Introduction to The Forgotten Realms

The Forgotten Realms is a fantasy setting which was created by Ed Greenwood in the 1960s, which came to commercial use in 1987 as a campaign setting for the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. Spellfire was the first of what would come to be well over one hundred novels and collections of short stories published by Ed Greenwood that same year. In the 25 years since then, the Forgotten Realms has been used for role-playing games, board games, card games, video games, novels, short stories, magazine articles, and millions of hours of Dungeons and Dragons.

The impact of The Forgotten Realms on the development of Fantasy fiction really cannot be understated. It’s virtually impossible to find a current fantasy author who doesn’t list someone or something from the Forgotten Realms among their influences. The world has generated dozens of bestsellers, and several Realms books have seen half a dozen reprints. Few fantasy worlds are as large, well developed, and widely written in and about.

I started reading in the Realms in the early 90s, borrowing my brother’s copies of The Crystal Shard and Azure Bonds. In the years since, I’ve probably managed to read a solid 60-75% of the complete Realms bibliography, and I have spent many hundreds of hours playing Dungeons and Dragons in the setting, as well. Among the highlights of my career as a nerd were the several times I had a chance to play D&D with Ed himself. Needless to say, I consider myself to be an aficianado.

Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing reviews for several Forgotten Realms novels, one from each of several authors I consider to be The Realms’ biggest contributors. In addition to the review of the book, I’ll  briefly discuss my impressions of their influence on the world of the Realms, both for future fiction, and the other forms of Realms media where applicable.

Ed Greenwood – The creator himself. No list of Realms works would be complete without an entry from Ed. He is a Canadian writer and editor who first published a novel in the Forgotten Realms in 1987. Since that time, he has published 25 novels set in the Realms, and introduced dozens if not hundreds of characters that appear in the works of other authors in the setting. He is most famous for the sage and archmage Elminster of Shadowdale, a character he sometimes portrays at conventions.

Elaine Cunningham – An American sci-fi and fantasy author who first published in the Realms in 1991. Creator of some of the most well-known and enjoyed characters in the Realms, she has produced 13 Realms novels and 16 novellas.

“Richard Awlinson” – Not a real person, but instead a combination of the writing efforts of Scott Ciencin, an American author of over 40 novels, and Troy Denning, who appears below in this list. This pseudonymous author published only two Realms novels, but they comprise books one and two of one of the most influential sets of books in all of Realms lore.

R.A. Salvatore – Likely the most well-known Realms author after (or perhaps even before) Ed Greenwood, Salvatore has published 36 novels in the Realms, and is responsible for creating one of the most well-known characters in fantasy, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.

Kate Novak & Jeff Grubb – Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb are an American couple who’ve collaborated on a half dozen Forgotten Realms novels. Jeff has also created a number of role-playing sourcebooks for the Realms. Their first Realms novel, Azure Bonds, was the source material for one of the greatest of the SSI ‘Gold Box’ PC role-playing games, Curse of the Azure Bonds, which was released in 1989.

Troy Denning – Troy was a game designer for TSR, the company that published the Realms as a setting in the late 1980s. He went on to publish 15 novels in the Realms, including the third novel of the ‘Richard Awlinson’ trilogy which had a huge impact on future development of the Forgotten Realms. He also provided great development for one of the characters in that trilogy in a number of other stand-alone novels.

Douglas Niles – Another one of the original TSR staff, Niles created a number of the first edition D&D modules, and he helped to create the Dragonlance fantasy setting. His first Realms novel was the very first novel to be published in the setting, and he went on to publish nine Realms novels.

Paul S. Kemp – One of the later comers to Realms publishing on this list, Paul Kemp started in the Realms contributing to the Sembia series, and created the fantastic character Erevis Cale. He has since expanded upon that character to the tune of eight novels, for a total of nine novels and several pieces of short fiction in the setting.

Lisa Smedman – Lisa Smedman is another Realms author who also spent a lot of time working at TSR publishing adventure modules. She has also produced nine Forgotten Realms novels, including New York Times bestseller Extinction in 2004.

Philip Athans – Philip Athans hasn’t produced as many Realms novels as other authors on this list, but his Watercourse trilogy is one of my favourite in all of the Realms canon and really brought a depth to the world to me. He also provided the novelisations for Baldur’s Gate one and two, among the best PC RPGs ever made.

So there you have my list. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for a review for a number of these authors. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the article series!

About Dan Ruffolo

Dan Ruffolo
Dan is a History and Philosophy graduate from Laurentian University. When he’s not reading an excessive amount of fantasy and sci-fi novels, or putting way too much time into online gaming and forums, he runs a Wine Shop in the north end of Toronto Ontario. A lifelong fantasy reader, and gamer nerd, Dan’s life ambition is to become a librarian.

View all articles written by Dan Ruffolo.

7 comments

  1. Ulrik Christiansen

    Great idea for a review series. I recently bought a lot of used FR books from an old and dusty bookshop i Denmark, so I’ll be looking forward to your reviews. I guess Shadowdale would be a good place to start reading, to get some background story?

    Thanks for the blog.

    • Dan From Canada
      Dan From Canada

      Actually, the Avatar Trilogy (of which ‘Shadowdale’ is the first book) was written for the transition from D&D/AD&D into AD&D 2nd edtion though that created the reality for most of the rest of the series.

      If you have ‘Spellfire’, ‘Azure Bonds’, ‘The Crystal Shard’, or ‘Darkwalker on Moonshae’ they all take place in the Realms before the events of the Avatar Trilogy.

  2. Looks a little like my collection. I started collecting all the books, hardcover, softcover, and reprints, since Spellfire first came out. It was about three, maybe four years ago that I kinda stopped buying them. I had a little financial trouble and couldn’t stay on top of the releases. But I still have the whole collection. I’d like to get back into collecting the series but for some reason I keep putting it off, getting a little further behind.

    • Dan From Canada
      Dan From Canada

      Sadly, in a move about 4 years ago, I had to liquidate most of my collection, which included most of my Forgotten Realms stuff. For some of the reviews coming in this series, I actually had to consult a research collection to refresh my memory on some of the books, as they’re now out of print, impossible to find used, and even unavailable in our library system.

  3. Does anyone have a reading order list for the novels?

    • Dan From Canada
      Dan From Canada

      The setting never really followed chronological order in a way that makes an easy list generateable or even all that important.

      Really, anything written before Shadowdale “first” then the Avatar Trilogy, then anything written between The Avatar Trilogy and ‘Elminster Enraged’ and you’ll be fine. Just read each other’s series in order.

      If you really want to delve into the chronology there’s a comprehensive timeline at http://www.o-love.net/realms/fr_time_books.html which lists where in the timeline the events of each book take place, but you don’t really need to skip around between authors mid-series even if there’s someone else’s book chronologically between book 1 and 2 of another series etc.

  4. There is also a youtube channel review of the book line called “Realms remembered” although its currently “on the hold” I find it interesting occasional listen:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mw6M_2FPBSM

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