It's difficult, if not impossible, to sift through the multiple fantasy settings created for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game and decisively identify the best one, in no small part because each fantasy setting is designed to appeal to different subjective tastes and interests. For instance, the Dragonlance setting exemplifies the high fantasy ethos pioneered by The Lord Of The Rings, while The Forgotten Realms setting is a heroic fantasy world that focuses more on the smaller-scale exploits of roguish heroes. It is, however, possible to make somewhat objective statements about what the Dragonlance setting does better than Forgotten Realms, and also what Forgotten Realms does better than Dragonlance.SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY
The first fantasy settings created for D&D grew naturally out of the first two RPG campaigns separately run by the two creators of Dungeons & Dragons. Dave Arneson, who came up with the core concept of players controlling individual heroes in a world of magic and monsters, created a fantasy setting called Blackmoor, named after the dungeon-filled castle players explored in his game sessions. Gary Gygax, who hammered out and play-tested the rules that would become first edition D&D, created his own setting called Greyhawk, named after a fictional metropolis of rogues and wizards called the Free City of Greyhawk. Both these settings exemplified the sub-genre of fantasy called sword-and-sorcery, where wandering heroes a la Conan the Barbarian or Fafhrd And the Grey Mouser engage in both heroic and criminal exploits amid haunted wilds, decadent cities, and sinister ruins.
Related: Dungeons & Dragons Creator Couldn't Release Another Game With D&D Initials
As old school Dungeons & Dragons and its campaign modules became a runaway success, game developers at Tactical Studies Rules started creating more content for the Basic and Advanced versions of D&D - new dungeon modules, new compendiums of magic, items, and monsters, and even new fantasy worlds designed to inject new themes and challenges into the dungeon-crawling gameplay of the world's first RPG. Ravenloft, for instance, was steeped in the gothic horror tropes of Dracula and Frankenstein, featuring a mist-filled land of nightmares, monsters, and frightened villagers ruled over by inhuman lords such as the vampire Strahd von Zarovich. The D&D setting called Dark Sun, in contrast, invokes planetary romance sagas like sci-fi's John Carter or Dune and is geared toward telling stories of savage survival in a magic-scorched world of deserts, immortal god-tyrants, and heroes with psionic powers. The Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance settings, compared to other D&D campaign worlds, are classic examples of the western heroic fantasy genres; each setting, however, approaches the heroic fantasy genre in its own unique way, generating campaign modules and novel adaptations designed to appeal to specific fantasy fans and RPG players.
D&D's Dragonlance Setting Tells Epic Stories About The Balance Between Good And Evil
Created by the husband and wife creative team Laura and Tracy Hickman, and named after a set of ancient dragon slaying weapons wielded by knights who ride into battle on the backs of friendly dragons is the classic Dragonlance fantasy setting of D&D. The first trilogy of official Dragonlance novels, written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman in the early 1980s, established the official tone of tabletop RPGs set in the universe of the same name, with a group of friends who literally meet in a classic fantasy tavern getting sucked into an adventure of increasingly high stakes and portents. The group of friends eventually become the Heroes of the Lance, fighting on the front lines of a war against the dark armies and wicked dragon servants of the goddess Takhisis, Queen of Darkness.
The high fantasy themes of Dragonlance, frequently likened to an RPG version of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, make it a setting well suited for Dungeon Masters looking to run campaigns about good people fighting evil with both grand deeds and invisible acts of kindness or mercy. The setting of Dragonlance is also full of flavorful and distinct world-building details such as the Three Moons every wizard draws their magic from, and cultures of Gnomes and Halfling-esque Kenders infamous for their mad tinkering and kleptomania respectively. The extensive, detailed world-building of Dragonlance may in fact be its greatest weakness; it's a setting tuned to the telling of epic tales about achieving both internal and external balance between Good and Evil, making it hard to tell stories with a different tone.
D&D's Forgotten Realms Tells Stories About Feuding Factions And Conspiracies
In many respects, Dungeons & Dragons' default setting the Forgotten Realms, created by author/game designer Ed Greenwood, checks off all the boxes in the classic western fantasy genre. It's a world of scattered kingdoms separated by lush, monster-haunted wildernesses, with ruins from ancient ages of magic acting as magnets for adventurers and grave robbers seeking treasures and relics of power. Signature Forgotten Realms protagonists such as Drizzt Do'Urden and his Companions rarely, if ever, face off against evil overlords seeking to destroy or dominate the entire world, but do confront their fair share of demon lords, evil mages, ambitious conquerers, and sinister schemers.
Related: All 36 Dungeons & Dragons 5e Deities From The Forgotten Realms
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Forgotten Realms classic D&D campaign setting is its sheer number of secret conspiracies and agenda-driven factions. Player characters in a Forgotten Realms campaign set in the Sword Coast region can join and rise through the ranks of organizations such as the Harpers (freedom-loving performers who fight for the downtrodden), the Emerald Enclave (protectors of nature), the Lord's Alliance (power-brokering aristocrats), The Order Of The Gauntlet (holy slayers of evil), and the Zhentarim (profit-and-graft-seeking criminals). The Forgotten Realms also has its share of antagonist factions and conspiracies - cults dedicated to dragons and elemental energies and cabals such as the Red Wizards of Thay, an aristocracy of wicked spell-casters who've cornered the magical item trade.
As stated previously, it's hard to say whether Dragonlance or the Forgotten Realms is the better Dungeons & Dragons world for DMs. Compared to Dragonlance, however, Forgotten Realms is a much more versatile setting for Dungeon Masters, who can easily use the setting to tell epic stories of heroes saving the world (as seen in the Baldur's Gate video games) along with more gritty stories of treasure-hunting adventurers with loose morals and smaller-scale challenges to overcome. Wizards Of The Coast likely chose to make Forgotten Realms the default setting of D&D's fifth edition precisely because of this narrative flexibility.