The Zero-Sum Game of Campaign Settings

As you might infer from the title of my blog, I am a fan of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting. I have spent literally thousands of hours reading, writing, and dreaming about Greyhawk. Technically, I was a fan of the setting even before it was an official setting; most of my homebrew campaigns prior to 1980, when the first Folio was released, featured a Duchy of Aaqa, or an Empire of Lum, or other places whose names were gleaned from the tiny glimpses we read about in the artifacts and relics sections of Eldritch Wizardry and the DMG, and had gods like St. Cuthbert, similarly sourced. At the risk of being called immodest, I am a Greyhawk “superfan”.

However, what you might not know is that I’m also a fan of the Forgotten Realms. I am also a fan of Dragonlance. And the Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign. And have had very enjoyable experiences in Dark Sun and Ravenloft.

For me, enjoyment of a particular campaign setting is not a zero-sum game. That is, I don’t have a limited supply of “campaign appreciation points” that must be dolled out between the various campaign settings out there. Sure, I don’t have an unlimited amount of time to devote to gaming (not even the many hours I had in my youth, which seems endless now that I look back on it, compared with what I’m able to devote to gaming these days).

Thus, I don’t understand the mindset that says, “I’m a Greyhawk fan. Therefore, Forgotten Realms sucks and so does WotC for choosing it as the next setting!”

Now, it’s certainly possible to not like a particular setting on its own merits; Planescape annoys me, for example. But I don’t have to mention that fact every time that I bring up my love of Greyhawk. Unfortunately, it seems that some folks do. I’ve seen it in the last 24 hours in various forums, in reaction to the announcement that the Forgotten Realms is going to be the official setting for D&D for the foreseeable future.

Not everybody has to love that announcement (personally, I think it’s probably the best choice they could have made, other than perhaps developing an entirely new setting). But I just don’t understand the mindset that says that any piece of good news for a setting that’s not my primary favorite automatically means I need to trash that setting. Or, as I have also seen, to trash the company that made the decision. Or the rules that are going to be used.

The Realms being the default setting for 5E isn’t going to make me any more or less likely to play 5E. That will be based on the rules themselves. Ditto WotC as a company. Stuff they make that I like, I’ll buy. Stuff they make that I don’t like, I won’t buy. Simple.

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.

9 thoughts on “The Zero-Sum Game of Campaign Settings

  1. I'm not sure where gamer hate comes from either. I didn't appreciate Greyhawk until I met someone who really dug it (as you obviously do.) It's amazingly rich. The Realms are too.

    Do you think that level of detail stifles creativity in individual campaigns?

  2. It's interesting that WotC is going to choose the Forgotten Realms as their default setting. They made a lot of FR fans angry when they "nuked" it with their Spellplague in order to shoe-horn in the mechanical changes to the game system.

    I wonder if this new series of 6 novels called The Sundering is going to fix the Realms to a better state to make fans happier?

    When 4E came out, they released a FR Setting book, a FR Player's book and then really didn't put any further effort to support the Realms after that. I believe they were going with a design philosophy of not wanting to detail every nook and cranny of the Realms like they did before and leave that for DMs to do themselves. And thats OK. I will if they will be doing that again this time around?

  3. I wonder if this new series of 6 novels called The Sundering is going to fix the Realms to a better state to make fans happier?

    It's my understanding that that's exactly what it is. They have a seminar specifically on it on Saturday. Doubtless we'll know more then.

  4. Strangely enough I have never actually played in a Greyhawk game either as a player or as a GM. But I have used material from the Greyhawk Adventures hardcover and the City of Greyhawk boxed set for my own games before.

    But back to the point. I think it makes sense for WOTC to use the Realms. It's still their most popular setting and it can draw new players in since 90% of their video games take place in the Realms. (Why didn't Bioare ever make a Greyhawk video game?!)

    I'm actually one of hose people who loves Planescape, but then I think I'm one of the few people who truly understood what the initial designers were trying to do with it before it turned into AD&D aping Shadowrun. I think it's a poor decision for them to neglect Planescape when it's an obvious bridge between campaign worlds, and works a lot better than Spelljammer ever did.

  5. Any chance they are going to reboot it back to its original timeframe and remove things like "Spellplague" or are they just advancing the setting some-more and going even further from the setting as it originally appeared?

  6. My own personal theory is that it's going to be some sort of alternate timeline, time-travel, time-rifty thing.

    That's based on absolutely nothing other than their stated goal of "fixing" the Realms and the name "The Sundering".

    Again, we might know more after tomorrow's seminar.

  7. I'm a Greyhawk devotee and, though I don't actively hate Forgotten Realms–I've never actually used it as a setting–I do get a small thrill when bad things happen to it. It's entirely visceral, has nothing to do with the merits of FR, and I have no control over it.

    Forgotten Realms is the stepmother of campaign settings; even if she turns out to be Mrs. Brady, the kids will always blame her for trying to replace the real mom.

  8. Well, first off, I agree with you on the lack of "zero sum campaign setting" issue. Personally, I'm a strong fan of a lot of various campaign settings including Greyhawk, the older Forgotten Realms stuff (before it became the catch all for all product whether it actually fit or not and every edition brought around it's own "Realms Shattering Event"), Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Kalamar, and even Planescape within limits. There's no reason to be a fan of one in exclusion to the others, especially as the DM who I find is the person at the table that has to be the most flexible.

    As for what "The Sundering" will do to the Realms . . . I honestly don't care and I can't quite see myself towards caring. Simply put, even if it somehow magically resets the entire campaign to something like the Greybox setting, which it won't, I can have that simply by . . . picking up my old copy of the grey box. If they were to do something completely new and "damage" the world even further, it might be better simply because WOTC has a wealth of possibilities in the old materials that they've never quite realized. As it has most everybody, I never could fathom the decision to nuke the PDF market. At the very least, WOTC making those available is a means to generating some small measure of good will.

    When it comes right down to it, though, I think that their best option, which they won't follow through with, would be to create an entirely new setting, or to follow through with completely fleshing out the quasi-setting that 4th edition supposedly occupied. Or something like it. That's a failing, in my opinion, the inability or unwillingness to create new in the desire to appeal to the traditional and old school.

  9. A large reason why WoTC continues to support FR and ignore Greyhawk is due to ownership issues. It is very clear who owns FR and how. Greyhawk is a bit more murky with at least two estates (Gygax and Arneson) with potenttial claims of ownership and compensation. Corporations do not like "murky". FR is wholly and indubitably owned by Hasbro, plus, the original creator is happily and publicly on board the team. Greyhawk never was and now never will be. Legally speaking it is best for Hasbro to just move on to the IP it never has to worry about external royalty payments for.

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