Elminster’s Forgotten Realms is a beautiful book perfect for the obsessive fan of Dungeons & Dragons’ most popular campaign setting. Though I’m more of a Greyhawk person myself, as a long-time RPG geek, I was captivated reading it. What captivated me? Detail! Detail that brings the cultures of the Realms to life.

This is not an adventure guide-book, nor is it even the geopolitical almanac you often get for fantasy campaign settings. Elminster’s Forgotten Realms is more of a cultural study prepared by someone deeply in love with the people of his home (Elminster, the character, or Ed Greenwood, the author, you choose). There are sections in this book on curses, popular literature, hygiene, legal codes, regional cuisine, and even underwear. The book actually contains recipes for Roasted Cockatrice and Baked Stirge on Toast!

And that, while its greatest feature, is also its biggest negative. It’s not the book new dungeon masters need to launch their campaigns. It won’t tell them what the monsters are like or where the treasure is hidden. It doesn’t even have a very good map. Those who’ve already been running their players through the Forgotten Realms may also have a problem with detail that doesn’t match what they’ve been doing. Still, it’s a great resource and, as I said, even I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Further adding to its attraction for fans of the Forgotten Realms are the many pages of Ed Greenwood’s original notes reproduced throughout the book.

Something else about Elminster’s Forgotten Realms that I found interesting was the art and design. I noted that the book contains no reference to any particular edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The cover is matte rather than glossy and the art, on average, while still conveying a sense of drama, is a bit less fantastical I’m used to seeing with 4th Edition material. If this is the direction WOTC is going with the design for D&D Next, I approve.

Overall then, I’d say it’s a wonderful book. Just understand what it is.

Wizards of the Coast provided a complimentary copy of Elminster’s Forgotten Realms for review.