The Joy of a Blank Map - What 5th Editions Default Setting Should Be

From my blog here please go and comment as you will

The announcement of 5th edition, or D&D Next, came with another announcement. That the Forgotten Realms would be the games default setting. The Realms is big, it has a rich history and a rich future. It has novels set in its cities and wilderness, it is the home to some of D&D's most well known heroes and villains.

And for anyone starting the game with this next edition, it will be the default world that their characters call home when they sit down to play. And, its a good world. Its big! It has a lot of preexisting resources that WotC can republish. Anything can happen in the Realms, and that's a great thing.

But, as a DM and a player, I have a small request. It is one that for WotC would have a negligible cost and would help countless DMs who are interested in world building and setting creation, those of us who want to play in our own sandboxes.

Give us professionally crafted maps of large landmasses, continents, archipelagos, sub-continents, etc. Put the forests, mountains, cities, and towns on there, fill it with interesting terrain and little dots to let us know where things are.

But don't label any of it.

The default setting of D&D should be a nearly blank map. A world mysterious to the players, full of danger and unknown terror.

A nearly blank map would give DMs creative control over their world. Don't know anything about the realms? Don't want to learn the complex political structure of Ebberon? Want to start with a blank slate and populate it with what monsters and civilizations you choose?

Here's your map. This city here, on this river, what's in it? Who lives there? Is it a city of human nobles at war with the elves in the nearby forest? Is it full of thieves and river bandits, allied with the gnolls? Or, perhaps its a city in ruins, waiting to be explored.

No presumptions on the part of WotC or the players. It is up to the DM to tell their players what they know about the world surrounding their tiny village. A world ripe for exploration.

For some of us, the Realms and other per-generated worlds don't give us the freedom we like. They have too much baggage, whether its in the form of novels or source books or even just adventures. The more the Nentir Vale got filled in with "stuff" the more I disliked it. The more crowded with other peoples ideas it felt.

A blank map though, of that area? A lovely thing.

Then you can publish cities that can be dropped into these maps, dungeons and ruins that all the DM has to to is pick a dot on his map and say "Here is where the lost ruins of Kalab'ahran, the Bright City of the Dwarves, lies."

Entire cultures can be created, free from the tyranny of published settings. Want to create an interesting clan of elves? Want to give Orcs their own kingdom where the Orc King worships Erathis? Here is a blank map where WotC and others have no assumptions or hold on you. Put them where you like.

I will admit that this desire comes from a simple problem: I am not a cartographer. I have no skill at drawing worlds. And when I do its basic colored marker and pen, on white paper. A professionally done map though? Would be an inspiration. For myself, I will admit, and others.

For those of you who enjoy published settings I do not suggest that WotC abandon these worlds. Athas, Abeir-Toril, Oerth, and even the world of the Nentir Vale all have their stories to tell us.

I would just like a blank world, or a series of them, where the only thing telling me what lies over the next hill is what I want to put there, not what someone else wanted.

Thank you.
I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
I'm drawing from here "The Forgotten Realms will be supported from the start, and a video game art studio from China has been hired to fully detail the Realms. I asked if going forward support would be continued for the current time after the Spellplague and the Neverwinter Campaign. A WotC spokesperson answered, "The Forgotten Realms has a rich history and we will support all of it. It is for the gamers to decide which time they would enjoy playing in." That would allow Wizards to take advantage of a massive back catalog of products; however, there are no current plans that we know of for other settings - we assume these will follow in later years."

That is where my conclusion comes from. FR will be the first CS to be supported out of the gate, with other settings to follow. As generic as it is, the Vale and PoL is a campaign setting.

I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
You know, we had that back in the day.  It was in the old D&D Expert Book.  We called it The Known World.  Eventually it became Mystara, but before that it was more of a mystery  Some areas were named.  A few people of interest were vaguely described.  There was a home town.  But, it was yours to flesh out back then with a few suggestions in the book if you wanted them.  Sure, the modules releasd were placed in areas on the map, but one person's Known World could be different than the others.  It depended on the DM.  I think something similar in the next D&D would be cool.

I love the forgotten realms campaign setting and would love to see it be the default setting for the D&D game. If this is the case I would love for them to put out an all new  forgotten realms campaign settening  with a complete time line written and edited by Ed Greenwood just as , he would like it to be. Don’t dumb it down don’t censor it and just let Ed do as he will. At the end of the day his opinion of the realms is the only one that matters, so if he wanted to have some undiscovered countery on his world map i would be fine with that.

I wonder if WotC could pull off a random world generator in D&D Insider?   I would imagine that certain parameters could be inserted, like the % of ocean and % land.  Then for the land % mountain, desert, plains ect.  Pick a level of civilized world population (low, medium, high) to determine number of settlements.  After all the info is added click the world create button and a random map appears.  Make adjustments if necessary.


The problems:  it could be too complicated to pull off, the artwork wouldn’t be as good as a set world map, maybe others too.


The advantage:  It would be much more flexible than a fixed map.

I don't know how much it costs to have someone design a map and cartograph it, if that's the correct phrasing. It is something they have to do for any new campaign system, any new city, and even dungeon maps.

I just think it would be nice if a few times a year, perhaps as part of DDI, they would create a map like I have described and release it for us to use. They already try to set adventures in suitably generic settings with advice on how to add them to your own world.

If D&D is about supporting the players and DMs in creating interesting stories and playing a fun game, and D&D Next is about being modular and letting people play how they want, then a series of open maps would only promote that type of play experience.
I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
You know, we had that back in the day.  It was in the old D&D Expert Book.  We called it The Known World.  Eventually it became Mystara, but before that it was more of a mystery  Some areas were named.  A few people of interest were vaguely described.  There was a home town.  But, it was yours to flesh out back then with a few suggestions in the book if you wanted them.  Sure, the modules releasd were placed in areas on the map, but one person's Known World could be different than the others.  It depended on the DM.  I think something similar in the next D&D would be cool.



I agree, have the default setting encourage homebrewing rather than have everything mapped and written about. Gamers who want more detail given to them could be served by Forgotten Realms.

I wonder if WotC could pull off a random world generator in D&D Insider?   I would imagine that certain parameters could be inserted, like the % of ocean and % land.  Then for the land % mountain, desert, plains ect.  Pick a level of civilized world population (low, medium, high) to determine number of settlements.  After all the info is added click the world create button and a random map appears.  Make adjustments if necessary.


The problems:  it could be too complicated to pull off, the artwork wouldn’t be as good as a set world map, maybe others too.


The advantage:  It would be much more flexible than a fixed map.



It's certainly doable. Not even a particularly new task.

Yes, it wouldn't be the best map ever, but map generation is something that has been done before, and could certainly be done again in a more D&D themed style.
Does anyone see any major problems with having near "Tabula Rasa" style maps like I describe being made available (perhaps as many as 4 / year) at the same time that other campaign settings are being produced?
I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
Does anyone see any major problems with having near "Tabula Rasa" style maps like I describe being made available (perhaps as many as 4 / year) at the same time that other campaign settings are being produced?


4/year seems like it would be too many to actually sell.

Maybe in the first year you could get away with 4, but in later years, well, you're only actually going to be using one of the Tabula Rasa maps per campaign.

Unless, instead of each map being a world it's a region/continent, in which case you might be able to up the numbers a bit.  
Does anyone see any major problems with having near "Tabula Rasa" style maps like I describe being made available (perhaps as many as 4 / year) at the same time that other campaign settings are being produced?


4/year seems like it would be too many to actually sell.

Maybe in the first year you could get away with 4, but in later years, well, you're only actually going to be using one of the Tabula Rasa maps per campaign.

Unless, instead of each map being a world it's a region/continent, in which case you might be able to up the numbers a bit.  



What if you include them as part of DDI?

I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
What if you include them as part of DDI?


They'd be a nice bonus for DDI subscribers, I could see them getting a few extra people to subscribe. Definitely a better choice than trying to sell them individually in gaming stores. Could swing a profit, and would work well for publishing adventures (have blank maps, but also adventures that mention suggested locations on those maps, so that people who want some help filling them out can go with it)
(This is sort of a reply to DimondDust)

Oddly, I've considered using Dwarf Fortress to generate such a blank map.  Taking only the world map data, you get landforms with interesting names (Like the "Blueness of Malodors" or "The Joyful Steppes" -- enough to work off for deciding the character of a region, but not so much you would feel choked, I don't think), and the locations of major towns and cities.  If you play around with the advanced paramaters, you can get really, really precise on the tenor of the world you want to generate, from a waterless neo-arakkis to a complex and sprawling archipelligo.

Of course, the system takes some time to master even with reference material in order to get desired results, and you have to be able to live with your map output looking something like this...



I find it perfectly readalbe (all sorts of landforms, coasts and inland seas.  I can even spot elven and dwarven settlements), but it's not for everybody...

"Enjoy your screams, Sarpadia - they will soon be muffled beneath snow and ice."
On Worldbuilding - On Crafting Aliens - Pillars of Art and Flavor - Simulationism, Narritivism, and Gamism - Shub-Niggurath in D&D
THE COALITION WAR GAME -Phyrexian Chief Praetor
Round 1: (4-1-2, 1 kill)
Round 2: (16-8-2, 4 kills)
Round 3: (18-9-2, 1 kill)
Round 4: (22-10-0, 2 kills)
Round 5: (56-16-3, 9 kills)
Round 6: (8-7-1)

Last Edited by Ralph on blank, 1920

I prefer the idea of a mysterious blank map as the default setting rather than Forgotten Realms personally, mainly because I dislike the "everything is in the Realms" philosophy of that setting.  I realize it's probably the most popular just because of that, but those that know and love the realms can get that from a setting book or boxed set, don't put that in the core rules.

It leaves the group open to do anything they like, start in a city, start in a village, start in a blank spot on the map - whatever they want rather than coming with the baggage of a known world.  Some would counter that "the baggage" is a plus and for some it is, but D&D is about using your imagination, not being spoon fed someone else's imagination.  It also leaves things open for Wizards to produce lots of generic setting stuff, a village, a city, a kingdom - whatever, just buy it and drop it on the map wherever you like, building your own setting as you go.  That's better than any canned setting any day of the week for me.

Granted, when you're lacking on time/desire for doing your own thing, that's where setting books/boxed sets come in.Cool

I wonder if WotC could pull off a random world generator in D&D Insider?   I would imagine that certain parameters could be inserted, like the % of ocean and % land.  Then for the land % mountain, desert, plains ect.  Pick a level of civilized world population (low, medium, high) to determine number of settlements.  After all the info is added click the world create button and a random map appears.  Make adjustments if necessary.


The problems:  it could be too complicated to pull off, the artwork wouldn’t be as good as a set world map, maybe others too.


The advantage:  It would be much more flexible than a fixed map.



It's certainly doable. Not even a particularly new task.

Yes, it wouldn't be the best map ever, but map generation is something that has been done before, and could certainly be done again in a more D&D themed style.


Thanks for letting me know Kingreaper.

@ Tevish_Szat:  Quite informative, by the way is this a world map or a map of a continent?
  
I prefer the idea of a mysterious blank map as the default setting rather than Forgotten Realms personally, mainly because I dislike the "everything is in the Realms" philosophy of that setting.  I realize it's probably the most popular just because of that, but those that know and love the realms can get that from a setting book or boxed set, don't put that in the core rules.

It leaves the group open to do anything they like, start in a city, start in a village, start in a blank spot on the map - whatever they want rather than coming with the baggage of a known world.  Some would counter that "the baggage" is a plus and for some it is, but D&D is about using your imagination, not being spoon fed someone else's imagination.  It also leaves things open for Wizards to produce lots of generic setting stuff, a village, a city, a kingdom - whatever, just buy it and drop it on the map wherever you like, building your own setting as you go.  That's better than any canned setting any day of the week for me.

Granted, when you're lacking on time/desire for doing your own thing, that's where setting books/boxed sets come in.



It also gives players some creative control.

DM: You are all from either this Big Town or one of these 3 tiny villages. Player 1, what is the name of the big town and tell me 1 thing about it.
Player 1: Well (looking at map) I see its near a forest and a river, so what about Riverwood, and it and the elves of the nearbye forest united against a tribe of goblins about 20 years ago!
DM: That's great. Player 2, tell me about this tiny village here.

And so on and so forth until everyone has given input and fleshed out the area they are going to be starting out in.

I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P


@ Tevish_Szat:  Quite informative, by the way is this a world map or a map of a continent?
  


Either.  normally DF generated maps tend towards a singular continent, but if you play around with settings you can get multiple continents in your "world".  It's internally referred to as either a "world" or a "region".  Frankly, I'd say a big dwarf fortress map (the one I posted is a medium to small sample -- this is big) is enough for one hell of a campaign world.

"Enjoy your screams, Sarpadia - they will soon be muffled beneath snow and ice."
On Worldbuilding - On Crafting Aliens - Pillars of Art and Flavor - Simulationism, Narritivism, and Gamism - Shub-Niggurath in D&D
THE COALITION WAR GAME -Phyrexian Chief Praetor
Round 1: (4-1-2, 1 kill)
Round 2: (16-8-2, 4 kills)
Round 3: (18-9-2, 1 kill)
Round 4: (22-10-0, 2 kills)
Round 5: (56-16-3, 9 kills)
Round 6: (8-7-1)

Last Edited by Ralph on blank, 1920

I really like the idea of a blank map and no default setting.
It also gives players some creative control.


Indeed, I intended to, but forgot to mention that.Cry
The use for a default setting is gods. Divine classes need soem direction in the PHB. I remember when we first started playing DnD. It was during 2e and there were no gods in the PHB. Needless to say it left us 12 years old a bit confused and our lack of experience only provided us with lame pantheons and lame fluff for clerics.



I disagree.  The PHB needs say nothing at all about specific gods/powers.  Just mention that clerics, paladins, druids etc serve them &/or their churches/causes & thus gain spells.

This leaves the system completely open to fit the creative needs of whoever is using it - and without wasting space.
Then if you want to know about the gods?  Go buy the Dieties & Demi-gods book (or it's modern equivelent).  Or visit a library.  Or just google it.

As for myself?  Like you I (and my brother, cousin, & a friend) all started playing this stuff at about 10 yrs old.
But even by that tender age we alreadry knew (some) about Greek, Egyptian, & Norse myths. 
And American Indians. 
Plus of course God... 
Oh, and the Force & Conans world.
Somewhere in there we also figured out that China & the Aztecs had a bunch of gods as well.

Anyways the real world stuff was - and still is - WAY more interesting than whatever TSR made up to fill Greyhawk, the FR, etc. 
Why should we play with Pelor & co. when we could have Thor, Appollo, some really cool looking but unpronouncable Chinese/Aztec guy, Anubis, etc etc etc?
So guess what flavors of gods our games ran with?   
But nobody will stop Thor from being in your game.

Established hokey religions are a staple of any good fantasy world.  Make them almost obnoxiously pious, respectful and etc.  Pelor is generic as hell but his name is just part of D&D.  It needs to maintain a language and consistency to maintain social relevance and unifying the divine classes of all the tables under the same pantheon is pretty helpful to that.

That said our current homebrew gods involve the gods of the postal service, drunken debauchery, and scary books.  Makes the clerics really neat.



More on topic, yes, giant blank maps are awesome.
I'm drawing from here "The Forgotten Realms will be supported from the start, and a video game art studio from China has been hired to fully detail the Realms. I asked if going forward support would be continued for the current time after the Spellplague and the Neverwinter Campaign. A WotC spokesperson answered, "The Forgotten Realms has a rich history and we will support all of it. It is for the gamers to decide which time they would enjoy playing in." That would allow Wizards to take advantage of a massive back catalog of products; however, there are no current plans that we know of for other settings - we assume these will follow in later years."

That is where my conclusion comes from. FR will be the first CS to be supported out of the gate, with other settings to follow. As generic as it is, the Vale and PoL is a campaign setting.



That's a big leap to saying FR is the default setting. It could (highly likely) just mean one of the first supplements, released simultaneously but seperately with the core books, is the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.

Again, this is something to unify the fanbase. For as popular as the Realms are, they are also very unpopular. I doubt WotC would try to push the Realms like that.
I'm drawing from here "The Forgotten Realms will be supported from the start, and a video game art studio from China has been hired to fully detail the Realms. I asked if going forward support would be continued for the current time after the Spellplague and the Neverwinter Campaign. A WotC spokesperson answered, "The Forgotten Realms has a rich history and we will support all of it. It is for the gamers to decide which time they would enjoy playing in." That would allow Wizards to take advantage of a massive back catalog of products; however, there are no current plans that we know of for other settings - we assume these will follow in later years."

That is where my conclusion comes from. FR will be the first CS to be supported out of the gate, with other settings to follow. As generic as it is, the Vale and PoL is a campaign setting.



That's a big leap to saying FR is the default setting. It could (highly likely) just mean one of the first supplements, released simultaneously but seperately with the core books, is the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.

Again, this is something to unify the fanbase. For as popular as the Realms are, they are also very unpopular. I doubt WotC would try to push the Realms like that.



I may have mispoke, but we are all speculating about something that is many months if not over a year away - all we know about the next confirmed CS is that will be the Realms.

Whether or not that is the default setting does not negate the rest of my post about blank maps

I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
Whether or not that is the default setting does not negate the rest of my post about blank maps


Does to! :P

But I rather liked the Nentir Vale setting... right up until WotC started expanding it and filling in the blank spots on the map. I had a policy that everything in the default setting was copacetic with what was happening in my campaign. I figured that wouldn't be a problem as the Nentir Vale was contained and I was safely removed from it, but close enough that I could easily have the players interact with it if I wanted. That policy, sadly, had to change.
Whether or not that is the default setting does not negate the rest of my post about blank maps


Does to! :P

But I rather liked the Nentir Vale setting... right up until WotC started expanding it and filling in the blank spots on the map. I had a policy that everything in the default setting was copacetic with what was happening in my campaign. I figured that wouldn't be a problem as the Nentir Vale was contained and I was safely removed from it, but close enough that I could easily have the players interact with it if I wanted. That policy, sadly, had to change.



So you started feeling restrained by published material and would have rather had something with less details and not more? Like, say a nearly blank map? Cool

I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
So you started feeling restrained by published material and would have rather had something with less details and not more? Like, say a nearly blank map?


Exactly. I do appreciate a core, generic setting that I can build around and lets me readily incorporate published adventures when I'm not in the mood, too busy, or too creatively drained to make my own. But once that core setting starts filling in the blank pieces of the map, it inevitably starts to conflict with what I've made.
So you started feeling restrained by published material and would have rather had something with less details and not more? Like, say a nearly blank map?


Exactly. I do appreciate a core, generic setting that I can build around and lets me readily incorporate published adventures when I'm not in the mood, too busy, or too creatively drained to make my own. But once that core setting starts filling in the blank pieces of the map, it inevitably starts to conflict with what I've made.



I agree. The default setting should be, perhaps, a bit larger than the Vale. One of the nice things early on was there was a lot of room in the Vale to move around in, but since they seemed determined to set all of their adventures in the Vale eventually you just get to a point where it's just crowded with pre-generated content.

Of course, as DMs, we can ignore that content, but even just knowing its there to me makes me feel stifled. Its one of the reasons why I don't like things like FR or Athas. I like the ideas of those worlds, but the backstory gets in the way of my own ideas about what a D&D world should and could look like.
I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
I really like the Nentir Vale.  It's a solid way to let new DMs (or DMs new to 4E) start off, while still leaving them the ability to create a world.

I'd have liked it if they had 2-3 published starting adventures with the material, but that is as may be. 
I really like the Nentir Vale.  It's a solid way to let new DMs (or DMs new to 4E) start off, while still leaving them the ability to create a world.

I'd have liked it if they had 2-3 published starting adventures with the material, but that is as may be. 



I like the vale too. I just wish I had something else to work with. I was using a hex map creator, but it keeps bugging out on me. I think the publisher went under too. ah well.

I_Roll_20s @twitter. Not always SFW. I may prefer 4e, but I will play and enjoy almost any edition, and indeed almost any table top RPG, with my friends. Down with Edition Wars. Shut up and roll your dice. :P
I don't know how much it costs to have someone design a map and cartograph it, if that's the correct phrasing. It is something they have to do for any new campaign system, any new city, and even dungeon maps.

I just think it would be nice if a few times a year, perhaps as part of DDI, they would create a map like I have described and release it for us to use. They already try to set adventures in suitably generic settings with advice on how to add them to your own world.

If D&D is about supporting the players and DMs in creating interesting stories and playing a fun game, and D&D Next is about being modular and letting people play how they want, then a series of open maps would only promote that type of play experience.



I love this idea. World-building is a big part of the fun for me and making it somewhat modular would give me as the dm a way to feed my habit without slowing down campaigns because of the sheer time involved. I would love to be able to choose a map, then some cities, towns, ruins etc from a list, choose where to place them and then connect them with my plotting. The cities and towns could come with taverns, shops, inns etc. already located with some detailing so that as the dm you could focus more on plot-specific npcs.