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


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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.

I think of it is either the implied setting or as the setting that gets the most treatment (Forgotten Realms wasn't the implied setting of 2e, but it was the default in terms of support). I think once D&D got a bunch of different worlds, it had this weird balancing act of an implied setting that could operate on those worlds, but done in a way where core material didn't turn your dark fantasy home-brew into dark sun.
 

Retros_x

Explorer
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.
I answered a bit harsh to you in the Planescape thread before I saw you opened the thread here. With that explanation I understand your statement in the other thread better. I think what you call "implied setting" is just the genre for me. Its like the baseline that D&D agreed upon. But the moment you have specific definitions, like the gods one race might be praying to, the implied setting and the default setting are the same, because you need to have a specific setting to make those references. I think I agree that this is not needed and I don't like it as much, but I also have to admit that it doesn't really limit my game preperation, so if it helps other DM to have this specific default setting, I don't see anything against it.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
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.
Thing is, it's a slidimg scale not a binary definition. Forgotten Realms is not the "default" setting for 5E even, going back to the Core rulebooks: there is tons of lore for other worlds in all 3 core books, and even the early Adventures particularly emphasized alternative possibilities. And it has become less and less default since Ravnica came out.

But even in the DMG (I know, nobody reads it...sigh), they laid out how 5E has an implied Setting and what it entails and how to change those assumptions as the DM. It is less that FR is the default Setting, and more that the implied AD&D-esque High Fantasy Setting matches well with the FR so it is a frequent sample Setting across the product line. Inverse logical relationship.
 
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Shiroiken

Legend
There's two ways to have a "default" setting for D&D: a generic setting and a detailed setting.

A generic setting like the Known World has no details attached to it outside of the standard lore. This has the advantage of letting the DM detail out the world however they want, with very few restrictions. When DMs were assumed to design their own campaigns, this was a useful starting point. The downside is that it's not a very helpful tool for new DMs, since it doesn't really provide anything except the very basic idea of a setting. This is actually my preferred approach, with a good chapter in the DMG to help DMs detail out the setting (or better yet, make their own).

A detailed setting like Greyhawk, Nentir Vale, or the Forgotten Realms provides the DM with everything they need to start a campaign. This is actually the industry standard, with games designed to work within a specific setting. The downside to doing this is that it hamstrings the DM on what they can do (without massive homebrew). This can also be problematic for the setting, unless the core rules take the setting completely into consideration. Nentir Vale worked extremely well, since they designed it with 4E in mind. Greyhawk was largely ruined by being the "default" setting in 3E, with people getting a piss poor, generic interpretation of the setting.
 


MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
I think of the default setting as being their mostly for people who aren't all that interested in world building or are just getting started on things, and so it's helpful for those people to have.

I think it's easy for people who want something else to ignore the default setting.
 

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