Now that I have made (the potentially bone-headed) decision to make my own world ex nihilo, now I have to decide what kind of world will it be? Since this will be a 5E D&D game, I am utilizing a lot of 5E resources, but I want to throw in a dash of OSR- and Appendix N-inspired shenanigans.
Pages 38-41 of the 5E DMG contain a useful section called “Flavors of Fantasy” that describes different types of fantasy and what your game might look like if it adheres to that “flavor”. For this post, we are only going to look at three of them: Sword & Sorcery, Epic Fantasy, & Heroic Fantasy.
Sword & Sorcery
This is the world of Conan the Barbarian. Magic is a strange and dangerous force that seduces its practitioners into depravity. Any sort of magical item is pretty much an artifact. Strange, alien technology may exist, but it nearly indistinguishable from magic. Magic itself does not follow the same rules for everyone. Those who are willing to do truly terrible things are able to wield truly terrible power. Sometimes the “good guys” are simply not the bad guys.
Knights in shining armor charging at dragons on an open plain. Gleaming castles with their flags waiving defiantly in the breeze. Magic is a bit more common and the rules seem more solid. Good is good and bad is bad. While the potential for moral complexity exists in any setting, this type of setting does not always lend itself well for shades of gray.
Per the DMG, this is the “baseline assumed by the D&D rules”. The best way to describe it would be the Arisotleian mean between Sword & Sorcery and Epic Fantasy. I suppose you could describe it as the typical modern fantasy literature world.
I have been working my way through the Conan the Barbarian stories (and I just finished the Jirel of Joiry stories), so I think that my answer here should be obvious: Sword & Sorcery. I want to create a sense of wonder in the players about any unusual situation that they find themselves in. Also, a Sword & Sorcery world is more able to accommodate things that do not fit in modern ideas about fantasy. Mixing some science fiction (or just plain weird) elements into a game of D&D is a good idea and a Sword & Sorcery world allows for it better than any other.