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