Building a homebrew world in D&D is a challenging prospect. There are many anxieties and fears that come along with it and if you’re an overprepper like me, then that only doubles. But if you’re building your own world then fret not because I suffered so you don’t have to.
This is part one of a two part series of tips. I love D&D, I only started about two years ago and after a few modules in 5e’s faerun I found myself not really feeling connected to the pantheon. Like most others I watched critical role and I fell in love with the way the DM, the illustrious Matt Mercer, ran Gods. So I eventually decided, “You know what? I want to make my own Gods,” and so I did. I began with a Pantheon which led to the world, the realms, the continent(s), the regions, the cities, the towns, and then the people. The intention was to run this world for my younger siblings but over time my group of online friends, who I play d&d with, expressed an interest in this world so in a few months time I will be running this homebrew world for them. Panic ensued and I have been spending the last few months fine tuning everything as best as I can in hopes of giving my friends a good game. How many of you have felt this way? Well I am here to say, “No more!” Here are the first 4 tips to help you with your homebrew world building.
Start big or small
Start small and work your way up or start big and work your way down. I myself started with a Pantheon and worked my way down to towns and people. I started at the biggest possible concept and created the world from there. I’m a planner so this simply worked best for me. This might work for you as well or you can try the opposite end and start extremely small with just a town and a mission and work your way up to the world and/or Pantheon.
If you want to go big, start with the; Pantheon, world, and/or realms. Decide who your Pantheon are or if you will even have one. Decide which realms your world will have. Will your world have a feywild or shadowfell? Why not both? Next are regions and places; where are the mountains? Are there any volcanoes?Is there a desert? Map out everything you want and eventually you will reach cities and then towns. Build these civilizations around the environment where there are water sources, food supplies, and places that provide shelter.With any luck as you continue this, ideas for your world and story will start to formulate. By the time you’re done you will have a beautiful world, after which you can fill them in with people, but it is important here to not make an npc for every building in every city or you will actually go insane.
If you want to start small then your job will be easier in some sense because all you need is one thing, a Bartender. Where does a bartender work? A tavern. Who else works there? Who owns the bar? Suddenly you have a tavern with a few employees, an owner, and maybe some regulars. After that you can start thinking about where those npcs live and who runs the town. How does the town make any money? What are they known for? And before you know it you have your first town. Then all you need is a mission for the group to go on and you have your first session ready. No matter which way you do it, just have a couple of buildings, a couple of npcs, and a couple of missions for the party to choose from (they will most likely want to do all of them). Pick whichever way feels more comfortable to you.
Don’t over prep
I almost made the mistake of making every npcs on that God’s green earth. I also wanted to have every town and every city to already have every single npc ready and each one was going to have a job, hopes & dreams, and some affiliation to another npc. Needless to say I was drained very quickly. There is no need for that level of detail. You don’t need to know that much information for the jewelry shopkeeper or the castle groundskeeper. So please do yourself a favor, don’t do this to yourself. Make a handful of npcs for your party per city or town yes of course, but don’t kill yourself trying to make the world feel more full; you can achieve the same affect with just a few npcs in an area. Not to mention, it’s great to actually keep some things vague because as the game progresses you will have ideas that you are going to want to change. Don’t be afraid to change and adjust elements of your game after it has already begun as well. You will find that as the players affect the world it will spark more ideas and changes for you. I actually find that even though I love to plan, leaving space for improv has the best outcome because I allow myself to “yes and” better. A decent sense of improv will help you go a long way in this game, the better you are are riffing off of your players the easier it will get for you.
Know your players
If you aren’t already friends with your players and you are running a homebrew campaign then you need to take the time to get to know them. What I like to do is have a session 0 or two so that they can get a feel for their characters and your dming style and you get to do the same thing in order to gauge them. But even before that I tend to make a questionnaire and I use this time to express the expectations of the game. Whether you are running a heavy battle war game or an RP heavy acting game you absolutely MUST express this in the beginning. This isn’t something most people think they need to do but I guarantee you it is. Everyone has expectations of what they want out of the game and those can be very varied, so it is necessary for everyone to know what they are in for so they can decide if they want to stay or not. I promise you that this can save you so much time in having to deal with players coming and going. Also, remember that there is nothing wrong with that either, many people simply may not want the same thing you want and vice versa. Save yourself and them the headache and just let them know what to expect, nothing worse than going into a game expecting a lord of the rings style adventure and 6 sessions in realize it’s a deeply horror themed game where everyone is an evil character.
Skeleton of your story
This one is simple really. I think the story for my home campaign is maybe the weakest component, and I am a writer, but that is because I don’t really care. I don’t want to tell my players a story, I want to make one with them. So yes I have my big bad, a plot, enemies and allies to make along the way, and a beginning, middle, and end; but that is second to the fun and adventure. Yes, build your story and present it to your players as best as you can, but don’t forget to put their characters first; it is their adventure after all. Put your story beats that need to be reached on a timeline of sorts, this will help a great deal but keep them vague enough that they can be changed as the players do more.
There we have the first 4 tips on building your homebrew world. Stay tuned for part II which will be out very shortly. Breathe, stay calm, and build your awesome world!
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