Standard Fantasy Setting

"There's something terribly weird about the standard fantasy setting, not least of which that 'Standard Fantasy Setting' can be uttered completely without irony. Look at us; we're a civilization so steeped in escapism that we've managed to find mundanity in something that doesn't exist and never will (no matter what your Otherkin friend might say). Why is it accepted fact that Elves fire bows and arrows and commune with trees? That was Tolkien's thing; without him, elves would just about be qualified to sell Rice Krispies. And he made Dwarves wear braided beards and wield battle-axes. Real dwarves don't do that, they get hired by Lucasfilm or take corporate office jobs because they're an equal-opportunity bonanza. Are we all but children, playing eternally on the same swingset while JRR is the grumpy dad watching from the park bench and trying not to get aroused?"

The generic fantasy setting. High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, and Low Fantasy are usually set here, along with many Tabletop RPGs and Video Games; however, this is not required. This is Newer Than They Think. Trope Maker The Lord of the Rings, though written earlier, only developed a cult following in the 1960s. Dungeons & Dragons and The Sword of Shannara, the first novel by Terry Brooks, acted as the Trope Codifiers in the late 1970s. (D&D had, however, originated a bit earlier.)

Another Trope Maker is William Morris, who wrote many such works in the 1890s. Four were reprinted by Ballantine's Adult Fantasy Series from 1969-73. That series is another likely Trope Maker in itself.

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones will tell you pretty much everything you would like to know about the place (minus a few dead horses and unicorns). If you can get your hands on a copy, Barbara Ninde Byfield's 1967 guide The Glass Harmonica (reprinted in 1973 and 1994 as The Book Of Weird) is informative and funny. See also Airport Novel. For the antithesis of Standard Fantasy Setting-style fantasy see Urban Fantasy, Magical Realism and Mundane Fantastic.

Common ingredients:

The following are allowed to be removed if the setting falls in certain values of Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, or due to other Implementation Details:

All of the above are inherited, to one extent or another, from Following The Leadership of Dungeons & Dragons and The Lord of the Rings.

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Examples of settings conforming to this standard include:

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Sojourn which, being part of the multigenre of Sigilverse, deliberately invokes all fantasy tropes.


    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

A few particularly non-compliant fantasy settings include:

    Comic Books  
  • Fables — The Homelands are a patchwork of technologies, cultures, and magics of all types, with literally every imaginable fantasy or mythical creature or race.

    Fan Works 
  • With Strings Attached is an almost 100% noncompliant fantasy setting, to the point where the only trope that really applies is Medieval Stasis, and that only in one of the two cultures on C'hou; the other is a thriving quasi-Victorian land with guns, factories, etc. Also, there are elves, but Word of God says they're just a pointy-eared race of humans.
  • The Keys Stand Alone upends everything the reader knew about C'hou from With Strings Attached, turning it into an Anachronism Stew with everything from cavemen to spacemen, but still largely a noncompliant fantasy setting.

  • Most fantasy written prior to the late 1970s.
    • Virtually all fantasy prior to Lord of the Rings, including, of course, 19th century fantasy.
  • Most stuff set in our day and age (even if most of the action takes place elsewhere).
  • The Ambergris Cycle.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy, an Alternate History version of our world where magicians run an oppressive government in Great Britain.
  • Bas-Lag. (China Miéville's main setting)
  • The Black Company.
  • Chronicles Of Magic is set in a fantasy world, but lacks elves, dwarves, etc. and instead relies almost completely on human characters. The exception to this is Magic itself, which is an actual living being that imparts its power on others.
  • Codex Alera.
  • Jo Clayton's Duel Of Sorcery and Dancer trilogies.
  • The Edge Chronicles differs from the standard by relying more on Minovsky Physics than Functional Magic, emphasising goblins and trolls over elves (only get brief mentions) and dwarves (a type of goblin), and having really weird steampunk technology in the last book. (It's powered by crystallised lightning.)
  • The Empire Of The Petal Throne setting, used in both game and novels, is distinctly non-standard, with no elves, dwarves, trolls, or anything similar to European fantasy, by design.
  • The Etched City by K.J. Bishop.
  • Gormenghast is set in a sprawling city castle complex yet the timeless, routine, indolent nature in which the castle is maintained means it could be in any time period from High Medieval to Victorian. There is no apparent magic or magical races, yet once you get beyond the Earldom of Gormenghast, the world is fairly modern (or steampunk), complete with sky scrapers.
  • Clive Barker's fantasy works Imajica and Abarat.
  • Stephen Hunt's Jackelian Series.
  • The Journey of the Catechist by Alan Dean Foster. No elves as such (although dwarves are mentioned in passing); while there are various monsters, they're decidedly different. There are, however, quite a few non-standard sapient races, including talking animals. And the kingdom and empire are both morally grey.
  • Kingdoms of Light by Alan Dean Foster. (It takes place inside a world inside a rainbow, where the main characters are all humans that were once animals.)
  • Anything by Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive most notably.
  • The Princess Bride, which makes no attempt to make the (fairly limited) magic "make sense".
  • The Seventh Tower.
  • The Starbridge books by Paul Park.
  • The "Szerer cycle" written in the earli Nineties by the Polish author Feliks W. Kres. No fantasy races, but there are sapient cats and vultures, magic (for the most part) takes the form of learned mystics who can once-a-lifetime bend the world to their will or magical artifacts that can be loosely described as leftovers of creation, war with the local flavor of Orcs is a constant low-intensity conflict waged from frontier keeps, the whole world (which is a small continent) is ruled by a single empire loosely patterned on Rome. Fantasy Gun Control happens because the empire has no interest in developing technology that can make its military obsolete, but gunpowder cannons are common on ships and coastal defences. Most of the stories involve the fringes of society, such as criminals in outlying regions or frontier military men, all of them in decidedly unheroic roles.
  • Conan cycle written by Robert E. Howard, set in prehistoric age where societies are modeled either on neolithic tribes or on the earliest Middle-Eastern civilizations (usually Mesopotamian with some Indian influences added for a good measure) with rare and loosely defined magic.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Tékumel is one of the earliest aversions in tabletop games, pre-dating Dungeons & Dragons in development stage.
  • A few of the Magic: The Gathering settings, especially Rath, Mirrodin, and Ravnica. (Some are compliant, though.)
    • However, the earliest core sets had a setting best described as this. (That plane, Dominaria, gradually changed over time and is now amid an After the End phase following the conclusion of the Time Spiral block.)
  • The Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape. This includes the game Planescape: Torment, naturally.
  • Shadowrun.
  • Talislanta.
  • Jorune is an early example of a game engineered specifically to defy this trope.

    Video Games 

Examples of settings that are almost compliant with the standard include:

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Orc Stain: Orcs are the most prominent race and Organic Technology is everywhere.
  • The 2000 AD series Kingmaker takes place in one of these which has recently been conquered by aliens.

  • The Death Gate Cycle started out as a post-apocalyptic flavor of this standard, but then the world ended again. The current setting is in some ways very close to the standard and wildly divergent in others. See the article for details.
  • The Dragon Crown War is a borderline example. The only common nonhuman races are elves (the most commonly-encountered ethnicity of whom, the Vorquelves, border on Enslaved Elves as downtrodden refugees from a destroyed homeland) and dragons; the setting's "dwarves", the urZrethi, are actually ancient matriarchal shapeshifters who were created by the Bigger Bad, though they abandoned that allegiance long ago; the Big Bad's armies are composed primarily of the Wookiee-like gibberkin rather than the more traditional orcs; finally, Medieval Stasis is averted as gunpowder and cannons are invented in the prequel and the technology becomes increasingly widespread over the course of the main trilogy.
  • The First Dwarf King seems to be a standard medieval fantasy at first, but before long, hints of something else begin to creep in. For starters, the characters use guns instead of bows and arrows. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the setting is a Science Fantasy with (admittedly heavy) High Fantasy elements.
  • The Garrett, P.I. series goes out of its way to subvert or deconstruct elements of this trope, both by giving them a Film Noir spin and by pumping up the snark quotient.
  • Heralds of Valdemar takes the chrome of the standard and then goes its own way with it. Medieval Stasis is averted (particularly over the course of the series as a whole), most magic in Valdemar is Psychic Powers, and humans and various Intellectual Animals are the only sapient species. However, the original Tarma and Kethry stories are very standard indeed, and it's indicated that most of Velgarth is more standard than not; Valdemar is just a weird hermit kingdom up in the corner of the map that does everything their own way. Even in Valdemar, the Last Herald-Mage Trilogy is pretty much paint-by-numbers medieval fantasy; it's only afterward that Valdemar starts to really diverge.
  • Second Apocalypse (lacks Dwarves; otherwise compliant)
  • A Song of Ice and Fire nominally has all of the stock elements (assuming the (unseen) children of the forest and (barely seen) Others qualify as examples of the Fairy and Eldritch Five Races) except Functional Magic. But most of these elements are deconstructed.
  • The setting of Sword of Shadows resembles the standard, but is set in the subarctic regions of its world, is missing nonhuman races except for the Sull (a Proud Warrior Race of elf-equivalents) and the Unmade, and the focus is more heavily on the "barbarian" Clansmen than the "civilized" part of the world.
  • The Sword of Truth series shares some of the elements, but mainly uses them as a vehicle for its Author Filibuster, particularly when the latter begins to take precedence over the fantasy elements.
  • The country of Hallendren in Warbreaker is essentially the kind of place that exists in a Standard Fantasy Setting, but off the edge of the map. Here the story is set in it. As Brandon Sanderson puts it in an annotation:
    This story happens in the place that is, in most fantasy books, far away. A lot of fantasy novels like to make their setting someplace akin to rural England, and they’ll talk of distant countries that have exotic spices, dyes, and trade goods. Well, in this world, Hallandren is that place. It’s at the other end of the silk road, so to speak.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eberron is similar, in that it is the logical conclusion of a High Fantasy standard: magic is an industry and the setting's atmosphere is similar to Inter-World War Europe. All races diverge, slightly to significantly from standard (among other things, its response to the Always Chaotic Evil trope is essentially LOLWUT?, so for example the ancient druidic culture that saved the world from Cosmic Horrors ten thousand years ago is actually the Orcs), and industrial magic yields a Steampunk tone without actually using any significant steam or clockwork. That would be "Low Fantasy" (magic is a toolkit, society changes and grows), instead of "High Fantasy" (magic is wondrous and can't be replicated, society is stuck in stasis).
  • Exalted was created specifically to subvert this trope, focusing more on Bronze Age swords-and-sandals fantasy and Chinese mythology than on the Medieval European Tolkienque things. Nonetheless, some parts of it remain (partially because they're old enough or universal enough that they appear in those influences, too.)
  • Warhammer Fantasy; the Empire and the Dwarves heavily utilize firearms and even have experimental Steam Punk technology, while the Skaven's Magitek gives them ratling guns, rat-portable flamethrowers, sniper rifles, energy cannons, mechanical lighting-spewing hamster-wheels, etc.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Though it's diverged a lot, it's still clearly this (or Warhammer Fantasy) at the foundations, but darker, and on a galactic scale and darker — there are the elves (Eldar), dwarves (Squats, wiped out for not fitting the tone), orcs (Orks), the Forces of Darkness (Chaos) in an interstellar Mordor (The Eye of Terror) the Kingdom of Men (The Imperium of Man) with paladin knights (the Space Marines) and the absent True King (the God-Emperor of Man, confined to the life-support of the Golden Throne).

    Video Games 
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura is set in once-SFS, in which industrial revolution has happened; Steam Punk level technology, otherwise compliant. Some parts are more compliant than others, and the conflict between the Standard Fantasy Setting and the rise of steam and gunpowder is a major plot element.
  • Dwarf Fortress lacks any magics beyond Necromancy as of yet, but otherwise fits this trope very well. Toady One has commented that the game will be a standard fantasy setting generator. Some details like monsters and magic will be different from world to world. And given the game's incredible modding potential, how much any given world plays straight or subverts the standards can easily depend on the player's whims.
  • The Elder Scrolls has Magitek dwarves, Humongous Mecha, time-travelling cyborgs, spaceships and computers. One of the spin-off games The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire takes place on a spacestation.
  • Final Fantasy XII14th-century politics, 18th-century weapons, 22nd-century technology (although most people just take caravans everywhere.)
  • Might and Magic and Heroes of Might and Magic (old verse) take place in what at first appears to follow the standard quite closely, and will keep that appearance if you only play the Heroes games and therefore miss the extensive Science Fantasy elements in the setting.
  • Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion generally fits. You have The Empire of Estellion, The Kingdom in the form of the Commonwealth of Esotre, The Horde in the form of the Lyri warbands (although the Cardani also fit). There is no Alliance, although Estellion and Esotre have been allies for a long time (at least, until the sequel). As typical, humans make up the largest population group. Jackdaws are this setting's Hobbits. Dwarves are a minority (but they typically don't have beards). The game's take on Elves is fairly unique, though. Unlike Tolkien's tall, high-and-mighty elves, the Cardani Elves are short rat-like people whose culture is based around the idea of insatiable greed. Their homes are the treacherous Cardani Swamps. While every other power uses small units called Daggers that can be joined with like Daggers to form more formidable (but less maneuverable and vulnerable to flank attacks) Deuces and Trines (this also includes the wild Lyri), the Cardani fight in large Swarms that rely on speed and We Have Reserves tactics. Functional Magic isn't used much, although certain people are able to call on the elements. The Empire owes its foundation to wind magic, allowing La Résistance to fight off the Carsis nobles' flamesoul magic. Blood Magic is occasionally used by The Empire's assassins (all Heroic Bastards). Medieval Stasis is played straight for the Tellions but averted for the Sotrans, who live in much a harsher climate and need to innovate to survive. Thus, front-line Sotran troops are armed with muskets and bayonets, while Tellions rely on swordsmen, pikemen, and archers. Sotrans also have prototype inventions such as armored walkers and hovering artillery platforms.
  • Rift is superficially similar to Warcraft, but cranks up the magitek and does more playing around with race tropes.
  • Tales of Maj'Eyal is generally pretty standard with its tropes, though implementation varies; you've got slightly-nonstandard use of standard races (such as halfling slingers being part of a long Roman-esque military tradition), but while Medieval Stasis is largely played straight with mechanical technology, it isn't with Lost Magitek; ancient wizards had a very scientific approach, often used magic for genetic engineering and travelled to many worlds through the farportals. However, it only truly breaks the mold with the Embers of Rage DLC, where we see tribes of orcs and giants who make wide use of steam technology and even steam-powered guns.
  • Warcraft: Removes the Medieval Stasis, and integrates modern, steampunk, and sci-fi technology with pre-modern armor and architecture. Both expansions thus far to World of Warcraft have introduced a lot of Magitek. The first two games however, fit the trope to a "T".

    Web Original 
  • The Once and Future Nerd is set in a mostly compliant setting, but with an elf with a southern American accent, no Monochrome Casting, and a lot of quirks here and there, including wizards who have the basics for an atomic theory going.
  • Tales of MU is set in a formerly compliant setting, but with the Medieval Stasis removed. The current time period is sort of like the modern age, in the same way that the Standard Fantasy Setting is kind of like the middle ages.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time is an interesting case as it is set After the End where The Magic Comes Back.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender. While there is The Empire and The Kingdom along with rebel fighters, Magic A Is Magic A, and a variety of other fantasy world tropes, there are several differences. Most prominently, instead of being in a European-esque world, the Avatarverse is a fantasy counterpart to East Asia (mostly China and Japan), with some Inuit culture thrown in for good measure. The only other races with human-level intelligence are spirits who all pretty much reside in a different world, and Medieval Stasis is completely subverted, with nascent Steam Punk in the original series (ironclad steamships, tanks, mega-drills, submarines, and zeppelins), which evolves into all-out Diesel Punk in the sequel (complete with radio, skyscrapers, automobiles, film, biplanes, and mecha-tanks).

Alternative Title(s): ISO Standard Fantasy Setting, Standard Fantasy Settings