Remaking the Realms, Savage Worlds style
For various reasons I've been thinking of doing my very own, personal reboot of the Forgotten Realms. If you're not a fan of the Realms this might be a boring post. Or it might not be—the chief attraction of the Realms for me is the wealth of detail that even just a glimpse can suggest, so for all I know you might find the tidbits below fascinating.
There won't be any Savage Worlds mechanics in here either, so if that piqued your interest I'm sorry to disappoint.[1. For now. I'll probably have something crunchy and Savage Worlds–ish to talk about in a later post.]
I never liked Cyric
Many a seer had visions as the Time of Troubles approached. The visions of one Mirador of Arabel predicted an age of strife ushered in by the ascension of a petty thief to godhood by deceit and murder. Gods fell as if stalks of wheat before the scythe of this new Lord of Murder, until the fabric of the world could take no more and Abeir-Toril as we know it was forever changed in a great magical cataclysm. It is well then that, as I have discovered in my research, this petty thief Cyric was sat upon and crushed to death by a frost giant during an attempted burglary of its clanhome.
— Artoros the Inquisitive
I've never liked Cyric. My introduction to the Forgotten Realms was through the AD&D 2nd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (the "gold box"), so Cyric was a fixture, but to make heads or tails of him and his divine soap opera required reading some TSR novels in which I frankly had not a shred of interest. Also, he's a bastard, and not the good kind of magnificent bastard that you just love to hate. No, I've never liked Cyric.
I'm doing some leisurely planning for the next campaign I want to run, which will be a sandbox focused on the ruins of Myth Drannor using Savage Worlds (with some of the fantasy bits from Shaintar) as the system. I've been trying to settle on a year in which to start the campaign[2. I'm considering either when Myth Drannor's ruins were "opened" to intruders (The Year of the Worm, 1356 DR), or the default "present day" of the gold box (The Year of the Banner, 1368 DR) since that would require less alteration of my 2nd edition material.], and reading events in the roll of years on the Forgotten Realms Wiki brought me inevitably to the original controversial cataclysm that was written just to update the Realms to a new edition of (A)D&D: the Time of Troubles.
The arbitrariness of the changes made during the Time of Troubles never sat well with me, but I didn't have a familiarity with the old edition of the setting (the "grey box") to have a concrete objection. Reading over the events, though, I realised some of what I didn't like were the events that involved Cyric becoming a god and his effects on the pantheons. I just didn't like anything to do with him.
At that moment four things clicked in my head: the Time of Troubles was the fictional excuse for the changes in magic from one system (1e) to another (2e); I was going to be using a different magic system; I didn't like Cyric; and the vague memory of an article on Gnome Stew about using the system-changeover cataclysm of the 4e Realms as an opportunity to rewrite the setting to better suit your tastes:
I recommend that DMs running 4E games take a crack at revising their Realms before the official update, which presumably will advance the timeline and explain the evolution from 3E to 4E magic systems, is published in August.
Why? Here’s a chance to put your own stamp on this storied world.
That advice applies as much to the official update from 1e to 2e as from 3e to 4e. Since I was already going back in time (and busy hating on Cyric), I realised that rewriting the gold box Realms from the Time of Troubles as a Savage Worlds version of the Realms, with my own pet changes as a bonus, would be awesome. The Godswar explained the changes in the Weave to accommodate 2nd edition changes in the magic system, but that was nothing compared to the changes in magic that I will be introducing with Savage Worlds–style magic. I was just going to handwave it and mumble something about the magic in AD&D books never working according to the AD&D rules anyway, but having the Time of Troubles introduce SW-style magic within the fiction instead puts a warm glow in my GM heart.
And, I get to kick Cyric out of my version of the Realms.
Rearranging the gods
With Cyric dead before the events of the Time of Troubles, I can change a number of obvious and not-so-obvious details of the crisis. Cyric's actions led directly to the deaths of Bhaal and Leira and to the ascension of Kelemvor. That gives me a lot to play with already, and if I consider that removing Cyric's influence on events might have many chaotic implications, I could really bring back any dead god who took my fancy.
The other nice thing about this opportunity to re-imagine the Realms and reshuffle the pantheons is to consider how the gods would fit into a world without explicit alignments. Savage Worlds doesn't use anything remotely like alignment, so I don't think I'm going to tag any of the gods with that kind of descriptor in the background material I prep for my players. I like gods that are a little more morally ambiguous than most D&D gods, and having the elbow room to give a follower of an "evil" god some human motivations for their heinous acts is particularly refreshing.
With Kelemvor never ascending and Myrkul killed in battle with Midnight, I think I'll have Jergal resume the role of God of the Dead. He's creepy and dusty, but I admire his devotion as a librarian. I love the thought of the PCs meeting a lich devoted to Jergal who really just wants to sit around and wait until they and everyone else dies so that he can record their passing properly.
I suspect that Leira was killed off mostly because she was the patron god of a class—illusionists—which was remove from 2e. I've always liked the idea of a god of mystery and deception, so I'll reinstate her as-is.
Bane is a fun evil god, but leaving him dead gives a nice power vacuum and also lets me play with the idea of Banites keeping the faith and seeking to resurrect their Lord. That undercurrent was one of the more interesting ones in the gold box, though I never did care for Iyachtu Xvim. He'd be a convenient place to stick the unclaimed portfolios of Bane, though, so maybe the stripling god will be interesting without the opposition of Cyric. That would also mean that, though Jergal will be a bit more prominent, with no gains in portfolios the God of the Dead will be much less powerful than any other incarnation in the past or in alternate futures.
Bhaal, the Lord of Murder, is great. I'm happy to just have him back as a nasty motivation for assassins and brutal thugs. Unfortunately, that means the area around Boarskyr Bridge isn't very interesting anymore—since Bhaal's blood wouldn't have spilt there—unless I come up with some non-fatal reason to have him badly wounded there. However, that's a small price to pay for having a religion terrorising all of Faêrun with weekly ritual murders.
Waukeen disappearing during the Time of Troubles was her own damned fault, so it would be a bit of a stretch to bring her back with an argument about chaos theory and Cyric's absence. On the other hand, since Liira kept Waukeen's worshippers happy and her temples open so that nobody was sure what was going on, I don't think it actually matters whether Waukeen goes missing or was never gone. The gold box leaves the truth of the matter as a secret up to the GM, so I think I'll roll with that and say... maybe.
The final tally
So that leaves just Bane, Myrkul, Moander, and Mystra among the major gods who died during my version of the Time of Troubles. I get to keep some favourites in Leira, Bhaal, and Jergal, and completely change the dynamic around the portfolios of tyranny, strife, and fear during the following years. Mystra's death and subsequent reincarnation as Midnight (who then changed her name to Mystra, just to make things confusing) will be my in-fiction explanation for why magic has changed so very drastically to fit the Savage Worlds model.
And, I get to see Cyric dead under the buttocks of a frost giant. Perfect!
How would you do things differently if you were to reshape the Realms?