Two more classic D&D settings will come to 5th Edition — here are the ones we wish they’d add
Hot on the heels of Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and the best year for sales D&D has ever seen, we’re informed that Wizards of the Coast is still bringing out two classic D&D campaign settings in 2021. The 5th Edition uses the Forgotten Realms setting as its loose default, but over the years there have been quite a few worlds for players and DMs to explore, from the burnt world of Athas from the Dark Sun campaign setting, to the multiplanar Planescape campaign.
Currently there are several settings available for 5th Edition. In addition to Faerun, the world of the Forgotten Realms, there’s Eberron, the original Magic the Gathering settings of Theros and Ravnica — plus several semi-official books covering other MtG worlds — and the Critical Role campaign setting of Wildemount also got a campaign book. But as many worlds as we’ve already explored, with two new books coming to bring back older settings we have a few candidates left.
Many folks have wondered if the upcoming Strixhaven and Feywild books are intended to be these releases, but Ray Winninger at Wizards of the Coast has posted to Twitter that no, those two books are not the upcoming revamped older settings, and that those two products will likely be released in 2022. They will also be in formats ‘we’ve never seen before‘ which… I mean, usually campaign settings are released either in book or box set formats. What formats are there for printed media besides those? Pop up books? Magic Eye? Winninger also mentions that two entirely new settings are in development, as well as a return to a setting they’ve already covered — perhaps the Forgotten Realms are getting a new release?
I wanted to look at the campaign settings I think we’re most likely to see — and the one I wish was going to come back, but which probably won’t.
Fan favorites like Dragonlance and Dark Sun look likely
These two worlds are the ones I feel most likely to get a campaign setting book this year, based on recent Unearthed Arcana releases or other recent news.
My absolute front runner for a book this year is the Dragonlance world of Krynn. First off, we got a bunch of new options for Dragons in an Unearthed Arcana recently, and last year, the co-creators of Dragonlance, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, dismissed a $10 million dollar suit against Wizards of the Coast for breach of contract. To my mind, that almost certainly means that Weis and Hickman were somehow brought on board for a new product. Dragonlance remains one of the absolute favorite settings in D&D history, with massively successful novels, a less than spectacular animated series (I apologize for showing that to you) and many, many modules and adventures over the years. Krynn’s a big setting with multiple continents and a lot of history to explore, and famous, popular characters like Raistlin, Tanis, and Laurana all hail from the continent of Anasalon. Linking Krynn’s Draconians with the Dragonborn seems like an easy fit, and in general I’d bet money on the Dragonlance setting being one of the two coming back this year. If I had any. Which I don’t.
After Krynn, to my mind the next most likely world is Athas, home of the Dark Sun campaign. Psionics are a major part of the burnt world of Athas and we’ve seen several psionic subclasses in Unearthed Arcana in the past year. Like Krynn’s Draconians working well as Dragonborn, the Half-Giants of Athas would world well as Goliaths. Athas even got a 4th Edition D&D book that wouldn’t be hard at all to update to 5th Edition.
I think Athas is a solid contender, but a little less likely than Krynn. On Athas, just about everything is different — arcane magic defiles the world and has nearly stripped it of life, there are no gods to worship and thus no clerics of said gods, and beings called Sorcerer Kings — unfathomably powerful users of defiling arcane magic who seek immortality — rule various city states, and are served by Templars. Elves are nomadic thieves who rule out in the deserts, Dwarves are often enslaved and forced to breed with Humans to create Muls, astonishingly powerful but sterile hybrids with the build of Dwarves but the height of Humans, and Halflings are savages who might just eat you if they think they can get away with it, clinging to the few green places left in this ocean of sand. Plus, though the Athas 4th Ed sourcebook would be easy to stuff into 5th Ed, it’s also relatively recent — they may decide to go with a setting that hasn’t been revised in a while.
Less likely, but still strong contenders
One possibility that I really would like to see is the world of Oerth, the setting for the original World of Greyhawk campaign setting created by E. Gary Gygax as part of his home campaign. There has been a lot of material set in the world of Greyhawk over the years — it was the default setting for AD&D before the publication of the Forgotten Realms, and also returned as such in 3rd Edition. Even today, gods like Pelor (who is still listed as a Prime Deity in 5th Ed) and Tharizdun hail from Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign. Plus, with resources like the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer to draw upon, there’s a wealth of material to adapt to the new edition of the game.
Famous D&D luminaries like Mordenkainen, Bigby (of the various Hand spells), Tasha, Otiluke, and many more hail from Oerth, as does the dread dragon Dragotha. A great deal of the most famous adventures in D&D history — the Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, the Temple of Elemental Evil — these and many more are set on Oerth. The problem with adapting Greyhawk is, well, Oerth doesn’t really do anything that Faerun, Krynn, or Eberron don’t already do. It’s a semi-medieval fantasy setting with Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, etc etc. It may not be fair — I mean, all of those worlds came out after Oerth — but would a World of Greyhawk campaign really do anything you can’t get elsewhere?
I would argue yes. World of Greyhawk has the history of early D&D at its fingertips, and it would be an amazing world to see come to 5th Edition. But I do think we’re less likely to see it, just because it’s less of a divergence from what we already have — it’s more the inspiration for it.
Two options I’ll mention that I think we might get are the Spelljammer and Planescape settings, both of which involve fantastic destinations and entirely new modes of travel. Spelljammer is about flying magical ships through the cosmos, traveling to floating crystal spheres that bob in the phlogiston between worlds, and visiting the various planets and asteroids that hang within these enormous crystals. If you want to play a campaign of flying space pirates throwing fireballs at enemy ships with giant face tentacles, this is the setting for you. But the truth is, you could do Spelljammer without really releasing a new campaign setting — it could just be rules added on to your existing campaign and still capture the flavor of the original.
Similarly, while I love everything about Planescape — and I use elements of it all the time in my various D&D campaigns — I find myself thinking the same things about its wild, crazy, awesome extra-planar hijinks. They could easily be included in any campaign setting, and don’t need to be released as books of their own. The various planes that Sigil, the City of Doors touches upon could include any campaign world you’d like — you could get from Krynn to Oerth to Eberron, to Faerun or Athas there. So while I’d love to see either of these old setting adapted, I’d almost prefer they become part and parcel of D&D as a whole, just an accepted part of the setting that there’s a magical city in another dimension with doors to every other plane of existence, and magic ships that fly between planets.
Mystara, the darkest of all possible dark horse candidates
Finally, my own personal favorite, and a campaign setting with literal oodles of potential, but one I don’t think will get an adaptation to 5th Edition sadly — the original D&D known world, also known as Mystara. In an era when D&D is trying to modernize and repair some of the faulty cultural assumptions of the past, bringing Mystara into the 21st Century is a real opportunity to do exactly that.
The Known World — later named Mystara — originally just existed as a place for the various D&D box sets to set modules in. As a result, it’s one of the wildest and most disparate campaign settings ever devised, with a whole lot of work done after the fact to try and fit entirely divergent adventures into some kind of coherent world where things like an entire continent of ridiculously powerful magicians, a flying navy, and angry immortals could all make something approximating sense if you squinted really hard. This is a campaign setting for the version of D&D that had Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings as classes, and it brought those concepts into its worldbuilding, with some extremely weird and out there consequences.
I love this crazy quilt of a setting, as revealed in the exceptional Gazetteer series of supplements that did a lot of the hard word of codifying it — but I don’t expect it to be adapted to 5th Edition. It lacks a lot of the fan love that other settings like Krynn and Athas have. It’s rooted in much older editions of the game. While it’s got excellent modules like X1 — The Isle of Dread set in it, the very nature of the setting makes those modules easy enough to lift out and adapt to some other world. The really weird stuff, like the Hollow World sourcebooks, makes Mystara what it is but also makes it really challenging to adapt to 5th Edition. I’d love to see it, but I doubt I will.
So those are some of the options for returning campaign settings we might see D&D bring back this year. Got a favorite? That’s what the comments are for, my friends.
Originally published 5/24/2021, updated 5/15/2021
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