Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The Great Realms Read-through!



As some of you may know, back in the early 2000s I created a series of popular modules for the PC roleplaying game Neverwinter Nights. A critical and commercial success, Neverwinter Nights empowered a legion of D&D fans to create their own digital adventures. For the younger me, it was an opportunity to create stories set in the fabled Forgotten Realms setting, which had first gripped me as a young teen. Though occasionally derided for its chaotic, grab-bag worldbuilding, that same one-size-fits-all approach infused the Realms with an incredible diversity of locales and characters that have fueled around 400 novels and short story collections, dozens of roleplaying books and accessories, and more than a score of video games. It would be fair to say that some of the history of the Forgotten Realms helped inspire my Grim Company novels – particularly the fall of Netheril and the folly of mages who would dare challenge the gods. Those interested in a detailed summary of the Realms are advised to check out this excellent article by the inimitable Adam Whitehead.

For me, what started as an exercise in game design and fanfic using the NWN toolset ultimately set me on my path to professional game development and international publication. Though my first module, Siege of Shadowdale, was short and unsophisticated, the second, Crimson Tides of Tethyr, garnered the attention of Bioware. Tyrants of the Moonsea was a contracted Premium Module that got cancelled when Atari (a truly abysmal publisher) ended their support of the game. I began a fourth module intending to finish off the story… but by then real-life had interfered and I joined Ossian Studios as lead designer and writer on the Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion Mysteries of Westgate. More screw-ups by Atari meant MoW never achieved the success it might have – but I did get to write story proposals for a fourth NWN2 expansion, as well as Baldur’s Gate 3 and Icewind Dale 3 pitches that ultimately never went anywhere.

Fast-forward to the present day. Once I’ve finished my current unannounced gaming project, I intend to overhaul and then complete the series of modules I began way back in 2002. The recently released Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition should hopefully provide the platform to make that dream a reality. In the meantime – driven partly by research but mostly just nostalgia – I’m going to attempt a foolhardy, some might say impossible undertaking. I’m going to attempt to review every Forgotten Realms fiction book ever released, in the order they were first published. That is, as mentioned, around 400 novels and short story collections spanning over 30 years.

Crazy? Perhaps! It’s been a hard couple of years for me personally. Stepping back into the Realms feels almost like catharsis after all the real-life and fictional grimdark. I expect this project to take years and occasionally drive me to the point of insanity. But, if nothing else, it will get me reading and updating this blog on a regular basis. It’s my hope that the Great Realms Read-through will prove both informative and entertaining, shedding light on forgotten classics while providing critical commentary from the perspective of a novelist and game designer who has worked with the setting.

Stay tuned for the beginning of this odyssey. The first very stage of our grand tour will take us off the west coast of the Forgotten Realms for Douglas Niles’ 1987 novel, Darkwalker on Moonshae.

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