Whether you’re just starting out as a Dungeon Master, or you’ve spent loads of time sitting behind the DM screen, building your own unique Dungeons & Dragons world is a grueling task. There’s already so much you have to think about and account for when it comes to just running the game, but if you’re playing in your own homebrewed world, that further compounds your already full workload as the DM. Lucky for you, there are plenty of tricks to help lighten that load.
You’ll definitely want your own copies of the Fifth Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, as both books provide great insights into the topic of worldbuilding. If you’re looking for further inspiration, you might check out some of the other supplemental Fifth Edition books, like the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica or the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount. The task of worldbuilding can seem daunting, so don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up to the bigger aspects. But if you’re ready to start building your own world from the ground up, here are some tips and suggestions to help you along the way.
A good place to start with building your world is figuring how big it actually is. It’s entirely up to you, but this will influence how you structure and scale everything else in your world. Once you figure this out, you’ll be in a good place to start mapping out the lands and oceans. Now, obviously, cartography is not a skill in everyone’s wheelhouse, but there are plenty of tools online to help with this. Otherwise, just jotting down your continents and writing out where they belong on your world is a perfectly fine way to start.
The point here is to give yourself a general idea of the scope of your world. From there, you can write up and respectively place specific cities, towns, mountain ranges, coastal regions and the like. When it comes to your individual continents, it’s best to focus on them one at a time or as they come up in your games. Though you can certainly try building them all at once, it’ll likely be easier if you more closely focus on the one(s) you’re actually using in-game.
If you’ve got your own D&D world, then there must be a way your world came to be in the first place. This part of worldbuilding isn’t essential when it comes to starting out a new campaign, but it could certainly be vital information for your players down the line. It really depends on what kind of campaign you’re running. That said, writing a creation myth is good fun and a great way to train your writing muscles. You can pretty much come up with whatever you want. A great example and/or source for inspiration might be DM Matt Mercer’s creation myth in the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.
After that, it might help to write up a few pieces of general history regarding your world. This kind of stuff won’t be plainly visible to your players on the surface, but should they dig deep enough and play smartly enough, they can unlock all sorts of secrets. Ultimately, your players will respond better to your world if they know more about it. And aside from all that, writing out the history of your world is a superb way to flesh it all out.
This might seem extraneous to some, but figuring out which deities watch over your world is actually pretty important. This kind of information is vital for players looking to play as paladins or clerics, or if they just want to include faith as part of their character’s backstory. Figuring out the pantheon of your world can also tie-in nicely with figuring out the creation myth and history of your world.
The Player’s Handbook details dozens of potential gods, ripping from previous D&D worlds and actual mythological pantheons, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide presents an example pantheon in the early pages. The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount also details a pantheon, though that one is specific to Matt Mercer’s world of Exandria. Still, you could easily adapt one of these example pantheons to your world. Or, you can pick and choose the gods you think best fit your vision. Want to make up gods of your own? Go right ahead! So long as you know which gods represent which aspects of life, then you’re good to go.
When someone says to connect your world to the D&D multiverse, it doesn’t exactly mean you need to figure out how your world connects to, say, Ravnica, the Forgotten Realms or anyone else’s made up world. Rather, it’s how your realm connects to the other planes of existence. In most cases, a player-created world acts as the Material Plane. Beyond your world/plane of existence, there are the transitive planes, the elemental planes, the upper positive planes and the lower negative planes. What does that all mean? Simply put, there are plenty of other magical realms out there.
Optionally, you can forgo all of this if you don’t intend for your campaign to involve any of it or if your world is closer to a real-world medieval setting. But, if you’re going all-in on the fantasy aspects of D&D, you’ll likely want to link up your world with all the other planes. There’s not much you have to do writing-wise regarding the other planes aside from understanding how they work and where your world sits in relation to them all. Events on those planes can potentially have rippling effects on your world, depending on how you write it all out. The deities of your pantheon are likely to dwell in those outer planes, along with any number of other powerful beings. Traveling to those other planes can make for some great adventures too.
Building your own Dungeons & Dragons world can seem like a daunting task, so here are a few tips and suggestions to help you get started.