Best Fantasy Setting Sourcebooks: Composite Ranking
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Using the ratings from RPGGeek, RPG.net, and Hahn Library this list includes the top ten fantasy campaign settings across the three sites. In contrast to the top-rated adventures, RPG.net has historically provided significantly more coverage than RPGGeek in this area, with multiple reviews and sometimes dozens of ratings for each item, but RPGGeek is slowly catching up. Hahn Library provides rating only for D&D products. To maintain focus, this list looks only at setting supplements without core rules.

Method: I weighted each rating by the average rating of the sourcebooks selected from each site, averaged the three (or two for non-D&D products) ratings together, and then scaled it so the top product would have a Composite Score of 10 out of 10.

Choosing a System: Most of these settings are associated with a fairly traditional RPG like D&D, but many believe the system that the setting was written for doesn't do it justice. In all cases, a go-to alternative is HeroQuest, renowned for its ability to make settings come alive in play. If a system other than the setting's original or HeroQuest stands out as particularly interesting with that setting, I note it below.
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1. RPG Item: Planescape Campaign Setting [Average Rating:8.42 Overall Rank:9]
RPG Item: Planescape Campaign Setting
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Composite Score = 10.0
Total Cost with Suggested Systems = $42


Overall Rating: It's nearly undisputed that Planescape ($42 on Amazon.com) is the finest setting ever published for D&D, and its composite ratings show that it's the cream of the crop across all systems. This is one of those campaign settings that a true gamer will want to experience no matter his usual preferences.

Suggested Systems: Many people think that the way beliefs alter the multiverse to be the most compelling aspect of this setting, so a game like The Shadow of Yesterday (free) is an excellent fit here. Judd's posted a link to his adaptation in the comments, and a good recent discussion of this is here. For a completely different approach, Donjon: Planescape is also very intriguing, allowing for players (not just the GM) to define what's behind various portals.

Alternate Setting: Plane-walking driven by nifty mechanics? Enter Everway ($18 on Amazon), a highly innovative and overlooked system. You can play it on its own, but many find its setting similar to Planescape but rather underdeveloped, making Everway's rules another potential driver for the Planescape setting.
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2. RPG Item: Hârn Regional Module [Average Rating:8.39 Overall Rank:420]
RPG Item: Hârn Regional Module
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Composite Score = 9.8
Total Cost with Suggested System = $75 - 110


Overall Rating & Cost: Hârn ($35 on Amazon) is generally considered the most detailed and rich fantasy setting out there--thus, its avid following. Unless the GM is willing to do an exceptional amount of work, the base set is not going to provide enough material to launch a compelling campaign, so additional investment in further modules is likely necessary. Kaldor ($50) is a popular choice, and there are plenty other options in the vicinity of $15 apiece.

Suggested System: Although it now has Hârnmaster ($11) as its own homebrew system, Hârn is designed to be independent of any ruleset. While these forums show the diversity of systems you can use, GURPS is probably mentioned most frequently, which makes sense given its alignment with the setting's simulationist priorities. I found the Burning Wheel ($25) adaptation detailed here particularly interesting. The richness and depth of Burning Wheel as well as its ability to support many play styles could dovetail well with Hârn's own strengths.

Alternate Settings: The Kingdoms of Kalamar have been called "Greyhawk meets Harn.". At just $7 on Amazon.com, its sourcebook is the most affordable of any on this list.
 
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3. RPG Item: Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:84]
RPG Item: Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting
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Composite Score = 9.7
Total Cost with Suggested System = $10


Overall Ratings & Cost: The Forgotten Realms offers up a style of classic high fantasy that was the signature of D&D gaming for over a decade. The rating above is for the 3rd edition sourcebook ($10 on Amazon.com). Although Geeks on this site hold it in lower esteem than most of the other stuff on this list, folks on RPG.net and at the Hahn Library absolutely love it. The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting also stands out right now for its value: $10 is as low as it goes for a sourcebook.

Suggested Systems: As a pretty standard high fantasy setting, multitudes of systems might work with the Forgotten Realms. However, given its long relationship with D&D and heavy reliance on magic, disentangling the Realms from that system is probably more effort than it's worth for traditional play. Indeed, the plethora of monster-bashing high adventure hooks and new magic/feat/kewl character options draw most of the praise for this book, and these enhance exactly the kind of play for which D&D was designed. If you find D&D 3.5 (or Pathfinder) too clumsy for your tastes, pare it down with a lighter d20 derivative like Microlite20.

Alternate Setting: If the Forgotten Realms are too glamorous for you, then maybe Midnight ($39) will be more your speed. Like the Realms, it's d20-compatible, but you can also work it over with HeroQuest. In a six-way tie for 11th (i.e., barely missed making this list), Midnight is high fantasy taken in a very dark direction; think "Sauron won."
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4. RPG Item: Dictionary of Mu [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:512]
RPG Item: Dictionary of Mu
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Composite Score = 9.6
Total Cost with Suggested System = $40
($20 for Dark Sun)

Overall Rating & Cost: Breaking the chain of settings for mainstream games, the Dictionary of Mu ($60 on Amazon.com, $20 at IPR) is designed for the breakthrough indie game Sorcerer. If you are interested in innovative game mechanics in a rich setting, then Sorcerer and the Dictionary of Mu could make an excellent combo for you.

One Way to Play: Unlike most of the other settings here, which were designed without much regard to the game system, the Dictionary of Mu was specifically created for Sorcerer ($20). Moreover, since Sorcerer itself was created under the premise that "system does matter," it would defeat the purpose of both the setting and the system to try to swap them out for others.

Alternate Setting: Like the dark, pulpy fantasy of the Dictionary of Mu, but have different play priorities? Try the original Dark Sun ($20), one of Mu's inspirations. While the default AD&D rules will do alright, systems like Barbarians of Lemuria and Under the Dying Sun (for Spellcraft & Swordplay) will give it a decidedly "old school" feel.
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5. RPG Item: Domains of Dread [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:464]
RPG Item: Domains of Dread
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There are seven additional setting supplements that are excellent in their own rating (Composite Scores = 9.0 to 9.2), but they are a step below the others on this list in their overall ratings. I've mentioned some of them as "Alternatives" already, but here they are together:

- Dark Sun ($20)
- Ravenloft ($17), especially with Conspiracy of Shadows ($20)
- The Principalities of Glantri
- Glorantha
- Iron Kingdoms
- Wilderlands
- Midnight
 
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