Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In Retrospect: Campaign Settings

The World of Greyhawk Map
from "From the Ashes" boxed set.
I used to think that published campaign settings were great, I still do, I guess. But now I know they can be overwhelming, especially for new DMs. And question the value of having small collections of campaign setting books that may never actual play.

AD&D Second Edition was best known for its plethora of published worlds. We're talking about Birthright, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, The Forgotten Realms (including Al-Qadim, The Horde, Kara-Tur, and Maztica), Greyhawk, the short-lived Jakandor, Mystara (including Hollow World), Planescape, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and the mini-setting Thunder Rift. (Is that it? Did I get them all?)

You had lots options to choose from. I myself invested in Greyhawk, Ravenloft, and Planescape. I did play some Dark Sun, loved it, but never bought it. I picked up the Forgotten Realms boxed set to see what it was all about, let it sit on my shelf for couple years or so, then sold it.

Looking back, I realize how overwhelming it all was. I'm glad I stuck with Greyhawk, because TSR stopped churning out stuff for it, and the material WotC later published for it was basically a rehash of earlier material--I didn't feel the need to read up on anything new as a GM.

Even so, I only use a fraction of the material I owned. There was no way to use it all--and I've run three complete campaigns (one that lasted almost 11 years) in Greyhawk. All three included quick jaunts into Planescape and Ravenloft.

My biggest turn-off to the Forgotten Realms is that back in the day the material was so damn prevelant. I can't blame TSR--FR became the most popular D&D setting. But on top of that, it seemed there existed this unspoken assumption that you, as FR player, were supposed to keep up with everything.

Heaven forbid that a beginning DM fall into this trap, and feel the need to use it all. And them WotC comes along every few years to screw around with "official material" with yet another upheaval. (Dragonlance used to be #1 victim of this, but I'll put the Forgotten Realms in the pole position since  GenCon 2012's announcement of "The Sundering!"--gah! get Ed Greenwood's voice out of my head.)

Sure, if you like collecting all of those books, fine. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

But I think the best campaign setting is one a DM creates for himself and his players. Even moreso, especially for a new DM, is to start the campaign small, beginning with the classic "village with a dungeon nearby" scenario.


  1. I find that anytime I have purchased campaign books I almost always use them more for inspiration. I am not one for much preparation with D&D so if it can be a thought in my head, or some quick scribbles in my note pad the better. If I try and use the campaign books for what they are I get anxiety trying to remember details that aren't that important to my players.

    1. I'm about the same way, too. Sometime I'd find myself referencing the "official" material rather than make things up off the cuff.

  2. Man, I loved 2E's box sets! Personally, I was a Greyhawk(pre-Wars) and Ravenloft guy. Unfortunately, Campaign 'progression' (i.e. 'advancing the timeline' for sales purposes; namely the Grand Conjunction and the Grimdark Wars) marred these settings and rendered them inconsistent with DM's home games unless they kept up with the meta-events. Which was a pain, as by this time many(most?) groups seemed to only want to play in 'official', 'by the book' campaigns. Thank the gaming gods for homebrew systems/settings! :-)

    Pretty comprehensive list of 2E's settings, but you did miss one:
    Council of Wyrms(1994; revised hardback issued in 1999).

    1. Ah yes, Council of Wyrms. I keep forgetting that one.

  3. Rules #1-100: Don't advance the timeline for your published campaign setting (for RPGs)!

  4. Didn't know Thunder Rift and I wonder if it's any good. Sounds a bit like what they did with Ravenloft, but without the horror tropes all over it... Well, thanks for mentioning it! I'll go and investigate this a bit further :)

    1. I'm doing a review/retrospective of Thunder Rift this Friday. It's not really a full campaign setting (as in a complete world or continent), but a large mountain valley filled with adventure sites for beginning Dungeon Masters.

      I think it was Colin McComb's first work at TSR. But I'll have to double-check that.

    2. Very nice! Looking forward to it.


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