Elminster’s Ecologies (1994)

OK. Monsters. I love them. The first thing that attracted me to D&D was its bizarre critters but many of them were just a mechanic or a trap wrapped up in an animal shaped package (rust monsters, disenchanters, cloakers, trappers…I could go on). Dragon Magazine’s long running Ecology column sought to flesh out those and other monsters, using in-universe characters to provide studies of habitats, behavior and impact on their environment. The Ecology articles made D&D monsters more real.

Elminster’s Ecologies is a Forgotten Realms box set that takes the idea of the Dragon Magazine column and applies it to the world of Faerun. I somehow didn’t know this existed until recently (there are also two appendices, which I will cover some other time) and it is one of the most pleasant surprises Forgotten Realms has ever sprung on me.

Inside the box are 9 booklets – one overview and 8 dedicated to a specific region. Like the Dragon articles, these are written from the perspective of characters living in Faerun, traveling its wilds and studying its creatures (as you can guess from the cover, even Elminster himself weighs in).

Forgotten Realms was never my jam and, though I appreciate certain slices of it, probably never will be. Ecologies, though, made me appreciate it more. The authors do a great job of making a world I’ve always thought was too vast to be interesting. It doesn’t quite have the verisimilitude of a naturalist’s guide, but it gives it a good go and is never dull. There’s tamed catoblepases and musings on the effects of longstanding goblinoid populations on wildlife, food chains and a surprising amount of information on flora. The only game related material are some very nice and exhaustive random encounter tables.

Probably not for everyone, I know, but I think a large number of fans of Forgotten Realms prefer reading about them rather than playing in them. If that sounds like you, pick this one up. Lots of people don’t like it, so it’s pretty cheap second hand.

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