Back in the late eighties and early nineties, TSR decided to get back to its roots and began to release 2nd Edition material in boxed sets. In my opinion, these sets were top notch and provided exactly what most DMs needed: playgrounds. They provided just enough information to get an adventure or a campaign started and left more than enough blank spaces for the DM to fill in with their own ideas and material. There was usually a fully developed pre-fab adventure to introduce the PCs to the location/setting and then the box was jammed full of extra goodies like NPC pre-gens, very high quality maps, and monster manual supplements. Aside from my core books, these boxed sets were the most used materials in my library by a very wide margin.
So what happened to them? Well the simple answer is Wizards took over TSR in 1997 and released 3rd Edition in 2000. As the new edition came in, the old boxed sets went out. This was more than likely done to cut costs as the profit margin on a 100 page hardcover book retailing for $40 is quite higher than a boxed set with three booklets, four maps, and supplemental material retailing for $50.
And that’s not to say that I feel Wizards were being cheap. They were only trying to get the brand back to profit as TSR was on the brink of bankruptcy before they were bought out. I do feel however that they may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. (love that expression for some reason)
So now with 5th Edition on the horizon and the “Starter Set” being released as a boxed set, I think Wizards has an excellent opportunity to revisit the concept of releasing boxed sets on a regular basis. Thus, to give them a friendly nudge in the right direction, what follows are five previously released boxed sets that I feel could use a 5th Edition makeover:
1) The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting
Both Chris Perkins and Mike Mearls have gone on record as saying that the Forgotten Realms will be the flagship campaign setting for 5th Edition. If this is so, then I feel that a boxed set is not only recommended, it should be mandatory. In 4th Edition, all we got was a player’s book, a DM’s book, and one map. Does that sound like a flagship to you? More like a row-boat!
Instead, I would publish a new Forgotten Realms Boxed Set as follows:
-One large fold-out map to cover the whole realm as well as several smaller (say 11”x18”) maps for critical places like the Sword Coast, The Sea of Fallen Stars, and The Far North.
-Then I would publish three books as follows: A book on the countries, territories and larger cities (Waterdeep, Bauldur’s Gate, Calimport, etc.); A book on the history of the realms including a who’s who for NPCs and factions/guilds; and finally a book for the DM’s eyes only outlining the many dungeons, ruins, and dangerous places a PC can stick their nose into. Now that sounds more like a flagship to me!
2) The Dark Sun Campaign Setting
Dark Sun was the late arrival to the lineup of D&D worlds in 2nd Edition and I guess the designers were aiming for something a bit more brutal than the others. If so, they succeeded! In a world with little water, almost no metal, scarce magic, few cities, no gods, and almost everything designed to wear you down, hope can be a difficult thing to find.
I found it very unique and refreshing that just surviving Dark Sun can be a quest in itself. Unlike the Realms or Dragon Lance, there is little room for gallantry and glory when all you’re trying to do is find the next water spring before the horde of half-giants find you.
That being said, such a unique campaign setting deserves better than just a book. Again, it would be nice to see some world maps and a city map of Tyr. Also some booklets on the races and factions of Athas would be nice. What are the Thri-kreen really like? Why do the Halflings eat people? What does it mean to be a Mul? Do the slaves of the arena have their own culture? Who is the sorcerer-king and who are the people that make up his inner circle?
3) The Ruins of Undermountain
Out of all of the dungeons ever released under the D&D brand, the Ruins of Undermountain were the largest, most insidious, and most frustrating. Tackling these halls were almost a campaign by itself as a group of players could get lost down in the ruins for game time weeks and real time days. It was also home to the infamous Skullport and boasted more than nine levels of dungeon crawl madness.
If one simply takes the time to google The Ruins of Undermountain and takes a look at the “images” section, one will quickly realize the mind-boggling scope of the place based on the maps. It is, in my opinion, a testament to the amazing depth of Ed Greenwood and a wonderful place to send your players if they’ve been bragging about how good they are at clearing dungeons. Good luck suckers!
A re-release for 5th Edition would be an excellent opportunity to update and make small adjustments to something that already works well. Also, since Ed Greenwood is back as a key developer for 5th Edition, I’m sure he would love the opportunity to revise this old love.
4) The City of Splendors
As far as the Forgotten Realms go, Waterdeep is THE city. You can visit many others, but nowhere else can you find the perfect mix of opulence, danger, intrigue, debauchery, gallantry, heroics, and death. It’s sort of like smashing the whole of Game of Thrones inside of a single sprawling city. And to paraphrase some famous words, “I don’t always do city campaigns, but when I do, I set them in Waterdeep.”
Recently, the board game Lords of Waterdeep and its expansions have been a huge seller for Wizards. Why not have a nice box set update for 5th Edition that will better reflect the quests and intrigues players have come to know from that game? Add in a whole new book on the factions and the lords themselves and you’ve got pure roleplaying gold!
Personally, I feel that the old maps/paintings of Waterdeep were among some of the best ever published under the D&D brand. Keep that bar set high with some new maps and fresh artwork regarding the city as a whole and some specific areas/buildings of the city we have yet to see.
And I’ve saved my personal favorite for last. The Menzoberranzan boxed set was, in my opinion, the perfect mix of maps, information, and plenty of open-ended plotlines and adventure hooks to keep a DM and a group of adventurers busy for months. It was also one of the few campaigns where I encouraged my players to be evil and indulge in their darker sides.
So now that R.A. Salvatore is onboard as one of the principle voices for 5th Edition, it makes perfect sense to me that Menzo needs an overhaul/update. Many important events have happened in Salvatore’s City of the Drow (see the Forgotten Realms novels) since this set was first published and I would love to see it all get brought up to speed with the new arrangements of houses and the growing displeasure with Lloth growing among the population. I’m sure that over the past 20 years, the popularity and cult following of this boxed set has only grown and today it would make for a huge seller.