D&D 5E What is your definition of a Vanilla setting

Which official setting of these three is most vanilla to you?

  • Forgotten Realms

    Votes: 66 71.7%
  • Dragonlance

    Votes: 1 1.1%
  • Greyhawk

    Votes: 25 27.2%

Raduin711

Adventurer
FR is the kind of vanilla that has little flecks of vanilla bean in it. Some people can taste the vanilla bean and love it, other people don't see what the big deal is, who pays this much for vanilla ice cream?

Greyhawk is old-fashioned vanilla, off brand. The kind that your grandparents bought when you were a little kid, and hasn't changed its recipe or branding in that entire time.

Dragonlance is vanilla with chocolate chip shavings in it. Still a bit old fashioned, not technically vanilla but as close as you can get to vanilla without actualy being vanilla.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Much as I enjoy the ice cream metaphors, using the metaphor of 'vanilla as baseline straight from the books', I'd say Greyhawk in the 1st, 2nd, and to a lesser extent 3rd editions and Forgotten Realms in the 3rd and 5th.

In 1st and 2nd edition, Greyhawk was the assumed world. The named spells (Otto, Bigby, Tenser) were Greyhawk-themed. Forgotten Realms was a large bunch of sourcebooks that had to be added on. When you got to 3rd, they were still using the Greyhawk gods but most of the material seemed to assume Forgotten Realms.

Dragonlance was never vanilla--with its color-coded wizards, dragonlances, and draconians, it was a deliberate example of a slightly different world that still fit with D&D.

Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Al-Qadim, Planescape, and the like were the equivalent of the flavors put in ice cream, and therefore not vanilla--instead of 'ice cream plus chocolate or strawberry', you have 'post-apocalyptic D&D with psionics', 'D&D with gothic horror', 'D&D in space', 'D&D in Arabia', 'D&D on the outer planes', etc. Eberron was deliberately un-vanilla--Keith Baker won a contest for the best new setting.
 


steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
To the question, not necessarily the "poll," of the thread, MY definition of a "Vanilla" setting would be:

Includes all of the base assumptions of the Player's Handbook of a given system. In the case of a D&D world, at minimum, that is Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Fighters, Clerics, Mages/Wizards, Thieves/Rogues. I would say you could get up to...say, 10 species and 12 classes before you begin venturing outside of "vanilla" territory. There is a degree of cultural presumption attached to many of these elements: Elves live in the forests. Dwarves are from the mountains and great miners/smiths, Humans are, generally, the most widespread and diverse peoples -but the most limited by lifespan.

MAGIC exists and functions to astonishing physics-breaking reality-altering effects and may be accessed in various different ways. The "vanilla" setting for D&D, I would say includes a minimum "spread" of 6 spell levels. Like most other elements, there is a dial from low-to-high magic which may include significantly more powerful or less powerful magic in a given region, if not the whole world. But the average, what I would call a "vanilla baseline" would include things "Sleep/Fireball/Teleport" mages, "Cure Wounds/Dispel Magic/Raise Dead" clerics, "Entangle/Call Lightning/Wall of Thorns" druids. Who/how many magic-workers you have, the spread of their power, how that power is manifest (or not) in political power is all adjustable a great deal and still remain a "vanilla" setting. Non-vanilla magic would be adding in things like different magics, e.g. Psychic powers, or divergent systems beyond a standard spell progression/slot system, e.g. "Blood Magic" or "Spells via magical Tattoos" or "Spells only work at such times/under X moon or Y star-alignment" that kind of thing.

A vanilla setting assumes the existence of fantastic creatures and monsters, beyond those supernatural beings included as character species, e.g. griffons, mermen, goblins, trolls, etc... This does not necessitate the inclusion of EVERYthing in a given Monster Manual existing in the world at once. Nor does it mean every monster in every creature compendium put out across a single edition (let alone more than one game/edition) must have some place in the world. But it does, in nearly all cases, include Dragons.

Given the above two criteria, the vanilla setting functions, mostly, as we would expect in the real world. The world is round. There are stars, a sun, a moon or moons. There are days, years, a -generally standardized- turning of the seasons. Time progresses. Gravity, force, the speed of light are all actual things that function as we understand them. Part of the entire point of the existence of beings and energies being "Magic/magical" is that they break, or exist in spite of, these things we recognize from our reality.

A "vanilla" setting is most likely to take place within a feudal monarchy, or similar geopolitical regions we comprehend/recognize from the real world. There are the not uncommon addition of things like "temple complexes/theocratic hierarchies" which may or may not control their own region/nation or "wizard-led/-ruled societies," and other strongholds and organizations that encompass the base assumptions of species and class: thieves' guilds, druidic organizations/"circles," monk & paladinic orders, elfin woodland strongholds, pastoral halfling villages, and the like.

A vanilla setting is one in which there is a definite sense of who/what is Good and who/what is Evil. This may be individual creatures, entire nations, or esoteric threat (demonic invasion, evil wizard going to take over the world, etc...). In nearly all examples, whatever the established 'villainy" is seeking to overthrow the "goodly" civilization/kingdom/world the heroes care about and (presumably) come from. There is room for some ethical/moral "greyness," Neutral-aligned characters, the noble-hearted thief or hero-in-the-making mercenary warrior, double- and triple-crossing villains and heroes, and such like. The possibility (and realities) of betrayal and redemption are, after all, quintessential to myth-/story-making. But broadly speaking, on a "world" scale, there is a clear demarcation of a "good" side and a "bad" side.

I'd say, any and everything beyond that...begins to play with the flavor. Want to add guns as a basic technology of your setting? Not vanilla. Lasers and spaceships? Not vanilla for a fantasy setting (yes, yes, I know. "But Barrier Peaks...!!!" I know. But I'd submit that is a relic of the pulp fiction elements of the game's roots and we..."know better" now, as a genre.). Want to add quadruped talking animals as player characters? Not vanilla. There are Sixteen Schools of Sorcery and only with the tattoo of the a given school can you cast spells/use magic of that type? Not vanilla (though could certainly be teased out of the vanilla assumption of Magics). The world is a double helix and there is no way to get from MortalHumanland to ShiningGodsheim without passing, physically, through at least 12 other "rungs" of the celestial ladder first? Not vanilla. What is called a desert is desolate expanse of marshmallow fluff? Mountains are giant tacos mined by the jalapenomes for the uber-precious veins of cumin and cayenne? Not vanilla.

I think that covers my "baseline" for what constitutes a "vanilla" setting. As should be evident, there is a great deal of leeway in some areas. Less so in others.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I don't define a Vanilla setting because it doesn't actually mean anything. I just describe the settings themselves as they are because they really are not that complicated. Why waste my time calling something "vanilla" only to then have to explain why I called it that, when I could have just described it in the first place?
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
Greyhawk is the "most vanilla" in that it has been ignored for decades and has the fewest ingredients. Everything it has that is in the PHB and MM work as you would expect from reading those books.

Forgotten Realms is sort of vanilla in that it has everything you would expect from reading the PHB and MM, and they work as you expect. But after 50 years of almost-continuous work / additions, FR also has aspects of a Banana Split Flavor Twinkie: there is so much packed into a confined space, it all runs together and cannot be identified separately; conversely if it was a larger item (whole cake) and each flavor had enough room to have a taste bud to itself it would be really tasty / flavorful but not at all vanilla.

DragonLance has its own flavor and is not vanilla. Ditto Eberron.

Dark Sun is either key lime (tart tangy but not vanilla) or brussles sprouts (green vegetable), depending on if you like it or not.
 


I see a lot of people are defining vanilla in different ways. To me, vanilla is the original version of something, because any expansions or add-ons were released. The most common usage I hear for it is people referring to the original release of World of Warcraft as vanilla WoW, before all the expansions came out and made it more complex. So every single D&D setting starts out vanilla.
 

Forgotten Realms has had too many years of too many cooks creating too much lore and too many peculiarities to actually be vanilla in its official form. However I suspect the average table running a published campaign have not read endless novels and whatever, and, like me, just sort of ignore the lore and genericize it to something that can fairly be called vanilla.

I think this sort of "as played" vanillaness comes from using a setting for published campaigns. Hence, these days, Forgotten Realms is the primary recipient of such vanillaness At present the most vanilla setting is the area of the Sword Coast along the Triboar trail where both the Starter Set and Essentials Kit adventures take place.
 

pemerton

Legend
Of the three settings listed, the only one I have play experience in is Greyhawk. It's a nice mix of REH-ish sword and sorcery (ancient empires, ruins, returned liches, snake cults, the Bright Desert, etc) and JRRT (Celene, the Kron Hills and Lortmils, the Pomarj, etc). I don't know if I'd call it vanilla. But it's no surprise it works well for any standard D&D-ish FRPGing. These days I use it for Burning Wheel.
 



doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
This is like asking which is the "most vanilla" ice-cream when your choices are (using British examples:

Haagen-Dazs Vanilla
Walls Soft Scoop Vanilla
Mackie's Traditional Vanilla

It's like they're all vanilla ice-cream mate. Dragonlance is very slightly less vanilla in that it tweaks some setting elements more and has fewer races and so on, but it's almost more vanilla because it's got a whole bonus level of vanilla-ness due to being basically about a bunch of white people.
The DL novels may be about a bunch of white people, but the setting isn’t. And it’s definitely not a vanilla setting. Closest I could agree with is soemthing like chocolate chip, where it’s mostly vanilla+a thing, but even that fails to capture that it’s cosmology is different, it’s use of familiar elements is different, etc.

There’s a lot going on beyond the base ice cream in DL.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Anyway, I’d say none of the above, but I guess Greyhawk is the closest.

FR has the Chosen, Lantan, history of stuff like gods fist-fighting eachother as giant avatars across the world, etc.

DL I already spoke on.

Greyhawk...is probably closest to the pastiche of a LOTR meets 20th century fantasy adventure stories inspired “kinda pseudo-medieval” world that is “Vanilla D&D”.
 

Obviously, this guy's homebrew setting.

I must respectfully disagree.

'Turn off the lights and I'll glow' is achievable in any standard edition through a light spell, which bards (Mr. Ice's presumable character class) usually are able to cast since I believe 2nd ed. Similarly, 'deadly, when I play a dope melody' implies the use of at least some attack-oriented bard spell effects, again compatible with vanilla--bards get power word kill as a class spell as of 5e, though I am not sure Mr. Ice's lack of popularity or critical acclaim is congruent with his having reached such a high level of skill. (One hopes he has not in fact used this spell on listeners' mothers.)

'Slice like a ninja', however, implies the presence of a ninja character class, which is not in the standard game, though it have been in every Asian-themed expansion (again, not vanilla-green tea perhaps). 'DJ revolves it', 'go rush a speaker', and 'rock a mic like a vandal' imply the presence of record players/turntables, speakers, and microphones, all of which indicate a technological level significantly above that of a standard D&D game.

Besides, we've seen him collaborate with tortle monks. Not vanilla!
 

I must respectfully disagree.

'Turn off the lights and I'll glow' is achievable in any standard edition through a light spell, which bards (Mr. Ice's presumable character class) usually are able to cast since I believe 2nd ed. Similarly, 'deadly, when I play a dope melody' implies the use of at least some attack-oriented bard spell effects, again compatible with vanilla--bards get power word kill as a class spell as of 5e, though I am not sure Mr. Ice's lack of popularity or critical acclaim is congruent with his having reached such a high level of skill. (One hopes he has not in fact used this spell on listeners' mothers.)

'Slice like a ninja', however, implies the presence of a ninja character class, which is not in the standard game, though it have been in every Asian-themed expansion (again, not vanilla-green tea perhaps). 'DJ revolves it', 'go rush a speaker', and 'rock a mic like a vandal' imply the presence of record players/turntables, speakers, and microphones, all of which indicate a technological level significantly above that of a standard D&D game.

Besides, we've seen him collaborate with tortle monks. Not vanilla!
3uwv0r.jpg
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I would not call Eberron vanilla D&D.

It has all the D&D elements but it twists lots of them. Elves with the Deathless. Halflings ride Dinosaurs. Gods are a step removed and possibly not there. It adds in its own stuff of elemental ships and trains, Dragonmarks, Dragon shards, artificers and warforged, a psionic continent and player race, different cosmology. Its default tone is magical noir post WWI instead of high magic ren faire.

Base D&D is vanilla, Eberron adds on a lot of toppings to make a sundae.
Vanilla doesn't require that you present things in the default manner. Halflings riding dinosaurs is still vanilla. Halflings are vanilla and dinosaurs are vanilla. Adding vanilla to vanilla doesn't make it a topping. Eberron is just fancy vanilla is all.
 


The DL novels may be about a bunch of white people, but the setting isn’t. And it’s definitely not a vanilla setting. Closest I could agree with is soemthing like chocolate chip, where it’s mostly vanilla+a thing, but even that fails to capture that it’s cosmology is different, it’s use of familiar elements is different, etc.

There’s a lot going on beyond the base ice cream in DL.
I disagree.

If anything, Dragonlance is close to Vanilla minus. That's why I chose Walls Vanilla, which is significantly different in flavour to normal vanilla (it might even gross people out) but is almost more plain than stuff like Haagen Dazs vanilla. And yeah the setting is absolutely and totally "about a bunch of white people" - sure some of them are white elves or insultingly racist portrayals of faux-Native Americans, but no-one else actually matters in the setting, not on Anaslon at least. None of the added elements actually amount of anything. They're all just flourishes. The Kender are just a slightly naive-racist (don't make me go into it, please) 1970s take on Hobbits. The Tinker Gnomes amount to absolutely nothing. The Irda are basically a minor backstory element. And so on. Maybe they're like those coloured sprinkles which are absolutely flavourless?

The use of familiar elements isn't significantly different, imho. It's mostly just that there's meaningless stuff missing. The cosmology isn't significantly different. It's just that the gods in DL some like to go into a sulk - FR's cosmology is just as "different from Vanilla" as this, I would say.

Taladas is totally different and absolutely isn't a Vanilla setting. However, given that the last time it got any serious coverage was in the 1980s, which is well over thirty years ago, I feel like it's almost cheating to count it as part of DL.

Overall DL is a very Vanilla setting. Sure, there are some minor changes, but this is some basic stuff, and every Vanilla setting has a lot of minor changes. We could pretend it's not, but then we get to the silly-ass place where no settings are Vanilla, they are all Extremely Special and Unique (TM). I see some people in this thread would like to do that.

The difference from say the FR is that it's not both Vanilla and a Kitchen Sink, which the FR is. Eberron is not really Vanilla, but is a Kitchen Sink, likewise Planescape (and arguably Spelljammer).

My personal definition of Vanilla would be any setting that does not, imho, deviate significantly from the basic concepts of D&D, and the presents a temperate faux-medieval/renaissance Western-ish setting as the primary location (anything that's clearly 1700s-ish or later, or the 800s or earlier is probably not Vanilla), wherein the basic expectation is that the PCs are going to be Heroic Adventurers of a straightforward kind. Religion-wise it absolutely must have a totally naughty word ridiculous pantheon that makes ZERO sense which is really loosely conceptually inspired by bad misunderstandings of pre-Christian European paganism meeting designer power-fantasies (and FR, GH, DL, I gotta hand it to you guys, you absolutely nailed this aspect of being vanilla - I am clapping - I couldn't imagine it being nailed harder! Like, randomly including a real-world saint GH? That's some chef's kiss stuff there). There's other stuff too which can really amp-up that Vanilla-ness, like if most of the people in the setting are kind of acting like they're at a ren-faire or cosplaying or something rather than actually espousing any sort of alien medieval attitudes, but I dunno if that's strictly needed.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Overall DL is a very Vanilla setting. Sure, there are some minor changes, but this is some basic stuff, and every Vanilla setting has a lot of minor changes. We could pretend it's not, but then we get to the silly-ass place where no settings are Vanilla, they are all Extremely Special and Unique (TM). I see some people in this thread would like to do that.
This. That's why I rated Dragonlance and Planescape as vanilla as well. Spelljammer I'm iffy on, but I can see the vanilla argument.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top