D&D General Campaign settings that aren't clearly analogous to real-world cultures


As a bit of a setting junky, I've always enjoyed worlds/settings that aren't clearly analogous to specific Earth cultures. It isn't an easy feat, as all of us are (allegedly) Earthlings, so we can only draw from our own world - or other worlds that were created by people who were inspired by real-world cultures (though I would argue that the human imagination is capable of stretching beyond what it has experienced, but that's a different conversation).

But sometimes there is a world that feels distinctly different - without clear analogues to the real world, or at least minimized. Worlds that feel distinctly their own.

Some examples include Talislanta, Shadow World/Kulthea, Dark Sun, and Planescape. You can find smatterings of influence in any of them, but they all feel relatively distinct.

Strangely enough, I'd say Dragonlance/Krynn is the most distinct vanilla fantasy world I can think of, at least among D&D's settings. Again, there are obvious influences--not to mention the Mormon undertones--but I don't think of "fantasy Europe" or "fantasy Uzbekhistan."

Some worlds have strong influences, but do a good job masking them within the fantasy elements - like Earthdawn, which is actually set in a mythic past of our world. But it doesn't really feel like our world.

Actually, Middle-earth is pretty distinct. Like Earthdawn (or should I say, like ME for Earthdawn?! ;)), it is set in a mythic past of our world, but Tolkien did an amazing job creating distinct cultural and mythological traditions that feel like they could be the source of--rather than derived from--later real-world traditions. Mission accomplished, dear JRR!

Among literary worlds, I can think of many examples: Not just Middle-earth, but Le Guin's Earthsea, Herbert's Dune, Erikson's Malazan world, etc. Again, smatterings of influence, but they all feel distinct, and with primary tones that are unique.

What else? It doesn't have to be "completely distinct" - again, I don't think that is possible, really. But worlds and settings that don't have a clear and obvious real-world culture that they are drawn from, and offer elements and tones that seem unique to that world, and more to the point, define it more than the real-world-inspired elements.

p.s. If mods feel like this should be moved to RPG General, that's fine. I placed it here because it was inspired by the Radiant Citadel thread, and most of us know D&D worlds the best. But it probably makes more sense there. Either way!

log in or register to remove this ad

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
Eberron, while pretty modern in its themes and presentation, and being inspired by a real world era, has pretty distinct cultures, probably enforced by the fact that they are pretty mixed in terms of races. The art tend to have some real world inspirations, but it isnt too bad.

Other setting lean hard on being real-world counterparts, like Faerun and a favorite of mine, Thedas from Dragon Age. It can be lazy sometimes, but it helps when presenting the setting to more casual players.


Greg Stafford's Glorantha.
Yeah, I considered that - as well as Tekumel and Jorune, for those early, unique settings. Glorantha had a lot of real-world analogues - e.g. Rome - but a very distinct overall tone, and the mythology!

Tekumel was drawn from a lot of non-European settings, as well as weird scifi.


Dragonlance's Taladas setting always felt very fresh to me - far enough away from traditional "vanilla" fantasy to feel like there's a whole world waiting to be explored, with just barely enough recognisable elements not to feel totally alien.

In fiction: perhaps Jig the Goblin, or the Edge Chronicles?


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I've never played any that really felt alien and I'm not sure how playable any such setting would be.


5e Freelancer
Thay from the Forgotten Realms seems pretty unique and not immediately analogous to any real-world culture.

Like @vincegetorix said, a lot of Eberron doesn't immediately jump out with a connection to a real-world culture. There are some, but the ones that do rely a bit on real-world cultures typically mix in some major parts of other cultures (Thrane, most of the elf cultures, Darguun/Dhakaani, the Demon Wastes, the Shadow Marches).

The Kryn Dynasty of Exandria is inspired by some real-world cultures, but is also quite different from any of the real cultures they draw from.

The Shadar-Kai of the Shadowfell are also not clearly based on a real culture, from what I can tell.


I've never played any that really felt alien and I'm not sure how playable any such setting would be.
It doesn't have to be really alien - just not clearly derived from a real world culture. To use some examples from this thread, Mulhorrand is clearly "fantasy Egypt," while Thay is less clearly analogous to any specific real world culture.

Remove ads


Remove ads

Upcoming Releases