Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms by Ed Greenwood and published by Wizards of the Coast is a role playing game supplement for the Forgotten Realms setting aimed (in theory; see later) at the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game.
The supplement was originally available as a printed book, copies of which can still be found on sites such as Amazon, the version purchased and reviewed is a 194 page watermarked PDF from RPGNow. The supplement normally costs $19.99, but it was purchased at the discounted price of $10. Two pages are the full colour front and back covers, two pages are the front matter and one page the Contents. A number of pages are taken up solely by images, or photographs. There are a Foreword, written in the character of Elminster, and an Introduction, which covers the Realms and how Greenwood himself runs them, and an Afterword, which is basically a single photograph.
Life in the Realms has a variety of topics related to everyday life, including language, which also includes such as curses and epithets, time, events, festivals, theatre, medicine, illness and hygiene, drugs and poisons and current rumours. A substantial coverage of the typical everyday life of a Realms-dweller.
Credit: Wizards of the CoastLaws and Orders covers, as suggested, laws and the like, as well as alliances, the class system, justice and its enforcement and consequences. There is an extensive look at Cormyrean law, and a history of the Zhentarim.
Hearth and Home has homes, of course, inns, regional cuisines, food from the wild, drinks and fashion.
Money Matters covers trade, merchant princes, trade goods - including slaves - guilds, coinage and work, including what adventurers can do in their downtime.
Gods and Followers covers the various gods of the Realms, including an interesting section on why evil gods are tolerated, how people worship, charity and temple income as well as extensive write ups on the gods, the goals of their priesthoods, both public and private, and the occasional important non-player character follower of some of the gods.
The Art covers magic, such as traditional magic, bloodlines, alchemy (a rather different approach in concept in many ways), bardic magic, elven song and spellsong, as well as just how magical the Realms is.
Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realm in Review
The PDF has been extensively bookmarked, covering every major and minor section by the looks of it, although the organisation could have been tidied up a bit - it's been set up as a tree, with every bookmark stemming off the first. The book has a number of full colour illustrations, which are generally around a half a page in size, although those at the beginning of each chapter are closer to two thirds of a page. These are often accompanied by an interesting piece of text relevant to the image.
Although this is a supplement that was, in theory, released for D&D 4th Edition (although at the very end of that edition's releases), it is edition-neutral. In fact, it's not only edition-neutral but system-neutral - there are no stats given for any game system, so it serves its purpose even if you don't use any D&D variant in the Forgotten Realms.
There are included copies of typewritten (and, after his typewriter ran out of ribbon, handwritten) notes from the various packages of information Ed Greenwood compiled and sent in when TSR, Inc. before it ran into financial problems and was taken over by Wizards of the Coast) decided to adopt the Forgotten Realms as an official setting. There was a lot of information in these packages; from the excerpts given, there were well over 400 pages of content, and it can be easily deduced that there were other packages of material than those mentioned. The typewritten sheets, and some photographs and drawings, have been inserted into the supplement in such a way that they appear to have been stuck in with masking tape, or similar, which creates an interesting impression. Each also has a note from Ed Greenwood specific to the inclusion.
The contents of this supplement could be considered to be fluff - there certainly is no game "crunch" - but it's very, very well detailed fluff that can add great depth to a Forgotten Realms game. Ed Greenwood created huge amounts of information for his setting - which actually pre-dates the original Dungeons & Dragons game, as he first used it as a youngster to set stories in - partly, according to him, to counter the effects of players knowing all the details of all the rulebooks, modules and Dragon articles by simply providing far too much Realmslore for anyone to keep track of, and therefore bringing back role-playing.
Elminster's Forgotten Realms actually resembles something more like a writer's guide to a historical period, which provide facts and details so that an author can add authenticity to a historical novel more than it does a typical role playing game supplement. There are even recipes for things such as cockatrice and stirge.
Most of it is set in the 1350s, Dale Reckoning, which is not only before Wizards of the Coast torched the Forgotten Realms, jumped up and down on the pieces and then sowed the remains with salt (not a huge fan of the extensive changes that were made to the Realms with such as the Spellplague when it was converted to D&D 4th Edition; nor were a lot of others), but mostly before any of the published changes, such as that from AD&D to AD&D 2nd Edition. The Spellplague is mentioned only once, in passing, but otherwise largely ignored and its effects are not even mentioned, despite the effect that it, and the associated events, had on the setting. Even the events of the Time of Troubles, which was when the setting was converted from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to AD&D 2nd Edition, is to a great degree neglected. For example, in the section on gods, Bane has an extensive write up; Cyric, who replaced the former at that time, only gets a paragraph or two. There are references to events in the 1400s DR, as well as mentions of some NPCs who had died by that time, for whatever reason, but these are not gone into in any great level of detail. Overall, the supplement gives the impression that Greenwood's own campaign has diverged from the official published version quite extensively, beginning with the Time of Troubles. The purpose of the book was to show what the designer of the campaign setting had done in his own campaign, rather than detail the official setting, which does explain the possible divergences.
It is probably best suited for the Realms of the AD&D and AD&D 2nd Edition - which, between them, have the largest amount of material available and these can, of course be converted to the AD&D 3rd Edition Realms. Despite when it was published, and which edition it was technically published for, it isn't truly suited for use with the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms, as it simply does not cover the world-shattering changes that happened. It is, however, suitable for any fan of the Forgotten Realms setting who wants to learn more about it from its creator. If the only experience the reader, GameMaster or player has with the Forgotten Realms is with the 4th Edition version, then this may be more limited in use, but still interesting, but those whose experience is with older versions will get more from it. Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms is probably the most incredibly detailed fluff ever written for any role playing game, which provides a huge amount of background that can be used to flavour a campaign.