I was trying to figure out how to write about my experience reading about the Forgotten Realms for an upcoming BW campaign with as geeky a metaphor as possible in order to compare my experience reading The Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide and Waterdeep & the North. The FRCG is a supplement for Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition and W&tN is a supplement for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (often mentioned as 1st edition AD&D). Looking at Waterdeep is, in a way, looking at D&D during the time when I have been a gamer. Here it is, as geeky a metaphor as I could come up with, comparing the reading of these two books by describing visiting the Forgotten Realms’ two finest wizards.
The Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide
It doesn’t matter why you show up at Khelben Blackstaff’s tower in the sprawling metropolis of Waterdeep, you will have to wait for a while. Tea is served because serving tea is correct and civilized and said tea is adequate. The tower is resplendent, perhaps showing signs of being bigger on the inside than on the outside. It is the very picture of a resplendent wizard’s tower, as if Kelben put it together and arranged the furniture, put the tapestries on the wall and placed the scrolls on the shelves just so visitors would get what they expected when they entered.
When Khelben shows up he stands after you sit down, clutching his staff, staring at you with dark eyes, considering your problems with perfect posture. Sometimes he appears to be looking past you, as if he is considering an issue that doesn’t pertain to your problems directly but could have an effect. When he offers sage advice, his words are clipped, short and you get the feeling that you are being manipulated even as he get’s the information across. The words are clipped but they just keep coming. When you are done, there is so much content that it is hard to know where to begin. Before you can ask questions concerning his wizardly answers, he bids you a good day and the servants politely escort you from the tower.
Now you are on the streets of Waterdeep, and your senses are overwhelmed. You can try to remember what the Blackstaff told you but the streets are laying siege to your mind with noise. Some of it is even inspiring but so much of it is just blurry. That is the thing about standing in the city of Waterdeep while considering a wizard’s advice…there’s just too much to think about, so much to consider, so much you are asked to ignore in order to get to and digest the wisdom.
Waterdeep and the North
Elminster’s tower is a well kept, old windmill in Shadowdale. The locals smile and shake their heads when you tell them that you are going up the hill to consult with the Sage of Shadowdale. The door is slightly ajar, he knew you were coming but you aren’t sure how that could be possible. The place is a mess and you want to believe that there is a pattern in this mess, that Elminster is more than an old man living alone in an untidy windmill, that he is in fact the most powerful wizard in the Realms and that in his mess are methods. The place has its mess but it is still pleasant. One easily feels at home here.
He smiles when you walk in and points to the guest pipe on the mantel, offering it with a nod, puffing his own pipe and blowing smoke out his nose. If you want tea he points , showing you the pantry where the tea-makings are kept. The tea is quaint, picked locally, nothing fancy but still pleasant. When the conversation is over, Elminster is just gone, disappearing while you sip at your tea, off to aid someone, off to his own adventure.
It might not feel like he gave you enough, as if you need more but there is enough in his advice and when you are done, you might find you never needed more. There is advice you didn’t need but overall it is sparse, a taste, something leaving you looking for more answers. Elminster, at this point, doesn’t believe you will ever see each other again. He expects you to come to your own conclusions.
I will write more about our journey into the realms later, in terms more concrete later.