Default Setting

The "default setting" of D&D is the context that is implied by the Rules As Written. This doesn't refer to any specific fantasy world, like Greyhawk or Mystara. Rather, it takes the "core rules" as a whole and explores the implications and assumptions inherent in such a system.

This article in the D&D wiki is a great example:
"D&D represents a period in history that is most closely identifiable with the Iron Age: the landscape is dotted with tribes and aspiring empires, the wilderness is largely unexplored, and powerful individuals and small groups can take over an area without having a big geopolitical hubbub about it."
In my opinion, it also closely resembles the Wild West (or rather, its fictional depiction) but with swords and sorcery instead of six-shooters. When adventurers reach "name level" they will tend to migrate to the frontier of civilization to establish their stronghold in unclaimed territory. The discovery of an ancient dungeon and its promise of income mobility might spur a gold rush, similar to Dakota in the 19th century. Deadwood and Tombstone are good models for the type of boom towns that would spring up in the D&D wilderness.

One thing that the default setting does have in common with the (pre-feudal) dark ages is a post-apocalyptic element: echoes of the fall of Rome, or the destruction of fabled Atlantis. Major cities will be built on the ruins of former civilizations, when epic magic and artefacts were commonplace. After the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths in 410AD, its population gradually declined until it was reduced to a few scattered settlements amidst sprawling ruins. Most other former Roman cities were in a similar condition. The closest metropolis (population over 25,000) was Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire. The Byzantines viewed the inhabitants of western Europe as illiterate savages.

I'm not saying that this default setting is necessarily any better than any of the other published settings for fantasy roleplaying. However, it is certainly very different from the feudal, agrarian society that is described in many sourcebooks. Other RPGs, such as Blue Rose, Ars Magica and even Rolemaster, are much better at portraying a High Medieval or Early Renaissance setting consistently.

However, I like the default setting of D&D. If you're going to create a homebrew campaign, then I think it's a good place to start.

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