World-Building, Part 6: Children of the Gods

These races are the particularly favored children of different major gods–we’re going to use that as an explanation for all of these different races.

I now have an idea about explaining something that one of my players would find important, and she’s helped me work out the cosmology of this setting. This is also leading me to additional answers about how things were created, which, after all, is an important job for the gods to have done. There’s still the lingering question of why there should be so many different races, but now that we know who these gods are we can think about why there might be such variety.

In Green Ronin’s Hamunaptra setting, the reason there are seven primary player races is that these races are the particularly favored children of different major gods–halflings for Osiris, gnomes for Set, and so on (they also replaced half-orcs with jackal-headed gnolls). Humans are so different and so adaptable because all of the gods had a hand in creating them, so they weren’t favored by any one in particular. I rather like this idea–it’s downright Tolkien-esque when you consider how the Dwarves of Middle-earth came into being–so we’re going to use each sapient race as a divine creation as an explanation for all of these different races.

This opens up my creation myth and starts answering my questions about Primideus. In looking back to my pantheon, it’s easy to think they’ll fight with one another. What if one of their major fights at the beginning of creation was about which race should be dominant? And what if true sapience is only provided by a divine “spark,” and none of the gods were willing to empower their own creations for fear that the others would take advantage of them weakening themselves? The reason Primideus is the “first god” is that he was the only one who cared enough about these lifeless creations to sacrifice his divine power for them. All of the sapient creatures of the world have him to thank for their existence.

Now I have a creation myth and an explanation for my player’s god and the status of his church in the world. Most people would rather pay homage to their racial deity, and those don’t preach nearly as much about self-sacrifice. This sounds pretty good, but I can go further in figuring out which god wanted what to be created. In fact, I already have a number of gods roughly equal to the number of player races; maybe I just need to match them up to one another in some way. Clothamar makes sense as the dvergaric god, considering they live underground, are quite smart, and have metallurgical secrets, while this also provides a bit of a twist in making them distinct from “Lawful Good followers of fatherly Moradin.” Prudenta would work well as an elven goddess of the moon. Clarumar the Shining One might be seen like Bahamut to the dragonborn–a shining sun dragon. Bel could be like Gruumsh, a cruel and powerful lord who sees the orcs as his chosen people.

But past that, it’s quickly apparent that this won’t do. I still have at least beastfolk (and that’s lumping centaurs and minotaurs together), humans, gnomes, and halflings,* but that makes the numbers not quite work, as I only have 3 deities remaining–Sangua, Mara, and Nothura. Sangua probably works for beastfolk, although so would Nothura, but Mara doesn’t fit very well with the others remaining and the others don’t particularly fit with whichever goddess is left over between our nature goddesses. Mortu would not have created any of the races on his own (he’s different), and Primideus can’t favor any one in particular, so there are too many. That also doesn’t account for all of the other sapient creatures–goblins, kobolds, lizardfolk, and so on. I have to find some explanation for them and all of this diversity.

If it was something that would never come up or that players could never answer, it might not matter. For me, though, this is pretty important to figure out for my own satisfaction and continued world-building. There’s no real reason behind it, and the numbers don’t line up with the creation myth that I actually like. Maybe there’s a way I can group them together. After all, if I can reduce the number of “races,” I can get to something where each one has an associated racial patron, and I can also use that as a starting point for building racial / cultural pantheons if I need them later. What might some of these groups have in common?

I start comparing different sapient fantasy creatures, especially those designed for PCs (or were in older editions), and I come to a useful realization. I actually do have some similarities between certain ones, and I can make a weird statement about my world now.

And just for fun, here’s the creation myth we’re now using for this world.

As the Seven rule all things, so they also have favored children among the sapient races. The oldest Druskan creation myth tells of the gods’ council after the world’s creation. They wanted worshipers who would serve them in the mortal world and beyond, mortals with a spark of the divine, but all disagreed on what kind of creatures to have. Bel favored a strong and robust people, full of martial knowledge and stern purpose. His consort Sangua desired that these people instead emulate the beasts of the earth, while their sister Mara wanted a people to rule both sea and soil. Clarumar designed a people whose skin would reflect the shining sun, and Clothamar shaped a people suited to digging in the earth, hiding their secrets in the deepest places. Prudenta favored the gift of magic for these worshipers, and Nothura last of all hoped for a fertile people in whom the spark of life would never be extinguished.

Each created examples of their race in secret, but none would back down from their designs for the world. Seeking to resolve this deadlock, they asked the only two gods who had remained silent to involve themselves in the discussion. Mortu deferred immediately, claiming that all souls would be his regardless of their mortal form. Primideus, however, offered to settle the issue by agreeing with all: all of these creatures were worthy of a place in this world.

At this suggestion conflict erupted again. None of the gods were willing to risk their own essence to empower a people who would compete with other races. As the Seven squabbled, Primideus took their creations one by one, placing each within the newly shaped world. After arranging them all, he sacrificed his blood to ensoul each of the Seven Races, giving of himself to ensure that these creatures would all find their place. Broken by his wounds, he returned to the council and told them of his work.

Next: Size really does matter–and provides a nice way to condense them.

* Tieflings aren’t really a problem because they’re probably an offshoot of humanity, and adding them in just exacerbates the problem I had.

World-Building, Part 5: Of Gods and Players

“What deities can I choose?” She’s already decided on playing a Life Domain Cleric. She tells me about her character–not necessarily the kind of person who would be in a mainstream religion, but someone with a soft spot for those who are oppressed or in need. I need to make this choice cool for her.

“What deities can I choose?”

It’s now several months since I sketched out this Druskan setting, and a handful of players have been involved in the game. Our first group lasted a couple of months, and we reset for the summer with a few new ones. With the fall coming up, our schedule changed again, and so it meant losing a couple of my players and replacing them with others. (Thankfully, this is all over Roll20, so I have less in the way of physical logistics.)

I haven’t thought much about that question to this point. To be sure, that first set had a paladin who nominally worshiped Lathander, but that’s kind of boring to me, and I’ve begun thinking about making this world more my own anyway.

“I was looking at things online, and I really think I’d like to be a Cleric of Ilmater.”

She’s already decided on playing a Life Domain Cleric, which will give them the support they’re lacking in their current group. It’s an interesting (if unusual) choice, and I like the idea. She tells me about her character–not necessarily the kind of person who would be in a mainstream religion, but someone with a soft spot for those who are oppressed or in need. I need to make this choice cool for her.

“I hadn’t worked too much of this out, but at least in this setting that god would be known as Primideus.” Although I’m keeping the personality very similar, the name asks some obvious questions: why would a god of sacrifice and suffering be the “first god”? Why might his religion be on the fringes and not particularly celebrated while other gods enjoy more prestige and popularity? And how will he interact with other deities, and what effect will this have on my world’s cosmology?

I didn’t really need answers to these questions until I had a player who cared, but I wanted to make it interesting to learn. How large a pantheon would I need? What about all of my other cultures? Do they need their own gods?

To answer some of these questions, I needed to return to my PHB. Seven domains…that sounds like seven deities to me. There’s already a god of light, but let’s rename him from Lathander to Clarumar, the Shining One. I don’t like the idea entirely of giving just one domain, so let’s also provide the War Domain and make him a god of tactics. (Think Bahamut for tropes.) Better, we can do this for each of our deities–a brief title provides a feel for them. Primideus will become the Suffering One, and none of the other domains seem like a good fit, so we’ll assign him Knowledge as well. He can be a god of wisdom through hard experience and the kind of knowledge gained through introspection and philosophy. Although I don’t know a whole lot about the deities right now, I’ll fill out the rest of the pantheon with these titles. Here’s the list, omitting Clarumar and Primideus whom we’ve already discussed.

  • Bel, the Triumphant One, Lord of Storms and Battle – Tempest and War
  • Prudenta, the Wise One, Lady of Enlightenment – Knowledge, Light (think Artemis or Diana)
  • Mara, the Changing One, Queen of the Seas – Tempest and Trickery
  • Nothura, the Giving One, Lady of Creation – Life and Nature
  • Clothamar, the Cloaked One, Lord of Secrecy – Knowledge and Trickery
  • Sangua, the Bloody One, Lady of Beasts – Nature and War

Oh, but there’s another domain I’ve forgotten: the Dungeon Master’s Guide Death Domain, so I need a god for it. I settle on Mortu, the Final One, Ruler of the Dead, and assign him both Death and Knowledge (of the archived and preserved sort–and yes, this means I have four different types of knowledge over which different gods preside).

Between all of them, I have at least two deities for each domain (with Knowledge and War being used an additional time each, not counting Mortu being tacked on because he’s different and unique), and no deity has the same two domains as another. This feels good (and semi-symmetrical) to me, though I still haven’t exactly figured out why Primideus would be the “first.”

What if he fully embodied the sacrifice he encourages in his followers? What if the reason he’s not served very often is also related to that–that he’s not as powerful as he once was and his faith isn’t very exciting?

What if he’s only “the first” to mortals, and it’s a linguistic legacy of something amazing he did for them?

Next: meeting the gods answers a lot of questions about my world’s inhabitants.

World-Building, Part 4: Races of Druska

For this post, let’s review each of the basic PHB races and see how they’ve contributed to the overall feel.

So far I have a pretty good foundation for a world that meets my design goal to include all of the basic Player’s Handbook content. I also have the beginning of geographic groupings for each of them and am trying to think about how they interact with this world I’m creating. For this post, let’s review each of the basic PHB races and see how they’ve contributed to the overall feel.

Dwarves – I mentioned in my last post that I don’t particularly care for their name in general. “Dwarves” seems like a derogatory term in English, and it seems strange that they would be content to be called as such in the Common tongue. Luckily, the Arcane Legions approach (likely inspired by D&D, given that its dvergar are dark-skinned) gives me a similar-sounding name without the associated disparagement. They will be recognizably dwarves. To accommodate the mountain and hill subraces, I’ve decided that the mountain dwarves will be the dark-skinned dvergar that live underground, while the hill dwarves are fairer skinned and known as “gold dwarves” due to their lighter color. This also gives the city of Auricbad in Druska its name, as it was founded as essentially a trading post between dvergar and Druskans.

Elves – I like the choice to place high elves in Elenas, which borrows its name from them and ancient Hellas. The magical, intelligent society that we’ll assume forms feels really good as an analogue to the enlightened Greeks in our world. Presumably they have some hegemonic power in that region of the empire, kind of how Latin never really displaced Greek in the Eastern Roman Empire–maybe they even support the rebellion to recover some measure of their older-than-Druskan power. On the other hand, wood elves (or 4e’s version of eladrin, perhaps?) belong in Aire with other fey-like creatures, which gives it another trope to use. Drow aren’t going to be particularly important, as they’re underground and xenophobic, but there are plenty of underground caverns we might assume they could inhabit if we need them.

Halflings – Initially and as one of the more common PHB races, I felt that halflings seemed sort of fey-like (supernatural luck) and decided to put them in Aire. They’ll end up being something else when I settle my cosmology better, but no one wanted to play a halfling at this point, so it wasn’t particularly important that I cared about their origins. Remember that as a Dungeon Master you don’t necessarily have to know the answers to all of these issues. If it wouldn’t plausibly come up, if your players won’t know about it, or if you never occupy a perspective in which an answer would be known, you can feel free to pass off information as limited to whatever source you’re giving instead of an omniscient “Yes, halflings are descended from fey” (or whatever else you need to decide).

Humans – Given the normal assumptions of D&D, humans were going to be the dominant race. This setting justifies it somewhat by making them the ruling power of Druska (and Khemta, Elenas, and Elon, as elves are no more than a “large minority”), but questions about how they got there and how they treat their subjects and so on are left unanswered. I don’t need those answers yet, and they probably won’t come up. I can answer those questions and make one side or the other in this civil war more sympathetic or villainous as I desire. How do independent groups like the dvergar view the conflict? I was able to use a random rumor about the gold dwarves joining the False Emperor to provide our Dwarf Fighter an opportunity to roleplay and give his opinion on the war.

A few notes on the rarer races: Dragonborn get to be the reptilian sobekhi for now, dwelling primarily in the Barbaric Coasts. Gnomes live with dwarves and have a great Slavic-sounding name to borrow with the svirfneblin already, so I’ll use that as their general name and further cement that closeness. Half-elves are going to be fairly common in Elon and Elenas and maybe less so elsewhere. We aren’t doing half-orcs because I think their commonality makes some strange assumptions about the world in one way or another, so they’re getting replaced with full orcs as a potential player race. Tieflings, finally, get a one-off mention as the offspring of Hibernians who deal with devils, which as an area outside the empire is probably going to feel very Gaulish. However, no one’s playing any of these yet, so I don’t know much about any of them or even need to.

But as I think about other sapient races, I’ve remember that I’ve also got “beastfolk” and the artificial Steamforged lying around…oh, and I’m going to have goblins and kobolds and lizardfolk and because all of those are iconic D&D creatures. Hm. Why do we have all of these different creatures? Who created them? Why are they different? Cosmology might be the next step, then, even if I don’t particularly need it. But in the interim I’m just going to play in this setting for a few months, even though I don’t know everything and have a lot of “loose” pieces, metaphysically speaking.

None of my first batch of players cared much about deities–we had a paladin of Lathander, who chose it primarily because that’s the sun god in the PHB, but he didn’t last particularly long and religion just wasn’t a big deal to those players. That was fine, but I eventually became dissatisfied with just using the Forgotten Realms pantheon and decided that a distinct world should have its own distinct deities.

Next: how my first Cleric player solves my cosmological problems for me.

World-Building, Part 3: Good Writers Steal

I’m not Tolkien, so I’m going to steal everything I need from somewhere else.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is the greatest fantasy novel ever published. Sure, you can argue that some people have done it better or played with tropes more effectively or been more entertaining. I get that, but my statement stands.

However, I’m not Tolkien, so I’m going to steal everything I need from somewhere else.

Arcane Legions was an intriguing tabletop miniatures game that came out a few years ago before being discontinued. Mechanically, it used formation bases to highlight small-scale army tactics–okay, I can’t describe it much better succinctly, and that’s not important anyway–but it’s the setting elements that I need. You see, Arcane Legions used a warped version of history to tell its story–in its universe, a strange mist transformed the world during the early days of the Roman Empire. Now, the fledgling Roman Empire under Octavian, Greece and Egypt under Antony and Cleopatra, and the Han Empire from China are all fighting to take control of the world using the new magics and monsters created by the mists. Wells Expeditions used this background to create a recognizable world that still included expected fantasy tropes: dwarves were dvergar, Slavs transformed by the mists into gray dwarves, while many of the Mongolians were transformed into orcs–excuse me, “Kor.” Mummies animated in their Egyptian tombs, Gaulish druids had real magic powers and could actually talk to beasts, priestess of Vulcan could literally throw fire: all in all, the setting really clicked with me.

You can probably see where I’m going with all of this.

Now, I need to hide things a bit, and some explanations simply don’t matter or aren’t helpful to me right now. The other sapient races don’t need to be former humans for this setting, and I don’t really need three major imperial factions to make a game asymmetrical and theoretically more interesting and replayable. I don’t want to take their real-world names, either, but what I can do is take inspiration from this source.

Let’s take another look at our map. (You’ll see a better one eventually.)

Druskan Empire

Notice anything about the relative positions of major powers? Well, as our setting story indicated, the major opposing powers are the Elenas-Khemta bloc and Druska. If you squint very hard and assume that the basic continents match up, you can tell that, conceptually, this is a map of the Mediterranean flipped upside down. Elenas is Greece, carried by Marc Antony–I mean, our “False Emperor” here–and Khemta is Egypt, ruled by Adara-who’s-definitely-not-Cleopatra.These two nations in yellow oppose the totally-not-Roman Druskan Empire.

For our races, too, we’re going to steal things. We’re going to borrow “dvergar” for our dwarves because that sounds cooler (and why would they be okay being called “dwarves” all the time), and Mongolian orcs become our orcs of “the Far Lands.” The dvergar are also going to create steam technology for us because they do it in Arcane Legions and this also lets us introduce a version of Eberron’s Warforged, who are basically fantasy robots. Elves get to be part of Elenas because I want a nearby place with a lot of them. Halflings seem kind of mystical, so let’s put them somewhere far off and make it different from where we throw tieflings. Gnomes? Well, I guess they live underground somewhere.

But we also want more than just the basic D&D stuff. Greece in Arcane Legions becomes home to centaurs who were transformed by the mist, and Crete is home to minotaurs, so we’ll adopt those as well. So as not to make our cosmology too complicated, we’ll group them under “beastfolk” and sort out the details later. I still need to work in dragonborn somewhere, so I’ll borrow the sobekhi (lizardfolk) from Green Ronin’s Hamunaptra setting and throw them in our North Africa analogue. (Note: this actually changes down the road, as do a few other decisions listed above.)

Well, it looks like our theft is paying off. By borrowing so many elements of the Arcane Legions setting, we’ve established the major powers and interactions of our setting as well as a number of races and their places in the world. We still have a few things to work out, but there’s a solid foundation in place.

Thought question: What do you think Elon represents? What about the red areas?

Next: we continue to sketch out the different races and where they belong.

World-Building, Part 2: The Druskan Empire

Here’s a basic overview of the setting I provided my players, including the big nations / interactions as well as letting them know about the different races for character building purposes. Let’s note a few things about how these paragraphs achieve my goals.

As promised in the previous entry, here’s an overview of the setting with which I ended.

First, here’s a very ugly map, done in MS Paint and before Inkarnate was a thing about which I had knowledge.

Druskan Empire

Second, here’s a basic overview of the setting I provided my players, including the big nations / interactions as well as letting them know about the different races for character building purposes.

  • Nations of the World
    From his secure capital at Rhenabad, the Druskan emperor Tavus II claims nearly all the lands surrounding the inland sea, having consolidated most of its large continent. Druskan armies are well-equipped, harnessing the discipline of humanity, the keen senses of elven auxiliaries, and the metallurgy of the nearby duergar to unite disparate races into the strongest fighting force the world had seen. The empire’s military policies have proven remarkably inclusive compared with the rest of the world, and migrant refugees pledge themselves to serve Druska in exchange for a share of its plunder and its military protection.Yet all is not well with the empire. Half a decade ago, Regent Lord Marcian ruled the empire for his son until he could govern alone. Unfortunately, the ill-fated Corvus died before reaching the age of majority, and the rightful rule of the empire fell to Marcian’s nephew Tavus, whose ambition for the throne was well-known. Tavus, previously occupied with subjugating the Barbaric Coast, immediately returned to Rhenabad and drove out Marcian and his followers. Suspecting the new emperor of foul play, Marcian refused to concede power so easily: his loyal legions followed him to his home city of Eldanar and hailed him as the new Emperor Marcian. The region of Elenas was soon secured by the False Emperor’s forces, and he made common cause with the people of Khemta, who likewise saw an opportunity to claim their independence from the rule of Tavus II. He married the self-appointed Khemtan Empress Adara and moved his court to Klepana, where he and Adara plan their war against Tavus II.

    Though some are sympathetic to his cause, many feel it is only a matter of time until the False Emperor is deposed and Druskan hegemony restored. Without outside help, few believe Marcian or Adara can maintain their independence. The magical races of Airei keep to themselves, while many believe the Bishop Aemilius, left to continue the campaign in the Barbaric Coast, will soon declare himself emperor as well. Time will tell if the proud nation of Elon will involve itself on one side or the other, and Tavus II still guards his borders against the whispers of other threats lurking in the wilds of the world.

  • Races of the World
    Humanity is the dominant race of Khemta, Elon, and Druska, though the other common races are represented. Druskan imperial policy has resulted in a number of cities dominated by different groups: Auricbad houses the largest collection of dwarves outside their ancestral homeland in the Duergar Holds, and Khorabad boasts a large population of orcs recruited from the Far Lands, who once comprised their own imperial legion. Elves populate many of the coastal cities in Druska and comprise a large minority of the people of Elon and Elenas. Halflings hail mostly from the isle of Airei, while barbarians of different kinds hold Hibernas in defiance of the Druskan legions.More monstrous races also live among the regions of the world. Beastfolk live in the Druskan fringes and maintain large nomadic tribes outside the empire’s borders. Centaurs roam the inland hills of Elenas, and their mortal enemies the minotaur control much of the island of Krata. Any with a modicum of caution fear the “Great Ones” of the Duergar Holds, and rumors abound of the artificial “Steamforged,” living constructs who assist the duergar in battle. The reptilian sobekhi hold numerous settlements throughout the Barbaric Coasts, and other dragonkin live outside the empire. Rumors tell of the devil-worshipping tieflings of Hibernas, whose savagery is matched only by the Zheong-yu orcs of the Far Lands. Still more exotic creatures may live beyond the boundaries of Druska and its knowledge.

If you think about it, you can probably see the seams of where I “borrowed” some different elements and am already addressing minor issues I have with the basic D&D elements. I’ll eventually discuss most of these decisions as the series continues, but let’s note a few things about how these paragraphs achieve my goals.

First, I have all of the PHB races either directly mentioned or (in the case of half-orcs) potentially explained. Second, I have some new things, especially in the “monstrous races” paragraph: what are “beastfolk?” What are the sobekhi? “Steamforged”? Are these meant to be playable (mostly yes, for what it’s worth)? Third, this gives me the major nations and factions at play both in the map and setting description. It also asks the players some implicit questions: how do they feel about the civil war? Will they want to travel in such a dangerous time? Finally, I have an idea of what will happen in the world in the upcoming time period. The civil war will fight to some sort of resolution, even if I don’t know the end result right now. There’s a strong chance areas near Elenas might fall to invaders, or perhaps Druska reclaims its wayward states. Might other areas of the empire declare independence if it is weak? Will Elon be interested in attacking? All of these things give the impression of a dynamic world, and I can choose to answer these questions in so many different ways. Importantly, I can make the players’ choices matter depending on what side they take in the war (or even if they take no side at all).

I may eventually do a spin-off on naming, but it’s not particularly important to discuss at this stage, and you can find plenty of name generators online to help you.

Next: I reveal my thievery in greater detail.

 

So you want to be a creator? World-Building, Part 1: Goals

A question that I’ve had asked from people seeking to create their own worlds is this: “How do I get started?” While I’m tailoring this to a Dungeon Master hoping to create a new world for D&D sessions, a lot of this advice carries over to fantasy writing or other creative outlets quite easily.

As a fairly long-time player of fantasy games, I’ve been a bit of a world-builder for years. My early experiences with Warcraft and its map editors and exposure to Lord of the Rings led me to dabble in creating a number of fantasy worlds of my own–one of which I explored in high school as part of our daily journal assignment and others throughout the years. When I came to Dungeons & Dragons in college, I was rather naturally drawn to the creative aspects of the Dungeon Master and began putting this impulse to use in that role.

A question that I’ve had asked from people seeking to create their own worlds is this: “How do I get started?” To answer that question, I’ll be doing a series of blog posts that take us through the design process for my most recent fantasy world, created for a group that I’m running on Roll20. While I’m tailoring this to a Dungeon Master hoping to create a new world for D&D sessions, a lot of this advice carries over to fantasy writing or other creative outlets quite easily.

Before we even get started on building our world, we need to settle down and determine our goals. It’s fine to throw everything in without any planning, but if that’s going to be the case, why aren’t we using something already established? Why can’t we use the Forgotten Realms or Nentir Vale or something generic like that?

Here’s a sample list of some goals that I established for myself in creating this setting and some questions that I asked to develop these ideas. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list on either side, and sometimes as you create you’ll find additional questions or have goals at odds with one another and need to make decisions. It’s really a back-and-forth process.

Goals: To create a world that encompasses the basic “stuff” of D&D 5e, leaves room for a few unusual or independent things, gives me a good “big picture” view of the world, and provides dynamic forces that leave room for plot hooks and changes–with or without adventurers.

Whew! That sounds like a lot. Let’s break this down and talk about why I had these goals.

  1. The basics of D&D: As a Dungeon Master, I knew that I would have mostly new players in starting this group, and I didn’t want to limit their selection of material from what they would find in the Player’s Handbook (in case they bought it and felt entitled to use it). Although my players would have probably accepted “You can’t play that because I’m the DM,” this doesn’t cause any resentment at the outset and lets me say “Yes” to my players.
  2. Unusual or independent features: Partly I wanted to involve my creative impulse, but I also wanted to justify the creation of a new world apart from adapting the Forgotten Realms. On the players’ side, they can find out new or interesting things about the world that won’t be mentioned in the PHB and be rewarded for asking questions and investigating the setting.
  3. “Big picture” overview: While I recommend starting small in terms of the details (that is, create a single province or region), knowing the major powers of the world and how they interact is helpful for a DM. It provides suggestions for where player characters might hail or where you might first like to develop your setting. On the players’ side, it makes the world feel alive and gives them goals about places they might want to say or groups they can eventually influence to feel impactful on the world.
  4. A dynamic world: Things are always changing, and creating an engaging world means you have to think about the forces acting upon it. What are the current tensions between different factions? If your players do nothing, what will happen to the world? What might happen as the result of their involvement? Down the road you can use these to give your players a plot hook or introduce a new complication. It also provides motivation for players to stop or help certain in-universe goals.

Finally, let’s look at some of the related questions that guided me in my endeavors.

Question: What does my cosmology look like, and how do I know what I need?

In keeping with my first design goal, I needed to account for all nine of the PHB races (including their subraces) and all twelve of the PHB classes and their options. Importantly for cosmological purposes, there are seven cleric domains that need to be considered in some way.

Question: How do the different races interact, and how did they get to be that way?

D&D comes with a lot of cultural stereotypes for its different races–this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be addressed. However, I also didn’t want to deviate too far from the PHB portrayals–an elf should recognizably be an elf in this new world. The easiest way to address this is probably to cast the different races as nation-cultures–after all, their physiological differences should lead to some variety–but there’s also the question of three of the PHB races being offshoots of humanity, whatever they are in this setting. In that respect, I really have to account for seven mortal races (taking away half-elves as both parents already exist and tieflings because demons, but then we add in orcs) but still deal with these offshoots in some way.

Question: What do international relations look like?

This provides plot hooks on a grand scale and also answers questions about how easy it will be if my players want to go off the rails. Also, if I’m asking the question at this level, I’m preparing for a sandbox approach that gives me some freedom to improvise if need be.

These weren’t all the questions I asked myself, but you can see some of my concerns in building this new world. Without a plan in mind, it’s harder to make your setting consistent and dynamic, and you may not have all the pieces you eventually find you want. Retroactive continuity can work but only so far. Also, had my goals been different or had I answered these questions differently, I would have come up with a very different setting.

If you’re thinking about becoming a DM and this process daunts you, don’t worry. This is a post for other people, and there’s nothing wrong with using published settings. That’s great, actually–Eberron and Dark Sun and Ravenloft and all of those others have some really cool stuff, so have fun in those worlds. This is just about doing it from scratch.

Next: I show you the basic overview of the setting–then we steal everything we need for a foundation.