D&D 5E Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Official Campaign Settings

Technically it is. Unless you put your setting notes online, you have to sit down and describe your setting to each person, individually or as a group, and hope you don't leave anything out and are able to get the mood across properly.

If you say "I run games in Grayhwak," then people can google Grayhawk and see what it's about. It might still end up being different from your version of it, but they'll get the gist of it.
yeah not only that but I use settings as examples... so "My homebrew is kinda like birthright meets darksun with lots of influence from Dune and X men's villainy En Saba Nor.." it can all be googled, but if I have game mechanics for defiling and tieing magic to the land IN 53 it would be easier.

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Metaplot is RPG cancer!

Timeline advancements make settings unplayable, especially when they come in regular pieces. (If they come every 10 years or so, it's basically alternate versions.)
Yes and no. As long as you are going to try to 'keep up' it wont help but I love the idea of the story advancing and then the players get to see how the world evolves, but the DM needs to be careful to make the changes make sense...

having said that a Playercentric relms/darksun or waht ever would be better.


Great Old One
It's a network effect. People want an official campaign setting because they know that other people are more likely to be willing to play in an official setting, and this increases their chances of having a gaming group that does not fall apart.

There is that, although I also think that there's usually more material for players to understand how the world works than always asking the DM about simple stuff like, maps, factions, people, customs, etc. Case in point, a lot of campaigns published by 3rd parties (but also WotC with the SCAG) come with a Player's Handbook.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
There is that, although I also think that there's usually more material for players to understand how the world works than always asking the DM about simple stuff like, maps, factions, people, customs, etc. Case in point, a lot of campaigns published by 3rd parties (but also WotC with the SCAG) come with a Player's Handbook.

I think that this ties into the same factors people mention- that having official settings makes things easier in terms of time, attracting players, and so on.

It's the gradual evolution from the default assumption that a campaign would either be homebrew or modified official setting to the default assumption that a campaign will be a published setting. IMO.

Very late to the party but I thought the point "Why do you need an official campaign setting, why isn't a third-party one good enough?" is a good question and whilst Snarf and others have analyzed it well, I think there are a couple of things to add:

1) Artwork and design.

This is related to quality, but I think it's a bit different. People can call me whatever names they like, but I love settings and books which have a lot of artwork and good visual design, and my very long experience is that official books completely and utterly spank anything third-party as this. Sometimes there are exceptions, particularly where TSR/WotC decided to cheap out of just overemploy some eyeroll-inducing artist, but in general, WotC official stuff has been much better than third-party stuff, and it still is.

2) I hate knock-offs, and WotC doesn't licence out settings much.

So Planescape, for example, like would I have bought a third-party book if WotC licensed it out? Yeah maybe, but would I buy a knock-off of Planescape? No. I didn't even buy the official low-grade knock-off of Planescape, Ravnica (bored monkey ba-dump-tssh gif)! I don't want a knock-off because they always bloody change something they bloody shouldn't.

It's not really "authenticity" so much or "prestige" or whatever, it's like 80% of people who do knock-offs of settings just don't quite "get it" (it's interesting with "spiritual successor" indie videogames you see this a bit too - like, about 60% do "get it", but then 40% will just unnecessarily change something and ruin the formula). Like if you made 10 people make Planescape knock-offs, two of them would remove or ruin the Factions, two of them would kill the the plane-travelling thing, two would kill Sigil, and two would probably kill all three and just drill down on the Blood War or something. So maybe two people wouldn't screw it up, which is not good odds.

3) Depending on the edition, third-party may not even be viable.

I would strongly suggest that in 1E, 2E, and even 4E thanks to the godawful GSR, third-party settings were not viable. So this question, in a way, is really only about 3.XE and and 5E, which means it's a lot narrower than it initially seems.

4) Weird creepy stuff check.

Like, I'm not going to name names (not even in PMs, soz), but an awful lot of non-official settings for D&D and other games, like you're reading through them, "Oh yeah that's cool" and then suddenly "Uhhhh well that's incredibly creepy" or "Jesus that's messed-up" or "Wow what a horrifying change of tone". If it's like a horror setting that's horrifying, great, Scarred Lands gonna be Scarred and maybe scar you too, for example, cool, you know what you're getting into, but a number of other third-party settings it's been like "Oh boy...".

WotC are extremely unlikely to do that to me. TSR did have messed up stuff sometimes but I guess we can say the '80s and '90s lets them off a bit (albeit by the time Maztica and Red Steel happened it was too late in history to write either of those off as "just how it was back then" - both of those seemed messed-up at the time).

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
4) Weird creepy stuff check.

I never thought about that. Usually it's more of a problem with homebrew (which can either be so awesome, or so squicky ....).

But yeah, when you've got someone talking about their 3PP campaign setting, and they're all like, "Yeah, this is way too awesome and controversial for those lamestream publishers ...."

Run, don't walk.


I think the main points that make official settings appealing to me were already named already on (in particular, I agree with @Lanefan that the shared experience they facilitate are a major asset of official campaign settings).

One thing that I didn't see mentioned, though (but maybe I missed it), is that - similar to extensive campaign books, they are a means of "lonely fun" / game surrogate. You can read them, and - without needing an actual group - explore a fantastic world and imagine adventures happening in it. Now that might be less relevant than it was in the 90s where Internet access was scarce and mobile phones still filled the trunk of your car, but fundamentally they are a way to be a part of the gaming community without actually playing the game (be it, because you don't have a group, or because you are looking for something to do between sessions).

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