One of the most crucial parts of creating a game of Dungeons & Dragons is choosing a setting. Depending on the playstyle and intended vibes, various settings may be more or less attractive for a group. Looking for something spooky and haunted? Ravenloft is a good bet. Want to recapture the wonder and awe of Greek or Roman mythology? Theros is the place for you.
Of course, you needn’t limit yourself to the settings presented. Most adventures have enough wiggle room that they can be placed in just about any setting, even one you make up yourself. The fantastic thing about D&D is that you’re only bound by your own imagination. However, not everyone has the time or energy to create a world from scratch, and that’s where the following worlds come in.
- The Forgotten Realms
- Sword Coast
- Icewind Dale
- The World of Greyhawk
A Quick Note
Before plunging headlong into a D&D setting, we’d like to kindly remind you to do your research. While not mentioned in 5th edition, plenty of locations from previous editions are appealing and might seem like great places to set your stories. Some of these settings, like Spelljammer, were intensely popular in previous editions and are on their way to 5th.
However, some older settings based on specific human cultures have been discontinued or dropped from the continuity due to negative racial stereotypes and disrespectful representation. This isn’t true for all older settings, and plenty of them can easily be adapted for new adventures. In addition, at your table, anything goes. Even settings with poor representation can be changed and reformatted to better suit the world around us.
If you’re interested in learning more about unofficial Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings written by collaborating individuals under the Creative Commons License, check out our other article on the subject.
The Forgotten Realms
The Forgotten Realms are often conceived as the default setting for Dungeons & Dragons. The Forgotten Realms are a medieval-style fantasy land populated by mostly European-inspired towns and cities. Technologically, these settings often resemble Earth in the 12-the 1300s, but anything can happen with magic added to the mix. When a new adventure book or sourcebook is released that doesn’t specify an overall world, it’s within the Forgotten Realms.
Plenty of great books set in specific locations within the world of Toril can make for an excellent one-shot or long-term campaign. The primary continent is known as Faerun, home to Icewind Dale and the Sword Coast, listed in more detail below. Faerun is an enormous expanse, with every climate and biome imaginable.
Even if the Sword Coast and Icewind Dale don’t sound appealing, there are plenty of other places in Faerun to visit. It’s also a great place to ensconce a town, village, or city of your own making. Many DMs who eventually work up to building their own worlds start by making something within Faerun since it is such a large and diverse space.
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage
Swashbuckling adventure on the high seas awaits everyone who visits the Sword Coast! Of course, it isn’t all about dashing pirates and the depths of the ocean’s dark abyss. There are plenty of settlements that you can visit and make nice with the locals (or not), and even a swamp to explore.
However, most people prefer to spend their time in Waterdeep or Baldur’s Gate, two of the main cities on the Sword Coast setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Waterdeep is known for its lax laws and a standing invitation to shadier folk, while Baldur’s Gate is a thriving port town. These cities have plenty of denizens of all persuasions who might even be persuaded to lend your party a helping hand or give you something to do. At a price, of course.
Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
Tropical coasts not your jam? Well, Icewind Dale might be the ticket. It features a frozen tundra, dotted with sparsely populated towns and inhabited by people far more suspicious of living creatures than the icy wastes they’re used to. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of deadly things lurking in the icy depths below, just that the hardy people of Ten-Towns are prepared for what may come.
What Icewind Dale lacks in population density, though, it makes up for in tragic histories. Plenty of powerful mages have ventured to the wastes to put their heinous experiments to the test, away from the prying eyes of polite society. Those experiments haven’t always gone according to plan, and, more often than not, your party will be forced to deal with the fallout even centuries later.
Eberron Rising From The Last War, Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron
Inspired by movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy, Eberron provides a unique take on a steampunk fantasy world that is positively riddled with hardboiled detectives. Or, at least, people who act like them. Drawing themes from noir genres into D&D might seem like a stretch, but the mysteries of the seedy underbelly are always enticing.
Of Eberron, most adventures take place in and around Khorvaire, the most densely populated continent. Unlike traditional D&D settings, Eberron has pretty advanced technology and everything from firearms to flying machines. Of course, magic in another location could mimic any technological advancement. Still, there is something gritty about describing the rusted gears and cogs turning as something rattles down the road.
The World of Greyhawk
Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Tales From the Yawning Portal
Initially introduced in 1980, the World of Greyhawk has undergone multiple iterations as two separate companies own the IP. Currently, some of the older material has been republished for 5th edition, but the central place you’ll see Greyhawk nowadays is in the Saltmarsh, a location heavily inspired by HP Lovecraft’s towns by the sea.
Saltmarsh is in the country Keoland and is populated mainly by fishermen. Whether they catch their food, smuggle goods across the water, or sail the boats, everyone makes a living from the water. It isn’t a large town, but it’s big enough to attract the riffraff you’re used to seeing: thieves, pirates, cultists worshipping horrible eldritch beings that have stayed below the waves for eons…you know the drill.
Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica
The first of many settings from Magic: The Gathering to make the jump to Dungeons & Dragons, Ravnica is every steampunk-obsessed person’s wet dream. A single city large enough to encompass an entire planet, Ravnica is a high-magic place with a wide variety of guilds for players to join that both patronize their group and pose quests. It’s a good introduction for people who’ve never played before.
Players can choose from 10 distinct guilds, all of which have tenuous alliances and bitter rivalries with other guilds. Ravnica is ideal for players who want to stay entirely within a city environment, without worrying about natural dangers or going too long without running into a familiar face.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus
Have you ever wanted to go to Hell? Just to see what it’s like? Well, Avernus is the perfect way to do that without endangering the possibility of your immortal soul. Although not specified directly, Avernus takes its inspiration from lofty sources like Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and the Christian Bible’s various depictions of Hell.
It may not seem very inviting, and that’s on purpose: no one ends up in D&D Hell on accident. Mortals must consciously decide to visit Avernus or be taken there against their will; you can’t stumble across it. However, characters in D&D are not sentenced to Avernus if they were terrible people during their lives, and it doesn’t exactly function as an afterlife.
Also known as the Nine Hells (although Dante only wrote about seven circles of Hell), this world is constantly engulfed by fire and an altogether unpleasant place to vacation. Your players may need a good reason to visit Avernus, but once they’ve arrived, they’ll find the tempers hot and the temperatures hotter. One thing to remember is that devils and demons are different creatures who are diametrically opposed, so make sure you never confuse the two.
Mythic Odysseys of Theros
Like Ravnica, Theros is a setting from Magic: The Gathering brought to the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Based on Greek and Roman mythology, the centaurs and satyrs are just the beginning of the fascinating world. Monsters straight from The Odyssey, Hercules, and other famous Greek myths are present and scheming within the mountains and dales of Theros, waiting for true heroes to come.
Theros’ sweeping landscape and larger-than-life grandiosity are the perfect places to start if your group is fond of sweeping epics and the intense tragedy (or comedy) that is so common in ancient mythology. You can even make characters with flaws, something not mechanically possible in most settings. All heroes are connected in some way to the divine, and gods and goddesses are free with both their blessings and curses.
The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
While the only continent currently featured in the Dungeons & Dragons canon is Wildemount, the popularity of the show Critical Role and their TV show The Legend of Vox Machina is sure to eventually bring the rest of the world of Exandria into play. Wildemount is made up of various countries, some with rising tensions that might lead to an all-out war if you aren’t careful.
Both the Kryn Dynasty and the Dwendalian Empire make for fantastic settings to explore political intrigue and a heavier focus on role-playing. Matthew Mercer, the world’s creator, is an actor by trade. The book focuses primarily on the culture and histories of the cities and their peoples, so anyone looking to dip their toes in a fleshed-out society will delight in what there is on offer.
Players can also take a break from the political tension along the Menagerie Coast and enjoy a spectacular performance by the Ruby of the Sea in Nicodranas. Or, your players might prefer the biting winds of Eiselcross, where the remains of an ancient floating city from a forgotten age pose a much more significant threat than the possibility of some distant war.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, Curse of Strahd
Ravenloft is likely the closest the family-friendly game D&D will ever get to a scary setting. Here, vampires and evil spirits roam, and the undead is just another part of your daily routine. The sourcebook makes an effort to explain how to make the game scary, somewhat eerie, or campy, depending on your players’ comfort.
If you want to make things spookier, some additional mechanics make the typically forgiving death-saving throws and other emotional hardships of the game into real problems to worry about. By raising the stakes (metaphorically and literally), you can introduce your friends into a world of their worst nightmares. Or let them be the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Your choice.
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
One of the newest settings for D&D is Arcavios, although fans of Magic: The Gathering likely recognize the name. As the owners of both Ips, Wizards of the Coast has been slowly moving toward this crossover for some time now, including the aforementioned Theros. Their latest sourcebook features multiple adventures inside Strixhaven; a magical university made up of 5 distinct colleges.
This setting is ideal for whacky hijinks and an altogether fun time. While the world of Arcavios has plenty of lore fleshed out, only the school is currently featured in D&D. It is an excellent setting for a high-magic campaign since every student has at least a few spells regardless of race or class. Many of the schools’ NPCs (students and faculty alike) have enough detail to make for a long and satisfying campaign full of drama, detentions, and maybe even young love.
As you can see, there are many different official settings for Dungeons & Dragons that will fit the gameplay, theme, and style of your particular group. And, of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to the settings presented. Most adventures have enough wiggle room that they can be placed in just about any setting, even one you make up yourself. The fantastic thing about D&D is that you’re only bound by your own imagination. But, just in case you don’t want to create your own setting, these official settings are here.