You’ve decided to make your own homebrew world. Where to start? I mean…it’s a whole world. There’s a lot of stuff in a world! And, in Dungeons & Dragons, there’s even worlds beyond that world – other planes and possible dimensions! Oh my gosh, and that reminds you, this world needs gods! Where do you even begin on something like that?!
“Slow down,” I’ll say. While the creation of a world is a daunting task, you definitely do not have to tackle all of it at once. And, when you’re ready to take on certain pieces that feel too large and impossible, you’d be surprised how many resources there are available to you to help.
I’m going to talk about two worlds that I’ve created, and how they’ve felt different to me in their creation. I’m going to reference other homebrews, as well, and how some other DMs go about creating theirs. Hopefully these processes will help you or answer any questions you may have regarding going homebrew. If not, feel free to comment and I will absolutely respond. Here we go.
I like stories. For me, stories create compelling visuals and memorable characters. They enable me to envision cinematic landscapes and events in time. Stories are what power my worlds. The original Muluth, which was inspired by a dream, was built based on the story of one character. When I redesigned Muluth for D&D, I wrote a story first. I have to disclaim, however, that I feel like rebuilding Muluth as a D&D homebrew world was slightly easier than starting from absolutely nothing, because a majority of the landscape had already existed in a previous project of mine. So, for me, it was obvious that the homebrew needed a new story for the world.
Where to start? The beginning of course. How did this world come to be? Not literally, mind you. We don’t need millions of years of the solar system forming and whatnot. For Muluth, I wrote a creation myth. A story – the story of how Muluth began that the people of Muluth would tell each other. Now, because D&D is typically polytheistic, that meant I had to do the gods-work up front. But that’s okay, I know enough about D&D gods to get by. If you don’t, there are plenty of resources online. There’s also a large appendix in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for deities, and even constructing your own pantheon of gods.
I decided that this world – unbeknownst to its denizens – would be something of an experiment by the gods, and not a full world. The land of Muluth was basically created to settle a bet of vanity between a small handful of gods. I chose Moradin, Avandra, Sehanine, Bahamut, and Vecna. Just five – enough to cover the main races that I’d be putting into this world. The creation myth of Muluth attributes each god with one of the races: Moradin created the dwarves, Avandra created the halflings, Sehanine created the elves, and Bahamut created both the humans and the dragons – and then subsequently the dragonborn. Vecna used his dark influence to create goblins and orcs from the vile merging of some of these races.
So that’s how the creation myth starts. In order to gain advantage on the bet that was in play, Vecna influenced a red dragon named Tiamat. She grew in power, and battled with the people of Muluth. Blah, blah, blah…Tiamat becomes a god…blah, blah, blah…great big war…blah, blah, blah…rise of the Dragul Empire. Long story short, I wrote a story that basically encompassed almost two millennia of history. That seems like a difficult task, but it’s really not. I did not go into too much detail in the story, and that’s on purpose. That way, I can go in later and fill in the blanks as I figure it out.
The image at the top of this post is a snapshot of the timeline I wrote for Muluth, AFTER I had written the story, established the races, figured out the major locations in Muluth, and even worked out several major plot seeds in the world and the influential NPCs within them.
By having the main story of the world, and a lot of the information regarding major places and characters, I was able to go back and write a much more in-depth timeline of major events that happened throughout its history. And, if I want to go even further (which I do), EACH of those events has a story of its own. I could go so far into these timeline events that I could pick out incredibly minute details to sprinkle flavors of it into the campaign as the players go through it. For example, they meet the descendant of a brave Knight of the Phoenix from the Voynerod War – the remnants of these knights became the tieflings of my world after they were defeated. The tiefling of the party realizes, maybe due to the NPC having a family heirloom, that they’re distantly related. SO many possibilities open up by diving into the stories of these timeline events.
The idea to construct a timeline like this came from – who else – Christopher Perkins and his DM Experience blog. There, he talked about his “campaign bible,” which has all the pertinent information that he’d send his players before starting the campaign. In it was…you guessed it…a timeline.
This document is available on the Dungeons & Dragons website, along with a post by Chris talking about how he creates worlds, here.
If I’m to talk about my converting of Muluth to a D&D setting, I’d say it was somewhat easy…and only because I had already created the land, a few major cities and landmarks, and an overarching story to it. Much of that story has changed now, and it’s a vastly different land and history than before, but I had a foundation to build upon, and that helped incredibly. So if you’re the writer-type, and have fantasy settings that you’ve already developed for those purposes, I’d say use those as inspiration for a campaign setting, and rework them to fit what you want.
I’m also developing a second world – but much more slowly than Muluth, as I don’t feel it’s as important right now. It’s a back-burner world. But this one actually developed from an idea. I thought, “wouldn’t this be cool for a campaign setting?” If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that this one was also somewhat inspired by Chris Perkins’ other world, Iomandra. But I wanted it to be different, so I wrote a story that led to how I wanted the campaign world to exist currently – a world of water dotted by thousands of islands and small land masses.
So, while this world was birthed from an idea of “let’s do a campaign world that’s like this,” I still sat down and wrote the story – the history of the world. This will allow me to do much of the same that I did for Muluth: have a creation myth, lay out the map of the world, place major locations and landmarks, and develop plot seeds and major characters. From there, I can build the timeline of major events, and then delve into the actual stories of those events to build an even richer history. I think the major difference between this world and how I created Muluth is that I don’t have any sort of foundation in this one like I did with Muluth. I’m creating this one from scratch, essentially. I don’t have any pre-existing material to assist me.
Matthew Mercer, of Critical Role, has spoken about how to start a homebrew campaign world, and how he started Exandria. He goes the opposite way, it seems. He starts at minuscule scale, and then expands from there. For example, he’ll build and develop the campaign’s starting location, and then go outward to see what’s around it. I, personally, have not tried this approach, but maybe I will on the next world I create to see how it works for me. As it sits right now, I’m not sure that that would work very well for me.
I like to look at a map and say, “okay, what goes where?” and figure it out from there. But my method may not work for everyone. I feel like Matt’s technique is much more structured than mine, and I do know that that works for some people. Chris’s method is also very structured, it seems, just by reading his campaign bible. I feel like mine is more “stream of consciousness,” in that I write a story, then draw a map, and then place things where I think they’d be appropriate or interesting (or both), and then develop the stories around those places and things. While I’m doing this, I may notice something else, and say, “oh hey! That should go there!” It’s quite messy, but I like it. I feel like it has a very strong “sandbox” feel.
We’ll have to see, someday, if the players I put into these worlds feel the same, or if they feel like they’re inhibited.
Was this post helpful? How do you create your worlds? What do you think is the absolute first step you have to take in doing so? Do you feel like the stories are the most important part of the world, or do they fall second to something else? What creation element(s) is present in every one of your homebrew worlds?
Until next time – Well Met!