Sunday, April 4, 2021

Seeking the GFS (Generic Fantasy Setting) + 20 Core Elements

I've never liked the idea of calling something a “generic” fantasy setting for two reasons. One, the term generic has a bit of a negative connotation that, in my opinion, isn't really warranted. I like generic stuff. Sometimes vanilla is the best flavor. But the second, and most pressing reason, is because “Generic” doesn't actually mean anything.

When people are calling something generic, they're usually saying whatever thing or system or setting they are most familiar and comfortable with that has become the basis for their fantasy universe. The term “generic fantasy setting” is a bit of a misnomer because people have very different definitions of what generic actually is.

Art @Andreas Rocha
Off the top of my head, I'm going to list the most “generic” fantasy settings I can think of, or the “generic” settings that people use as the baseline for fantasy worlds.
  • Lord of the Rings or Tolkien's expanded work / Middle Earth
  • The Elder Scrolls / Tamriel
  • World of Warcraft / Azeroth
  • The Witcher Universe / The Witcher Universe
  • Dungeons & Dragons / Forgotten Realms + Others
  • Dungeon Meshi Manga / Dungeon Meshi Universe
Now these are just the ones I've seen or played. I've heard Dragon Age and Dragon's Dogma are supposed to also be fairly generic as well, but I haven't played or seen enough of those to make a judgement if they should be added to the list. Warhammer is also fairly generic at the surface (human empire, elves, dwarves, orcs, order vs chaos, etc.) but has a lot of specific unique elements and factions which don't fit that well for our purposes.

As you can probably tell; the above list is not supposed to be some kind of list of carbon copy fantasy worlds. ALL of these worlds are very different from each other. Even if they have similarities on the surface, they're each different and unique. This is exactly what I've been trying to say; Elves from Warcraft and Elves from Tolkien have almost nothing in common, but they are both “generic” because they both have vaguely similar aesthetic presentations and hold similar tropes. They both feel like elves despite almost everything about them being different.

However, it is clear that there is some undercurrent of “generic” connection between these and more fantasy worlds. I think the term “Generic Fantasy Setting”has value. I think it's both a useful term and a fun archetype of “world” to create or run in. So let's quantify it with a table.
You could also use this table below as a quick-and-dirty fantasy setting creation tool. Take everything below as "true" for the setting. Then just roll d20 to pick a category, then a smaller die with a number of faces equal to the bold and italic text in the category. Whatever you roll; change, remove, or shift up that element. Roll any number of times to spice up your new "generic" fantasy setting.
Art @Sweetmoon

20 Core Elements that make up a GFS
[1] The world is based on the cosmic struggle or balance between Good and Evil OR Law and Chaos OR is physically constructed by the Four Elements.

[2] The main biome or landmass of the setting, or the place with the main campaign or most detail, is a Western European Temperate Biome. The setting has a technological level and history that is roughly analogous to the High Medieval / Early Renaissance.

[3] The setting tends to be ruled by a Pantheon of Gods. The Gods are thought to exist but only rarely intervene in mortal affairs.

[4] There are several different intelligent fantasy races. These races are;
  • Humans who mostly live on the plains, and tend to be the most populous race.
  • Elves who mostly live in the forests.
  • Dwarves who mostly live in the mountains and/or hills.
  • Orcs who mostly live in the wastelands. They tend to be antagonistic to the other races.
  • Any other races are much more rare and are often from exotic locales.

[5] The primary power structure of the setting is a feudal monarchy which is ruled by a King OR Emperor. This system is one where land, wealth, and social status if passed from parent to child. The most powerful individuals in society are Nobles. The primary inheriting sex is Male.
[6] The land is protected by trained soldiers who protect it from monsters, invasions, and other threats. The most elite of these trained soldiers are Knights or heavily armed cavalry. These Knights are expected to Follow a Moral Code and there is a level of Prestige associated with them.

[7] The majority of the people survive by Farming. The most common types of food cultivated is Bread cultivated from wheat ground into flour, etc. Livestock include Cows, Sheep, Goats, Chickens and Pigs.

[8] The primary vehicle used by people in this setting for transport and warfare are Horses over land and Ships over sea. While the primary setting is already mapped and established with civilizations, there are Unexplored Lands on the borders of the map.

[9] The most common threats people encounter when traveling on the roads Bandits and Wolves. Most rookie adventurers start off fighting weak monsters like Giant Rats or Goblins. More rare monsters can be very dangerous. The most infamous, though not necessarily most powerful or common of these monsters is the Dragon. The strongest monsters in the setting tend to have a weird habit of Kidnapping Princesses and locking them up far away.

[10] There are ancient Dungeons which house dangers like monsters, traps, and magic. The primary reason people explore these dungeons is to acquire Treasure. These dungeons are usually ruins left behind by a More Magically Advanced but fallen Precursor Civilization. Additionally, dungeons are also the most likely places to hold Ancient Evils that are waiting to be awakened.

[11] Among treasures and other wonders found in Dungeons, you might also find magic items. The most powerful and sought after are Magic Swords, which is the most noble weapon. The other most powerful magic item are lamps which house Genies that grant Three Wishes.

[12] Magic is a powerful force in this universe. Magic is Rare and usually kept as Secret Knowledge. Those who cultivate magic can use it in the forms of Potions, Spells, and Enchanted Items.

[13] The type of people who use magic are scholarly, wise Wizards. They are usually Very Powerful but Withdrawn from the world. They tend to sequester themselves in Towers.

[14] Typically, the most common end goals for a Wizard or mark of a great Wizard is to become Immortal or to create the philosophers stone and turn Lead into Gold.

[15] The most advanced weapon in the setting is a Catapult OR Repeating Crossbow. Blackpowder weapons are in their Infancy OR Are inexplicably absent.

[16] The primary currency used by people in the setting are Circular Coins made of Gold, Silver, and Bronze for different denominations. The wealthiest people in the setting besides the ruling classes will usually be Merchants and Guildmasters.

[17] Outside of civilization, there is untamed wilderness. This is where Fairies live, who are known to be Magical Tricksters who love Pranks. They are not usually hostile nor are they benevolent. Nature itself may also be a force in the world; too much industrialization from (usually humans or orcs) may incur the Wrath of Nature in the form of natural disasters and animal attacks. Finally; there are Treants, tree people who talk and may be able to walk or uproot themselves if needed who defend the forests and seek to retain a balance with nature.

[18] After people die, their souls are ferried to an Afterlife determined by their Deity OR Taken to Heaven or Hell based on how good or evil they are. Those whose spirits are get lost in the process or have unfinished business may end up as Ghosts, which is where Ghosts come from.

[19] There are people who come back from the dead as Undead Monsters like zombies or skeletons. They were raised from the dead by a Necromancer OR by being Buried somewhere Cursed. They can be destroyed physically and are Repelled by Holy Things.
[20] The most common religion in the setting is expressed by a powerful Church with ordained priests. The priests can sometimes perform Healing Miracles and can destroy the Undead with their holy magic. While the world can be dark and scary, the faithful teach messages of Hope. Other faiths practice in secret and form into Dark Cults.


  1. Now I want to copy all this and mad-libs it.

  2. Been working on a setting like this for a few years now. Something deliberately Vanilla, and influenced by works ranging from Prydain to Odin Sphere.

    It was about 85% what was listed. The big differences where at entries 16 (They use canons and guns), 15 (soft time line, so some people just live for ages and ages, stone or not), as well as a more varied Biome and Diet, and a more accurate feudalism (Below the King, vassals, below them, etc).