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

GuardianLurker

Adventurer
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.
As someone who is currently running a homebrew setting in PF2e (with VERY different assumptions that Golarion(?)), I'll have to disagree with this. While I'm impressed with their (Paizo's) setting it is NOT easy to scrub from the ruleset.

I'm happiest with an implied setting. Especially with a ruleset as crunchy/elaborate/detailed as DnD and its derivatives.

Paizo's is NOT an implied setting. It channels you very heavily into Golarion, and its adventure paths, and even its organized play. And while I understand the business reasons behind their decision, it can be awkward for me to work with and around.
 

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payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
As someone who is currently running a homebrew setting in PF2e (with VERY different assumptions that Golarion(?)), I'll have to disagree with this. While I'm impressed with their (Paizo's) setting it is NOT easy to scrub from the ruleset.

I'm happiest with an implied setting. Especially with a ruleset as crunchy/elaborate/detailed as DnD and its derivatives.

Paizo's is NOT an implied setting. It channels you very heavily into Golarion, and its adventure paths, and even its organized play. And while I understand the business reasons behind their decision, it can be awkward for me to work with and around.
Could you indulge me in some examples of things where the setting and mechanics are intertwined? Im not a PF2 expert but nothing I saw really looked difficult to ignore or explain away easily in any homebrew setting.
 

Dire Bare

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.
Heh, I just posted a response to the original thread that would work better in this one.

The words "implied" and "default" do not mean the same thing. Not in the dictionary, not when referring to D&D fantasy settings.

A "default" setting is an official setting for a game. BECMI D&D had Mystara, 3rd Edition had Greyhawk (until it didn't), and 4th Edition was the Nentir Vale. I suppose you could also refer to these settings as the "explicit" settings for those versions of the game.

Every single edition of D&D since the White Box has come with an "implied" setting. These are the tropes, details, and assumptions baked into the game. Does the color of a dragon's scales matter? What's a high elf versus a wood elf? What's the difference between the eight schools of magic? What's the difference between a warlock, sorcerer, and wizard?

Most of D&D's settings either support or purposely subvert these implied tropes, they are the baseline on which all of D&D's settings are designed from, even when they stray like Dark Sun or Birthright.
 

Dire Bare

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.
The "Known World" or Mystara setting started off pretty light with minimal detail, just names on a map . . . but over time became just as detailed and complicated as Dragonlance, the Realms, and other settings. And this is one of the potential landmines of an explicit setting, that it begins to overwhelm the game itself. This was TSR's mistake back in the 80s and 90s, to publish TONS of settings and TONS of products for each setting making them all rather unwieldly to newcomers.

WotC pulled back from this with 3rd Edition, and even further with 5th Edition. This upsets some fans who want the 5th Edition updates to the VOLUMES of material previously published, but it sure makes D&D and even the Forgotten Realms easier to jump into for those new to the game. And is less likely to invalidate or change canon from what came before.

5th Edition references ALL of D&D's prior settings in the core books . . . but purposefully does not give us a map of "Fantasyland" or the implied setting details that have carried forward with the game since the White Box. For D&D, this is wise, IMO.

But most of the adventure books have used the Forgotten Realms as the explicit or "default" setting, and this is wise also. It gives newcomers a well-realized world to play in, but also allows us all, old-timer and newcomer, to step outside the Realms easily enough and as far as we want to. And it allows them to shift the focus of the core books (slightly) in 2024, or to start publishing supplements and adventures in settings other than the Realms, without having to overhaul the game itself or worry about competing product lines.
 

GuardianLurker

Adventurer
Could you indulge me in some examples of things where the setting and mechanics are intertwined? Im not a PF2 expert but nothing I saw really looked difficult to ignore or explain away easily in any homebrew setting.
Sure.

Some background - I've been running this campaign for close to 2 years now, and am a subscriber to Paizo's "Core Rules" (meaning I get the books that are ostensibly setting-free). The homebrew is a pseudo-European Iron Age/Late Roman area, with a Romanized France fighting a Grecian Spain across the Pyrenees. I've also bought a few "Lost Omens" books for some choice bits. Example "Lost Omens: Character Guide" (alt-ancestries) and "Lost Omens: Grand Bazaar" (Loooot!).

I should also be clear the the core mechanics aren't setting dependent - the Jump rules, for instance, don't depend on Golarion in any manner. But that's not what I'm concerned about. What I'm concerned about is how much of the setting I have to scrub from the rules to match mine. As I completely made up example, if the spell description for "Finger of Death" references Pharasma(?) when my god of death is named Fuzzy Lumpkins, that's a bit awkward.

Where this most readily appears is in items. "Hellknight Half-Plate" is in the "Treasure Vault". Which should be setting-free, for the sake of argument. But its description explictly references that one villain country in Golarion that's ruled by devils. Now, it's easily corrected to a description of gear for a low-level fiendish minion, but that's a detail I didn't need to worry about, and now I do. Another example is all the gunpowder items, which I can just forbid as default. Again, though, a decision I had to make that I might not have needed to otherwise. These decisions and adaptions are usually quick and easy, but there are a LOT of them.

The next most apparent are the feats, especially the dedication feats, but every kind of feat can pose this problem. These usually require more extensive adapation.

Spells are usually problem-free.

I haven't even tried to run any of the Adventures/Adventure Paths as those are so tightly bound to the setting that I'd basically be re-writing them if I tried to include them.

Now, I do not begrudge Paizo their effort in Golarion. It's a very solid setting, well-described, and well-fleshed-out. But it's also not one that appeals to me for various reasons that aren't germane to this discussion.

Keep in mind, I don't necessarily regard this as exceptional effort, but I also know I have a much higher tolerance for this kind of thing than many. I'll also point out that I had an easier time to adapt "Magic of Faerun" to my vanilla, but otherwise very non-Faerun, game in my 3.x campaign.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Sure.

Some background - I've been running this campaign for close to 2 years now, and am a subscriber to Paizo's "Core Rules" (meaning I get the books that are ostensibly setting-free). The homebrew is a pseudo-European Iron Age/Late Roman area, with a Romanized France fighting a Grecian Spain across the Pyrenees. I've also bought a few "Lost Omens" books for some choice bits. Example "Lost Omens: Character Guide" (alt-ancestries) and "Lost Omens: Grand Bazaar" (Loooot!).

I should also be clear the the core mechanics aren't setting dependent - the Jump rules, for instance, don't depend on Golarion in any manner. But that's not what I'm concerned about. What I'm concerned about is how much of the setting I have to scrub from the rules to match mine. As I completely made up example, if the spell description for "Finger of Death" references Pharasma(?) when my god of death is named Fuzzy Lumpkins, that's a bit awkward.

Where this most readily appears is in items. "Hellknight Half-Plate" is in the "Treasure Vault". Which should be setting-free, for the sake of argument. But its description explictly references that one villain country in Golarion that's ruled by devils. Now, it's easily corrected to a description of gear for a low-level fiendish minion, but that's a detail I didn't need to worry about, and now I do. Another example is all the gunpowder items, which I can just forbid as default. Again, though, a decision I had to make that I might not have needed to otherwise. These decisions and adaptions are usually quick and easy, but there are a LOT of them.

The next most apparent are the feats, especially the dedication feats, but every kind of feat can pose this problem. These usually require more extensive adapation.

Spells are usually problem-free.

I haven't even tried to run any of the Adventures/Adventure Paths as those are so tightly bound to the setting that I'd basically be re-writing them if I tried to include them.

Now, I do not begrudge Paizo their effort in Golarion. It's a very solid setting, well-described, and well-fleshed-out. But it's also not one that appeals to me for various reasons that aren't germane to this discussion.

Keep in mind, I don't necessarily regard this as exceptional effort, but I also know I have a much higher tolerance for this kind of thing than many. I'll also point out that I had an easier time to adapt "Magic of Faerun" to my vanilla, but otherwise very non-Faerun, game in my 3.x campaign.
I appreciate it. Yes, most of the items you mentioned in PF1 era were kept to setting supplements and adventure paths. If my GM was using PF but in their homebrew Id be pretty patient and tolerant of that. Though, you are right the tolerance is definitely subjective.
 

Quickleaf

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.
I don’t know what “default” means in this context.

It’s great to have a home base town/mini-setting in the DMG that a GM can pick up and run. That’s a smart move to make the game more accessible.

And any monster write up (arguably class write ups too) is going to have implied lore - such as this blurb from D&D Beyond’s goblin page:

Goblins are small, black-hearted humanoids that lair in despoiled dungeons and other dismal settings. Individually weak, they gather in large numbers to torment other creatures.

There are assumptions about the origins of goblins (they’re humanoids and not, say, born from vats of slime or the nightmares of frightened kids), about their typical disposition (“black-hearted” and not conniving tricksters, for example), and where they usually dwell (dungeons & dismal settings as opposed to, say, treehouse villages and colorful stilted huts that are bustling trade centers).
 

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