Once you have a world, you need to build a campaign, this will give you an idea on where to start.
1) Start With A World, Either A Published Campaign World Or One You Have Created For Yourself
There are several products online from which to choose from, from many reputable publishers. There are also a countless number of homebrew worlds, so the precedent for custom world creation is more than evident. Once you have chosen a world then you need to determine what you are going to do with its history. You can either follow it or not, change it or not, or combine a couple of other worlds histories into one until you get a history you like. Or just start from scratch. The advantage of using a pre-created world’s history is that you can use the various supplements that are published for that world.
The advantage of using your own history is that no one will know it like you will and you can write as much or as little as you want. You can also take a set of nice maps and then create a totally custom history that has nothing to do with what the world’s publishers had planned. That is fine; that is what makes it your own world. For example, the Pathfinder world of Golarion has a crashed spaceship and gunpowder was discovered. I know quite a few DMs who hate to allow gunslingers and a few who ignore the spaceship references because they don’t want science fiction in their D&D game. So they ignore those parts of Golarion’s history and just don’t have them in their world. However, they can use other parts of the published system and the supplements written for the game and the world of Golarion.
Gary Gygax was all for people creating their own material. He gave the magic items in the Dungeon Master’s Guide as possible items that could be customized, changed, or improved as the DM wishes. When it came to artifacts he wrote in blank lines and a list of suggested powers and lists of drawbacks for each artifact, several lists in fact. One of the first rules in the DMG was “All rules herein are optional.” That means you can do whatever you and your players want in campaign creation. The important line here is “you AND your players.” Make sure your game is interesting for your players and something that they will want to play in. Gary Gygax published the little book set, then the red and blue book set, then 1st edition and then a couple of years later he published the World of Greyhawk, which was his campaign world. He wanted people to create their own worlds and not just use stuff that he created. He was reluctant to lock people into his ideas. The World of Greyhawk had a beautiful color map with a hex grid, but only a pamphlet for the history section. Some nations got only a paragraph of history. The idea was to present a starting point and have you build upon it and create your own stuff. If you bought his dungeons and modules then you would get more of his campaign’s history, but if you made up your own stuff that was perfectly fine.
2) Good Places To Start
You could start with a discussion from the DM, a poll, a list of ideas, or a gab session where you as a group discuss ideas that you would like to see in a game. The first three require that the DM comes up with the ideas, while the final suggestion allows the group to come up with the idea, although it has the ability to grow out of the DM’s hands.
Another consideration for planning your game is its future. I have created over half a dozen different worlds and used several published worlds in my game. Each game was its own entity and I seldom worried about what type of game would take place after the current game. My first campaign world was just the Geomorphic maps from Avalon Hill tank games. I know a DM who has run the same set of three game worlds for over 30 years. He takes what players have created in the past and builds upon it. When players make changes in his worlds they are reflected in the next game. He has a long complex history because of this. This is fine for him, but bad for his friends and his wife who played in multiple games and were told that they were using out of character knowledge when they referred to knowledge a past character had. That penalized his regular players. Now if he had some items that were part of the historical record and some items that were secret then he wouldn’t have penalized his players as much. He could have used some characters as NPC heroes and heroines in his game. He could have let them use some of the common history those characters knew instead of requiring everyone to start at ground zero.
D&D is designed to be run over however long the DM and the rest of the group can sustain it, usually years. There are some groups that have been playing for a decade or longer and there are new groups starting each day and groups falling apart each day. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking only for the next session, the next game, or the next module. Start planning for the future, whatever that may be. Yes, almost always some of these plans will go unused, but you can always recycle the data later. Always keep this thought in mind: “what next?” What will happen after this session, after this module is done, after this game is done, and in my next game? The job of a DM is to think outside of the box and to think ahead of the players. This is the chief reason why it is so hard to be a good DM and why so many of us love the job.
3) Session Zero
Assuming you have an idea for your game the next step is to plan session zero. Session Zero is that session where you sit down and talk with your players, inform them of what game you plan on running, and find out what characters they are going to play. This is important to do, it can be done in person or done over Skype, over the phone, or over email. The important thing to do is to build a campaign the party will be interested in and have a crew of players and characters that fit. For example, if you have a freewheeling pirate adventure where the players skate the edge of the law and on the run, then it would be foolish to expect a paladin to star in such a game. Not impossible, just unusually hard on the paladin. By the same token, a last-ditch defense against a horde of orcs with the party manning and organizing the defenses would be a good game for a paladin to join.
Founded in 1888m, the National Geographic Society organized and sponsored expeditions to explore the darkest corners of the world. When a party was planned to explore Egypt, an arctic explorer was not brought along, nor was a big game hunter. Instead it was an Egyptologist, someone who spoke the local languages, and someone who spoke the former languages of Egypt who were included. D&D was designed for a party of core characters; a rogue, a fighter, an arcane magic caster and a divine magic caster who can heal. The further you move away from this “standard party” the harder it is going to be on your group. Now the DM can make adjustments like removing traps or allowing wands of cure light wounds to fall into the party’s hands early, but these are forced constraints. A game is better when you don’t have to force the issue, especially when dealing with the basics like the “standard party.” Just like a National Geographic Society party is going to include the proper mix of people, your game should include the proper mix of characters.
Now you could hold a Hogwarts Academy adventure where the party all are fledgling wizards who are trying to get an education, but this would require a custom game and a way for the party to heal themselves or a way for them to bypass traps. All standard Adventure Paths and Modules are written for a party of 4 who are of the “standard party.” If you don’t want to run a “standard party,” or the players don’t want to form a “standard party” then you can’t use standard Adventure Paths or Modules. This has been true since the times where there were only six-character classes and it is still true today. You can do it, but it will be harder on the party if you do and as DM you need to make adjustments.
I was once in a game with three players. We had just split the group and a power gamer had left. When we reformed the new party all of us took on hybrid characters. I was a magus, so I had to handle front line fighting as well as arcane use. The shaman had to handle his pet as well as cure wounds and the Investigator took other skills rather than Disable Device. One problem was this DM felt we had to design our characters on our own, with no input from each other. We honored that rule and we suffered for it. That game didn’t go well and for the first seven levels my character died at least once a level, and I didn’t die the most, nor do I recall the amount of times I came close to death as it was too many times to recount (practically every fight). If I had been a fighter class then I would have had more hit points, worn better armor and would have handled the front line better. It took the DM a while to adjust to the party mix and our inherent handicaps by not being a party of core characters. Now there are a lot of people who will argue about this and say that they can build a party out of any characters. They are ignoring one of the core concepts of the game; the “standard party.” You ignore the standard party and the requirement for it at your party’s peril. I recommend that you hold a Session Zero and you let the players discuss what they are going to play and try to form a “standard party.”
A way to make sure you have the “standard party” is to include more players or to include an NPC who picks up the missing role. Just be sure that if you use an NPC, they don’t steal the show from the players. I have seen too many DMs who have major NPCs who act to do amazing things and steal the shine from the party. This is a case of the DMs roleplaying with themselves; I call it DM Masturbation. If you have to include an NPC in the group then make sure that they have some clear flaw, like an unsound tactical mind, or a tragic flaw which could be their undoing. Or maybe they are reluctant. It is up to the party to recognize the flaw in this NPC and to make sure that it is not their own undoing. Make the flaw one that is playable and not fatal. A rogue who sneezes every 10 minutes is going to have a hard time sneaking around, where a rogue who is absentminded may have to be reminded now and then what they are doing or trying to do. The first flaw is very taxing to play and may make the character unplayable, the second character will make sure the players follow the absent minded one around and keep prodding their memory. If you don’t have an NPC with a flaw, then make him a coward or make him hesitant or give him some feature that will cause the party to not trust him. In short, make them fallible. You don’t want them to outshine the players.
4) Starting The Game
Once you have your party, and once you have your Session Zero, then you can start your game. Most DMs like to find or plan a module or an Adventure Path before they talk to their players about starting a game. What you might consider is a range of Adventure Paths or modules that can be strung into a game; then you can give your players a choice of what they want to play. Of course, this means having to prepare or read a bunch of modules, but one way is to use rotating DMs and when a DM is half-way through their game have the next DM discuss what they want to do for their next game. You can hold a gab session or vote from a list of planned items, then the DM who is to run next can take the rest of their friend’s turn at DM to write up or prepare their campaign. This not only helps to prevent DM burnout, but it gives the next DM the ability to prepare before they have to run.
5) What Happens Next?
So now you have created your world, or found one, and you have a world history, either custom or cookie cutter. You have talked with your players about what the party composition should be, you have picked a campaign you want to run, you are ready to start your campaign. So, what do you do next?
You need to inform your players if you plan on using canned history, or a custom history. If you have a custom history, then you should give the players the highlights. In a fantasy setting the education of the people is variable from primitive, to basic, to advanced often depending on your social class they belonged to. The nobility had more education than peasants, so how much background you chose to give out is going to vary with the player, their social class, and frankly their attention span. Few people are going to want to sit through a long lecture on the obscure vintage of a glass bottle or a country that they are never going to visit. So, be careful about how much text you dump on your players. But even peasants knew the name of the pope and their king and queen, they also knew the names of their enemies be they nations or different faiths. When Guttenburg invented the movable type press he printed a smash best seller: the bible. Coming off of that bestseller he published the work of an obscure Catholic Monk who had problems with the way the Church was being run: a guy named Martin Luther. He included a woodcut picture of Martin Luther on the inside cover, and his face became the most famous face in Europe, better known than any king or queen. And believe me, it steamed those nobles.
The invention of the movable type press and publishing books increased the education level of all of Europe. So, one big question you have to answer in your game is how common are books and are they printed, or do they have to be copied by hand. If there are books and they are available, then a lot of people are going to read them and that will improve the education level of the populace. One nice method available to us nowadays is creating a website. Google Sites allows you to create free websites of almost any length. There are other organizations on the web that allow you to create your own website, like Earthlink, or you can take information from the web and refer to it in your own website. The important thing to do here is to make sure you are abiding by the Open Gaming License, where you are not using copyrighted material. If you do use copyrighted work, then make sure to get permission from the original authors and give them credit for their work. This is also true for any illustrations you use. There is no harm in copying work, but there is big harm in plagiarism, that is theft of work and claiming that it is your own. In my book, that is theft of property and lying to your players.
6) Handling Player Knowledge Vs. Character Knowledge
All players will start with some knowledge and have some character knowledge, both of which are rarely the same. Keeping that knowledge straight is important and not easy. Don’t burden your players with too much knowledge and then not expect them to use it. Just like you wouldn’t want to run a module that someone else has already played in or run, you don’t want to include too much knowledge that is restricted information. Also, once a character gains knowledge then it is hard to restrict that knowledge. You can tell players not to use restricted knowledge all you want, but it is hard for them to do so. One common tactic of TV lawyers is to ask a question of a witness that they know will be objected to. The judge will then instruct the jury to disregard the testimony. The problem is the jury never disregards the testimony. In the old days of 1st edition there were only three Monster Manuals and most DMs and players had read them from cover to cover several times. That is why they would ask you to show them a picture of the monster. If you showed one from the Monster Manual page, then often they would recognize it and could quote its stats. You only had to say werewolf and the players would know its armor class, that you needed silver weapons to damage one, and its Hit Dice. With Pathfinder there are half a dozen Bestiaries, so it is harder to memorize all the monsters, but a werewolf still requires silver weapons to damage them properly. This is now reflected in the Knowledge Skills. This is how you can limit a player’s knowledge to a character’s knowledge. You can also use Knowledge (History), Knowledge (Local) and Knowledge (Nobility) to limit how much your players know about the world in general, and in specific. This is good if you are using a shared world or a canned world created by someone else. You don’t mind if you players know more than their characters, but you don’t want their characters to know more than their DM. Also part of the challenge of meeting a monster for the first time is learning what it can and cannot do and what does and does not work on it. In previous editions of D&D that joy was lost once you read the monster manual or once you had played against that monster. Now with Knowledge checks your players can have that joy again and again.
7) Now How Does All This Relate With Each Other?
Well the character class that the players choose, as well as their traits or their background history may determine their social class which would then determine their basic knowledge. What they know would factor into what happens and what the players can count on in the game. The availability of books also determines the education level of the populace. What they know will shape their reaction to how the game goes. For example, most people in the hobby know about the Adventure Path Skull and Shackles and that it is a pirate game. This is common knowledge and even if your players haven’t read the module, they are probably going to know this as a minimum. The game starts with the DM shanghaiing the party onto a pirate ship. You can roleplay that out, or you can do it with a cut scene. A cut scene is a scene in a video game where character agency is taken away. Part of the story is acted out on screen and the player is told some important things and then given control over their character again. You can do a cut scene where you “convince” the party to join your pirate crew, assuming that they will join to go on with the module, if not then you are wasting your time. If you held Session Zero then you would know that the party will go on with the mission so you can save some roleplaying time by using a cut scene to introduce the party to their new ship and crew. Use cut scenes rarely, as you do not want to too often take away player agency or their ability to react.
8) What To Tell Your Players?
Most modules and Adventure Paths come out with a Player’s Handout. If you are doing a custom campaign, then you should make one for the players. Distribute this handout prior to the game and include things like well-known history for the area, rumors for the area, important people in the area, important locations in the area and what the basic adventure idea is. I don’t like to encourage DMs to lie to their party, but there is no rule against misdirection. Some of the rumors could be false, some of the places could not factor in the adventure, some of the people might only factor vaguely in the module and some of the things you tell the players could be commonly known things that are actual factual errors. In Vampire the Masquerade it is well known, among the public, that salt not garlic is what vampires are allergic to. In fact, most vampires aren’t allergic to garlic in the game. Part of the Masquerade is spreading around false information about vampires and even making them fictitious to most people so that if they see a real vampire, they are not likely to believe it, at least long enough for the vampire to escape or to kill the person. Say that there are vampires in your game who have spread around common rumors that vampires are allergic to salt or werewolves who pass around rumors that werefolk are allergic to cold iron not to silver. A simple knowledge check can be used to recover from these falsehoods, but that is something very few first level characters are going to have enough knowledge to know. This could be true in that the Kessel Run is a hard run for even a fast ship to make in Star Wars, or that bottle caps are used as currency in the Fallout universe. Any game could have secret information in it that is known or hidden or not known. If you have secrets, then as soon as they are revealed you had better determine a way for them to be uncovered in other games. Maybe it is a Knowledge (Nature) DC 15 check to know that Fay are allergic to cold iron, maybe it is a knowledge 10, maybe the fay have planted a rumor that they are allergic to silver and it is actually a Knowledge (Nature) DC 20 check to know the truth. That way if you keep using the same campaign world then when it comes time for a new set of adventures to explore the world you will know what they need to do to not act on “out of character information.”
Handouts are good for a game, as they increase player immersion and make the game feel more real to the players. If you are creating a handout then include some pictures with it that relate to the topic at hand. In the early days of D&D the only images that related directly to the topic were those in the monster manual. Often the rulebooks and modules used stock images or images from people who didn’t know the game or the situation in the game. That changed with Third Edition and since then the editors have tried to make sure the images relate to the topic you are reading. This increases immersion and understanding. I have collected a lot of images from Facebook and Deviantart.com so when I plan on showing a monster’s image in the future, I can use one of my images I found instead of the canned one from the Bestiary. That way the players won’t be sure it is monster X with Z and W abilities. Another way to avoid that is to reskin a monster; use one image for another monster’s set of stats. It is best to use a custom image this way. The players will have no way of knowing what you are using or what its real stats are so you can juggle around a few abilities or weaknesses. Now it is harder to do this with a classic monster like a dragon or a medusa, but how many know what a flumph can do, or can picture one? They are lesser known monsters published in the Fiend Folio and were hardly used because they were designed poorly.
Now what if you take a panther man and create a werecat (not a weretiger, there is one of those already) who can take the forms of a house cat up to that of a mountain lion. They get the mountain lion’s attacks or the normal cat’s attacks or the attacks of a small cat (as per the animal companion) if in bobcat form. Now you have a totally new were-creature and no one is exactly sure what it is since you are simply using a cat’s stats and a were-creature’s ability to shape shift and their damage resistance to silver. You can have a village that is suffering attacks from some nasty animal and no one would suspect the housecat lounging on the windowsill. The easiest monsters to make up are demons since they are chaotic and there is an endless array of shapes that they can be formed into. The most common demon is a mashup creature like a Marmolith; a cross between a giant snake, Kali (the Hindi goddess of destruction) and a human female. So, you can escape players from knowing too much by using nonstandard images for monsters, nonstandard monsters, or reskinning a monster. Making up a new monster from scratch is hard to do and even the experts make mistakes now and then. I saw a monster in a module that appears in another module in a toned-down version, because the first appearance of that monster it has a 75% chance of taking out at least one party member in one encounter and that encounter was a major one and couldn’t be avoided. Also, there was no way in the module to bring back the dead at the level the party should be at.
9) Ideas Are Powerful Things And You Need To Include How The Ideas Are Going To Work In Your Game And In Your Future Games
World building is a tremendous task. If you build a world with a secret underground demonic organization that the players find out about, then the next time you run your world the same set of players will expect to find that same organization active again. If you don’t want to throw out your past history, make sure that you have rules for how the players can uncover that information for their characters. For example, the demonic conspiracy may be secret and only known to a few churches and cults, so a character has to have joined a cult or church and gotten past the first circle of knowledge to learn about the demonic cult. This is a simple safety factor. In some games those organizations can be clear and easy to join, in others hidden and hard to find. It all depends on what you want to do for your game. This would let you avoid the traps my DM friend who used his same campaign world over and over created for his players. His wife knew far more than any of us, but he penalized her when she tried to use that knowledge and he didn’t have any rules by which her other characters could get that knowledge, or to rule that they didn’t have it. He just assumed that everyone started out with no knowledge at all and if his wife showed any knowledge, he would accuse her of using out of character knowledge. He could have gotten around that by giving his wife’s character a flaw and access to extra knowledge for that flaw. Then she could even serve as our guide in certain regions and she could be a font of knowledge and an inside track for the players to learn more about his game and thus get deeper immersion and generate more interest. He had a lot of secrets in his campaign worlds, but once we found out about them it was hard to not use that knowledge with our other characters. A few times we learned the same secrets over and over, it took some of the fun out of learning them in the first place. It also took the joy out when we came across his favorite NPC time and time again. It got to the point where I, at least, was sick of them. He had a large world, but we kept coming back to the same areas for his adventures. So, if you create a world or use a canned one then make sure it is large enough that other games can exist in it without falling over each other. One advantage of using Golarion, the Pathfinder world, is that the history was written by a team of writers and the world is vast so it can contain a lot. There is a lot published about the world, but there is a lot of space in between the areas where things can happen and you can make minor changes, like forgoing gunpowder, to make it your own world. Don’t be afraid to do that with any canned world you run.
In summary, start with a world, custom or canned; find what game your party wants to play in and build it; build a party as close to the “standard party” as possible and hold Session Zero; publish a set of your rule variants for the players to learn, use and know; inform your players of what they need to know for background information for the campaign; determine what knowledge is what and how hard it is to obtain, learn, and utilize.
Daniel Joseph Mello is active under that name on the Facebook under the fans of d20prfsr.com and Pathfinder Gamemasters Groups. Feel free to login to Facebook, on of these groups and drop him line. He has been involved in D&D since 1981 and by the 5th game he was the DM. He has gamed in the Army, in college, and at conventions, including AggieCon and NovaCon. He has written tournament level modules for gaming conventions and been writing about D&D on Facebook for over 3 years. He is also a budding fantasy writer.
Picture Reference: Red Hand of Doom: Elsir Vale Map (Player) by Antariuk
Premade settings are alright. Ravenloft is nice, but perhaps constant darkness is a little much. Maybe the Forgotten Realms has too much to keep track of and not enough flex. Waterdeep just doesn’t have the natural world aspect for your group. Well my friend, allow me to introduce you to perhaps the most honoured tradition of every DM: making it all up.
1) Don’t Be Afraid To Rip Someone Off
I have before and will again steal. I’m a criminal of the worst variety. I’m a pirate. And I’m in no way ashamed of my piracy. Mostly because it’s not really piracy but I pretend it is to justify my eyepatch and poofy hats. It’s also the reason I use the word “avast.” But, I digress. There’s no shame in taking inspiration from other works of fiction or other people’s games. Absolutely none. (At least not when you’re writing for friends, and not for profit.) Take characters and plots and big bads from all over the place if you want. There’s a lot of beautifully written characters, monsters, and settings out there. My friend Scott used a monster idea from the Netflix Castlevania anime - that being the petrifying cyclops - in one of his games and I didn’t find out about it until well after we played. (Also, I highly recommend that show. I’m not much for anime, but it’s witty, heavy, and brutal in all the right places in my humble opinion.)
Even if your players recognize what’s happening, you can account for that and change some things accordingly. Rip everyone off if you want. Call your MacGuffin the Singular Ring. Call your character Luke Windwalker. Call your bad guy Baldimort! No one can stop you! You’re the DM!
2) Don’t Rip Everything Off
This seems to run counter to the previous point, you may say. Well, you see, if you make everything the same as the thing you’re ripping off, then you might as well just go and experience the thing. There’s no real point in making your plot the exact same as the plot of Lord of the Rings, because the players will all know what to do. You have to mix things up. You have to make things up, typically on the fly. Which for some people may be very difficult. But don’t despair, my friend! There is a solution.
There are hundreds of “what if” ideas out there. What if Gandalf kept the One Ring? What if Alduin never came to return during the Skyrim civil war? What if Anakin didn’t fall to the dark side? Etcetera. I’m sure even you have some. Use them. Or rather use the equivalents. Don’t just rip off NPC names unless you’re making everything up. This brings me to my next point.
3) Need A Name? Combine Two Things
“Welcome to Bladeburrow. My name is Baldr Silverhand. This is the Valor Hall inn where we serve our world-famous Black Beer.” Boom. Easy. Made that all up in less than thirty seconds and all I had to do was mash a bunch of words that came to mind in a way that made general sense. The rest is just world-building and that’s where the real fun (or perhaps the real difficulty) comes in. This is perhaps the most time-honored worldbuilding tip for DM’s and GM’s that I am personally aware of. Give it a name and you’d be surprised how easily everything else can fall into place. Sometimes genius strikes after you make a name, and a whole campaign can spring from a single idea. Sometimes you make a name and it falls flat. It’s even a little awkward to keep using in-game so you give the thing a nickname and slowly phase out the original name. No issue. Other times, Fartsberg will never fall into obscurity. No matter how hard you try. Burn it to the ground and the players will just dedicate the rest of the game to rebuilding the damn place.
But the important thing is that even the dumbest of made-up-on-the-spot names can make for a memorable and enjoyable gaming experience. These games are often at their best when something stupid happens or is said or in the case of Fartsberg, exists. Don’t be afraid to give something a stupid quality when you’re making everything up. Stupid exists in the real world and that’s something a lot of worldbuilders overlook in my experience. Just think about allergies. Then think about the fact that cats can be allergic to humans. This simple fact is incredibly dumb.
4) Become the Description Master
This is a pretty obvious tip that’s easy to account for but hard to master. Learn to describe things masterfully. I find that in order to do this, you have to have a very clear picture of what you’re trying to describe in your mind. The next most important thing is to include stupendous adjectives. “The stone tablet glows slightly” is very different from “The smooth stone tablet glows with an ominous light.” Another thing to consider is color. Color is an often overlooked but critical part of the descriptive process. There are a hundred different articles online to teach you how to be better at describing things during writing, but a tip that I find to be the most valuable is to imagine yourself in front of the thing or in the room, or meeting the person in question and ask yourself what would stand out to you personally when inspecting that. Lastly, always try to stimulate all 5 senses when really getting into the description.
You walk into a large decrepit room. As the door opens, the cracked stone bricks around the frame sprinkle rocks onto your shoulders. You look around and an overwhelming feeling of dread fills you as you notice the large pile of slimy bones in the corner. The pale white of the bone is intermingled with the yellow stains of time and rot. A gentle dripping can be heard, but you’re not sure from where; there are no obvious leaks in the ceiling. As a wafting smell of rotting meat suddenly hits you, the realization that there is more to this ruin than meets the eye sets in. What do you do?
I hope this supplied a mix of ideas for new worldbuilders and new as well. Have fun with your games and don’t be afraid to mess up. Because you will. Repeatedly. Borderline constantly. Fartsberg taught me that.
Jarod Lalonde is a young roleplayer and writer whose passion for both lead him here. He’s often sarcastic and has a +5 to insult. Dungeons and Dragons is his favorite platform. Although he’s not quite sure if it’s Cthulhu whispering to him in the small hours of the night, or just persistent flashbacks to the Far Realm.
Picture Reference: https://assetstore.unity.com/packages/3d/environments/fantasy/medieval-world-creation-kit-36555
You have built your world; you have included continents, mountains, oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and other terrain features. What do you have to do next? Simple: civilization. This article continues our world building discussion with how civilization has affected the developing world.
1) What Is The Basic Unit Of Civilization And Where Can It Be Found?
The basic unit of civilization is the city; a hamlet, village, town, city, or megalopolises all are groups where people come to live, work and trade. There are cities; then there are special buildings, monuments, and roads. Most herd animals are migratory so for the first few thousand years so was mankind. It wasn’t until the development of agriculture that mankind literally put down roots and built cities.
Cities were first built in fertile areas near sources of fresh water: lakes, rivers, and streams. With the invention of agriculture there came in the invention of engineering to bring the water to the crops and irrigate them. Some of the earliest recorded civilizations were founded in the Middle East; Egypt is one that survives to this day, albeit greatly changed.
Cities were built all up and down the Nile river and were later unified into the Egyptian Empire led by the Pharaohs, the God Kings. The Egyptians built massive tomb structures and an entire city devoted to the art of embalming: Karnack. The three greatest known structures of the Ancient World are the three Great Pyramids of Egypt. Buildings whose height was not equaled until the invention of the skyscraper. After construction the three massive tombs were covered in white marble so that they became blinding monuments to the Egyptian Pharaohs. Their cities were built all along the Nile River valley and every year, when the rainy season came to the tropics of Africa, the Nile would flood. During this time fertile soil was carried over the crops as well as water. People couldn’t work the fields, so they participated in huge civic projects like the construction of the pyramids, Karnack and the Great Sphinx. The ancient Hebrews may have been Egyptian slaves, but it was not slave labor that built the Pyramids. Slave labor was regulated to the cities that served the builders and the fields that fed them. The first civilizations were founded close to supplies of fresh water, because literally, water is life. Only later with engineering could cities be built in less hospitable regions.
The Seven Hills of Rome is a protective ring of hills with walls built on and in between them to found the city of Rome. Rome was founded on the Tiber River, but the rivers that fed it were not enough to feed the megalopolis that Rome became, instead huge aqueducts fed the fountains and bath houses of Rome. The aqueducts were so well built that they can drop only an inch over thousands of feet. They used sheer gravity to carry water to Rome from miles away. These were unique special structures that were only built on their grand scale by the Romans. That is because in the Dark Ages the knowledge of concrete was lost and it wasn’t rediscovered until the Industrial Age. Nowadays we have aqueducts from Lake Meade feeding the thirsty mouths of Los Angeles and Los Vegas.
When cities were founded on sources of water, that water proved to be a natural highway for trade. Later cities were built along the coastline to allow for transportation up and down the coast, usually at the mouth of a river or in sheltered harbors and bays. Look closely at the coastline of the state of California and you will find few islands offshore. Look closely at the shorelines of Texas and you will see that 90% of the coast is protected by barrier islands. These barrier islands prevent storm damage because the storm surge and the force of the storm spend itself on the barrier islands before going onshore. When Hurricane Ike came though Galveston Island was totally submerged, it is after all a barrier island, but the damage to Houston was minor. It wasn’t until the follow up hurricane that hung around that Houston was drowned by flooding. When Hurricane Katrina came ashore the old French Quarter of New Orleans hardly flooded. It was the lower ninth ward built on low ground between a lake and the sea that flooded. To this date over 75% of the world’s population lives along the coast because that is where their ancestors founded cities.
What size cities do you have in your world? Do they run to the small hamlets or closer to the megalopolis? The biggest thing preventing a city’s growth is access to water. That is why the aqueducts of Rome were so revolutionary. Magic can make water easily available to your huge cities; imagine a fountain with a Decanter of Endless Water buried at its core. That could supply fresh water to thousands of people.
2) So Where Else Were Cities Built?
They were constructed on top of resources; like gold, silver, tin, iron and coal mines. The first mines were narrow and dark as the tunnel followed the vein. Modern mining techniques dig up vast amounts of the ground to sort out the few valuable bits of ore. That is not how mining was done throughout the majority of human history. Mines were shallow because below 30 feet water would start to seep in and no pump system existed that could handle the amounts of water that came in. That is, not until the Industrial Age and the Age of Steam. First an efficient pump was invented that could operate just by the heating and cooling of a piston, not by the labors of men and beasts of burden. Those methods worked, but only on a small scale. It wasn’t until James Watt took the piston pump and improved it by using pressure and steam power that digging below 30 feet became possible. Strip mining was also an option and it was used in rock quarries to provide marble and limestone: two of the favorite stones of architects.
There are cities around the Great Salt Lake and the Dead Sea because of the salt that could be harvested easily. Also, bathing in saltwater is reputed to have healing properties. Some people with heavy allergies or asthma vacation at the Dead Sea because only there can they breathe freely. The extremely arid air supports few molds or spores so their allergies can calm down. Salt and minerals weren’t the only resources found by ancient man. Wood was a major resource and once again the proximity of the river to the forest is what made logging a viable trade. The trees could be cut down, dragged to the river, and then floated downstream to the sawmill, which would also be water powered to cut the logs up into lumber.
The best engineers, as far as water is concerned, are the Dutch. When I was in grade school there was a large body of water known as the Zider Sea. It lay off the coast of the Netherlands (Holland to the layman) and was protected by a series of barrier islands. The Dutch put in walls between those barrier islands and pumped out all the saltwater. By the time I had graduated college the Zider Sea was no more, and the Netherlands had expanded their country by almost a third. When Venice was being flooded the Dutch Engineers were consulted and they created the world’s first tidal gates that are elevated during times of storm or when the New Moon brings about an unusually high tide. Now the Marco Polo Square is not flooded. London and Rotterdam soon followed their paths with tide barriers of their own. Super Storm Sandy proved that New York may have to go down this road before much longer. Ancient peoples tried to be careful in where they founded their cities to prevent storm or floods from destroying them. Of course, that didn’t always work; look at Pompeii that was overtaken by the volcano Vesuvius. Cities are built on and near volcanoes because volcanic soil is extremely fertile. In your world where are your cities built?
3) What Are The Special Buildings Of Civilization?
I have touched on two of the major special buildings: monuments and protections against water. Almost every great leader has wanted to have a magnificent tomb to make their mark upon history. The biggest one outside of Egypt was the crypt to the unknown Chinese Emperor who united China and had the Terracotta Army built and entombed with him. We are not sure what all the loot was that was buried with the great Egyptian Pharaohs, as the tombs were long looted before we could find out, probably within a few generations of the death of the Pharaohs. All we know is the later Egyptians were burying their Pharaohs in secret, in the Valley of the Kings. We were only able to find one of those tombs unlooted: the tomb of Tutankhamun. His tomb was probably unlooted because he was a very minor Pharaoh who died at the age of twelve, and yet he had millions of dollars in gold and jewels buried with him. What monuments have your past kings, queens, and empires left?
4) What Comes After Tombs?
Dams, monuments, shrines, temples and monasteries are special buildings that were constructed by ancient mankind to serve as special structures. The shrine was a roadside structure devoted to a god and visited by travelers, with rarely more than one family maintaining it. Temples had entire staffs of people devoted to them and later developed into the soaring churches of the Middle Ages, like Notre Dame Cathedral. These churches were a revolution in architecture where the glass was put into the walls to flood the cathedral with light. To support all the weight of the building the builders created the flying buttress which built the walls on the outside, at a distance to the cathedral and connected to it with arches.
Dams are methods to control water to prevent flooding downstream. In the age of electricity, the dynamo was invented so that water power could provide electrical power, but dams had been used for thousands of years before electricity were generated from them. The great Nile river was tamed with the Aswan Dam to prevent the annual flood. The Chinese built the greatest dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam, to tame the Yangtze River and therefore harness its hydroelectric powers and prevent its hazardous annual floods. Humanity didn’t invent the dam, beavers did, but once humans saw what wonders a dam could do, they built a lot of them. Have your civilizations built dams and the resultant lake behind them? Are their lost complexes that can only be accessed by those who have water breathing powers?
Monasteries (Abbeys are special forms of monasteries) were built to devote the inhabitants to a special work. From the famous Shaolin Temples to the great monasteries of Europe. The Shaolin Monks became errant knights traveling the countrysides of China righting wrongs. The monasteries of Europe varied in their purpose, from making fine beers and ales, to creating new bibles. Mendel, the first genetics professor, did all his work at a monastery. The Jesuits were the most studious of monks, and from them came great philosophers and scientists. Does your world have great monasteries? If not, where do monks come from? Are your monks in the tradition of the Shaolin Temple, traveling warriors, are they retired samurai, or are they the scientists and researchers of their day?
Monuments have been made for ages to celebrate victories, to place over graves, or to show devotion for a ruler or for God. The biggest of these monuments might be the huge statues of Buddha created in Hong Kong and India. Washington D.C. is a city devoted to monuments: from the Washington Monument to countless statues to important figures from American history to the Marnie Memorial and the Vietnam Wall. Two of the greatest monuments to the industrial world are the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, both with framework built by Gustave Eiffel, out of wrought iron. These were built before steel became a standard building component. In fact, cold is another term for wrought iron. Iron heated and bent is wrought iron, it remains cold in that it was never melted. Iron that is melted combines with carbon and becomes steel. Today India is at work on a monument to dwarf the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty if they were stacked on top of each other. Monuments are markers that are entered into the historical record and are meant to exist for the ages. The World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists because they saw that as a monument to capitalism. What monuments were created in your world, by past and present civilizations?
5) What’s The Biggest Contribution To Travel Created By Humanity?
The answer to this question is pretty obvious: roads. The Roman Empire was built on roads and it used roads to send its legions around and all across its empire. Early roads were made of dirt and when it rained, they became an impediment to travel. However, the Romans perfected the construction of roads and some of those roads are still used today. These cobblestone roads had a slope and ditches on the sides to drain the rainwater. They became permanent features of the land. The Romans even invented a machine that could be mounted in a cart and traveled behind the engineers counting out the leagues of road so that road marks could be posted at each league. Roads bound society together for thousands of years and still do today. The train track is just a special form of road, as is the monorail, the highway, and the hyperloop. What roads exist on your world and how well are they built?
6) So, What Does This Mean For Our World Building?
You need to put cities on your world and cites don’t spring up in the middle of nowhere for no reason. They are planned and happen at points of commerce, along trade routes, at the intersection of rivers, along the rivers, and at river outlets, in bays and harbors. The early city was a walled structure to protect from raiders. The ultimate in this was reached with the castle which usually presided over a walled city, with a walled courtyard inside the city and a fortified keep inside that walled courtyard. Castles and forts proved to be the pinnacle in defense technology until the invention of the cannon. Siege engines could be used to tear down a castle’s walls, but the most common method to take a castle was to wait for their food to run out by laying siege. Cannon were built to be the ultimate in siege engines and in World War Two we proved that cannon could breach fortresses by mounting them offshore and pounding German positions. Where are the castles and forts in your world positioned, and what do they protect?
Capitals were usually the largest city, but this isn’t always true. Large cities grow because people came there to trade and from the services created to help facilitate that trade. Boats made great methods to cross small seas like the Mediterranean or sail along the coast and later ships grew mighty enough to circle the world. When traders went to the Far East, they did so first on land along the trail blazed by Marco Polo. The Italians had a monopoly on trade with the Far East, so millions of dollars were spent to break that monopoly and shipping technology developed to enable man to sail around the Cape of Africa and reach the Far East. In another attempt to reach the Far East, the New World, the Americas, were discovered. The Spanish exploited this and flooded into the void left by the Incas and solely destroyed the Aztec Empire; that is why Spanish is spoken in every country in South America except for Brazil. The pope tried to stop Spain and Portugal from arguing and taking Europe into war, and since he was Portuguese he divided the world in their favor running the dividing line right through the Americas, which were unknown at that time, saying that Portugal got all non-Christian lands to the east while Spain got all non-Christian lands to the west. The Pope thought Spain got the raw end of the deal, but after the Americas were discovered he was proven wrong. The reason why Brazil speaks Portuguese is because the Pope’s dividing line runs through Brazil. How have nations and religions divided your world? Have those dividing lines changed over time, if so, how?
Rivers and oceans were the superhighways of their time. Horses need to stop to eat and sleep, boats don’t need to stop traveling and can run all night, thus making them a faster mode of travel. The Ancient Greeks had explored all of the Mediterranean Sea’s lands and islands and when they fell from power the Romans slipped into that void and claimed the entire civilized world. Of course, India and China would argue with this statement. China refers to itself as the Middle Kingdom, the oldest source of civilization. India and the rest of Southeast Asia also had major empires, that were later dominated by the European Colonialists. So, the final force that civilization creates to dominate the world is the Art of War. War hasn’t changed the actual lay of the land that much, but it has redrawn the borders of nations time and time again. It has sent people on migrations around the world and across its oceans. With the invention of weapons of mass destruction like the hydrogen bomb we finally have the capability to remake the very landscape itself; like Bikini Atoll. If man does this or not will depend on our ability to get along with each other in an increasingly crowded world. Magic serves as an equivalent power: at its strongest it may summon Outsiders to walk the Prime Material Plane, it can unleash earthquakes, and it can remake entire nations with plagues, diseases, or magical calamities. War is almost a constant state with humanity. The Game of Thrones series is loosely based on Europe’s 100 Years War. So what has war done to your world? Has it raised and dethroned civilizations or has it spread religious practices? And what about the migrations that war creates? How have people moved across your world and why? Humans started in Africa, and they have spread to every corner of the world. Humans are usually the most numerous race in a fantasy world with enclaves of other races mixed among them. Where do people live in your world, where are their racial centers and where are they the strongest?
You need to ask yourself what civilized forces are at work in your world. What great cities have they built or brought down, what rivers were tamed with dams, what major monuments were created, what fortifications exist, and what roads were emblazoned upon your world. How has civilization affected or effected your world? How many civilizations have risen and fallen in your world and what undiscovered wonders lie in their ruins? This can be the root of adventure and the source of stories and legends, just as they have been in our world.
Daniel Joseph Mello is active under that name on the Facebook d20prfsr.com and Pathfinder Gamemasters forum. Feel free to login to Facebook, on of these groups and drop him a line. He has been involved in D&D since 1981 and by the 5th game he was the DM. He has gamed in the Army, in college, and at conventions. He has written tournament level modules for gaming conventions and has been writing about D&D on Facebook for over 3 years. He’s also a budding fantasy writer.
Picture Reference: https://www.deviantart.com/araiel/art/Fantasy-City-115035048
This is an introduction to how to build your very own campaign world. In it I hope to introduce you to some world building concepts and ideas that you can use or chose to ignore when designing your own campaign world.
There are a lot of campaign worlds out there, but nothing is as unique, and as well known by you, as your own campaign world. There are lots of ways to build your world, but the best way, in my opinion, is to model off of our own world. After all it is the world we know best and the only world that we know can support intelligent life, at least for now.
1) Start With The Macro Scale
Is your campaign world even a planet and if so, what shape would it be in? A spherical world is common and the result of constant gravitational effects on assembled particles. It is theorized that dust was formed when the Sun, Sol, was born and out of these dust clouds the planets coalesced. Then the asteroids that formed clumped together or fell to the planets and some became moons. Most though were absorbed by the planets and evolved into the round balls we know so well. Well, what if your world is flat (it sure would be easy to map)? What if it were a toroid or square, or some wild shape? The intervention of magic can do a lot, so could a planar gate with connections to other planes either outer or inner. The majority of worlds will be spherical and resemble earth, but that doesn’t render the rest of this discussion different if you chose a different shape for your world. What shape will you choose for your world?
2) What Is The Density Of The World And Its Organization?
Jack Vance, the science fiction author, invented a big world in one novel. It was the size of Jupiter and had a low density. Its size allowed it to hold its atmosphere, but its huge size allowed for vast land areas and huge continents. The only problem was that metal was rare, most of it came from the occasional meteor that crashed into the planet and those deposits of metal were very valuable. Nations would go to war over them. Philip José Farmer invented the Riverworld; it was a unique world designed for unknown reasons to hold the afterlife of all humans who died before sometime in the 21st century. The world was one Mississippi sized river bordered by mountains that wrapped around the entire planet in a loop. Along its shores everyone who had ever been born got to live again. The first and best novel in the series centered on Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and his quest to build a great steam powered riverboat that could circumnavigate the planet in a goal to find out why Riverworld existed and what the motives of its creators were. Along the way he had to work with evil King John (out of Robin Hood) and he read about the journeys of Richard Burton who was able to explore the world and find its headwaters.
Larry Niven wanted to invent a world, so he took a blue ribbon, laid it on its side and stuck a candle in the middle. Then he expanded the world into his famous Ringworld and the candle at its center became a small sun. One DM I knew invested heavily in Judge’s Guild maps and modules and he strung them together side-by-side to create a ringworld for his home world. Which world will you build, how will it be unique, and what will it have in common with standard D&D worlds?
3) Choosing The Right World
Your choice of a world and its shape should be determined by the kind of campaigns you want to run in it. In a massive world you can fit a whole lot of continents and civilizations, monsters, and everything else. But travel across this world would be a difficult deal, especially if you have to go a large distance. Remember that Teleport only has a 500 mile per level range. If you want a world were all the past people have come to life, then you can do Riverworld. If you want a huge world that is science fiction in origin you can create a ringworld. You could also do a torus (donut shaped) or one of Larry Niven’s early ideas: Diskworld. On Diskworld the sun is at the core the world is flat and there are huge mountains at the outer edge to hold in the atmosphere. As you go closer to the sun you had deserts and hotter people like magma men, as you got further from the center you got colder lands and arctic creatures. You had a huge area to adventure in and that was only counting one side of the world. If you wanted, you could make the outer planes on the flip side and the elemental planes as zones on the disk. Most people will want to stick to a standard spherical world. How will your campaign design shape your world? Do you want to bring back all the famous people of history, do you want a huge area to explore, do you want to have your players discover new lands or do you have something even bolder in mind?
4) What Makes Up A Spherical World?
Most are plates of crust that sit on a molten core. These tectonic plates float on the sea of magma and move around. They may have started as Pangaea, but they have moved around before. Australia has been a past neighbor to India, South America used to be a neighbor to Africa and so on. Currently, the Pacific Ocean is shrinking, and the Atlantic Ocean is growing wider as the plates slowly drift. Half of California and the San Andres plate is shifting north and half of it is shifting south. If you have a world it is theorized that a dynamic ecosystem is due to volcanic action releasing heat and gases into the world which interacted with lightning to create the building blocks of life and went on to form life in the seas. Now it is true this is a theory, no one was around to witness the early earth so we can only make theories about it. This theory is one that is almost universally accepted by the scientific community, but it doesn’t have to be true for your world. Did your world have a more biblical creation by the god(s)? Did they get together and forge the planet out of their imagination? Or do your peoples just believe that? It is your world so you can do anything, and you can make any arguments about how it was formed. Is your world actually a liquid world with floating islands on it, or is it a huge gas world with floating continents moving around in the air cylinder (I once had a world like this and the natives used massive ships that would sail between floating continents). If you use tectonic plates then where they split oceans will form, where they clash mountains will form. Where they rub against each other earthquakes will happen, and where they are thin volcanoes will form. This action will be the major land and sea forming method on many worlds.
5) Water Runs Downhill
This simple and obvious statement is how most of the Earth has been formed, but the action of wind, wave, and running water. Water carved the Grand Canyon and its action has weathered down the mountains. The lack of water causes deserts and where there is too much there are rainforests. Water will always try to flow to the sea and often it dives under the earth and comes to the surface as springs and the headwaters of a river. Both the mighty Columbia River and the Thames River start as small creeks and streams that come together to become a big river that runs to the sea. The Nile river is sourced in Victoria Lake and starts coming across some of the greatest falls in the world, Victoria Falls. It was a major expedition to reach the headwaters; you could plan a similar campaign for your group. Most life and civilizations occur where land meets water. Water is an inescapable need of every living creature (but not always of aberrations or outer planner creatures). Water also makes a great way to travel, you go slower by most river travel, but you can travel 24 hours a day, so you can go faster than if you travel on horseback, and both forms of travel are faster than walking. Bodies of water were early highways for civilization and spread limestone to Egypt, Portuguese merchants to as far away as China and Japan, allowed the colonization of Easter Island, Hawaii, and Australia, and the great English Empire was built on their mighty warships and trading fleet. How will the forces of magic and nature shape your world?
6) Similarities Among Worlds
Most fantasy worlds will develop along similar lines. Most fantasy worlds work in a time period from Hellenistic Greek to Ancient Rome, to the Dark Ages, to the Middle Ages, to the Renaissance, to even the early Industrial Age. When will your time period for your world be set? Hellenistic Greeks and Ancient Rome had bronze plate mail, as steel wasn’t invented until centuries later. Centuries after that gunpowder was invented. When I ran an Ancient Roman World, glass was very rare, so potion vials were clay. On Pacific islands metal was not that common so clubs lined with shark teeth made great weapons. Different time periods and different locations had different technology. It took the Chinese to develop gunpowder. When they did, they used it in everything from life prolonging potions to fireworks. It took the more militant Europeans to develop guns. How would this affect the technology of your world and what equipment is available to the party?
7) The Flow Of History
Why were the Europeans more militant and driven more to explore than the Chinese? A big part of it was their world view. The Chinese called themselves the Middle Kingdom. Once they had united their nation they were happy and didn’t see much of a reason to go out into the world exploring. The Warring States Period was when China tried to unite itself, often under different nations and by different rulers. Sun Tzu lived and wrote during this period and his book on tactics is still studied to this day. The Chinese fought to form one nation as did the Japanese. Over in Europe there were various tribes of barbarians and primitive people. Many of those people were, at one time, ruled from Rome. Rome was comprised of the literal descendants of the Ancient Greeks. In Europe the competing tribes of barbarians took over various lands and used their own language as a basis for those lands. That is why there are so many languages in Europe and their constant rivalry was a bitter issue. The European barbarians first held Rome to ransom and then sacked it. Most Roman statues had their heads cut off and disfigured by the Vandals. That is the root of the world Vandalism. When the Roman Empire fell the Vandals turned their savagery on other tribes and eventually founding Germany and the other nations of Europe. Europe was almost constantly locked in a war of some sort as the various rulers tried to take over or hold onto their lands. This constant competition became a source of great scientific development as well as great human horror like the Black Plague and the Crusades. These two forces had global consequences from trying to oust the Islamic from the Holy Lands to the rise of the middle class. The Islamic Revolution has its roots in the Crusades and the Black Plague finally made the labor of one skilled man valuable and those craftsmen were higher paid and became the merchants, skilled labors, and builders of strong economies. The biggest event in the Forgotten Realms was when the Gods walked the planet and some lost or gained their divinity during this time. The imprisoning of Rovaug, the crash of the spaceship Divinity and the death of the God of Humanity, Aroden were all major events in the development of Golarion. What forces were at work to shape the history of your world?
8) Populating Your World
Now it is time to get down to the smaller scale; where are your various races sourced? Where do they live, where do they come from and where do they want to go? Are humans the most common race, as D&D assumes? Do dwarves come from an underground civilization, are the orcs their rivals and hated foes. Are there Drow in your world? With the light of the Elves should come the evil of the Drow as a counterbalance. What about the dwarves, do they duergar (evil slaver dwarves) exist? Is there an evil counterpart to the gnomes or just the good deep gnomes? Do you have halflings in your world or an evil counterpart to them? Races are the core foundation for civilization and the formation of countries, but humans are rarely allied just by race so often they work against each other, this keeps the humans from taking over from the other races or from exterminating them. Humans are more interested in killing off each other than other races. In Tolkien's world Halflings were jovial people who ate second breakfast and were isolationists. It is not that they didn’t like the biguns of the world, it is just that they thought they lived their lives too strangely, too fast, and with too much magic. Bilbo broke the mold when he became a thief and an adventurer. What are the races of your world and what are the forces; political, racial tensions, or the fight between good and evil that are at work in your world? Don’t feel you have to include a race just because it is in the handbooks and don’t feel that you can’t create an entirely new race just because you want to. What are the politics of your world?
9) What Adventures Are Available?
Now that you have gotten down to this scale you can start to think about what you want your player characters to do. Will they form a hearty band of adventurers on a noble quest like the destruction of an evil relic or are they on the search to restore a kingdom? Or will your group be aimless adventurers gathered for no particular purpose, coming from no particular area, and only going on missions you send them on to kill monsters and get paid for it, by robbing their corpses? This creates a group of murder hobos; people who shiftlessly move around and get rich through petty crime sometimes verging on the felony. Now there is nothing wrong with doing this, if this is what your players want to do, but most DMs have a nobler quest in mind, if not in the vein of Tolkien, then something similar to it. If you create a fantasy world with a new land to be discovered, then you can have your players be either conquistadors or be members of the primitive tribes trying to fight the incoming Europeans. Will you have an Europe analog or a Oriental analog? Most of the character classes are drawn on European models, but monks with a flurry of blows, ninjas and samurai are from an Eastern world and if you don’t have that world represented in your setting, then you will disappoint those players who want to play those type of characters. Of course, the Bard and the Skald came from Scottish and Irish tales and heroes, yet we apply them to entire continents. There were monks in Europe, but they were far more scholarly than adventuring. The monks of the Shaolin Temples were both; keeping vast temples full of records from clay tablets to written books. They also adventured across China as righters of wrongs; dispensers of wisdom and justice. What type of campaigns you want to run will have a major influence in how your form that world, so how do you form your world? What goals will you have in mind for the party and for future parties?
10) Detailing The Histories
A well developed world has history to it; that lends it gravitas, dignity and power. I know a DM who has had the same world for over 20 years, and he brings in changes made by players into each campaign. If you play with him in several games then you learn certain features of his world, what exists and where, and even some things you and get away with in certain areas. I have played in wide ranging games in his world from the pocket dimension to safeguard civilization to an exploration of the catacombs under a megalopolis, to the crushing of a slave uprising. He has a rich developed world with a lot of NPCs both weak and powerful and institutions that have a long history. There are parts of his world that are ignorant of other parts and even pockets that are near impossible to escape from. They use pocket dimensions to house the town’s population and feed and clothe them. Undead can become recognized citizens. There are a lot of unique factors in his world because of his development and because of what he has added to the world over the years that he has been playing.
Golarion has a well developed history because a full team of writers have worked on it. There is an analog to Egypt, China even America. There is an evil empire, a lost world ruled by a demon ape, a crashed spaceship, a Norse analog, a barely restrained demonic invasion, and a crusade against it. There are a lot of factors going on in their world. In contrast Greyhawk had only a little development, because most of it was in mind of Gary Gygax and he didn’t want people to copy what he had done, but to do their own creative work. The Forgotten Worlds was mostly in the mind of Ed Greenwood and so there wasn’t a lot written about it without his approval or permission. He had a limited world because he had a small staff working on it; himself. He was using the world he had developed from his own game, and he just spread it to the larger world. Eberron and the Spelljammer universe were well developed, but aside from the Dragonlance chronicles little went on in the Dragonlance world. I have read about all these campaign worlds and more.
When you build your world, you should take examples and inspirations from other worlds and use it in your own. You can take what you like, ignore what you don’t like, change things around, and be unique all on your own. Happy gaming and happy world building.
Daniel Joseph Mello is active under that name on the Facebook d20prfsr.com and Pathfinder Gamemasters forum. Feel free to login to Facebook, on of these groups and drop him a line. He has been involved in D&D since 1981 and by the 5th game he was the DM. He has gamed in the Army, in college, and at conventions. He has written tournament level modules for gaming conventions and has been writing about D&D on Facebook for over 3 years. He is also a budding fantasy writer.
Picture Reference: www.shutterstock.com
This is a slightly updated version of the article that appears in my Nuggets #1 zine.
I've been creating a new world seven hexagonal spaces at a time. Here is the beginning of that; an area for your player character to explore around a small village. It is written system agnostic and is easily adapted to any edition of old school role playing games. The village, Victoria's Tower, was built around and is named after a the wizard's tower at its center. There was an accident and the sun is frozen at dusk for 20 more days (totalling a month). The village and its surrounding hexes are stuck out of time. Anyone can travel back and forth, but no time passes naturally until the end of the month. Spells and other magical effects work normally.
1) Plains And Village
A mage, Victoria, lives in a tower and a village has evolved up around it. Victoria built here because of the magic contained in the burial mounds from a long dead civilization. The village provides reagents from the sea in exchange for protection from the wizard. Victoria has frozen herself and cannot fix this. Her tower is protected with glyphs of warding and arcane locks. There are about 20 small crates filled with enchanted fish (see 12) here waiting for Victoria to open her door.
2) Plains And Farms
Mostly farms and the location of the ancient burial mounds, these plains feed the village. There is an underground tunnel connecting the mounds to Victoria’s tower. If the twelve mounds are explored, four are connected to the tower and found emptied, four more are silent, and the last four are haunted by undead. One contains a flail, Beast Render, that smells of patchouli and deals +2 damage to beasts.
3) Plains And Lakeshore
A body of water where fishermen catch gillies and stuff them into enchanted scarecrows on the shore. After four days the fish are removed and delivered to the wizard. There is also an island where reagents and medicinal herbs are grown. Barren mothers (unknowingly cause by Victoria’s experimentation with ancient magics) come here with their husbands to tend the area while the men fish.
4) South Tower Hills
A well traveled road has signs of a fight and two dead worgs killed by a piercing weapon. There is a woman nursing her wounds under a small rocky overhang away from the road. Lune, an elven warrior, is armed with 2 short swords. She stands her ground if threatened, but seeks to be left alone. She is bringing the remains of two humans to add to the scarecrows in area 3. Once a month the scarecrows need to be refilled with fresh kills. Only Lune and Victoria know of this dark deed. Lune will not let players know about this unless her life depends on it. She will say that the remains she carries are from her family and she is making a pilgrimage to the lake to bury them at sea.
5) Moonlit Hills
These tree barren hills hide a duchess, Lady Em Winter-Borough, waiting under the moonlight for a clandestine meeting with one of the clerics, she is dying and has a book of secrets to trade for a cure. The players will not recognize Lady Em, as she is from a kingdom far away. She claims to be Dass Whitehall, a noble from a nearby kingdom and is waiting for her slower coach, with her luggage, to catch up. Her coach is hidden here and can be found if players search the hex. If the players search within the coach they can find a diary and a contract that reveals Lady Em’s true identity and the fact that she is dying. Her family made a pact with a devil that has cursed her with disease. She is looking to find a cure or a loophole in the contract.
6) Ogre Hills
An ogre, Rockgrinder, make his home here in an out of the way cave that players can find if they search this hex well. He hides if seen and has promised a raven (actually Victoria) to keep the town safe. Rockgrinder has a ring that lets him talk to animals and uses them for information. In addition to hunting predators, the raven leads him to food, but has been absent for over a week.
7) Plains Of Dissonance
The wizard’s apprentice stays with a group of traveling men. These are clerics of an uncaring god and they seek to destroy the wizard because she is tampering with ancient magics. The clerics have no names. The apprentice can locate all the wards in the wizard’s tower and is being charmed by the clerics to give them the information. The apprentice has not entered the tower in eleven days for fear of accidentally setting the wards off.
Richard Fraser has been roleplaying since the early days of Dungeons and Dragons and started with the red box in the eighties. He currently prefers to DM fifth edition D&D, though reads a lot of OSR and PbtA. He currently has podcast, Cockatrice Nuggets and maintains a blog, both of which can be found at www.slackernerds.com.
Picture Reference: Provided by the author
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