My history with D&D 4th Edition has been a rocky one. When 4e first came out, I began a campaign with a bunch of old friends. We played fro about four months before the burden of GMing—which was, sadly, a burden at the time—became too much for me. I transitioned to being a player in the same group. It wasn’t long before I had a falling out with a member of that gaming group, and subsequently, left, ending up gameless for another six months or so. The problem was that I conflated D&D 4e with the troubles I had with that person, and began to intensely dislike it. I talked about all of that, as well as my reconciliation with D&D 4e in this post.
Both I and D&D 4e have come a long way since those days. I have matured, and so has the product. When I went to GenCon this year, I talked with some folks from Wizards of the Coast, and I was excited to hear about what they were doing with their (then) upcoming campaign setting, Neverwinter. I got myself on to their review list, and received my copy of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting a few weeks ago. I’ve been giving it a once-over, and I am liking what I am seeing. As this is the first 4e D&D product that I have actively looked at since the Adventurer’s Vault came out, I am going to look at this product both as what it is—obviously—as well as what it does as a representation of where 4e products have come. (Hint: they have come a long way).
When I take a look back at the three original core books for D&D 4e, I see what amounts to some unpolished work. And I mean that in a very specific way. It’s not that the books were not put together well, or that the information contained within them was unfinished, but they seemed to be lacking a support structure. The “Points of Light” campaign setting ideal was one that I really liked the idea of, however, the traditional Greyhawk underpinnings felt like they were forced to work with the racial changes—Dragonborn, Eladrin and Teiflings. It never completely meshed for me.
Now, I realize that WotC updated the Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun and Eberron to reflect these changes, and they succeeded to one degree or another. I am not familiar with those products, so I can’t comment on how successful they were. From what I have heard about them, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting is a refinement of the presentation of the original settings.
The biggest thing that I can see if the introduction of the Themes, which I understand were introduced in Dark Sun. They really give a DM a hook to hang their hat on in terms of campaign planning. The city of Neverwinter and the surrounding areas are full of plot hooks, great detail, and a lot of interesting directions in which a campaign could go. As well, the presentation of that information is spot-on. The book is very easy to follow, in contrast to what I thought were some relatively cludgy layout choices in original Core books. The art is also uniformly good, and since I am new to the book, it is all new to me. I have heard that some of it is reused from other products, and if I knew the books fr0m which they came, it would bother me a bit. I realize art is expensive, but it always rankled that the 4e Core Books reused art from 3rd Edition, especially the Monster Manual.
As well, the Neverwinter Campaign Setting caps out at 10th level, or the end of Heroic Tier. I think this is a great idea, as it provides a much-needed sense of scale to both the setting as presented, and the Forgotten Realms in general. I love Faerun, but many people have this sense that there are so many super-powerful people running around that those people should fix all of the problems, not their characters.
What’s the Same?
Well, furor over Essentials aside, this book looks like a 4e book. I know that there have been errata changes out the yin-yang, but I feel like I could use this book with my Core books with little issue. That thought might stem from my naivete, and my lack of a regular 4e game, but it feels right as I look at the books in comparison. This is still 4e, even though it has been updated and tweaked. I like it.
If you’ve been looking for a place to set an upcoming 4e game, I really recommend this. I love all of the setting detail, and the improvements in presentation that I see from the Core books to this book. Also, capping things at Heroic tier makes this game much more manageable, which I enjoy as a DM.
Before I give my final score, I realize that it might be unfair to compare what is essentially a settingless trio of books to a fully developed campaign setting that has the benefit of a few good years of development. In fact, they’re not even really the same thing. I get that. However, I have not actively worked with a 4e product since the end of the campaign I mentioned above, so for me, the comparison was necessary, as I had to see for myself how far the D&D 4e product line had come.
Final Verdict: 4.75 out of 5 stars. I love the setting, I love the presentation, and I recommend you check this out.