When starting your own world for a homebrew campaign setting, what do you really need? A Cool map? No. Long, extensive world history filling up a note book (or four…)? No.
So what do you really need?
A little creativity and imagination goes a long way, but there is more to it than that.
The DM Doctor has you covered with the five REAL tips you need when making a world for your own RPG group.
1. Start Small
Starting small means many, many things. You can start in a single city, dungeon, region, time period, etc. Try focusing on what you would like your world to be like the first time you introduce it.
The main takeaway is: Start Small.
Avoid overcomplicating the timeline. Avoid having too many different nations and regional backgrounds. Do not put cities and towns willy-nilly all over the countryside because it looks “artistic” or like the world is more complete.
You will find it easier to add new bits of history and a notable city or set of ruins versus overhauling previous “editions” of your world and confusing your players (and yourself).
Consider focusing on a single area first. Include rival nations, allies, etc. if you think it will be important to your first adventure. By focusing on a single region, you grant yourself the ability to develop that region more completely.
Look at the campaign setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game by Paizo. Initially, there were few areas with rich history. Though many regions have now been explored through different adventures, there are still vast regions that have hardly been touched upon.
Start small. Everything else will fall into place.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘No’
No does not mean you should be tyrannical in what you allow.
But this is your world.
If there is something you dislike or even outright hate, then you have the right to say no. Some people prefer high magic worlds, others low magic. There are many, many rants about “Keeping Kung Fu” out of their “European fantasy” games.
It is perfectly acceptable (and highly suggested) to have a world that developed differently than our own or other fantasy campaign settings.
No does not stop here, and for a good reason.
You must also (and more importantly) consider, “No, but…”
Think about the previous tip: Start Small. Perhaps a player asks to be from an area you have not created or worship a deity that does not exist (or maybe you don’t have a gods list yet). Maybe a players wishes to play a samurai, but there are no areas similar to the Far East (yet, if ever).
It is okay (and preferred) to say, “No, but how about we try this.” By working with your players and group, the world can develop in ways you might not have considered. Which brings us to the next point…
3. Know Your Group
This this world you are creating is yours to command. To control. To change and destroy on whim. Keep in mind one very important aspect—you are making this world to run adventures for a group of players.
Tabletop RPGs are a collaborative-style game.
Just like you, your players are playing to have fun. Remember that each person brings their own personal preferences to the table. You do not have to cater to every plea and wish, but do remember that your players will have their own likes and dislikes.
Take into account some of your groups preferences. They will thank you with their (and your) enjoyment.
4. Put Yourself into the World
This is not a literal statement. Okay, maybe a little bit.
When finding that drive, that motivation to work on this world, or just to get that creative spark to light your fires of determination, think about yourself.
Include a part of YOU into the world. Something signifying that this is your world because there is a part of it inspired by you.
I have created three different main settings for different groups I have run. Two of those settings (the main ones) had a heavy emphasis on dreams. That dream aspect is something that relates to me personally. Both worlds were more developed and cherished by myself because I included a larger part of myself into those worlds.
What symbolizes you?
Are you a natural elements person? Love the occult? Egyptian fetish?
Make yourself a part of the world and it will become a part of you. Your players will see that and understand how much this endeavor means to you.
5. Think of Your World Like a Living Story
Finally, you need to think of your world like a story. Except, this story alive and always changing.
What I mean by this is, there needs to be action. There needs to be excitement.
There needs to be plot and themes springing up to be explored. Just putting some mountains and forests, oceans and deserts, decorating the landscape with cities and ruins is not enough. A few unique monsters? Yeah, fine. But you need something more.
Unsolved mysteries. Broken timelines. Warring Nations. Jilted lovers. Forgotten Legends.
If you were to put your world into a single book, would someone want to read? Or just use it as reference and a platform to roll their dice.
Your world needs to be alive. This more than anything else you do, will create the adventures and enjoyment you and your group seek.
There needs to be cause and effect. Protagonists. Antagonists.
This may seem to counter the first tip, but remember, your world need not be built all at once. Your world should feel the effects of everything you do. Think about the ramifications of different events in your world’s history.
What of the players?
Make sure that whatever adventures take place, have those stories influence your world; no matter how small the actions may seem.
If your world is alive and reactive, your players will understand their place. Where there is mystery and action, your players will find themselves there. When a villain needs to be defeated or an army faced head-on, your players will be there.
Let me know what issues you have faced when creating your own world. Have your own tips you’d like to share on a homebrew setting?
Or do you just want to share exciting stories from your own world?
Comment below, Like, and Share these tips!
Donald Robinson first learned to play Dungeons and Dragons from his father. With more than twenty years of experience in various RPGs from both sides of the table, Donald took the leap into freelance game design. A Paizo RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 contestant and freelance writer, Donald posts tips and free roleplaying game resources on his blog: www.thedmdr.com. You can follow The DM Doctor on twitter, facebook, and google+.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.