D&D General Settings with Story

Dioltach

Legend
While I mostly prefer to run homebrew, I've run campaigns in Star Wars, Middle Earth and Dragonlance (the last one wasn't a success, since we played the modules and I just ran out of interest). Just last month I started a new SW campaign, set 10 years before Yavin, which will be mostly "Firefly in the SW universe". My ME campaigns have been set between the time of the Hobbit and the War of the Ring.

But if I were to run an adventure concurrent with the events of the books/movies, I'd take the starting situation and tell my players, "Consider the book/movie to be how another adventuring party completed this adventure. You do it your own way."

Has anyone here ever played The War of the Ring boardgame? You begin with the same starting situation, but after that your own decisions and actions shape how the events play out.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
I'm not really a fan of "settings with story." It's why I'm not a fan of D&D settings that are heavy in novelizations: e.g., Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, etc. It's generally why these are my least favorite D&D settings. I feel less like I'm playing in a game setting or world and more like I'm playing where someone else's stories take place. That's not fun for me. A good TTRPG setting for me is a setting that comes with a lot of hooks rather than a lot of stories. This is why I favor hook-heavy settings like Nentir Vale and Eberron.
 

I'm not really a fan of "settings with story." It's why I'm not a fan of D&D settings that are heavy in novelizations: e.g., Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, etc. It's generally why these are my least favorite D&D settings. I feel less like I'm playing in a game setting or world and more like I'm playing where someone else's stories take place. That's not fun for me. A good TTRPG setting for me is a setting that comes with a lot of hooks rather than a lot of stories. This is why I favor hook-heavy settings like Nentir Vale and Eberron.
I'm not sure it is fair to describe Forgotten Realms as not hook-heavy.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I'm not sure it is fair to say Forgotten Realms is not hook-heavy.
It's lore heavy. It's novelization heavy. I'm not sure the hooks have ever screamed at me when reading FR materials the way that it does for Eberron and Nentir Vale/World Axis. Eberron, for example, creates questions about the setting that it refuses to answer. Forgotten Realms feels like a setting that creates questions that it can't wait to answer for you in their novels.
 

It's lore heavy. It's novelization heavy. I'm not sure the hooks have ever screamed at me when reading FR materials the way that it does for Eberron and Nentir Vale/World Axis. Eberron, for example, creates questions about the setting that it refuses to answer. Forgotten Realms feels like a setting that creates questions that it can't wait to answer for you in their novels.
That I guess is one way to look at it. I find that with all this lore, much of it is not explained and provides hooks.

So for instance, no-where in the Tyranny of Dragons storyline is the origin of the dragon-masks revealed. Who created them? How were they created? Why did the Church of Tiamat not use them prior?

In Storm Kings Thunder, the Adventure League adventures make the possibility to wake Annam's (the giant god's) youngest son Hartkiller. In the AP, PCs attempt to restore the Ordning (giant hierarchy) by rescuing the Storm Giant king, Hekaton, and thus bringing peace to the land. What happens when Hartkiller and Hekaton both claim to be the rightful rulers of the giants? How can the Ordning be restored then?
 

Hussar

Legend
Yes, obviously there are a bajillion FR novels. Totally agree. But, largely, they're self contained. What happens in one novel (or series) doesn't really impact the setting terribly much. The material just kind of sits there and, obviously it's accreted to a massive degree. There is literally tens of thousands of pages of material for FR. Totally agree.

But, while there's all this lore, there aren't really any stories. Take the 5e Sword Coast adventures. There's like, what, ten or so honking big adventures there. But, none of them really reference each other and none of them actually have much impact at all on the others. It doesn't really change anything if you have or have not played Storm King's Thunder and then play Dragon Queen or Princes. None of them impact each other.

And none of them, at least to me, define Forgotten Realms in the way that say, Strahd defines Ravenloft.
 

Aldarc

Legend
That I guess is one way to look at it. I find that with all this lore, much of it is not explained and provides hooks.

So for instance, no-where in the Tyranny of Dragons storyline is the origin of the dragon-masks revealed. Who created them? How were they created? Why did the Church of Tiamat not use them prior?

In Storm Kings Thunder, the Adventure League adventures make the possibility to wake Annam's (the giant god's) youngest son Hartkiller. In the AP, PCs attempt to restore the Ordning (giant hierarchy) by rescuing the Storm Giant king, Hekaton, and thus bringing peace to the land. What happens when Hartkiller and Hekaton both claim to be the rightful rulers of the giants? How can the Ordning be restored then?
A point of contrast is that Eberron invites people to ask these questions. The setting intentionally draws attention to the questions and gaps in our knowledge. I don't think that this is the case for what you mention with Tyranny of Dragons. The adventure tells us what the masks do but it's not concerned with their origins. Those are questions and hooks that you devised about the story elements in the adventure. I hope that distinction is clear.
 

A point of contrast is that Eberron invites people to ask these questions. The setting intentionally draws attention to the questions and gaps in our knowledge. I don't think that this is the case for what you mention with Tyranny of Dragons. The adventure tells us what the masks do but it's not concerned with their origins. Those are questions and hooks that you devised about the story elements in the adventure. I hope that distinction is clear.
I think so. Honestly I'm not versed well enough on Eberron, but from your post it sounds like players themselves are interested in these questions/gaps that exist, similar say to I suppose a homebrew world which truth and knowledge still needs to be explored and discovered?
If that is the case, I can relate given why I stated Star Trek is more interesting to me than Star Wars.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
I think so. Honestly I'm not versed well enough on Eberron, but from your post it sounds like players themselves are interested in these questions/gaps that exist, similar say to I suppose a homebrew world which truth and knowledge still needs to be explored and discovered?
There are a ton of mysteries in Eberron that do not have a canon answer. The designers of Eberron have refused to give "true"/"canonical" answers to these parts of the world, because they want the DM to come up with their own and for it to be impossible to have these mysteries spoiled for players. There are a ton of parts of Eberron like this, but some big ones are:
  • What caused the Mourning (long story short, a country got nuked during a 100-year-long, 5-nation civil war, and no one knows who/what caused this disaster).
  • If the gods exist (Eberron has pantheons of gods, but their existence is not confirmed).
  • If the Progenitor Dragons were real (the creation myth claims that the world was created by 3 giant dragons, but no one knows if they actually existed).
  • Where Erandis Vol/Lady Illmarrow's phylactery is (half-green dragon lich lady who was turned into a lich by her mother. Her mother hid the phylactery so well that even Erandis doesn't know where her phylactery is).
  • Where Warforged souls come from (Warforged definitely have souls, it's just not clear where they come from/how they're created).
  • How to free the Demon Overlords
  • How the 13th moon was destroyed
  • How to bring back the Dragonmark of Death
  • If there are any Couatls still alive (they all sacrificed themselves thousands of years ago to imprison the demons that ruled the world)
And there are a lot more little mysteries that Keith Baker and the other creators of Eberron leave up to the DM to customize the world to their own table.

So, yes, Eberron is kind of like a homebrew world where truth and knowledge need to be explored/discovered. That was intended when the world was made. To have each home version of the setting be different and customized to the preferences of the DMs and their table. No one's experience with Eberron will be the same as anyone else's if they're from different tables.

In my version of the world, the Mourning was caused by Erandis Vol making a pact with the Dark Powers of Ravenloft, who filled Cyre with the Mists of Ravenloft and reincarnated the souls of the dead in Ravenloft's Domains of Dread. She did this because the Last War was going to release Rak Tulkesh, the Demon Overlord of War, which would have destroyed the world and prevented Erandis Vol from achieving her goal of apotheosis to the Goddess of Death and restoring the Dragonmark of Death. This is an idea I came up with from a combination of suggestions from the 5e Eberron book, dozens of Keith Baker's blog articles, and some concepts from other media. My solution to these problems are different from any other DMs solutions to these problems (I'm sure that other Eberron DMs have used Ravenloft and/or Lady Illmarrow to be the cause of the Mourning in their Eberron, but my other additions and customizations to the world make it unique in dozens of ways).
 
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Aldarc

Legend
I think so. Honestly I'm not versed well enough on Eberron, but from your post it sounds like players themselves are interested in these questions/gaps that exist, similar say to I suppose a homebrew world which truth and knowledge still needs to be explored and discovered?
If that is the case, I can relate given why I stated Star Trek is more interesting to me than Star Wars.
The Mourning (i.e., the magical devastation of Cyre) is one of the most pivotal moments of the setting. It spooked everyoned and led to the end of the Last War. The people in the setting do not know what caused it, and not knowing the cause creates a massive hook, because nearly every faction in the setting wants to find out what caused it for their own gains.

Moreover, the writers/designers don't know what caused it, and they also refuse to answer it. Keith Baker and the writers may throw out speculation from the perspective of in-game NPCs as to the cause: e.g., Daelkyr, Lords of Dust, the Inspired, the Lord of Blades, a House Cannith experiment gone wrong, etc. But they will never answer this big mystery.

Eberron has a number of mysteries like this, large and small. The writers created all sorts of hooks for Eberron.

Nentir Vale was developed by a number of the same people who helped develop Eberron: i.e., Bill Slaviscek, James Wyatt, Rich Baker, etc. Likewise, the Nentir Vale/World Axis has its own setting of intentionally-created mysteries, hooks, and lore lacunae.

There are a ton of mysteries in Eberron that do not have a canon answer. The designers of Eberron have refused to give "true"/"canonical" answers to these parts of the world, because they want the DM to come up with their own and for it to be impossible to have these mysteries spoiled for players. There are a ton of parts of Eberron like this, but some big ones are:
  • What caused the Mourning (long story short, a country got nuked during a 100-year-long, 5-nation civil war, and no one knows who/what caused this disaster).
  • If the gods exist (Eberron has pantheons of gods, but their existence is not confirmed).
  • If the Progenitor Dragons were real (the creation myth claims that the world was created by 3 giant dragons, but no one knows if they actually existed).
  • Where Erandis Vol's phylactery is (half-green dragon lich lady who was turned into a lich by her mother. Her mother hid the phylactery so well that even Erandis doesn't know where her phylactery is).
  • Where Warforged souls come from (Warforged definitely have souls, it's just not clear where they come from/how they're created).
And there are a lot more little mysteries that Keith Baker and the other creators of Eberron leave up to the DM to customize the world to their own table.

So, yes, Eberron is kind of like a homebrew world where truth and knowledge need to be explored/discovered. That was intended when the world was made. To have each home version of the setting be different and customized to the preferences of the DMs and their table. No one's experience with Eberron will be the same as anyone else's if they're from different tables.
  • What's the nature of the Dragonmarks? Why do the marks only appear on Khorvaire?
  • What is the true nature of the Draconic Prophecy?
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
  • What's the nature of the Dragonmarks? Why do the marks only appear on Khorvaire?
  • What is the true nature of the Draconic Prophecy?
  • What's with the pattern of "13-1" in the setting? (There are 13 countries in Khorvaire, one of them blew up. There were 13 "true" dragonmarks, one of them got genocided thousands of years ago. There were 13 moons, the giants destroyed one of them. There were 13 planes of existence that could create manifest zones, the giants cut off one of them. And so on.)
  • Did anything ever live in the Ring of Siberys, or is it just a ring of dragonshards?
  • How can the Dreaming Dark prevent Dal Quor from shifting back to the control of Il-Yannah?
Yeah, there are a ton. We could go on for pages about all of the unanswered secrets of Eberron and the possible solutions.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
I had a poor experience as a player in a Dragonlance game where the DM adhered to the point of absurdity in railroading us to fit the “story.” I’m conscious that it’s only one game but it’s certainly put me off anything Dragonlance.
Similarly, I’m not too keen on FR due to so much being written and so much Drizzt/Elminster that it kind of reduces the fun (for me anyway)
That’s why I far prefer settings like Greyhawk and Eberron, which are clearly living worlds with multiple opportunities to write your own stories, either locally or on a larger scale.
For similar reasons, I enjoy running homebrew settings; right now I’ve placed Scarlet Citadel in a homebrew region a bit smaller than Nentir Vale, with the players writing their own story, albeit interacting with events from a century ago or more.
 
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Bitbrain

ORC (Open RPG) horde ally
Reply to OP.

I think I prefer settings with an “over-story”.

For example, with Dragonlance I would argue that the “over story” is evil dragon-armies are terrorizing the world, and that each individual dragonlance campaign’s story is/should be about defeating the specific dragon-army tasked with bringing your local region under their control however you can.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
Reply to OP.

I think I prefer settings with an “over-story”.

For example, with Dragonlance I would argue that the “over story” is evil dragon-armies are terrorizing the world, and that each individual dragonlance campaign’s story is/should be about defeating the specific dragon-army tasked with bringing your local region under their control however you can.
I do enjoy campaign settings where there's one big event that affects the entire setting, but I also enjoy using the same setting to run different kinds of campaigns. So even if Dark Sun, Eberron, or Wildemount have "main plots", I think other (possibly smaller) stories should be supported in the world, too. Sometimes I like a setting, but I've already ran the "main campaign" for it, and want to do something new in the setting and not just kill Strahd again.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Stories and settings have different components. Sometimes, like with Krynn, the setting and story are built to work together closely - and all I want to do in that setting is the story it is set up to deliver. Other settings seed many stories - and those are settings in which I could run hundreds or thousands of different storylines for games. That would be true of my Homebrew, but also of Athas, FR, Greyhawk, Eberron and most of the other settings, to be honest.
 

delericho

Legend
  • What's with the pattern of "13-1" in the setting? (There are 13 countries in Khorvaire, one of them blew up. There were 13 "true" dragonmarks, one of them got genocided thousands of years ago. There were 13 moons, the giants destroyed one of them. There were 13 planes of existence that could create manifest zones, the giants cut off one of them. And so on.)
That one's reasonably easy - the setting was created by Keith Baker, and a baker's dozen is 13 loaves - 12 to sell and one to discard (burn, test, whatever).
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
That one's reasonably easy - the setting was created by Keith Baker, and a baker's dozen is 13 loaves - 12 to sell and one to discard (burn, test, whatever).
Keith Baker actually said that Eberron's "Baker's Dozens" were just a coincidence. Not that they didn't intend 13-1 to be a core part of the setting, but that they didn't realize its connection to a baker's dozen at first.
 

delericho

Legend
As time has gone on, I've increasingly come to agree with @Hussar's position in the OP - if a setting has one iconic story, I'm probably not all that interested in playing in that setting. Because that story has been done, and the PCs are forever overshadowed by it.

Though on some of the specifics...

I am (potentially) interested in Taladas, largely because I consider that to be essentially a setting in its own right - TSR basically just wanted to trade on name recognition. :)

And I am interested in Star Wars, albeit with caveats. One of the things that the RPGs (and the wider EU) did well was to really expand out that setting so that it was less true that there was just one story. Disney, sadly, first got rid of all that EU and are now seemingly hell-bent on twisting everything back around to the Skywalkers, to the detriment of the Mandalorian and, especially, Boba Fett.

But when running Star Wars, I tend to do something well out of the way of that iconic story. Either it's far in the future or (less often) the past, or its right on the Rim, or a Mirror Universe. Or, most often, I run some sort of "what if..." campaign - what if the destruction of the second Death Star took out Endor and all of our heroes? What if Leia was never rescued and turned to the dark side? What if Qui-Gon was evil all along?
 

delericho

Legend
Keith Baker actually said that Eberron's "Baker's Dozens" were just a coincidence. Not that they didn't intend 13-1 to be a core part of the setting, but that they didn't realize its connection to a baker's dozen at first.
I'm sure I've seen commentary by other designers to the contrary - that it may have been coincidence at first, but as soon as someone spotted the connection they then made sure to repeat it throughout the setting.

That said, I can't actually source that one, so take with a pinch of salt. :)
 

The release of Dragonlance has got me thinking about how I interact with certain settings. For me, and again, I'm not trying to make a broader point here, just stating my own feelings, some settings are indelibly linked to the story that comes with that setting. And, honestly, I'm not really interested in that setting beyond that story.

Take Star Wars for example. I love Star Wars and watch it pretty much when I can, probably like most of the people reading this. But, I am not really interested in a Star Wars RPG. The reason being, to me, if I was to play in Star Wars, I would want to play out the original trilogy but with our own characters. We would be the ones to defeat the Empire, or die trying. I've got zero interest in playing smugglers on the run from the Hutt. To me, that's not what I would want to use the Star Wars setting for. Space smugglers can be done in many, many SF settings without any real problem. So, why would I do it in Star Wars? Contrast to Star Trek where there aren't any single iconic Star Trek stories in the same way. I would have no problems playing or running in the Trek universe, set at virtually any time period, because there's nothing in the setting that shouts "THIS IS THE STORY OF STAR TREK!!" in the way that the original trilogy define Star Wars.

So, roll that back around to D&D. To me, I am only interested in Curse of Strahd because you get to deal with Strahd. The whole "domains of Dread" thing is of zero interest to me because the story of Strahd is so tightly linked to the setting in my mind. Or, again, Dragonlance. The War of the Lance is the only thing I'm really interested in dealing with in the setting. I don't care about Taladas. I don't care about the other time periods. To me, Dragonlance=War of the Lance and any DL campaign I want to play or run will feature the PC's directly dealing with the Dragonarmies. Playing a prequel where the PC's actions have zero impact on the outcome of the War is not something I'm interested in. I have zero interest in the setting beyond the War of the Lance.

How about other folks? Are you interested in storied settings for their own sake or only interested in the iconic stories from those settings or a mix of both?

I agree with you on Dragonlance. I came to that through the trilogy and the story is pretty inextricably linked with my interest (it is worth mentioning to those who don't know that the original modules for that setting were part of that story: the novels and the setting were all pretty bound to together from the beginning).

On Ravenloft I don't think of Strahd as the story of Ravenloft. Just my preference. He is part of Ravenloft's origin, but you can play Ravenloft with zero interactions with Dark Lords or with Strahd (and there are so many other domains players can explore). I did like the novels, but there wasn't one story binding the Ravenloft setting in those. Strahd is just the most well known because he appears in the original module and he does appear in a number of the books due to popularity. And to bridge the gap between these two settings, my favorite novel was Knight of the Black Rose (where Lord Soth was the protagonist and Strahd an antagonist).
 

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