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D&D General Great and not so great setting specific sourebooks/modules

I am coming to think every metaplot eventually reaches the point where a consensus of the devoted fans go "nope, I'm going to just ignore that and act like that never happened."

My World of Darkness-playing friends pretty much ignore The Reckoning, for example (unless the plot of the game is specifically Gehenna/Apocalypse/end-of-the-world scenario).
The problem becomes differentiating between a novel and a setting. My issue with Dragonlance was that after the War of the Lance, the setting became less interesting; same with Dark Sun. They make for great reading material, but it's hard to translate it into a workable setting. Realms managed to do this for a quite a long time, probably because it was originally a setting for stories rather than as an RPG setting.

Sometimes a metaplot isn't in the settings best interest. Greyhawk was never meant to have a metaplot, except as expanded by modules (adventures), but TSR changed that with the success of the Realms. I don't think Eberron has a metaplot either. I didn't think Mystara had one, but I hadn't heard about Alphatia (was it an adventure?).
 

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Voadam

Legend
I am a pretty big fan in general of having a relatively short high level overview of a setting that is evocative and can be filled in and riffed on easily as a player or GM.

Scarred Lands did a good job of this as well with their Ghelspad Gazetteer. 60 pages that give a short tour of the countries on one continent, the Gods and Titans, and the recent Titanomachy style Gods War that involved all the mortals as well. Very Greek Myth style D&D, sort of like 4e's Dawn War if it happened within the last 100 years, with lots of points of light city states surrounded by monsters and wilderness. And the places are generally interesting and evocative: tattoo witch run northern barbarians, Paladin run city under the remains of a mountain sized titan fighting Mithral golem, rune smith dwarves are the premier (but not only) wizard society, a Lawful Neutral society of Necromancers who hate intelligent undead but have mastered constructing mindless undead to defend against hostile invading monsters, a Lawful Evil warlord who is establishing the biggest bastion of civilization. And it is pay what you want so everyone in a group can get up to speed easily.

Then for those who are interested in delving in further there are lots of other sourcebooks to go more in-depth.
 

The Glen

Hero
Best books? In no order:

Night's Dark Terror. One of the best written modules for any rpg, not just D&D. Linear but not a railroad, starts of with an ambush, then a siege, a treasure hunt, a chase with slavers to a lost valley and two civilizations trapped in an eternal war. All by level 4.

Aurora's. Lot of love for this one already, but I have to concur. Just a fantastic supplement that immerses you in the setting.

Domains of Dread. Wonderful world book for Ravenloft, draws you in and won't let you leave.

3rd edition Realms guide. If there is a better all encompassing world book for D&D, I can't think of one.

Legacy of Blood. In a series dominated by the already excellent Test of the Warlords, this one breaks from the mold by having you save a failing domain while trying to find whose is sabotaging you.

Temple of the Frog. A spoiler cover is a bummer, but the module is filled twists and turns along with new levels of horror.

Bestiary of Giants and Dragons. Numerous adventures from 1st to 36th featuring numerous encounters with the titular creatures. Even if the last one is lacking, where else do you get to pull the tooth from a dragon Immortal?

Veiled Society. In a series filled with entry level dungeon crawls this one is a murder mystery amd an urban adventure as well. Just cover up the cover because both sides give away the killer.

And the bad:

Endless Stair. This one seems to be incomplete. Lack of monsters, lots of walking and pages of exposition with no real plot except a macguffin hunt for a borderline useless artifact.

Gargoyle. Just a silly module. A bunch of kids protecting a gargoyle with detachable wings.

Tomb of Horrors. Overhyped meat grinder that forgot to make it fun.

Castle Greyhawk. A big middle finger to Gary that turns his dream module into a looney tunes episode.

Atruaghin Clans. The author was given an impossible deadline for the last of the otherwise excellent gazetteer series and it shows. Obviously padded with huge margins, insane amount of art, noticeable increased font size and no editing at all.
 

Azuresun

Adventurer
As for metaplot, while I know a lot of Realms fans ignore the Spellplague and everything after it (rather like most Dragonlance fans I know ignore the Chaos War and everything after it, and how the Planescape fans I know ignore the Faction War and everything after it), I'm sure a lot of people would like to see how the big deux ex machina reset that undid a lot of the spellplague's sweeping changes actually were worked in. They've jumped the timeline ahead well over a century from the 3e FRCS now, and after 4e did things like wipe entire countries off the map and level entire cities, only for them to be back on the map now, asking how and when those things happened is a valid question for someone trying to keep up with metaplot.

For me, I burned out on "keeping up with metaplot" after being a While Wolf fan, circa the Time of Thin Blood / Week of Nightmares. Most of the time it boils down to NPC's doing cooler stuff than you'll ever be able to, and bits of the setting that (at least some) people liked being blown up to raise the stakes.

I don't see the value in an "update" because from everything I've heard, the Spellplague and Sundering were straight out of a bad Marvel / DC Comics event--a huge crisis crossover that mangled the setting beyond all recognition.....followed by other creators trying to retcon the whole thing as best they can without just saying "that never happened". Because rather than trying to reverse an ill-advised setting change in-universe, I can just say that never happened or that it hasn't happened yet. We're playing in the 3e setting and period with 5e rules, the metaplot is just a possible future, now go.
 

Azuresun

Adventurer
Speaking of the Forgotten Realms, I really liked the Underdark book for 3.5. It struck the right balance between making a semi-plausible underground world, and creating a wonderfully weird and alien place that would freak out even veteran adventurers.
 


For me, I burned out on "keeping up with metaplot" after being a While Wolf fan, circa the Time of Thin Blood / Week of Nightmares. Most of the time it boils down to NPC's doing cooler stuff than you'll ever be able to, and bits of the setting that (at least some) people liked being blown up to raise the stakes.

I don't see the value in an "update" because from everything I've heard, the Spellplague and Sundering were straight out of a bad Marvel / DC Comics event--a huge crisis crossover that mangled the setting beyond all recognition.....followed by other creators trying to retcon the whole thing as best they can without just saying "that never happened". Because rather than trying to reverse an ill-advised setting change in-universe, I can just say that never happened or that it hasn't happened yet. We're playing in the 3e setting and period with 5e rules, the metaplot is just a possible future, now go.
Yeah, I mentioned upthread how most White Wolf fans I knew gave up on metaplot with the Reckoning (Week of Nightmares/Time of Thin blood, all the same events). I definitely get you on that being the moment most WW fans just started to walk away from the metaplot of WoD.

Yeah, the Spellplague really did seem like some bad plot twist from a comic book, like a soft reboot of a popular book to fit new trends:

They had Shar kill Mystra (and Mystra stay dead, which was the weird part, since you know, she's not supposed to be able to permanently die, even to the point that if she does die, Ao just elevates someone else to the role of Goddess of Magic), and her death caused magic to go wild (like when Mystril died during the Fall of Netheril), ravaging all of Toril for years or decades, killing most of the Faerunian pantheon, completely reshaping the map, wiping countries and cities off the map, a new continent emerges in the ocean, and 4e picks up a century later the chaos has died down to the point of it being ready for adventurers. . .and now Faerun is a Grimdark 4e "Points of Light" setting with 4e-specific elements like the Raven Queen and Primordials and Elemental Chaos and such shoehorned in. . .and then at the end of 4e they have a metaplot event spelled out in an RPGA Living Forgotten Realms module that explains why Ao couldn't stop the spellplague or revive Mystra (the forces Shar used to kill Mystra were from the Far Realm, outside Realmspace and Ao's control and even the almighty Ao was helpless to block the Far Realm incursion that cause the Spellplague, and it would take him a long time to be able to purge it from Realmspace). . .so with 5e it's my understanding that they went to Ed Greenwood and asked him to help fix the Realms that they'd broken, and they basically had Ao undo the various changes over a few years, reshaping the map back into its familiar shape, reviving the dozens of gods that were killed, rebuilding the cities that were destroyed. . .and they never were too specific about how it happened (because they didn't make a 5e Realms book yet) but now in the 5e timeline, it's about 120 years after the 3e timeline, but things are vaguely much the same as they were in 3e, except for where they aren't, but they haven't detailed what's different and what isn't.

. . .and yeah, it does sound like a comic book deciding to take on a "dark and edgy" tone under a new writer, only for it to flop and another writer to come along and try to retcon it all away. Only way it could be more of a retcon would be to have Chronomancers outright prevent it from having happened in the first place.
 

Azuresun

Adventurer
. . .so with 5e it's my understanding that they went to Ed Greenwood and asked him to help fix the Realms that they'd broken, and they basically had Ao undo the various changes over a few years, reshaping the map back into its familiar shape, reviving the dozens of gods that were killed, rebuilding the cities that were destroyed. . .and they never were too specific about how it happened (because they didn't make a 5e Realms book yet) but now in the 5e timeline, it's about 120 years after the 3e timeline, but things are vaguely much the same as they were in 3e, except for where they aren't, but they haven't detailed what's different and what isn't.

It sounds like it would have been better to do what Dark Sun (ironically, also in 4e) did when figuring out "how do we take out all the Prism Pentad stuff?". Just take the setting back to a pre-blown-up point in time, and just say "the Spellplague is a possible future if you like 4e Realms and want to play there, but not the default we're using, this is a continuation of the 3e Realms".
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Speaking of the Forgotten Realms, I really liked the Underdark book for 3.5. It struck the right balance between making a semi-plausible underground world, and creating a wonderfully weird and alien place that would freak out even veteran adventurers.

I used to be a big fan of the Underdark until I read Veins of the Earth. Then suddenly the Underdark seemed far too safe and full.
 

Voadam

Legend
I felt 3e Rokugan was a well done D&D fantasy samurai setting. Legends of the Five Rings has a long history starting with a collectible card game and several editions of a roll and keep RPG system with metaplot running throughout. The setting got adapted as the official setting for 3e Oriental Adventures and developed in its own book. Reading the setting book on its own without a lot of knowledge of the rest of it still gave me a great sense of the setting and engaged me with its themes and factions. The various clans are distinct and interesting with easy to grasp identities and well developed politics. The focus on samurai, split into swordsman, courtier, and spellcasting classes, was distinct and gave a sense of Rokugan as its own thing without many of the normal D&Disms of elves and druids. It also is not trying to cover every asian thing, so it is not applying samurai stuff to fantasy D&D China the way Kara Tur did. I also like the big supernatural Evil behind the Great Wall theme, even though I do not really care for taint mechanics in general.
 

AdmundfortGeographer

Getting lost in fantasy maps
I used to be a big fan of the Underdark until I read Veins of the Earth. Then suddenly the Underdark seemed far too safe and full.
I would love a comprehensive Underdark take without drow. If I want a subterranean elf I’ll substitute Mystara’s shadow elves, drow so saturate the current incarnation of D&D’s Underdark it’s a challenge to ignore. I just want a bit less work omitting drow. 🙃
 

It also is not trying to cover every asian thing, so it is not applying samurai stuff to fantasy D&D China the way Kara Tur did.
Rokugan focused on being a pseudo-Japan, but it definitely had its elements of other Asian cultures. The Hida clan had a lot of pseudo-Chinese elements (defending the pseudo-Great Wall had a lot to do with that). The Mantis Clan was a catch-all for Southeast Asian cultures, and the Unicorn Clan definitely had a pseudo-Mongolian bent to it. The Dragon Clan (and the Brotherhood of Shinsei, when they were a faction in the card game) also tended to get some of the Tibetan theme going with being the wise monks living in the impossibly high mountains. The politics of how the Imperial throne and court worked certainly were more on a Chinese model of ruling dynasties and warring factions competing for the throne, instead of the Japanese model of one family holding the throne since antiquity and the political battles instead being for who would run the government in the name of the Emperor with the Emperor largely as a figurehead.

The setting was built around being a fantasy analogue of Japan, but they definitely drew on a lot of elements of other Asian cultures, especially China, but some aspects of Southeast Asia, Mongolia, and Tibet for some of the factions.
 

GAZ 1 Grand Duchy of Karameikos and much of the rest of the GAZ series was great, if a little cluttered and nonsensical if you tried to tie it all together. I rather liked the related Top Ballista! setting for Mystara as well, with the skygnomes and their magical biplanes. And player character sphinxes. All in a flying city that could show up anywhere. It was kind of awesome, but very mechanically tied to BECMI for all the races introduced (and used races as classes, of course, like the rest of the system). I did try doing 5e with a GAZ 1 campaign using Keep on the Borderlands (the 5e conversion) but then we got sidetracked with the Waterdeep 5e campaign with a more consistent DM.
Amazed how much mileage I got out of Tomb of Annihilation and the related Tortle Package. I ran a total of four campaigns using it to varying extents for different groups over the past couple years, including one play through of the main module and one full exploration of the tortle island. For the sequel for the tortle group I'd like to use Qelong from Lamentations of the Flame Princess as a follow up, situating this weird fantasy Cambodia in the Samarach area of the Realms, but off and running with something else right now with them. I found the Innistrad MtG crossover kind of appealing as a setting, but I took it in kind of a weird direction inspired by Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis that was maybe less appealing to my players who are really into playing D&D when we are there to play D&D and it definitely needed fleshing out if you weren't going to do the suggested meshing of Barovia with it.
Have also found Testament from Green Ronin for 5e very inspirational for doing Bronze or Iron Age D&D. And I really like HR5 A Mighty Fortress from the old historical reference series from TSR for the 30 Years War and Reformation periods.
 

Voadam

Legend
I read through the 3.5 Dragonlance Campaign Setting and thought it was a great setting sourcebook that handled multiple eras of the world well. I had not followed things after Dragons of Summer Flame in late AD&D but the book gave a great overview and timeline to the point that I felt I would be comfortable running or playing in multiple time periods in the setting (pre War of the Lance, War of the Lance, Post War of the Lance, Chaos invasion, Gods gone, Gods Back, Current Age of Mortals Timeline). It provided a lot of the elements I enjoyed from the earlier setting (neat pantheon of gods, draconians, minotaurs and ogres, orders of sorcery and knights, etc.).
 

Voadam

Legend
The original Realm of Terror 2e Ravenloft Campaign Setting hit a lot of spots right for me. It had great DM advice for hitting evocative immersive play, it was the horror staples without being depressing or splattery, it had a strong tone for its vision of gothic horror that was executed well. The focus on themed domains and darklords and having its gothic horror play still apply to D&D worked well. I am a fan of the Steven Fabian art. The family trees were fun. Curses as separate from magic was a good choice. The full color map is evocative. It had a neat focus on individuals and families over sprawling kingdoms and organizations.
 

Absolutely. In hindsight, its advice on DMing and evoking mood was a game-changer for me. Even outside of Ravenloft, it helped me grow as a DM. And yes, that Stephen Fabian art is so darn good.

The original Realm of Terror 2e Ravenloft Campaign Setting hit a lot of spots right for me. It had great DM advice for hitting evocative immersive play, it was the horror staples without being depressing or splattery, it had a strong tone for its vision of gothic horror that was executed well. The focus on themed domains and darklords and having its gothic horror play still apply to D&D worked well. I am a fan of the Steven Fabian art. The family trees were fun. Curses as separate from magic was a good choice. The full color map is evocative. It had a neat focus on individuals and families over sprawling kingdoms and organizations.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Bumping this thread to see if anyone has new recommendations--either things that have come out in the last year, or things you have read since then, or whatever.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I'm a bit late to the party here, but just wanted to add that for me, the best setting ever is Planescape, although I really like some 4e additions like the Shadowfell and the Feywild, and some concept of the Astral Sea. The good thing is that they are easy to retrofit into the Great Wheel that I have always cherished and used in most of my campaigns.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
Bumping this thread to see if anyone has new recommendations--either things that have come out in the last year, or things you have read since then, or whatever.
Well, absent an official 5e take on Al-Qadim, we made our own. And people seem to really like it! Check it out in PDF and Print On Demand here:

Campaign Guide: Zakhara - Adventures in the Land of Fate

We also have a book of magic items that includes everything published for the setting, plus those in the Complete Necromancer's Handbook, converted to 5e here:

Kazerabet's Keepsakes: Over 180 Classic Magic Items Updated for 5e

Aside from our own stuff, I've really enjoyed the Dragon Kings setting, started by Tim Brown. It's a "Spiritual Successor" to Dark Sun, originally a system-neutral book by one of the setting's creators, and there's a 5e ruleset that came out late last year.
 

I haven't seen a related thread (if there is one - please point me to it!)

Just want some examples of setting specific sourcebooks or modules that you think fit the thread title.

Sourcebooks/modules that do a great job of representing the setting - making you immediately want to play in that world.

Sourcebooks/modules that do a great job making the gameworld seem like something you could really get your players into - etc.

Conversely - what are some sourcebooks/modules that fall short - they don't do a good job of conveying the setting, have serious problems with execution etc?

Any edition is fine - I'm, not looking for 5e specifically.
Tomb of Annihilation is not a world setting, but it does a good job at creating a distinct setting. I think Skull & Shackles adventure path for Pathfinder also does a good job.
 

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