D&D campaign settings

Top 5 D&D Campaign Settings and Forgotten Realms is NOT on the List

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Hello and well met. I’m here to discuss my top 5 picks for D&D campaign settings through out my 30+ years of the game. First and foremost we will be skipping Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms. I find these to be the most generic of D&D campaign settings. They could literally be anyone’s homebrew game. Oh wait, Forgotten Realms was Ed Greenwood’s. Nothing against those settings it’s just there isn’t anything really different in them. The only reason Forgotten Realms is interesting at all is because of the amount of detail that has gone into it, with tons of authors having written in that setting. Even with all of that it strikes as being incredibly generic. Personally if I’m going to play in a generic setting I’d rather just run my own homebrew.

No. 5 — Ravenloft

D&D campaign settings

Ravenloft started as module before becoming a full blown campaign setting. It was one of the first modules I played through as teenager. It would later spin off into it’s very own D&D campaign setting as well as novels. Ravenloft was steeped in fantasy, mystery and gothic horror.

Some of my favorite novels were from Ravenloft such as I Strahd, Knight of the Black Rose and  Spectre of the Black Rose. If you haven’t I’d highly recommend reading the Ravenloft novels.

Ravenloft is dark and grim a place where even the victories would leave you feeling gutted and empty. It was a nice change of pace from your standard fantasy game. The setting was rich with story and flavor. Ravenloft is divided up into Domains of Dread. Each domain is ruled over by a Darklord who is trapped in their own domain being punished by the mysterious Dark Powers of Ravenloft.

Each of them end up there the same way. After committing acts so vile they find themselves surrounded by the mists of Ravenloft. Once the mists part they find themselves in there own domain trapped and to be tormented for all of eternity.

No. 4 — Spelljammer

Forgotten Realms

Spelljammer was another product of the 1980s. Spelljammer incorporated a way travel from one campaign setting to another. Not to mention adventuring in between the Material Planes in Wildspace. It’s nice combination of space opera and high fantasy. Many of your D&D campaign settings can be found here with a space motif.

If not, no worries, because you could travel there via a spelljamming vessel to those other worlds. To be honest this setting didn’t appeal to me when it first came out. Recently I’ve decided D&D in space might be fun so I ran a 5E D&D game loosely based on the Spelljammer campaign setting.

5D D&D Spelljammer was a success! I had a great time and my players enjoyed it. We ran it as a one off that we’ll need to get back to at some point.

What I like about Spelljammer is it is unique from all the other settings out there, but at the same time you can easily splash any other setting into the mix. The only thing that comes close to it is Planescape, another D&D campaign setting. Even so the play styles feel different. Spelljammer in my opinion is more whimsical at least the way I’d play it and Planescape is grittier.

[NERDITOR’S NOTE: I too ran a 5E D&D Spelljammer campaign — two in fact! Ingest Quest was a live stream game I played on Nerdarchy the YouTube channel, and there are a whole bunch of posts here on the website about my home game with new content and insights.

No. 3 — Planescape

Planescape

I can’t mention Planescape without mentioning Tony DiTerlizzi. I’m not a huge art guy, but Tony’s stuff is great and he really set the feel for the setting with his imagery. Planescape was the expansion of another product, much like Ravenloft sprung from a module. Planescape was the expanding of The Manual of the Planes.

The image of the Astral Dreadnaught on the cover of that book was amazing. Where Spelljammer was essentially boats in space, Planescape is all about the doors. The central location of Planescape is Sigil, the City of Doors ruled by the Lady of Pain. In Sigil itself she is more powerful than the mightiest of deities. The only way in and out of Sigil is through its many portals which aren’t passable without a key.

Before the Faction War there was 15 factions controlling the city and this made room for a lot of political intrigue. The Faction War was a bid to usurp power from the Lady of Pain. The Faction War pretty much ended the factions instead. Nerdarchy recently participated in a meat grinder game in Planescape based around the Faction War.

No. 2 — DarkSun

DarkSun

Dark Sun, Dark Sun, Dark Sun there is so much I could say about this D&D campaign setting. First off it felt the least like D&D of all the settings I’ve played. Sand, sandals, swords, sorcery and let us not forget psionics. Athas is a world ravaged by magic, a post apocalyptic wasteland ruled over by evil Sorcerer Kings. Arcane magic is reviled and outlawed for everyone but the Sorcerer Kings. Psionics are everywhere. There are no gods. Priests instead worship the elements. The world is a harsh desert planet where even the plants try to murder you.

My first exposure to Dark Sun was through The Verdant Passage: Prism Pentad novels. Like Planescape, DarkSun had very distinctive art. Renowned fantasy artist Brom actually did a lot of the artwork for Dark Sun. Dark Sun introduced the concept of a character tree as well. Also in Dark Sun, player characters start at 3rd level.

Not familiar with a character tree? Basically you started with three characters, because it was expected many adventurers were not going to survive.

No. 1 — Eberron

According to the inside cover disclaimer for Eberron: Rising from the Last War, published by the brilliant gnomes of House Sivis, this illustrious volume exposes truths you won’t believe about the Last War! [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

Keith Baker won the campaign creation contest by Wizards of the Coast in 2002. In 2004 Eberron was turned into a D&D campaign setting. By far this is my favorite setting to date. With its noir arcanapunk feel it has a lot going on. There was a cold war feel from a hundred year war having just ended. There are Dragonmarked houses were house scions are born with magical tattoos.

Eberron introduced three new races to the game: changelings, descendants of doppelgangers; shifters, descendants of lycanthropes; and warforged, living constructs built to fight during the Last War.

Khorvaire is the main continent of Eberron, full of magical innovations from magic street lights to elemental powered airships. If it was in a D&D book it was in this setting. Not in a clunky slapped on kind of feel either. Everything felt like it belonged. There is even a goblin nation as well as a nation ruled by monsters.

So there you have my favorite D&D campaign settings. Feel free to let us know in the comments what your favorite setting is.

Until next time, stay nerdy.

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Follow Dave Friant:
My name is Dave Friant I've been gaming off and on for over 27 years. But here is the thing it's always been a part of my life I've kept secret and hidden away. I've always been ashamed of the stigma that gaming and my other nerdy and geeky pursuits summon forth. Recently I decided screw it! This is who I am the world be damned. From now on I'm gonna be a geek, nerd, or however folks want to judge me and just enjoy life. Currently one of my greatest joys is introducing my 13 yr old son to table top RPG's.

12 Responses

  1. Troy Small
    | Reply

    Your numbering is such that it's hard to see which way you want to count, 5…4…3…4…5, I'm you meant Darksun to be #2 and Eberron to be #1…I'd probably have to swap out Spell Jammer or Eberron with Menzoberranzan (even though it's technically Forgotten Realms), I've played it a few different time and it could be any worlds deep underground environment.

    • Dave Friant
      | Reply

      Boy is my face red. I finished up the post late last night and some how missed the miss numbering when I did my proof reading this morning. I haven’t played as many settings as would of liked too. I campaign in Manzoberranzan would be fun even if it is Forgotten Realm,lol.

  2. Tom Miskey
    | Reply

    For me personally, I think I’d replace Planescape with Mystara. I was never a fan of plane-hopping, but the Mystara was the first time I saw such things as a “native American” nation or a hollow world filled with lost civilizations. Each of the nations was very flavorful and I eagerly awaited each new book in the series as they were being released. I hope they have an official 5e Mystara setting book.

    • Dave Friant
      | Reply

      Mystara is one I haven’t gotten to play or am all that knowledgeable about to be honest. Was that based off of hollow world from basic D&D? If I’m going to play in setting I want it to be anything but generic.

      • Tom Miskey
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        It started off with the Gazetteer series, which included some generic entries like Karameikos, but plenty of others that were revolutionary for their time (the late 80’s), such as the Emirates of Ylaruam (Arabic), the Principalities of Glantri (a mageocracy), The Orcs of Thar (an Orc nation that included rules on Orc characters), The Golden Khan of Ethengar (Mongolians), and The Atruaghin Clans (native American societies). In the early 90’s they introduced the idea that Mystara was hollow and that some of the ancient civilizations of the setting had survived in the interior of the planet, including such books as Sons of Azca (Aztecs), Kingdom of Nithia (Egyptians), The Milenian Empire (Romans), and even a fantasy version of India called Shahjapur. At a time when most D&D was set in middle ages western fantasy analogues, it was IMO revolutionary to introduce all those different cultures, peoples, and settings side by side, and it allowed for a wide variety of characters and backgrounds for a party of adventurers. Also, each gazetteer included 1 new class that could only be taken b y someone from that nation, and while the balance and playability on some of them left a bit to be desired, it was a nice feature that showed how each area was unique and special in some way, and how regular classes could be adapted to fit the nation.

  3. Romolus
    | Reply

    Out of all of those, I’ve played Dark Sun (and would probably not ever do it again, it’s like watching Bear Ghrills in your head. which I wouldn’t want to on TV, why would I want that there?)… I’ve mostly played in FR and Dragonlance (and DL was for such a short time about 15 years ago). Ravenloft kind of interested me, but not enough to buy a book for. So yeah, I play generic D&D, but my generic FR setting can have interesting spots too (and with the level of detail you can’t run out of Ideas with, so I’m glad this is the set Wizards came out of the box with).

    I have a question for you guys though, What is your favorite 5e piece of art from any of the 5e books? or any D&D book?

    • Dave Friant
      | Reply

      Damn dude you are putting me on the spot. It’s a tough one there are a lot of really great pieces of art in 5th. I can say off the bat it isn’t he halflings that is for sure. I really love the monster manual’s cover.

  4. Knight #31
    | Reply

    A really nice list, with descriptions being on point and you experiences with each setting kinda gluing the text, though some Dark Sun purists would tremble at the mention of the Prism Pentad…

    I`d just include a special mention to Mystara and Greyhawk, I love these two, like smart talking pugs, people just don`t pay enough attention to them cause they`re pugs.

    10/10 post.

    • Dave Friant
      | Reply

      Talking pugs my 14 yr old son would love those. If they were in Greyhawk I’m just not remembering them. Mystra sounds intriguing, but alas I have not had the pleasure. I did mention Greyhawk just not in the most favorable light. Not because of anything being wrong with the setting. I’m just not a huge fan of generic settings. I rather home brew I’m gonna generic. Didn’t the novel predate the setting for Dark Sun? A little Google Fu reveals they were released in the same month. Anyway it was my first exposure and I enjoyed all of the novels back in the day.

  5. luy
    | Reply

    Blackmoor and Greyhawk…

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