Dungeons & Dragons Lore: What is a "campaign setting", exactly?

I understand that there are the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, etc., but something I can’t quite figure out: How are they connected?

Are these alternate timelines of the same universe? Are they different planes of existence within the same timeline? Are they completely disconnected realities whose environments and characters never cross over?

I’m so confused.

The last one.

For the most part, some creative guy was running D&D. He built his own “world” and drew up some maps, divided them up into kingdoms and drew in roads and cities, populated the cities with NPCs and politics and businesses, put some monsters out in the wilderness and started running adventures in it. Gary Gygax ran his campaign on the world of Greyhawk; Ed Greenwood ran his campaigns in Faerun (mistakenly referred to as The Forgotten Realms); Eberron was created as a challenge when 3rd edition first came out.

Within the context of each reality there does tend to be some crossover, because the game system itself contains spells & magic items named after people & things in the “original” campaign setting, Greyhawk (Mordenkainen, Otiluke, Bigby, all those guys).

Hmm, I see. Is Faerun just a continent within the Forgotten Realms?

So Elminster should never be found in Eberron? And even the planes beyond the central worlds of these campaign settings don’t cross over? Like the “Underdark”, the “Feywild”, the “Astral Planes”, or the city of Sigil… they only exist within their own campaign settings? Interesting and weird.

Faerun is the main continent of the Forgotten Realms setting.

I don’t get why it’s weird. D&D is just a rules set. You could use it play a game set in the Forgotten Realms, or Middle Earth, or wherever, but you wouldn’t find Helm’s Deep in Greyhawk. Ultimately what’s in a group’s world is up to that group, though. I use a homebrew (custom-made) setting for my group but the Underdark exists within it even though we’re not in the Forgotten Realms.

I see. Thank you both. It makes sense now in retrospect.

I became aware of D&D first through computer games and for the longest time I thought words like “Greyhawk” were just names of adventures, not entire worlds. The games never explicitly explained how they were different from each other (why would they), but they shared the same D&D branding so I just thought it was all part of the same world.

I had thought they were connected in a Star Trek sense, different generations/locations but the same universe.

Now it’s all cleared up. Thank you.

Some of the campaign settings might be different planes within the same overall cosmology, and some elements can bleed between them. For instance, nonhumans in Faerun largely worship the same gods as the corresponding nonhumans in Greyhawk. Second edition even had a “setting” that explicitly tried to tie them all together, Spelljammer, which was basically “D&D in magic spaceships” (the idea there was that the different settings were different planets within the same plane, enclosed by crystalline spheres that were difficult but not impossible to breach).

Some settings, though, this just doesn’t work. Eberron, for instance, has its own set of associated planes for afterlives, realms of deities, angels, and fiends, elementals, etc., and the Eberron planes really don’t mesh with those in the standard D&D cosmology.

But of course, as AClockworkMelon says, it’s ultimately all up to the group running each game. Most games are run in a sort of freeform ambiguous setting (giving the DM the freedom to move things around on the fly), and if a playgroup wants to meet the King of Blades, Drizzt, and Aragorn all in the same adventure, hey, they can.

Each campaign setting is suppose to be their own worlds, with places, characters, societies, geographic settings, races etc etc related to that world.

e.g. As a DM, it’s up to him/her if they want to have Drizzt alive in a Greyhawk campaign but as D&D geek that would make me initially go :dubious: but would go with the flow of it. Especially If the DM is awesome. There’s an art to being a good DM.

No problem. With that background it’s obvious why you’d think that.

None of the premade settings tend to suit my tastes but I’m not shy about stealing ideas wholesale.

Ah. Glad we’re not alone in the flexibility. In the past few weeks Toril’s gained a few continents, we were visited by Oni-Kan Wenobi, we left the Feywild only to end up on Eberron, etc.

That clears a lot up. Thanks, all. Some of the lore will stay, some will be retconned to make more sense :slight_smile:

Pretty much. This is the planet Abeir-Toril, or just Toril for short. This is the region of Toril commonly known as Faerun. “The Forgotten Realms” isn’t a specific region on Toril, it’s a brand name for the setting.

Ethilrist may have been referring to how things stand in 4th edition, but in previous versions of the game, all the official D&D settings exist in the same universe. There have been two different “cross-over” settings that explicitly tied them together: Spelljammer described how space travel worked in D&D, and Planescape tied everything together through extra-dimensional travel. These were both 2nd edition products that never got updated to later editions, although there’s enough references sprinkled throughout 3rd edition sourcebooks to make it clear that the Planescape setting, at least, was still in continuity. Spelljammer, as far as I’ve been able to tell, has largely (and deservedly, IMO) been ignored since the original materials went out of print.

The Underdark isn’t a different plane, it’s a vast network of interconnected subterranean caverns that spans the entire world. I think it’s only actually called the Underdark in Forgotten Realms materials, but pretty much every D&D setting has basically the same idea. Similarly, I’m pretty sure every setting has an astral plane, and previous to the 4th edition, it was the same plane in each setting. Sigil was created for the Planescape setting as an explicit, extra-planar connection between the various published D&D worlds. The Feywild was invented for 4th edition, which (among other things) radically changed the established D&D cosmology. I don’t know how it and the other settings fit together currently.

And as the map of Toril nicely points out, the lands of Zakhara, where the Al-Qadim campaign setting took place, are on the same continent as Faerun.

So you could readily cross-over between the two settings, though they had very different flavors. (E.g. Faerun magic was based on the traditional sword-and-sorcery with Fae all cranked up to 11, whereas Al-Qadim was considerably lower magic based around the 1001 Arabian Nights type of magic.)

3rd Edition separated the various settings much more (and got rid of a lot of them, like Al-Qadim, though I played in a home-converted setting of it run by a friend of mine.)

If you decide to create you own campaign setting, consider a naval-based campaign.

I steered my players into taking ship-based skills, gave them a small sloop for transportation, & away they went.
The advantage is that you can use pre-made adventures from almost any setting, by placing the adventures on islands, thus isolating monsters & cultures that wouldn’t fit into the general campaign.

Naval campaigns are fun. Mine was called “The Seven Seas of Rhye,” and was quite successful.

Why can’t people wait until five minutes before I log on, to ask questions like these? Sigh. Then I might get to answer first.

The downside, of course, is that it becomes less interesting at high levels.

How do you figure?

He might be referring to the Teleport Problem.


Ban long-range teleports.

D&D in general becomes less interesting at high levels.

I suppose you can - but that’s also a major feature for some players. As well as there being several other high-speed travel abilities in every edition, for multipel classes.