I have played my entire D&D game time within pre-made worlds. I started in the Points of Light Setting when i started playing ~5 years ago in 4e with Zachary and Tina. From there we moved into the Forgotten Realms when we moved to 5e and added Michael, Megan, Seth, and Kim, although recently (if you listen to our adventures) have gone back to the Points of Light. There have been many different, and popular, settings throughout the history of D&D. Each provides a rich back-story and world to explore but I am starting to come to think that these pre-built worlds, while rich, cannot provide the entire story I wish to tell. I have informed the players of “The Companions” that after we finish their current story (getting them to level 20 and their stories wrapped up), that instead of doing what my plan of having them bring in another team to allow them to use different characters that we will change to a home made world that better suit the stories I want to tell. I would like you to join me on the adventure of designing a world from scratch. In this post I would like to compare each of the popular pre-made worlds.
The Forgotten Realms has been a staple of the D&D universe since the late 80s, it offers a fantastic world that is rich in lore and made for a stock fantasy setting. Here you can create adventures of almost all types, dungeon crawls, world saving adventures, all with a medieval fantasy setting. In fact the setting is so popular that every edition since 4th has had to move the time line up and add world shattering events. In the 4e days they had the spell plague which was used to alter the makeup of the world as the Realms got a little full. I understand this, it was so popular because it was so easy to add anything and the story tellers at TSR/WotC were able to produce mounds of lore through books and adventures set there. This is part of the weakness I see in this setting.
In 4e there was the default setting which has come to be known as the Points of Light this setting was new, wild, and unexplored. This is its greatest strength over other settings such as the Forgotten Realms. Here, despite being abandoned after 4e, the world is left vague. There are noted dangers that are well known traveling between towns/cities/settlements that provide an ease of “ambush” opportunities in stories that doesn’t burden the story with “why”. This also allows you to build the back story of the world more as so much of the world is left dark.
Dragonlance was a very popular D&D setting, although it appears to have disappeared since the introduction of 4e. It was a high fantasy that introduced several new ideas that have spread to other settings. Among are the idea that gnomes are tinkerers. I have never played in a Dragon Lance game but have enjoyed the books that setup the world. Here there are not a multitude of gods but only 3 that represent good, neutral, and evil. The setting starts out where the gods have been absent but notice that the dragons are returning since the end of the last great war. What I enjoy from this setting is that you get to actively use dragons in your quests, unlike the Realms or Points of Light the idea of dragons being used is built in. I do also like the ideas of Gnomes being “Tinker Gnomes” always trying to create.
The final world I am going to look at is the world of Eberron, Zachary introduced this world to me near the start of my D&D time but I never was able to read into it until recently. Eberron is a world that is full of intrigue and magic. The world has just gone through a century of war that only ended with the full and unexpected destruction of the entire kingdom of Cyre. That day that ended the war is called the Day of Mourning. Here there are all sorts of races to play that are of diverse origins. Elves are not as common, there are living machines known as WarForged who are magical creatures who are sentient but “constructed” and now must find their way in the world . There are 12 Dragonmarked houses that each have a different innate magical power that is in their houses. These houses are intendant of every nation. Here we get the intrigue not only the nations as they attempt to consolidate power in the aftermath of the Mourning but the Dragonmarked houses (or factions there-in) are attempting to assert control as well. THe Magic of Eberron is not just spells but can be imbued into devices which make Magic Items much more common. It also gives a bit of “technology” as well. Sailing ships can have elementals trapped to allow them faster passage through the water, air ships have been constructed that allow air travel. There are the “lightning rails” where they use air elementals to power trains of sorts. It is this sort of intrigue and “new” technology i hope to bring to a custom setting.