|Basic Game Mockup by Morrus at EN World|
Dragonlance, Mystara, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Eberron, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms likely sound like the sort of places that some hapless fool would go exploring and lose his life in to the uninitiated - and you wouldn't be far off from the truth. These places represent seven of the most dominant settings (also known as game worlds) that have become a part of the official Dungeons and Dragons game. Each was designed to help Dungeon Masters and players alike find a world to explore and make their own.
This is the setting that changed the industry, for better or worse, when it burst onto the scene in 1984. It was the first to present the players with a linear story that forced them into a romanticized version of High Fantasy. Dragons dominated this setting with enough fantastic elements to make it a best selling novel line that would inspire TSR and other game companies of the viability of books based on their game lines. It's a fantastic place to explore and you can find far more on this incredibly deep setting at the unofficial home of the setting online at Dragonlance Nexus.
Mystara or the Known World
|The world of Mystara from Vaults of Pandius|
For a generation of gamers this setting was the default world for many players. It boasted a detailed world that had no fear of making fun of itself or the tropes of the fantasy genre. Yet even as it became more detailed it never did so at the cost of the players' ability to make the world, and the stories they created, their own.
When it was active this setting produced some of the finest gazetteers and adventures the game has seen since the magnificent Greyhawk adventures Gygax put out for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (also known as First Edition). You can find out a ridiculous amount of information about this setting from two places: About Bruce Heard and New Stories and Vaults of Pandius. About Bruce Heard and New Stories is the online home of the man who helped make the setting what it would become - one of the most loved settings to ever be produced. Mr. Heard's blog is filled with his efforts to finish expanding the setting as he would have liked had he been given the opportunity and with his current efforts on his successfully funded Kickstarter. It's a great place to visit for more information on the setting and to ask one of the men who had a hand in creating it just what was going on with your favorite nation. Vaults of Pandius is filled with information from published products, the people who developed the settings, and the people who played and loved it. I cannot think of another website that provides anywhere near the volume of information this one does.
This is the setting of classical horror where you're likely to encounter something that haunted the dreams of Poe and Stoker - but there is so much more here. Every location, or realm, has an evocative nature that seeps into the game. An atmospheric setting that isn't for everyone, but when it's done correctly you won't find a better place to explore the darker side of the hobby. You can find a fountain of useful information on this setting at Ravenloft the Fraternity of Shadows and if you dig the Gothic style then you should consider reading the blog Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque (in particular the Ravenloft Remix series is really worth exploring).
If Dragonlance, Mystara, and Ravenloft harken back to the classical, high fantasy tradition that dominated the game then Dark Sun was a complete refutation of this aesthetic. This brutal setting where life was harsh, short, and filled with danger was filled with psyonic warriors and eternal Dragon Kings that ruled over a post apocalyptic world. Think Mad Max with Dragons and you're not far off. This setting was highly influenced by the artistic sensibilities of Brom and any discussion of it will eventually work it's way back to him.
This setting isn't for everyone, but if you can find the right group no setting will be more rewarding. You'll find a lot of information on this setting from The Burnt World of Athas and if you're lucky you'll find a group to explore this world with in the near future.
The newest official setting for the Dungeons and Dragons game but you shouldn't be worried that this game doesn't have a rich storyline filled with the sort of intrigue and plots that the older lines have in abundance. In fact this setting may have more of that than any other. Here you'll find sentient robots (the Warforged); magically enhanced mass transit; a continent where the restless dead still haunt the land where they lost their lives and protect the long forgotten treasures of a lost civilization; and a world that's rife with political intrigue of the sort that could get out of hand any moment and send the world over the brink and into a new world war.
This setting was created by Keith Baker who is still active in the community. His blog, Keith Baker.com, is filled with lots of great information on the setting and he's often available to answer your questions on the setting.
This was the home of the Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, and a dozen other classic modules that set the tone not only for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (also known as First Edition) but they became the standard that all future adventures would measured against. Greyhawk was created by Gary Gygax and boasts names like Mordenkainen, Tenser, Otiluke, Tasha, Leomund, and Rary; names that live on in every campaign through the spells that bear their name. Their spells, artifacts, and actions have become so iconic that even the Basic Game, which is supposed to take place in Forgotten Realms setting as a default, only has one spell with a name attached: Mordenkainen's Sword (pg. 98). Yet spells and artifacts only get you so far in a world that has setting crossing villains like the Arch-lich Vecna and the globe conquering Iuz the Old.
While Greyhawk has sadly been neglected for the last seven years by Wizards of the Coast it has not been by its legion of supporters. You can read about Greyhawk through the Oerth Journal (which is an amazing read practically every issue); through blogs like the Canonfire Crier, Greyhawkery, Greyhawk Grognard, and the Dyvers Campaign; and through the fantastic home of Greyhawk online: Canonfire.
The Forgotten Realms
This is the official setting, at least for the foreseeable future, of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition and you'll find out more about in the upcoming Player's Handbook and through its Campaign Source Book that's yet to be announced. Until then I suggest reading Ed Greenwood's fascinating Forging the Realms series.
Now that we've talked briefly about each of these settings you may find yourself wondering if creating your own game world would even be worth the effort. That's a question that only you will be able to answer. I will tell you, though, that one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Dungeon Master is world building.
This hobby is filled with strange dice that no one else in the world cares to use, and that's fine by us. Now you might be looking at those dice in the book and wondering where you're going to find them. The answer really isn't as difficult today as it was even ten years ago as you need simply go to one of the manufacturer's websites.
|Manzanita Burl d20s from Artisan Dice|
If money is no object for you then I highly suggest the dice made by Artisan Dice. You can customize them for your personal needs; and as a side note, there aren't many that will rival them for sheer beauty. The sets start around $30 for a full set of polyhedrals but I have my eyes on a custom set of apple wood polyhedrals (that's a $100 discussion for another day though).
|Crystal Caste Oblivion dice|
Crystal Dice produces some really neat shaped dice that are supposed to function just as well as the more traditionally shaped polyhedrals, though they do offer those as well. This line starts at $9.80 but provides lots of options (with an ever increasing price tag) to create your own personal set that will rarely be duplicated.
|Beige-black Dwarven dice set from Q-Workshop|
Q-Workshop is another manufacturer that produces some outstanding looking dice. Though I find that the patterns on these dice tend to make them difficult to read I've had players that will use nothing but these bad boys. They're more expensive than Crystal Dice (the beautiful set above starts at $17.00 + $6.50 shipping) but they offer a wide range of styles which makes them a good place to start looking for your own dice needs.
|Chessix Gemini Black-Blue / Gold Polyhedral Set|
Chessix is by and large the most common and easiest to find brand of dice on the market today. They offer a wide variety of dice for most every game you'll encounter and start around $6.99 a set. This is personally my favorite dice manufacturer and I own more sets from this company than any other.
What's All This About the d20?
There are three types of tasks that call for dice rolls to determine success: Ability Checks, Saving Throws, and Attack Rolls. We'll deal with each of these types of rolls more in depth later in the series but for now it's enough to understand when these rolls will be brought to bear. The Ability Check will be called for whenever your character attempts to do a task that goes beyond what a normal person could reasonably do without much effort (for example, you wouldn't be asked to roll for climbing a ladder, but you would for climbing a rock face without many discernible handholds). Saving Throws are rolled when your character is attempting to avoid certain types of damage, like when a wizard casts Fireball (pg. 90). Attack Rolls are done when you want to harm another creature with an offensive ability such as swinging your sword or casting certain magical spells. In all the cases mentioned above your goal is to beat the Difficulty Class (DC) of the task at hand. The DC will be determined by the Dungeon Master and will reflect the difficulty of the task being attempted.
When you attempt to complete a task you will have modifiers to your roll. These modifiers can come from a range of sources; such as, being proficient in a task (which we'll discuss in Part 3 (pgs. 6 - 9): Building a Character) or having an Ability Score that provides a bonus. Once you've been playing for a while it will be easy to determine which ones apply and how to combine certain situations to provide yourself with the best chance at success. For now though you just need to be aware that such things exist so that when we come to them later you'll be able to understand them.
Advantage & Disadvantage
By and far this is the most elegant and beautiful mechanic to be introduced with this edition. What this mechanic does is simplicity defined. In previous editions when you wanted to attempt a task you would have a slew of modifiers that would come to bare. At times you would have ten or more modifiers applied to a roll that would drastically affect your chances for success and as you leveled these would continue to increase. This, in turn, lead to a sort of arms race with the Dungeon Master constantly increasing the DC of tasks to keep the game challenging.
This mechanic eliminates a lot of difficulty by providing the Dungeon Master with a quick and easy way to provide you with either a positive or negative bonus to your rolls - without making you break out a calculator and hoping that you don't miss one of your modifiers. If you're in a situation where you hold an advantageous position, such as holding the high ground in combat, then the Dungeon Master will tell you that you're Advantaged. You then roll 2d20s, take the highest roll, and then add your modifiers to that result. If you're the one attacking from the low ground then your Dungeon Master will tell you that you're Disadvantaged. You then roll 2d20s, take the lowest roll, and then add your modifiers to that result.
This is an incredibly easy mechanic to use and after you've gone through a few tasks where it comes to play you'll soon find it speeding up the game at a tremendous rate (especially when compared to previous editions).
This game isn't designed to simulate working in a bar day after day and trying to earn a living (though you can certainly do that if you want); instead it's about going out into the world and living a life fraught with danger. You're an explorer in a world where there is no GPS and the maps are filled with blank spaces. You'll plunder long forgotten tombs, explore underground labyrinths where vile monsters lurk, just waiting to pick your bones clean. You'll talk to royalty and battle gangsters, evil cultists looking to bring their dark gods back to the world, and all manner of evil.
Because this is a game about being the hero of your own story. Your struggles, triumphs, and tragedies matter here because you matter. Welcome to hobby; you're in for a lifetime of fun!
Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
Part 2 (2 - 5): Worlds of Adventure
Part 3 (6 - 9): Building a Character the Easy Way
Part 3 (6 - 9): Building a Character the Easy Way