Now, if you're confused what the heck I'm talking about, let's back up: I used to be a very big fan of Dungeons and Dragons. I put I-don't-know-how-much money into building up a collection of books, even though these source- and guide-books were for roleplaying and I rarely did any roleplaying. In fact, when I first started collecting these rpg book, I wasn't even entirely sure about the game system, since this was in a time when AD&D was switching over to 2nd Edition, but D&D products were still being printed by TSR.
So I was a pretty indiscriminate collector, with lots of rule books (The Complete Fighter, Thief, etc., the Fiend Folio, etc.) and lots of setting books (Oriental Adventures hardback, Forgotten Realms boxed set, etc.).
I would separate the settings of TSR (and later Wizards of the Coast) into some broad groups:
- "Generic" (Western, Tolkien) Fantasy:
- Forgotten Realms
- Mystara / Hollow World / Savage Coast
- Cultural/Historical Depictions
- Al-Qadim (Arabian, part of Forgotten Realms)
- The Horde (Mongols, part of Forgotten Realms)
- Kara-Tur (Asia, part of Forgotten Realms)
- Maztica (New World/Conquistadors, part of Forgotten Realms)
- Birthright (play kings and queens--in a generic fantasy world!)
- Council of Wyrms (play dragons!)
- Dark Sun (an environmental post-apocalypse!)
- Eberron (generic fantasy with some magic technology! specially made for 3rd edition!)
- Ghostwalk (play as undead!)
- Planescape (play in the outer realms of the gods!)
- Ravenloft (play in Gothic horror!)
- Spelljammer (play in space!)
Now, depending on your interests, those cultural/historical settings might be interesting; and depending on your particular bent, those shtick-based settings might be interesting. Though I love all those cultural/historical settings, my absolute favorite settings are probably the shticks that have the most tonal consistency: Dark Sun, where everything you think about fantasy gets turned on its head while still being a recognizable fantasy world; Planescape, where everything in every world mingles in a space that seems anathema to regular life; and Ravenloft, where everything mingles, but the tone is dread.
But that's not the question. The question here is, "Why is Forgotten Realms my favorite generic fantasy setting for D&D?"
Part of that answer is that FR is a wide world that has a place for just about everything. You want Celtic-themed fantasy? Moonshae Isles. You want high medieval knights? Cormyr. You want Egyptian and Mesopotamian god-kings? OK, I'm not sure why but: Mulhorand and Unther (I think). Then there's all the standard fantasy tropes: the evil secret society of wizards, the ancient fallen empire, the cursed desert that is actually a prison for monsters, the secret society of good, the cosmopolitan city that is built OVER A GIANT DUNGEON. If that's not a standard fantasy trope, it should be.
By contrast, while I loved the Dragonlance books, the action of those book overshadowed the world as a roleplaying setting. I mean, you have these characters going around and re-making the world, so what's left for your characters to do?
But why don't I like Greyhawk? Part of that has to do with the standardness of that world: it's pretty plain, with an evil dark lord and some good countries and a giant cosmopolitan city without a dungeon underneath it. It's all... pretty flavorless, with just the standard fantasy of medieval Europe fighting a cosmic evil.
What were your favorite settings and why?