Wizards of the Coast have released, via their organised play body the RPGA, a preview of some material in the forthcoming Forgotten Realms supplement to 4th edition D&D.
On that promo page is a link to download the preview document, which contains some expurgated rules for creating drow, genasi, and swordmage characters, as well as the rules around a few of the character origin choices.
The first thing is the the fluff writup for drow, and I've already decided the setting book due in September will not be worth any of my scarce gaming dollars. But first, some background.
In 4e WotC has chosen to genericise the cosmology and a bunch of the fantastical elements. They've been selling this significant change to the background of the game by saying it makes adapting it to other settings easier for DMs. Great! I don't mind the changes, and they're going to make it even easier to bring in unique, setting-specific cosmology and stuff. I'm looking forward to how the Forgotten Realms (my first love among D&D settings) will be injected with new vitality in 4e, and how its long history and its place in the universe are going to be added to.
There's the operative word, though: added. So, back to 4e drow in the Realms.
Fey Origin: Your ancestors were native to the Feywild...
The Feywild? Fuck that! The Realms has well-established history for where all elves came from, and it wasn't some vaguely-developed "bits of pure goodness left over from the creation of the world, parallel to the normal world". This is rewriting the stuff that I enjoyed about the setting. What happened to the Elemental Chaos, the Shadowfell, and the Feywild being generic and replaceable for individual settings? The generic cosmology kinda sucks, so not capitalising on its replaceability—it's entire raison d'être according to Wizards—is barmy.
What draws me to a setting is the feel of it, which is conveyed by the hints and details about what the world is like. 4e's generic cosmology does not excite me, and including it in the Realms sourcebook is an anti-feature in a product they're hoping I'll buy. Sure, I could just ignore that stuff and put old Realms cosmology in the blanks, but the situation isn't even that good. Reading the book for inspiration, it's not going to be like suddenly finding these unfortunate blank patches that I need to fill in, but rather like the stuff I love and was expecting to savour suddenly streaked with a big pile of poo.
Even if I didn't feel it would inhibit my GMing glands, there are mechanical problems with running 4e Realms with a modified cosmology. The 4e rules have very tight coupling, with crunchy mechanics directly interfacing with fluff. (Being from the Feywild gives a character the Fey Origin keyword, for example, which is used to determine interactions with spells, items, and stuff that doesn't even exist yet.) Changing the setting cosmology will leave a lot of small inconsistencies that will be a headache to track down and squash, and they will keep cropping up in future 4e materials I might want to use because the rules depend on fluff I wouldn't be using. Doing that in the middle of a game is even worse. Not my idea of GMing fun.
I won't GM in the official 4e Realms, though I might play in such a game. As a player I can enjoy a game without direct contact with the setting materials because I'm instead diving into the fiction that the DM crafts in and around the game. As a GM, though, I'd be constantly stumbling over tiny little unpleasantnesses. That kind of harshes my GMing groove.
Yeah, I'm whining about tiny details that they zOMG CHANGED!one! like a rabid fanboy. But hey, they're needlessly messing with the part of the product that would cause me to buy it; the fact that their avowed intention was to not change those details just adds a layer of stupid over it all. They're offering something that is very much akin to the Realms, but... isn't quite. It's the same reason I didn't really enjoy the 3e Realms books. Sometimes I'll go to the café and want a cheese scone, and I often will not buy a substitute when they don't have cheese scones. I went to satisfy my desire for cheesey, sconey goodness, not just because I wanted something, anything to eat and would buy something despite not wanting it. My desire for Realmsy goodness doesn't inspire me to lay down cash for, say, peanut butter, or a Smart Car, when an acceptable source of Realms isn't available but peanut butter and Smart Cars are. Or piles of poo.