April 16, 2009

The Half-Empty Glass (part 2) - Campaign Settings in 4E D&D

The first part of this series, "The Half-Empty Glass: What is missing in 4E D&D", asked this basic question: In terms of crunch... what, if anything, is missing for you?

Now let's look at 4E D&D campaign settings. Is the default D&D campaign setting viable (the so-called Points of Light Setting, aka Nentir Vale)? If so, who is the intended audience of this setting? Noobs? Or are more experienced D&D veterans (who play 4E) satisfied with this setting? What about the new FRCS? Is it broken / overly shoehorned into the new rule set?

How well does 4E D&D do homebrew campaigns?

What works for 4E D&D, in my opinion, is that in less than a year they (WotC) have already provided enough options for an interested DM to create any homebrew campaign setting they want. I've said it before and I'll say it again: 4E is the New Old School D&D. By presenting an open, flexible, and relatively loosely defined campaign setting in the Core Books (the DMG), the new D&D is all about the homebrew. It's like "Here .. take this tiny Nentir Vale and make it your own". To answer my own question above (who is the audience?) - I would say both new and experienced DMs alike can make great use of the Points of Light campaign setting. Furthermore, the approach the designers have taken thus far might be viewed as classic power creep, more options more options more options (in even shorter time) -- but the thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to use all the options on the table. No, you're expected not to use all the options on the table. I look at the recent releases of the PHB2, Martial Powers, and Open Grave as what they are -- options -- to be included in your own campaign setting at your leisure. What's more - I would argue that DM's should take this one step farther and reexamine every character class, race, feat, etc in their own campaigns and ask "Does this make sense for my campaign world?" For example - Tieflings and Dragonborn are not your stock swords and sorcery racial types.

So, I suppose in terms of campaign settings - I would say the glass is half full for 4E D&D. The system presents a flexible framework that allows DMs to prototype a wide range of workable campaign settings.

As for 4E FRCS? Well... that goes towards the bottom of my list of worst "official" D&D campaign settings.

4E Darksun? Robot Viking thinks the writing may be on the wall - hopefully they are right.

What about you? Have they hit the right balance with published campaign settings thus far? Is 4E D&D flexible enough, even for new DMs, to create their own settings with ease?


  1. I like the Points of Light theme, because it allows DMs to remain unshackled to setting canon.

    Which is what they tried to do with the FR, remove much of the existing canon. But I feel that was a mistake. FR's strength WAS all the official canon (it's not for everyone though). But then I guess they'd have to retcon all the new classes/races/mechanics... It's probably a no-win situation.

    Not having a lot of official canon is benificial to booth n00bs & vets if they want the freedom to change/expand to promote the characters' stories. But some people like adventuring in the worlds they have read about, which is why the old FR was also cool.

    I think any version of D&D supports homebrew and I would have a rough time saying 4e does it any better or worse. Though I think making Paragon Paths and monsters that are unique to your world may be chneaper (in time spent) than 3.x...

    I do see a publishing ritual coming where WotC puts out a set including the campaign setting book, player's guide, and monster manual for each setting (Eberron, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Planescape, etc.), much like White Wolf's 6 book releases for each of their secondary WoD expansions.

  2. D&D has always had plenty of assumptions about the setting built in the rules. For example, the way magic works and the ubiquity of magical items (3rd edition onwards). 4e does not break this trend, I think.

  3. Making homebrew settings in 4e is extremely easy. However, I don't stick pieces of Wootsie's stuff in mine (because I hate all of them). Somebody who did do so would have even less work to do. But making races, paths, class powers, it's all rather simple.

  4. the only problem I have with FRCS is that it's unfinished...or it feels unfinished.

    I know they don't want to overburden us with metaplot, etc. But I'd like a touch more than they give. A Realms monster manual would be great for instance, and more detail on certain parts of the world would rock.

    It's enough to run your own as is, but it feels that it takes enuogh work from me that I'd rather homebrew.

  5. The ability to homebrew is extremely atractive to me as someone who has never DMed D&D

  6. I think the new Forgotten Realms is actually really good. Some of the ways they retconned things in is pretty contrived, but it's a really fun setting to play in. I think FR needs a "reboot" every now and then and that's essentially what they did - Old published material is still useful, and there's a bit on every region, but DMs and players have some leeway to imagine how a hundred years has changed things.

    FR still isn't a setting for someone who wants to make their own, but it does create a great environment to drop characters into and build stories in. The changes might not please all long-time FR players, but I think that they preserve FR's appeal to new people.

    4th Ed is as easy as any edition to work with Homebrew, I think the main thing to make a Homebrew setting feel different is to restrict some of the options. Most classic fantasy settings have far fewer races, for example.

    I haven't really played a game with the "default" setting and from the books I have mixed feelings about it. I REALLY like what they've done with the default planes in the Manual of the Planes a lot, but for my purposes, the "points of light" setting is too short on detail to use out of the book, and if I'm going to build my own setting I'm more likely to just start from scratch. It's probably really great for one-shots where you don't actually want to bother building a wider campaign world, though.


By submitting your comment below, you agree to the blog's Terms of Service.