Do "Points of Light" = New Core Campaign Setting?

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First off "Points of Light" is not a campaign setting it is a gaming state of mind. Let me see if I can explain it with an example.

You and your adventuring party are enjoying yourselves at a tavern in the castle city of Kingsthrone, a large prosperous city. It and the lands a day and half ride around it are fairly well defended by the king's army. While drink you over hear to merchants talking about a compatriot that hasn't shown up in a week. You inquire further and find out that the missing merchant's town is a 3 day ride from here. Your group decides to check it out. A days ride out while camping your party is attacked by a swarm of stirges. You kill many of them and drive the rest back. After following the survivors, you find their nest and destroy it. The next day while riding you pass a abandoned keep, but pay it no mind. Halfway into your 3 day of travel you are ambushed by a group of orcs. Your experienced party slaughters them easily. after another miles ride you come to the walled town of Stoneriver. Once the townfolk see you they know you are skilled adventurers by your quality weapons and gear. The mayor invites you to a feast at her manor. There she explains that this town has been under attack for the last weak by orc raiders, and the refuges from small towns have escaped here after their villages have been razed. You and your allies share a smile, this should be fun.

Your scenario does not exist in the vacuum described in points of light. This sounds more like what I'm describing. These people are not living in a vacuum and things that happen in one place are obviously being noticed in another and Stoneriver is acting exact capacity as the main city my kingdom scenario. Except in that the adventurers show up and make the cities job easier.

In mine it can be so much more.

If the adventures did not show, the people of Stoneriver would have to fend the orcs, which they are certainly capable of doing themselves or they'll all die as apparently the world depends on adventures to exist as everyone is helpless otherwise. Once it becomes obvious the orcs can't win, they'll leave and some people will be sent out to try and kill some of the stragglers. The orcs will regroup think things over and decide to not be idiots and stick with the smaller towns that are much harder to defend for awhile til they get their resources back and can make another attempt on Stoneriver which would make a nice fortress where they can retreat to with their loot, besides even if they don't succeed they can likely escape in good numbers to fight again later and it keeps Stoneriver preoccupied with it's own defense.

The orcs are going to be another big problem for this kingdom until someone can finally track them down and dispose of them, wrecking havoc all over the country side. The king needs to defend his lands, but has only so much resources, he sends out messengers on his fastest light warhorses to all the surrounding villages warning them to be on the lookout for these orcs. The news gets to different people at different times and the orcs could be camped or heading for anywhere. He wants to make things as difficult as possible for these orcs and spreading the news is likely to attract some adventurers attention and he can hire them as mercenaries or appeal to their goodwill.

Now when the adventurers find out about this, it's not just some merchant missing, it's the buzz of the town. Meanwhile the ruler of this city, from the sounds of it a king in his own right knows that his city is well defended, especially from some orcs who've already been in a costly war. He thinks to himself "how can I turn this to my advantage."

So he sends out the message that he needs some brave heroes to help him with the menace that is plaguing the land. The adventurers show up and he hires them to check into and take care of this orc problem. Meanwhile he sends the messenger back with the news that he'll help the other king who's resources are exhausted by the war, in exchange for a more favorable trade agreement between the two kingdoms. If things go right he'll get what he wants, and the adventures do his deed for him with him expending a minimum of his personal resources. Which allows him to better defend his city from similar ails that he's already dealing with.

If the adventurers do a good job, he'll use them for many of these problems as well, and they'll likely find themselves helping not just him, but eventually earning a reputation within some of the higher circles as well, giving them more options for work, and a chance to get into political intrigue if they want to or, as sometimes they are tools unwittingly.

To me, this is far more interesting a scenario than random town being ransacked by orcs. There's actual depth and a sense you are living in a real world. Yes, things are bad everywhere, but at least there's a sense of interconnectivity, that things that happen in one place can and will matter someplace else, that ripples can be made.

If you take out the orcs, it will allow the other kingdom to rebuild and give the other guy some political clout with that kingdom and word might spread of your deeds. It also ensure that infamy can spread as well if you commit some horrible atrocity that's worth sending out a few messengers, which helps keeping some players honest.

In points of light everything exists in what can best described as a vacuum, very little is interconnected and repercussions for actions is kept at a minimum. What you do in one town has little to no affect on any other town, and every town you go into might as well be a whole new game.

My problem with points of light is not so much that it's a default system is that they said they are designing the game with the assumption that it is the kind of game that will be run, which means the game will be designed assuming every town lives in a vacuum, which means no support for the social dynamics that a game with real depth relies upon.
Wolf_Boy, I think you're reading too much into the "points of light" business. These "points" aren't three huts huddled together 10 feet from a wall of ominious trees. They're entire villages and and stretches of farmland and a few roads. They may be quite pleasant and functional and happy. However, just a few miles outside of that radius are the dangerous woods.

But they're aren't packed with horrors just waiting to jump out and eat the town. You could probably wander into them once in a while and come out fine. They're just a threat. And sometimes, occasionally, something might creep out of the darkness, or somebody might go missing. Maybe there's a raid by goblins a couple of times in a generation.

This is a default "style" of play, not a setting. If you think of a reason why "points of light" is stupid, then you're thinking the wrong thing. The villages are small, but not so small as to be non-functional. Trade is dangerous, but not so dangerous as to make it unvaible. Help from "the king's men" is available, but not so readily available that adventurers aren't needed. Communication is fast enough, but not so fast that bad things can't go unnoticed for a while. Cities exists, but are not so prominent as to make the world safe. Heck, think of towns in the American Old West. They were, at least in the fiction, constantly beset by bandits and natives and were unable to go for help, thus relying on help from the heroic drifter that wandered into town.

Is that realistic? I don't know. Maybe not. But D&D isn't supposed to simulate reality. It's supposed to simulate fantasy-adventure fiction.

That's fine, because that's more what I'm describing, but that is no where near what "points of light" seems to be describing. That's closer to what I'm describing. Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but every time I do it seems to rub me the wrong way, because it seems to be assuming this interconnectivity that gives the world a personality is not important.

Also you seem to forget that these towns in the old west are filled with pioneers and are to a minor degree an adventuring type in their own right. They knew when they moved there that they were taking risks, but the free, or cheap land was lucrative, looking for gold, ect. The only reason the people existed that could create this towns was because of their connection to the coastline. They didn't exist in a vacuum, if they did they would have failed in hostile territory.
OR... you can just start playing and have fun. And here's the great thing about all of that culture and background you're putting into your monsters and encounters. For the most part, the players don't care!

Not all players play like 8-bit theatre. Some prefer to involve themselves in a deep thriving system. Explain the greater popularity of Rune Quest over AD&D for a time. Explain why TWERPS is thought of as a joke game while more people consider games with fantastic backgrounds and deep explanations of events and regions to be superior.

Empire of the Petal Throne, Harn, Blackmoor, Greyhawk, all of these are campaign settings that make sense and to varying extents live and breathe. What you are saying is that players just prefer to roll dice and shout senselessly. Enjoy that gaming style, if it pleases you. It does not please me. I prefer campaign games with sense to it.

So as much as you want to deny it, the gaming world is there, living and breathing from the actual thought and work of real people, intelligent people, people quite unlike those who would consider a serious and intelligent and fun game to be TWERPS, points of light, and other things developed by people without brains.

After all, it is not as if anyone such as yourself cares about fantasy. It's like TV, you just want to plop down in front of it and not think. Leave the thinking to people with brains, I always say. I prefer to think and to play intelligent games.

There would be relatively safe areas where humans/human allies held dominion and had full military control, but much of it, perhaps half or more, would be no-go zones. In a D&D world, where the adventuring actually happens, there's likely to be a big city as a home base and some larger towns as temporary bases for excursions; beyond that, the land isn't empty of humans, but it isn't full of humans, either, and humans are in constant peril.

You seem to ignore the idea that "man" is by no means unified in D&D (nor in the real world) and hence regions are hardly safe even from predation by humans on humans, by predation of "allies" of humans upon humans neither is it safe.

Here is where alignment plays a strong role. Here is where the "points of light" fail. There are evil folk, no matter the species, in a fantasy world. This might seem alien to you that even in the best of moods with all reason to love and to forgive, some folk feel love for devouring flesh of the living while they scream. Even in these points of light it would be so, just as it is in the real world. Some would desire to cause tyranny ever so slight just to make a stronger people -- although this tyranny would result in torture and imprisonment of innocent folk. Even in these points of light it would be so, just as it is in the real world.

If you have an independent campaign world where there are gardens of safety and love -- that would work in a fantasy world. However, undeclared as a specific fantasy world we look upon a generalization that cannot possibly be true of Greyhawk, cannot possibly be true of Forgotten Realms, nor true of Ravenloft (especially Ravenloft), nor of Eberron. Very very few fantasy worlds have the "points of light" scenario be it undeniable safety, be it unalterable situations that only activate when player characters near, but it is a good starting place for those who are not yet aware of complexity or even those who are unable to handle such complexity due to reason of natural situation.

I would never call any nation a point of light in the real world. In a fantasy world it is ever a passing and vulnerable situation when it is not just ill considered foolery.

There she explains that this town has been under attack for the last weak by orc raiders, and the refuges from small towns have escaped here after their villages have been razed. You and your allies share a smile, this should be fun.

I and my allies would only share a smile in that situation were we drunken and stupified. Had we journeyed a pre-determined route to that point without question, we would be sorely concerned for our DM's mental state, inable to consider a way to imagine other events in accord with the personal decisions of players.

As I have stated earlier, a stupid man or stupid woman might make a point of light dungeon and expect all to work to plan, a single path that cannot be altered, without variance, without expectation for diverging personal choice. An ill person might do the same, let us hope for their health. A child without experience in varied decisions and creative approach might also err thus, let us pray our education system improves (and others outside this Democratic nation of the US might also pray with us).

Those who scrawl beautiful fantasy worlds in the basement (or in the office as a paid design job) do consider the personal choice of players, the liberty of divergent expression, and hope to entertain their players. This is laudable as an activity. Just as laudable, the World of Greyhawk and its creator Gygax. Just as laudable, Blackmoor and its creator Arenson. Just as laudable, Empire of the Petal Throne and its creator Muhammed Barker.

Do not cheat yourself and others out of a wonderful campaign system. Do not let D&D4e be as stupid as many people seem to indicate it is.
Good Lord, please stop sermonizing.

>>>As I have stated earlier, a stupid man or stupid woman might make a point of light dungeon and expect all to work to plan, a single path that cannot be altered, without variance, without expectation for diverging personal choice. An ill person might do the same, let us hope for their health. A child without experience in varied decisions and creative approach might also err thus, let us pray our education system improves (and others outside this Democratic nation of the US might also pray with us).

I have no earthly idea what you're talking about. You seem to be reading an entirely different post about what the "Point of Light" conceit means. There is no such thing as a "Point of Light" dungeon. A dungeon isn't a point of light. It's by definition an area of darkness. How "Points of Light" translates to "railroaded dungeon with only one path" in your imagination is quite beyond my grasp.

>>>Those who scrawl beautiful fantasy worlds in the basement (or in the office as a paid design job) do consider the personal choice of players, the liberty of divergent expression, and hope to entertain their players. This is laudable as an activity. Just as laudable, the World of Greyhawk and its creator Gygax. Just as laudable, Blackmoor and its creator Arenson. Just as laudable, Empire of the Petal Throne and its creator Muhammed Barker.

What was being challenged was your daft claim that you're busy tracking the movements and actions of every single creature in your game world rather than having them wait in a room until the adventures happen upon them, and that good DMing requires such a colossal and useless investment of time.

Of course they're waiting for adventurers to happen upon them. In practical reality, no one "exists" at all until players stumble upon them. RPG's are point-of-view games. You are not busily tracking every move of the orcs in the moathouse when the players are not there and it's twaddle to suggest otherwise. Even if you include, as many do, a randomizing element or a schedule that will determine if the room is empty or occupied when the players enter, or if they find the orcs sleeping, drunk, or manning the barricades, you're simply noting a few possibilities, certainly not actually bothering to dream up what precisely the orcs are up to even when you're not playing.

You seem to be guilty of tremendous overstatement. A basic notion of major events in the world or basic agendas and personalities of *major* characters if of course helpful for good DMing and good storytelling generally. But actually investing every 3 hp goblin with an inner life of his own? No one does that. No one could do that. It would be futile to try.

In a "living, breathing campaign" where logic was actually worked out fully and creatures did lots of things off-screen, a lot of subhuman races would have been hunted/massacred to extinction or near-extinction, and a large bit of acreage could only support a single large predator (not lots of them, each competing with each other, etc.) The Point of Light thing is just there as an excuse to partly (thinly, superficially) explain why the D&D world is able to sustain so many tribes of warring humanoids and megapredators.
Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but every time I do it seems to rub me the wrong way, because it seems to be assuming this interconnectivity that gives the world a personality is not important.

Ooh, yes! See, that's all I'm saying! We're talking the default, beginner, "I don't know what I'm doing", never heard of Greyhawk, pull it off of the shelf and play type situation. If it had "personality", it would be a setting! This is essentially the "blank slate". It sets a mood and a theme, but goes no further. It's not supposed to be detailed, realistic, or have a "personality" beyond "dangerous and ripe for adventure". It's the "default" form of play that we all engaged in when we were 13. Yes, there's more to it, but that's there to be added on when you're ready for it.
[Meandering, borderline-derogatory ranting]

What Ranger9 said. Also, Greyhawk, FR, Blackmoor, etc are not "living, breathing worlds", they're static source material. If you go back to that book 10 years later, everything is still the same. Yes, they're detailed and interesting, and full of potential, but they are there expressly for the purpose of entertaining the players, if their characters show up.

But that's beside the point. As I said in a previous post, "points of light" is the default, no-frills style of play. Of course your players are probably going to want more. If they are, great, give it to them. If they're not, if they're a bunch of pre-teens just looking for some fun, if they're not interested in RPGs as an "artform", then the "points of light" model is the obvious place to start. It's not a setting. It's the place that you play if you don't have a setting, and it should work perfectly for that.
Ludanto,

We're basically on the same page of course but I'm not sure why you see "Points of Light" as necessarily a beginner's conceit. A complex world with lots of details and politics and such could still be a Points of Light campaign, couldn't it? The idea seems to be tenuous human control over the world, except in its major power centers and surrounding areas, but that doesn't exclude the sort of more detailed campaign setting. It's a type of world conceit, but the conceit doesn't necessarily mean "simplistic" or "no-frills" as you put it.

Of course it a good starting conceit as it seems to limit the amount of prep-work needed to begin designing a world, but it doesn't really limit the amount of detail that can ultimately go into it.

Again I think of it as a dark ages after the plague sort of world -- Europe massively depopulated, many towns simply abandoned to the rats, limited control over forest and wilderness due to simple lack of enough capable men under arms, etc. There's nothing inherent in that that makes it necessarily simplistic.
Empire of the Petal Throne, Harn, Blackmoor, Greyhawk, all of these are campaign settings that make sense and to varying extents live and breathe. What you are saying is that players just prefer to roll dice and shout senselessly. Enjoy that gaming style, if it pleases you. It does not please me. I prefer campaign games with sense to it.

This is obviously the sentiment of someone who either barely read the article under discussion, or... well, no, that's what it is.

I've played in Harn and Greyhawk, as well as FR, Eberron, and others, and of the games you mention, anyway, Harn is a lot more like the "points of light" scenario than it isn't. There may be kingdoms, but they don't run your life, and most people have never been to the forest three miles down the road. There may be sages around, but most people don't know what magic is, and good luck if you cast spell while you're tooling around in a city. Elves are almost never seen among large groups of humans. Harn, for all the planning that went into its design and execution, is a lot closer to what it seems D&D is moving towards.

And thank the gods, because I, for one, am sick of being able to walk into a town of 100,000 (that somehow manages to sustain itself without cholera outbreaks or any other of the serious social problems that afflicted medieval cities once they got too big) after mugging some monsters for gold, whereupon I flood its economy with rare metals and hire a priestess to raise my less fortunate party members from the dead.

The article says
Roads are often closed by bandits, marauders such as goblins or gnolls, or hungry monsters such as griffons or dragons.

Does that make it impossible for you and your "allies" to have a well-fleshed-out campaign with plenty of opportunities for roleplaying? Um, no. Just because travel is more difficult doesn't mean your party has nothing to do in a small, realistically gritty Medieval town. If you have trouble coming up with story ideas that take place in a plausibly Medieval setting in which you neither run an army, are 24th-level, or are powerful in the service of a mighty state, you might try watching "Andrei Rublev" or "The Name of the Rose" for ideas. Instead of being a condescending a** to everyone around here.

I'm really looking forward to a D&D core setting that takes into account the inherent difficulties of preindustrial society, the painful lack of opportunity for most. As much as I like it, FR, for example, involves too many 500,000-person cities, too many 24th level characters, and for its level of magic use, too little exploitation of magic for industrial production (it doesn't take much to figure out ways of turning a cantrip into something that can power a train or operate a loom on its own.) When
it’s easy for all sorts of evils to befall a settlement without anyone noticing for a long time

that means MORE opportunities for RP, not fewer. Playing in smaller, more cloistered environment than Waterdeep can mean having to rely on better characterization of minor characters. It's good to have to RP out the encounter in which you bargain with Bob the Blacksmith, in which you know that he might try to extort an extra 2 CP out of you but you also know he's the best in town, for example, and have it matter.

Septembervirgin, you're confusing depth of play with melodrama. Ultimately, it all comes down to the level of skill of your DM whether you're in an expansive, operatic campaign or the gritty chamber dramas suggested by the PoL article, and, since they'll NEVER retroactively make changes that render FR or Greyhawk an ecologically plausible game world it's probably all optional anyway, just quit getting your panties in a bunch.
Ludanto,

We're basically on the same page of course but I'm not sure why you see "Points of Light" as necessarily a beginner's conceit. A complex world with lots of details and politics and such could still be a Points of Light campaign, couldn't it? The idea seems to be tenuous human control over the world, except in its major power centers and surrounding areas, but that doesn't exclude the sort of more detailed campaign setting. It's a type of world conceit, but the conceit doesn't necessarily mean "simplistic" or "no-frills" as you put it.

Of course it a good starting conceit as it seems to limit the amount of prep-work needed to begin designing a world, but it doesn't really limit the amount of detail that can ultimately go into it.

Again I think of it as a dark ages after the plague sort of world -- Europe massively depopulated, many towns simply abandoned to the rats, limited control over forest and wilderness due to simple lack of enough capable men under arms, etc. There's nothing inherent in that that makes it necessarily simplistic.

I'm trying to think of how to explain this. I think "no-frills" is appropriate, because it's not a setting, it's just a conciet. If you add the "frills" it becomes a setting, even if it's just naming some places and making some NPCs. Arguably, after playing for a while in "generic" mode, you will have created a setting through play.

Please don't take what I'm saying the wrong way. I'm not implying anything more than I'm saying. If you prefer, look at it this way: "Points of Light" isn't a beginner's conciet, but a beginner's conciet is ""Points of Light". PoL can be as deep as you want it to be, but it doesn't have to by default, so it's good for "beginners" or others who don't want to, don't have time to, or wouldn't know where to start developing an actual setting.

So, to sum up, I think we're in agreement that PoL is the default "no-setting" setting, and is flexible enough to support not only "advanced" but "beginner" play as well.
Okay, I guess we agree entirely.

I think there is a hidden benefit to the PoL conceit: It reminds DMs that the even the real-world middle ages bore very significant differences to the modern world. In the modern world, every road you travel down (except, say, roads in national parks) is under full human control. The trees beside the road are left there by property owners to screen away the highway, but beyond that are houses and/or farms and/or state parks (which themselves, of course, are under human dominion, though humans allow them to be more or less natural).

In the real middle ages, there would be quite a few roads through areas where few humans live at all, because they land isn't necessarily desolate or haunted but simply not particularly good farmland. There would be much more untamed, unfarmed, uninhabited land.

In a D&D world, there would seem to be even more of this than existed in the real middle ages, due to competition for land use by large predators -- a saber-tooth tiger in the forest discourages attempts at start-up farming -- and of course lots of tribes of humanoids. Humans in the real middle ages did not of course have this competition from either; wolves may have been a problem from time to time, but not a major one. Not so in D&D where every acre of land had to be won from predators and humanoids, and is periodically contested anew.

So partly i think it's just a reminder to newbies: Don't assume the world is as it is now where travel along highways is relatively safe, human military/police/animal control assistance is usually just an hour away at most, that one town borders on another town which in turn borders on still another, etc. A town will be at a crossroads, and the area around it filled with all the farms needed to sustain it and manage a small amount of export, but beyond that, there are the wild lands again, at least until the next bastion of humanity.

(And, actually, it's not just a good thing for newbies to keep in mind: I like the idea because I never gave it this all that much thought myself, but it make sense. It is at least a semi-plausible explanation for the very different world ecology of D&D, how the medieval world differed from the modern one, and how the fantasy medieval world departs farther still.)
D&D has always had a "Points of Light" sort of premise. What worries me is: Are the rules, going to force the model on us. What if I want to run, a campaign set in a world that is totally "civilized"? For example, a world where hobgoblins are the backbone of the army, and beholders are tax collectors. Such a world could be rife with intrigue, and loads of fun.
So the new rules need to, if not support my campaign, at least not prohibit it.
Honestly, man, I think we're talking a half page in the DMG under "world building" here.

Your world is different from the standard D&D world in that humanoids are recognized citizens of human nations. You obviously get that. The game will "support" that just as it supports a game world in which all the heroes are githyanki raiders on the Astral Plane attacking mind flayer outposts. Your deal isn't the default, common sort of fantasy, but it's not like the rules are structured to prevent you from doing things like that.

Obviously flavor text in the MM about hobgoblins being bandits and raiders and eaters of men's flesh will have to be ignored. Beyond that -- no adjustments needed. No D&D edition every gave more than a cursory gloss about how to create a game world.
I think this has mostly been put out there for all the DM's who just shrieked.."AAARGH! 4.0! Already?"

It sounds to me like a nice, fairly interesting jumping off point for building a whole new world without having to get seriously specific about anything "setting". Sparsely populated, simple governments, etc. No crunchy to worry about..yet. So that DM's can have a 3/4ths of the way completed world to start 4.0 in when it comes out.

Just my opinion.
I have a question. I had a conversation with a player of mine that got cut short, but he mentioned that the setting of fourth edition sounds like it is taking a page from or just like "Inuyasha." I gather that is some sort of anime, but I am not familiar with it at all. Could someone explain what he might have meant? From the somewhat vague description of what they have given for the setting, I am not quite sure.
I have a question. I had a conversation with a player of mine that got cut short, but he mentioned that the setting of fourth edition sounds like it is taking a page from or just like "Inuyasha." I gather that is some sort of anime, but I am not familiar with it at all. Could someone explain what he might have meant? From the somewhat vague description of what they have given for the setting, I am not quite sure.

I don't know what he's going on about. 4e has no base setting. That "vague description" is all there is.
I have a question. I had a conversation with a player of mine that got cut short, but he mentioned that the setting of fourth edition sounds like it is taking a page from or just like "Inuyasha." I gather that is some sort of anime, but I am not familiar with it at all. Could someone explain what he might have meant? From the somewhat vague description of what they have given for the setting, I am not quite sure.

InuYasha is anime. Init the half-demon Inuyasha and his friends wander the world looking for shards of a shattered jewel (an artifact). The world is populated by endless numbers of demons, though there are occasinal villages. The big difference between InuYasha and Points of Light that I can see is that the anime does not have major settlements, it only has tiny villages (and you're generally no safer from the demons in the villages than you would be anywhere else).

Points of Light has civilization as a refuge from the fighting, and it has places to buy magic items and provisions.
This is the setting for my campaign that I just concluded anyway, essentially. It has been my preferred mode for many years, for many reasons. When I DM, I hate the concept of "Adventurer" as a standard profession. The idea that magic is so common also bothers me.

With the PoL concept... lots of empty spaces that you can surprise players with the true contents of. This is just a personal preference too, but I'm honestly not worried about getting bored at higher levels; campaign's over by that point anyway. My players can be great heroes at any level if the setting (determined by me as DM) allows for it.

So yeah, sounds good. I'm up for it.
I think folks are forgetting that the "points of light" idea is likely being presented as a starting point for 4E games. It lays down a context in which traditional "adventuring" is viable, but it doesn't necessarily exclude or neglect the alternatives; indeed -- as was already pointed out -- the transition from PoL to in-depth urban and political gaming may be as easy as letting the PCs follow a road into a more civilized region.

Campaigns evolve, always have, always will. For a group of new gamers, PoL is a handy backdrop in which to familiarize themselves with the game rules, practice role-play among their own parties or with the occasional NPC, and get suitably addicted to monster-bashing. Later on, after they've gotten their feet wet, DMs can bring in additional elements that will broaden the play experience, ultimately leading up to the creation of new homegrown game-settings or the start of a new campaign in a published one. This is how D&D games naturally grow and mature over time.

Suppose you start a campaign with PCs in one little village off in the woods, named oh, let's say.... Shadowdale. It's a teeny backwoods hamlet. The PCs go on adventures, kill goblins, hunt down a lycanthrope in town, whatever. They explore a nearby ruin, discover a big dungeon beneath a local landmark, are occasionally assisted by some old crackpot of a wizard whom they (and the DM) know next to nothing about.

Once they've cleared out the local monster-lairs, the DM has to give them more to do. So, they start visiting other valleys nearby (let's call them "dales" too); they probe the mysterious woods on the borders of the region; they fend off a power-grab by an evil organization (does "Zhentarim" sound like a suitably-nasty name?) from some realm beyond the edge of their maps. The town, the region, the old crackpot wizard all gain a history, but they do so gradually, one adventure at a time. The world grows as it needs to, with the players' need for fresh challenges driving its expansion.

Eventually, these PCs retire. New characters set off on their own adventures. As that teeny village they'd started out in has pretty well been "tamed", let's add a new place for them to explore: one that's a bit more complex, since the players are now a bit more seasoned and ready for a less rustic milieu. It needs a name too; hmmmm, "Cormyr" sounds nice....

Points-of-Light is just a seed for full campaigns, an embryonic prototype from which whole worlds take shape. It's what the old World Builder's Guidebook calls the "Microscopic Approach" to setting design, and it's the source for not only the Realms, Greyhawk, and Ravenloft -- start just big enough for some adventures, then add more as needed -- but the vast majority of homegrown worlds which individual gaming groups have conceived and explored together. Start with a few lights, then light up a few more each time the PCs need more room to roam, and before long you've got yourself as big and intricate a world as your group's tastes require.
For an example from fantasy lit of a "Points of Light" setting - try the world M. Lackey's "Valdemar" books are set in. Even Valdemar, by far the most organized and settled country (outside of the Eastern Empire) is essentially a PoL area, and the city-states regions that the "Oath" series are set in is quite explicitly a PoL area. And yet she has no problem "running" political plots at all. The later books got a fair bit epic, but take a look at Arrow's Flight for what a PoL-type campaign is a nominally civilized country could be. Heralds, when all is said and done, are adventurers; they just work for the Crown (and are all multiclassed paladins, but that's not something I'm getting into right now). Tarma and Kethry are quite explicitly adventurers (not surprising considering their origin in the Sword And Sorcery books).
Start with a few lights, then light up a few more each time the PCs need more room to roam, and before long you've got yourself as big and intricate a world as your group's tastes require.

Bravo, Rotipher. Your post is as good an introduction to practical DMing as any I've read.

PoL seems more like a slight change in atmosphere than any difference in rules. It's nothing for anyone to panic about if Wizards writes the flavortext a little differently. I'm curious about whether the shift in atmosphere will affect the rules at all - encounter tables, say - or whether it's just cosmetic. Guess we'll have to see.
"Points of Light" reminds me of the anime "Bastard!!!"'s intro:

"Several hundred years, after the fall of human civilization...

It was a lawless period, a time without order.

Only blood, flesh, bone, and iron...

It was also a time of Sorcery...

Having been terrorized by demonic creatures their entire lives, humans beings were miserably inadequate, and forced to subsist in a barren, bastille environment."

Now if only the 4e magic system was going to be as bad ass as what you see in Bastard!!! we'd be set!
The "default campaign setting" is just that: default. If you look at the core books for 3e, how much "setting" is really there? You've got the gods and and the names of some wizard spells.

Anyone interested in playing a really fleshed-out premade campaign world is going to need an extra book, like the FRCS. Anyone running an RP-heavy homebrew game is going to ignore all the fluff in the core books anyway. Really, the only people who pay attention to the "default campaign setting" is those who are using it to sketch out a sort of episodic world, which makes "Points of Light" a perfect paradigm.

"Points of Light" is also good for the newbie DM, because it lets you start with a fairly nondescript area (town in the middle of nowhere with a goblin problem) and develop your own homebrew additions as you go.

A "dark" campaign world also makes it easier incorporate the traditional black-and-white morality, as weird as that sounds. In this setting, a Paladin is a friggin' HERO, because commoners NEED someone with shiny armor and a big sword to protect them from things that go bump in the night.
The "default campaign setting" is just that: default. If you look at the core books for 3e, how much "setting" is really there? You've got the gods and and the names of some wizard spells.

Anyone interested in playing a really fleshed-out premade campaign world is going to need an extra book, like the FRCS. Anyone running an RP-heavy homebrew game is going to ignore all the fluff in the core books anyway. Really, the only people who pay attention to the "default campaign setting" is those who are using it to sketch out a sort of episodic world, which makes "Points of Light" a perfect paradigm.

"Points of Light" is also good for the newbie DM, because it lets you start with a fairly nondescript area (town in the middle of nowhere with a goblin problem) and develop your own homebrew additions as you go.

A "dark" campaign world also makes it easier incorporate the traditional black-and-white morality, as weird as that sounds. In this setting, a Paladin is a friggin' HERO, because commoners NEED someone with shiny armor and a big sword to protect them from things that go bump in the night.

Once again, my main problem, and I think the main problem with most people who have a problem with points of light, is not with points of light itself, but with the idea that WOTC seems to saying that they are going to be designing everything with the assumption that games will be points of light, which means there will be theoretically zero consideration for how these designs convert or adapt to other styles of play.

For example games that are more role-play heavy and combat light where when combat occurs it has more meaning and cutting through hundreds of mooks like a hot knife through butter is just not appropriate.
Now if only the 4e magic system was going to be as bad ass as what you see in Bastard!!! we'd be set!

Without being familiar with Bastard!!!, I just have to add this about the Points of Light conceit. By starting with that conceit, you have to figure out how to make the functioning, pseudo-modern economy of Third Edition "unnecessary."

In other words, the PoL conceit forces you to tie character power to something other than wealth. Because there's no reason to believe that wealth exists.

It makes wealth it's own reward - rather than a tradable commodity for power. In the "real middle ages," death was the great equalizer. Because no amount of money could reverse a tragic death due to injury or disease. That's a VERY different world than the one implied by 3e.

That's a pretty huge change. And a massive improvement, in my humble opinion.
If you use the assumption that goblins, orcs, etc are basically humans (I am grouping in other PCs races here too) but different, then they have the same problem as humans.

There is safety in numbers.

I imagine the typical Points of Light "village" would be something like a large circle. And going from inside to out you have homes and shops around a well and a simple high stoop. Around the buildings is a wall and around that is farm, and beyond the farm is probably posts strung with something to repel animals (probably hair). And it wouldn't surprise me if the posts doubled as torches to make it easier for the spotters to notice things before raiders get too close.

However, as has been stated, Points of Light is perfect for developing your own world. Make a bunch of sample towns on paper and use them as necessary.

The PCs can be those future rulers.

Heck, if I run a 4e game, I'll probably start with Points of Light. I think the first large town will be near a dragon's lair. I can see a perfect symbiotic relationship: the village pays tribute to the dragon and the dragon's mere presence keeps other things from away.
Once again, my main problem, and I think the main problem with most people who have a problem with points of light, is not with points of light itself, but with the idea that WOTC seems to saying that they are going to be designing everything with the assumption that games will be points of light, which means there will be theoretically zero consideration for how these designs convert or adapt to other styles of play.

Is there currently zero consideration for how the 3.5 designs work anywhere other than a dungeon-crawling campaign set in Greyhawk? If the answer were yes, then I think you'd have a legitimate concern. But it seems to me the answer is no, lots of 3.X stuff is aimed beyond the "Back to the Dungeon!" theme used to launch third edition. 4E will be (at the very least) the same; AFAICT it'll be more diverse, since the implied setting points to a greater focus on non-dungeon environments and the playtest report mentioning a social combat system indicates more support for non-combat encounters.

Little advice for anybody concerned about the idea that WOTC might lose interest in selling you stuff: they won't. It's pretty much the opposite - they'd really like it if you'd buy everything they put out. They're not going to want to hear anybody say "I'm sticking with 3.5, because 4E doesn't let me do as much." There may be other compelling reasons to avoid 4E, but WOTC writing off some existing group of customers is unlikely to be one of them.
Once again, my main problem, and I think the main problem with most people who have a problem with points of light, is not with points of light itself, but with the idea that WOTC seems to saying that they are going to be designing everything with the assumption that games will be points of light, which means there will be theoretically zero consideration for how these designs convert or adapt to other styles of play.

For example games that are more role-play heavy and combat light where when combat occurs it has more meaning and cutting through hundreds of mooks like a hot knife through butter is just not appropriate.

I disagree, I think it is much easier to go from points of light to high magic (like FR) or magic as a utility (Eberron) than vice versa. Every world (even our own) still has a lot of areas where the Points of Light theme fits. These would be likely places for adventurers to go, especially perhaps to start. And they still talk about cities and Kingdoms, abet ones that are more limited than before, but still there. The larger/more powerful or advanced the Kingdom, the larger the "glow" from it's light will carry into the wilderness. And, the more intricate and deadly will be the machinations & politics, as well as other opportunities for role playing. I don't se PoL as a place where all you can do is leave "the village" to go "adventuring" until you return to rest up & heal. There is still plenty of room to role play, but more room for more gritty role playing, perhaps. A masterwork sword might be a big deal, let alone a +1 blade; a handful of silver might be a significant treasure, not thousans of gold peices; defeating a vicious gobin chief might be as important as slaying a dragon.
I think it gives WotC a perfect chance to re-establish the game; starting smaller and more gritty, perhpas, but adding more to it over time. FRCS 4E come sout in August, that shoudl give us a clearer idea how different they want 4E to be. I can't see them radically altering the Realms, but I coudl see them trying to emphasize more the less "High Magic" places in the Realms, and cutting back on the feeling that everyone you meet is a 10th level somethingor other, and either has some lost artifact, is related to someone who has one or is searching for the one stolen from their father.
I hope you guys are right. Points of light just made me real nervous because it sounds like the antithesis of most of my games...
I suppose it does mean that the PCs will be able to fight it out over "unclaimed territory" and build those baronies themselves.

If they apply this to the existing settings then it means they are going to be on the recieving end of a shake-up.

It would certainly suit GREYHAWK where the emergence of THARIZDUN results in the collapse of the old kingdoms.

Suddenly the prospect of having to fight it out just to secure the foodbowl of the Kingdom of Furyondy has some relevence.
The Citadel Megadungeon: http://yellowdingosappendix.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/the-citadel-mega-dungeon-now-with-room.html
I think this has mostly been put out there for all the DM's who just shrieked.."AAARGH! 4.0! Already?"

It sounds to me like a nice, fairly interesting jumping off point for building a whole new world without having to get seriously specific about anything "setting". Sparsely populated, simple governments, etc. No crunchy to worry about..yet. So that DM's can have a 3/4ths of the way completed world to start 4.0 in when it comes out.

Just my opinion.

I also agree that it makes an interesting jump off point.

Also that it makes some of the world design easier. Take a map of the US. In a PoL design I draw a big circle around New England. Label it "here are scores of baronies, with a few days travel in between, that share a common culture / language." Draw the same around Virgina / North Carolia.

In PoL don't have to figure out the politics between two large kingdoms (New England & Mid-Atlantic). I just have to look at a potentially simpler set of politics that are more local. Sure, I can make it very complex, but I can add that in later with few inconsistancies.
Bravo, Rotipher. Your post is as good an introduction to practical DMing as any I've read.

PoL seems more like a slight change in atmosphere than any difference in rules. It's nothing for anyone to panic about if Wizards writes the flavortext a little differently. I'm curious about whether the shift in atmosphere will affect the rules at all - encounter tables, say - or whether it's just cosmetic. Guess we'll have to see.

Encounter tables, population / class levels tables. Hopefully they'll come out with some material on how to modify such tables to fit different assumptions (PoL vs Eberron vs FR, etc)
I think the flavor may go back even farther than just Middle/Dark ages.
Say for example, the ancient, early Hellenistic world.

Khemt (Ancient Egypt) has been an empire for hundreds, perhaps a thousand years. It is a vibrant civilization, centered around the Nile and a number of cities built there. They've developed writing, a complex religion, politics, trade, libraries, etc. They have a professional army, led by their own citizens, but including conscripts from conquered lands and mercenaries from other lands. They've used this army to conquer nearby lands, mostly to enforce tribute or establish puppet regime, aquire slaves or conscripts, reduce competion for markets or resources, etc.
Despite this level of civilization, travel is still time consuming and occasionally dangerous even within the empire. Bandits, monsters (crocodiles and hippos, but add some humanoid tribes, dragons and other similar monsters) and even spies/rivals may attack you. Occasionally, there are various types of civil strife, from rebellions led by royal pretenders, to religious conflicts, riots due to drought & famine, etc.

Over in Mesopotamia, another long term civilization exists. known now as Persia. It has undergone many changes, from early city-states to various empires or Kingdoms, and either rules or influences lands from the coast of the Middle Sea north into Asia Minor, east into the rugged mountainous lands of the near east, and into contact with the early civilizations of present day India. The Persian Empire is large and sprwaling, less "civilized" perhaps overall than Khemt, but more than most places in this early world. They fight wars with the early Egyptians, the early Indians, the city0states forming in Asia Minor and early Greece, but still have lots of internal conflict as well. Spies, raiders and of course, monsters, all are potential hazards.

Over in the Hellenistic lands, city-states are forming, some of which are experimenting with this thing called democracy, but most still have Kings or such. They rule the land around their city but not as far as in Khemt or Persia. Each city-state has a flavor all its own, but they share some cultural features. Trade and economics is a growing practice but many areas are still self-sufficient. To the west are the arising cultures of Etruscea and even less so, the Romans, a city founded by something akin to natural lycanthropes or shifters.

To the north lay lands of the Keltoi, a culture with a rich oral history and tradition but not yet doing much with writing. Their settlements are smaller, more scattered, perhaps a hill-fort commanding a small area of farms and villages. There is very little central authority, occasional war-chiefs band together several tribes but they rarely last past the lifespan of the war-chief.

Past the Indian lands is perhaps the most advanced empire in the world, that of China. Still much smaller than the China we know today, they've had writing, court politics and the like for generations. But, again, in between the large cities (most of which are clustered around rivers), the land is dangerous, although small farming villages and such do exist. lately the Royal Court has been planning on extending several walls built in some areas to repel invaders and raiders from the north, perhaps joining them into on, great wall.

The folks up to the north & northwest of China are another widely scattered, tribal peoples, Mongols, Huns, Goths, etc. Not yet the barbaric forces they will become, they're still dangerous raiders and warriors.

This still leaves the early civilizations of Africa and the Americas. Too long to go into, you get the idea.

Each of these cultures are "Points of Light", but how far their light shines varies, not only between them, but from time to time in their own areas. The lands in between are vast, much larger than the lands of true civilizations, peopled by tribal folks, herds of animals, and monsters and creatures of legend and story. Many folk live out there, making their own way, but enduring the raiders, passing armies, vicious creatures, plagues, etc.

Add monsters, magic, change some names, enliven the various pantheons, maybe mix up some geography. Make Khemt a land of Hobgoblins, and the Greeks into Eladrin. Maybe the Keltoi are Elves, and the Indian princes are Rakasha. between India and China, lies Tibet, where the Yak Folk have their domain. Up int he Alps live some dwarves, colonists from Scandavia, where they still have strongholds.

I think this is the kind of opportunities Points of Light offers. Room for some fairly advanced cultures, but with issues of their own, and ruled by various races and cultures. . Lots of land in between to traverse or adventure in, which is where most campaigns may start or at least pass through. If you want more "city-type" adventures, or political intrigue, there are places to do that.

I still see it as I said earlier, Points of Light offers a better opportunity as a default setting than GH, FR, etc. I think it is easier to take the PoL type setting, and add onto it, than to take a High Magic or Magic-as-tech society and reduce it.
Encounter tables, population / class levels tables. Hopefully they'll come out with some material on how to modify such tables to fit different assumptions (PoL vs Eberron vs FR, etc)

Sure would be nice. Anyone want to place a bet on WotC doing something useful like this in the core books when they know damn well a slice of us will pony up for a World Builder's Guide?
Sure would be nice. Anyone want to place a bet on WotC doing something useful like this in the core books when they know damn well a slice of us will pony up for a World Builder's Guide?

Well, if they were to discuss and provide tables for a variety of power levels (for lack of a better word) it would be worth. I doubt they would do that either though. Can't sell a book without a bunch of new PrC and Feats.
There are too many bad and poorly thought out (and poorly written) points on both sides to really answer all.

To summarize this best: no city is a "point of light" because cities are dangers in themselves, and no place in any intelligent fantasy world is filled with just evil or good without momentary change and momentary passage of others. Yes, in this fantasy game areas may be aligned just as people, but you're not often going to have complete good and complete evil in areas.

Sorry, but you're not going to strip alignment from characters and place it in a tree and a stone. Try it at the Masonic Hall instead.
I feel that the points of light article was actually just trying to further explain how they veiw the greyhawk setting. Where there's a few big cities, and everything else is pretty much disconnected.

I always viewed greyhawk like that, and i personally didn't like it.

That's why I created my own setting, as we all have the option to do :D