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%

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
But here's a question: is being "vanilla" supposed to be a bad thing?

The other day I was at the grocery store, and I checked the ingredients on all of the ice cream cartons. Every single one of them--and there were literally dozens--had vanilla extract (or "vanilla essence") in the ingredient list. Chocolate? Yep. Mint chocolate chip? Yep. Strawberry Chocolate Chunk? Yep. Ice cream sandwiches? Yep. There were no exceptions, even things that weren't technically "ice cream" like orange sherbet and vegan coconut mango had vanilla in them.

It's a delicious flavor and it mixes well with other flavors to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?

Same for Forgotten Reams: it's a great campaign setting, and mixes well with other campaign settings to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

But here's a question: is being "vanilla" supposed to be a bad thing?

The other day I was at the grocery store, and I checked the ingredients on all of the ice cream cartons. Every single one of them--and there were literally dozens--had vanilla extract (or "vanilla essence") in the ingredient list. Chocolate? Yep. Mint chocolate chip? Yep. Strawberry Chocolate Chunk? Yep. Ice cream sandwiches? Yep. There were no exceptions, even things that weren't technically "ice cream" like orange sherbet and vegan coconut mango had vanilla in them.

It's a delicious flavor and it mixes well with other flavors to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?

Same for Forgotten Reams: it's a great campaign setting, and mixes well with other campaign settings to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?


Yeah, nothing wrong with vanilla settings. Nothing wrong with non-vanilla settings. Depends on your baseline need for novelty and how many vanilla settings you've played already, I suspect. I'm getting back into D&D after a while so it's nice to have a vanilla setting like Forgotten Realms where I know what an elf and a wizard are. If I had been in a FR campaign for three years maybe I'd have a different perspective.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
This is what a vanilla setting looks like:

01-vanilla_drying_compressed-1076x588.jpg
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
But here's a question: is being "vanilla" supposed to be a bad thing?

The other day I was at the grocery store, and I checked the ingredients on all of the ice cream cartons. Every single one of them--and there were literally dozens--had vanilla extract (or "vanilla essence") in the ingredient list. Chocolate? Yep. Mint chocolate chip? Yep. Strawberry Chocolate Chunk? Yep. Ice cream sandwiches? Yep. There were no exceptions, even things that weren't technically "ice cream" like orange sherbet and vegan coconut mango had vanilla in them.

It's a delicious flavor and it mixes well with other flavors to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?

Same for Forgotten Reams: it's a great campaign setting, and mixes well with other campaign settings to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?
Vanilla settings are great. I've run Forgotten Realms since 1e. I love it and my players love it.
 

FXR

Explorer
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!

A very well-point, but I respectfully disagree.

Mr. Ice was already playing the latest edition, decades before its, as evidenced by his "Rollin' in my 5.0. With my rag-top down so my hair can blow.". "Slice like a ninja, cut like a razor blade" obviously refers to the time-honored vorpal blade, and not to any asian influence.

"You better hit bull's eye, the kid don't play" shows his OSR tendencies, where combat is to be avoided but deadly, while the clever "If there was a problem, yo, I'll solve it" refers to his generous use of rule 0.
 

I would say the most vanilla setting is Points of Light. It encapsulates the core requirements of a D&D setting built for traditional adventuring: (1) vast unknown wildernesses, (2) post apocalyptic, and (3) weak modern civilization. Those three elements give the PCs (1) lots of places to adventure, (2) lots of stuff to find, and (3) the ability to influence and change the game world. The fact that there's basically nothing else in the setting by design to leave it open for DMs as a blank canvas is exactly what makes it the most vanilla. Some people will mix in chocolate chips, some people will mix in fruit and berries, and some people will mix in mint.

Mystara and Greyhawk are both closest to this same idea, but they also both have a lot of existing narrative overhead. Like the City of Greyhawk is almost as detailed as Waterdeep. Mystara has a lot of published adventures, too. Savage Coast is pretty well filled in, IMO.

Dragonlance has too much characterization from the novels. The sometimes visceral reactions people have to kender, gully dwarves, and tinker gnomes make it decidedly non-vanilla. So is the lack of divine magic if you're playing before the events of DoAT, which, IMO, is the only thing compelling about the setting. Dragonlance is a setting built for a single campaign: DL01-16. It kind of falls apart outside that. While post-Dragon War that might make it more vanilla, I think it just makes all the detailed theming come across as empty and a reminder of a better story.

FR is over-developed. FR feels to me like a used coloring book. It's spent too long as a kitchen sink setting -- it's the default in 5e and has all-but comprehensive lore from 2e and 3e -- it feels like the ideas of countless people have been shoved into a sack. Sure, it looks like a cohesive world, but as soon as you peek into that sack you discover that each idea has grown legs like a cat and they all jump out and scatter into different takes that don't really want to associate with each other. Gods are born and die more often than mortal NPCs, and there have been no less than 3 major cataclysms like within the past 50-100 years in in-game time. I just can't find any common ground in the setting anymore.
 

But here's a question: is being "vanilla" supposed to be a bad thing?

The other day I was at the grocery store, and I checked the ingredients on all of the ice cream cartons. Every single one of them--and there were literally dozens--had vanilla extract (or "vanilla essence") in the ingredient list. Chocolate? Yep. Mint chocolate chip? Yep. Strawberry Chocolate Chunk? Yep. Ice cream sandwiches? Yep. There were no exceptions, even things that weren't technically "ice cream" like orange sherbet and vegan coconut mango had vanilla in them.

It's a delicious flavor and it mixes well with other flavors to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?

Same for Forgotten Reams: it's a great campaign setting, and mixes well with other campaign settings to make awesome combinations. What's not to love?
I'm definitely not saying it's inherently a bad thing - though I will mock the hell of the dumbass pantheons the ones I mentioned have because good god come on...

But anyway, most of my time playing D&D has been in either Vanilla or Kitchen Sink settings or both, so I certainly can't say they're bad.

But we're talking not about vanilla extract, which is important cooking ingredient, we're talking about vanilla icecream, which is where the primary flavour is vanilla. That applies to FR/GH/DL for sure I'd say. Ain't none of them Strawberry Chocolate Chunk (which sounds gross btw).
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
You very clearly had a conclusion and went searching for reasoning to get to it, here. Probably not gonna engage with you further on the topic.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
Peopl use "vanilla" pejoratively all the time, but I don't think it is supposed to be used that way. "Vanilla" means that is support whatever flavors you decide to make central to your sundae. Maybe you like fruit, or gummy bears, or jalapeno. Vanilla lets you have those without overpowering them like chocolate or something like Rocky Road would. Vannilla gives you control over the flavors.

Among the listed choices, Dragonlance is actually a good example of how you add toppings to vanilla (either of the other two, IMO) to get a specific flavor (in this case, Mormon Myth inspired fantasy). A "flvor" like Dark Sun is too powerful, too distinct to allow for such a thing. That's why, I think, FR is so popular: it is easy to make one's own by choosing your bad guys and your conflicts.
I think you nailed it on the head here.
 

pemerton

Legend
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)
This also picks up a lot of other FRPGing eg default Rolemaster, Pendragon and Prince Valiant, I think WHFRP (I know it by reputation, but I think it fits this).

wherein the basic expectation is that the PCs are going to be Heroic Adventurers of a straightforward kind.
Depending exactly how you conceive of "heroic adventurers" this might leave some of those other systems behind.

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).
And this starts to get a bit more distinctive to D&D. Although it depends a bit how you squint when you look at it; a certain approach to this sort of ridiculous pantheon can yield something closer to REH's Conan stories.

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.
I associate this mostly with FR, but maybe that's unfair on my part? Anyway it made me laugh (likewise your swipe at St Cuthbert of the Cudgel).
 

TheSword

Legend
This also picks up a lot of other FRPGing eg default Rolemaster, Pendragon and Prince Valiant, I think WHFRP (I know it by reputation, but I think it fits this).
The grim dark nature and ever impending apocalypse, from both within and without, probably makes WFRP less vanilla and more raspberry ripple - if the ripples are pestilential, mutating blood narcotics. 😂
 
Last edited:


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
I missed this before.

Nah. This is bunk. The gods are quite different from baseline D&D, as is the cosmology in general. A symmetrical pantheon of balance, where an evil god dying means a good god has to retire/disappear because balance is the paramount priority of the gods as a whole, is not normal. It’s outright strange.

Your dismissal of other elements (what does whatever hang up you have with Kender have to do with whether or not they’re vanilla!?) is just as silly, really. You provide nothing to support the dismissal, you just declare it. Well, my reply is, you’re wrong. 🤷‍♂️
 


Ixal

Adventurer
A vanilla setting for me is something generic which does not have a strong "flavor" or mechanics of its own and is supposed to fit everything a bit. Often goes hand in hand with kitchen sinks.

I do not know Greyhawk enough, but FR are definately vanilla. Dragonlance is not as it has a too strong internal thematic.
 
Last edited:

grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
Ah, a discussion of what 'vanilla' means, fantastic! I would counter that any setting is 'vanilla' until it encounters your game table. It becomes a unique setting once your players begin to interact with the setting. SO this whole poll is moot. /pedant /asshat ;)
I picked Forgotten Realms. It is a setting I can feel comfortable running any style of game for D&D. The setting will clash with nothing. Horror? Ran werewolves and Cult of Malar hunting the party as they guarded refugees in the Vaast. Celtic historical? Moonshae. Modified Spelljammer? Lantan. Gritty crime syndicate shenanigans? Luskan or Calimshan or Amn. It is so full of every flavor, at this point, you just emphasize what you want. Currently, FR is less of a setting and more a collection of common place and character names. There is a great world setting there. Actually there are several great settings smushed together. But it is easy to feel lost in the Realms without focus.
 

Scribe

Hero
A vanilla setting would be high level, trope heavy, with very little world building at all, and little to nothing that deviates from the PHB.

Basic lineages, basic classes, an incomplete cosmology, few kingdoms.

Good vs Bad.

Eberron isn't vanilla, it's the opposite.
 

Planescape is not a Vanilla setting, sure it assumes that a bunch of the standard default assumptions are there, but then it twists, subverts or downplays them all. It's like something where one scoop of vanilla ice cream is there in the ingredients, but there's a bunch of other flavours.

It's like how sure you could play an Elf or a Dwarf in Planescape, but the books actively discourage you from playing an Elf or a Dwarf and encourages you to play a Tiefling, Githzerai, Aasimar or whatever instead. A lot of the traditional western medieval Europe tropes are downplayed in Sigil more in favour of London in the 1800's. "Romantic" ideals about the medieval are thrown out in favour of Post-Modernism. And out in the planes things get weird, everything gets twisted, and there's always a "dark" (aka secret), something from behind the scenes.

Planescape is not High Fantasy in the traditional sense, it's is of the genre called the "New Weird" which existed before such a term was coined.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top