D&D General What are the "dead settings" of D&D?

Mercurius

Legend
Meaning, which settings--published by TSR, WotC, or even third party specifically for D&D (e.g. Judge's Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy) that are essentially "dead," meaning with no active or ongoing campaigns anywhere? At least beyond the occasional one-off ("Hey, remember Ghostwalk? Let's play that tonight!"). Purely speculative, of course. Or to rephase: which settings would you guess have no active campaigns? Or at least, almost none?

We can use this Wikipedia page as a starting point, but feel free to discuss third parties. My guess would be to put them into the following categories:

  • A - Significant active campaigning: Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Exandria, Ravnica
  • B - Large cult following: Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Planescape, Ravenloft, Nentir Vale, Mystara
  • C - Small cult following: Blackmoor, Spelljammer, Birthright, Kara-Tur, Al-Qadim, maybe Council of Wyrms
  • D - Little or no active following ("Dead settings"): Pellinore, Jakandor, Ghostwalk, Dragon Fist, Mahasarpa, Rokugan, maybe Council of Wyrms

I think you could shift some of B and C back and forth, depending upon how "large" and "small" are defined.

Notes on each group:

A: Obviously the FR belongs, as it is the default for most story arcs and the overall best-known and covered D&D setting that spans almost every era, especially if we count Ed Greenwood's first published Dragon article in 1979 (issue #30). Eberron was just re-published, Ravnica is still fresh, and Exandria is the new kid on the block and supported by the Critical Role behemoth.

B: Here's where it starts getting tricky. Greyhawk is a no-brainer: for most old-timers (grognards and quasi-grognards) it is "the" classic D&D setting. I'm guessing that Dark Sun, Planescape, and Ravenloft have enough of a following to qualify, probably Dragonlance too. I am less certain about Nentir Vale and Mystara, but think they belong here more than in C, but could probably be be convinced otherwise.

C: Again, tricky - depending upon where you draw the line between "large" and "small." Blackmoor probably has a very small player base, but both as the first D&D setting and because there's probably a small group of dedicated fans out there, it belongs here rather than as "dead." Spelljammer and Birthright weren't as impactful or as popular as Dark Sun and Planescape among the Golden Age of settings that was 2E, but both have a solid group of fans - at least Spelljammer. I'm not sure how many people are actually still playing Birthright, but it is at least enough in the public consciousness of old-timers that I think it earns its place. Similarly with Al-Qadim. Not so sure about Kara-Tur, but it earns inclusion as being part of the expanded Realms of 3E and later. I never owned or played Council of Wyrms and it doesn't seem like anyone talks about playing it, but it does get mentioned.

D: Pellinore? Exactly. But it existed. Jakandor and Dragon Fist were probably the least known and supported of the 2E settings. Rokugan is likely dead as a D&D setting, but I think it has a solid fan base for Legend of the Five Rings. Ghostwalk was a concept piece, the type of setting that people played once and were done; I highly doubt anyone is actively playing it, except as the occasional lark. Finally, Mahasarpa. I'm not sure it even qualifies as it was only published as a web enhancement, but I'm guessing no one is actively playing in it, except for perhaps James Wyatt and his group (no offense if you're reading this, James).

What do you think?

p.s. This is not meant as an attack on any of these settings! Popularity does not necessarily equate with quality. Just look at, well, music.
 

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Mercurius

Legend
A non-exhaustive list of third party settings (some of these are wild guesses):

  • A - Significant active campaigning: Golarion (as Pathfinder), Midgard
  • B - Large cult following: Wilderlands of High Fantasy, Ptolus, Scarred Lands, Middle-earth
  • C - Small cult following: Freeport, Lost Lands, Diamond Throne
  • D - Little or no active following ("Dead settings"): Diomin, Castlemourn, Kingdoms of Kalamar (now probably small cult following as Hackmaster setting), Dawnforge, Morningstar, Melnibone,
 

I'd really break it down into 3 groupings:

Supported: FR, Eberron, Ravnica, etc.
Popular: Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, maybe Mystara and Dragonlance
Dead: everything else

Support keeps settings active, even if it only ever gets one setting book. Popular ones might see a setting book at one point, or at least an AP (Mystara and Dragonlance are on the bubble here). Everything else is effectively dead, even though they probably have fans still running the setting somewhere (people still play OD&D after all).
 

Ravenloft and Planescape have effectively been killed off for good, outside of DMsGuild, since 3rd edition and later have clearly proved WoTC has no intention of bringing back the settings as they existed in the late 90s. (Look at Expedition to Castle Ravenloft and Curse of Strahd - they have nothing to do with the Ravenloft setting, and indeed contradict it in several aspects). As for Planescape we might get an adventure set in Sigil with a Gazzetteer. But that will be it because for better or worse WoTC decided Planescape turned a lot of players off the planes with its cant and distinctive style (not to mention the tone of exclusivity a lot of the products had).
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
A couple I don't see on those lists, maybe because they've got different names I don't know about:

City State of the Invincible Overlord/World Emperor (Judges Guild) - small cult following
World of Harn - small cult following, maybe not used for D&D much

I take it you're treating Hollow World as an extension of Mystara?

And wasn't there once a setting based on Ringworld? I've no idea what it was called but I seem to recall seeing it mentioned (or advertised?) in some early-era Dragon mag's.
 

Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Kara-Tur, Dragonlance and Planescape will come back, later or sooner.

Greyhawk is "frozen" but not really dead.

Rokugan isn't by WotC. And this would rather to start from zero creating an IP where to add the races and new classes for its future Oriental Adventures.

Jakandor could be recycled as a setting for Magic: the Gathering, or like a spin-off of Dark Sun, to create stories about the conflict between keeping you have got or accept changes. But if this comes back, it will be in the last phases. And somebody will find some crazy but interesting idea for Jakandor if this is added in the DM Guild.

Birthright is perfect for a future videogame of real-time-strategy & stronhogld simulation.

If there is a Councyl of Wyrns, and I suggest to allow "open spaces" in the crystal sphere to allow all dragons with age categories from old editions, even the cobra-dragons. (and all dragonborn subraces and half-dragon templates based in all the dragons).

Mystara can be recovered, but I advice as hook for new fans a videogames. If Mystara had got a smashing-hit as Baldurc's Gate the things may be different, (or as we say in Spain "another rooster would sing").

Isn't Blackmoor and Mystara the same world? Has WotC the copyrights of Blackmoor setting?

Could WotC agree a partnership with Gary Gygax games?

* Mahasarpa is perfect for a coproduction with some Boolywood movie studios for a action-live movie.

* Ghost Walk is almost only a city. (how would be a crossover "ghost walk-Ravenloft"?), and Pelinore.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I would put Birthright in the dead setting list.

Wasn't that popular first time around, no active groups in any sort of numbers.

Greyhawk and Mystara are popular enough in OSR circles. Active fan support as well.

Dragonlance seems to have taken a tumble as well. Darksun fading perhaps as well. Good luck finding a 4E game let alone Darksun 4E.
 

I'd like to see evidence that Ravnica, now, in 2020, has a significant current following. I feel like there are probably more people running 5E campaigns set in, say, Dragonlance or Greyhawk than Ravnica. Does even one person here currently play, right now, in a group that is playing in Ravnica?

And book sales don't mean jack, frankly, to who is actual playing what.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Isn't Blackmoor and Mystara the same world?
If memory serves they're related but not the same - they come from a common root but Blackmoor kinda went one way and Mystara another.

The large-scale map in X1 Isle of Dread is, I think, common to both...but I could be wrong.
 

If memory serves they're related but not the same - they come from a common root but Blackmoor kinda went one way and Mystara another.

The large-scale map in X1 Isle of Dread is, I think, common to both...but I could be wrong.

Blackmoor was established to be in the ancient history of Mystara. I'm pretty sure it's a retcon, but they did establish they are in the same world, just with Blackmoor happening long before all the later Mystara stuff.
 

We know from the survey how some breakdown: D&D Monthly Survey | Dungeons & Dragons
Like how FR is roughly as popular as some of the other big names, but gets more play due to Adventure Paths.

But I think now it would break down like this:
  • A - Significant active campaigning: Exandria
Wide margin...
  • B - Large cult following: Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, Planescape, Ravenloft, Ravnica
  • C - Small cult following: Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Nentir Vale, Spelljammer
  • D - "Dead settings": Pellinore, Jakandor, Ghostwalk, Dragon Fist, Mahasarpa, Rokugan, maybe Council of Wyrms, Blackmoor, Birthright, Council of Wyrms, Mystara, Kara-Tur, Al-Qadim
Looking at the statistics of D&D (WotC - "D&D's Best Year Yet") really emphasizes why a few biggies have fallen.
Dragonlance was popular in the '80s and '90s, but anyone who enjoyed that setting is likely 35+ and is only part of a quarter of the audience. And it was published in 3e. Spelljammer, Greyhawk, and the rest will be even more niche.
And Dark Sun and Planescape are probably in danger of slipping from B to C.
 

A big problem with measuring anything like this is assuming that online polls, surveys forums etc. really are accurate at measuring gamers.

That assumes people are participating in WotC's surveys (if they aren't into the current edition, having been "fired" by WotC as a customer during the transition to 4e and walked away from official D&D forums and social media, or otherwise having stopped paying attention to new releases) that's right out. They aren't on forums like this.

There are a lot of people who play D&D who aren't on forums, they aren't interacting with WotC on social media, they play their games with their friends. . .who often aren't online (or if they are, interacting with WotC or ENWorld or virtual tabletops or whatever aren't what they are doing).

You really can't measure that. That caveat belongs on any numbers about what editions or settings are played. . .that there can be significant enclaves of off-the-grid gamers holding on to older editions and settings.

WotC measuring things for market research, for customers who will buy things, is one thing because they're measuring their current active customers. . .but fans of older settings and editions are basically "underground" from that perspective.

When you're trying to measure who's playing old settings, the problem is assuming that fans of new rules are using settings from 20 or 30 years ago.

I remember making some friends circa 2004. . .that had been playing AD&D 1st edition since the early 80's, they'd played for over 20 years with the same group of friends and family (and new family members as they were born and grew up). They generally stopped paying attention to new releases when 2e came out, I think they said the 1e Greyhawk hardcover was their last book they'd bought. They eventually modernized to 3.5 circa 2005, but still play 3.5 with Greyhawk even to this day, they don't touch online gaming culture, and don't need to buy new stuff constantly.

I know a few people who are absolutely fanatical about Planescape, and consider that their favorite setting and the main one they run when they play D&D. . .none of them are really interacting with online D&D culture, they may have Facebook or Twitter, but that doesn't mean that WotC is anything on their radar, or that they're playing 5e (maybe a third to half my gaming friends still stick to 3.5, I'm fuzzy on the number because some prefer 3.5 but play 5e if it's all that's available).
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I'd like to see evidence that Ravnica, now, in 2020, has a significant current following. I feel like there are probably more people running 5E campaigns set in, say, Dragonlance or Greyhawk than Ravnica. Does even one person here currently play, right now, in a group that is playing in Ravnica?

And book sales don't mean jack, frankly, to who is actual playing what.

I am not in a Ravnica game right now, but it is pretty trivial to find people talking about their Ravnica games out there. Out of the 40 million people into D&D right now, some percentage is playing Ravnica, and I'm sure WotC has some data on that.
 


Ravenloft and Planescape have effectively been killed off for good

We just had a levels 1-10 5E official adventure for Ravenloft, and I'm pretty sure the stuff from Plansecape is referred to a fair bit now that the great wheel is back (there have been Sigil references etc, and decent into Avernus had a fair bit of references in there as well).

I'd give my kingdom for an official Birthright... anything really. Heck; just a reference in an official book somewhere would be nice. Faerun, Greyhawk, Eberron and Krynn get all the love.
 


Aldarc

Legend
Why not use the MtG rating system? Thought it may be more difficult to guess without the analytic tools that the MtG team has.

* Ghost Walk is almost only a city. (how would be a crossover "ghost walk-Ravenloft"?), and Pelinore.
From what I recall, Ghostwalk was essentially meant to be plugged into a given setting with the idea that the city of Ghostwalk could be a part of nearly any setting. Kinda like Green Ronin's Freeport, but far more niche.
 

jgsugden

Legend
My bet is that they all have active campaigns going on somewhere in the world.
I'd love to hear from anyone that has a significant role for Ghostwalk in their campaign world. I put something like Manifest into my campaign setting, but it never garnered much interest from the players. It has been referenced a few dozen times over the past 15 years, but they never follow the bread crumbs that would take them there.

I am in the process of doing a reset on that campaign world and will be shifting that city to a location that has more significance rather than making it so isolated.
 

I am not in a Ravnica game right now, but it is pretty trivial to find people talking about their Ravnica games out there. Out of the 40 million people into D&D right now, some percentage is playing Ravnica, and I'm sure WotC has some data on that.

I just wonder what the percentage is. Is it 5%? 1%? 0.1%? 0.01%?

As for "trivial to find people talking about their Ravnica games", I've been searching for actual play threads/podcasts featuring people playing Ravnica now, but I wasn't initially able to find any at all. I found a number of ended campaigns from 2019, and a cool-sounding podcast, but that was also over.

I did find a subreddit for Ravnica for D&D, which whilst not super-active, is a bit more active than the Dark Sun subreddit, so there's that. Still, you'd hope so, given Ravnica fans are probably 10-20 years younger than DS ones (and thus vastly more likely to be on reddit. That's literally the only place I could find, but its something!

The DS subreddit being so much more active than the Greyhawk or Dragonlance ones (I mean, you'd kind of expect this, DL/GH players are probably mostly 45+ and thus less likely to be on reddit) does help explain why WotC might be so keen on it. Not because of the subreddit, obviously, but because they have data suggesting Dark Sun has a lot of people interested in it.

This also suggests, to me at least, something pretty interesting - that a setting featuring in official products is very important in getting that setting to a younger generation, and keeping that setting alive long-term. Why do I say that? Because I strongly suspect that if Dark Sun hadn't been a 4E setting, then it wouldn't have a subreddit nearly populous as the Ravnica one. It would probably still be less dusty than the GH/DL ones, but not that active.

So that, for me, bolsters people's arguments that older settings "should" get some kind of official release.
 

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