View Full Version : World Building Help

2014-01-28, 12:51 AM
As a prelude to the subject matter made clear in the title, I want to explain the situation in a bit of detail.

Recently, I began a new campaign with a few old friends. I have been GMing for roughly two years now, but I either have been running one shots or published adventures. I want to create something to call my own, and it seems like the first step is to create one's own setting/campaign world. The aforementioned game is a sort of stimuli I've been using to craft the world.

I just had a few questions regarding the process of world building.

What questions do you ask yourself when creating the world? I know level of magic, and the physical dimensions of the material plane. Other than that there is little known aside from a handful of settlements.

Where do you begin when crafting a world? Do you begin on the nation scale, dotting cities and landmarks around the map until it is filled in sufficiently, or do you detail a single settlement and build out from there?

Am I wrong to be "using" my PCs to flesh out my world? I have not heard any complaints thus far, on the contrary they seem to be revelling in their characters and the world. However, it sometimes feels that this incomplete world may detract from the experience in some way.

I would love to field any questions regarding the world in later posts, I just wanted this first bit to be a bit more concise. Any tips would be greatly appreciated as well.

2014-01-28, 12:57 AM
Using the PCs is great. When I ran my monster campaign, I had each PC build a character around a different monster (we started at level 7 and they got a certain amount of free LA). Anyway, after we had the 5 PCs, I used those 5 different PCs as the basis of the world. I built each of the PC monsters into one of the main races in the campaign world. Then I built backstories around each PC character.

For instance, one PC made a giant insect mercenary monster who fought from under a cloak. Everyone thought he was just an insane leper. He had amnesia. Knowing the player and his tastes in characters, I gave this character a backstory that he was one of the great wizards who had originally cursed the world. In a battle with the antagonist druid, he was transformed into the hideous insect monster. And so on. The players had a whole lot of fun uncovering their secret epic backstories and forging a new destiny out of the shattered world.

2014-01-28, 02:55 AM
As far as I can see you PCs are in theory at least a product of the world they inhabit. So there is no reason why the world around them shouldn't reflect them and their natures.

For example it would be extremely strange to find a warforged in a stone age setting; not impossible but strange never the less.

I usually start with basic unifying concepts and go on from there.

2014-01-28, 08:39 AM
Firstly, be sure to swing by the worldbuilding forum here on giantitp, a lot of help to be found there!


1. What style of game do I want to have in this world? This includes what roleplaying system and houserules for that system I want in place, the tone of the game and everything else. Genre is not sufficient, as a "fantasy setting with low-magic" (a popular pick in general, from my experience) is still very different if it is a world using standard D20 DnD (3.5, pathfinder, 4th, whatever edition) or an E6 world, and thats all staying within DnD, other systems might vary even more.

2. I begin by making some very big decisions about the world before going down to smaller scale.
By big decisions I mean stuff like "How does magic work?" and "Are Gods known or unknowable entities" and also deal with questions that needs answering depending on my answers to those.
For a setting I am currently working on, my answer to the Gods questions is that they are unknowable, as in our world, i.e. nobody really knows if any Gods exist at all, it comes down to faith.
This also means that several religions (not just several deities within the same pantheon) are possible, even likely, and as such, I have begun designing a few religions for my world.
As religion influence societies at large in a major way, having a basic concept of what religion(s) you want in your world can be important to have settled early on, in my opinion.

3. No, you are not wrong. Nothing you do in regards to roleplaying is wrong, if everybody around the table seems to be enjoying themselves. You can speculate all you want about whatever or not you can add more enjoyment to your game by fleshing out the parts you feel are missing in your world in an attempt to "catch up" with world building for your current campaign, but there is not guarantees that it will add to the enjoyment around the table.

2014-01-28, 10:07 AM
The Process
1. Come up with the hook. ("Fantasy Mesoamerica under the Aztec Triple Alliance", "Norse fantasy", "everybody's orcs!", etc.)
2. Create a 40x30 hex map (24-mile hexes), at the least, of a larger region.
3. Create a 40x30 hex map (6-mile hexes) of the initial region of play, with dungeons, towns, and locations of interest.
4. Create a starting dungeon or other adventure location.
5. Create a starting town.
6. Release, and update & expand the setting between sessions as needed.

At all times and between all steps, think up cool setting elements (cosmology, monsters, races, gods, how magic works, etc.) and throw them in there.

And remember, never put work & effort into creating things you don't need in a foreseeable timeframe. (If ideas just come to you, that's all good.) Unless, you know, you enjoy that - but even then, try to leave things open and vague where you can, so you can actually fit them to your needs later.

Also, letting your players put in parts of the world (particularly parts related to their characters, like the player of the only dwarf supplying information on dwarven society, culture, and homelands), is awesome and you absolutely should do it.

2014-01-28, 10:40 AM
I begin with landscape and natural resources, I add settlements where there's natural resources (food and water are most important at the start).
Settlements will fight wars over resources and merge into countries over time. Make sure to make a few important NPCs (heroes of old) along the way that litter the history books.
Advancement of technology and the potential discovery of magic would change what natural resources are most desirable, shifting the power balance over time.

Stuff like culture and religion would start off mostly "neutral" and be shaped by the history.

Add enough details and be consistent and you have a deep and rich world.

2014-01-28, 04:25 PM
Thanks for the tips everyone. This really puts me in the right direction for what to do. I'll take a look around the World Building forums for now.

2014-01-28, 04:40 PM
I actually start with a map.

I start with crafting a world map. I use adobe Photoshop and a random system for creating the continents, terrain, and even the political map. I usually create two maps, one thatís purely political and another thatís geographic.

From there I start creating nations. I take one of the areas of the political map, and turn it into a country. I detail out the following: geography, economy, government, military and history, as well as a brief synopsis of the country. I keep doing this until I either get tired of it, or I finish.

When Iím done with that, I then go back through and start populating it, I list towns, cities, castles, ruins, and other locations of interest. I go back and plop these these down on the maps Iíve already created.

Finally, when Iím done with that I take what Iíve created and start crafting a campaign in the setting.

An important thing to remember is to leave room to ad-lib and improvise. As players come up with good ideas that are easy for you to incorporate.