Behold! The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is finally out in local comic stores and various bookstores. There have already been several noteworthy reviews of the latest addition to the D&D 5th edition arsenal. It is a considerable splat book, I will do a brief review of the guide, along what I thought was great, and some of the things I did not find so great. I will not grossly into detail, for one there are plenty of review articles out there by the time I write this article. You can Google for those. I just want to give some insight on my personal thoughts on the splatbook, along with how I felt Wizards tried to recapture the Forgotten Realms for a new generation of players while restoring the distant nostalgia that was lost in a previous edition.
I should note that while 4th Edition D&D was not my personal favorite, it had its merits, but I will say that when I read Paul Kemp’s The Twilight War trilogy back in 2008 (yes it was that long ago) and saw the events that unraveled to what we shall refer to as the Spellplague crisis. I was not exactly pleased. Peeved was not even the correct term, I actually tossed the book to the ground and started shouting. My college roommates were worried for me. I am an avid fan of the Realms, but I do love the other settings as well. But the Realms was the first campaign setting I was introduced into during my AD&D and 3.5E days. I was not pleased the results at the end of the trilogy, I did not know that it was a precursor of things to come in the new edition of D&D. I was quite stubborn at first when I read the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting for 4th Edition. I did not mind the changes or the mechanics for 4th edition. What I did not like was how alien it felt to play in the realms in the current state that it was in the narrative. So I will tell you right now, after reading the various components of the Adventurer’s Guide, there is a large deliberate attempt to almost retcon the entire Spellplague conundrum. What do I mean by this? Let’s refer to an event during the D&D Next playtests, which Wizards of the Coast dubbed as the Sundering.
What’s the Sundering?
Lord Ao, the overgod of the world of Aber-Toril decided it was time to change a few rules on the Tablets of Fate. The various deities recalled the Time of Troubles (which you can Google as I do not wish to bore you with lore) and decided to consolidate their powers in what some of them feared was Ao’s way to purge the pantheon and start anew. Events and wars unfolded and in the very context of the Adventurer’s Guide, “those…perceive a world much like it was a century ago.” Note: the Spellplague in the narrative timeline occurred a century ago. I don’t know about you as the reader, but to me, I perceived that as that big “we are turning back to clock, sort of.”
I was not the only one who was heartbroken at the resolution of the Twilight War trilogy. People who played in the Realms for years who did not even read the novels for the Forgotten Realms were equally confused and felt alienated. For the tenure of 4th Edition, I did not revisit the Realms. I did play a Swordmage at one point, but I could not look the Realms the same way after that point. But when I learned that the Forgotten Realms was the main D&D storyline, my heart was both elated and hesitant. I was hesitant that there was be another great change and that the storyline would progress in a direction that would only further seem alien to me. When I started reading the bits of lore in the Player’s Handbook, my fears were alleviated. But it made me question the reasoning behind it, and honestly only the Creative Leads in Wizards of the Coast will know the reasons and the whys. So let’s move on with the review.
Old Lore + New Lore = ?
For new and incoming DMs and players, the Forgotten Realms was conceived and published by Ed Greenwood in 1987 with it first publication. There is nearly 30 years of growth and content, which can overwhelming to a new player (DM or Player). So Wizards has focused strictly on the most iconic realm that was also loosely tied to their video game franchises and chose the Sword Coast. The region is rich with big cities, orc warbands, dangers from the Underdark, intrigue and political strife. Besides the legendary of Baldur’s Gate, the Sword Coast has seen plenty of media and exposure from R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt series to the Neverwinter video games. I had no problem with the development team narrowing the focus. The Realms is huge and Ed Greenwood literally had boxes of papers and maps when he conceived the campaign setting. I personally have only had games in the Sword Coast, Baldur’s Gate, the Dalelands, and only had one in the Moonsea. I barely explored the Realms in my decade of roleplaying, I have had characters from all over the Realms, but I never went and explored them.
I appreciate that the guide gives incoming players enough of a feel for the various regions of Faerûn without making a 300-page compendium. We do not need that right now. It was indeed refreshing relive the various point of views of different regions across the Realms. I gives the readers this microscopic impression of a city or place and I think that is an excellent direction to partake.
But there was a few things I did not feel were not necessary or warranted. I saw in another review about the issue with adding and replacing deities. Normally, those sort of things I try to ignore the narrative since it is not within my control and I generally try not to critique another person’s storyline. There were some additions I did not expect to find, namely the return of dead gods. It was not even the fact the gods returned, the context of how they return were what irked me. If you have the Guide or are in a shop with it, if you’re familiar with the lore of the Realms, we all know that Myrkul and Bhaal were slain in the Time of Troubles, their mantles were passed about and that was the end of it. The Sundering event that WotC has implemented since the start of the D&D Next playtest has sort of become this odd deus ex machina where they can justify things or retcon previous changes during 4th Edition. I almost went into an angry rant, which this article is starting to sound. But know that Wizards has created a narrative for which they can change the world of the Realms as they see fit in order to indulge in the player base. Which from a business point of view, is sound and reasonable. I cannot deny that it is a sound business choice to feed into what your customer wants, but from a creative standpoint I almost have to worry about how much are we willing to change to satisfy the fan.
A step forward towards a new Era
My old D&D groups have heard my various praise for 5th Edition, namely for its simplicity and streamlined narrative process. Our blog’s point of creation, the Adventures of Team BAJA is a 5th edition D&D game where I introduced my close friends to the game. The system was simple and still intricate enough to entice my players and give them reasonable cognitive challenges. I have enjoyed the system immensely.
The various Unearthed Arcana articles posted on the Wizards webpage has given the community various vectors for creativity. The Adventurer’s Guide is what I would consider to be published Unearthed Arcana ideas that made it through playtesting. Not all of the classes received new or additional content. But it did try to incorporate the classes in the various factions and setting related lore, in addition to the established races. I did find the lack of Genasi mentioned in the Guide to be odd as the race has had a prominent presence in the Realms for years. But given that the Princes of the Apocalypse book was placed in the Forgotten Realms, I can see why referring back to it would be just wasted spots on the page.
What I really appreciated about the Guide was the inclusion of other existing D&D campaign settings like Eberron, Dragonlance, and Dark Sun. I also deeply appreciated ideas for the new class concepts in homebrew settings. This is something that D&D has never truly address in the past during the age of rampant splatbooks. Various content in splatbooks would be setting specific or required extensive homebrewing to fit a class or feature into a setting. The Guide does a good job giving the reader suggestions for changes to fit the setting being used. For new DMs, this is a very helpful too, especially for ones who still learning the mechanics and might be hesitant due to imbalances. There are more Unearthed Arcana material that I look forward to be seeing published in future products, so while I do enjoy the Adventurer’s Guide for publishing some of the content, I would’ve been happier if we had solidified content for all the classes, not just a majority of them. There were also a lack of Feats, which I thought was particularly odd. I hope they will cover some more feats in the future Arcanas or splatbooks.
I love the Adventurer’s Guide for giving some new character options, the backgrounds had some nice flavor but felt weak in respect with recycling previous tables from existing backgrounds. I would prefer to call these backgrounds new variants if anything else. The lore was simple and conveyed the basic ideas of the regions and the factions that preside within the Sword Coast. I would have loved to see the rest of the Realms but I also understand the creative restrictions that are in place due to scheduling and the mountain of narrative work upcoming. For being a partial campaign setting splatbook, it served as a good introduction to the Forgotten Realms. For the players, there were some new options to implement, and new backgrounds to sample.
There was plenty of resources for the DM, especially with the deities, but the narrative for the setting in its current incarnation feels forced and looms with a deus ex machina (called the Sundering). For the $40 price point, it seems a bit steep given the amount of content and relative size when comparing to the corebooks. I received my copy for $23-$25 roughly from Amazon, the prices will fluctuate due to supplies with online retailers. At that price, I had no issue ordering my copy and waiting a day or two after the release by the time of the writing of this article. For me that was worth the cash, but I should stress that this splatbook is not necessary to run a D&D game of any variety. This is just additional and optional content. So don’t feel pressured by your players or other DMs to buy this content. If you do not wish to use a resource in a game, that is the right of any DM.
If you want your own copy of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide please click on the link. A little bit comes back to help fund the site. Hope you guys (the readers) have great adventures in the Realms and make wonderful memories in its pages and beloved history.
Thanks again for reading the article, I have been busy with my novel-writing for NaNoWriMo by the time of writing this article. It’s a few days late, I do apologize. If you liked what you have read or have any comments or criticisms please post them down below. Like us on Facebook and follow on Twitter to get updates whenever I post things.