View Full Version : Creating a Campaign setting

2008-12-12, 08:17 AM
I'm currently attempting to create my own campaign setting. Does anyone know of any good guides for this, like the awesome one that Rich Burlew put up on this site?

2008-12-12, 08:25 AM
Guides? No. However, you could examine Vote Up A Campaign Setting for ideas on what major topics you'll need to cover.

2008-12-12, 04:46 PM
When I created my homebrew setting, I looked through the Saltmarsh stuff in the DMG II for inspiration. I created the main city and the town council in the beginning and worked out from there. Setting up the town council, I set up the different factions that are competing for power. After that, I worked up the major NPCs. Then, the other towns in the area, followed by the other countries in the region.

One thing I still haven't done, which is daunting to me for some reason, is to create my own deities.

I found the whole process very rewarding.

Here's the wiki for my setting - http://greenshield.wikispaces.com/

Thane of Fife
2008-12-12, 09:40 PM
Warning - Huge Post

Here's how I generally do it (YMMV):

To make this more interesting, I'll try to work out a quick outline for a world as I go.

1. First I establish the basis for the campaign setting. This is basically a short summary of what makes the world interesting.

Our setting is a classical setting, based around an Ancient Rome -style empire. There aren't enough classical settings.

2. Next, I decide upon anything which may make the setting more unique - this isn't necessary, as Step 1 might cover it, or it might just be fairly generic. I'll continue thinking as I go through the process.

This is not natural state; rather, at the empire's heart, near the center of the world, there is an enormous tower, stretching into the sky, from which flows the divine power of Law, straight from the heavens. This is what supports the empire.

3. Map comes next. Generally, my world's tend to focus on one area, and leave the edges as "Here be dragons" territory. This lets me further develop later. It also keeps the flat world vs. spherical world thing going (I had one world that was like a water fountain with several tiers - a ship could sail off the edge of one world and fall into another one). When drawing a map, I generally try either for geological accuracy or no geological accuracy - I prefer to avoid the middle ground. My general line of thought is that these worlds weren't formed by tectonic plates, but by gods or some such, and hence do not need to obey any natural laws. The PCs wouldn't know these anyway, most likely, and thus shouldn't be relying on them.

This world is a flat disc. At its center is the Tower, upon an enormous, raggedy continent. Around the continent's fringes are some large islands. As we get closer to the edge of the world, the islands become more scarce and much smaller, as chaos begins to take over. This offers the problem of all the world's water falling over the edge. We could just say magic and be done with it, but I'd rather not. So there's an enormous ring of ice at the end of the world, which keeps all the world's water locked away from the edge.

4. Next, I look at the map and try to discern anything which I can from it. Often, you can learn interesting things about your world based entirely on how it looks.

The ice at the edge of the world implies that it gets colder as we move towards the edge. Since the Tower is at the center, this implies that cold is a naturally chaotic force. Also, with all of these islands, the empire probably doesn't own the entire world - that's nice, I wanted barbarians to oppose them anyway. The barbarians probably live on the islands, which creates sort of a power balance - the empire has a hard time taking the islands, overextend when it tries, and leaves itself open to counterattack. The barbarians have a similar problem. The really small islands probably have some crazy stuff living on them, as they're really far away from the Tower.

5. The steps in 5 can take place in any order you like, largely depending on how important each is respectively. But this step is where the details begin to appear - nations are formed, as are gods. Special rules appear here as well. Racial roles also begin to find a place.

5a. Nations: The traditional way to do this is with historical analogues - fantasy Japan, fantasy France, etc. I prefer not to do it this way. It's also possible to make nations via race - here's the elf nation, here's the dwarf nation, etc. This can work well, as it makes demi-humans different from humans, but it's easier if you make race roles first. You can also make nations based on short blurbs - Nation A is religious and duel-crazy; Nation B is racist and feudal. You get the idea. I tend to lean towards the last method, although I'll frequently use the race-based one as well.

Our world is obviously dominated by the empire. Since it's based around the Tower, we'll make it extremely lawful (in D&D terms). To make them more interesting, they don't have gods - they're too busy being lawful. We'll also give them some major militant qualities, as appropriate for any big empire beset by barbarians. Favored weapons: Ehh, I like phalanxes, so let's make them use pikes and spears. Cavalry is fairly rare, but does exist.

Multiple nations are almost always more fun than just one, as they open up opportunities for new types of adventure, as well as culture conflicts. So we'll add a second nation on the main continent, much smaller than the empire, and indeed largely surrounded by it, but still independent because of, uhm, war elephants. And generally friendly relations with the empire.

There are also three major barbarian peoples, all somewhat like nations. Each one worships a different god and is of a different race. We'll go into more detail about each one when we hit races.

Finally, we need names: The empire is the Empire of Kilavros, the smaller nation is Asmgarn, and the barbarian peoples are the Khulv, the Setrusks, and the Camolians. We'll try to keep those the weirdest names in the setting, as the PCs will probably hear them enough to remember them.

5b. Gods: Making divine entities is often my favorite part of creating a campaign setting. Generally, they will shape a setting more than many other elements, depending on how active they are, through their likes and dislikes. I have, for example, created a campaign setting where the god of magic is also the god of darkness and death and general lack of knowledge. His priests are constantly messing with the research of wizards, and magic itself is fairly dangerous, because of the unknown factor. It also creates a rivalry with the priestesses of the goddess of knowledge. All of which has some plot hooks in it. And anything which creates plot hooks is good.

Generally, I like to give gods a primary portfolio, as well as including those things closely related. Sometimes, I'll throw in something largely unrelated to create a link between the two, which adds flavor. When I'm assigning portfolios, I generally try to assign the things important to cultures early - agriculture, fertility, war, magic, love, and knowledge almost always get deities. Then I'll decide what aspect of that domain they most relate to, and assign things around that.

Sometimes, I'll simply avoid gods at all - perhaps they're all dead, or sealed away, or never existed. Sometimes, as I've done here, I'll limit religion to certain races or cultures.

Since I said all three barbarian peoples worship different gods, I need at least three deities. For flavor, I'm going to make five.

First, the Khulv god. I'm going to call him the Bear. He's a deity of bears (obviously), and holds Strength, Ferocity, Toughness, and the Warrior Code in his portfolio. Fairly typical warrior god, really. To go with the chaos=ice theme, he particularly holds sacred polar bears. He also represents Earth. In 3.5 I might give his priests the Strength, War, and Earth domains.

Next comes the Setrusk's deity. I'm going to use an owl this time (I got the bear idea flipping through my monster manual, which in turn gave me another idea as well). The Owl is female, and represents Wisdom, Cunning, Stealth, and Murder. She's sort of a stealthy war god as opposed to the over-the-top Bear. I'll also give her Air, and make her animal the Snowy Owl to stick with the theme. She gets Air, Death, and Travel as her domains. On the idea I mentioned before, Bear and Owl are on-again-off-again lovers, and when they're on-again, their children are the horrible beasts referred to in legends as Owlbears. The sight of one of these horrible abominations is a sure sign that a major barbarian invasion is coming, and that the Kilavros had best prepare. Every great Kilavrok hero has worn an owlbear-skin cloak.

Third is the Camolian deity. Need another animal - how about the, uh, Penguin? No, too silly. How about the Wolf, as another animal with an arctic counterpart? No, better - the Hare. The Hare is the god of Cleverness, Numbers, Speed, and Tactics. He also has the Darkness - not the lack of light, but rather the unknown place where people come from when they're born, as well as the underground. Domains are Knowledge, Darkness, and Trickery. To build on the god relations, Hare, as god of trickery, once tricked Owl into thinking he was Bear. Unfortunately for him, she saw through his disguise, but not before ending up in an embarrassing situation. More unfortunately for him, he'd forgotten that she could pretty much kick his butt. So she stole a bunch of his power and more or less swore eternal vengeance. Hence, owls eat hares.

Fourth deity (and I've changed my mind, the last one) is the Builder. After people die, their souls float up into the sky and Builder uses them to continue the construction of the Tower. That is the afterlife - an eternal bliss (or torment) as part of the ultimate foundation of Law. The barbarians, who are Chaotic, don't like that idea, and hence are trying to get to the Tower and destroy it. Which will change the afterlife. Or something. That sounds promising. The Builder is largely Lawful Neutral - he just wants to build his Tower. What is he building to? Nobody knows. Portfolio is Law, Construction, Defense, Devotion to Duty. Domains are Law, Protection, Artifice, and Creation. The Builder is basically above the influence of the other gods. He's more or less alone.

5c. Special Rules: Special rules can define a setting. Often, the main change I make, if any, will be to what classes and races are available, what gear is available, and how magic works. I usually use 2e, where there's a Spells and Powers book with variant magic methods. Sometimes I'll make new classes. For example, one of my worlds replaces wizards and priests with four new types of caster - Lhurdites (kind of like Druid/Evokers), Shadar-Mai (Summoners, mostly), Delkun (Enchanters/Healers/Illusionists), and Kelkima (Monks/Healers/Weak Abjurers/People not driven insane by using magic). Rules like these can tremendously change the feel of a setting, though they often take a fair bit of work.

I don't see a need for too many. Perhaps ditch druids - there doesn't seem too much call for them when the base gods are already fairly natural beings. Items will definitely need to be changed. Say, ditch armor heavier than, eh, chain, as well as most of the less ancient weapons. I don't know that much about ancient weapons, so I'm mostly going to ditch rapiers, oriental weapons, double weapons, and spiked chains. We might allow some of these as Exotic Weapons. Oh, and we'll ditch monks - they don't seem particularly theme-appropriate.

5d. Racial Roles: Another important one, racial roles define how different races interact in the world. Do they all hang out together? Do they all have different kingdoms? This is where you decide how distinct from humans other races are - are orcs redeemable, or are they more or less hopelessly violent (or somewhere in the middle)? How similar to humans are elves? So on and so forth.

There have been lots of people around here wanting a human-less setting, it seems, so this is for them. Kilavros is an Elven nation - since Greece was so heavily-influenced by that whole human perfection bit, and elves are often viewed as perfect humans, we'll put elves in charge of the Kilavros. We'll have to change them to lawful, but no biggie. We'll also give them a huge emphasis on their perfection and superiority to other races. Not xenophobic-kill-everyone level emphasis, but still arrogant jerks.

As for the Asmgarn, we'll put half-elves here. They aren't really half-elves - simply non-perfect elves - but we'll use half-elf stats for them anyway.

Either way, both of those races prefer to fight from the other side of a long weapon or a ranged weapon so as not to risk their perfect features. Long elven lives make them the perfect race to have mastered the phalanx - to have perfected it into an art form.

Next are the barbarians. The Khulv will be orcs - it fits their strength theme quite nicely. The Khulv contrast with the elves in thinking that strength is perfection, rather than balance. The Khulv are vicious, determined to prove their superiority over the elves, but that is their primary reason for being cruel. They're more likely to throw a captive into the pits than to execute or torture him.

The Setrusks are goblins, weaker and smaller than their larger cousins the orcs, the goblins are more adept at the stab-in-the-back, and hence are natural worshippers of Owl. They're all about the sudden stab in the back, the silent kill. Goblins can be the most disciplined of the barbarians, more willing to wait patiently and plan than their counterparts.

The Camolians will be kobolds. They breed faster than either other barbarian race, and are the most clever, but distinctly lack physical prowess. Kobolds tend to be clever blighters, but severely lack discipline. Although they excel at creating clever tactics, they're terrible at sticking to them, and the race tends to have a high death rate. Kobolds are the most naturally chaotic of the barbarian races. Indeed, for centuries their primary goal has been the complete destruction of the Tower.

All three barbarian races are changed to Chaotic Neutral - while they are more frequently the aggressors than the Empire is, this is largely due to their seeing themselves as being oppressed by the Tower.

On the myriad islands which lie in the sea live the gnomes. Bizarre-looking creatures, they tend to be ugly in appearance and chaotic in nature. Largely incomprehensible to the other races, gnomes have at least three tongues of their own, which they often switch between, seemingly at random. While the gnomes do not seem to object to the Tower (it may be that they don't know of it), they are the finest ship-builders in the world, and explorers have told of enormous gnomish armadas of triremes, powered not by rowers or wind, but by wizards who tap into the raw nature of chaos to alter the laws of reality to make their ships move as they wish. For all intents and purposes, gnomish motives are incomprehensible to other sapient creatures, and gnomes may be friendly one moment and hostile the next (in game, they might function as fickle Greek deity-style characters, beings of immense power and strange moods.

Finally, the last major race would be the lizardmen of the ice ring. Beings of incredible power, these lizardmen are closer to white dragons than to normal lizardfolk. Due to the intense cold, they spend most of their time in sluggish apathy, but when a small group of them gather to some strange purpose, the world trembles.

6. From here, I might go on to detail any really weird stuff that needs detailing.

The Tower is the central point of the world. In the beginning there was only chaos, and then came the Builder. For his own purposes, the Builder began to construct the Tower, and with its Law, there was born a world. Should the Tower be destroyed, the world may die, or it might not, for the animal spirits which have awoken since the dawn of time like their world existing, and may be able to keep it from crumbling even should the Tower be destroyed. Or they might not be able to.

The Tower itself is enormous - it essentially has no top reachable by mortals. Even an elven lifespan is too short a time to ascend the Tower's enormous height. Indeed, the top is constantly being built even higher, though towards what none know. Inside, the Tower is a place of pure order - it is a popular spot for monks (guess we'll be keeping them), as well as for any who seek to master a certain craft. Some adventure up towards it pinnacle, and those few who return report of strange creatures and terrible puzzles which must be bested that one might prove his mastery of order to advance. And of course, that many of these returning adventurers are considerably wealthier than when they left may provide another incentive....

7. Anything else important may be covered now - cities, rulers, etc. I prefer to leave these things to mid-game, and so will not discuss any, but that might just be me. (It generally strikes me as too much work for not enough benefit - as long as you remember what you've said before and don't contradict yourself, I see no problems in improvising.)

Whew. I think that pretty much sums up how I do it (Did I miss anything obvious?). As mentioned above, your mileage may vary. Nonetheless, I enjoy making campaign settings immensely, so I like to think I'm doing it right.

You might also find this (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=62255) thread interesting. Fiery Justice made a very passable setting generator there, with enough stuff to get a good idea of how the world looks.

2008-12-12, 10:14 PM
Take this quiz (http://www.sfwa.org/writing/worldbuilding1.htm). It's a huge help.