"The world is vast and varied, comprising towering mountains, dense jungles, and sprawling seas. There are regions so cold that their snow never melts, others so hot that their rain turns to steam as it touches the ground.
"It is this variety of environments that accounts for the variety of life. In my travels I have noted 73 distinct types of pine trees?I estimate the number of fishes at well over five thousand. The number of insect species likely exceeds the number of grains of sand on the shores of Dragon Reach.
"Every environment, no matter how hostile to humankind, is compatible with some form of life. The diversity and adaptability of organisms are staggering?."
-Elminster of Shadowdale
Within this set are nine booklets. Eight of them, each written by and expert in the area, describe various ecological niches on the continent of Faerun. Begin by reading the Explorer's Manual, which:
- introduces the reader to the organization of the eight area-specific booklets
- contains the whole of the above excerpt from Elminster's work-in-progress about Realmsian biodiversity
- Provides color-coded encounter tables for the eight other booklets along with instructions for their use.
Would-be travelers are advised to read well the information presented by the Sage of Shadowdale and his eight compatriots, and to memorize the Rules of the Rabbit. There are only three: A rabbit isn't always a rabbit. A rabbit doesn't want to be rich. A rabbit doesn't always stay put. An explanation? You'll find it in the Explorer's Manual. Read on, thou hearty adventurer!
Note on the print edition: Elminster's Ecologies was originally a box set, but in the Softcover on demand edition the books have been combined into a single edition.
Elminster's Ecologies (1994) is a boxed supplement for the Forgotten Realms. It was published in September 1994.
Origins (I): Continuing the Realms Line. In 1994, the Forgotten Realms line included adventures and traditional setting-based sourcebooks. The most recent publications were the Marco Volo adventure trilogy (1994) and the City of Splendors (1994) box detailing Waterdeep. However, with Elminster's Ecologies (1994), TSR decided to do something new, innovating their line with a supplement that instead focused on the fauna, flora, and environs of a variety of locales.
Elminster Ecologies is also notable because it's an in-character supplement, told entirely from the point of view of Elminster the Sage. This was an old tradition in the Realms that went back to Ed Greenwood's "Pages from the Mages" articles in Dragon magazine, the first of which appeared in Dragon #62 (June 1982). It also matched the style of the in-character Volo Guides (1992-2000).
Origins (II): A History of Ecologies. The idea of in-character ecologies was also a classic tradition at TSR; Dragon magazine published a long series of Ecology articles, each focused on an individual monster species, the first of which was "The Ecology of the Piercer" in Dragon #72 (April 1983), by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards. Elminster's Ecologies was a somewhat different beast because it covered the ecologies of entire landscapes … but it's likely that it had its origins in those well-received Dragon articles.
Exploring the Realms. Elminster's Ecologies includes seven booklets that cover eleven different regions in the Realms — most of them natural areas rather than the more typical civilized realms highlighted in previous supplements. Though the areas feel a little scattered, they can all be located on a single map of the Eastern Heartlands.
Overall, the material in Elminster's Ecologies is a very nice complement to Forgotten Realms Adventures (1989). Where the earlier book covers the "Cities of the Heartlands", this new box describes the countrysides in between — for the Eatern Heartlands at least, though two "Appendices" (1995) would move westward.
Exploring The Realms: Cormyr. The lands of Cormyr get the best attention in the Ecologies. One of the booklets includes Cormyr as one of three "settled" areas. Other booklets cover the Thunder Peaks (to the immediate east) and the Goblin Marches, the Stonelands, and the Storm Horns (to the immediate north). Finally the Cormyrean Marshes (to the west) also get their own booklet.
Cormyr was an area that was really coming into its own in 1994, a year that led off with the publication of the Cormyr sourcebook (1994) and then continued into Marco Volo: Journey (1994), which traveled right through some of the landscapes covered in this collection.
The Anauroch Desert lies just north of the Stonlands and also receives a booklet. It had previously been described in FR13: "Anauroch" (1991) and the novel The Parched Se (1991) and would continue to receive detail in future years as Netheril: Empire of Magic (1996).
Exploring the Realms: The Dragon Reach. East of Cormyr are Sembia and the Dalelands, the two other "settled lands" of Elminster's Ecologies.
Past the Dalelands, is Cormanthor, an elven forest that gets a booklet too. It would soon receive more attention in Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves (1998) and The Fall of Myth Drannor (1998).
Running around all these lands is The Sea of Fallen Stars, including the Dragonmere to the west and the Dragon Reach to the north. It had already earned some attention in FOR3: Pirates of the Fallen Stars (1992) and would receive even more detail in Sea of Fallen Stars (1999).
Exploring the Realms: Beyond Phlan. The last land covered in Elminster's Ecologies is The Great Gray Land of Thar. This is the most farf-lung land, lying across the Moonsea from the Dalelands and Cormanthor, but it's just past Phlan, which was the heart of FRC1: Ruins of Adventure (1988); the area would be revisited several months later with the release of Ruins of Zhentil Keep (1995).
Monsters of Note. Unlike the singular ecologies of Dragon magazine, Elminster's Ecologies cover huge numbers of monsters, describing how they all live and interact with their environs.
What's most notable about Elminster's Ecologies is that it carefully arranges monsters into a number of standard environments. The Sea of Fallen Stars describes underwater monsters, Cormanthor details forest monsters, Anauroch reveals desert monsters, and the Cormyrean Swamp predictably describes swamp monsters. Both the Storm Horns and the Thunder Peaks focus on mountain monsters while the Stonelands and the Goblin Marches detail monsters found in infertile plains. Finally, Thar covers high steppes monsters.
NPCs of Note. The author of the book is Elminster, arguably the best-known NPC of the Realms.
About the Creators. Elminster's Ecologies is the work of many hands. Rick Swan wrote about Cormanthor and the Settled Lands, while Monte Cook authored the booklets on Anauroch, the Stonelands, and the Goblin Marches. Eric Haddock wrote about the Sea of Fallen Stars, the Thunder Peaks, and the Storm Horns, and Anthony Pryor detailed the Cormyrean Marshes and the Great Gray Land of Thar.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons — a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.