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3rd Party Review: Top 5 5e Campaign Settings

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

"Giants Rest" by Dean Spencer

There's no shortage of D&D Fifth Edition campaign settings from Wizards of the Coast these days but if you're interested in exploring a setting that is off the beaten path, you've come to the right place. With two of our own 5e campaign settings planned to launch in 2022, we've been thinking a lot about what makes for a great campaign setting book. Engaging and inclusive lore. Fascinating settlements. Mysterious and dangerous locations to discover and explore. Terrifying monsters to encounter. And perhaps most important, a world that feels cohesive with its own set of consistent internal logic. After backing more than 150 5e Kickstarters and purchasing a dragon's horde of 3rd party D&D content, here are my top 5 picks for 3rd party 5e Campaign Settings that you can purchase today.

The Red Opera by Apotheosis Studios

A love letter to heavy metal music in the form of an epic D&D 5e adventure and campaign setting, The Red Opera is the definitive 3rd party book for anyone who likes the Warlock class. When I mentioned the importance for a campaign setting to "feel cohesive with its own set of consistent internal logic," this is perhaps the best example of what I mean. The Shadelands are gothic with fascinating NPCs, deadly encounters, lots of new Warlock-themed content, and beautiful artwork throughout to make it all come to life. The book even includes a link to a free 10-Part orchestra to play in conjunction with the game. From a DM perspective, the book is well-structured with lots of guidance on scaling the game for parties of different levels. It even includes guidance on running a level-1 party all the way through the campaign with no leveling-up for a truly challenging experience. If you want a campaign that has the feel of a Heavy Metal magazine cover, look no further.

If you haven't dabbled in worlds outside of Wizards of the Coasts' Forgotten Realms, pull up a seat and let me tell you about Midgard. This setting is dark, featuring a kingdom in decay, reclaimed by wilderness, monsters, and a variety of powers that have no love for adventurers. The Worldbook is a lore-lovers dream featuring 400 pages of lore about the world's history, regions, cities, factions, key figures, gods, villains, and complex dynamics. For those looking for nuts-and-bolts mechanics, you'll find what you're looking for in the appendix with a horde of new player options, spells, items, drugs, artifacts and more. The one downside - for those seeking a pre-written adventure, this book only provides lore and some player options. With dozens of accompanying adventures, bestiaries, players guides, and modules, you could get several campaigns out of Midgard without ever getting bored.

Quick Aside

Want a free adventure you can play tonight with 30 minutes of prep? Have one on us!

Though I am a huge fan of D&D 5e, my first love for RPGs was from video games. One of my all-time favorite video games? Dragon Age: Origins. If you enjoyed exploring the world of Ferelden as a Grey Warden, let me introduce you to Odyssey of the Dragonlords. It was designed by the same writer as Dragon Age: Origins. Everything about this campaign setting is inspired by ancient Greece. One of the key additions is the concept of the "Epic path," sort of a modified character background that integrates the PCs into the main events of a story in a meaningful way. It also includes guidance on fame, with PCs gaining perks and notoriety as they complete epic deeds. This books also includes a huge adventure path made for 1st to 15th+ parties. If you've ever wanted to feel like a hero from a Homerian epic poem, to play as a satyr, or to wield a spear and shield like a hoplite, take a look at this book.

This list's hidden gem, Velea is an interesting and succinctly described campaign setting. It contains all the details you need to start your campaign in an interestiong world with a rich history. It is loaded with new character options, factions, new weapons and equipment, and a solid bestiary. This books real strength is its design. The layout, page design, and artwork are absolutely beautiful. The lore, history, and background are accessible and distilled down to the essentials, allowing GMs to add their own flavor. One important note is that this book does not contain its own adventure path.

Codex of Aihrde by Troll Lord Games

As a setting, Aihrde may be my personal favorite. Like Midgard, it features a land in decay, the ruins and remnants of a once mighty kingdom lost to encroaching forests and opportunisitic monsters. The world is low-magic and human-centric. The world is rich with thousands of years of history but the story takes place just decades after the death of god and collapse of a kingdom. Now, young settlements are sprouting from the rubble, eager to expand. The nobles in this land are - in some cases - more devastating than the monsters. While the Campaign Setting is great and I would recommend it, it is 100% system neutral. It contains all of the world lore and information but with no adventure path, monsters, or character options. Also like Midgard, Aihrde also comes with a dragon's horde of companion published supplements written in this world. If you are interested in getting your feet wet in Aihrde, I would recommend checking out one of its companion adventures first, such as Assault on Blacktooth Ridge. For just $9.99 for a softcover booklet, this is a great entry point into the world. While the writing and worldbuilding are absolutely inspired, my one gripe with Airhde is the general lack of art. The codex has some good full color art. The companion adventures feature more of the old school black and white art.

What’s your favorite 3rd Party Campaign Setting? Let me know in the comments!

- Shane Collins

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