Friday, January 20, 2012

Ideas Waiting To Be Stolen

Campaign settings do not make up part of the "essence" of Dungeons & Dragons. We played with only the core rulebooks (Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual) and Dungeoneer's Survival Guide. I later owned Greyhawk Adventures but I didn't really understand what to do with it so I never used it and didn't like it.

I only understood the existence of official campaign settings later when I encountered them as crystal spheres floating in the phlogiston of Spelljammer. There I discovered Forgotten Realms for the first time and was reminded that maybe you could visit the setting of those Dragonlance books I had read. After that I bought Dark Sun but somehow never managed to play any games in the setting so I just made lots of characters and enjoyed all the art by Brom.

Forgotten Realms
Campaign Setting
The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book, published for D&D 3rd edition, changed everything. My hat goes off to Robert Raper (Art Director) and Jon Schindehette (Visual Creative Director). The FRCS is gorgeous, inside and out, from cover to cover. It's full of great art and, as mentioned previously, I'm totally willing to buy a roleplaying book for that reason alone.

Ever since the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, I buy campaign settings. Dungeon Masters and players need inspiration. I'm not going to play a game set in the Forgotten Realms but that doesn't matter. I'll plagiarize races, story seeds, setting tidbits, organizations, and game mechanics for my own Dungeons & Dragons world. Campaign settings give designers a framework upon which to explore world-building where players and DMs can then steal for their own use.

Within the halls of Wizards of the Coast you used to hear whispers that TSR was brought low by too many campaign settings which fractured the D&D customer base. In 3rd edition they tried to provide deep support for only a few settings. Forgotten Realms alone had over sixteen supplements released between July of 2001 and October of 2005. While the core Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting product was one of the best selling books in all of 3e or v.3.5, it's supplements fared much worse. The Eberron Campaign Setting was added to the mix in June of 2004.

Fourth edition tried to learn the lessons of D&D 3e and one of those lessons was clearly that continuing support for each campaign setting was a recipe for failure. Wizards was still hanging onto the baggage of 2nd edition. They needed to synthesize the two lessons. Settings don't factionalize the customer base but product lines do. The Forgotten Realms product line was a problem while the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting was a smashing success. Probably 80% or more of games take place in a campaign setting which is specific to only that playgroup. Published campaign settings can't possibly make tabletop game settings any more dispersed than they already are.

The Eberron setting really seemed to pick up steam but if your group had decided to try it you couldn't switch to the new system until a full year had passed with the D&D 4e rules. It took too long for fans to get the support they needed to convert their games from v.3.5 to 4th edition. Potentially this delay slowed adoption of 4th edition or just drove those customers into the waiting arms of Paizo and the Pathfinder RPG. Wizards of the Coast should be producing material to inspire the players of Dungeons & Dragons and germinate new ideas for tabletop campaigns everywhere.

The 4e campaign settings were too few in number and to slim in content to do the job.



  1. While I'm not as keen on art as Mage-Ou, I am definitely addicted to Campaign settings. In fact, they are the ONLY books I've ever owned outside of the core rulebooks (i.e. I paid actual money for them at the game store). As an AD&D dungeon master I ran games in Arabian Adventure, Darksun, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, and Planescape. ON TOP of liberally stealing from Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk for my "backdrop" home brew fantasy world. Predictably, I am now running an Eberron campaign in 4e, only with all the details that don't fit into my storytelling style changed -- probably half the world is recognizable as Eberron, the rest is departure. Which is the point, creating entire worlds from scrath is exhausting. Having the Campaign Settings to get the DM going is priceless.

  2. I remember being baffled at the lack of campaign settings released with the 4e. Sure, it's fun to make your own worlds, but it's also nice to look at established worlds and steal bits from them--especially when you have a brand new rule system and you want ideas on how everything works together. Hopefully 5e will launch with more than just the 3 core books!