D&D General What is a Default Setting and Does D&D Need One?

Reynard

Legend
This came up in one of the Planescape threads and I wanted to discuss it divorced from some of the specific issues around that particular setting.

First: what is a default setting? Is it the implied setting created by the lore behind monsters, characters and magic? Or is it a specific world that comes bundled with the rules, with names for countries and gods and kings and you are expected to use that setting unless you make up another? Note that I am asking what you think a "default setting" is. I am not asking for a definitive answer and we shouldn't argue as if there is one.

Second: In either case, however you personally come down on the definition of default setting, do you think D&D needs or should have one in the rule books? Why, or why not?

Discuss.
 

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nevin

Hero
The problem with a a default setting is that once you have it down perfect like forgotten realms was before the gods war BS, then you get the fandom pain and misery when you change anything. DC universe is a good argument for why there shouldn't be a default setting. Fans are crazy and uncontrollable.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
"Default setting" is a bit of a sliding scale. Clearly having "names for countries and gods and kings [...] you are expected to use" seems like a default setting to me. But even more general things, like assuming things in the PHB are tied to a certain planar structure (elemental chaos, big wheel, feywild, far realms, Sigil), seems like it ties the hands some. I think the assumptions about giants and other things in 4e (iirc) put me off quite a bit at first.

I really like the way a lot of the 5e books have had a box to the side that mentions alternatives that were happening in other worlds. Simply starting the race and class descriptions with "In many worlds..." and then giving those alternatives in the side box would make me very happy.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
This came up in one of the Planescape threads and I wanted to discuss it divorced from some of the specific issues around that particular setting.

First: what is a default setting? Is it the implied setting created by the lore behind monsters, characters and magic? Or is it a specific world that comes bundled with the rules, with names for countries and gods and kings and you are expected to use that setting unless you make up another? Note that I am asking what you think a "default setting" is. I am not asking for a definitive answer and we shouldn't argue as if there is one.

Second: In either case, however you personally come down on the definition of default setting, do you think D&D needs or should have one in the rule books? Why, or why not?

Discuss.

In my opinion, you need to have a default setting in order to have some amount of lore in the core books.

But the default setting should be as small and unobtrusive as possible.

I would look at how Greyhawk was kinda sorta the "default setting" in 1e as a good example of how to do this. If you look at the core three books (PHB, DMG, MM), you can see tantalizing hints of a setting ... little bits to set your imagination on fire and provide you with hooks to use in your own campaign. While there are other examples of this, it's easiest to see in the Artifacts & Relics section. What happened with Vecna and Kas? Who was Lum? What was the deal with Queen Ehlissa ... seventeen centuries ago? Is the Ring of Gaxx really of alien origin, and if so, what does that mean?

All of this is easily changed, ignored, and, for that matter, almost all campaign-agnostic if you want to use it. It provides some depth and flavor, without putting you in a straightjacket.

So the answer, for me, is you want it sprinkled very lightly- enough to provide a little flavor to otherwise barren rules, but not so much that it makes people feel that it is required. It's like a Chef deciding to add some spice to the dish- a little brings out the flavor, too much overpowers the dish.
 

delericho

Legend
First: what is a default setting? Is it the implied setting created by the lore behind monsters, characters and magic? Or is it a specific world that comes bundled with the rules, with names for countries and gods and kings and you are expected to use that setting unless you make up another? Note that I am asking what you think a "default setting" is. I am not asking for a definitive answer and we shouldn't argue as if there is one.

I think it can be either of those things. D&D clearly has some baked-in assumptions in pretty much every edition, but tends not to detail place names, kings and kingdoms, and the like; by contrast, the Star Wars RPGs have a vastly more explicit setting baked in (to give an absurdly extreme example :) ).

Second: In either case, however you personally come down on the definition of default setting, do you think D&D needs or should have one in the rule books? Why, or why not?

I think any game will have a default setting, whether it's called that or not. Because it's not possible to avoid making some sort of assumptions when devising things like spells, magic items, and monsters. As noted, that could either be a really lightweight setting or much more detailed.
 

aco175

Legend
I was thinking of 4e where they used a set list of gods from Greyhawk, or a bit of a mash. This was in the PHB so it made that part more default then other worlds gods. Isn't there a thread about what Gygax thought about worlds back in the day and how they evolved over time to the published worlds? Putting stuff in the PHB seems to be the core, or default for many people. Races and classes can be another thing that is PHB default and then add more for specific worlds.

If there is a default I feel it should be more bland and vanilla over picking one of the published worlds. I would not like to see 5.5e be Dark Sun or Planescape as default. FR seems to be what is more pushed and feels like I can have the vanilla and add to my liking. I did like 4e Netir Vale but since it was in the core books, it became the default.
 

Reynard

Legend
I personally think there is a difference between an "implied setting" and a "default setting." An "implied setting" to me is the sum of all the shallow lore in the books: dwarves are like this, and elves are like this, and magic works like this, etc... A "default setting" is a much more specific thing, like the Known World in BECMI or FR is 5E. I prefer if that default setting is a separate entity from the implied setting, as in the former, rather than strongly interwoven, as in the latter case.

Lots of games have baked in settings -- Shadowrun, Vampire, Earthdawn, etc... -- but I don't think D&D needs one. It probably can't avoid a "implied setting" though, and really only truly generic systems can IMO.
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
To me the words "default setting" mean a presumed campaign world to which the game caters. So with that in mind, no, D&D should not have that for what seem to me to be obvious reasons. Each group makes the game their own and one size does not fit all.

Beyond that pedantry, D&D should definitely have default assumptions that provide a common structure for the game. When it comes to setting information, I am with @Snarf Zagyg - sprinkle some mentions here and there that suggest a larger world but leave it at that. This allows DMs and players to develop their own ideas. If they want a more fleshed-out setting, they can buy one and use it or steal from it.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Second: In either case, however you personally come down on the definition of default setting, do you think D&D needs or should have one in the rule books? Why, or why not?
As a fan of published settings and adventures, I like a default setting. D&D is a bit odd in that it has many settings, and the default has changed over the years. Pathfinders Golarion, for example, is a default used to great effect. You can tell a myriad of stories without having to publish a plethora of different settings and books. Of course, Paizo has the benefit of leading from the ground that D&D trailblazed. Some folks do not like peanut butter in their chocolate , so the multiple setting approach is preferred for them.

I think having a default is a way of introducing new folks into the concept of setting in an RPG. Many folks complain that DMG does an inadequate job of preparing new GMs, I think worldbuilding is one of them. I'm not sure game mechanics, social contracts, and campaign building are all best suited for a single source. I believe a default will give some common ground for new players and GMs to learn and grow.

But the default setting should be as small and unobtrusive as possible.
Yeap, gotta second this. Paizo did it right again. For the sake of homebrewers who wont care about settings at all, you want an easily scrubbed default.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
First: what is a default setting? Is it the implied setting created by the lore behind monsters, characters and magic? Or is it a specific world that comes bundled with the rules, with names for countries and gods and kings and you are expected to use that setting unless you make up another? Note that I am asking what you think a "default setting" is. I am not asking for a definitive answer and we shouldn't argue as if there is one.
I would say that in my opinion most gamers (at least when they start playing a new RPG) they will look at the both monsters and character options and assume all of the exists somewhere in the game, hence a sort-of implied setting. Spells and magic items do the same on a smaller scale, for instance when implying the existence of transitive planes. Older gamer like me who see even the core ruleset as a toolbox, don't assume the existence of anything at all just on the basis that it is printed in the book. Even if implied, I would not call it a default.

The core books of some edition do have an explicit "default" setting like Greyhawk was for 3ed. This was however only really visible in the presence of a deities list, because the 3e rules restricted the choice of Cleric domains depending of their specific deity, so according to the rules you kind of had to pick one, and a list was necessary in the PHB. I don't remember 3e core books to have anything else Greyhawk specific, no information about world features for example. 5e doesn't even need that because of more relaxed domains rules (they are merely "suggested" for each deity) and the PHB appendixes show many deities lists, not just one.

However the next PHB appendix also shows the great wheel, which is a bit setting-specific, although shared by more than one setting. 5e tries to both have and not have a default settings, by saying that "the multiverse" is the default, but said multiverse is pretty much open to anything you might want to add. A little bit like "obligatory freedom" :)

Second: In either case, however you personally come down on the definition of default setting, do you think D&D needs or should have one in the rule books? Why, or why not?
As I said, being an old gamer by now, I don't think it's needed, not even beginners need a default or example setting in core, but also I don't care if they do.
 

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