Building your campaign world

It’s time. You’re starting your own campaign.

While many of us are happy to introduce players to a published setting like the Forgotten Realms, Golarion, Tal’Dorei, Eberron or Greyhawk, you might want to create your own world in which to do adventure.

But how do you build a campaign world? It seems like a daunting task to create an entire planet or continent or country, but you can do it.

Since we’ve been building the world of Halcyon - check out our adventures and be on the lookout for our upcoming Halcyon world guide - we have a few tips to help you out.

Our best advice: Get started. Start by drawing a map. Start with a major conflict. Start with a set of characters. Just start. Once you get the ball rolling, its momentum will keep it rolling through to the end.

Start small. Unless your plans for running games in your world will involve a lot of globe-trotting adventure, it’s OK to start with a town, a city or a country. Map out what adventure may be found there. You don’t have to have an entire planet detailed, especially if your adventures will never go to every corner of the map.

You don’t need everything spelled out. One of the best ways to map out a campaign setting is to play in it. Find out what locales and types of players like, and fill in the details that way.

Pick some core assumptions. D&D’s wonderful Dungeon Master’s Guide has some great ideas for world-building. One idea that explains about D&D’s own settings is setting a few core principles, such as “much of the world is untamed” and “the world is magical.” Create some of your own core principles such as “monsters are everywhere,” “magic doesn’t always work,” “the gods are absent,” “outside of cities, the world is complete wilderness” or “much of the world is unexplored.”

Pick some core conflicts. What is going on in the world? We like the advice recently tweeted by Mike Mearles, D&D’s lead designer and the co-creator of 5th edition: “When creating a setting, remember that people make it come to life, not geography. Start with triumphs, tragedies, and betrayals, not maps.”

Make a map. OK, yeah, we know we just cited a prominent designer saying to forget geography, but for some gamers, it’s helpful to visualize the world. So, make a map. Start with a large landmass, then fill in forests, lakes, mountains and rivers. Then drill down even deeper with cities, towns, roads, bridges and other locales. It will spark some creative ideas about what types of adventure may be found in different locations.

Create a pantheon. What gods govern the world you’re creating? What are their roles? Are there even gods at all? Creating the religious aspect can help shape the world (perhaps each god has a portion of the world they helped create) and shape the people (what factions answer to what gods?).

Include plenty of variety. You can incorporate anything into your world, but to make it exciting, we suggest plenty of variety. Mountains. Islands. Swamps. Deserts. Throw in a little of everything to make the world exciting.

There be monsters. What sorts of monsters are in your world? Are they plentiful? Or do they only live in dungeons? You can certainly populate your world with established bestiaries, but don’t be afraid to create a few monsters of your own making.

Bad guys and bad situations. Of course, there will be benevolent kings, noble knights and respected religious orders, but you ought to identify the bad actors in your world. What secret societies, black cults, undead rulers, nefarious gangs and despotic dictators are active in the world? And consequently, what forces oppose them? A lot of adventure can be found here.

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