There are a few names that all role-playing gamers should know. These are the men and women that helped to create the games that really built up the genre as something special, sometimes through the act of creating games and other times through creating unique settings. If you’re looking at the people who helped give Dungeons and Dragons its unique flavor, you’re probably going to start by looking at the core developers from the 1960s and 1970s. If you want a better look at how D&D’s lore developed into its modern incarnation, though, you’ll want to take a look at the life of Ed Greenwood.
Ed Greenwood was born in 1959 in Don Mills, Ontario, Canada. He was an imaginative child even then, coming up with the ideas for what would eventually become Forgotten Realms in stories that he wrote in the 1960s. He had conceived of that world as just one of many parallel universes, something that would help to influence both his later writings and the way that D&D’s various settings would co-exist with one another in years to come. His love for writing stories and making worlds would make role-playing games a natural fit for him in later years.
Greenwood first discovered role-playing in the mid-1970s and started his career in D&D as a player rather than as a DM. He’d soon make the transition, playing with a group that would want him to add more and more detail to his home-made setting. He would take a great deal of that which he created for his games and put them back in his writing, becoming one of the major contributors to Dragon magazine around 1979. It seemed that even before he officially worked on D&D modules, he would have a huge connection to its worlds.
History with Dungeons and Dragons
If you know of Ed Greenwood, it’s probably from his involvement with Dungeons and Dragons. His connection to the game is a bit different than most of those who are hailed as major figures in the game’s real-world lore, as he didn’t have anything to do with the original development of the game. In fact, he came onboard as a fan – something that is increasingly common today but wasn’t at the time. His is one of the original stories of a fan who managed to make good, one that has managed to parlay his love for the game into something that helped him to make a name for himself.
Involvement with Forgotten Realms
Forgotten Realms, like so many other major game settings, began as a homebrew part of a player’s own campaign. Built off of some of the ideas that he’d had as a child, the setting seemed to be a natural fit for the game that he discovered in the 1970s. He was able to create this new world as a way to house an extensive campaign, one that provided players with a rich background that was meant to feel like a living, breathing world. Unlike some of the other settings, it really feels like the game setting came far before the mechanics here.
While Greenwood does say that his own version of Forgotten Realms is a bit darker than that seen in the subsequent games, there is a good bit that has made its way into D&D’s lore. Cities like Waterdeep, for example, were a central part of even the earliest versions of Forgotten Realms. Likewise, even the idea of multiple realities – something that would become at least partially influential to the idea of planes – was there from the very beginning. More than anything, though, it was the idea that the world was constantly developing that really made this setting stand out.
Because of Greenwood kept his rights to the setting, there’s really never been a Forgotten Realms without some of his input. While there will always be a wall between the way he has envisioned the setting and the way it is changed for publication, his deep involvement with the setting from its conception to its present-day incarnation means that it has largely kept the same tone and continued the same basic stories. His involvement with TSR and Wizards of the Coast really seems like a natural outgrowth of all of the parties’ desires to keep this wonderful setting moving forward.
Ed’s relationship with TSR began out of necessity. The company was looking for a new setting for their upcoming Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as the Dragonlance setting seemed a bit too constricting and Greyhawk apparently seemed a bit too connected to Gary Gygax. Since he’d already been a regular magazine contributor, it seemed that Forgotten Realms would make for a great ready-made campaign setting for the new game. While this version of Forgotten Realms wouldn’t be exactly the same as what Greenwood had made at home, it would go on to become a very popular setting for the game.
Unlike many of the early D&D developers, Greenwood’s relationship with TSR never really seemed to be contentious. This might have something to do with the fact that he actually retained the rights to his setting, which might have made it easier to exert some influence over how it would be portrayed. He’s remained involved with virtually every Forgotten Realms iteration since the first and still looks upon his D&D work favorably. Greenwood’s success with Forgotten Realms has made him a major part of the world of Dungeons and Dragons and a figure that will almost certainly be involved in the game’s world for many years to come.
While he’s important for the development of Dungeons and Dragons, Ed Greenwood is equally important to the development of the fantasy genre. He’s been at the job for a long time – his first major story dates back to 1967, but he’s been steadily publishing and editing fantasy works since 1988. During that time-span, he’s managed to author forty-four novels and eight novellas, as well as countless magazine articles. He’s responsible for a good deal of the canon of the D&D novel universe, helping to round out the personalities of several major factions.
Greenwood’s bibliography isn’t simply confined to D&D. Roughly half of his overall output, and the bulk of what he’s written in the 21st Century, have taken place in either other fantasy universes or are his own completely original creations. Greenwood’s writing style has remained roughly the same over the years, though there is some argument about whether his earlier works or later works are actually better. What clearly hasn’t changed, though, is Greenwood’s enthusiasm for writing. His latest works were published in 2017 and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he’s decided to stop writing new works.
While Ed Greenwood is probably best known today as a novelist and setting designer, it’s important to remember that much of his early work was actually published in magazines. He was a regular contributor to Dragon magazine from its 30th issue onward, publishing articles that others would describe as voluminous in their scope. While there were many contributors to the magazine at the time, Greenwood’s voice was unique both in terms of the way his information was portrayed and the sheer volume of information he was able to put into each article.
Ed was able to use Dragon magazine as something of a showpiece for various additions he’d made to the D&D world. He created a number of magical items, spells, characters, and creatures that first appeared in the articles. While some of this information would eventually make its way into the Forgotten Realms setting guide (which he also penned), there were a few changes between the magazine and the main book. As such, Dragon magazine remains one of the few places where you can see Greenwood’s original works before they were really ready for publication.
Elminster is definitely one of the best-known characters from Dungeons and Dragons. His name pops up all over Forgotten Realms literature, and for good reason – he’s the character that has frequently been portrayed by Greenwood at various conventions and games across the years. This character is one of the few truly memorable entries in the game’s cast of characters, generally slotted in that great pantheon beside the Majere Twins and the Icewind Dale characters. Even if Ed hadn’t been at the heart of the Forgotten Realms setting, he’d still be an incredibly important figure just for writing so many of Elminster’s adventures.
Elminster is as close to a classic wizard as you’ll find in D&D, generally charming and powerful in most incarnations. He’s the source of a great deal of information in the D&D world, and his novels have chronicled his rise to power and a few of his adventures. He’s been at the center of eleven books, but he’s appeared in one form or another in most material relating to the Forgotten Realms, if only as a mention. Greenwood’s also used the character as an avatar for numerous articles in Dragon magazine, where he dispenses a great deal of information about the world.
Greenwood’s work has not, however, been limited to the Forgotten Realms setting or even to Dungeons and Dragons. He’s been a relatively prolific author over the past several decades, with most of his work falling into the fantasy category. In addition to his work as a novel writer, he’s contributed several short stories and novellas to various anthologies. When not writing, he’s also edited a handful of other anthologies.
Greenwood does seem to be one of the rare authors that’s able to dip in and out of settings at will. In addition to working on his own novels, he’s also had a hand in working on video games. Greenwood’s does seem to primarily be focusing on his non-Forgotten Realms novels and editing these days, though his latest works in his best-known setting really aren’t that far in the past. Still active online and in publishing, it seems very likely that readers haven’t seen the last of Greenwood’s contributions to the world of fantasy and fantasy-based games.
Ed Greenwood is a very busy man, spending a significant amount of time making contributions to the roleplaying community. It’s not just Forgotten Realms that he’s given the world, but contributions to over two hundred different gaming products and publications. He’s prolific in a way that most of the early D&D founders haven’t been, connecting with the community in a number of different ways. He’s still even running his original Waterdeep campaign all these years later, in what has to be one of the longest-running major campaigns going. He’s also a charter member of the RPGA and a fairly regular guest of honor at GenCon.
He does, however, have a life outside of roleplaying games. Ed is a full-time employee at the North York Community Library, where he’s been working since 1974. He is primarily a library clerk, though he does also frequently work there as a librarian. He’s a regular fixture at various gaming conventions, but he does spend a great deal of time at his home in the country. He’s still well-connected to his original core group of gamers, though he admits that they don’t meet quite as often as they did in the past.
Ed Greenwood is an incredibly important part of the history of fantasy gaming. He’s designed one of the most important settings in D&D, contributed massively to fantasy literature, and has become a fixture in the geek world. Perhaps most importantly, though, he’s never lost enthusiasm for the worlds that he has helped to create. he is a great example of a creator who is still closely connected to his works and who enjoys the communities that have sprung up around them. It’s nice to see that a creator understands exactly how much his work has meant to his huge legion of fans.
Photo Credit: Ed Greenwood at a booth at Gen Con Indy in 2012. Photo by John LaSala.