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

Ringtail

World Traveller
I personally think there is a difference between an "implied setting" and a "default setting.. . ' (Etc)
I totally agree. D&D has this sort of assumed and implied milieu of Dwarves, Elves, Humans and Halflings that all look and behave a certain way. The actual Default setting of D&D has changed multiple times over editions (Example: Greyhawk for 3rd) but the implied setting remains largely the same. Matt Colville called it "Fantasyland" once and I kind of like that.

The Default is when they say "This RPG takes place in this world." The Forgotten Realms kind of counts but its mentions are actually pretty scarce in the Player's Handbook (I'm not counting adventures) and I think mostly serves as something to base the implied assumptions off of.

I like both personally. I like that D&D is flexible with a somewhat generic baseline and more varied settings to choose from and that is a draw for me. I wouldn't want D&D to get too bogged down in specifics. But on the other hand I'd be lying if I said I didn't buy The One Ring, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Edge of the Empire because of the default setting. I'm also pretty fine with Pathfinder's Golarion, since it seems to fit nearly the same assumed milieu as Greyhawk and The Realms.

Edit: Some stuff is even carried over, like the religions of Dwarves and Elves being the same naughty word in Faerun and Greyhawk.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
For D&D, I prefer there to be no default assumed setting. It can’t be 100% free, but the more open framework, the more it supports making your own worlds.

I ignored the likes of the extended lore in Volo’s and Mord’s because I had my own homebrew that didn’t use that lore - especially stuff like the Orc gods. I have a completely different pantheon and the orcs don’t even have gods in it (neither do the elves).

I don’t too much mind books like Bigby’s or Fizbans because they aren’t core and I can ignore* those books if I choose. When defaults start getting shoved into the Core books, though, it ruffles my feather.

* I remember a big blow-out in 2E over the lore on “trance” for elves in the just-released Complete Book of Elves. I wasn’t having it because one of the more important parts of an official adventure I was running depended on dream states, which elvin trance would have been extremely problematic.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
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.
That's why the 4e default setting was so useful. It intentionally had canonical elements, but avoided hard and fast specific associations between many of its parts. The whole thing has the flexibility of a mythic substrate (in part because it takes many inspirations straight from actual myths), allowing any GM to insert some or all of it into any setting they already like, or build a new setting using those components as starting elements.

Extensible frameworks. They're pretty awesome. I wish they hadn't been treated like they're garbage.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
Yes, a default setting is an actual setting, not just implications dropped in "lore" - race, class, monster, item, etc descriptions...

No a generic fantasy game doesn't need a default setting, and neither does D&D. Plop it into any of a variety of fictional settings lifted from other media, or into an historical or alt.historical setting, or make one up yourself. Or, the game can offer multiple settings to choose from.

What does a default setting do for you, though? Well, it narrows the range of play of the game, it ties mechanics more tightly to fictional elements so players have less choice in defining their character and DMs fewer degrees of freedom in designing challenges, and it provides power structures - high level NPCs, gods, governments, etc - that can keep the players from effecting meaningful change....
....oh, and it sells books....

...nevermind, D&D needs a default setting, with monthly meta-plot updates! (y)
 

Scribe

Legend
Yeah, D&D needs one so that it can leverage an actual IP, instead of thinking the SRD is its IP, so that it can push distinct product in its quest to become a 'billion dollar property' without ruining the game.

People who think they are 'bound' by a default, a metaplot, are the same folks who think Alignment is a straightjacket, and Red Dragons can only be Evil.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Implied yes. Default no.

Give us detached lore about objects, people, places that anyone can incorporate into their own setting (or version thereof) in the core rules. But leave out the details and specific timelines, etc. . .

I care more about an individual DM's version of Vecna (or maybe Ancev) than what a core book says Vecna is. Now, for established settings, like a Greyhawk Boxed set, to say Vecna is X is okay with me because you have to seek that out especially because there is a version of Greyhawk you want to play in.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Yes, a default setting is an actual setting, not just implications dropped in "lore" - race, class, monster, item, etc descriptions...

No a generic fantasy game doesn't need a default setting, and neither does D&D. Plop it into any of a variety of fictional settings lifted from other media, or into an historical or alt.historical setting, or make one up yourself. Or, the game can offer multiple settings to choose from.
Girl Why Dont We Have Both GIF

What does a default setting do for you, though? Well, it narrows the range of play of the game, it ties mechanics more tightly to fictional elements so players have less choice in defining their character and DMs fewer degrees of freedom in designing challenges, and it provides power structures - high level NPCs, gods, governments, etc - that can keep the players from effecting meaningful change....
....oh, and it sells books....

...nevermind, D&D needs a default setting, with monthly meta-plot updates! (y)
God forbid anyone make money.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
First: what is a default setting?
I think it's a red herring and too much meaning gets attached to it. Whether or not there's a default setting is meaningless. As always, you'll play in whatever setting you want. 'Default' is just a word, and in this case it has no real utility. So WotC says the 'default setting' is FR, or Planescape, or Greyhawk, or whatever. And then you pick up an adventure set in Middle Earth, and that's the setting you're playing in. WotC could declare that Disneyworld was the 'default setting' but it wouldn't mean anything. I don't understand why folks get upset by it. The term is a ... what's the word? Like a token noise, but not a real thing with influence on the world. A label, really.

As for 'implied' setting... I think that's a different thing. It's not an actual setting, as it's not set out as such; more its a genre set out by the rules. D&D itself is its own 'implied setting', because the monsters and magic items and spells are all building blocks of that setting. That's separate to the actual settings, which are usually-but not always-extensions or expressions of the implied setting. The implied setting has wizards who cast magic missiles at beholders, something that, say, Middle Earth doesn't have. But it's not a named setting with a map or anything; it's a genre. I guess genre is a better name for it--D&D is its own early well-defined genre.

D&D has an implied setting; whether any setting is designated as 'default', however, is pretty irrelevant.
 
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payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
I think it's a red herring and too much meaning gets attached to it. Whether or not there's a default setting is meaningless. As always, you'll play in whatever setting you want. 'Default' is just a word, and in this case it has no real utility. So WotC says the 'default setting' is FR, or Planescape, or Greyhawk, or whatever. And then you pick up an adventure set in Middle Earth, and that's the setting you're playing in. WotC could declare that Disneyworld was the 'default setting' but it wouldn't mean anything. I don't understand why folks get upset by it. The term is a ... what's the word? Like a token noise, but not a real thing with influence on the world. A label.
Pretty much. I think default just means more/most attention by WOTC when it comes to products.
 

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