D&D: 10 Best Tips For Worldbuilding

While tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons have plenty of established settings to choose from – ranging from traditional fantasy to science fiction – many Dungeon Masters might want to try their hand at creating their own setting, in a process typically known as “worldbuilding.”

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Creating an entirely new world can be both a daunting and immensely rewarding task. Knowing where to start and how to flesh out a setting that feels organic & lived-in can be a difficult process made easier with a few tricks.

10 Get Inspired From Books And Media

skuil knight berserk

Beginning the process of worldbuilding for a new tabletop game is one of the hardest parts, with a nearly endless amount of possibilities making it difficult to know where to begin. Many DMs looking to create a brand new world may also struggle to find the spark of originality to build upon.

Often the best place to look for that inspiration is from books, television, and movies that the creator already enjoys. Choosing one or two elements from a beloved story will give a strong basis from which to work, and the rest can be built outwards from there.

9 Mix And Match Settings And Genres

While traditional fantasy dominated TTRPGs as the setting of choice in early iterations, they have consistently branched outwards to encompass more and more genres. This gives worldbuilders plenty of options to choose from, but some may have trouble finding a setting that feels unique.

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One simple way of adding a bit of variety to a setting is to incorporate elements from other genres. Mixing fantasy creatures into a science fiction setting, or building a Cthulhu-esque horror setting with Steampunk technology may add just enough flair to keep things feeling fresh and original.

8 Build Pieces Of The World Around The Players’ Backstories

When creating a setting for a tabletop game, the creator would be wise to consider working in the players’ backstories into the world itself. Building off the stories the players have imagined for their characters is an easy way to spark new ideas, and keeps the group invested in the world as they can see the direct impact that their characters have on it.

This is also a good way to help generate quests and plotlines that directly interact with the world, which is important in keeping the players interested in learning more about the setting rather than merely seeing it as a simple backdrop.

7 Start Small And Expand Outwards

Once the spark of an idea has been generated, and the very rough basis of the world has begun to take shape, it’s important not to get bogged down in attempting to build from the roof down. Every setting requires a strong foundation, which often means looking at things on the small rather than the grand scale.

While brainstorming ideas for deities, cultures, and nations is important, focusing on a regional level will be much more effective for actually creating a setting for a tabletop game. Developing a smaller area will also allow for a more natural expansion as the area gets filled in with more detail and connections to other parts of the world.

6 Leave Elements Vague To Accommodate Improv And Player Actions

Many Dungeon Masters and worldbuilders may fall into the trap of believing that if they don’t know every detail of the world, they’ll run into problems when the players inevitably choose to investigate something unexpected. While this is likely to happen at some point, it presents an opportunity rather than an issue.

There are two ways to approach such a situation, with the first being to simply improvise an answer. This may often lead to some very spontaneous and interesting worldbuilding elements which can be worked into the story later. The other is to allow the players themselves to create the answers, which can be an excellent way to give the group agency in creating the world around their characters.

5 Don’t Get Hung Up On The Details

A druid surrounded by animals in the forest Dungeons and Dragons

It can be incredibly tempting to focus on really diving into each and every element of a world when developing a new setting. This can be highly rewarding and can make the world feel truly alive, but getting too bogged down in the details may be more of a hindrance than anything.

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It is important to remember that not every aspect of the setting will necessarily be deeply explored, even if the Dungeon Master makes that their intention. Having a wide amount of places to explore and lore to discover may be more advantageous, and also allows the players to decide what parts of the setting they find most interesting while delving into it further.

4 Use Organizers Or Online Tools To Keep Track Of Everything

A spellcaster casting Foresight in Dungeons & Dragons

As the setting gets more and more filled out, it may become difficult to keep track of all the different elements that have gone into it, especially if up until that point they’re being kept in a collection of text documents and reference images.

There are plenty of online tools that can be useful for organizing these things, many of which aren’t necessarily built just for worldbuilding. Some excellent options for worldbuilders specifically are Obsidian, which is a notes organization tool, and World Anvil, a website made specifically for the purpose of creating unique settings, both of which have free and paid options available.

3 Weave Elements Of The Plot Into The World

A wizard summoning a spectral wolf in dungeons and dragons

Once the world is starting to be largely developed, it is a good time to start considering how the setting is going to work into the campaign. Having elements of the setting be integral to the plot of the campaign is the best way to keep the players interested in the world and will help make sure all the effort put into creating it doesn’t go to waste.

When worldbuilding with the intention of playing a tabletop game within that setting, considering how the two will work hand in hand is something that will often come naturally. Oftentimes creating an interesting plot line or story will help inform the worldbuilding in interesting and unexpected ways.

two Don’t Be Afraid To Change Elements When Necessary

A Sorcerer casting a fire spell in Dungeons and Dragons

Just like when running a normal tabletop game using an established setting, situations may arise when plotholes and oddities arise that call into question certain elements of the story and setting. Being flexible when situations like this arise will often save the creator a lot of trouble in the long run, rather than rigidly adhering to the structure they’ve built.

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Most times, the goal of worldbuilding isn’t solely to create something for the satisfaction of the creator, but as a vehicle to tell a story that is enjoyed by a group or audience. Taking the players’ interests and thoughts into account will allow for a world that grows and evolves, and may even surprise the creator with some of the ways in which it can change over time.

1 Don’t Get Stuck Worldbuilding And Just Play The Game

The cover art for Tales from the Yawning Portal Dungeons & Dragons book

In the end, when creating a world for a tabletop game, the goal is to actually play a game in that setting. The term “worldbuilders disease” is often used to refer to creators who get so caught up in developing their setting that they never actually end up doing anything with it.

It is important to remember that not every part of a setting needs to be completely ready before a game can be played in it. It is perfectly viable to start a campaign in a world where only one or two regions are properly fleshed out, and slowly expand the story into new areas as they are built. Often, the game itself will help build that setting, and the enjoyment of seeing the world come alive through the player’s actions can be a huge motivator for any creator.

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