I was thinking about this the other day when participating in this thread over at therpgsite. It was started by somebody complaining about the 4e iteration of the Forgotten Realms setting. (You can read an excellent negative review by Nitessine, of Worlds in a Handful of Dice fame, here. Suffice to say, they've made a whole raft of changes mainly for change's own sake - or in other words to justify selling a whole new range of books to gullible fans.) Now, I should say straight away that I'm no fan of the Forgotten Realms. I always felt that it was bog-standard high fantasy of the most bog-standard kind, and if I was going to buy into a campaign setting it would be one I'd never think up for myself - for example Dark Sun or Planescape. But I know that a lot of people love it, and fair play to them. It seems unfair to slaughter all of their sacred cows. (The argument here always comes back: nobody's putting a gun to their head and saying they have to accept the changes. But they will if they want to play any newly published FR adventures.) More to the point, though, I just don't understand why WotC are even bothering with a new FR edition at all. Here's what I wrote in the thread:
Just so long as they keep away from the one D&D setting I actually like.In other words, what on earth are they doing fiddling about with Forgotten Realms and annoying its fans, when they could be flexing their creative muscles and coming up with new and interesting settings for the new edition they're so proud of? Even though it was a financial basket case by all accounts, TSR was a veritable hive of innovation in its heyday: settings like Spelljammer, Dark Sun and Planescape are amongst the most interesting ever created in the fantasy genre, full stop - way superior to the vast majority of what even most best-selling fantasy fiction authors come up with. (Don't agree? Pick up a novel by David Eddings or Terry Goodkind or heck, even George R. R. Martin - who I love, by the way - next time you're in a bookshop.) The people who worked on those settings were titans of world creation. So what's WotC's excuse for not following suit?
Seriously though - talk about creative bankruptcy. I was never into FR, but I recognise the tradition means a lot to a lot of people. So why fuck it over when you could be, I dunno, creating a new setting?
I mean, does anyone else find it odd that TSR managed to come up with Forgotten Realms, Mystara, Dragonlance, Birthright, Planescape, Dark Sun, Al Qadim, Greyhawk, Spelljammer, etc. etc... and all WOTC have ever created is Eberron (and that was developed by somebody else through a competition)? Get a grip, Mearls et al!
The mean part of me wants to say: they just want to milk Forgotten Realms and Eberron for all they're worth. But I don't credit Mike Mearls and the other designers with that level of cynicism. I may not like 4e a great deal, but Mike Mearls has never struck me as anything other than a thoroughly nice individual. And he's obviously a very thoughtful, creative and intelligent person. Is the problem that he and the other designers are directing too much of their creativity into the mechanics of the game, and not enough into what the games are actually about? Another possibility is the financial one - it's often argued that a superfluity of campaign settings somehow watered down the market for TSR and contributed to their demise. I've never bought into that: what's the difference between one FR book which a million people buy, and ten Dark Sun books, each of which are bought by 100,000 people? Cost of production? In any case, I'm not arguing for twenty brilliant innovative new settings. Even one would do.)
Anyway, in light of these thoughts, I feel much more charitably inclined to the old school revivalist movement, which at least makes no bones about rehashing old material. If people are going for creative bankruptcy, at least let's be honest about it.