The Neverwinter D&D Campaign Setting is over ten years old, and Dungeons & Dragons is now well into its fifth edition—5e for short. Publisher Wizards of the Coast (WotC) continues to regularly provide sourcebooks to support their players’ ongoing need for new material. It’s always interesting to discover new classes, races and places for the venerable game, and the consistent release of new source material is part of what has kept the game relevant and entertaining for five decades.
Falling in love with the Forgotten Realms
My favorite sourcebooks are the volumes describing the many worlds where Dungeons & Dragons adventures take place. Whether it’s Eberron, the Forgotten Realms, Krynn, Greyhawk or any other world settings that have been developed over the years. I always enjoy those fantastical places, pouring over their maps and learning about their geography, people, history, and magic. The game rules have evolved and changed somewhat significantly over the past decades. However, these sourcebooks—regardless of publication date—can be easily adapted to subsequent, or even previous, versions of the game.
The Forgotten Realms is my favorite D&D world setting. I fell in love with it when I read an article in Issue 110 of Dragon magazine in June 1986. The article—titled All About Elminster—detailed the Forgotten Realms’ most powerful wizard and foremost sage. Ed Greenwood—the Forgotten Realms’ creator—penned the article. It included a black & white illustration of Elminster, smoking his pipe and inscribing a scroll by the light of a candle under the watchful eye of an owl. I was instantly hooked, and I wanted to learn more about the world where that mage lived. Since reading that article, my D&D characters have walked most of the paths, climbed some of the tallest mountains and sailed many of the waters of the Forgotten Realms. Yet, to this day, I still have corners of that wonderful world left to explore.
So, I was thrilled when 5e Dungeons & Dragons continued to use the Forgotten Realms as its main setting for most of the adventures published for this latest edition. Most 5e adventures and source material published by WotC take place along or near the Sword Coast. Dotted with great cities, the Forgotten Realms’ western coastal stretch brimmed with thousands of adventurers over the centuries.
Neverwinter in Video Games and Tabletop
In the Northern reaches of the Sword Coast, Neverwinter is the setting for many D&D adventures over the years for tabletop games, PC and console games, novels, and comic books. Neverwinter first came to my attention when the third-person video game Neverwinter Night was released by Bioware in 2002. The game was captivating, and it puzzled me that I had never incorporated that city into my tabletop D&D campaigns.
By then, the city had taken on quite a reputation—not only with the success of the first Neverwinter Night game for PC, but also following the release of its successor, Neverwinter Nights 2. In 2013, the city also made its entry into the world of online role-playing games with the launch of the Neverwinter Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). Famed D&D novelist R. A. Salvatore also wrote adventures, both in novel and comic book forms, featuring his renowned Character Drizzt Do’ Urden that take place in or near Neverwinter. So, the city has been an important part of D&D lore over the past two decades.
Fleshing Out the rich Neverwinter Experience
I purchased the Neverwinter Campaign Setting to flesh out my knowledge of the Forgotten Realms, but at the time, I had no idea how many uses I would put it to. Even though the Neverwinter Campaign Setting had been designed for tabletop D&D, it turned out to also contribute heavily to my enjoyment of PC gaming, MMORPG gaming and novel/comic book reading.
In 2018, D&D gamers had the pleasure of rediscovering Neverwinter Night when Beamdog released an enhanced version of the game. For me, playing it again, almost two decades later, proved to be an even more interesting experience. I had already purchased the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, and it made my PC gaming a much more immersive experience. The book’s introduction does state that it takes some inspiration from the Neverwinter Nights computer game series. The Neverwinter Campaign Setting also came with a subscription card for the Neverwinter MMORPG.
The Anatomy of the Neverwinter D&D Campaign Setting
When I first set eyes on the book, the cover alone was enough to pique my interest. The scene by Ralph Horsley depicts a dracolich in flight, wreaking havoc on Neverwinter. Horsley uses a predominance of blue in the sky, background cityscape and foreground water to highlight the earthen colors of the shattered tower more strongly and bring the dracolich even more vividly to life. It’s a beautifully dynamic painting, one of the most awe-inspiring covers published for D&D since the days of legendary artists Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, and Keith Parkinson, and it is arguably the best cover of all rulebooks published for 4th edition D&D.
Leafing through the book, I was immediately impressed with the designers’ efforts. I read it like it was a novel, from cover to cover. For tabletop gaming, it provides everything you need to breathe life into the city and its denizens. For the video games, it might seem overkill since the city does not feature very prominently in the PC games or the MMORPG. However, even if the sourcebook will not turn you into a better PC/MMORPG gamer, it will make your gaming a much more immersive experience, which is something that most role players (whether on tabletop or computer/console) look for.
Aesthetics-wise, it’s like every other book TSR released for fourth edition: clean and simple with an organic flow of the information supported by a good number of illustrations. It’s a compelling book that reads very much like a history book.
Initial reactions to the Neverwinter D&D book
The book starts appropriately enough with a quick overview of the city and of the surrounding areas. I would have preferred to get right into the details of the city, with specifics of its many streets, institutions, factions, architecture, and other features. But this first section merely provides some basic information about surrounding features such as Neverwinter Woods, the Dread Ring, Helm’s Hold, and many others.
The area map shows the location of such local areas of interest within about 50 miles of the city itself, providing a good lay of the land for adventuring purposes. There is a definite feeling of “frontier life,” despite the city’s grandeur, which is a great setting for a D&D campaign or stand-alone adventure. The history section is rather short (2 pages), but it provides a quick glimpse of the region’s past starting from the Age of Elves (-22900 Dale Reckoning to -1100 Dale Reckoning) all the way to the Modern Age (1302 Dale Reckoning to present). If you want to read more about the Forgotten Realms’ history, the book refers you to The Grand History of the Realms, which I hope to discuss soon.
Character details in 4e vs. 5e
The book then offers some character “themes” (akin to backgrounds in 5e) for personalization of player characters. Fifth Edition resurrected some, like the Harper agent and the Renegade Red Wizard in one form or another. You can easily adapt these themes to 5e rules with a little bit of creativity! Oghma’s Faithful is one of my favorites. It can be used by a character of any class, but as the book states, it is more intended for “divine” characters (i.e., clerics). Some are particularly well adapted for the region, including the Uthgardt barbarian, the Heir of Delzoun and the Bregan d’aerthe spy.
There’s plenty to work with here, not only for 4e, but also for 5e if you don’t mind doing some minor work to adapt the material to the latter edition. The material can also be adapted to some extent to earlier iterations of the game.
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There are also additional racial variants to learn about. These reflect particular dwarven and elven heritages of that area of the Forgotten Realms. Given the history between the various subdivisions of both races, that leaves plenty of room for interesting role-playing and character exchanges/conflicts.
Domains in Neverwinter 4e
There are domains for warpriest of every major Faerun faith, which is a great addition if you want a cleric custom-designed for a Forgotten Realms campaign and deity. Once again, 5e has done a great job offering a wide range of domains for clerics, but there is plenty here you can use to create a cleric that will perfectly fit into a Neverwinter D&D campaign set in the Forgotten Realms.
Next comes my favorite: the wizard bladesinger. When I’m not dungeon mastering, I play. And I only play one class—the wizard. The bladesinger is an absolute joy for wizard players who are tired of that class’s weak, bookworm image that has been an unfortunate staple of D&D since the original boxed set.
The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide re-introduced the bladesinger as a supplemental “arcane tradition.” However, if you don’t own that volume, there’s enough material here that can be easily customizable for 5e gaming. In fact, the bladesinger is covered here in greater details than in its 5e successor. You could use a lot of the material listed here by upscaling it to 5e rules.
Not Just Hacking, Slashing, and Number Crunching
If you like a little intrigue and politics in your roleplaying—you’re going to like the chapter on Factions and Foes. There are some well-known groups represented here, like the Harpers, but it doesn’t end there. You’ll find details on the Netherese, the Thayans, the Ashmadai and the Abolethic Sovereignty, to name a few.
In Factions and Foes, you experience the depth of the political culture, and the richness and diversity of the factions. Key NPCs are also introduced, including Chartilifax, the corrupted green dragon, and Valindra Shadowmantle, arguably the most infamous villain of the Neverwinter D&D setting.
This section gives us the most lush illustrations in the book. Plenty of visuals help you to create vivid mental images of the people, places and creatures associated with the city. There are NPCs, heroes, villains, and creatures here to fill an entire campaign.
Looking around the city of Neverwinter
The approximate halfway point—Chapter 4: The Gazetteer—describes the city in great detail. Normally, I would prefer this section come first, but the earlier sections were a great appetizer for this one. There’s the obligatory city map, of course. But plentiful illustrations provide the mood of the city’s key attractions, including the Moonstone Mask and the Hall of Justice.
There’s plenty here to plan a full campaign. Enough to take you from the backstreets of the city to Neverwinter Woods, Castle Never, New Sharandar, and beyond. As you read, adventure ideas will pop up in your mind and quickly come fully to life. Among those could be a quest or campaign leading to the discovery of Gauntlgrym, ancient home of the Delzoun dwarves!
As a Supplement to the video game
If you play the Neverwinter MMORPG game, nearly every locale that shows up in the game is described here. For MMORPG players, it would be worth it to get the book just to read The Gazetteer section. It will flesh out your knowledge of the city, and provide rich context. This leads to a more immersive experience when your player character is in town to stop by the workshop, attend a special event, turn in a quest, or buy something from the many street vendors.
The One Thing It Needs
What the book lacks is an actual, ready to run adventure. The book would have benefited greatly by including even a very short and simple first level adventure. It’s unfortunate that Wizards of the Coast hasn’t released more 5e material for the Neverwinter D&D setting yet.
There have been books spotlighting Waterdeep—one of Neverwinter’s “sister” cities. This city featured in the Waterdeep Dragon Heist and Dungeon of the Mad Mage campaign books. Additionally, Baldur’s Gate—also on the Sword Coast—was featured in the Descent into Avernus campaign book. Sadly, we have yet to see a 5e adventure that fully takes place in Neverwinter.
Over a decade later, still worth the purchase
The Neverwinter D&D campaign setting comes readily to mind as a favorite for many reasons. It’s a great source book for any edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Whether you’ve made the jump to 5e or if you’re still playing previous versions, this book is an excellent source to flesh out your Forgotten Realms campaign setting along the Sword Coast of Faerun. In many ways, Neverwinter is to the Forgotten Realms what Minas Tirith is to Middle-Earth; King’s Landing is to Westeros; and Tarantia is to Hyboria.
Pick up a copy of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting today!
Or check out the selection of Neverwinter video games available at Noble Knight Games!
Jules-Pierre Malartre lives in Quebec, which is as close to The Great White North that he will ever dare go. In 2005, he quit a promising aerospace engineering career to go into freelance copywriting. Since then, he has become considerably poorer, but has grown much happier. When he is not writing technical manuals, newspaper articles or online features, he is working on his first novel. His first short story, “The Rest Was Easy,” was published by the online literary magazine Amarillo Bay in 2013.
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