Rob Hulse gave the Rams a deserved first-half lead, but Forest hit back strongly after the break and deservedly levelled through the ex-Derby striker Robert Earnshaw.
But Derby might have won it in the closing minutes but for keeper Paul Smith, who made two superb saves to deny Hulse and Luke Varney.
Smith's reflexes mean the teams will meet again at the City Ground when Forest manager Billy Davies will be able to take on his former club.
Davies missed tonight's clash to be with his son, who underwent surgery in Glasgow and Forest centre-half Wes Morgan was also ruled out because of a family illness.
The visitors seemed to miss Davies' galvanising influence on the touchline during a first half which was dominated by the home side.
Former Forest legend Nigel Clough would have been delighted with the way his side took the game to Forest and it was no surprise when Hulse drove in a low shot from ten yards, after Paul Green had cleverly dummied a cross from Paul Connolly.
But it was a different story when the teams turned round and it needed a diving save from Stephen Bywater to deny Nathan Tyson in the 47th minute.
Tyson's pace and Paul Anderson's trickery had Derby reeling and the equaliser was almost a carbon copy of Hulse's opener.
Substitute Garath McCleary crossed low and Tyson stepped over the ball for Earnshaw to turn and bury a shot from ten yards.
Kris Commons should have restored Derby's lead with his first touch, but the former Forest winger fired over in the 73rd minute and the visitors needed Smith to rescue them in the 88th minute when he kept out a Hulse header.
By then Anderson had been stretchered off with what appeared to be a serious injury after he fell awkwardly, before both teams had their moments in six minutes of stoppage time, but in the end a draw was about right.