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June 23, 2010 / JBencomo

So you want to play god? How to create a campaign setting world

Mind: “So why don’t you make your campaign world?”

Me: “I wouldn’t know where to begin”

Mind: “Sure you do, we read those things about campaign session in the DM guide remember?”

Me: “Now that you mention it…. no, it was 3 am when we read that”

Mind: “  -.- better start typing or ill give you a headache”


Finally i gave in to his so called “logic”; I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a campaign setting for a while and with the imminent start of my first session as a DM in a few weeks i had no more room for excuses, already having some loose thoughts about the “feeling” and general traits my setting would have, it occurred to me that creating the world would be a great start, and while in the process of making such world i came up with a few steps and tips that really help out the process


Step one: Name the world


I was uncertain of this being the starting point, i concluded that it should. As long as your world has a name, it ceases to be an abstract concept and begins to take form, which makes it so much more easy to shape it into what you want it to be. After a few minutes thinking about what my world should be named i came up with: ..… nothing. I was really pushing to come up with an “awesome, non cliché name” while fighting the ones that already existed (Terra, Gaia, Azer… no, i cant say it…) but in this process, a really great idea came to mind, dusting my old FFIX soundtrack disk i got a second wind of inspiration, a few minute later i was brainstorming with myself a bunch of words that would end up forming Reunthyr. I was pleased with it, but felt it needed a little more fluff than just a name, so i decided that Reunthyr would be the Draconic word for “The seal” and he saw that it was good.


– Brainstorm words that seem cool-sounding or have deeper meaning to you, play with them, join them, change positions, and in a few minutes your world will be named. Remember, nothing is carved on stone, your name can, and most likely will evolve as you progress in the world creation,  don’t let yourself get stuck waiting for the “perfect” name.


Tip #1: When stuck in the creative process, fantasy music goes a long way.


Step Two: Define the sentiment of your world


Really proud of what i had accomplish so far (and with some romantic FFIX music on the background) i was ready for some more, this task was a  little more complex. Again started by tossing the general ideas of features i wanted my world to have: a savage/hazardous world, following the point of light philosophy, where most of its surface is wild and unexplored and with just few places to call “safe”.  A few songs later i knew most of the outline of my world, but still had some troubles to picture it in my mind, so i needed a picture. I’m sort of the antithesis of an drawing artist, being unable to draw my world i went for one of the oldest tools in DMing arsenal, stealing. After a short image search i found exactly what i needed, the layout of an entire world composed of 3 continents with no writing on it, after that i got a perfect sense of what kind of feeling Reunthyr had, this understanding would be really valuable later while working on the campaign setting.


– Try to make a list with short sentences about the traits you want in your world, then make notes around those sentences with fluff ideas on how to incorporate them into the narrative and your world is almost done, but not quite.


Tip #2: Use your resources to the fullest. Pictures on Google, your favorite movie, a comment you just read on twitter, when you are on the process of creating something, great ideas and inspiration comes from everywhere.


Step Three: Tie the Campaign setting to the World you created


After seeing my world take form, step three became evident, and here is where you’ll need to grasp most of your creativity, but once you start, is an easy walk. At this point i had a page long of what particular “motif” i was aiming to make my campaign setting unique, and writing about the world help the ideas rush in, developing further my campaign setting as i made more detailed descriptions of my world. My 6th grade teacher used to tell me “You don’t truly understand something unless you can explain it to someone else” and remembering this prompted a great idea: I decided to write a world/campaign setting intro, something i could email my players so they had some general background beforehand, i wanted to make it interesting and light to read so i stayed in the safe confines of a one page length. The end result i was pleased with, it was written like a page from a famous explorer journal (called Parco Molo) summarizing shortly what i wanted them to know about the world their characters lived in and hinting some mayor plot line of my campaign.


– Take the lists of features from your world, then start waving the theme of your setting into it, take notice of the most relevant aspect of the plot of your campaign, see how can you immerse them and make them tangible in the world you created. A narrative history can help in this process but the important thing is that, in the end, your world and your setting become one, sharing as many characteristics as possible and complementing each other.


Tip #3: Write everything. I mean EVERYTHING, after you are done writing, review it, see what you can actually use and what you definitely wont, but never dismiss something before considering at least once, most great ideas improve each other.


In the end, the whole process went smoothly, certainly more than i have initially anticipated, and just had to review my Dungeon Master Guide once or twice to check i had my bases covered. When i was done i was pretty satisfied with the end result and i really hope this will be as useful to you.

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7 Comments

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  1. Jeff Gupton / Jun 24 2010 12:07 pm

    Thanks for the extra perspective, I am currently doing the same thing, and ironically, in the same order! But I know I have a long way to go, especially if I want to publish mine.

    I can’t wait to see more blogs!

  2. DM Baloo / Jun 24 2010 12:30 pm

    @Jeff: I’m really glad you liked the post, i hope it was useful or at least entertaining :P best of lucks with your campaign world and thx for dropping by and commenting :)

  3. Charisma / Jun 24 2010 5:44 pm

    Is this your first post? I like it – it makes me want to start my own world (which I’ve been putting off).

    I’m going to tell Tourq (stuffershack.com) about your site. I’m sure he’ll add it to his RPG Sites list.

    Looking forward to your next post!

  4. DM Baloo / Jun 24 2010 6:07 pm

    @Charisma: Why, thank you ^^, yes this is my first post :) I’m really exited about this new blog.

    Oh I appreciated it, being a new blog it really helps being mentioned on other good related sites, I’ll make sure to check his site also to add it to my links.

  5. Hawke / Jun 25 2010 8:09 pm

    My next campaign will begin with a world building game “Dawn of Worlds” and including all the players in it. They don’t like DMing as much, but I think they’ll have a better time if they know the history of the world rather than reading or listening to me tell it how it is. First time I will do it, I hope to post more how it goes when that happens… still have a few months left on this campaign (homebrew world)

    Good advice!

  6. DM Baloo / Jun 25 2010 8:18 pm

    @Hawke sounds really interesting, i think you are right, they should feel more interested in the world lore that way, im more of a fluff obsessed type of player, dont get me wrong, i minmax and love the fights, but the richer the world the more interested i become in the session

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