Agatheron's Points of Light
The world itself has no proper name. Sometimes it is referred to as the “First Work”, but beyond that most simply refer to it as the world. In this universe, it occupies a central location in the cosmology. The heroes have begun to explore one small corner of the world, learning about it as they begin to explore it and the wonders it holds.
Designer Notes from Wizards of the Coast
As excerpted from Chapter 2 of the Dungeon Master’s Kit, this outlines the basic assumptions of the D&D Core World. In some respects, this is more Metagame information about the assumptions made about the world than details about the “World” itself.
A Dark World. The current age has no all-encompassing empire. The world is shrouded in a dark age, between the collapse of the last great empire and the rise of the next, which might be centuries away. Minor kingdoms prosper, to be sure: baronies, holdings, city-states. But each settlement appears as a point of light in the widespread darkness, a haven, an island of civilization in the wilderness that covers the world. Adventurers can rest and recuperate in settlements between adventures. No settlement is entirely safe, however, and adventures often break out within (or under) cities and towns.
The World Is a Fantastic Place. Magic works, servants of the gods wield divine power, and fire giants build strongholds in active volcanoes. The world might be based on reality, but it’s a blend of real-world physics, cultures, and history with a heavy dose of fantasy. For the game’s purposes, it doesn’t matter what historical paladins were like; it cares about what paladins are like in the fantasy world. Adventurers visit the most fantastic locations: wide cavern passages cut by rivers of lava, towers held aloft in the sky by ancient magic, and forests of twisted trees draped in shimmering fog.
The World Is Ancient. Empires rise and empires crumble, leaving few places that have not been touched by their grandeur. Ruin, time, and natural forces eventually claim all, leaving the Dungeons & Dragons game world rich with places of adventure and mystery. Ancient civilizations and their knowledge survive in legends, artifacts, and the ruins they left behind, but chaos and darkness inevitably follow an empire’s collapse. Each new realm must carve a place out of the world rather than build on the efforts of past civilizations.
The World Is Mysterious. Wild, uncontrolled regions abound and cover most of the world. City-states of various races dot the darkness, bastions in the wilderness built amid the ruins of the past. Some of these settlements are “points of light” where adventurers can expect peaceful interaction with the inhabitants, but many more are dangerous. No one race lords over the world, and vast kingdoms are rare. People know the area they live in well, and they’ve heard stories of other places from merchants and travellers, but few know what lies beyond the mountains or in the depth of the great forest unless they’ve been there personally.
Monsters Are Everywhere. Most monsters of the world are as natural as bears or horses are on Earth, and monsters inhabit civilized parts of the world and the wilderness alike. Griffon riders patrol the skies over dwarf cities, domesticated behemoths carry trade goods over long distances, a yuan-ti empire holds sway just a few hundred miles from a human kingdom, and a troop of ice archons from the Elemental Chaos might suddenly appear in the mountains near a major city.
Adventurers Are Exceptional. Player characters are the pioneers, explorers, trailblazers, thrill seekers, and heroes of the Dungeons & Dragons game world. Although non-player characters might have a class and gain power, they do not necessarily advance as adventurers do, and they exist for a different purpose. Not everyone in the world gains levels as adventurers do. An NPC might be a veteran of numerous battles and still not become a 3rd-level fighter; an army of elves is made up of soldiers, not fighters.
The Civilized Races Band Together. The great races of the world—humans, dwarves, eladrin, elves, and halflings—drew closer together during the time of the last great empire (which was human-dominated). That’s what makes them the civilized races—they’re the ones found living together in the towns and cities of civilization. Other races, including dragonborn and tieflings, are in decline, heirs of ancient empires long forgotten. Goblins, orcs, gnolls, kobolds, and similar savage races were never part of that human empire. Some of them, such as the militaristic hobgoblins, have cities, organized societies, and kingdoms of their own. These are islands of civilization in the wilderness, but they are not “points of light.”
Magic Is Not Everyday, but it Is Natural. No one is superstitious about magic, but neither is the use of magic trivial. Practitioners of magic are as rare as fighters. People might see evidence of magic every day, but it’s usually minor —a fantastic monster, a visibly answered prayer, a wizard flying by on a griffon. However, true masters of magic are rare. Many people have access to a little magic, and such minor magic helps those living within the points of light to maintain their communities. But those who have the power to shape spells the way a blacksmith shapes metal are as rare as adventurers and appear as friends or foes to the player characters.
Gods and Primordials Shaped the World. The primordials, elemental creatures of enormous power, shaped the world out of the Elemental Chaos. The gods gave it permanence and warred with the primordials for control of the new creation, in a great conflict known as the Dawn War. The gods eventually triumphed, and primordials now slumber in remote parts of the Elemental Chaos or rage in hidden prisons.
Gods Are Distant. At the end of the Dawn War, the mighty primal spirits of the world exerted their influence, forbidding gods and primordials alike from directly influencing the world. Now exarchs act in the world on behalf of their gods, and angels appear to undertake missions that promote the agendas of the gods they serve. Gods are extremely powerful, compared to mortals and monsters, but they aren’t omniscient or omnipotent. They provide access to the divine power source for their clerics and paladins, and their followers pray to them in hopes that they or their exarchs will hear them and bless them.