World building is the act of making your own custom setting in Dungeons & Dragons. Although you don’t need to make your own world, the “homebrewed” method can be a lot of fun! If you prefer to play in a pre-made setting, like D&D’s available-for-purchase Forgotten Realms, that’s great too!
How do I get started?
At this stage of the process, the sky’s the limit! Except not really… There’s a ton of shit beyond the stars that you can do! Like I said in my first post, though, start small. Try building the town the players are currently in. What are it’s features and problems? Define these features by using questions like these:
With whom does the town trade?
What do they export?
What do they import?
What are the biggest threats to the town?
Perhaps the classics, like: spider-infested forests, goblin-occupied caves, or haunted ruins.
Maybe something weirder, like: cultists, mind flayers, or elementals.
What is a brief history of this town?
Who founded the town?
Why was it built?
What are some major events that happened here?
Who runs the town now?
Who are the notable citizens or organizations?
Who would benefit from adventurers being in the town?
Who could potentially lose something from them being there?
Be sure to incorporate some themes from your first game into the town’s backstory.
Now that you have a solid grasp of what your starting town is about, you should consider what comes next in your adventure. Zoom out from the town and think about the island or continent the heroes are on, and apply the same questions to that!
You don’t have to build the whole world right away –in fact, half the fun is building the world as you go! Certain things, like the name of the ruling leader(s) and their style of government, should be established early on, though.
The time period and knowledge
Take a few notes about the kind of advancements that are happening in your world. What level of understanding do the people have towards the many powers that exist, or do they understand at all? Magic, religion, and more mundane technologies are just a few examples of the powers or knowledges you can play with. Ask yourself the following questions and determine which you prefer.
What role does magic play in this world?
Is magic rare, or is it commonplace, and part of everyday life?
Has it been abused, and is it now gone from the world?
Who studies magic in this world?
Is it feared or even illegal?
Are there grand universities dedicated to advancing the arcane arts, or is it a lost form of knowledge kept only in rare tomes?
What is known of spirituality in this world?
Is there one god, or a pantheon of different deities?
How often do deities speak to their disciples, and what venue do they use to communicate?
Are gods just abstract ideas, or have they and their servants been seen walking the world?
Is worship or atheism socially acceptable, or is it taboo?
What kind of technology exists in this world?
Are ships capable of oceanic voyages?
Does gunpowder exist?
What level of medicine has been achieved?
What level of cosmology has been developed?
Keep in mind that fictional technologies should be considered in this step. Themes from steampunk can be a fun addition to a fantasy setting!
There is no one way to world-build, so we will have plenty of tips to help you in the coming weeks and months. For now just focus on playing the game and having fun!
Thanks so much for checking out all three of my posts. I hope they helped you figure out how you want to DM! Have any questions or tips of your own about world building? Let us know in the comments.