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This Dungeons & Dragons book is the world-building deep dive you’ve been waiting for



It’s a big year for Dungeons & Dragons. Not only has Wizards of the Coast released the final campaign for the original 5th edition rules, but also a slew of products in celebration of the game’s 50th anniversary — including three revised core rulebooks. Even if the D&D Lego sets and Converse sneakers weren’t your thing, you might be interested in their upcoming offering: Worlds & Realms: Adventures from Greyhawk to Faerûn and Beyond, written by former D&D designer Adam Lee (Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist).

Typically priced at $50, the book is available to pre-order ahead of its Oct. 29 release at a slightly discounted cost of $46.50. And if you’re someone who loves to immerse themselves in D&D lore and world-building, you’ll definitely want to check this book out.

D&D’s multiverse is extremely vast and complicated, and Worlds & Realms seems to fill a much-needed gap to help both newcomers and long-time players make sense of its fantastical realms. Featuring artwork pulled from 50 years of sourcebooks and adventures, each chapter of this illustrated guide takes a close look at one of the many worlds, planes, and settings in the D&D multiverse — from the beloved plane of Mystara, to the perilous Shadowfell, to Spelljammer’s boundless Astral Sea.

But this is no dry, matter-of-fact history book. Instead, readers will explore these settings through the narration of the archmage Mordenkainen, who shares his personal experiences of these locations and thoughts on the legendary characters who’ve lived there. Readers will dive deep into Mordenkainen’s beloved home of Greyhawk (the default setting for the soon to be released 2024 revision of the Dungeon Master’s Guide), and learn how his belief in the Balance influences his run-ins with creatures across the multiverse.

Worlds & Realms also features original stories by Jasmine Bhullar, Geoffrey Golden, Jody Houser and Eric Campbell, and Jaleigh Johnson.

Polygon has an exclusive first look inside Worlds & Realms below, revealing 22 of the book’s 368 pages. To guide you through them, we’ve enlisted our own narrator — author Adam Lee himself — to share insights into the historic art and how Worlds & Realms came together.

Our interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Image: Ten Speed Press

Adam Lee: There’s a place within my mind that is reserved for childhood memories, which are of a different quality than other memories. This image lives within that space. I remember looking at it with my little kid imagination, each detail providing stories in my mind.

Even before I knew how to play D&D or even what it was, I was making stories just looking at the art on the box. Erol Otus’ art is so mythic and perfect for capturing the vibe of D&D in the 80’s.

Like, what was through that dark, stone archway in the background?

The table of contents spread from the Worlds & Realms book. The left page shows a gibbering in a stone room and the right is a white page listing the book’s contents.

Image: Ten Speed Press

It’s so strange to look at the Table of Contents, as it seems so short for 50 years and the impact D&D has had on culture throughout that time.

Lots more could be in here, but then this book would be big enough to possibly be a mimic.

Also, one of the best gibbering mouther illustrations ever.

The first spread of the introduction section in Worlds & Realms. The left page shows the mage Mordenkainen staring ahead on a layered teal background with gears and circles in the foreground. The right page is white with the black text of the book’s introduction.

Image: Ten Speed Press

I want to say that it took a lot of time, staring at the blank page in artistic agony, crumpling page after page, before the first words came for the introduction.

But I became (my version) of Mordenkainen fairly quickly and his voice and his intentions were apparent. I had spent some time thinking about the world from his perspective while working on D&D, so I wasn’t working from zero, but he flowed onto the page and there were times I had to write fast to keep up.

As always, amazing art inspires the imagination. When I first saw this piece come in after being commissioned, I felt like it revealed another dimension of the master mage.

The first spread of the Material Plane section of the Worlds & Realms book. The left page says “Part 1 The Material Plane” while the right is a block of text from Mordenkainen’s narration.

Image: Ten Speed Press

One of the things about writing from the perspective of an archmage is to find out what actually strikes them as important. What do they notice? When their world is so fantastical, what compels them to look deeper?

Here’s a person who wields the power of magic, who has traveled across the multiverse, who has fought interdimensional monsters, and has dined with angelic beings. Why not leave humanity behind for all the splendor of a host of extreme and otherworldly experiences?

I wanted to shine a light on the value of humanity through the eyes of Mordenkainen. For some reason, he didn’t join the heavenly host, nor did he become a demigod, or a tyrant on some high mountain peak. He became a protector of the multiverse.

I think there’s something about humanity that he’s immensely curious about. There’s something sacred within each being. A mystery beyond mere magic.

A two-page spread from the Worlds & Realms book showing magic users standing on a cliffside attacking a giant beast. On the right-hand page, the section title “GREYHAWK” is printed.

Image: Ten Speed Press

To get a chance to write about Greyhawk from the point of view of Mordenkainen was an experience that (at times) was not unlike this illustration. But that’s the adventure of life. I never know what is going to come out of the forest.

The first two pages in the Greyhawk section of the Worlds & Realms book, which features an introduction, a section titled “WILD AND UNKNOWN,” and a section titled “A TALE OF TSOJCANTH. The right page also includes two versions of art for White Plum Mountain, one a black-and-white line drawing, and the other in full painted color.

Image: Ten Speed Press

Figuring out how to write this book — a combination of lore and story — was something that I thought about a lot.

I wanted to talk about the worlds and share the existing lore, but I also wanted to bring something new to it, something never before revealed so that no matter what your experience was with D&D, you were going to find out new and interesting stuff.

Writing from the point of view of Mordenkainen allowed me to stretch outside of canon lore to allow for a bit of wizardly speculation which I found to be exciting — I was on an adventure with Mordenkainen as he investigated his own mind and the mysteries of the multiverse.

A two-page spread from the Worlds & Realms book. On the left page, it’s an image of a warrior holding a dragonlance next to a red cloaked figure holding a staff. Behind them is a golden dragon. On the right page, the text is broken up into two sections, titled “THE DRAGONLANCES” and “THE BALANCE.”

Image: Ten Speed Press

Long before I worked on D&D as a professional, I was a player and a fan of these worlds, and I had my own opinions about them.

When I played the character of Mordenkainen for this book, I got to write from his POV. After a while, I began to have different opinions of the worlds as seen through his eyes. The most surprising reaction to any of these worlds was his reaction to Krynn.

I must say, I learned a lot from seeing Krynn through his eyes.

A two-page spread from the Worlds & Realms book featuring text on the left page about “An Elemental Education” with the right page shows a blue crystalline and stone cavern.

Image: Ten Speed Press

When writing anything for D&D, I am always thinking about a DM getting a great idea for a one shot or a character for their campaign. I’m always in “modular mode” where I know that any chunk of what I am writing can be taken out and put into someone’s game.

I wish when I go into the great beyond that I can sit in front of a cosmic TV and watch how many snippets of my silly writing made it into games or made people smile or laugh. Hopefully, I’d be watching for a long time. That would bring me great joy.

A two-page spread from the Worlds & Realms book about the Domains of Dread. There’s text on both pages in blue boxes. The left page features an image of a Darklord while the right shows a castle in Barovia.

Image: Ten Speed Press

Revisiting Ravenloft for Curse of Strahd was one of my favorite times working on D&D. We dealt with so many questions about the nature of evil, the story of Strahd, and the metaphysics of Barovia.

It was, ironically, great fun to live in Barovia, walk with the people, explore the domain, and write a few locations that were certain to be disturbing.

A two-page spread from the Worlds & Realms book. The left page shows two images. On top are two people fighting a two-headed monster. The bottom image is a person and a panther fighting a very large clawed beast. The right page shows a black and white and full-color version of the two-headed monster.

Image: Ten Speed Press

Every version of D&D has its take on the legendary monsters and villains of D&D. For Out of the Abyss we got the treat of revisiting all the superstar demon lords and do the 5th edition version of them to continue that creative legacy.

For me, D&D is as much a visual experience as it is a written one, and the images from the game’s earliest of days to now have an iconic stature in my mind and are forever imprinted in my memory.

A two-page spread of the Worlds & Realms book. The left page has text in a section titled “A CITY OF DOORS” and an image of a ranger falling through a door into open air. The right page has text in a section titled “THE LADY OF PAIN” with an image of the character (a tall, gaunt woman in red robes) behind a shattered window.

Image: Ten Speed Press

Throughout Mordenkainen’s journey, the Balance is what keeps him grounded, and potentially keeps him sane, as he explores the multiverse, encountering all manner of fantastical beings and bizarre entities.

The multiverse is a bewildering place, and without a purpose, it can become as confusing as a hall of mirrors. But through it all, Mordenkainen follows the beacon of the Balance like the string that allowed Theseus to navigate the labyrinth, slay the Minotaur, and emerge alive and victorious.

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