Worlds I’ve Known

Thinking back, the overwhelming majority of campaigns I’ve either played in or DMed have been home-brew campaigns.

I love Greyhawk, of course, and have a vast GH collection and (at the risk of being immodest) knowledge, but even then, I’ve done homebrew way more often than Greyhawk. My current campaign, the world of Erseta, is a homebrew campaign.

On the other hand, I was quite a fan of the Forgotten Realms up until a year or two after the gray box was released; after that, it just got overwhelming (but never actually played in or ran it). We played several campaigns (and I DMed one) in high school that took place in the Wilderlands (back when Judges Guild was still putting out new stuff). We had a terrific Dark Sun campaign while I was in the Air Force (I played a half-giant). And I took a stab at Ravenloft, but mostly looted it for ideas (and monsters– “if you try to conjure an earth elemental in a graveyard, you’ll get a grave elemental”) that I ported over to whatever campaign I was doing at the time. Other than that, I’ve never done Forgotten Realms, Mystara, or Birthright, or Dragonlance, or Kalamar, or any of the others.

I’m curious about something related to this. How many others have relied more on homebrew than published campaigns? (And if so, what rules did you use with it?) I ask because I get the sense that the homebrew campaign is a dying art, and more modern players rely heavily on pre-published settings and adventures.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

18 thoughts on “Worlds I’ve Known

  1. Well, Greyhawk was my first and became the standard by which I look at other settings. As far as the settings I've run in, it's been about 40% Greyhawk, 40% Forgotten Realms, and 20% Homebrew.

  2. I've usually run a hybrid. Custom world that steals heavily from Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, etc. I have also run more straight games, but usually only with more unusual settings like Dark Sun.

    Of course, my favorite setting is Planescape. So adventures often occur in all sorts of different worlds, both homebrew and published.

    I do find as I get older I have less time to work on the custom campaign stuff. It's far easier to modify existing things to taste than it is to create something whole cloth.

    I've also been involved in a lot of the patron projects over at Open Design. So while Midgard is a published setting, it feels more like a shared world that I've had direct input into. So it is fast becoming my default setting.

  3. I've played Mystara out of the rules cyclopedia, grayhawk and forgotten realms in 3rd. ed., have had a stab at ravenloft in 2nd. ed. I've played some Dragonlance as well 5th age I think it was. Played WFRP in whatever that world is called. But most of the time it was more or less homebrew, we might use some published map of an area and used it's names but it usually ended there. I think homebrew is the best simply because as DM I find it a lot easier to remember what goes on in the world if you've "built" it yourself. you might be right about the published worlds being the trend, but I have a hard time believing homebrew to be dying out.


  4. I played a bit of Dragonlance years ago, and recently played in and ran few Wilderlands games. Apart from that, it's all been homebrew.

  5. I have played a smattering of both styles of games … from straight up modules to full on homebrew-sandbox games. As a GM I've run both as well, though I prefer the sandbox. I tend to be a storyteller style GM that reacts to what the players do, with some plot points and a good amount of encounters pre-prepaired. I like to see players take more creative control of the game. It seems to get them more interested. But as a plyer I've found that I generally prefer to be playing in a well done module. All of the classics are new again for me as I haven't played them in 15+ years now so its sort of exciting. Sadly I don't have a DM in the area that can regularly run that kind of game so for me D&D is now going on the back burner as we play stuff like Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World (I hear Dungeon World is good but I have yet to try it) and the like.

    For me in terms of D&D anymore I am more and more just slowly buying material again. I really love Greyhawk as well and I aspire to re-collect a good "core" of the material for it so I can run it for my children in a few years. My oldest is 7 … I think I'll attempt to run it when she is 10-11ish. I'd like to spend a year running a weekly Sunday game for them and just sort of hit the high points along the way. With maybe a few "special" sessions thrown in here and there over school holidays and whatnot.

    What I'm hoping to find eventually is a list of the must have Greyhawk books and modules to do something like that. Any suggestions folks? Version of material wouldn't matter that much … I'll probably pick a clone 1st ed compatible system or just run rules cyclopedia basic. I'd like to keep it a little simpler than 2nd edition for them. Not that it was particularly bad, but … Thaco is something I worry about a bit. Don't get me wrong the extra little bit o' math would be good for the kids actually and that isn't a joke. For 11 year olds repetition of doing that kind of simple mental math would probably be very beneficial.

  6. I have used Greyhawk but only the original folio version. I prefer doing my own worlds for fantasy gaming. I have borrowed from Forgotten Realms and the like but never used them directly for a game.

  7. I have almost always had a separate homebrew world for each campaign. I’m still hoping to break that cycle and get a “persistent” world going someday.

    I have used published settings a few times. The most successful have probably been Middle-earth and the Spinward Marches.

    It’s similar for my playing experience. Mostly homebrew worlds with a smattering of published settings. My favorite was actually a hybrid. A DM who mashed up Greyhawk, Lankhmar, Kara Tur, and the Forgotten Realms (and more).

  8. The first campaign world I used as a DM was Greyhawk, but the first homebrew that I created was a Greyhawk/Beleriand mash-up.

    I've always been torn between my own creative impulses and my love for Greyhawk (and, to a lesser extent, for the pre-greybox FR from Ed's TD and Dragon articles). My Castle Greyhawk has been renamed as I've tweaked it over the years and moved it from Greyhawk to my current homebrew setting.

    In the end, I went with a dual-Prime campaign world: one set in Greyhawk, the other in Mendenein. Both are planarally "close" and travel back-and-forth between the two is more akin to Athurian knights' passage to and from Faerie than standard D&D planar travel.


  9. I've run most of my campaigns in published settings mainly because I usually don't have the time to make a homebrew setting that I would feel happy with. Most of my time has been spent in the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and the Pathfinder Chronicles Setting. I'd like to do more homebrew games, but world creating can be a really time consuming thing.

  10. Good topic. I'm one of those old dogs you can't teach a new trick to, I think.
    I've ran 75% Greyhawk. But I have dabbled in Mystara, FR, Birthright, Ravenloft and a couple others I'm sure. Homebrew? I've tried a few times too. What happened with me however is any attempt I've made ended up with me pretty much creating a Greyhawkian setting. All those established game worlds? We'd quickly burn out and I'd have to return to GH. That's why I have to run something drastically different like Mutants and Masterminds or Shadowrun to not end up back in GH.

  11. In middle/high school, I started out with AD&D 2e and Forgotten Realms. Why wouldn't you want to play there? It was big and sprawling and had history (and I hadn't seen any Greyhawk products around, but man that sounded pretty cool also).

    More recently, I've been going with my own homebrewed setting, because that lets me fiddle with the thematic elements I want without any issue. I will definitely cop to dropping pre-made modules in my homebrew, but hey, sticking the Tomb of Horrors in the same setting as Death Frost Doom and Keep on the Borderlands doesn't seem too bad. (I do regret putting in Hommlet, though – I don't have a good feel for the dynamics of that little town.)

  12. I spent my early years, through AD&D and 2E playing in Greyhawk, and only stopped around 3E time due to moving away and stuff. Since then it's been hoembrews mostly, but I still find myself yearning to go back and revisit it. I have a heap of GH stuff too.

  13. The only pre-made setting I've ever played in, or DMed, was your Greyhawk game last year. I'm strictly a home-brew kind of person. I love to climb all the mountains and wander the plains I've designed in my head, and the civilizations, critters, events and heroes are all straight from the demented depths of fantasy-inspired imagination.

    Come to think of it, aside from CotMA (and con games), I don't think I've actually ever played or run a pre-purchased module either. I'm just the sort that likes the unparalleled freedom in homebrew insanity.

  14. I have been strictly homebrew as well.

    It is mostly due to the fact that there wasn't much information regarding Gygax's Greyhawk back-in-the-day.

    I think I learned more about GH over the last decade or so than I ever had before.

    Everything was absorbed into my campaigns: Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, etc. Mine was a pretty big planet. And anything that didn't fit right were alternate worlds, which my players travelled among before Spelljammer and Planescape came about.

    Oddly, I spend time on my blog going on about historical GH, etc rather than my own stuff.

  15. It's strange. I have a very developed Campaign Setting (history, politics, culture, new monsters, spells, cities, etc.), and I've played a lot in that. But when we don't play in that, we play in FR. Inevitably, the FR campaigns are better. Why? Because my ficiton writing instincts kick in when I'm playing "my world." D&D becomes less of a game and more of a platform for me to test ideas. Because of this, for the last couple of years, I've stopped using "my world" (this is what my players refer to it as–is this any indication of its inappropriateness for D&D? Perhaps so.) and utlized 1st edition and 2nd edition FR texts. It's great, because the world becomes less the brain child of the DM and more of a setting commonly owned. I have players who have read all sorts of FR novels, ran campaigns in FR themsleves; and the benefit of collective knowledge can't be discounted: they recognize "Zhents," and know what "Evermeet" is; and, when they encounter, say, a fringe cult to "Bane,"–considering the time period–they know that these guys are either (1) desperately worshiping a dead god or (2) connected to Zhentilar forces in the north.

  16. I absolutely love Darlene's Greyhawk map. To this day I have a framed copy on my wall. Even after three decades, I can still sit staring at it in fascination.

    But I've never had any inclination to use it (or any other published setting) in my campaigns. Partly because half the fun for me is in the creation of the world and partly because of my bad memory. Memorizing details about a published setting is far more difficult for me than remembering aspects of the world that I created myself.

  17. My first introduction to a "campaign world" was a friends folio version of WoGH. I was fascinated and it really helped get me hooked on D&D. Unfortunately, I didn't pick upa copy until the box set came out. Until then I relied on my own homebrew settings for games and ruthlessly plundered the fantasy fiction I read, as well as the DMG, Dragon Magazine, etc. for ideas.

    One of the things I loved reading was both the "updates" on the WoGH that Gary and ROb published in Dragon as well as the peeks into the FR that Ed Greewood gave us in many of his Dragon articles. Great stuff, although with Greenwood some of his later stuff I didn't find as inspiring. The whole meta-campaign idea that eventually took over FR was very off-putting, however.

    As for which rules I used, they were all the same in each campaign: 1e (PHB, DMG, the monster books and various aspects of UA depending on how I felt at the time).

    The only major departure from 1e (or 2e when I played that) rules was a brief stint using the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser rules, but that was only for the world of Nehwon. B/X rules were only used in homebrew setting, not in WoGH (although I've considered using them or LL or BFRPG in Greyhawk recently).

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