Reddit is no stranger to D&D-related despair. You’ve got whole subreddits dedicated to pervs and power players, and literally dozens of people have made Youtube careers reading horror stories. But sometimes people switch it up a bit. People like user ScarytheFairy, who posed a simple question: what campaign premise is an immediate turn-off for you?
1.8k people answered the call. And while this obviously shouldn’t be taken as scripture, it’s interesting to see what makes players run away as though the table was on fire. Or if someone said “Hey, let’s play some 4e.”
So, what are some of these hated campaign premises, you might ask?
#1 – Non-Fantasy/Medieval Settings
Obviously, this is subject to personal taste. Personally, I could go a few sessions running around a wasteland ruled by fast food overlords. Others however, not so much.
Well, to a degree. Many players actually cited numerous reasons why they don’t like Dungeons and Dragons without the dungeons or dragons.
First, there’s obviously a love of the fantasy genre. Second, TSR/WotC designed D&D with said genre in mind, meaning that it works best with it. It’s like taking a Volkswagon Beetle off-roading. Theoretically you can, but there’s cars better built for that sort of thing.
And third, surprisingly, some DMs don’t go all the way with a non-high fantasy setting. For example, a campaign set in the mystical 1980’s that doesn’t have a single keytar-wielding College of Glamour bard or a Patrick Bateman-styled Assassin rogue. Or potions of healing in the form of crystal pepsi.
#2 – Edgy/Grimdark
Yes, this sort of setting can be done right (case in point: Curse of Strahd). And after long stretches of fighting sugar-coated pillow monsters with determination and the power of friendship, crawling through a miserable pit world can do one’s pallet good.
But after a long week of being screamed at by entitled soccer moms or having newsfeeds list all the ways the world is ending, the last thing many players want is to be miserable. Like, say, with a campaign set in a world powered by sexism and child murder. Or having your character’s hope and sanity slowly drained by your standard issue Lovecraft horror. Or having to spend session after session wading through a sea of DeviantArt OCs, each with a backstory more dark and tragic than the last.
Again, there’s a place for this setting and a style for doing it effectively. You can only play Undertale knock-off games for so long until you’re just begging for the Doom music to kick in. But one wrong move, and you’ve got even the most emo of emo kids telling you to bring it back a touch.
#3 – Low/No/Illegal Magic
Yeah, as it turns out, players aren’t crazy about having a huge chunk of a game being removed!
As someone who unironically enjoys playing a barbarian, not having magic isn’t the end of the world. However, a lot of players out there actually like living out their fantasy in an otherwise dreary world. And while illegal magic can present an interesting challenge, it’s also often a pain to constantly deal with.
Strangely enough, a lot of players on the thread actually say they enjoy illegal magic settings. (So I’m only slightly crazy, I guess.)
#4 – High Lethality
Yes, it’s true, reader. Some people like a little Dark Souls in their D&D game. In fact, some users declare that high-kill systems like Deadlands can be refreshing.
That is, unless you’re a player who just got the hang of rolling with advantage when trying to seduce Gilda, the sexy half-orc popstar bard. Or don’t really enjoy having a character they spent an hour to do up being splattered against the pavement in session one. Again, some people like the constant threat of death, due to the tone it might set or the weight it puts on a character’s mortality. But it’s like D&D memes; funny at first, but gets annoying fast.
A huge, specific complaint related to this is permadeath. While this does add importance to a player’s choices, potentially losing your character for good could also deter them from trying the stupid insanity D&D is often known for. And a session without the monk trying to punch a ghost train is a session I won’t even bother faking an illness for.
#5 – Evil Party
It goes without saying that our world’s one archery-inclined teenage messiah figure away from being a dystopian novel. So it’s hardly a surprise that many players take little to no joy in adding to all the pain and misery in the world. However, the reason people don’t enjoy evil campaigns actually sit on a spectrum.
Yes, you have many users cite their reasons good ol’ fashioned empathy, as well as having to deal with jerks in the real world. However, you also have users that dislike evil campaigns because the characters aren’t actually evil, so much as merely irritating murderhobos with no accountability.
Strangely enough, some users also denounced typical “good fights evil”/lawful good only campaigns as total cliche-fests.
#6 – Heavy Intrigue
That snapping sound you just heard was the mystery addict part of my brain contorting itself in sheer agony.
Much of the gripe here lies in the fact that many focus on one character, everyone else regulated to essentially movie extras. Some players have also cited a dislike of this premise often seeing player characters pursuing secret agendas. More so when these agendas put their teammates in the crosshairs. Not to mention the stress of having to be enemies of the state or caught in a web of high stakes can be taxing in real life.
Okay, I love mystery campaigns, but I get this. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve worried about my trickster warforged doll girl abomination trying to sneakily save her toxic gangster father figure from her teammate’s hag grandma.
No I won’t give context.
#7 – Based On Popular IPs
Confession: this was my complaint on the original thread. Every time I see a campaign based on LotR or GoT, I die a little inside. (If it’s based on RWBY, I die and also my soul bursts into flames.)
To my surprise, people agreed with me. Hatred for the hype train aside, users cited various complaints with this campaign concept. First, how the established canon of the series creates rules the narrative has to follow, deterring creativity. There’s also the matter of DMs bending game mechanics to match the setting, which could sometimes lead to confusing gameplay and systems more broken than a retail worker’s spirit during the holidays.
And, of course, you have the elephant in the room that are rabid fans being their annoying, sometimes creepy selves.
#8 – Based On Popular People
The conjoined sibling of #7, these are the campaigns that try to copy popular streamers.
And by “popular steamers,” I mean “almost always Critical Role.” (You can’t swing a dead cat in a game store without hitting someone who wants to be Matt Mercer.) While it might just be an aversion to the hype train talking, D&D streaming shows have become a slur of sorts in the community.
So you can imagine the amount of eyeballs that glaze over the moment someone brings up equipment rental rates. (Or, let’s be realistic, Shopify yearly plan rates and merch ideas.) Things such as the Matt Mercer Effect already loom over D&D like a badly-timed fart joke at a funeral. Having lofty expectations of a campaign’s impact on the internet can kill the campaign itself.
#9 – All Combat/No Combat
Whoo boy. Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Overall, campaigns that are almost entirely combat got dinged the most on this reddit thread. Some people are into D&D for the storylines or having to explore the setting, if only slightly more than combat.
But then again, you also have the people who actually want to use the tome of death that is their spell list. So any campaign setting revolving around combat is a toss-up.
#10 – Anime/Isekai
Oh anime. It’s not the fact that you stopped being cool. Really. It’s your fanbase, if anything.
But yeah, many players on reddit listed anime-based campaigns as one they avoid. While a dislike of the art style is a possibility, the cringe-inducing flashbacks of the more rabid fans no doubt play a part.
Which brings us to the second form of this boss fight: isekai. For those lucky enough to have avoided emotional scarring, isekai refers to a game/light novel genre that has a person (usually a guy/loser) from our world taken to a land filled with magic and love interests. Long (and more hilarious) story short, this is a genre often rife with power fantasies and a zip code’s worth of co-dependent girlfriends.
Which is the sort of campaign idea that belongs more on another reddit thread.
#11 – School/Academy Setting
Show of hands. Who actually liked being a teenager in school? Would you like that to be a campaign setting?
Gimmicky campaign settings got flack on the thread, ones set in schools/academies a profound one. While the right DM can put a cool spin on the idea, players complained about having to deal with cliches. (And the DM’s…er…private hobbies. But we’ll get to that in #12.)
And these cliches actually fall into a subcategory: Harry Potter ripoffs or full-blown in-universe campaigns. Then again, it’s hardly a surprise here. Harry Potter’s popularity among millennials is second only to avocado toast and student loan debt.
#12 – Explicit Content/DM’s Perversion
…Yeah, I don’t think I need to explain why some players aren’t cool with having to sit in on erotic role play or settings based a DM’s personal interests. But just in case I do–
No, DM. Some of us don’t like campaigns based on things you’ve “accidentally googled” once or twice. Just…Just be upfront about what sort of campaign this is and respect boundaries before you bust out the overly-sensual tabaxis.
#13 – Homebrew
Okay, so, that other snap you just heard was the homebrew fan-side of my brain wrapping around the intrigue-fan part of my brain.
Yes, you have players who hate this campaign setting merely out of pure loyalty to WotC’s lore or bad past experiences. But, you also have the players that make some really good points. In a homebrew world, a DM is god. A god that can not only utilize all the above settings, but also some VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS™. Perhaps delivered on the rails of a railroad that stretches all around the world.
And furthermore, they can do so in a world that has little to no premade structure. As much of a creativity freak as I am, I will admit that WotC’s official stuff as least as a solid backbone to base the game on. This could lead to world contradictions or outright janky systems.
And, of course, DMs who think they’re being clever when they name their BBEG Veelon Busk.