D&D General What geographical size is best for campaign settings?

How geographically big do you prefer campaign settings?

  • Vast, the comos and its dimensions at my fingertips (i.e. Spelljammer)

    Votes: 1 1.5%
  • Huge, a planet and all its continents (i.e. Eberron)

    Votes: 4 6.2%
  • Big, a continent with plenty of peoples and places (i.e Greyhawk)

    Votes: 7 10.8%
  • Moderate, a kingdom or region (i.e. Dark Sun)

    Votes: 17 26.2%
  • Small, a place that would fit in 100ish 6-mile hexes (i.e. Nentir Vale)

    Votes: 8 12.3%
  • It varies, big enough to accomodate my current needs

    Votes: 23 35.4%
  • Fools! I reject the postulates of Euclid and you banal comprehension of reality

    Votes: 5 7.7%

squibbles

Adventurer
I was thinking while reading the Can we salvage Toril? thread that I would like the Forgotten Realms setting a lot better if it didn't include Kara-Tur and Al-Qadim, if those settings were each treated as their own thing, and if none of them shared the same world map.

While, in the past, I might have preferred a fully worked out world, complete with all its continents and cultures, I find I have been progressively drawn to smaller and smaller settings: islands or regions not whole continents. To me, they feel thematically stronger and are more approachable--less stuff to learn and/or invent.

What about you all, what size of setting do you tend to prefer?

Also, does the answer change between published materials and settings you invent yourself?

I recognize that this question involves an important tradeoff between width and depth but, for the purposes of the poll, try to be agnostic to depth. What size do you prefer a setting to be given that it has your preferred level of depth throughout?
 

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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I always run homebrew, so my size is almost always "undefined". The borders get pushed back through play, even when the players haven't been there.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Between moderate and small. Big enough for the PCs to be able to pick a direction and go but small enough that the DM doesn’t get lost in their own notes.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
It really varies by need; but I voted "Small" since my need is usually about that size, or even smaller.
That said, a campaign also often might occur in a handful of widely separated locales that span, say, a "planet-sized" setting, but still only a "Small" size amount of territory is really fleshed out to any great extent. So even big settings usually end up small as far as the total quantity of detail.
 

squibbles

Adventurer
It really varies by need; but I voted "Small" since my need is usually about that size, or even smaller.
That said, a campaign also often might occur in a handful of widely separated locales that span, say, a "planet-sized" setting, but still only a "Small" size amount of territory is really fleshed out to any great extent. So even big settings usually end up small as far as the total quantity of detail.
Right. For practical purposes, the juiciest detail in a setting is gonna be in the parts that actually see play.

Setting that aside, though, do you like the aesthetics of creating a setting the size of the Nentir Vale--without really knowing about the continent, planet, or solar system around it--or do you prefer to have a planet-sized setting, with its landmarks and geopolitics figured out, even if you only know its major points of interest to any depth?

Or does it vary by campaign?

Personally, I no longer have any desire to invent more than one continent for a setting, if that. But, I tend to want to know at least a "moderate" kingdom-sized area to give context to the small territory that's actually gameable.

Similarly, and fair enough if this isn't relevant to your interests, I tend to immediately dislike official and 3rd party settings that populate a whole planet worth of continents. Eberron, for example, feels obnoxiously large to me.
 


Smackpixi

Adventurer
Doing more with less builds stronger campaigns. You can build a lot into a place way smaller than what’s considered small here, 100 six mile hexes is a lot of space, to me that’s still large.

I guess, you’re asking about “campaign settings” which sounds more like a book than where any particular campaign is gonna be. But man, you could do 4 hours a week for 5 years with multiple generations of player characters and never leave Waterdeep.

As always, depends on the campaign, some stories need space to play out in, but if you’re up for it much can be found in a very small place.
 
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squibbles

Adventurer
Doing more with less builds stronger campaigns. You can build a lot into a place way smaller than what’s considered small here, 100 six mile hexes is a lot of space, to me that’s still large.

I guess, you’re asking about “campaign settings” which sounds more like a book than where any particular campaign is gonna be. But man, you could do 4 hours a week for 5 years with multiple generations of player characters and never leave Waterdeep.

As always, depends on the campaign, some stories need space to play out in, but if you’re up for it much can be found in a very small place.
You're right, published campaign setting books are more what I had in mind when I created the poll. Though I didn't want to focus on them exclusively.

I definitely agree with you about the appeal of geographically small but content rich settings.

tbh, I'm mildly surprised by the replies so far. Considering the degree to which the official WotC settings are argued about on these boards, I thought someone would have mentioned one. Do we all just homebrew small, gameplay-practical, geographically contained settings and only use the published ones to argue with strangers on the internet? (I mean... that's what I do)
 

Planescape was ostensibly infinite. Yet, layers of planes are infinite yet uniform; and, the setting books had space to define just a few discrete locations per layer, with the result that the vastness of the setting ended up feeling smaller.
 


Li Shenron

Legend
Currently my preference is planet.

I can understand a designers need to leave the door open for a DM to add their stuff, but frankly the "unexplored continent" cliché has run its course for me. Give me a fully-defined planet instead, and if I really want to add another continent I will play it like when Columbus discovered the Americas i.e. I will just announce the discovery, say that all your maps were wrong and update the planet. Or maybe I'll add another planet.

That said, I prefer small planets. I hate to see another copy of earth, where everything takes place in a western-like continent and then you need to have a vaguely defined asian corner, a vaguely defined mesoamerican corner, a vaguely defined african corner...

So that might mean my preference could be "effective as large as a continent, but with boundaries like a planet" and no undefined continents around it. There is plenty of room for "here be dragons" areas also within the main location.
 
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squibbles

Adventurer
I hate to see another copy of earth, where everything takes place in a western-like continent and then you need to have a vaguely defined asian corner, a vaguely defined mesoamerican corner, a vaguely defined african corner...
Man, I couldn't agree more.

A lot of planet-sized settings initially come off as cool and flavorful but then, upon zooming out from the best-described region, one realizes that the cool flavorful part is where Western Europe would be and then there's a poorly concealed East Asia stapled to its right side and a poorly concealed Egypt or Arabia stapled to its south side.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
For me, the main criterion would be "expandable". It's important to start small and to be able to add to it if the campaign takes an unexpected direction, but you don't need it at the start. And because D&D is designed to do high fantasy, this means that the directions don't have to be on the surface of a planet, they can be in space or in planes. But you don't need to define the whole planet for this...
 

S'mon

Legend
I was thinking while reading the Can we salvage Toril? thread that I would like the Forgotten Realms setting a lot better if it didn't include Kara-Tur and Al-Qadim, if those settings were each treated as their own thing, and if none of them shared the same world map.

I don't think the size of the game world is at all relevant to the size of the campaign setting, where it's actually played. The size of the setting will vary according to theme/tone, eg my Primeval Thule S&S game ranges all over a ca 2000 mile map, while my Faerun Adventures sandbox game almost all occurs within an area 120x100 miles, with the main focus in a 50x60 mile area. With 2 mile hexes, I find this ideal for long term sandbox play.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
adventures need to be small sized, campaigns though are as big as they need to be. Take Spelljammer for instance, the ships might be travelling the vastness of space but each adventures take place on a defined part of different worlds
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I always run homebrew, so my size is almost always "undefined". The borders get pushed back through play, even when the players haven't been there.
Same here.

I'll start with about half a continent - enough so that if an adventure needs a specific setting (arctic, jungle, maritime, desert, etc.) in order to work I've got somewhere to put it, and so that the various common species/cultures have somewhere suitable to live. After that, it expands as needed based on what the PCs hear about and-or where they go.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Man, I couldn't agree more.

A lot of planet-sized settings initially come off as cool and flavorful but then, upon zooming out from the best-described region, one realizes that the cool flavorful part is where Western Europe would be and then there's a poorly concealed East Asia stapled to its right side and a poorly concealed Egypt or Arabia stapled to its south side.
In my current setting this was very intentional: my initial design basis for the core region was "What do I get if I take a faux-Mediterranean and, using Greece as a pivot point, stand it on its end such that the sea lies north-south instead of east-west?". Answer: a setting that after 13 years still falls into the "so far, so good-and-more" category. :)
 

There is not one answer to this question. One campaign might be a roadtrip, across a continent. The next is a murder mystery that never leaves a mansion. Sometimes the DM needs something to be "far away", and sometimes that's not necessary for the challenges for the PCs.

The lure of having a continent like Faerun with all its details is for a DM to pick a place for the campaign to start. It's incredibly handy to have a wiki that gives you the first introduction to any country, town, mountain range or forest. In other words, I just don't want to start every campaign in either Waterdeep, Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter. It's nice to start in Teziir or Alaghôn.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Aim for continents (at least) unless you want either insular places with no connection to anyone else or a kitchen sink of mismatched places which exist but do not influence each other.
 

In a published setting, I want something large to work with: continent or larger. In any given campaign, however, you're not going to use more than a small fraction of this area. The advantage is that it gives you more to work from, keeping the setting fresh. In 5E I've run Greyhawk campaigns based around the Western Marklands, Nyrond, and Saltmarsh, while I've still got ideas to run in the Great Kingdom, Nyr Dyv, Spindrift Isle, and the Barbarian North. There's so much available, that I'm likely to run out of players before I run out of ideas.
 

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