Jonathan notes: The following D20 Source article is the first by new contributor Brandan Landgraff. Brandan is a long-time roleplayer from Canada, and played a rogue-sorcerer in an online D&D v3.5 game of mine a few years ago. He currently runs D&D 4th edition and collects out-of-print RPG books.
With Eberron out properly by the end of July and Gencon Indy coming up in August, it stands to reason that weâ€™ll be hearing from Wizards pretty soon about what the next D&D campaign world to be released will be. There seems to be a general consensus of sorts that Dark Sun is the most likely setting for 2010, but itâ€™s far from the only option available. D&D campaign settings have a long and storied history and with Forgotten Realms and Eberron out of the way, the field looks pretty open for some of the old classics to make a comeback.
Letâ€™s take a quick look at some of the choices.
Dark Sun is set in the desert world of Athas, which has been devastated by powerful magic users. It features a rough, tough setting with plenty of psionics, harsh conditions, and a reputation for deadliness.
Why itâ€™s cool: Dark Sun introduced the Gladiator class back in AD&D, and has a feel unlike any other campaign setting with its psionics and the new races it offers. In a field rife with fairly generic fantasy offerings, Dark Sun stands out as something unique.
Why it may be in 2010: There has been at least one article related to Athas in the 4th edition Dragon magazine; the Dark Sun novel line has been put back into print since 4th Editionâ€™s release.
Why it may not be in 2010: Dark Sun has not seen any major support from official sources since AD&D 2nd Edition, in spite of a dedicated fan base.
Dragonlance was one of the most popular settings for D&D fiction, and the first to be intentionally produced as an RPG supplement with product tie-ins. The setting focuses on adventure and romance, with a heavy dose of dragons and related creatures.
Why itâ€™s cool: Dragonlance has a very strong flavor and with 200 or more novels and anthologies in print, is one of the most recognizable and popular D&D fiction settings.
Why it may be in 2010: Dragonlance is one of the most popular settings after Forgotten Realms, and one of the most widely recognized brands. Itâ€™s been mentioned in the 4e Manual of the Planes and in Draconomicon, and Wizards is currently holding a contest related to Dragonlance for a ticket to GenCon Indy to see the release of the new Dragonlance novel.
Why it may not be in 2010: Wizards staff have gone on record saying that the 2010 setting will be a “surprise”, which fits something like Dark Sun better than Dragonlance. While Dragonlance was supported in 3rd edition, support was nominal at best and the setting has seen an awful lot of system shuffling in the past. If it doesnâ€™t show up in 2010 though, it may be a strong contender for 2011.
Planescape is a fan-favorite setting that focuses on Sigil, the City of Doors, which is a nexus between all worlds. It is rife with factions and infighting and anything from anywhere can turn up somewhere.
Why itâ€™s cool: Planescape is just fundamentally an interesting and exciting setting for adventures. When you have access to everywhere imaginable, thereâ€™s no need to feel restricted at all. The fact that Sigil is so dangerous for the unwary doesnâ€™t hurt, either.
Why it may be in 2010: Sigil has already had a writeup in Manual of the Planes, in some detail, but that makes it part of the core setting. (Arguably itâ€™s part of every setting, just as every setting is part of it.) Itâ€™s also slated for a chapter in the DMG2 for release in September. Unfortunately, that also means that itâ€™s unlikely weâ€™ll see Planescape as a standalone campaign setting next year, or at all, since itâ€™s technically a part of the core Points of Light setting for 4th Edition.
Ravenloft began as a stand alone adventure in AD&D that quickly spawned a sequel and then a full fledged campaign setting. Featuring themes of gothic horror and some of D&D’s most iconic villains, it was and remains a popular setting.
Why it’s cool: Everyone loves a good bit of gothic horror. Dracula, Frankenstein, gypsies, and many more classic staples of the genre appear in some form in Ravenloft, though under different names.
Why it may be in 2010: Much like Planescape, Ravenloft won’t officially be released as a campaign setting, as it has been folded into the core Points of Light setting. Support for it is ongoing, if occasional, in Dragon magazine, with new Domains of Dread being detailed from time to time. They exist within the Shadowfell, rather than in a specific world, but the concept is similar and works fairly well. A complete Ravenloft novel was also released in weekly chapters in early 2009, free, on Wizards’ site. So while the campaign setting won’t be officially released in 2010 or likely at all, there is at least some support–arguably, more than Planescape is receiving, even.
Spelljammer, like Planescape, encompasses every other setting. Unlike Planescape, which uses the portals within Sigil as a means of transport, however, Spelljammer focuses on the use of magical ships that sail the Astral Seas between worlds.
Why it’s cool: Spelljammer is swashbuckling fantasy spaceships exploring the great unknown and hopping between worlds. It’s also the origin of the Giant Space Hamster–and by extension, the origin of the Miniature Giant Space Hamster, in some sense. Go for the eyes, Boo!
Why it may be in 2010: Stat blocks for Spelljammers have appeared in Manual of the Planes. As mentioned above, as well, Wizards has suggested that the setting choice for 2010 will be surprising–and with no official support since AD&D 2nd Edition, it would be pretty surprising to select Spelljammer over everything else.
Why it may not be in 2010: Actually the same reasons mentioned above apply in reverse as well. Most, if not all, of the tools required to run a Spelljammer-centric campaign are already in existence, and it would be a pretty surprising move to see Spelljammer chosen before more popular settings like Dragonlance or Greyhawk or even Planescape. Which is not to say that we’ll never see it, since it hasn’t officially been folded into Points of Light, but it’s not a strong contender for release next year.
Greyhawk was the implied setting of D&D 3rd Edition and has been a strong influence on the game since the inception, as it was Gary Gygax’s original setting. To many, it is synonymous with D&D itself.
Why it’s cool: Greyhawk may be generic fantasy at its most generic, but it traces its pedigree back to Gygax, which holds a lot of weight. Many of the game’s most iconic spells were named for characters in Greyhawk–just about any spell with a name was named for someone from Greyhawk–and many of the iconic adventures were originally set somewhere in the campaign world, such as Tomb of Horrors or Temple of Elemental Evil. Greyhawk was also the setting of the RPGA’s Living Campaign prior to the launch of 4th Edition and Living Forgotten Realms, so many experienced players feel a strong connection to the world and its development. If you’ve been playing D&D for more than a few years, Greyhawk may well be the setting you didn’t know you loved.
Why it may be in 2010: There is actually very little evidence that Greyhawk might be the next setting to see release, sadly. While the RPGA Rewards mailing for 2009 was an updated version of the classic adventure Village of Hommlet, Wizards have also stated somewhere that there exists a Tomb of Horrors or Temple of Elemental Evil in many campaign settings; the explicit link to Greyhawk has been retroactively removed. On the other hand, because the setting is so synonymous with the game, Wizards may want to throw their older players a peace offering by releasing it sooner rather than later, and there have actually been some indications that it is on the slate for future release–maybe just not yet.
Oriental Adventures is one of the more complicated possibilities in this list. It is, at least on the surface, fairly obvious what it represents as a campaign setting–monks, samurai, ninja, oni, and other Asian-themed character and setting options.
Why it’s cool: Samurai. Ninja. Monks. Kung-fu fighting. It’s a pretty popular set of options to have available.
Why it may be in 2010: The only real indication that we may see Oriental Adventures is the inclusion of the Monk in Player’s Handboook 3.
Why it may not be in 2010: Oriental Adventures is a bit of a complicated subject. Two previous editions have been printed. The first, for AD&D’s first edition, described the setting of Kara-Tur, which was eventually folded into the Forgotten Realms setting. The second, during Third Edition, used the setting of Rokugan, which originated in Legend of the Five Rings. AEG sold the IP to a different company, while retaining the RPG license; the IP was then sold to Wizards of the Coast, who created the third edition of Oriental Adventures before being themselves purchased by Hasbro, who, before the release of OA, sold the license to the highest bidder, which was AEG. Confused yet? The trouble, then, is that while Wizards have claimed that they will not release further books in a given campaign setting beyond the original player’s guide, campaign guide, and one adventure, Kara-Tur is in Forgotten Realms and Rokugan belongs to AEG (who happily supported both their Roll & Keep system and D20 during the third edition of D&D, but when they advanced to L5R’s third edition, they dropped D20 support as the Oriental Adventures book was no longer available.) On top of that, while Wizards had originally listed “Ki” as a power source in the original 4e PHB, the monk has been revised as a Psionic class, and the Design and Development article indicated that they felt it was unnecessary and rather racist to create a power source for “Asian-themed” classes, especially since they were having difficulty creating a unified feel for it. It stands to reason that not only is Oriental Adventures unlikely in 2010 for the above reasons, but it may not see print at all, at least not as Oriental Adventures or a previously existing setting.
Birthright was a campaign setting released by TSR revolving around characters of divine descent, with rules for political leadership.
Why it’s cool: You’re playing the descendants of gods, ruling by divine right. It’s pretty awesome. Also, political maneuvering is always a welcome addition to D&D, giving it more options than kicking down the door and taking a monster’s stuff.
Why it may be in 2010: Actually there’s no indication whatsoever that Birthright will be in 2010. Or even really that Wizards remembers it exists; it has not seen any official releases since 2005, and even then it was a free release online to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the original release. On the other hand, with 2010′s core books being focused on the Epic level of play, rules for running a kingdom wouldn’t be out of place either.
Al Qadim was a campaign setting with themes from Arabian Nights and all that entails.
Why it’s cool: Scheherezade found enough material to fill a thousand and one nights with stories; a setting based off those stories has enough material for a thousand and one more. It’s a setting full of adventure and excitement, and it’s one that sparks the imagination.
Why it may be in 2010: Again, there is no indication that Al Qadim is planned for 4th Edition release any time soon. Even in 3rd Edition there was very little, if any, official support for the setting, and many of the same reasons applied to Oriental Adventures apply–Al Qadim is within the Forgotten Realms, and could very easily be misconstrued as racist or at least disrespectful if not handled correctly, especially in this day and age.
Council of Wyrms
Council of Wyrms is a campaign setting from the TSR days that lets players take the role of dragons.
Why it’s cool: Dragons are pretty nifty, you have to admit. It’s the same sort of thing that led to the dragonborn.
Why it may be in 2010: Well… it probably won’t. Playing as a full-fledged dragon would completely change the game, and Wizards have a definite bent towards inclusiveness in this edition–a setting where some players are dragons and some aren’t would be imbalanced, and introducing dragon PCs to other settings wouldn’t work either. It’s always possible, but it’s very unlikely.
Mystara was, like Greyhawk, a generic setting. Used in early D&D modules, it was discontinued officially in 1995.
Why it’s cool: A couple of classic video games were made using the setting–mostly in the early 1990s, though. Otherwise it’s a pretty generic fantasy setting.
Why it may be in 2010: After 15 years it’d be pretty surprising to see it come back, especially as generic as it is. It’s extremely unlikely to see a sudden resurgence, and really it’s only mentioned here for completeness.
The Competition Winners
When Wizards of the Coast ran the contest that produced Eberron for them, they had a number of finalists. They have only released Eberron, but they did purchase the top three entries, one of which was created by Rich Burlew of Order of the Stick fame.
Why they’re cool: Eberron is pretty great. If the others are anywhere close to the same calibre, which they must have been to make it to finalist positions, then it’s a fair bet that they’re pretty great too.
Why they may be in 2010: It’d be a decent surprise to reveal a brand new setting for the 2010 campaign world, and it would draw in a lot of interest, especially if Rich Burlew’s setting was used–he has a large existing fanbase who would no doubt pick it up to see what it’s like.
Why they may not be in 2010: On the other hand, it makes little sense for Wizards to use their trump cards so early when they have such a fully developed backlog of existing settings, as we’ve explored briefly in this post. It would make more sense for Wizards to sit on those settings until the known settings with large fanbases have been covered, provided they have the rights for the immediate future covered, or until interest begins to flag and they feel the need to revitalize it with something brand new. It’s unlikely that they purchased those settings without the intent to use them, though, so it’s entirely probable that we’ll see at least one more before the end of the edition’s lifespan.
And with that, the list of contenders has been largely completed. There are a few other settings that have been produced but for various reasons they’re not especially likely to see support in 4th Edition the way the settings discussed here may. In any case, whatever Wizards chooses to release next year, there will be something to look forward to.