How to create a campaign setting for D&D and similar systems.
Ever since I ran my first D&d 5e campaign I’ve aspired to create my own world with deep lore with a slew of locations and NPC’s with enough depth to withstand any adventure thrown at it. I went straight into the deep end with this in mind when I began creating my own adventure, with little knowledge of what it takes to make a compelling universe. At the time I deemed my efforts rather unsuccessful, however, I learnt a lot and now feel I can do much better.
In a series of written posts, I intend to flesh out my flimsy mishmash of locations and lore from my old d&d campaign into a setting sturdy enough to drop any worthy story into it. This first post will give an overview of what I have planned and what you will need to start thinking about in order to build your own campaign setting.
The best place to start any foray into worldbuilding is to read, be inspired and “borrow” from other works of fiction, be it from a tabletop story or otherwise. Every great piece of fiction is heavily iterative and takes ideas and inspiration (often subconsciously) from other’s work whilst putting their own voice to it. It would be incredibly daunting to begin this process with no points of reference and I would, therefore, recommend reading up on other fictional worlds specifically for tabletop games. Dungeons & Dragons’ forgotten realms is a great resource for this as it has developed and matured over several decades to host hundreds of stories, growing deeper in history with each one.
Not every part of your world needs to be fleshed out in great detail from the beginning. Most of your world will write itself when you create your first stories within it, writing history as your story necessitates gives greater meaning to it with every individual story told in the setting.
As such, while I detail my world map creation process, you’ll note big areas where nothing is written or set in stone. This leaves the door open for expansion with later story developments and allows nimble storytelling should you need to shake things up. The locations that will be noted and detailed are ones which have already been explored in a game I’ve run. This doesn’t preclude you from creating locations that haven’t already been part of a story, it just means you will think about the stories have already taken place throughout the history of this world.
In my next post, I will show my original attempts at building the world map and how I intend to build upon that. We will discuss what areas of your world you want to focus on (as who has time to write centuries of history on a global scale) and how not to get bogged down in the weeds of detail on a huge scale.
Here are some great resources on worlds with rich histories to get your creative ideas flowing:
Forgotten Realm’s Faerûn – A great resource for inspiration and lore from D&d’s most popular setting.
Donjon – A great tool for randomising elements of your game. The “Fantasy World Generator” and “My Random Campaign” sections are good places to start.
Middle-earth wiki – The world that inspired much of modern fantasy fiction.
Fantasy Name Generator – An endless supply of randomly generated names for anything you will likely need.
Later in the series, we will discuss how to place and create cities and other locations on your focal point, as well as the lore, history, people and monsters that inhabit your lands.