Which 3 Classic D&D Settings are Coming out for 5th Edition?
Wizards of the Coast revealed some interesting news at D&D Celebration this past weekend. During Inside the D&D Studio with Liz Schuh and Ray Winninger, they shared that they’ll be focusing a lot more attention on settings. Three settings are on a shortlist and are receiving “active attention”. While they didn’t reveal which settings, they have been listening to fans.
Usually, for my Campaign Trail column I share stories, stat blocks, rules, and more, whether I’m running published materials or my own stuff. This week, I wanted to look at campaign settings that have been published in the past for Dungeons & Dragons, but haven’t seen a major content release yet for fifth edition. Maybe you are a huge fan of some of these settings already (like myself) or maybe you are newer to D&D and it’s the first time you’ve heard of many of these. This article will provide a brief description of each setting and what I think about its chances for being published in the near future.
Which campaign setting are you hoping to see first? Let us know in the comments below.
Let’s look at some of the contenders…
The Dark Sun campaign setting is set in the post-apocalyptic desert world of Athas. The setting was first published in 1991 back in 2nd edition. Like Eberron’s magicpunk and pulp take on fantasy, Dark Sun provides a nice contrast to the default Forgotten Realms setting. Athas is a savage world and the setting’s dark take on fantasy that is heavily influenced by the Dying Earth and planetary romance (John Carter) subgenres. The setting further differentiates itself by having no gods, magic being hated for causing the destroyed ecosystem, armor and weapons made from natural materials, and psionics being commonplace.
When it comes to popularity in polls and in posts by fans, Dark Sun is close to or at the top. With official rules for psionics just around the bend, a major hurdle for releasing content for this setting is going to disappear. I believe there’s a solid chance of seeing a hardcover for this setting. Its theme of ecological devastation is becoming more and more timely, but some troubling aspects of the dark setting would likely require updates for 21st-century audiences. With darker takes on fantasy becoming more and more popular on TV and a Dune movie coming out, lots of fans should jump on this setting if released.
Set in the world of Krynn, Dragonlance is a campaign setting originally created by Laura and Tracy Hickman (on a road trip for an interview with TSR) in the early 80s. It was then expanded by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis into a series of fantasy novels. The setting contains numerous characters, an extensive timeline, and tons of detailed maps. The history of Krynn consists of five ages with the most popular being set during the fourth age on the continent of Ansalon. This is where we find the Heroes of the Lance storyline, a world where the gods have disappeared and dragonarmies march across the continent. The setting was created to support this story and provide a greater focus on dragons than dungeons. Twelve modules were created, each focusing on a different dragon and players usually played one of the pre-generated Heroes of the Lance, including many of the most popular characters across all of D&D. Since that time, tons of content has been released and the world has even been expanded to include a new continent called Taladas.
Before Forgotten Realms was a book series, Dragonlance was a bestseller and has a long history detailed in adventures, novels, and an animated movie (which is terrible) starring Kiefer Sutherland, Lucy Lawless, and Michael Rosenbaum. The setting has experienced a lot of turbulence in the background over the years and a major misstep with the SAGA System rules. A D&D movie is in the works and there have been rumors that Joe Manganiello (True Blood and Magic Mike) has been working on a Dragonlance script. If a Dragonlance movie is in the works, related D&D products including a campaign setting hardcover would be a must.
Set in the world of Oerth, Greyhawk is your typical medieval fantasy with knights, dungeons, dragons, and castles. In the early 70s Gary Gygax (co-developer of D&D) created Castle Greyhawk so his players would have a castle and dungeon to explore. This home campaign expanded to include an entire medieval-Europe type world, which was published in 1980. Many of the iconic names we have seen in fifth edition books and spell names come from this world such as Bigby, Evard, Leomund, Melf, Mordenkainen, Tasha, and Tenser.
Releasing a full setting book for Greyhawk would show just how committed Wizards of the Coast is to supporting the original fans of D&D. We’ve already seen a storyline set in Greyhawk for D&D 5e with the Ghosts of Saltmarsh, which is set in the setting’s Kingdom of Keoland. For newer DMs, Greyhawk could offer an alternative default fantasy world if they don’t want to bother with all of the extensive history that has been released for the Forgotten Realms.
Spelljammer is an “outer space” fantasy setting with a focus on space travel using open deck space galleons shaped like ships, birds, and other fantastic designs. Spelljammers can travel between settings in the D&D multiverse such as Dragonlance (Krynn) to Forgotten Realms (Toril) across the material plane, but settings are kept separated via something called Crystal Spheres. In addition, Ghosts of Saltmarsh did the heavy lifting by introducing ships and naval combat rules. If you want swashbuckling adventure with a variety of species similar to the amount found in Star Wars, this setting is a great fit. The setting is influenced by the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, science fiction works such as those by Jules Verne, steampunk, and planetary romance.
The setting was originally released during 2nd edition and has seen some support in 5th edition. While I think there is a good chance that we’ll see a campaign book and adventure for this setting, I believe it’s more likely that Planescape will get attention first. Who knows, maybe fans can get both in one book.
Planescape is a campaign setting first published in 1994 that crosses and comprises the numerous planes of existence, encompassing the entire D&D Great Wheel cosmology. The concept for the planes was first detailed in the Manual of the Planes (1987) by Jeff Grubb. The idea behind Planescape is that all of the Dungeons & Dragons worlds are linked via inter-dimensional magical portals.
I think a book like the manual of the planes is very likely. I’d expect to see greatly expanded and new material for the Feywild, Shadowfell, Sigil, City of Glass, and all the other interesting places to visit beyond the material planes. Maybe they’d add a little section for spelljammers too – if they aren’t planning a full book.
Mystara is a campaign setting that was the default setting for the “Basic” version of the game throughout the 1980s and 1990s originally just called “The Known World”. The setting’s focus is a central continent that includes a varied patchwork of both human and non-human realms. The human realms are based on various real-world historical cultures and it also has sub-settings such as Blackmoor and Hollow World.
While fan love for this setting exists, it’s far quieter than other classic settings. If Mystara is released as one of the three settings they are actively working on, I would be shocked. If they chose this setting over both Dark Sun and Planescape, I sure wouldn’t want to be on the D&D public relations team.
The Nentir Vale was the default setting for the 4th edition of D&D. This is a setting where you’ll find small, isolated “points of light” surrounded by the darkness of the untamed wild. Travel between communities is dangerous with bandits, vicious humanoids, and monsters of all kinds in control of the darkness between settled areas. The Vale was once a frontier area on the edge of empires, but the empires of Humans (Nerath), Dragonborn (Arkhosian), and Tieflings (Bael Turath) all fell long ago. This world mixes traditional fantasy with a bit of a post-apocalyptic theme. One of the biggest strengths of Nentir Vale is that there’s less material written about it than other settings. The core setting is a small geographic area with just a little more than a handful of scattered towns and villages. Between settlements are wild and dangerous roads full of monsters and brigands. You’ll also find plenty of lost tombs, abandoned castles, and lairs full of treasure – most with adventures to support the location. To learn more about this setting and how to run it for 5th edition read this article.
This is a popular setting in official polls and one of my favorites. I have run two campaigns using the setting for both 4th and 5th edition. The setting has seen some recent support in the Heroes of the Vale actual play. As a default setting, it’s a bit of a kitchen sink and has a place for any player option… which can make the setting feel a little generic that some settings with their own unique take on fantasy such as Eberron, Spelljammer, and Dark Sun. That being said, it’s an excellent setting which supports sandbox and story-driven gameplay well. I doubt we will see this setting any time soon, but you can easily throw some monsters with personality at your PCs by picking up a PDF copy of Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale (4e).
Update: Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft was released May 2021.
I wanted to look at settings that haven’t already seen content, but Ravenloft sits on the edge here… as we have seen Curse of Strahd, but we haven’t seen a book about the wider setting of Ravenloft. Ravenloft is a campaign setting that is actually a pocket dimension called the Demiplane of Dread. This setting consists of a collection of domains brought together by the mysterious Dark Powers. Each of the domains is tailored for and ruled by a Darklord who is trapped there, the most popular being Strahd Von Zarovich and Barovia.
I don’t expect this campaign setting to be a high priority with Curse of Strahd already available and other settings having provided no fifth edition content to date.
Bonus: Other Possibilities
I wouldn’t bet on any of these, but here are some other possibilities.
d20 Modern is a modern take on fantasy RPGs published by Wizards of the Coast in 2002 which has seen some support in fifth edition in optional rules in the DMG and some Unearthed Arcana PDFs. It provided DMs with tools and player options for running a modern campaign. Adventurers are called heroes and choose from being Strong, Fast, Tough, Smart, Dedicated, or Charismatic with advanced classes such as Field Medic, Gunslinger, Soldier, and Techie. For d20 Modern there were actually three campaign settings released: Shadow Chasers, Agents of Psi, and Urban Arcana.
Chris Perkins Setting
Chris Perkins has a setting an Arthurian inspired setting called Valoreign with a 12-page campaign guide. He also has a series of binders for a 3rd Edition campaign set in his world of Arveniar. Perhaps he’ll get a chance to share one of his settings in a hardcover book for Fifth Edition?
More Critical Role
Both Green Ronin and WotC have released campaign guides set in the world of the Critical Role actual play show. When Season 3 of Critical Role airs, will it take place on a new continent? If so, will a campaign guide soon follow?
More Magic: The Gathering
There’s no way more M:tG books aren’t on the way. The question is… are any of those included in the “three” mentioned?
I didn’t cover these originally, but I thought I’d mention them for everyone after seeing mentions in comments on Facebook and this article…
- Star Frontiers
- Gamma World
Which campaign setting are you hoping to see first? Let us know in the comments below.
Way back in 2014/15, I took a guess at which settings would be coming out and when. Check out the article to see how close my guesses were.
Artwork Credits: All artwork is from previous D&D books, board games, and video games.