D&D General Do you Prefer a Bespoke Setting or Established Setting for a Campaign

Hussar

Legend
In another conversation here about Dragonlance, I had a bit of an epiphany. For me, Dragonlance was probably the first larger setting I ever really got into. Yes, I played/ran in Mystara (well, at the time it would have been the setting in the back of the Moldvay Expert rules), Greyhawk and whatnot, but, it was Dragonlance that I actually dug into a little deeper. I bought the modules, I ran most of them, I read the stuff in Dragon magazine at the time, read the novels, so on and so forth. At least up until the release of the Dragonlance Adventures anyway.

But, in that conversation I realized something. To me, a campaign setting is indelibly linked to a specific campaign. Dragonlance, to me, is the War of the Lance and the 14 modules that went with that. I never got into anything after that. I never tried to run anything in Dragonlance that wasn't War of the Lance. To me, Krynn=War of the Lance and nothing else.

And, that pretty much characterizes my experience in gaming. Even back in the stone ages when I started gaming, settings were always tied to a single campaign. Star Frontiers, to me, is always Volturnus. Gangbusters is set in the 1920's real world. Same with James Bond. Campaigns that we played would be set in a specific setting, but, once we either changed campaigns, or changed games, that setting would always be left behind in favor of a new setting.

Even today, that still holds true for me. Since the release of 5e, I've either DM'd or played about 8 different campaigns. Some have reached a conclusion, some died a sad death, but, out of those 8 campaigns, I've played in Krynn, Ravenloft, Forgotten Realms, Primeval Thule, Greyhawk and Nentir Vale (sort of). Six settings for eight campaigns.

How about you? Do you set your games in the same setting, over and over again, building a library of lore specific to your table? Or, are you more like me and each setting is a specific backdrop for a specific campaign and even games set in the same setting likely have nothing to do with each other? Or, something in between?
 

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BookTenTiger

He / Him
For me, creating campaign settings is one of my favorite aspects of D&D. I love to create a brand new setting with every single campaign I start.

Usually I start with a very vague sketch of a setting, usually more a theme than anything else... Maybe "knights vs undead" or "explorers entering the unknown."

Then once characters have been created I'll go into creative overdrive, filling in the world with things I think the characters will have fun interacting with.

As the campaign goes on I fill in more and more of the world, often with player suggestions or ideas.

Then the campaign wraps, and we start again!
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
My only issue with established settings is that there is just too much detail nowadays for me to remember - which is likely an age thing I guess. So I tend to distil the setting into principles, and as @BookTenTiger mentioned, Knight vs Undead, or whatever the established setting is about, to help me fill in any blanks in lore when I run a game in the setting.

What established settings, do, and have, is to show you ways of putting your world together. I quite often draw from established campaign settings and put the stuff I like most into mine - just done my way. So in a few of my settings I was struggling with a few bits then upon re-reading some of the MtG settings, and Midgard World Book, with how the bestiary and world was put together it finally clicked.

In essence I like both.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Or, are you more like me and each setting is a specific backdrop for a specific campaign and even games set in the same setting likely have nothing to do with each other? Or, something in between?
This. I tend to use a lot of different settings. I've recently ran a couple of short adventures and I made up a specific setting for them. I'm currently running a 5e Greyhawk campaign. With the same group, I did ran a long AD&D GH campaign. Even though the setting is nominally the same, each campaign exists independently of each other; basically two "instances" of the same setting.
 

deganawida

Adventurer
It depends, to be honest. If the campaign has an overarching goal, then I want a setting that captures the feel of a novel. If it’s a sandbox campaign, I design my own and see where the players take things.
 

Tallifer

Hero
'Tis true that I associate Dragonlance only with the sixteen modules I played through in the 1980s. Playing in that world outside that specific epic would feel to me like Amazon's bastardization of Tolkien. (I am aware that Krynn is full of far more lore than that: just my ingrained habit to treat Krynn as a bespoke world.

On the whole however, I think each fantasy world should be an endless source of lore, stories, characters, places and ineffable memories. I do prefer a multiverse to a kitchen sink world as a means to variety however.

Mark of Prophecy.jpg
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I nearly always use my own homebrew campaign world, unless I am running a published adventure (like Frostmaiden). Older modules from AD&D typically can be set in my own world easily.
 

Oofta

Legend
I've always used my own homebrew campaign. I find it more difficult to run and prep in existing worlds, getting ready to play a published mods for AL takes significantly longer than just running my home game. I may borrow and adapt ideas from published settings, but if I do I put my own spin on them anyway and feel no need to keep true to the source material.
 

Bespoke, but a mash-up version of a established campaing. Then the lore is enough known by the others, but you have the key of total creative control. It is like fandom writting fan-fiction.
 


I've only run two campaigns (the first of which folded after 4-5 sessions, the second is now in its fourth year). Both of them were set in the same setting, but offset in time. Essentially, I presumed that the adventurers of the first group had succeeded on their journey, and played out logical consequences of that success.

The current game is not likely to end soon, as there are many threads left to investigate and many secrets that still lie buried. They've made some great strides, especially recently. They even got to speak with one of the greater Primal Spirits, the World-Serpent!

Once these characters finish their story....I can't really see there being a whole lot more to do in this region, in this time period. They're working to fix deep and abiding problems in a fairly permanent way. They're trying to make their corner of the world sustained bright, instead of chiaroscuro. It will never stay bright forever, but they can chase away the shadows for a generation or two. Further, I'm pretty sure we're going to wrap up this game only when the characters are done, and it would feel weird to just immediately leap back into that with no further fanfare.

But...

I have established quite thoroughly that this is just one region of a large world. And the players have already learned that (despite what the Waziri mage cosmologists would tell you) there ARE other planes out there, with their own existence, their own stars and life. These provide possibilities. There is Yuxia, the Jade Home, and its dragons and spirits and its Celestial Bureaucracy. There's the Ten Thousand Isles of the Sapphire Sea, with their loa and incredible cultural variety and supernatural weirdness. There's the great Steppe beyond the eastern mountains, and other lands even farther afield, most surely.

So, should we end this campaign, we totally COULD revisit this setting, just in some other part of it that hasn't been more than grazed by the campaign we've been playing.

Or I could run something else. There's no need to stick to just this one. I have other settings, both official and "only existing in Ezekiel's head." I'm sure I could develop more things to do, and my players are such troopers, they're game for most anything. (Could also be that I just know what stuff they like, and take my worldbuilding relatively seriously, so there's never been a reason to complain.)
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I think a little disambiguation of the term “campaign” is warranted here. Some people use campaign to mean a series of contiguous adventures, akin to an adventure path. Others use it to mean the milieu in which their adventures take place. I also think different “campaign settings” are built more with one or the other type of “campaign” in mind. War of the Lance feels to me like the former, adventure path type campaign, and I agree that Dragonlance as a setting is pretty inherently tied to it. On the other hand, Grayhawk and Mystara feel more built for the latter milieu-type campaign.
 

jgsugden

Legend
That is like asking whether I like ice cream or cake. I like both, and each has their own times to shine.

My default is my primary Homebrew setting. I've spent 40 years in there, so I know it well, and it gives me a lot of options. It is generally my setting of preference. It is massive, has hundreds of long running storylines, and I get lots of positive feedback on how I've simplifeid the cosmology of the setting and made it easier to use. I have three other Homebrew settings that also get minimal use.

However, I also run other settings as well.

I find that the FR is very accessible to most D&D players, so when I meet with new players, I usually prefer to run an adventure in the FR as a 'diagnostic' to get to know the players and how they operate.

I like to run the War of the Lance in Krynn. Like the OP, I tend not to run anything else there. I have played in a campaign that was a 'war game' set in Krynn during the War of the Lance, but that did not follow the module/book storyline, and that was a great experience, but if I were going for that feel, I'd run it in my Homebrew.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
My only issue with established settings is that there is just too much detail nowadays for me to remember - which is likely an age thing I guess. So I tend to distil the setting into principles, and as @BookTenTiger mentioned, Knight vs Undead, or whatever the established setting is about, to help me fill in any blanks in lore when I run a game in the setting.

What established settings, do, and have, is to show you ways of putting your world together. I quite often draw from established campaign settings and put the stuff I like most into mine - just done my way. So in a few of my settings I was struggling with a few bits then upon re-reading some of the MtG settings, and Midgard World Book, with how the bestiary and world was put together it finally clicked.

In essence I like both.
Yeah, pre-made Settings are like cookbooks: you can follow them linearly, or you can use a bunch of recipes from different books and change the spices involved.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
I use a combination of both (or have over the years). I find that coming up with my own bespoke campaign ends up being a lot more work for me than using an 'established' setting.

I've had the most success running FR, but altering the timeline, or moving back in time before large events, or just after large events, which gives a different feel to the campaign and the world than 1459 DR or whatever it is currently. I'll usually pull adventure hooks, maps, NPCs, towns, whatever from any and all sources (official, 3PP, my own creation) to populate said world, and I'll also adjust the maps to represent what is "current".

I ran a recent 5e FR game, set in the Moonshaes, around 900 DR. I went with a dark ages feel and tech level, tried to limit magic (did not go well), and sprinkled the NPCs and areas with rumors of the greater goings on: for ex, Nimoar's Hold was currently involved in the second troll war, and might or might not ever become Waterdeep. The players could choose to travel there, or not, depending on what they decided to pursue. Instead, they decided to investigate rumors of a plot by Moander cultists to raise the dead god in Myth Anwyn, a lost city akin to Myth Drannor, that was in the Moonshaes.

I pulled adventures from other parts of the realms, old sourcebooks, AL adventures, parts of adventures, etc. along the way.

I always have trouble running campaigns (adventure arcs, adventure paths, multi year sandboxes) in settings like Dragonlance, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, because my players prefer to be in the middle of the action, so they'd want to be the heroes in each of those settings, and since they know how the arcs go, its hard to change it up enough (at least for me).

I'm running now two games set in Greyhawk. One (VTT) in Furyondy immediately after Ashes, and the players are going to be going up against Iuz, investigating the border between those kingdoms, leading troops as necessary, etc. Another group is playing in Sterich (via email, with VTT for combat) a few years after the humanoid invasion, and is investigating the source of those invasions now that they have been pushed back. Since there are few formal 'adventures' for these areas, I'm filling in the gaps with plotlines that make sense for the tone and direction of the games.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I think a little disambiguation of the term “campaign” is warranted here. Some people use campaign to mean a series of contiguous adventures, akin to an adventure path. Others use it to mean the milieu in which their adventures take place. I also think different “campaign settings” are built more with one or the other type of “campaign” in mind. War of the Lance feels to me like the former, adventure path type campaign, and I agree that Dragonlance as a setting is pretty inherently tied to it. On the other hand, Grayhawk and Mystara feel more built for the latter milieu-type campaign.
I think this is where WotC has been clever lately bending the distinction: Strixhaven is mostly a series of linked Adventure modules, while Witchlight has a strong milieu that can be take beyond the Adventure presented
 

As DM, it would depend on the setting and my willingness to possibly embrace it long-term should the impossible happen and the campaign last a good long time. As a player I think I'd rather have a DM's own scratch-built game world as it is far more likely to be ideally adapted to the specific players and PC's that are participating at any given moment, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be perfectly happy with a well-run store-bought setting. I'd guess that the important factor would always be the DM and the group I'm gaming with over the setting itself.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
How about you? Do you set your games in the same setting, over and over again, building a library of lore specific to your table? Or, are you more like me and each setting is a specific backdrop for a specific campaign and even games set in the same setting likely have nothing to do with each other? Or, something in between?
I have favorites that I revisit often. Al-Qadim, Dark Sun, Mystara, Ravenloft, and Spelljammer. I could run games in those settings forever and be happy. Just not only one. The variety is what keeps them fresh. I also run games in a homebrew world. I start different groups off in different parts of the world. There's overlap between the groups, but they're all on the same world. I know that. And I keep track of how one affects the other. One group decided to go into politics and building castles and engaging in warfare and kingdom building. The next game I ran it was another group leaving that country a hundred years later to explore a newly discovered land. It just depends.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
How about you? Do you set your games in the same setting, over and over again, building a library of lore specific to your table? Or, are you more like me and each setting is a specific backdrop for a specific campaign and even games set in the same setting likely have nothing to do with each other? Or, something in between?


D&D is only one out of many games I run. For the past 20 years or so, I have not run two consecutive campaigns using the same ruleset, much less the same game world. So, for me, setting is entirely tied to the particular campaign, not persistent beyond that.
 

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