-world Egypt and Babylonia, struggling in eternal wars lead by their untethered god-kings, making an explicit connection between nations and regions of the Realms and cultures of real-world Earth.

This wasn't a mistake on Bennie's part, to be clear: TSR had explicitly asked for these kinds of places to be inserted into the Realms, so that it could have "an Egypt land" for groups wanting to play in those kinds of games. Historical/mythical reenactment was something that TSR pushed hard for D&D around this time with the HR (Historical Reference) series of supplements for Second Edition AD&D. Ed notes his pre-publication Mulhorand was inspired by Robert E. Howard's Stygia, itself a pastiche of Egypt; real-world Egypt was not a crazy revision. (Especially because the name - the Forgotten Realms - itself refers to Narnia-style portals between the Realms and the real world, now forgotten by the families guarding the extradimensional portals.)

What is notable, however, is that many of the additions by TSR's staff were real life cultures or places with the names filed off. Mulhorand was Fantasy Egypt; Calimshan was Fantasy Araby. Because of this, the direct inspiration for and influential texts upon these parts of the Realms were themselves Orientalist - either Orientalist studies of the real world Orient, or Orientalist stories like Stygia in Conan and other pulps. Again, this was a common practice for many fantasy settings of the time and certainly was something in TSR's other D&D settings until that point (Greyhawk, Dragonlance and Mystara); the Orientalist fantasy as something exotic, fantastic and unknowable is incredibly fertile ground for D&D gaming! (If you're not aware of its limitations, racial, and cultural biases, that is.)

It was also very easy, and that was also appealing to this disparate group of designers and writers suddenly filling up a vast world with new creative projects. TSR saw the Realms as their Next Big Thing, and pushed lots of new products there to make it a commercial success: it was their best multimedia project, with novels and adventures and game books and comics.

Creative fatigue lead to this process not just being limited to filling out the rest of Faerun, however. What made the Forgotten Realms so appealing was Ed's relentless focus on handcrafting a believable, realistic, world that felt livable in, and the Heartlands were full of these details. Unfortunately writers beyond Ed also worked in the Heartlands, and reduced it to Occidental, not Oriental, archetypes. Particularly in the novels, you began to see treatments of Cormyr as medieval England in all but name, Amn as equivalent to Renaissance Spain, and so on. These trite reductions made the Realms feel like nothing but outdated stereotypes, and they happened just as TSR produced a number of wildly inventive unusual settings that were far more captivating and weird (Spelljammer, Dark Sun and Planescape in particular.)

But one place escaped this harm, by finding the historically exotic in something definitely Occidental.

The North; or "Where All Those Damn Drizzt Books Are"

I highlighted a third area on the map above, and now it's time to talk about it. The North, also called the Sword Coast North or the Savage Frontier, has eventually come to outstrip even the Heartlands in terms of publishing attention.

Unlike most of the other areas outside the Heartlands, the North had at least partially been worked on by Ed. His Company of Crazed Venturers game took place along its coastline and in Waterdeep; FR1 Waterdeep and the North largely consists of his materials from that game that didn't fit into the original Forgotten Realms Campaign Set. FR1 was still sketchy though, and focused primarily on Waterdeep itself, not the entire region.

Filling out the North fell to Jennell Jaquays. Her FR4 The Savage Frontier (published as Paul Jaquays) is the best of the original set of regional supplements filling out Faerun, specifically because Jennell was able to synthesize Ed's original ideas for the North with her own historical reenactment: Vikings. Jennell wrapped Ed's history of Waterdeep around an indigenous population called the Uthgardt. These Uthgardt did have a history of island pillaging and a strong warrior culture - but Jennell also placed them inland, giving them animist spirituality and deep ties to sacred sites across the entirety of the North. The "barbarians" of D&D now had a home, both informed by popular culture and made into something fresh and new.

To some degree, writing for the Realms at this point was like checking off representation requirements from existing AD&D materials. It was in this manner that R.A. Salvatore pitched his Icewind Dale trilogy to TSR brass, having identified the very top of the North as open for new projects and suggesting a novel of strange magics with a human barbarian, a dwarf fighter, and halfling rogue. There wasn't much to really make his pitch stand out, so Salvatore stammered out suddenly that there would also be a drow character! A good drow, one like that new race in Unearthed Arcana. A good drow? Now that had some potential - and soon The Crystal Shard (now book 4 in the Legend of Drizzt) was approved.

While The Crystal Shard kept in Icewind Dale, its follow up, Streams of Silver, did not. Bruenor Battlehammer, king of the dwarven Clan Battlehammer, searches for his lost realm and finds it, deep inside the North. Bruenor's Mithral Hall tied him, and Drizzt, and the other characters, inside the North, giving them a place to grow as characters. Grow they did, and Salvatore's further novels about Drizzt delved into the BDSM/Mafia mashup drow city of Menzoberranzan deep under the North. Drizzt, the drow, and the North, became exceedingly popular characters and settings, with further novels and game supplements to match. In Drizzt, the Realms had something weird and unusual to match Planescape and Dark Sun in terms of appeal, even if it wasn't visible on the surface.

The drow are still essentially Oriental, I think. They are a twisted, dark Other to the typical D&D elf, and Salvatore filling them out with female-dominant kink tropes echoes the exoticized sexual appeal that Orientalism trades in. Drizzt's process of becoming a hero is essentially reconciling himself to Occidental ethics and repudiating the darkness of his homeland, becoming a respectable "good drow," even if not everyone can see that.

Okay, this is over 2000 words so I'm going to stop here for the night, but here's my list of what I want to cover in future parts:

-The Oriental text versus reality, parallelling sourcebooks versus actual play
-how the underlying Oriental/Occidental split influences what we think is interesting about the Realms, and what gets more products in 2e and 3e
-how criticizing Oriental texts can be used to criticize the Oriental spaces in the Realms
-as always why 5e dropped the ball so goddamn hard (aka why the Sword Coast feels so fucking small and why Chult was super disappointing)
-and yeah I have to talk about malicious versus naive Orientalism, aka why Mulhorand works and why Maztica doesn't

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Real Forgotten Realms Part 2: What The Realms Isn't

Yes, it took me 20 days to get back to this. This has been quite the busy month, personally.

When people talk about the Forgotten Realms, one of the common criticisms is "having too many high-level NPCs who take all the spotlight and fix all the players' problems for them. Why do the PCs have to slay the evil Lord Malthiir of Mulmaster, why can't Elminster do that with his absurd power level?"

I say that this is common because when I talk about the Realms with people, this is one of the common criticisms that is brought up frequently, from old-school and new-school players, people with all kinds of experience with the setting. I'm not going to dispute that criticism here, because I want to admit something to you instead: it's completely founded in truth.

A short historical aside: the Forgotten Realms were originally created by Ed Greenwood as his home campaign, and were purchased by TSR when TSR needed a new campaign setting for AD&D. They asked Ed because he'd written a lot of very popular Dragon articles about the Realms. Why did TSR need a new campaign setting? Well, at the time, they had two: Greyhawk and Dragonlance. Greyhawk was tied up in legal disputes with Gary Gygax, while Dragonlance had been designed for the very specific Dragonlance modules and novels project. Dragonlance was very successful and sold like crazy, but the things that made it sell well also made it very inflexible. The Forgotten Realms, then, were a new "core" setting for AD&D, where they could put a lot of their other projects and creative properties and tie things together. This began as soon as the very first Forgotten Realms product, which wasn't by Ed Greenwood or part of the "main" Realms: Douglas Niles' Darkwalker on Moonshae was his own Irish-inspired fantasy setting for D&D that got folded into the Forgotten Realms.

Shortly after the Old Grey Box was released, 2e AD&D came out. 2e AD&D introduced a number of story and setting changes to the game, a lot of which were motivated by uneducated fearmongering about D&D (such as the removal of assassins, and the name changes for demons and devils to tanar'ri and baatezu.) Each of TSR's campaign settings, then, had to be updated to fit these changes. And for the Forgotten Realms, TSR decided to take another stab at the multimedia project model Dragonlance had shown sold so well. So, the transition from 1e to 2e for the Forgotten Realms wasn't just a new supplement, it was an Event, a big marketing push with lots of new products. (This model TSR and WotC would return to again and again; collectively these are referred to in the context of the FR as "Realms-Shaking Events", or RSEs.)

And that Event was the Avatar Crisis. The gods all get thrown down from the planes, forced to live as mortals on Toril, and duke it out, rearranging magic and which god controls what and so on. The most prominent/popular event to come from this is the Bhaalspawn of the Baldur's Gate computer games, a nice addition to Bhaal, the god of assassins, dying. Because, you see, Bhaal had to die: he had to die, so all the assassins would die, because assassins weren't appropriate content for 2e AD&D. In other words, the Avatar Crisis is metaplot as fuck. Editorial determined what changes needed to be made, and the authors and designer who wrote the corresponding trilogies of novels and adventures had to follow those changes. (Books 4 and 5 of the Avatar Crisis were published years later as a follow up RSE, hence the official name changing from the Avatar Trilogy to the Avatar Crisis. There's also tie-in comics from DC, but I haven't read those.)

And those modules: well, they're fucking abysmal.

Shadowdale. Tantras. Waterdeep. Honestly, any group that actually completed these should get a fucking medal. These are EXACTLY what people are thinking of when they talk about FR adventures where the NPCs solve all their problems for you, where you're stuck to a railroad where explosions happen and none of your choices matter. Because again, these were metaplot as hell.

These were patterned after the Dragonlance modules, which were also very railroady, but there's an important difference. In the Dragonlance modules, the players play the story-crucial characters (like Goldmoon, the new cleric proving the gods are real) from a pregenerated selection. The novels are really the retellings of the module playtesting, with the various designers and writers breathing life into these characters; the modules allow you to make you their own. The pieces still move on train tracks, but you're the pieces.

The Avatar Crisis modules DON'T have you playing the plot-crucial characters. Instead, you create your own PCs - and then get attached to the plot-crucial characters through increasingly more implausible coincidences and schemes. You find out the same plot as the novels - not by taking part in it, maybe by seeing it. A lot of it is just read out by the DM in boxed text; when the modules bother to actually fill in the PCs on the important things going on. Essentially, the PCs just babysit the actually important characters - Midnight, Cyric, Kelemvor - and have the events happen to them. Affect the outcomes? Take your own choices? Oh, no, definitely not: the metaplot must go on. The PCs get captured, kidnapped, forcibly teleported around, all to make sure they're in the right place for the right event. Worse yet, because the PCs AREN'T the main characters, they never even see or participate in many of the most exciting moments in the actual novels (such as Midnight's journey through the Fugue Plane.) The actual climax to the whole trilogy - a rooftop battle with Myrkul the god of death - is won no matter what the PCs do: if they fail, Midnight and Elminster win for them.

Why do I bring this up, you might ask? If you're trying to convince me the Forgotten Realms are good, why do you confirm all the worst stereotypes first?

If I hide it, then I have to spend a lot of time covering up how bad these are. I'd have to lie, and pretend they don't exist, or justify them in other ways. My argument would be weakened by not addressing crucial disputative evidence.

If you're familiar with the logical structures of arguments, you probably already know what I'm going to say. You can never prove a negative: I can't say that the Forgotten Realms are never bad. But I can prove a positive: I can show you how the Forgotten Realms are good, and interesting, and prove THAT. 

See, that's the secret, and it always has been, ever since the Old Grey Box in 1987: you've always been told to use what you'd like, and throw out what you don't. Make the Realms your own. I can't account for every product ever, and to be honest, there are a fair portion of terrible ones out there. I can show you the good ones, and why they're good, and teach you how to make the setting your own and make the Realms work for you.

One last thing. Remember how I said there were multiple novelists for the Avatar Crisis, but only one designer? It's true. All three of those horrible modules were written by Ed Greenwood. Next time we'll talk about what the Forgotten Realms is, by showing you how Ed really sets up games when he's not forced to write to a metaplot. And I promise it won't take as long.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Solo Dungeon Jam For Everybody!!!

I started an game jam to create solo dungeons in the style of Gary Gygax's original random dungeon tables: Submissions are open for two weeks (or a bit longer, you'll just need to message me to approve your submission personally), and you don't need to be familiar with solo dungeons, dungeon design, or a specific OSR system (the jam uses B/X, with links to free copies of the rules included.)

I'm looking forward to breaking out some of my favourite tables and playing through what other people come up with!

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Real Forgotten Realms, Part 1: I'll Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes

Let's face the uncomfortable truth: the Forgotten Realms, as presented in 5e by Wizards of the Coast, sucks. And it sucks hard.

It's boring and overloaded, unspecific and too much, obsessed with the history of D&D and yet somehow not considering its own canon. It's a fucking mess, and I can't blame anyone for hating it or disliking it.

However, I love the Forgotten Realms. I love the setting, I love the stories, and I love talking about it, playing in it, and sharing it with people. I keep having these conversations with people, on blogs, in chatrooms, on forums, in my own games, and they always end the same way: "Jeez, I thought the Forgotten Realms sucked, Erika. But you make it interesting and cool." (This is my paraphrasing, but I've honestly had people tell me this a lot.)

And I have this conversation a lot. And I enjoy having it? But I have it a LOT. Like probably more than I talk about my actual real life stuff.

So I'm going to try and put it all down here, every little piece I can think of. I can't show you all the secrets, I can't cut out parts of every book to show you all my favourite bits of lore. But I can explain it, and reference it, and tell you why I love this setting. Why it is so good, so fun to play in, why it's a blast to run, and why I keep coming back to it - as a roleplaying game, not a collection of novels, not a metaplot, not a fangirl convention over Drizzt.

I'm going to show you how the Forgotten Realms is good.

Consider me Morpheus. I'm going to show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. I can take you to the forgotten other world you never knew existed. You take the red pill, and I'll show you the real Forgotten Realms. You take the blue pill, and you wake up next to a pile of 5e adventures and can forget this ever happened. It's your choice, and I can't make it for you.

(Aside: Yes, the above image got tainted by alt-right idiots and frankly I don't give a shit. It's my metaphor as a trans woman, and I'm using it. So there. Also, the actual red pill is literally pregnant horse piss and it tastes like hell.)

Here's your blue pill:

And here's the red pill: 

For those of you who aren't aware, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide is the current FR campaign setting book for 5th edition. You can buy it on Amazon, and people really like the bladesinger wizard in it.

The other book is the original Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, the first campaign setting, designed for 1st edition AD&D, back in 1987. You can buy a scan from DriveThruRPG, and people really like the old-school sandbox world it offers.

Note that you don't have to be old-school to take this journey. The 3rd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting is my personal favourite, and that's pretty new school. Plenty of feats, class options, and tieflings right in the core rules. To understand the setting, to really understand what makes it tick, you should start back at the beginning though. I recommend reading the FR Campaign Set (also called the Old Gray Box) at some point, but you don't have to do it right now if you don't want to. (This is also why I've tagged this post as PLOG for the Possum Laws of Gaming - you can join this journey with whatever D&D you'd like.)

Life is crazy for me and everyone else right now, but I'll try to update this series once a week. I have no plans, no progression. Just ideas and a bunch of practice at showing people why the FR is cool.

NEXT: What The Forgotten Realms Isn't, And What It Really Is

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

20 Setting Questions, Reredux: OSE FR ("Grim's Knights") Answers

Anthony over at Dungeonantology put together a new list of 20 questions to answer about your campaign setting so that players have an idea of what to expect.

I'm answering them for one of my PLOGgy campaigns. Both my campaigns take place in the Forgotten Realms; this is my "Grim's Knights" campaign, which uses heavily houseruled OSE (with a lot of 1e and 2e and FR material packed in), and takes place in northern Cormyr in 1357 DR. (The beginning of the Forgotten Realms as published in the 1e Forgotten Realms Campaign Set.) We're starting with a greatly expanded version of FRQ1 The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar.

Answering these questions then isn't about answering with particularly canon FR answers, because that's kind of boring - it's discussing how I'm portraying the Realms in this particular campaign, how the players are interacting with the setting, and how that is its own unique trash. I'm tagging some of these with the appropriate sources, in case people want to do more research; but I'm showing this to my players, so I'm not telling all the exact details.

1. What is something that players can interact with that inspires wonder in your setting?

I think the most wondrous thing the players have encountered themselves yet is when they tried to smoke out the Caverns of the Claws last session, to force out the trolls dwelling there. The wind was in their favour, and the black thick smoke filled the cavern. The trolls did rush out, terrified, burning to death in the firewall at the entrance. But something huge inside came out too, with eye tentacles and claw tentacles twenty feet long each, and it smashed apart the firewall and broke open the smoke with little trouble, knocking down Dansk and almost slaying him. It thankfully took Nym's owlbear leg as an offering and retreated back into the depths of the cave. Now the players know that things ancient and magical lurk in surprising places.

(Said monster IS right out of the Forgotten Realms setting-specific monster books, but I'm not telling. Yet.)

2. How does one religion in the world work? What rituals and observances are involved, and how does this religion play with other religions out there? Are gods real?

The gods of the Realms are definitely real, and the ones in Northern Cormyr are all part of a single loose pantheon. Eveningstar has only one temple, the House of the Morning, dedicated to the sun god Lathander; but they accept many other faiths. In the Realms, people choose a single patron deity to devote themselves to, but often offer prayers, sacrifices, or work to placate other deities. The PCs returned a dead hireling to the sanctified graveyard at the House of the Morning, and offered simple prayers to her patron deity, Tempus. Randal whispered his own private prayer to his goddess, Chauntea, at the gravesite, and Chauntea showed her favour with a flower blooming on the hireling's grave. Other such manifestations have been visible.

(Basically all the FR campaign setting books/Faiths and Avatars.)

3. How does one get access to goods and services in the setting? Items, magic items, hirelings.

Eveningstar makes good trade selling to adventurers, so standard goods are very much available for sale in the shops of the town. (One of the shopkeepers is a dick who takes glee in humiliating the adventurers who come to buy from him, but he still sells to them.) Magic items are not generally available for sale, although the House of the Morning sells limited amounts of potions of healing for exorbitant prices. (Again, profiting off adventurers.) Hirelings are common, with plenty of people coming to prove their mettle in the Haunted Halls.

(FRQ1 Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, Volo's Guide to Cormyr)

4. What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner would be wary of in-setting? What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner could trounce without worry? What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner would trust?

Unusually for the Forgotten Realms, Cormyr is generally a strong, stable kingdom. Commoners generally trust their noble, good King Azoun IV, his military (known as the Purple Dragons), the various government officials, and the War Wizards, the national force of magic-users under Royal Magician Vangerdahast.

Eveningstar's position just below the Stonelands means goblin, kobold, and orc raids are not unheard of. Commoners would be wary of monstrous humanoids or significant bestial monsters (worgs, owlbears), and likely try to call on the local Purple Dragon detachment for help.

The most common creature a commoner in Eveningstar would trounce is a tressym, the winged flying elven cats. For some reason, a large semi-feral colony of them exists in Eveningstar.

(Revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Volo's Guide to Cormyr)

5. Name a heroically slain dragon, or something comparable in threat. How was the creature slain, according to stories? How was it actually done? Was it a fluke or a well-executed slaying of a monster?

The most recent dragons slain were a year past, when a Flight of near a hundred dragons boiled forth from the Cold Lands to the north and east, destroying much of the cities before them. Lady Lord Myrmeen Lhal proved herself an able ruler when one such dragon attacked Arabel in northern Cormyr. Under her coordination, Arabel's large garrison of Purple Dragons took the dragons down with catapults and archery, the creature crashing to the east. Purple Dragons are not generally outfitted to fight dragons (Arabel is garrisoned against humanoids, such as orc bands or rebels), but with the assistance of the War Wizards, they succeeded.

(Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, Forgotten Realms Adventures)

6. How do people who adventure (if there are even such people) get jobs and contracts in this setting?

Adventurers in Cormyr require an official adventuring charter from the Crown in order to adventure legally. Chartered adventurers may take jobs or contracts from anyone, as long as such actions do not injure or damage Cormyr, its government, or its people.

(Volo's Guide to Cormyr)

7. How do people convey their station/caste if such things exist? In particular, what intersections do station/caste have with the adventuring lifestyle (whatever the players are in the setting...guards, tomb raiders, bounty hunters, etc.)?

Clothing and privilege matter a fair amount in Cormyr, which has significant noble and merchant classes. Nobles have rights that members of lower classes do not (for example, they can stop their carriages in the middle of busy streets, impeding traffic), wear their own protected heraldry, and so on. Members of all classes adventure in Cormyr, although it is not generally thought of as a wise or socially acceptable profession; third-or-so in line noble children may adventure for lack of anything better to do to prove themselves.

(Elminster's Forgotten Realms, Revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting)

8. What privileges and prejudices exist in your world, if any do at all? For example: How does the world view LGBTQ identities, ethnic identities within each fantasy “race”, and race relations?

In general, Cormyr's cities are quite tolerant, while prejudicial, close-minded views are more common in smaller communities. A prominent rumour in much of Cormyr's villages is that the odd "lass-lovers" flock to each other in some sort of commune out towards the Stonelands; in reality, many queer people find happy, accepting lives in Arabel, Suzail, and the other cities.

Nation of origin can be met with some skepticism; the neighbouring country of Sembia is often regarded with disdain, as its "gold-first, scheme at all costs" views are often thought of as misguided and something to be avoided.

People of other ethnicities are sometimes exoticized, such as the Mulhorandi and the Turmish far to the south and east across the Sea of Fallen Stars.

Elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes are accepted in Cormyr; orcs and goblins are not. Half-orcs are met with suspicion.

(Swords of Eveningstar, Forgotten Realms Campaign Set)

9. What is the distal view of the political system? Is it feudal, is there a suzerainty, do we have a triumvirate, etc.

Cormyr is a hereditary monarchy, with House Obarskyr the continual ruling house since the country's founding, when Ondeth Obarskyr claimed the right to settle the Forest Kingdom's lands from the elf-lords who held dominion over it. Succession goes to the first-born first, regardless of gender (currently this is Crown Princess Tanalasta), as long as they have an accepted claim to the throne. (Bastard children have been an issue in the past; regents ruling on behalf of underaged rulers is not unheard of.)

Other noble houses exist, with their nobility granted for service to the Dragon Throne; intermarriage with House Obarskyr has strengthened many of their ties, especially among the so-called "royal houses."

(Revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Grand History of the Realms, Swords of Eveningstar.)

10. What is a more proximal view of the political system? Who are local nobles or leaders that should be known about, and what are their reputations?

Eveningstar is well-lead by Lady Lord Tessaril Winter. Her assistants are the local Herald Tzin Tzummer (responsible for all naming legalities, taxes, births and deaths) and the town clerk Aldo Morim. Tessaril was appointed by Azoun IV; she is thought to be fair but stern, and works to keep Eveningstar safe from its many dangers.

Lady Lord Myrmeen Lhal's hold on Arabel is more tenuous. The city has a reputation for past rebellion, epitomized by the month-long reign of Gondegal, the Lost King, who rose up to take Arabel and could only hold it by force. When Azoun IV and his men retook Arabel, Gondegal had escaped, presumably to the north and east. Rumours hold that he plots to regain his kingdom once again, some six years later.

(FRQ1 Haunted Halls of Eveningstar, Revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Forgotten Realms Campaign Set)

11. Do your players even need their rations and torches?

Yes. Torch longevity has mattered for trips into the Haunted Halls, and rations will become more meaningful as the party travels farther beyond the comfort of Eveningstar's inns.

12. How do you become a ruler of many?

Thumbing your nose at the Crown, as Gondegal did, would make you a ruler of many - until your sword arm tires, and you cannot hold the lands you've stolen.

Better to prove yourself to the Crown and receive title to some land or position. In particular, King Azoun IV has promised a title to experienced adventurers who can clear and hold territory in the Stonelands to the north of Cormyr.

(Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, Revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.)

13. Are there social consequences for necromancy or other forms of forbidden magic? Do these consequences differ in the view of the common man vs. other people?

Necromancers are associated with Myrkul, the god of death, and are quite feared. The common man fears the necromancer, but fears Myrkul's wrath more: the god of death and his priests sometimes cross the land, raising those dead in unsanctified ground and sending the newly risen to attack nearby settlements. A commoner is likely to offer tribute to a necromancer and plead mercy.

The War Wizards, in contrast, will expend great effort to find that necromancer and shackle him, exile him, or slay him. Magic-users who are not registered with the Royal Magician, and evil magic-users at that, are great concerns.

(Cormyr, Revised Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting)

14. What is the common man's capability to distinguish the following things: a werewolf's tracks vs. wolf tracks, a manticore attack vs. a lion attack, a demon attack vs. a gargoyle attack?

A common man might be able to separate out common animal tracks (the wolf and the lion) from those of monsters, but no more. They could certainly not distinguish between various kinds of monsters.

(Elminster's Ecologies: The Settled Lands)

15. What is the social position of rogues?

Rogues and thieves are distrusted, watched carefully by city watches and the Purple Dragons, and generally thought of as unsavory. Thieves' guilds do exist in Cormyr, but they are often at odds with the Crown. In contrast, rogues signed to adventuring charters ("the honest trade") are slightly more trustworthy, as the charter means others vouch for their conduct - and can be brought to justice should the rogue commit some crime.

(Forgotten Realms Campaign Set)

16. What is the role of dungeons within the world?

Dungeons are structures built or found by secretive groups or populations, to live or perform secret aims away from common view. Notably, dungeons are almost never empty or unoccupied for long - a dungeon has frequently passed through several occupants, all of whom have left their own legacies and impacts in the place. The Haunted Halls were originally created by dwarves for the bandit lord Rivior; they are rumoured to have other secret occupants to this day.

(Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting)

17. How common are dungeons, how deep or large are they, and how much treasure might be expected within their depths?

Dungeons and ruins are extremely common; settlements are frequently rebuilt atop the ruins of previous settlements due to geographic features. Dungeons can be very deep or large, often linking to the great Underdark below in their darkest reaches. The presence and value of treasure frequently depends upon how accessible and dangerous the dungeon is; adventuring groups frequently clear out shallow ruins, only for them to be repopulated by humanoid races in need of shelter, used for some wizard's experiments, or similar.

(Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting)

18. Explain, if you could, the differences between magic-users in the world. For instance, how would wizards, sorcerers, miracle-workers, warlocks, witches, medicine-men, stage magicians, and the like differ from each other? Do all of those categories even exist?

Those who have true magical power are called wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, thaumaturgists or similar, and all draw force from the Weave which connects all things, shaping it to create their will in the world. Illusionists are their most prominent subgroup, a secret society sworn to the goddess Leira. Other even more unusual, rare types are rumoured, but not confirmed.

Witches are rare, powerful, and worship forbidden gods unknown to humanity.

Hedge witches, frequently women who practice herbalism and act as midwives, do exist, but hold no specific magical power in general.

Charlatans, pretenders, and stage magicians are frequent performers.

(Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, Elminster's Forgotten Realms, Dragon #54: Down To Earth Divinity) 

19. What are two examples of food culture in the world? Even if food isn't a part of play, what dishes are people consuming in the world around the players, and what messages can be conveyed through food and drink?

Coffee (kaeth) is slowly spreading throughout Cormyr as a new and trendy drink, its beans grown in far-off Durpar, branded as "Thondur's." It hasn't replaced the herbal, grass, or local teas commonly drunk, is very expensive, and is usually served in tankards, hot and unadulterated.

Ciders, hard and soft, are commonly drunk in Eveningstar; the town and much of Cormyr are in prime apple-growing climates. The presence of the Starwater River gives Eveningstar good local fishing, such as bass and eels; the local farmers sell sheep, goats, long-horned beef cattle known as sharrada, and poultry.

(Elminster's Forgotten Realms, Volo's Guide to Cormyr)

20. What is the internal logic of the game world you are running, as far as players are concerned? When the players act and the world reacts, what principles do you hold to?

The world is internally logical and exists beyond the players, with struggles between powers known and unknown. The world does not wait for the players, and events may occur beyond their reach. The world reacts to the PCs according to the aims and powers of the other factions; it is up to the players to decide what they can handle and how they will deal with the consequences. Fatal consequences are dealt squarely and honestly, but may occur for initially unknown reasons.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Possum Laws of Gaming

I love D&D. Like, I really love specifically D&D. Dragons and dungeons and the wargaming-experience-treasure loop and everything. I own lots of D&D and run lots of D&D because I really, really enjoy the game, in and of itself, in most of its editions, with lots of its warts.

And I love talking about D&D, and I love sharing D&D, and I love running it and playing it with people. Most of the D&Ds. Hence, the title of this post.

First, a preamble:

1) There's a school of thought about the OSR I've run into a couple times that rings very true to me. The idea is that there's a division in purpose between old-school revolutionaries and old-school revivalists. The revivalists came first, and their main output was retroclones: they loved old editions of D&D, and wanted to bring those back, and make new content for them. The revolutionaries love the DIY spirit of old-school gaming, and want to create their own new rules and content and ideas using what came before as a base.

2) Arnold K's GLOG (Goblin Rules of Gaming) is a great expression of the old-school revolutionaries. It's an incredibly impressive, incredibly creative community generating tons of cool ideas. The GLOG has built its own language, its own adventures, and lots of cool content. Here's a GLOG class for a corpse someone did yesterday!!!

The thing is, the GLOG is not very D&D any more. It has become its own thing, in its own ways, and that is awesome. As someone who loves D&D, who is currently running Old-School Essentials to get an old-school Forgotten Realms experience, I want to bring the revivalist side of things into the light as well.

The OSR has had an identity crisis, now and forever will. I'm claiming a space for the positive, inclusive, accessible, constructive process of collecting, collating, creating, and celebrating everything cool about D&D, across all of it.

And I'm not standing alone. This came out of a bunch of conversations with Isaac where we found out we really feel the same way about D&D: that we love it, and want to celebrate it, and mash it all together to create new fun games and stuff!

So, the Possum Laws of Gaming (or PLOG).

Slogan: here is my trash, share it with your trash
We called it the Possum Laws of Gaming after a bunch of influences. Obviously it's a counterpart to the GLOG, but the GLOG's goblins are making their own improvised, DIY material on their own terms. On the other hand, the possums are scavengers, grabbing everything they find that's cool or fun or pretty and putting it together to make something new. Also, possums are cute. And both Zach and I are big fans of the Red Green Show, so referencing that was also a lot of fun!


Slogan “here is my trash, share it with your trash”
The Possum Laws of Gaming are a broad-minded, anti-dogmatic lens for collecting, collating, and creating new and old things about the game of D&D in all its editions from 1974 until today.


  1. find your trash. your trash is D&D stuff you like, from whenever, however. just find cool D&D shit!!!
  2. put your trash together! the goal of the PLOG is to combine the parts of D&D you like into a cool D&D
  3. your trash can be anything! it doesn't have to be D&D itself, but the PLOG is geared towards making your own D&D. pull in cool stuff from other games, other media, things you're excited about
  4. love your trash. the things that you enjoy are great, and talk about why you like them!
  5. ...but toss it when it gets stinky. Some of D&D is bad and hateful. don't keep bad stereotypes or ideas about marginalized people. we want to share our trash with everyone!
  6. share your trash!!! show people the cool things you've found, the things you're excited about, the hidden gem you're going to use in your games.
  7. play nice when you share your trash. Part of PLOG is explaining why we like the parts of D&D that we do, and we don't all like the same parts. Have good conversations, don't hate each other for liking different things.
  8. let the trash grow!!! finding new trash and adding new trash and reexamining your old trash makes for more fun and even more cool ideas!
  9. just because it's someone else's trash doesn't mean it has to be yours. it's okay to say you don't want something someone else suggests, just be polite about it!
Most of this should be pretty clear, but I want to make one thing very explicit: the possum laws of gaming have no room for hatred, bigotry, oppression, or harassment. The PLOG is inclusive and accessible as an essential requirement, and exists to be a safe space for all kinds of people to explore D&D and how cool it can be. Otherwise, FIND YOUR TRASH!!!!

Isaac also has a complementary post announcing the Possum Laws of Gaming on his own blog, you should read it here!


Monday, May 11, 2020

Those Who Harp: May 11, 2020

Books and screen on a side table for my online games.
On Mondays I run a Pathfinder 2e game set in the Forgotten Realms (3rd edition time).

PCs In Attendance (all level 2):

  • Saebrial Cormaeril, human demonic sorcerer
  • Traxx Luna, goblin ranger (with dog animal companion)
  • Viveka, leshy leaf druid
  • Korth Kunzar, lizardfolk titan barbarian
The party picked up where we left off two weeks previously, in the ruined temple of Garagos the Reaver under one of the Hills of the Seven Lost Gods outside their home city of Westgate. In the previous session, the party had broken into the temple to disrupt a ritual to reconsecrate it and save the innocent people being used as sacrifices for that ritual. They infiltrated the temple and fought the priestess in the central hall, slaying her (and her tiefling companion), successfully ending the ritual. They fended off a desperate charge by acolytes trying to avenge the fallen priestess, and now were left to explore the rest of the temple ruins and lead the innocent captives to safety.

Central temple hall
Garagos' consecration ritual was particularly brutal: the innocents were served up on the altar for cannibalistic slaughter, their blood draining into the pit nearby. The party poked through the gristly remains. Saebrial was able to identify the presence of magic, but is not yet skilled enough to pick out individual effects or strengths. The pool of blood drains into a deep, black hole, farther down than any of them could see. Traxx made sure to graffiti the bloody altar and any other ritual artifacts with the crescent moon symbol of his goddess, Selune. Looting the bodies from their last session turned up a shortbow, arrows and new spellbook for Saebrial, a suit of half-plate that Korth lugged out to sell, and a mace for Viveka.

Traxx examined the bedroom to the south of the ritual chamber and found a letter from the presumed superior of these cultists, Favored High Reaver Chaless the Cruel of the House of Steel. Chaless wrote to her immediate inferiors of the importance of their mission to the Reaver, and promised painful punishment should they fail. Traxx also recovered a small steel coffer from the bedroom. Viveka attempted to identify the paper the letter was written on for hints to its origin; an absent PC with scribing skills told them it was common but quality stock frequently sold in Westgate.

Saebrial checked with the prisoners as to what the guards had been frequently discussing, and found out they frequently discussed Westgate's sewers. The party concluded that the House of Steel was likely the real temple to Garagos in Westgate, likely located somewhere below the city streets. (A lot of failed Recall Knowledge checks here too.) 

After some discussion of what to do next, the party decided to lead the prisoners to safety, and then return to explore the rest of the temple. At the stairs exiting the temple, the party could hear the faint sound of handpipes being played badly; sneaking up, Traxx saw a squad of city guards had surrounded the rough entrance, and a childlike halfling was playing the pipes with her back to the entrance!

Uncertain whether the city guards would help or hurt them, the party decided to try and charm their way out. Saebrial's noble family name of Cormaeril brings her some influence, and the sorceress used her hat of disguise to improve her appearance. Leading the party up and out, the prisoners in tow, Saebrial hailed the guards.

Olive Ruskettle, before she settled down

The halfling stopped playing her pipes and turned around, smirking at Saebrial's approach. "A fine noblewoman, eh? And what are you doing down here?" As Saebrial attempted to parley, Viveka tried to land a charm on the halfling guard-captain as she identified herself as Olive Ruskettle, captain of the city guard. [1]

Unfortunately for Viveka, Olive has plenty of past adventuring experience, and easily resisted the enchantment. (A critical success, which meant she also knew the druid had tried to charm her - "and trying to magically influence a city guardsman is a crime in and of itself!") Olive let the party off with the warning, and levelled with them: she was here to rescue the innocent captives, and didn't really care what happened otherwise. Westgate is a dark, cursed city, and Olive is trying her best to do well by the common people with extremely limited resources. She winked at them and mentioned that she'd heard about them before, from someone who had to write down their names, as she couldn't speak them. (This was a clear reference to Jamal the Thespian, the party's handler/organizer, who had given up her voice in a bargain with a sea hag in a previous session.)

The party pleaded with Olive to help them come and destroy the ghost that lurked in the temple (which the cultists of Garagos seemed to fear), but Olive rebuffed their requests, stating that she had to return the captives to their families as soon as possible. She did lend Traxx a silver dagger, requesting it be returned to their common friend. Olive and the rest of the guards departed with the innocents, and the party descended back into the temple.

They began at the prison room where the captives were kept; they had a suspicion that an oddly empty section of wall must hide a secret door. [2] A period of thorough searching revealed a hidden button that made the wall rotate, revealing a narrow cave tunnel behind. Traxx lead the way with his darkvision; the blood-red crystals that provided light to the rest of the temple were missing here. He saw a skeleton splayed on the floor with rusty sword and key clasped in its hands, and reached for the key. That caused the ancient guardian, a dread, to animate and attack, its own bony arms breaking free of the earth and slicing wildly with the rusty sword!

Dreads are possibly my favourite low-level Forgotten Realms monster. It's a pair of arms with a sword!
The party was surprised and terrified by these bones scraping across the ground, the rusty sword clashing against the sword walls - the dread went first, and began assaulting Traxx! Not having a light source slowed down the party's response dramatically, and resulted in most of Saebrial and Viveka's first few turns being effectively wasted. The frightening presence of the dread also made it harder to fight off, and the dread significantly wounded Traxx twice, eventually downing him. The tight confines of the tunnel were a poor circumstance for Korth's titanic maul, and the barbarian had to fight with his claws only. Saebrial's bane spell was ineffective, the mental effect doing nothing to the mindless dread, but she still shattered it to pieces with her divine lance (being a worshiper of Lliira, the FR goddess of joy, dancing, and queer people, her lance is a shining rainbow force.) Traxx's Doggo grabbed an arm bone as a chew toy, and the party decided to retreat and rest; the long day of fighting had taken its toll, and their spells were expended, Traxx reduced to 3 hp.

With the party gone from the temple and no more city guards outside, two waiting acolytes who had been hiding in an unexplored room made a run for Westgate, to tell their superiors at the House of Steel about their new enemies... 

[1] I don't know WHERE I got the idea of Olive becoming a city guardsman after the events of Masquerades, and I couldn't find it in my notes. If anyone knows where the source for this is, let me know please!
[2] Pathfinder 2e has no equivalent to a take 20 action from 3.5/PF1; previously the party had searched this wall with manual Seek actions and none of them had made the DC to find the door. This felt unsatisfying for both myself and the players. After the previous session I checked the rules more thoroughly; without time constraints and with appropriate proficiency, the PCs should automatically find anything appropriate (or the GM should definitively use fail-forward structures.) As this was an optional secret area, fail-forward wasn't necessary, but I informed the players previous to this session that searching without time constraints meant they would automatically find anything important, and they had no meaningful time constraints now that they had disrupted the unholy ritual.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Two Discussions About The Forgotten Realms

People often ask how I study, criticize, understand, and represent the Forgotten Realms, both positively and negatively. I'm writing up a series of blog posts about how to research the Realms effectively, and some of the unique quirks that go into it, but here are two conversations I had online today about how I see the Realms and how I work with it.

In all cases, I am Erika.

Researching The Hurdy-Gurdy

This first section is about researching whether hurdy-gurdys exist in the Forgotten Realms. Some gaps where unrelated conversation occured are removed.

[9:18 AM] Krisnan: Also, I am sad, looking at Aurora's Inventory List and seeing no Hurdy Gurdy
[9:18 AM] Krisnan: I may be a bit obsessed about that instrument
[9:24 AM] Erika: also the hurdy-gurdy is a good example of what you do to make things more FR
[9:24 AM] Erika: yes the hurdy-gurdy is cool
[9:24 AM] Erika: but since I have a list of FR instruments, I try to emphasize those instead
[9:25 AM] Erika: let's try a glaur, or a yarting, or a zulkoon
[9:25 AM] Erika: it's different and evokes the setting as a different world
[9:25 AM] Erika: I try to take every opportunity I can like that
[9:25 AM] Erika: I have all these details, and then I use them
[9:44 AM] Krisnan: I'm just a grumbly grognard because Hurdy-Gurdy was used in the Windwalker trilogy and I can't listen on youtube to imaginary instruments
[9:45 AM] Erika: wait the liriel baenre one?
[9:54 AM] Krisnan: Yep, that one
[9:54 AM] Krisnan: Well, those three
[9:59 AM] Erika: okay! we get to do step 2
[9:59 AM] Erika: after I play Vampire
[10:00 AM] Krisnan: Step 2?
[10:00 AM] Krisnan: looks around for hidden crossbowmen
11:29 AM] Erika: okay
[11:29 AM] Erika: so STEP 2 of Realms canon
[11:29 AM] Erika: here's the distinction
[11:29 AM] Erika: step 1 is "a thing Erika already remembers and knows is in the setting"
[11:29 AM] Erika: step 2 is "for whatever reason, a thing Erika doesn't know offhand or doesn't know at all"
[11:29 AM] Erika: so there's absolutely nothing wrong with bringing up a step 2 thing
[11:29 AM] Erika: it just means I need to do some checking
[11:30 AM] Erika: in this case you're saying hurdy-gurdys are in the Windwalker trilogy
[11:30 AM] Erika: I will go search that now
[11:32 AM] Erika: okay, so I actually have 4 references to a hurdy-gurdy
[11:32 AM] Krisnan: It's the part where the poor Sea Elf gets tricked
[11:32 AM] Erika: the ones in starlight and shadows are a hurdy-gurdy type device used for undersea signaling
[11:32 AM] Erika: but then I have one from Ascendancy of the Last and one from Soldiers of Ice describing it being used by gnomes
[11:33 AM] Erika: and this is important
[11:33 AM] Erika: because I don't just want to say it's a thing
[11:33 AM] Erika: I want to know where, when, and why it's a thing
[11:33 AM] Erika: okay, so now I have illuskan underwater signaling and gnomes using it
[11:33 AM] Erika: where do I go to check this?
[11:33 AM] Erika: gnomes are races of faerun, illuskan signaling might be wizards and rogues of the Realms?
[11:36 AM] Erika: so I open those
[11:36 AM] Erika: I also look at other sources that might be relevant
[11:36 AM] Erika: like oh yes, right, Demihumans of the Realms
[11:36 AM] Erika: and maybe there's a section on the underwater signaling in Skullport
[11:36 AM] Erika: and I sing a song by deepwater bay might have something, grab my copy of that from Steven
[11:38 AM] Erika: and I also run a general web search on the phrase "hurdy gurdy forgotten realms" to see what I find
[11:38 AM] Erika: and there's my answer
[11:38 AM] Erika: it was in Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue all along
[11:38 AM] Erika: where I thought it might be
[11:39 AM] Erika: page 149, DaRoni's Workshop
[11:40 AM] Erika: so that's our actual rules source
[11:40 AM] Erika: we can confirm that the hurdy-gurdy, under a different name, is in the Realms
[11:40 AM] Erika: (it's called the yeoman's fiddle instead)
[11:41 AM] Erika: now I have to connect the various references back to it
[11:41 AM] Erika: it's plausible for all the mentions to have connected back to this one source
[11:41 AM] Erika: two of them refer to gnomes, and the inventor in this case is a gnome himself
[11:42 AM] Erika: the ones in the North for sailors can also connect as an Aurora's product sale
[11:42 AM] Erika: further searching online turns up that Elaine Cunningham included the hurdy-gurdy because she was interested in them at the time
[11:42 AM] Erika: but it looks like the Realms-specific naming got missed in editing
[11:42 AM] Erika: so that's okay, it happens
[11:44 AM] Erika: so they exist, they're called yeoman's fiddles, they're expensive and prone to breaking, Aurora's sells them and gnomes and the scoundrels of the Sword Coast north use them
[11:44 AM] Erika: I don't really need to poke at a bunch of the other sources I opened up now, as I have most of it centrally locked down
[11:44 AM] Erika: but I need one more thing
[11:44 AM] Erika: the when
[11:44 AM] Erika: so for when
[11:45 AM] Erika: a central, helpful tool, is the Grand History of the Realms, a sourcebook that's literally just a giant timeline
[11:45 AM] Erika: and even then it's missing things, but it's a good place to start
[11:46 AM] Erika: Aurora's is 1992, so early 2e (I can place this more specifically, but I might not need to, with other pieces at the front and back ends)
[11:46 AM] Erika: When was Soldiers of Ice?
[11:47 AM] Erika: No timing in the book itself, but it's Harpers book 7, so similarly early
[11:47 AM] Erika: What was the book about? okay, volcanic eruption in northern Damara
[11:48 AM] Erika: let me check for that in the Grand History
[11:49 AM] Erika: okay, I'm not seeing that there
[11:49 AM] Erika: a  couple more cursory searches (gnolls, the main character's name) don't get me a result either
[11:49 AM] Erika: fine
[11:49 AM] Erika: I'm not done yet anyway
[11:50 AM] Erika: this is just getting harder
[11:50 AM] Erika: Next up I'm grabbing Hall of Heroes and Heroes' Lorebook, which have entries on various novel characters
[11:50 AM] Erika: I also want to grab Code of the Harpers
[11:51 AM] Erika: Bingo!
[11:51 AM] Erika: She's in the Heroes' Lorebook, which is a cinch to nail down timings from
[11:52 AM] Erika: And this also tells me something important
[11:53 AM] Erika: Soldiers of Ice took place on the Great Glacier not Damara, and Martine also has an entry in the Great Glacier supplement
[11:58 AM] Erika: okay so I had to do this the hard way again
[11:58 AM] Erika: because that dead ended
[11:58 AM] Erika: but that's fine
[11:58 AM] Erika: got a date
[11:59 AM] Erika: this is a timeline of all Realms fiction, and this gives me 1366 DR for Soldiers of Ice
[11:59 AM] Erika: on the other end I've got Lady Penitent Book 3
[11:59 AM] Krisnan: so, a bit after the Time of Troubles
[11:59 AM] Krisnan: 8 years
[12:03 PM] Erika: Right
[12:03 PM] Erika: but we're not done yet
[12:04 PM] Erika: Lady Penitent and in particular book 3 are easy to place
[12:04 PM] Erika: because it's basically reconfiguring the entire drow pantheon for 4e
[12:04 PM] Erika: (and also killing Qilue :frowning: )
[12:04 PM] Erika: that's 1375 DR
[12:04 PM] Erika: sorry, I got lost in reading the actual book for a bit
[12:04 PM] Erika: so at the very earliest the hurdy-gurdy was available in 1366 through to 1375
[12:04 PM] Krisnan: ... You know, every time you say "You're not done yet", running in the 90s starts playing in my head
[12:05 PM] Erika: want to check Tangled Webs to see if that's earlier (I don't think so)
[12:05 PM] Krisnan: Also, Jeeeeepers, you never realize HOW OFTEN there's a cataclysm in the realms
[12:05 PM] Erika: and Soldiers of Ice is 1993 publication
[12:05 PM] Krisnan: Especially after 1300
[12:05 PM] Erika: so I actually want to get the date for Aurora's
[12:05 PM] Erika: because that might be a bit earlier
[12:06 PM] Erika: (note: there's a general rule of thumb you can use to get these dates by using their real world publishing date, but it's better to be specific)
[12:06 PM] Erika: and I was right
[12:07 PM] Erika: Tangled Webs is 1361 DR (the timing on Starlight and Shadows is VERY WEIRD)
[12:07 PM] Erika: so, that puts us even farther back
[12:07 PM] Erika: 1992 is earlier than the revised campaign setting
[12:07 PM] Erika: so we're post-1358
[12:08 PM] Erika: what I want is one of the big campaign update books
[12:08 PM] Erika: what's the one for about then? the horde, maybe?
[12:09 PM] Erika: yep, Yamun Khahan died in 1991 printings
[12:09 PM] Erika: back to the grand history
[12:11 PM] Erika: unrelated okay apparently there's a lesbian parthenogenesis baby of Alustriel's running around, that makes sense
[12:12 PM] Erika: okay so I can basically narrow this down to a late 1360-early 1361 printing date for Aurora's
[12:12 PM] Erika: and this is important, because like some other Realms books, Aurora's is actually written as an in-game document
[12:13 PM] Erika: with the footnotes breaking the fourth wall to give you game stats
[12:13 PM] Erika: so I can say that the first introduction of the yeoman's fiddle was in that printing, and that it spread from there
[12:13 PM] Erika: great
[12:13 PM] Erika: that gives me the what, when, and where
[12:14 PM] Erika: if I was actually doing this for a purpose I could tie a knot up on things now
[12:14 PM] Erika: note that I can't go too far forward with this
[12:14 PM] Erika: as a general rule of thumb I can't assume anything pre-Spellplague actually exists afterwards
[12:15 PM] Erika: so I'll say the yeoman's fiddle is still in production until 1385, and then if 4e or 5e games want to pick it up from there with their post-apocalyptic storylines, they can
[12:15 PM] Erika: and that's how I place one thing in the Realms
[12:15 PM] Erika: that was step 2

How To Criticize A Text, An Idea, And a Setting

This is a much larger discussion, in some places an argument, in some places an explanation of how dumbed-down introductory literary analysis applies to reading and criticizing the Forgotten Realms. If you have cultural studies training and think I'm glossing over something or ignoring an important nuance, I likely am, in order to make it more accessible.

[8:14 PM] skulldixon: Doesn't 5e basically ignore the spellplauge anyway
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): yeah
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you're still 120 years ahead on the timeline and that sucks all kinds of ass
[8:15 PM] skulldixon: I mean, the only thing I think they carried over was The Raven Queen
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): there's more
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): the changes to Thay, the politics of the Sword
[8:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): Coast  etc
[8:16 PM] skulldixon: Well, I mean - I don't remember any of the new books covering Thay, but I don't read all the books either
[8:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): yeah
[8:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): there's a lot of changes they didn't roll back basically
[8:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): 5e is very far from the golden ages of the Realms
[8:18 PM] skulldixon: Maybe its because my game takes place out in and around the dalelands..
[8:20 PM] skulldixon: though RAW i think the only big change you would have to deal with would be the 9th level spell cap. Otherwise, you could play in an earlier era and be fine
[8:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm not trying to be offensive but I think it's more that you don't know where to look; Shadowrun got run over like 3 times, there's been major changes to Cormyr and Sembia, etc
[8:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): Shadowdale
[8:20 PM] skulldixon: I'm sure. but since they haven't put any actaul books out about it all you have to look at is older material
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): No, that's incorrect
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): the changes to shadowdale are the Elminster Must Die trilogy
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): The Sembia changes are in the SCAG and The Herald
[8:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): Cormyr is in a bunch of 4e magazine articles
[8:22 PM] skulldixon: I mean in the actual game books. I don't read the FR novels
[8:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay
[8:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): so
[8:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): you're missing out on a lot of details then, please understand that
[8:24 PM] skulldixon: Right, I was making the statement that WoTC seemed to, as far as the game books go, seem to be ignoring it and hoping no one would notice. They did a similar "Mistake" with Dragonalnce so I get it
[8:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): And that's incorrect.
[8:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): You have no idea about their editorial policy or product direction if you're dismissing part of the product line out of hand.
[8:25 PM] skulldixon: Maybe that is possible. or maybe you're giving them too much credit.
[8:27 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm not going to argue about this with you. You are refusing to acknowledge part of the text and discourse, that's your choice, but it means your position on any critical issues regarding the Realms as a product is fallacious by nature.
[8:30 PM] skulldixon: Thats fine. I wasn't trying to argue. You obviously have a bigger stake in this than me since I don't really like the setting all that much. Granted, I only did research into the setting four years ago when prepping for my game. Most of the info/lore I found was - not consistent. But hey whatever
[8:37 PM] skulldixon: it would be helpful for all that to be in the... IDK .. the Game books since its the basic setting for the edition....
[8:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): It would be nice
[8:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): but they decided to only focus on the Sword Coast and the Western Heartlands
[5:42 AM] BaaL: Does anyone run FR by the book?

I always imagined it was a setting designed to be disassembled and put together into some even unholier abomination. With its themes all over the place you can practically reconfigure humpty dumpty into anything.
[5:44 AM] Krisnan: Well, I ran an adventure in FR as it detailed
[5:44 AM] Krisnan: With Zhentarim and Bane
[5:45 AM] Krisnan: It was pretty localised
[8:21 AM] Erika (She/Her): @BaaL I do! It’s great!
[8:44 AM] Krisnan: I kinda really want to be in Erika's game(s) to see how to do FR Right
[8:51 AM] Erika (She/Her): I have one observer for the OSE game already, I'm happy to take another
[8:53 AM] Krisnan: Well, the main issue is (as freaking always) - Schedule. I'm in GMT+1 zone - and in four days it will be the GMT+2 zone
[8:54 AM] Erika (She/Her): right
[8:54 AM] Erika (She/Her): but you can still see the Discord discussion, read recaps if you can't attend a session, ask questions about how or why I do certain things, and that sort of stuff
[8:54 AM] Erika (She/Her): up to you!
[9:04 AM] Krisnan: (Just had some tomato soup. Send me an invite and I'll have a look and say hello!)
[11:21 AM] Avalanche Surfer: If I have to read multiple novels, subscribe to your magazine, and buy your over priced supplements to get a complete picture of your setting, then fuck your setting
[11:42 AM] adempz: They haven’t kept Zariel’s history consistent in this edition alone. You literally can’t run the Realms as written with all the errors and contradictory material. My favorite is the Companion over Elturel. It was originally in another city, then, oops. Someone messed up, it didn’t get caught, and here we are.
[12:35 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Avalanche Surfer what's wrong with having a setting with that much detail? it might not be for you, but that doesn't mean it's wrong
[12:35 PM] skulldixon: @Avalanche Surfer Pretty much my thoughts. I'm finding the Runquest: Glorantha book refreshing in comparison because the book is full of setting.
[12:42 PM] Avalanche Surfer: @Erika (She/Her) I'm saying you should consolidate it.
[12:42 PM] Erika (She/Her): why?
[12:42 PM] Erika (She/Her): all the extra detail is half the fun!
[12:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): I was looking up hurdy gurdys for @Krisnan and found out that Alustriel had a parthenogenetic lesbian baby with a Rashemar witch as a form of diplomacy!
[12:44 PM] Avalanche Surfer: @Erika (She/Her) have all the detail you want but put it in one place
[12:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): that
[12:44 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): It's less fun if you're not allowed to talk about the setting because you haven't read the spinoff novels.
[12:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): that would be like a 200,000 page book
[12:45 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I hesitated to say that but I feel that's at the root of the current conversation? Let me know if I'm off.
[12:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): I don't know!
[12:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): but everyone should be able to talk about the setting, and I hope they do
[12:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): if you mean what I said to skulldixon last night, that was different
[12:48 PM] Erika (She/Her): he was trying to make an objective, critical argument about the current publishing and products
[12:48 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that requires knowledge of the actual sources to make an informed argument
[12:49 PM] Erika (She/Her): I only shut people down like that when they make uninformed or unsupported arguments that are supposed to be critical takes on the Realms
[12:49 PM] Erika (She/Her): and I always take the time to point out what they're missing
[12:49 PM] Erika (She/Her): discussing the setting, internal details, and 100% especially someone's own game or home game decisions are very different
[12:52 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): That wasn't 100% clear last night so thank you for elaborating on that distinction.

That said, I'm still not sure requiring a whole bunch of secondary reading for people to criticize the setting is realistic.
[12:53 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Like, I wouldn't wish reading everything Salvatore's pumped out on anyone
[12:53 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): And I think you can still have an idea of how the Realms is being treated by reading the core material
[12:54 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Anyway. I just piped up because it seemed like Avalanche Surfer's comment sprang from that context. I don't want to argue their argument for them
[1:03 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): (and I say all this as someone who did read the Salvatore books until... i think it was a spinoff involving the assassin rival dude and jarlaxle, when i realized the story was just spinning it's wheels, not going anywhere in particular. that's a lot to read.)
[1:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): that is a lot yeah
[1:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): Servant of the Shard or the Ghost King
[1:05 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): "Promise of the Witch King" was the one I stopped with I think
[1:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): oh, yep
[1:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): got my ones from when he sent them back up to the Cold Lands to fight Zhengyi again confused
[1:06 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I actually enjoyed the book itself, but the fatigue of keeping up with the series finally got to me
[1:07 PM] Erika (She/Her): the last Drizzt novel I really read was The Lone Drow
[1:11 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah, that makes sense. Lone Drow was pretty bad- at least I vividly remember all the bits with Drizzt himself being unusually bad.
[1:12 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I finished that trilogy, read the Witch King, and decided I was done.
[1:13 PM] BaaL: I’ve only watched the Star Wars movies, my knowledge of the setting begins and ends there and I’ll critique those movies individually seperate from the comics and splatbooks.

I’ve only read Out of the Abyss and it’s fair to critique the setting based on what I know from that product, since it is a complete product, not a series.

With settings that are split up into many different products and series of products, each one stands on its own in terms of critique honestly.

Is it wrong of me to think of franchise settings in this way?
[1:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): the only reason I kept going through it all was because the Thousand Orcs trilogy is basically in quantum entanglement with one of my favourite setting sourcebooks, so I needed to know what happened
[1:14 PM] diregrizzlybear: what's this about The Companion origianlly being over another city?
[1:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): so @BaaL and @Pkdragon (she/her) you basically asked the exact same question about talking critically about products versus the setting, so I'll answer them together
[1:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): The Companion is originally over Elversult, not Elturel, for one thing
[1:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): this map shows both

[1:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): I think it might have been moved as part of the creation of Elturgard in 4e
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): yeah it is in Elturel in the 4e FRCG
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): ANYWAY
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): products versus the setting
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): so here's the thing
[1:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): and disclaimer
[1:19 PM] Erika (She/Her): I have an English degree, so my take on this is very influenced by academia
[1:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): so in contemporary literature studies, we don't really talk about novels or poems or books as the unit of study any more - the word that gets used is "text", referring to a single unitary piece of writing
[1:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): @top cat (he/him/autist) I SEE THAT
[1:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): so a text can be a novel, it can be a gaming supplement, it can be a web article, it can be a social media post
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): now, one thing the Internet critics are very in love with
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): and are very wrong about
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): is Death of the Author
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): which is just old and bad and they keep using it wrong anyway
[1:21 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): Oh noes
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): Lindsay Ellis has a good video about how absurd the things internet people do with it are
[1:21 PM] Xenophon of Athens: That video is excellent
[1:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): so as a formal guiding perspective for study, a text is not a dead single unit
[1:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): it is not a thing that exists in isolation
[1:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): it is not birthed fully formed from the brow of Writer-God without any influence
[1:22 PM] Erika (She/Her): a text is a unit of writing and creation and culture, and it is created in response to and as part of a larger discussion among people
[1:23 PM] Erika (She/Her): in simple terms, we call that discussion a discourse, and multiple discourses make up culture as a whole
[1:23 PM] Erika (She/Her): importantly, none of this is Big Meaningful Literature stuff
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): none of it only applies to Really Important Books You Should Read Aka The Classics
[1:24 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So death of the author is the lens of critique ignoring the author's intentions?
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): not even
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm not even going to touch it
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): just saying it's wrong
[1:24 PM] Erika (She/Her): and anything you have ever learned or tried to apply from the internet about death of the author is wrong
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is a core precept of the argument I'm about to make
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): and we can debate it later
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): but not as part of this, because then we'll get all sucked into that
[1:25 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): The reason I'm asking is because when I got an english minor, my english courses treated the lens of "author matters" vs "author doesn't matter, text stands on it's own" as two different but valid lenses of critiques
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay yes
[1:25 PM] Erika (She/Her): so you know part of the score then
[1:26 PM] Erika (She/Her): So if you're going to do a text-only viewing without discourse, it's still incorrect to say intention doesn't matter
[1:26 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you can only derive intention from textual readings, not outside sources
[1:26 PM] Erika (She/Her): and then you would know that you can contrast multiple techniques to make an argument
[1:27 PM] Erika (She/Her): whereas the internet generally says "uh death of the author so nothing matters except exactly what's there" and then does an incredibly shitty analysis and refuses to examine other approaches
[1:27 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): got it
[1:27 PM] Erika (She/Her): hence the Lindsay Ellis video, where she shows how absurd that is
[1:27 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I'm with you now :thumbsup:
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): you could probably get some fascinating readings of RPG books using a single-text approach like that
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): but that's a different project
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): and to your average layperson these days it's important to get across the idea that other books matter
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that CinemaSins or whoever is wrong
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay so
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): again
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): you can have a text a discourse and a culture about anything
[1:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that's really cool
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): our blog posts are texts, our discussions are the discourse of the OSR
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): that's valid and important, and good
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): so when we talk about the Forgotten Realms, we think about it in the same way
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): we have individual texts, like novels and game supplements
[1:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): and together they make up a discussion about the Realms
[1:30 PM] Erika (She/Her): so the important thing here is that every Realms supplement ever published is a response to other publications, and is part of a communication among the people who are talking about the Forgotten Realms
[1:31 PM] Erika (She/Her): And that they cannot be removed from that context of that discussion
[1:31 PM] Erika (She/Her): In the simplest, easiest terms, this is something like "Hey, your new Dragons of the Underdark book has to be in this year according to editorial"
[1:32 PM] Erika (She/Her): Sometimes it's something like "hey, we're covering Calimshan again, can we fix this continunity error from page 33 of Volo's Guide to Genies while we're at it?"
[1:32 PM] Erika (She/Her): those are examples from the production side, but they don't have to be from the production side either
[1:32 PM] Erika (She/Her): they can just be things like "hey all the fans keep writing in for more details on that drow character with the swords"
[1:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): now
[1:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is how a text (again, a novel or any other publication about the Realms) is situated in regards to the discourse and other texts
[1:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): so when I talk about a particular idea, I want to see where that idea started, what other discussions it's created to, and where it's going
[1:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): hey, where did this monster come from? when did they reprint it? what changed about it? any new details added?
[1:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): but that's an idea
[1:35 PM] Erika (She/Her): and I can still look at a text on its own and say hey, this particular text didn't represent this idea well
[1:35 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can read the text and make basic determinations about it: there's not a lot of detail, it was unclear, it was misspelled, the book contradicts itself
[1:36 PM] Erika (She/Her): and those are explicitly arguments and decisions about the text itself
[1:36 PM] Erika (She/Her): even as the text is part of this larger discussion and describing an idea that also exists in other parts of the discussion
[1:36 PM] Erika (She/Her): so I can make arguments about a particular text
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): but they are always contextual, and limited
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can say that Demons of the Forgotten Realms I was really bad at representing Eltab, but Demons of the Forgotten Realms II was better about him
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): am I making sense so far?
[1:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Pkdragon (she/her) ? @BaaL ?
[1:38 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah, I get you. I'm just waiting for the whole argument to respond. I think I agree with most of it.
[1:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay
[1:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'
[1:39 PM] Erika (She/Her): I'm just making sure I'm making this accessible to people without close reading training or practice coding
[1:40 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): admittedly, I actually enjoy close reading
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): oh it's fantastic
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): but it's a big leap to explain to someone without the training
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): "you have this one sentence to write a five page essay about in an hour. GO"
[1:40 PM] BaaL: Texts = Falliable
Settings = Infalliable if any text covers the failure, otherwise falliable.

Am I reading it correctly? This is a bit above my weight class.
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): no
[1:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is not about fallibility or any sort of truth
[1:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is saying that basically a book is composed of multiple ideas that are influenced by other books
[1:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that your book is influencing other books that come after it
[1:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): does that make more sense?
[1:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): (aside: sometimes I think that my english degree was all this really easy basic stuff that a child could understand and then you try to explain semiotics or something to someone and go okay this really is a mindfuck the first little while)
[1:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): also another aside but @retrograde tardigrade xenograft is going to want to read this discussion, I know it
[1:43 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): I was about to say "semiotics is easy" and then I realized that it has different interpretations in linguistics vs literature
[1:44 PM] BaaL: That there’s a chain of influences all the way back to Gilgamesh I understand. Nothing stands on its own.
[1:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): great, okay, we can work with that
[1:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): so let's put that aside and talk form for a brief second
[1:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): because it's also important
[1:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): no matter the ideas in a book, the quality in which they're represented is important. a good book has exciting, evocative language, has meaningful metaphors, and communicates its ideas well, right?
[1:46 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): sure
[1:46 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can say a book is good or not based off the quality of its writing, quality defined as communicating well, meaningfully, and impactfully
[1:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): because a great book can have great ideas, but it's dragged down to being a bad book if it's really boring or unclear
[1:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that's a quality of the book itself
[1:47 PM] Erika (She/Her): no matter how good the ideas I get are, no matter how clear a connection back to Gilgamesh I have, if I can't write it well, it's not going to be a good book
[1:48 PM] Erika (She/Her): so when I talk about how good or bad a book is, I'm talking about two things: a) the quality of the writing, and b) what it does with the ideas it has from culture
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): and if I look at an individual book being good, we're talking about the quality of the writing, in addition to how good the ideas in it are
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): the quality of the writing itself is a quality only about that book
[1:50 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): So the best kind of book has cool ideas that are communicated well?
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): but the ideas are transformations or additions to stuff from other culture
[1:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): yes! absolutely. on a basic level, for sure, yes.
[1:52 PM] BaaL: Why does cultural influences make for a better text?

It often does, but it’s tangential, not an essential like quality A.
[1:53 PM] Erika (She/Her): because you cannot have ideas without influences from other culture at all. language and thinking just don't work that way. everything is in relation to each other.
[1:54 PM] BaaL: Okay that’s clever, I get it now.
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay cool!
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): so
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): here's the thing
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): if we look at books that are bad
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): either on account of bad writing or bad ideas
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): there are very much Bad Forgotten Realms books
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): there are novels that are so poorly written they hurt to read
[1:54 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): can confirm
[1:54 PM] Erika (She/Her): there are sourcebooks that present ideas badly or unclearly
[1:55 PM] Erika (She/Her): and this is absolutely true
[1:55 PM] Erika (She/Her): and I can absolutely stand up and say that Netheril: Empire of Mages is shit and you should largely ignore it
[1:55 PM] Erika (She/Her): but I really need to know HOW I'm saying it's bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): did it take a giant shit on a bunch of ideas from other books (yes), is it boring and uninteresting because the writing is bad (also yes) okay so it's bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): but even though that book is bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): that doesn't necessarily make the ideas in it bad
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can still take the idea of the ancient empire of Netheril, which was introduced in books before it and comes up in books afterward
[1:56 PM] Erika (She/Her): and say this idea is good
[1:57 PM] Erika (She/Her): I just have to keep in mind that that one book is really bad about it
[1:57 PM] Erika (She/Her): and therefore when I write my book about Netheril I have to respond to that other book and fix things or make it less shitty or rewrite things
[1:57 PM] Erika (She/Her): at the most basic of levels, this is what's called a retcon
[1:58 PM] Erika (She/Her): this other book got something wrong or bad, so I'm just going to replace it with better writing now when I do it
[1:58 PM] Erika (She/Her): Still with me @BaaL ?
[2:01 PM] BaaL: You say that the particular implementations of the settings do not matter as long as quality B foundations are strong, quality A can be improved in future implementations. Yes?

But quality B relies on communicating those ideas effectively. What happens when a setting like FR is juggling a huge amount of detail and shifting themes, muddying quality B by being unable to communicate it concisely?
[2:02 PM] Erika (She/Her): nope
[2:02 PM] Erika (She/Her): nowhere near that yet
[2:02 PM] diregrizzlybear: you cover the situation where a book is bad because it is poorly executed but the ideas might be good. is it the same when the the writing might be fine but the idea diverges from the discourse in an unpopular way? Thinking about Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand.
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): all I'm saying is that I can say a FR book is bad because it has bad writing and also because it represents an idea in the setting badly, using the infamous box set about Netheril as an example
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that I can then respond to something bad and make it better with better writing when I write my own book
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): does that make sense?
[2:03 PM] Erika (She/Her): @diregrizzlybear I'll respond to you in a little bit
[2:12 PM] BaaL: It makes sense.

But assuming you’re not creating a canon product it ultimately does not matter if you can improve it, you’re still working off an imperfect copy cloned from a poorly communicated quality B. 

You can make B better and more concise, but that involves undoing the A flaws and plugging the unknowable B holes.

But the sold product does not change, it remains in it’s current flawed state for future buyers.
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): okay
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): you're getting ahead of me again
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): I am nowhere near remotely done my actual argument
[2:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): I just need you to tell me if what I'm saying makes sense so far
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): please don't go off on tangents or you're going to confuse yourself
[2:14 PM] BaaL:

[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): pretty much
[2:14 PM] BaaL: Yeah sure, go on! :slight_smile:
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): So we've covered how you can criticize individual books
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): But criticizing the actual ideas or the whole discussion (in this case, the entire setting) is harder
[2:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): Because an idea is not just limited to one book
[2:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): And therefore to study the idea, I need to look at how it's written about in multiple books, compare those books, and then make a decision about how good or bad it is
[2:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): Does that make sense?
[2:17 PM] BaaL: It makes sense.
[2:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay!
[2:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): Now, the entire setting is made up of multiple ideas, lots and lots of them. Once I can criticize an individual idea, I can criticize multiple ideas; and once I have an understanding and an opinion on multiple ideas, I can criticize the overall setting. It's really unlikely that I can fully research and understand every idea in the setting, so I can make an argument about the setting on the basis of its ideas in two ways. One is preponderance (a LOT of the ideas in this setting is good, therefore the setting is good), the other is ratio (MOST of the ideas in this setting are bad, therefore the setting is bad.) Does this make sense? Can you see how I can assemble criticizing books into criticizing ideas into criticizing the setting as a whole?
[2:28 PM] BaaL: By having one bad representation of your setting you permanently damage the ability to communicate B qualities.

Adding errata or otherwise correcting works makes it increasingly difficult to accurately to portray your B qualities, as you are communicating the full ideas of that setting over a larger amount of text, the B qualities are communicated without brevity, information is duplicated and potentially contradictory which are only corrected later, decreasing reader comprehension and the completeness of the setting in return.

This strongly hints towards a less qualitative piece of fiction.
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): no
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): no
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): again
[2:28 PM] Erika (She/Her): you are getting way ahead of me
[2:29 PM] Erika (She/Her): I am just saying that I can criticize individual books and how they represent ideas, I can criticize ideas by reading multiple representations of that idea, and I can criticize the setting by reading about a lot of its ideas.
[2:30 PM] Erika (She/Her): Does that make sense?
[2:32 PM] BaaL: Yup
[2:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): Okay great!
[2:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): So let's go back to one of your examples
[2:33 PM] Erika (She/Her): You mentioned Out of the Abyss, which is an adventure book for the Forgotten Realms
[2:34 PM] Erika (She/Her): What did you think of that book? Was it a good book? Was it written well? Were the ideas in it interesting?
[2:36 PM] BaaL: Interesting ideas, but it lacked essential details about the surface world to be able to run it. 

The setting as presented was incomplete.
[2:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): Awesome! That's a great criticism of the book, and I agree.
[2:37 PM] Erika (She/Her): Now, let's expand that into our larger criticisms. Can I make a statement about the larger Forgotten Realms setting from this one book? no, because I'm only looking at one book and that isn't a lot of the ideas in the setting.
[2:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): Can I make a statement about an idea that's in this book? No, I can only make a statement about how that idea is represented in this book.
[2:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): And Out of the Abyss has a fantastic example of that
[2:38 PM] Erika (She/Her): The climax is about the demon lord Zuggtmoy trying to marry the giant fungus Araumycos
[2:39 PM] Erika (She/Her): Both Zuggtmoy and Araumycos are ideas from other books; Zuggtmoy was introduced by Gary Gygax back in Temple of Elemental Evil, and Araumycos was first published by Eric Boyd in 1999's Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark.
[2:40 PM] Erika (She/Her): Zuggtmoy originally comes from Greyhawk, but Araumycos is all from the Forgotten Realms.
[2:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): So when I look at these ideas, I don't want to say they're both about the Forgotten Realms, because they're not. Zuggtmoy is from another setting, and Out of the Abyss' designers made the choice to introduce her to the Forgotten Realms in this book.
[2:41 PM] Erika (She/Her): When I look at other representations of these ideas, I can now make the criticism that the designers of Out of the Abyss were lazy and didn't research other parts of the Forgotten Realms.
[2:42 PM] Erika (She/Her): Why? Well, again, Zuggtmoy they introduced to the Realms outright in this adventure, and I don't know why they used her and not the pre-existing evil forces of decay, fungus and ooze in the Realms (Moander and Ghaunadaur.)
[2:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): By looking at ideas in other books, I can see that this is redundant and doesn't fit what already exists in the setting.
[2:43 PM] Erika (She/Her): The same goes for Araumycos. It's set up in other books as this unknowably old, hoary cyclopean horror, full of psionic abilities and holding uncountably ancient ruins in its grasp.
[2:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): In Out of the Abyss, Araumycos is reduced to being basically a husband to Zuggtmoy, with all its horror and wonder and mystery stripped away.
[2:44 PM] Erika (She/Her): So when I compare the various sources on Araumycos, I can say that it's a good idea, but that Out of the Abyss represented it badly.
[2:45 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can say that Zuggtmoy is redundant next to other Forgotten Realms ideas, and is an idea that doesn't add anything to the setting, so she didn't need to be included either.
[2:46 PM] Erika (She/Her): Combined with your other criticisms (that it's incomplete and missing essential details), I can make a good argument that Out of the Abyss is a bad book.
[2:46 PM] Erika (She/Her): Does this make sense?
[2:50 PM] BaaL: Now we have two seperate representations of Araumycos. 

One is good and one is bad. 

The bad implementation affects the overall quality B of the setting negatively. As they both now exist in paralell.
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): correct!
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): and the important thing though
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): is one of scope
[2:50 PM] Erika (She/Her): that I always have to consider how many different books I'm getting information from
[2:51 PM] Erika (She/Her): and realize that I can criticize only one book or the representation of something in that book if I have that one book
[2:51 PM] Erika (She/Her): that I can criticize ideas if I have more books
[2:51 PM] Erika (She/Her): and that I can criticize the entire setting if I have a lot or most of the books
[2:52 PM] Erika (She/Her): so my argument about something, to be a good argument, is always limited by how many books I've read
[2:52 PM] Erika (She/Her): does that make sense?
[3:03 PM] BaaL: Yes, I’m on board now.

You can judge a setting more accurately based on the amount of information you have about it.

However the more information that is required to portray those ideas speaks negatively about both quality A and B.

At some point, the inability to accurately portray the setting stops being the fault of the reader and falls on the worldbuilders for creating an incomprehensible setting, at some point knowing the information necessary to fully critique it becomes impossible to the human mind. I don’t think FR is quite on the level of being incomprehensible, but it’s pretty steadily on the ”this system is too complicated to no longer be the fault of the reader for not being able to understand it.”
Even WotC had trouble communicating enough useable setting information in the many hundred pages of Out of the Abyss, I can’t blame a hobbyist DM for failing either.
[3:04 PM] Erika (She/Her): Absolutely agreed.
[3:04 PM] Erika (She/Her): It is a major problem that the Realms is now big enough that it can't be represented well in an introductory product
[3:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): I think you need at least two rulebooks, one for players and one for the GM
[3:05 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah, this is getting to where I have a problem. At a certain point it just isn't realistic to require people to read everything they need to critique it
[3:05 PM] BaaL: So whilst FR is so complicated its content cannot be critiqued in a sense, you can still critique how it’s unable to portray those ideas.
[3:05 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): and I don't like the idea of big settings being essentially immune to criticism. Like, for example, Marvel.
[3:05 PM] Erika (She/Her): But again
[3:06 PM] Erika (She/Her): you can criticize an idea by looking at everything about that idea
[3:06 PM] Erika (She/Her): so I don't have to read everything about the Realms to say "wow this racist portrayal of Chult is really shitty" to give an an example of good criticism about 5e
[3:06 PM] Erika (She/Her): I just have to read the other stuff on Chult
[3:07 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): That certainly is more manageable
[3:07 PM] Erika (She/Her): Yep
[3:07 PM] Erika (She/Her): So this kind of brings us back to skulldixon's argument from last night
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): I think Marvel is a little different from FR because it's not much of a stretch to say that the MCU is supposed to stand on its own.
[3:08 PM] Erika (She/Her): it's not feasible to make an argument to say "hey the Realms suck or this particular version sucks" without doing a lot of reading
[3:08 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): But like, if I want to criticize Marvel Comics for being a complete mess, I don't think it should be necessary to read everything involved with it
[3:08 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I'm not talking the MCU, lol
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): lmao
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): whoops
[3:08 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I'm talking the mess that is comic book continuity
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): yes, and I totally agree with you as someone who tried to get into it
[3:08 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): it is a mess
[3:09 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): I don't have to read even 10% of the stuff they put out to know there are some serious problems
[3:09 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Because that 10% is so hard to read
[3:09 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you can easily make an argument that a particular subset or idea or thing is bad
[3:09 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Pkdragon (she/her) so you said you did an english minor. did they ever talk about doing coding, a literature survey, or a literature review?
[3:10 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Right! But if you can easily make an argument that enough subsets are bad, at certain point I think you can argue that the whole thing at the very least has some issues without reading all the comics

I'm afraid we didn't. Not that I remember.
[3:10 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): fwiw, I've done a science literature review but that'
[3:10 PM] Erika (She/Her): @Pkdragon (she/her) that's the preponderance argument I mentioned. you don't have to read it all, just a lot
[3:11 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Close reading and lenses of criticism was what we talked about, and the rest was mostly just reading books and writing essays about them >_>
[3:11 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): how much is a lot?
[3:11 PM] Erika (She/Her): a literature review is the same thing in cultural studies as it is in science, basically
[3:11 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): Oh cool!
[3:11 PM] Erika (She/Her): so by doing a consistent concerted reading of multiple texts and synthesizing them you can make a statement about the whole
[3:12 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): Yeah, I helped compile one on Spina Bifida over the summer
[3:12 PM] top cat (he/him/autist): it was hard :frowning:
[3:12 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So before we get in two deep I want to bring up a couple of points 

- I think part of the problem last night may have been that the conversation was about "5E", and that might mean something different to two different people
[3:12 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): when I see 5E, I think the game books, and that's it.
[3:12 PM] Erika (She/Her): coding is basically doing a shitload of close readings for ONE SPECIFIC THING in a bunch of different sources and quantitatively examining the times it comes up
[3:13 PM] Erika (She/Her): and then a survey is reading a selected subset of texts about a thing as an introduction, so you can learn what other texts you need to read to get an idea of the whole
[3:13 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So I feel like there might have been an understanding that people were talking about one very specific set of Realms content, but both people weren't on the  same page as to what that set of content was, which caused the problem with scope.
[3:14 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): (i hope that makes sense)
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): also pkdragon
[3:14 PM] diregrizzlybear: a lot of people, like Jojiro mentioned, see 5e as also the paratext like all the broken promises about what it is supposed to be
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): this is not gonna make any sense other than to you
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): but you can actually use deconstruction (aka death of the author on steroids) to do a larger argumentative analysis
[3:14 PM] Erika (She/Her): you just have a text of EVERYTHING
[3:15 PM] diregrizzlybear: and we clearly all have to deal with the community developed understanding about how games work and how WotC writed modules
[3:15 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Hmm.
[3:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): and look at all texts as one unitary item comparing them internally as language
[3:15 PM] BaaL: Fun discussion, learned something even! But I’m gonna head off and play some half-life.

[3:15 PM] Erika (She/Her): cool, have a good time
[3:16 PM] BaaL: Thanks for the indepth explainations
[3:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): you're welcome
[3:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): just gonna copy all this into a blog post so I don't forget it all
[3:16 PM] Erika (She/Her): now that I've got it down somewhere I can just point people to it
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): since rarely do I do the actual text/discourse/culture explanation about the Realms itself
[3:17 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Yeah I want to pretend that made sense but I'll admit I didn't actually learn much with that english minor haha
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): so if nothing else but the text matters
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): I can just put all the texts together
[3:17 PM] Erika (She/Her): and compare the texts directly through close reading
[3:18 PM] Erika (She/Her): and make value judgments from that
[3:18 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Ah, yes
[3:19 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So, just to make sure I understand you correctly
[3:19 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): these are the methods you'd use to build up to a setting critique without reading everything involved?
[3:19 PM] Erika (She/Her): yes!
[3:19 PM] Erika (She/Her): And one thing that's worth noting
[3:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): is that of course you can do this with a one-book (not text) setting
[3:20 PM] Erika (She/Her): in that case you just have one book, and maybe some ancillary texts like social media posts or interviews to compare with
[3:20 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): So I really do think scope is important, and that limiting scope makes all this much easier but we don't really think to do it
[3:21 PM] Pkdragon (she/her): Which is why I brought up the definition of 5E earlier
[3:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): it's that very pointed critical thinking you don't learn how to do outside of academic university
[3:21 PM] Erika (She/Her): so it can be very frustrating and inaccessible to people without that training