J. Robert King

Ed Greenwood—Day 1

Origins of the Forgotten Realms

In 1966, a young man named Ed Greenwood was writing adventures about a certain moneylender named Mirt. Over the next forty years, the private world of this private young man became one of the most public role-playing worlds every created: The Forgotten Realms. In this installment, Ed tells us about the origin of his fantastic world.

The Realms began as a setting for my earliest fantasy stories, which were episodes in the life of the fat, wheezing, wily old merchant Mirt the Moneylender (a combination of Falstaff, Glencannon, and Nicholas van Rijn), as he traveled from one port city to the next (usually a bare step ahead of angry creditors, marks he’d swindled, and rivals) along the Sword Coast. I was trying to emulate Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & Gray Mouser tales in approach (not content), as I read them in the pages of FANTASTIC: self-contained little yarns, but if you read a few of them, you learned more and more about Nehwon, the world they were set in, “in the background, over the characters’ shoulders,” so to speak. I wanted a “hero” who knew how to be Conan, but was too old and decrepit to be Conan anymore, and so had to live by his wits, not his mighty thews.

I had the character and the Sword Coast by 1966, and Waterdeep and the name “Forgotten Realms” (and the concept behind that name) by 1967. “One Comes, Unheralded, To Zirta” (recently republished in a Wizards of the Coast Best of the Realms anthology of my stories) is the first complete Realms story, a short yarn that features Mirt, Elminster, Durnan, Storm, Alustriel, and Queen Filfaeril of Cormyr.

I first encountered D&D in 1975, really embraced it and started playing in 1978 (when the first hardcover rulebooks began to appear), and started writing articles for THE DRAGON (as the magazine was known back then) in 1979. Some TSR staffers, notably designer Jeff Grubb, read the magazine, noticed my mentions of the Realms in my articles (I used the setting for examples, and to let me suggest possibilities rather than being authoritative and therefore precise, by saying “it’s rumored that trolls infest the ruins” rather than “Room 1 contains 8 trolls, and their hit points are”), and contacted me in 1986, when TSR approved of his idea to use a new setting as the “home” of the 2nd Edition of the game (a setting bought rather than consuming years of company design time, as DRAGONLANCE had done). I leaped at the chance, and the long, wild, and wonderful ride began.

The most wrenching bridge to cross, right at the beginning, was to relinquish sole control of “my” world, and risk seeing some elements appear in the Realms that wouldn’t be to my liking (yes, there’ve been a few; I would never have put, for example, the Dalai Lama—yep, a real-world, living person, and almost certainly without his knowledge or permission—in the Realms, as one adventure module did). Once I crossed that bridge, I had to live with the results, and they’ve largely been GREAT.

You see, one thing my world could never do, as long as I was the sole creator, was surprise me (because I put every last detail into it). The other drawbacks were that I, with my time and skills limitations (I can draw, but nothing like the often-glorious published Realms art, and I can create fast, but not nearly as fast as hundreds of creators empowered by the resources of a dedicated publisher) could never hope to present even a tiny part of the huge world that lived in my imagination, or get it to the attention of lots of people. TSR (and now Wizards of the Coast) did that and continue to do that, and I have honestly loved being a part of it, for more than thirty years now. Yes, there are irritations, botches large and small, missed opportunities, and creative disagreements . . . but I knew all of those were inevitably along the road ahead the moment I crossed that bridge.

February 1st, 2010
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5 Responses to “Ed Greenwood—Day 1”

  1. Matt James Says:

    I never get tired of hearing this story from Ed 🙂

  2. admin Says:

    I agree. I love the idea that Mirt was sort of an aging Conan! I think Ed’s longtime interest in older heroes may come from his childhood, raised by older relatives. There’ll be more on that coming up soon!

  3. The Sage Says:

    “Make Mine Mirt!”

    That’s always been my feeling every time Ed tells this tale. We need more Mirt.


  4. Garrett Titmus Says:

    Hey, do you have a rss feed I can add to my reader? I looked around but could not find it, thanks a ton in advance.

  5. admin Says:

    Hey, Garrett–

    Thanks for asking about the RSS feed. Alas, I don’t have one set up yet. I’ll need to talk to my tech-saavy friend to get one up and running.


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