Dungeons and Dragons benefits from the creativity of the people playing in it, and one of the most dramatic expressions of that creativity is building your own campaign setting. There are a ton of entertaining settings that have cropped up for D & D over the years. No really, a ton:
- Mystara (Dungeons and Dragons)
- Greyhawk and it’s amazing cousin Blackmoor (1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons)
- The Forgotten Realms (started in 1st edition, really hit its stride in 2nd edition)
- Dark Sun (2nd edition:A Post Apocalyptic desert world destroyed by Magic?)
- Spelljammer (2nd edition: Dungeons and Dragons IN SPACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
- Planescape (2nd edition: We’re taking this adventure...off plane)
- Ravenloft (2nd edition: Gothic Horror for your everyday gaming)
- Birthright (2nd edition: Dungeons and Dragons with kingdoms and rulers)
- Eberron (3rd edition: A new way of looking at Fantasy)
- Points of Light/Nentir Vale (4th Edition: The world became small, and made its heroes larger than life)
And those are just some of the wizards of the Coast/TSR Created settings. Other publishers have fleshed out additional settings all over the spectrum for a lot of different ideas including:
- Golarion (The Home setting of the Pathfinder Roleplaying game got its start as an alternate campaign setting for 3rd edition)
- Midgard (The fantastic setting for Kobold Press’s line of products)
- MIddle Earth (Cubicle 7 has incorporated the absolute best part of Tolkien’s work to create a living and breathing place to adventure across the WIlderlands of Middle Earth).
There are tons of potential settings that a Dungeon Master can choose to use, and no one choice is better than any other. Find a setting that you like and run games in that. As you get more familiar with the setting and more practice as a dungeon master, you’re going to write your own stories set in these lands, and those are going to change the campaign setting as we know it. These could be little changes, like the shape of the coins used in the city of Greyhawk, all the way to major setting changes like removing Silverymoon from the Forgotten Realms, or adding a Temple of Bahamut to the mountains in northern Cormyr.
The first time you make one of these changes, you’ve started the path to building your own campaign setting. Changing things in an established campaign setting works extremely well for your home game because you are tailoring it to your audience and it’s the world they are playing in. Explaining those changes to other folks is likely going to net you one of two results “That’s awesome!” and “That’s the dumbest thing i’ve ever heard, why in god’s name would you make that stupid change?” If you get the second answer, back away slowly and find more interesting people to talk to. If you consistently get the second answer, maybe its time to take a look at what you changed and why.
Eventually, you are probably going to want to build your own home location for adventures and there are a few things that every campaign setting really needs for you to start the fun. These aren’t the deep world building concepts like a cosmology and structure for the gods, or what are the major powers in the setting and how do they interact with each other. Those are really really big picture questions and you don’t need to answer them to build a campaign setting. You will probably want to have answers to those questions to flesh out and finish your setting, but you don’t need them to get the ball rolling.
- The Gods: You’ll need a list of the major gods that are worshipped in the area you have set for this part of the campaign. You’re probably going to end up with a cleric in the starting party and having a list of gods, their major themes and their domains is a helpful tool to help them integrate. This will also help you set your major temples and dominant religious groups in the area.
- Pro-tip: You don’t need a big pantheon to get the ball rolling, four or five gods is fine for a small community in the middle of nowhere.
- Home Base: Adventurers, by their nature, leave the safety of their homes and go traipsing around the wilderness looking for trouble, experience, and loot. Every adventuring party needs a home base to return to after they’ve done their adventuring. Whether this is the little town they grew up in, the mining camp where they trade monster hides for ores, or the Abbey where the cleric raised them from orphans, every party needs a place to come back to. This is likely going to be the starting point of your campaign and should be a major touchstone for a majority of it.
- Quest Giver in Chief: Every Home Base needs at least one source of new adventures and quests for a party of adventurers. If you have a self motivated party that goes out looking for stuff to do, this will be less important, but always have one in mind.
- Healer: Whether a major temple, mysterious sage, or ancient savant, every party of adventurers is going to need someone who can fix the wide array of afflictions they can run into. This doesn’t mean these services are free, nor does it mean that they are necessarily friendly towards the PCs, but having the services be available means they can fix some of the problems they encounter.
- Sage: Every party eventually finds something in the wilderness that they can’t figure out what it is or how it works. This means they’re going to need an expert to help them identify the thing, or explain the significance. The knowledgeable sage fills this spot, but a retired wizard, a bard, or even a librarian can fill this role equally well.
- Merchant: Adventurers accumulate a lot of treasure while performing their task, and without a place to turn that treasure into stuff they want, it’s just extra weight. Merchants help fill that niche of taking away their hard earned gold and giving them the tools they want. Every Home base should have at least one, if not two or three merchants in them.
- Home: Whether it’s an actual house, a room at the Inn, a private cell in the abbey, all adventurers want a place to hang their hats and sleep. A safe place to rest is essential to the adventuring process and is one of the principal reasons that adventurers should come back to home base. It’s called home base for a reason.
- Pro-tip: These roles can be filled by more than one person, depending on the size of Home Base. They can also be filled by the same person. It depends on the needs you have when you set up your campaign setting.
- Critical NPCs: There are going to be specific people that are recurring characters your players are going to keep bumping into. Sketch out the important details about these people and give them motivations and goals so that you know how they’re going to react to wild adventurers. You don’t need to give them statistics yet (unless you think your players are going to initiate combat) but have an idea of what they are capable of.
- Maps: You’re probably going to want to have a map of the Home Base itself with commonly known places marked, and a map of Home Base that has all the secrets noted on it for your use. If you want to go a step further, a larger map of the area surrounding town for a fixed distance (say 100 miles or so) with interesting local legends and places marked. You might be surprised how many players want to go inspect the old fort on the clifftop because it’s listed on the map.
- Encounters: Knowing what monsters are lurking around the edges of Home Base means you can start to plan a random encounter table and it can help you write your adventures set in this starting area. If you’ve done a decent job of noting neat places on your map, you’ve got some adventure locations to build off of.
If you can put together these five key ingredients, you should be able to articulate the basics of your campaign setting to your players. If you can do that, you’ve started your first world building activity. Eventually the PCs may outgrow this starting area, but you have the place to starting running lots of different adventures to fill a variety of needs and ideas. These are our ideas and suggestions, so don’t take them as rules. We don’t like rules much, and think that flexibility in game design is critical to creating fun and interesting adventures.
THat’s our first look at World Building, if you like this article, let us know and we’ll put some more together.
Game on, Game Fans