In the 40-plus years since Dungeon & Dragons first came on the scene, many worlds have been published. Some say the proliferation of separate campaign settings in the 90’s was the downfall of TSR Inc., the original creator of the game. In the aftermath we find ourselves able to steal the best from these well-worn universes, playing in them with more elegant versions of the core rules.
Let’s take a look at a few of the more memorable campaign settings from the past and find out what it takes to convert them into the newer editions of the game.
A desert world, once lush and beautiful in a past long forgotten–ravaged by magic and ruled over by nearly immortal Dragon Kings, the world of Athas is a brutal post-apocalyptic vision of fantasy. Far from a Tolkien-inspired medieval setting, Dark Sun is bleak and brutal, where metal is rare and weapons break almost as easily as they kill. Where half-dwarven gladiators, corrupt templars, half-giants, and massive mantises are playable characters. This setting is a beautiful tapestry of exotic forces at work, with an underlying theme of magic as metaphor for world-destroying pollution. This is Mad Max with spells and it’s awesome.
Originally released in 1991, there have been updates over the years including a re-release for 4th edition D&D which you can still find sometimes at major bookstores. The setting has a strong fan following, and homebrew rules for 5th edition can be found at among the fan community.
In 1984 Dragons of Autumn Twilight was published, kicking off one of the most dynamic settings in the D&D multiverse. Krynn is a world rocked by war, saved by an ensemble of memorable heroes and villains, and featuring some of the best fantasy artwork of its time. If you’re looking for a setting with a strong timeline informed by fiction, but without so much you absolutely must read, this is the one for you. I’d go for Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends; that’s just 6 books and they’re quite good.
Dragonlance hasn’t had official support since D&D‘s 3rd edition, but here are a couple of incredibly detailed guides to adapting it to the newest edition: Background and Adventures, Player Options.
In 2002, Wizards of the Coast ran a competition to invent the next big D&D setting. Out of 11,000 entries, Eberron won. The continent of Khorvaire is one recently torn apart by war and rapidly changing due to new technologies and old magics. It’s fantasy doing a headstand, with a pulp style and unconventional takes on the traditional Tolkien-inspired races. If you want your medieval world infused with dinosaurs, magic trains, enchanted familial tattoos, and elemental-powered airships, Eberron is calling out to you.
Wizards developed a free PDF for helping you convert the setting over to 5th edition, which you can download here. I’d suggest picking up the original corebook to draw from and going to town.
A gothic horror setting seemingly designed simply so you can torture your players with undead, Ravenloft is a sinister place. The idea is that this Demiplane of Dread can crop up adjacent to nearly any existing world, so that player characters can just wander in and be terrified by what they find within the mists. For a while there, gothic horror publisher White Wolf licensed the setting. These days, Ravenloft is back in the hands of Wizards, who recently came out with their Curse of Strahd adventure series for 5th edition. It has since been a New York Times bestseller and won 3 ENnie awards.
One of the weirder settings to come out of the 80’s is Spelljammer. It’s basically D&D in space, but that’s putting it too simply. In Spelljammer, ships capable of flight are equipped with “spelljamming helms,” which allow spellcasters to pilot what might otherwise just look like a sailing ship into the sky and beyond. Adventurers explore moons and distant worlds, potentially traveling between all of the different settings we’ve mentioned in this article.
Unfortunately, this amazingly weird campaign setting has seen little support since 2nd edition. There’s a community site that’s converted it to 3rd edition, so you might be able to pair it up with Pathfinder easily enough. If you’re looking for a 5th edition conversion, you might take a look at this lengthy article on Nerdarchy. However, it’s less a primer on the mechanics, and more of an overview of how to make the most of the setting.
Here are a few important settings you also might want to check out:
Forgotten Realms — Easily the most fleshed-out setting, it’s the default location for the 5th edition of D&D. With numerous editions and a vast catalog of novels, you can even publish your own 3rd party supplements for it over on the Dungeon Master’s Guild.
Greyhawk — Developed from D&D creator Gary Gygax’s home campaign, Greyhawk has long been the home setting of the game, expanded and supported through its association with the RPGA.
Planescape — A bizarre coming together of astral and elemental planes, known for it’s bleak yet inspirational artwork.
What are your favorite settings in which to play? Share them with us in the comments!
Image Credits: Wizards of the Coast