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Preface: This question was based on the wrong premise that there is a single world for the entirety of DnD. The accepted answer pointed this out and lead to a new/shifted focus for a follow up question: How can we quickly familiarize ourselves with the Forgotten Realms?


Recently my RPG playgroup has been thinking about exploring what is for us unchartered territory and try out some new RPGs that come with a heavy "high fantasy, high magic" feel to them.

One of the obvious candidates is Dungeons and Dragons. Quite apart from the question which of the many many versions one could get themselves invested in (I assume there are already questions on that, if not I might open one in the future) the issue is that apart from me no-one at our table has the slightest idea of the DnD world/universe.

And I'm not meaning having full insights into every aspect of the magical, theological, ecclesiastical, interplanary and mundane goings on - but even just a general "feel" to it. Our other players have raised some concerns that this makes it quite difficult for them to get interested in the system and invested in new characters and a new campaign.

  • How could our players familiarise themselves with the DnD world in a way that would help them get some first insights, a general "feel" for the place?

Criteria: I could of course suggest our players a 200-hours Baldur's Gate playthrough, and I'm sure there is plenty of 1500 page novels - but I fear that would be way to time-consuming. If possible I'm looking for some way that works on a time-budget. (Are there for example movies set in the DnD world that we could watch as a playgroup?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D is a game system that encompasses multiple worlds/universes. Do you have a specific one in mind? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Feb 27 at 8:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, since you mentioned that you are the only one familiar with D&D lore, are you going to be the DM? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Feb 27 at 8:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah. The lore I have a little bit of experience with is from the Baldur's Gate game series, so I guess that would be the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms. I didn't even know there were different settings used with the D&D rule set. \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 27 at 11:59
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There is no royal road to D&D lore

There is no single D&D world

D&D started in 1974 and has gone through 7 editions (1-5, plus 0, plus B/X) and has had official and unofficial products adding to the lore for more than 45 years. It has had 23 campaign settings, all of which have been created, retconned, abandoned, revived, integrated, disintegrated (sometimes in both senses of the word) and reincarnated. Some existed only for one or two editions of D&D and some span many. And there have been countless 3rd-party and homebrew settings.

You might want to try to learn something easier - NASA always needs rocket scientists, for instance.

How to start

You could do worse than to start with the link above, decide which campaign setting tickles your fancy (noting that only some have 5th edition versions), follow that link, and see where it leads you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for that link. I think I could rewrite my question to focus on the Forgotten Realms, as that is what I have some small experience with and seems to be the most supported (?) of the various settings. Shall I rewrite my question accordingly? That would make this answer redundant, which is a pity IMHO as I found it rather useful... Alternatively I could add a new question entirely, focusing specifically on the Forgotten Realms. \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 27 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I asked a new question: How can we quickly familiarize ourselves with the Forgotten Realms? \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 27 at 16:28
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Please note that there isn't really such a thing as the D&D world. The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (it contains lots of info about the sword coast, but whether that excites you is not for me to judge) provides lots of information on the part of the Forgotten Realms (the current “default” setting with the most published material for 5e) that most published adventures take place in, but it's pretty normal to run D&D in any of the many other officially acknowledged or even wholly custom settings.

I'm not aware of any official D&D films that are any good. I hear the critical role podcast got a lot of people into D&D, so you might want to check that out - although again none of it takes place in the forgotten realms.

Also worth noting that even if you play in an existing setting, a DM is not generally expected to fully stick to any published lore; aside from that being impractical due to the sheer amount of it, it'd also get in the way of running campaigns if you had to check if there was contradicting or lore somewhere every time you tried to set something up.

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The Sword Coast is ultimately a kitchen-sink fantasy setting based on traditional euro-centric tropes and myths.

Setting Information as a Player

Part of the Sword Coast's enduring draw is that players tend to need little a priori knowledge to jump into the setting and anyone who is familiar with fantasy tropes knows enough to try their hand at running the world (as opposed to Dark Sun or Eberron). As a result, different adventures set on the Sword Coast, (say, the Starter Set's Lost Mines of Phandelver or the latest adventure, Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus) can "feel" wildly different to the players.

This means that being prepared for any adventure or canon NPC is basically unfeasible. With conflicting edition lore, hundreds of novels, all the video games, uncountable live play streams... all of which might be—but probably aren't—relevant to the campaign you will play, it's understandable your table is overwhelmed.

Players really can't prepare well without a Session 0 of some form.

Aiding Players as a DM

The DM should know the campaign themes though. And with that, there are a number of resources the DM might offer their players. Many of the Fifth Edition adventures have handouts of differing lengths that can quickly orient players to specific areas. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist has some of my favorite.

  • The Waterdeep Enchiridion is a fairly detailed overview (yes, I know what I typed) for the city that isn't specific to the module. That's a fairly beefy handout and when I run games for new players, it's a bit much. Passing it around might help your table though. You can find a PDF of just this chapter.
  • What I normally use from Dragon Heist for Session 0 is the city map, Code Legal, and a 2 minute history of city events that might be important to the campaign. I do this for any Waterdeep adventure, not just the published module the material is from. This typically captures the feel pretty well since it introduces key leaders, government structure, high fantasy creatures, and how the players can expect to interact on a social level with all of the above. I use a similar structure for any new city/setting and largely let players direct the conversation from there.

Having said that, if you are running a game with significant political intrigue, you're players will need information on all the factions more than an area map. If you are running the Starter Set, they really only need to experience the first encounter and talk to a few NPCs in Phandalin.

That is to say, each campaign should be tailored to a few important reference points that the DM can share with the players.

My Recommendation for New DMs

Assuming the DM is also new to the Sword Coast (and D&D), I highly recommend the Fifth Edition Starter Set. It comes with everything you need to get a feel for the game including rules, pre-generated player characters, how to generate more PCs, setting information, maps, faction overviews, descriptive text, monster stats... all in two pamphlets (one for all the players and one for only the DM) that are fairly easy to pick up and read. You don't say where you are, but in the United States, the set can be easily found for under $15.

If you want more lore and less gameplay, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide is a quick way to hit the ground running. Personally, I would stick to a specific city, like Waterdeep, that is more relevant to the initial adventure you want to try running.

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As others have mentioned, there's no such thing as 'the dungeons and dragons world'. Dungeons and Dragons is an RPG system. There exist several different campaign worlds for it.

However:

'Setting' isn't that important to dnd.

If you've only played more setting focused games that might sound crazy, but it's true. It is extremely easy to play D&D without ever specifying anything but the barest setting elements.

This doesn't mean implementing large amount of setting in D&D can't be fun, it's just very optional, much more optional than in more setting focused games.

  • If you want to get into D&D, focus on the mechanics and game play. D&D puts a lot of weight on its mechanics. It will be a lot easier to get into the game if you run a generic setting and you focus on learning the mechanics first.

  • After mechanics, focus on atmosphere. Atmosphere is much more important in D&D than setting. In fact most setting elements you'd want to implement because they add to atmosphere.

  • After you done this you can add in more setting related stuff, if you want to.

With that out of the way, here's some setting based information:

The Dungeon Masters Guide in 5th edition outlines some 'setting assumptions', essentially guidelines for a D&D 'like' setting. These are very useful to get a grasp of the core atmosphere of D&D.

I also recommend the youtube series "What they don't tell you about x". Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFZ_eaCcU-k (what they don't tell you about elves). This summarizes official lore for various creatures as if it was a single setting. It's fun to listen to and good for ideas.

Ultimately, it's better to consider D&D as a type of niche fantasy sub-genre than a setting. One of the disadvantages is it becomes kinda weird to approach for people not used to it, but one of the advantages is it's pretty easy to make your own setting for it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth adding that the initial popularity of the game happened without any official 'setting' at all (when it was first published in 1974) and it still has that basic premise outlined in the DMG. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 28 at 14:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that the game should be separate from the setting. The setting does make a huge difference to how each game of D&D feels to the players though. And personally, I find the "What they don't tell you" series to be horrible for my players to watch. It's mostly incorrect (hence "them" not telling you) with mismatched edition lore at best and outright contradictions at worst. \$\endgroup\$ – raithyn Mar 2 at 19:28
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Watch Sorceress 1982 film

D&D is an adventure game typically set in a medieval like world with fantastic elements like magic.

The Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords & sorcery PHB p5

A movie that could speedily provide a sense or general feel of a typical D&D setting would be the 1982 film Sorceress.

It’s highly available, streaming on youtube, amazon prime video.

Sorceress represents a litany fantasy tropes. It’s an adventure movie with a simple plot, it has magic and monsters inspired by pulp fantasy fiction that came before.

An age undreamed of An age of fantasy and magic Of swords and sorcery (Tagline from the film cover)

The movie is comedic and light hearted, this is a better entry point to the cheeky and absurdist elements of D&D compared to the more serious contemporary fantasy genre films such as Lord of the Rings.

There are plenty of other films that capture a similar spirit, but to start with one, there is little reason not to choose Sorceress over another.

There is even a fan made one minute version, for the truly impatient.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is Sorceress set in any of the D&D worlds? If yes, which one? \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Mar 2 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fgysinreinstateMonica D&D inventor Gary Gygax listed fiction author Fritz Leiber as a direct influence in creating D&D. Lieber coined the term “Sword & Sorcery” as a fiction genre. The introduction of D&D 5e players handbook reads “The D&D rpg is about storytelling in worlds of swords & sorcery” the movie Sorceress directed by Jack Hill is intended explicitly to be in the same fictional universe, the movie’s tagline being “An age undreamed of An age of fantasy and magic Of swords and sorcery”. \$\endgroup\$ – Amethyst Wizard Mar 2 at 23:07

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