As it stands, we have the sun encompassing the elemental chaos with Sigil located above, a trade metropolis in the center of the solar system and just high enough above the orbital plane that you can sail directly to your destinations from there, never having to sail around a planet as their orbits will always take them below your path, not into it, until you reach your destination. In place of Mercury we have a “this space for rent” sign, and in place of Venus we have a slightly more poisonous version of Eberron, which is also home to Immoren, the setting of Iron Kingdoms (and by extension, WarmaHordes) Highpoint, the setting of MechDragon, and Kaladesh, the magepunk MtG plane. It’s a world recently hit by its own moon and which is almost entirely consumed by war, except for the continent of Khorvaire, which recently emerged from war and wants nothing to do with that any longer. Thus, naturally, people stopping over tend to come to Khorvaire. We’ve skipped over Terra for now, on account of that being hyper-valuable real estate that we’ll parcel out at the end, while giving Luna over to the Feywild for the light side and the Shadowfell for the dark side. Hyboria and the Young Kingdoms got their origin stories mushed together and deposited on Mars, and that was the end of the inner solar system. Today, we’re going to push further outwards to the gas giants and water worlds of the outer solar system.
First up, we have Jupiter. At some point, we’ll have to rename this to something other than just “Jupiter” and we can’t do that by stealing an existing setting name because Jupiter has no surface and is home to no settings. For now, we’re just going to keep calling it Jupiter. What we’re really here for are the moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa. All of them are bigger than Pluto and Ganymede is bigger than Mercury. We can add additional moons if necessary because, unlike the order of planets, the number of decently large moons Jupiter has is not super common knowledge (although nerdy types do fairly regularly know about these big four, both because Galileo discovered them and because they’re relatively good candidates for colonization in the next few centuries), but in this phase we’re just going to plonk down what settings we have onto the moons available and see how many are still homeless when we reach the end of the solar system.
Jupiter has two moons that are all at interesting and two more that are super boring. Ganymede is the moon with subsurface oceans (although it’s not the moon that might have marine life on it – that’s Saturn’s moon Titan), and Io is the moon that’s a volcanic hellscape. Callisto and Europa are basically just moons. Callisto does have some ice on it as well as a stupendous number of craters, and Europa technically has an extremely thin atmosphere of oxygen, but so far as providing interesting terrain goes, they are both basically just the moon in slightly different colors. This means we are throwing the details out completely. The only thing we are retaining from real science is that Jupiter has four moons (and even that is subject to change further down the line) and they range in size from “about the size of Asia” to “twice as big as Asia,” but bear in mind that Asia is by definition purely land (and small inland bodies of water), whereas any temperate D&D setting we seek to offload onto one of these moons will be at least 60% water, so in practice these moons go from “about the size of Asia” on Ganymede’s end to “about the size of Europe” on Europa’s (I doubt “this would have about the same landmass as Europe if it happened to have the same land:water ratio as Earth” was the reason for naming the moon Europa). Still enough room to locate a single-continent setting – or more than one, if they for some reason do not have oceans.
In addition to sheer space, there’s theming. A lot of our worlds have some overlap, and I don’t want Jupiter to be “the ghost planet” whose moons are all slight variations on gothic horror (i.e. Innistrad, Ravenloft, Diablo, etc. etc.). These moons form a community but are entirely different celestial bodies, so just like the terrestrial planets, I want each one to be noticeably different from the others. Unlike Hyboria and Eberron, where we stitched together settings with similar premises (swords and sorcery with ancient precursor people and magepunk, respectively), here on Jupiter we’re situating different settings near to one another to create little planetary neighborhoods with some decent variety to them. Since the gas giants of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus all have a significant number of sizable moons (though often they’re barely able to hold a single small continent once water is accounted for), each one can serve as a mini-solar system unto itself. Birthright and Greyhawk have a fair amount of overlap, but if Golarion is neighbors with Innistrad while Oerth is neighbors with Ravnica, that does a lot to help distinguish them.
Ravnica has being a gigantic city as its main schtick, and framing it as being the smallest of any group of moons will make it feel middle-of-the-pack at best. Ravnica as Europa, Jupiter’s smallest moon, means that Ravnica is the smallest moon from a group of the largest moons in the solar system, which people average in their heads to “about average,” even though it’s still a city the size of Asia. So the only options for Ravnica to properly communicate its scale are Ganymede, largest moon of Jupiter, and Titan, largest moon of Saturn.
You can guess from how we’re in the Jupiter part of this post that Ravnica is in Ganymede’s position, the reason for which is that Titan is the only moon of Saturn that can host large continents while Jupiter has three more after Ganymede. If Ravnica takes Titan, then Saturn’s “here be generica” world is going to have to be a one-continent, one-setting world. If Ravnica takes Ganymede, then Jupiter’s generic world can be Callisto, still big enough to hold an entire hemisphere’s worth of regular fantasy settings.
It turns out those generic settings can fit on smaller Jovian moons, too (even the smallest of Jovian moons is quite large compared to any moon that isn’t Titan, Triton, or Luna), so we’re actually using Callisto as Azeroth and Io as Draenor. As a reminder, there was a World of WarCraft d20 system back in the 2000s, so no, we’re not just ballooning out to any vaguely D&D-ish fantasy setting here, we’re sticking to stuff that’s compatible with official D&D mechanics (turns out there’s a lot of settings compatible with at least one edition of D&D). After fifteen years of expansion packs, the world of Azeroth is now very big, with each of its two main continents having enough major locations to actually be continent sized (although still in the Australia/Antarctica/Europe end of being kind of small for a continent) and five other “continents” that are actually kind of tiny but still add up to another continent’s worth of land on their own even if they’re sized more like Great Britain or Japan’s main island rather than Australia. Callisto is about a third the size of Earth, so we don’t have a ton of extra room left over after we’ve got Azeroth covered. We do actually have some, but not enough to fit any other settings into (I’m holding most of the MtG settings in reserve for Saturn and am already shoving most of the one-continent settings together on Europa).
Special mention here to a fifth moon, with surface area roughly that of Portugal, called Amalthea in the real world. In our super-setting, Amalthea is Argus, the capital world of the Burning Legion. Amalthea is so small that it isn’t even compacted into a proper sphere and is still asteroid-shaped, and the ambiguous “many other worlds” obliterated by the Burning Legion are likewise minor moons of Jupiter. The Burning Legion’s first major victory was actually Draenor, and their failure to capture Azeroth afterwards largely halted their expansion in its tracks.
Finally, Europa. Europa is about a quarter of Earth’s surface area and Europe is only a little under 10% of Earth’s land area, so putting three Europes on Europa would be a squeeze. Fortunately, most generic settings aren’t actually the size of Europe, because they tend to be a grab-bag of no more than five or six European cultures with no room left over to squeeze the rest in. Europa contains the Lost Lands, Midgard, and Greyhawk. Now here’s the thing: I don’t really know much about the Lost Lands or Midgard except a general vibe from having read a couple of adventures set there, so I don’t really have any idea what the history of these places is and how to interweave them together. I do know that the Flanaess doesn’t really have any history. Sure, there’s a timeline full of events, but it’s just a bunch of disconnected vignettes, not an actual progression of one event leading to another. An ancient kingdom is needed, so one is written into the timeline some arbitrary number of years back, and a lich needs an origin story, so he’s given one some equally arbitrary number of years back. There’s no continuous chain of cause and effect until about the year 570 when we reach “modern times” (as of 1977-ish), after which what cause and effect does exist is the result of individual villains clashing with individual heroes a couple of different times with very little in the way of larger political ramifications. There are a handful of exceptions – notably, the Greyhawk Wars were continent-spanning – but they’re still self-contained.
I’m just going to assume that the Lost Lands and Midgard are likewise pretty self-contained and that if I ever feel the need to actually read up on their details I can mesh them together with Greyhawk without needing to make any major retcons to get them playing nice with each other. This may come back to bite me later down the line during the second pass, but worst case scenario I may have to swap in some new settings – odds are fantastic I’ll have a couple of medieval European pastiches left over by the time I’m done. What’s important for now is that Europa is just about big enough to contain the Lost Lands, Midgard, and the Flanaess, and nobody cares about the rest of Oerth so we’re going to cut it while recycling the actual name “Oerth” to use as the overall world name.
This gives us a Jovian neighborhood dominated by Ravnica, a trade ecumenopolis that serves as the gateway to the rest of the solar system, and now that we’re talking about trade with moons, we need to talk about orbits. Azeroth actually has the outermost orbit, but this barely matters, because it’s an orbit. Which moon is closest to whatever side of the planet an incoming trader is coming from varies constantly.
What matters for accessibility is orbital period, how long it takes a moon to get from one end of the planet to another. Draenor has a fast orbital period, which means whatever side of the planet you’re approaching from, Draenor will be there before long. Unfortunately it’s also a shattered wasteland overrun by demons and various demon worshiping cults, which makes it pretty low on lists of tourist destinations. Azeroth’s outermost orbit also means it’s got a very long orbital period which means if you show up in Azeroth’s orbit it could be as long as two and a half weeks before the actual world of Azeroth shows up for you to dock. Obviously, you can (inshallah) plan your trip so that you show up right when Azeroth is where you need it to be, but this means spending up to two and a half weeks hanging out on Athas (or wherever) waiting for the exact right moment to depart. It’s usually much faster to just sail to whatever moon has the shortest orbital period, and once you eliminate Draenor, run by demons, and Oerth, a fractious and unstable land with few port facilities and a notably homogenous and unexciting spread of natural resources favored more by pirates than merchants, Ravnica’s the best place to trade. This is doubly true as its burgeoning population gives it ever more vast industrial and commercial capacity.
Ravnica is primarily concerned with external trade and internal intrigue, and other than maintaining an astral navy to keep the trade routes open, especially between the six dozen-ish lesser moons of Jupiter. These lesser moons are much lesser, the overwhelming majority being a few square miles, enough to support a single farming hamlet that ships their crop to Ravnica for sale. A scant handful manage the size of a single small country like Switzerland, and most of these are outposts run by one or, very occasionally, two or three of the Ravnican guilds.
Despite the significant power of Ravnican fleets, the guilds’ lack of concern for the Jovian neighborhood means that they don’t really care about the Burning Legion’s campaign of conquest across the lesser moons so long as none of their own outposts are targeted. For that matter, they weren’t super alarmed when the Legion captured Draenor. They did prepare their fleet for a confrontation, because obviously, but they didn’t even bother coming to Azeroth’s defense during the first invasion (their plan was to counterattack after Azeroth was defeated, when the Burning Legion would be at their weakest, but while it was touch and go for a bit, Azeroth has never actually lost a war with the Legion).
Azeroth and especially Oerth do not really have their shit together at all. They’re consumed with constant internal conflict, not just the guild intrigues of Ravnica but total and generational (if not more frequent) war. Whether the titanic clash of armies of Azeroth or the constant free-for-all of Oerth, the two worlds have limited influence on the rest of the Jovian neighborhood due to their internal conflicts (with the exception of Azeroth successfully stymying the Burning Legion’s expansion – which notably happened only because the Burning Legion represented a common enemy great enough to convince the Horde and Alliance to put their differences aside). In particular, on Oerth the secrets of extra-planetary travel are a jealously guarded secret of a de facto aristocracy of powerful wizards and other adventurers. While most people on Oerth know that ships come from the sky bearing mysterious goods and that the Free City of Greyhawk is some kind of major port for them, very few people have any idea how to actually get such a vessel for themselves.
The Burning Legion hasn’t left the world of Oerth entirely alone. They instigated the Greyhawk Wars and have periodically provided shelter to various Oerth supervillains while they recuperated, in the hopes of weakening the world the same way they used the orcs of Draenor to try and weaken the Alliance nations on Azeroth. The Burning Legion has not yet attacked Oerth in force for two reasons. First, they considered Azeroth more valuable but still within their ability to conquer, and second, when they proved not to be the case, their pride was stung and they became fixated on avenging their defeat. These are all fairly recent events, still – from the invasion of the Burning Legion depicted in WarCraft III to the current expansion of WoW is only about 15 years – so it’s not like it’s a grudge that’s lasted centuries and it’s not unreasonable that a thoroughly beaten Burning Legion might set its sights on the weaker Oerth (though it’s not as weak as all that, Mordenkainen and co. still being out and about) rather than continuing to hurl itself uselessly against Azeroth. A major strategic issue the Burning Legion now faces, however, is that they might be weak enough for Ravnica to finish off just to get them to stop making trouble in the region.
While the Burning Legion serve as sort of arch-villains of the Jovian region, the Phyrexians have that role in the Saturnian region. Magic: the Gathering worlds tend to have only a few dozen landmarks which are usually individual forests, mountains, cities, etc. which means they rarely need more than a single small continent to be represented. They also need to be different worlds from one another (though they can be combined with similar non-Magic settings) because in their source material it is explicitly impossible to get from one to another without being a planeswalker, and that’s even a plot point in Mirrodin. All this to say, small Saturnian moons are the perfect place to stick a bunch of Magic: the Gathering planes. Remember, the MtG planes are all or nothing. Excluding Birthright means Birthright fans will like the setting less – that sucks, but if we’re out of room, someone has to go. Excluding Innistrad, even if every other MtG plane is represented, means all MtG fans will like the setting less, whether or not Innistrad was their favorite plane. In the MtG setting, you can go to Innistrad. If Innistrad isn’t in our super-setting, no matter how many other MtG planes we have, we haven’t successfully included the MtG setting.
So Rhea is Tarkir, Iapetus is Dominaria, Dione is Mirrodin, and Tethys is Phyrexia. Granted, using Tethys on Phyrexia is being kind of unnecessary. In the current MtG plotline, there is no Phyrexia, so the plane doesn’t need to be included to represent the setting. Whatever planet Phyrexia once orbited, or if it was in the asteroid belt or whatever, it’s gone now. The thing is, Saturnian (and Uranian and Neptunian) moons are, with only a handful of exceptions, so tiny that they aren’t really useful for many other settings. They’re all big enough to at least contain one Europe (albeit barely in the case of little Tehtys or Dione), and many of the generic settings are undersized Europes with lots of geographically small cultures excised to make way for the big French, Italian, Russian, etc. ones, but anyone who paid attention to the discussion of Ravnica earlier will have noted that I still haven’t mentioned Saturn’s only really sizable moon, Titan. Kind of like Callisto, we’ll be squeezing as many generic settings as we can onto Titan, and since I don’t want different moons orbiting the same planet to have very similar cultures and genre (but different continents on the same planet can be more similar and it’s fine), once Titan has a few generic high fantasy settings on it, the other moons don’t.
Which means we have small moons to spare, which means we can give one to Phyrexia. They’re the primary villains of the Saturnian region, so officially locating their homeworld there is sensible. Mirrodin and Dominaria are the two main targets of their invasion up ’till now (and it actually worked on Mirrodin). Tarkir was tossed in largely because I had a spare moon.
That leaves Titan. Mystara and EverQuest are located on Titan. Like WoW, EverQuest gets to be included because it had a tabletop RPG spin-off that was made using D&D’s 3.0 rules, making it technically a D&D setting. Titan is 40% of Earth’s size, which is about equal to all of Eurasia plus enough water to keep things temperate. More relevantly, it’s about equal to four Europes (plus water), because generic settings sure do love their Europe analogues. Mystara is almost directly analogous to Europe (though the geography is rearranged, we’ve got Byzantines, Norse, Italians, Franks – the gang’s all here, they just shuffled their chairs around), while Norrath is, uh…I have no idea. I haven’t ever played EverQuest, so I am once again squeezing together settings that appear to be roughly Europe sized and hoping I’m not missing anything massive. Particularly troublesome is that the EverQuest devs make no effort to provide a running summary of what’s going on, which means the only loredumps available are from player scholars untangling things from twenty years of game. Twenty years.
Like the Lost Lands and Midgard, I have really only a vague idea of what all is going on here, but dragons seem to make trouble a whole awful lot and we’re definitely looking at a storyline that wanders episodically from one threat to another without any unified throughline. So I’m just going to assume that all the parts of these three different narratives can be made to play nice with each other and hope that assumption doesn’t come back to haunt me in the second pass (in any case, there’s decent odds I will get bored and wander off before we get that far). We’re going to call this one Norrath, the name of the EverQuest world, because I am pretty confident that whatever the last twenty years of expansions have been about, they have more total detail than Mystara does.
The Saturnian community lacks the regional power of Ravnica that the Jovian community had. Instead, you get the Phyrexians, steadily expanding despite their failures to capture Dominaria (a lesson for the Burning Legion – if it turns out the good guys are camping out on one world, stop trying to conquer that world and take a shot at another one instead). The Saturnian community is fairly remote compared to Jupiter and especially the inner solar system – it takes a long time for a ship to get from Saturn to anywhere else except a different moon that also orbits Saturn. Most of those moons are also riven by internal conflict. Trade inwards is far from unheard of, and indeed Dominaria and Norrath have fairly steady shipments to and from Ravnica, but the length of the trip (Saturn is nearly as far from Jupiter as Jupiter is from the sun) makes trade less reliable and the Saturnian worlds more isolated. So far, the density of protagonists on Dominaria and Norrath has prevented this from being a problem, but after the fall of Mirrodin to the Phyrexians it is unclear whether Dominaria can defend any world other than their own, and whether Norrath will even bother to try to defend any world besides their own.
Uranus (pronounced oo-ran-oos, for the record – it’s latin, so all u’s are “ooh” sounds and never “us” sounds, and the middle syllable is “ran” and not “rain” because “rain” would have an e, like Uraenus, rather than Uranus) has four moons, all of them too small to contain Asia, some too small to contain Africa, which means all strictly useful for one-continent settings. Uranus is also as far from Saturn as Saturn is from the sun, and just as far from Neptune. On top of the distance between the orbits, the orbital period is getting crazy long, which means the time until Saturn is actually in position that you can get there in the shortest amount of time from Neptune happens once every eighty-four years. You may as well just resign yourself to taking the long way – which means most of the time the closest world to Neptune is an inner world planet, because at least those are on the right side of the sun at least once a year. Uranus is within diplomatic range of the rest of the solar system at all, but it’s very remote and hard to get to. We’re going to use a few of these moons to put a bow on Magic: the Gathering and try to get as many small settings covered as we can on the way. Oberon is Birthright, Umbriel is Zendikar, and Ariel is Ixalan. Zendikar and Ixalan are both remote planes of adventure, so they’re most at home here in the outer solar system where they’re hard to access but not so remote as to be godforsaken. We don’t have need for any other bog standard medieval European pastiche, so we’re sticking Birthright’s Cerilia on Oberon. It is now the medieval European pastiche that isn’t near the Burning Legion or the Phyrexians.
Titania is going to be a squeeze. We’re putting Diablo, Ghostwalk, Ravenloft, and Innistrad on Titania. And it’s gonna be a squeeze. Titania is barely 1/8th the size of Earth and has just a little bit more space than is needed for one Europe. It’s the biggest of Uranus’ moons, but Uranus’ moons are bite-size. The good news is that Ghostwalk takes up basically one city and Innistrad can be fit into an even smaller space than most MtG settings. It has no particular maps, and if you cram the notable locations in as tight as is reasonable, you can get it into an area about the size of England. Not even all of Great Britain, just England. Diablo (our third in the category of “this is technically a D&D setting because people thought the d20 system was omni-capable”) does have a map of its continent of Sanctuary, and a good thing, too, because just going off of the first two games I would’ve assumed it was a sprawling multi-continent setting that needed an entire world to itself.
It’s not even really Europe sized, though. Sizable regions of Sanctuary are Khanduras, the Dreadlands, Aranoch, the Sharval Wilds, Xiansai, the Dry Steppes, Kehjistan, the Torajan Jungle, and the ambiguously named “swampland” on the eastern end. Sizable regions of Europe are Britain, France, Iberia, Germany, Poland, Italy, the Baltics, the Balkans, Scandanavia, and we’ve still got some left – if we assume Innistrad is about the size of Austria-Hungary and Czechoslovakia (which are now split up, but you get the idea) then that still leaves Ukraine, the European parts of Russia, plus the change we get from Titania being a little bit bigger than Europe. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course – none of the European nations/regions listed match 1:1 to any particular part of Sanctuary – but we can squeeze Sanctuary down to a bit less than Europe sized.
Can we fit Ravenloft into the leftover space? Yes, but not as cleanly as you might expect. Most people know Ravenloft as basically just Barovia and maybe a handful of other realms, but the realms were drastically expanded when White Wolf’s Sword and Sorcery imprint – the same people who gave us the EverQuest and WoW TTRPGs – somehow got the Ravenloft IP from Wizards of the Coast. This still baffles me. White Wolf made a child studio whose only purpose was to try and use the OGL against WotC to sell 3e systems using IP Wizards wasn’t able to get their hands on, and Wizards decided to give them Ravenloft instead of just making it themselves. In any case, this is an OGL product using the actual D&D 3e rules and an official licensed product using a well-known D&D setting, so this definitely counts. If you Google for “Ravenloft world map” you are very likely to get something like this, which is a fanmade map, but only because the Sword and Sorcery maps were crappy quality so fans made better versions of them. That’s still the same realms and borders and so on.
As you can see from that link, Ravenloft is quite large, much bigger than “squeeze into leftover bits of Europe” size, and that’s not even all of it. This “Core” region contains lots of realms with land borders, but there’s also a few smaller regions containing one or more realms that are surrounded by the mists. Enter the misty border and you could show up anywhere on Ravenloft or just get your skin leeched off by the omniscient cloud, so these misty barriers isolating the smaller regions from one another and the Core don’t play well with maps because they aren’t a consistent border with anything.
But that’s just the thing: Each realm in Ravenloft is the personal Hell of a dark lord, a massive cell in a prison complex whose misty barriers randomly abduct people from other worlds and shove the inhabitants from realm to realm within, and only occasionally spit them back out into some place with regularly functioning geography. Ravenloft is a weird extra-dimensional thing, and when I say it’s “located” on Titania, I’m really saying that there is a fog bank on Titania and if you walk into it you will be somewhere in Ravenloft, but Ravenloft itself has no particular location in space and can pop up anywhere on any world, while being as big as it likes despite the relatively small amount of space it takes up on Titania.
That brings us to the name of the moon, which is Innistrad. People know the name “Diablo,” but don’t recognize “Sanctuary” as its setting, and while Ravenloft is very recognizable, Ravenloft is, as discussed, not really located on this moon so much as accessible from it. That leaves Innistrad or the Ghostwalk city of Manifest, and there’s not even a competition between those two.
The Uranian neighborhood has no major villains defining it the way Jupiter and Saturn do (unless you count Ravenloft, which is unusually active in the area, but mostly just on Innistrad). Its remote position means trade is infrequent and the four moons are largely left to their own devices. No one wants to visit Innistrad because it’s full of ghosts and periodically the devils living under it try to take the whole place over, Cerilia is a xenophobic, internally divided world with little trade potential, and while Zendikar and Ixalan contain ancient secrets and treasures, they don’t contain much in the way of civilization. There is some, particularly on Ixalan which has the Sun Empire and pirates and stuff, but there’s also rather a lot of wilderness (and rather a lot of water). Having little of value and being so remote, people don’t generally go to the Uranian moons, and the people of Uranus who leave tend to stay left.
If Uranus was remote, Neptune is worse. It’s no further from Uranus than Uranus is from Saturn, but 1) that’s still a huge distance, and 2) unless you’re an archaeologist or a ghost buster, there’s nowhere worth going in the Uranian moons anyway. If you want to go from Neptune to anywhere, you want to go at least as far as Saturn, and that’s twice the distance from Saturn to the sun. And even the Sigil/Saturn trip is pretty long. Neptune is a lot closer to something, though. Specifically, the outer planes – which we’ll discuss in the next post because this one is already too long – are closer to Neptunian orbit than Eberron is to Sigil. This means Neptune’s one moon – Triton – is right on the way to Baator and Celestia.
Triton is a water world containing Theros and the Council of Wyrms settings. Theros’ primary trade partner is the gods, although they still keep their distance. The Council of Wyrms lives on the opposite end of the planet from Theros, across a vast ocean. Occasionally, a Therosian ship will land in the dragon isles and seek to challenge the might of the inhabitants, but for the most part the dragons and Therosians have no contact. Theros is about the size of Greece and the Council of Wyrms archipelago, though of ambiguous size, is an archipelago and can’t reasonably be much bigger than the Caribbean Sea (and with a similar land:water ratio). Outside of these two small specks of land, the moon is completely covered in water. We’re calling it Theros, and it’s the last moon we’ll discuss in this post. Next time, we talk about the realms of the gods encircling the solar system and the dwarf planets that exist beyond it.