Dungeons & Dragons‘ Forgotten Realms campaign settings is one of the oldest shared worlds in gaming history. Originally conceived by Ed Greenwood as a setting for his own short stories, the magical land of the Forgotten Realms (known properly as Faerun) has since served as a setting for dozens of novels and video games, and perhaps more importantly, unknown thousands of tabletop D&D games.
While the Forgotten Realms features castles and dungeons galore, none of these things have enjoyed the enduring popularity of Neverwinter, a city located on Faerun’s Sword Coast. Neverwinter first appeared in D&D canon with the 1987 release of the Forgotten Realms campaign set authored by Greenwood and Jeff Grubb. Known in-game for its skilled artisans, beautiful architecture and unusually warm climate, Neverwinter has served as as starting point for many adventures – both on tabletop and beyond.
MMORPGs like Star Wars: The Old Republic may have never come about were it not Neverwinter. In 1991, a fledgling internet provider known as AOL joined forces with TSR, then publishers of D&D, to release a new kind of video game: a web-based world of adventure called Neverwinter Nights. This game could be played by many subscribers at once, all of whom could communicate with one another and share adventurers. It became a success, with an initial player base of around 50 that grew to almost 200,000 by the time the game ended for good in 1997. By that time, Neverwinter had come into their own, becoming what would later be known as a “transmedia” property.
Software company Bioware bought the rights to the Neverwinter Nights name, and a new version of the game was released in 2002. This new edition offered a single player campaign mode and a set of tools that would allow users to create and host their own Neverwinter adventures. Although the game is no longer officially supported, the fan community continues to develop new materials on its own. Additionally, Neverwinter’s connection to Star Wars: The Old Republic grew even stronger when Bioware used an updated version of Neverwinter Nights‘ game engine to create the new Star Wars MMORPG.
A new edition of the venerable D&D rules set appeared when publisher TSR was bought by Magic: The Gathering publishers Wizards of the Coast. While the rules changed a bit, the popularity of the Forgotten Realms and the city of Neverwinter grew even more. An official campaign book was released for this new edition, plus more novels set in Faerun. Tie-in fiction had been part of the D&D franchise since the eighties, but seemed to grow in popularity under the auspices of Wizards. It was not unusual during those times (and even now) to meet people who had never played a game of D&D but knew the Realms setting well from the works of authors like R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greenwood and others.
Some time after Wizards of the Coast was acquired by toy giant Hasbro, a new edition of D&D found its way to store shelves. The fourth edition rules were syncretic in nature, apparently taking as much of their direction from MMORPGs and wargames as it did from traditional tabletop roleplaying games. While some found this seeming hybridization cause for alarm, most embraced the changes. (Perhaps many of the new edition’s detractors were not aware of D&D’s beginning as a slightly modified tabletop wargame called Chainmail, and the brand’s seminal role in the MMORPG genre. If they were, the irony was lost on them.) In any case, Wizards pushed forward with a new edition of the now-classic Forgotten Realms campaign setting, and its star property, Neverwinter.
Wizards of the Coast released the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, and also a book for players. This new edition of the Forgotten Realms was set over 100 years in the future of previous editions, after a catastrophic event called the Spellplague. Caused by the death of a goddess, the plague twisted the landscape, leaving horrific monsters and ruined cities in its wake. One of those ruined cities was Neverwinter. The settlement, once considered a jewel of the Realms, was devastated, and its citizens forced to relocate. Once again, brave adventurers were needed in Neverwinter – but this time it was to reclaim the town rather than enjoy its riches and courtly intrigue.
The ruined Neverwinter became the topic of its own sourcebook – the Neverwinter Campaign Setting – last month, and just like its statelier predecessor, it is now expanding its boundaries beyond the tabletop. R.A. Salvatore has returned with a new series of novels featuring his signature character Drizzt Do’Urden exploring the city. There’s also a Facebook game called Heroes of Neverwinter, and a Neverwinter board game in the works. Finally, the city is set to once again return to the MMORPG universe with Neverwinter Online, a soon to be released PC game from Cryptic software.
Neverwinter may be an imaginary city, but it is real enough in the minds of men and women around the world. Hail to those who venture forth to this legendary place, past, present and future!