There are plenty of official Dungeons & Dragons campaign guides and worlds but what if you want your own world? Well, homebrew is the way to go. For dungeon masters who want to create their own unique setting, there are a few main things to keep in mind. We’ve laid out the hard work of designing our own personal world and have some tips and tricks for dungeon masters on the fence.
Here’s how to create your own Dungeons & Dragons campaign world
It may sound like a daunting process but if taken slowly, it is a rewarding experience for both the dungeon master and the players. One important thing to keep in mind is when in doubt, keep things on the smaller scale.
We started our homebrew Dungeons & Dragons game in 2015. As the dungeon master, I quite frankly didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I just knew I wanted to play in a fantasy world with friends. So, I got the Monster Manual, Player’s Handbook, and Dungeon Master’s Guide and hit the ground running by creating a minor village with a few non-player characters.
By having a smaller starting area you don’t have to worry about players going off of the rails and wandering into the unknown. Although, that will come later, for now staying within the boundaries of a small town is enough. To help build the town – and subsequent larger ones later on – keep these tips in mind.
- Have one or two quests for the characters to follow
- Create a couple of named NPCs they can talk to
- Jot down names of a few taverns, shops, and important landmarks like churches or shrines
- Note where the town is located: the coast, mountains, forest, etc.
- Pull from characters and their backstories
Knowing these things will help you craft a lively and engaging D&D homebrew world. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Building the world with your players is fun and frees you up to focus on other areas of the world. If you’re just starting out have the player create their starting town or even entire region where their character is from. It can have their own currency, creatures, and government. Make sure you work with them to ensure they don’t derail the plot with wacky or outrageous ideas or create too much. You’re all in this together and it helps their character really understand the area they come from.
Key factors to consider:
- Keep area notes to a few pages. Two at best.
- Who rules the region, town, or area and who lives there?
- What races or cultures call it home: Halfling, Giants, Dire Beasts, Humans, etc.
The Big Picture
After nailing down some smaller towns and regions of your world, it’s now time to focus on something larger. People, animals, and creatures need places to live so use them to base your cities, towns, regions, and structures off of.
Perhaps individual people and communities built their own capital city. There could be cities that are more elven in nature that are near nature or are constructed to look overly beautiful. Whereas dwarven cities may be halfway underground, be built into a mountainside, or be built out of sturdy stone and thick curved archways.
No matter what community it may be, you can also pull from each culture in your world. Try combining human architecture with gnomish looking designs. Something that is simple and big blended with whirring gadgets and gears. Or combine elves and dwarves and have the city be a blend of magnificent stone and spiraling vines.
- What does the world look like?
- Draw a map
- Generate on online
- Roll all of your dice onto graph paper then draw around them
- Are areas governed individually or is the entire region ruled by a monarch or emperor/empress
- Does a city have a criminal organization in it?
- What Trades can be found?
- Are there any guilds?
Choosing to randomly create areas in your homebrew world is one viable route as well. Though we will say it works better when putting together a smaller section, village, or encounter.
If you’re in a pinch and need to come up with something quick, here are some tips.
- Use the roll tables provided in the Dungeon Master’s Guide
- Know your world and the story you’re telling.
- Understanding your world will help you get a better feel for randomly thinking on the fly
- Stick to these guidelines:
- Who is in charge and who will the characters speak with?
- What can be found there?
- Important items, landmarks, treasure, creatures, etc.
- Why should the characters care about this place?
- Is it to resupply, seek assistance, is their home here, do they have friends or allies here?
Build from Inspiration
There are plenty of fantasy stories to pull inspiration from. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and D&D books such as the Dragonlance series and our own Thread of Souls series offer great examples. There is no shame in pulling ideas from popular media but just be sure to change the name of locations, characters, and creatures when necessary.
Another great resource is pulling from Wizard of the Coast campaign guides. During our first year, we did end up playing Curse of Strahd and pulled a lot of inspiration from its horror.
One other great sources of inspiration can be found in video games. If you know you want your world to have a certain feel or vibe to it, play games that are closely related to it.
Gods are often tied to certain cultures and classes such as clerics, paladins, and warlocks. You can pick from the many lists presented in core D&D books or pull from any fiction or real world religion. We were inspired by gods and then made them our own.
Some quick ways to make gods are to associate them with specific cultures or seasons.
- Early civilizations could have thought the sun was a god so they worshipped it.
- The actual god could have noticed this reaction and adopted a more light or sunny demeanor
- Deity of Magic
- Deity of Death
- Deity of Life
- Deity of Birth
- So on and so forth
Don’t think too hard when it comes to tracking time or dates. You could just as easily adopt the real world calendar to fit your tabletop game. The world could have even existed well before the calendar was made. A certain event could be the reason people now keep track of time.
- Important anniversaries
- A comet marks the first day of the year
- A gods death
- Specific moments the DM can use to advance the story
- Maybe the planes are weaker during a certain week
- Magic doesn’t work
- Annual holidays
- A great way to make the world feel more lively
- To keep players from exploring too far before the world is complete, give them reasons to stay in a certain area.
- Adding landmarks to the world makes it feel vibrant and alive.
- Ask players what they want to explore then build off of that.
- If you aren’t finished building an area, pull from fiction or fantasy
- Pull from characters and their backstories
Characters and Players
When in doubt on what to do, try pulling from character backstories. Even the smallest detail of their history can help add more vividness and life to an area. For instance, if a character is a bard, where did they learn their craft? There may be an academy that teaches specific courses on oration, linguistics, musical theory, or vocals. Likewise, if a character has an animal companion, you can use that as inspiration to build as well. Mayhaps the specific animal only comes from a magical forest or only one location in the world.
There isn’t one right way to build a D&D world. Starting with a smaller section of the map is a great stepping stone. From there you can work on larger areas when the time is right. At the end of it all, the most important thing is to make sure you and your players are having fun. Work together to create an entertaining and heroic story and setting to explore.