How to Create a Dungeons and Dragons World

Two Methods:Sample CampaignsCreating a Dungeons and Dragons World

Dungeons & Dragons is an awesome game... if you play it right. Assuming that you are the Dungeon Master (DM), it rests on your shoulders to ensure what happens for everyone. Of course, it is going to be extremely difficult to run a game set in a fantasy world when you do not have a fantasy world to begin with. So here are some instructions to help make your world.

Sample Campaigns

Dungeons and Dragons Night of the Lichen Campaign

Dungeons and Dragons Greenwind Depths Campaign

Dungeons and Dragons Flayer's Valley Campaign

Creating a Dungeons and Dragons World

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    Get the Core Books. Do not play Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) if you do not have the core books (the Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide). This may seem redundant to most people, but doubtless, someone will come along without the books and read this. So please, for the sake of you and your players, get yourself a hard copy of the 3 Core Books. You may think that the System Reference Document (SRD) is sufficient but you will find that you cannot look through it quickly enough and so relying on it will slow down the game.
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    Read Through the Dungeon Master's Guide. "Chapter 5: Campaigns" is all about making the campaign and the world (in Version 3.5). There you will find more details about the technical aspects of world-building in D&D, this article will focus on the more subjective elements. You will want to read through this chapter before you begin.
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    Consider Your Players. The Dungeon Master's job is to make a fun game, to put it simply. The best way to accomplish this requires you to know your players; what they like, what they do not like, what they think is cool, what they think is frightening, and so on. If you know this information then you can design a world that will capture their attention. If you have a player who is an athlete then you could make a country that plays a strange fantasy sport. If you have a player who is interested in archeology then add some ancient ruins. Choose setting elements, good guys, bad guys, weird guys, etc. so that your players will be interested.
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    Decide on an Inside-out or Outside-in Design. How do you want to design your campaign? Do you want to start with a little hamlet on the edge of the world, or do you want to start with a design of the entire world? Inside-out means that you start with giving detail about just one specific place, and expand out as needed. Outside-in means that you start with a view of the entire thing, and then you gradually zoom into one specific place, adding detail about the continent, region, etc. as you move in. Each method has its merits. You must consider your needs and how much time you have to prepare.
    • If you are playing at low levels then inside-out is the okay because your characters will not be able to travel quickly. This will give you a chance to expand the game world as they travel. This way you can possibly fix some early mistakes as your characters travel to new places.
    • If you are starting at a higher level, especially after the characters can teleport, you need to be ready for anything. This type of campaign requires extensive preparation. At high levels your players need a whole world to play in.
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    Make your World Detailed. The more details you have for your world the more your players will enjoy playing in it. Believability comes from details. At this point you are going to have to start keeping records. You will need to draw at some maps, at least sketch them. You will need to make lists of key information for towns and Non-Player Characters (NPCs) as well.
    • Know how much is too much. The players will get annoyed if every single person the party meets has a description that takes ten minutes to read through. A few little tidbits makes an incidental character like a peasant on the road more interesting, but save the extensive details for major characters in your campaign.
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    Start designing the campaign! Congratulations, you have a world for your Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Now, make a campaign to go along with it, so your players actually have something to do. After all, saying "Here's the world... No, I don't actually have an adventure for you..." is perhaps the worst thing that someone could do in Dungeons and Dragons. So get started, DM, and remember: half the work is already done now.
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    In reference to the previous section, start with a reason why the PC's are together in a party. Perhaps they have been friends for a long time, or they have all been hired by a single person or town to accomplish a task that requires a group. Be original, unless you players are first-timers, the old man at the edge of town who hints that there is treasure in the nearby goblin cave will be a cliché. You might still want to have the PC's exploring a cave filled with goblins, but make the adventure hook a bit more interesting, like a mining company whose workers were attacked in said cave and wants its equipment and captured workers back.
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    You will also undoubtedly have to use the same set of 1st level monsters that everyone uses, but it is the presentation that counts. Don't just use goblins wielding swords led by a bigger goblin with a bigger sword, use goblins with a class level in cleric or rogue for the leaders and give the rest of them interesting weapons, tactics, and items like spears (goblins with reach!), nets, pots of boiling water, and other level appropriate nasty stuff to use on the PC's.
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    Introduce the adventure hook early. Nothing is worse for PC's than aimlessly wandering about trying to find something to do. Maybe that mining company is really a secret excavation team run by a neighboring kingdom who is trying to find a powerful item rumored to be buried nearby. Perhaps the goblins have evidence in their den that they are being recruited by a nearby orc overlord into a bandit gang to start sacking nearby towns, and the mine was just the beginning. Be creative! The campaign should have direction before the first adventure has even ended. Low level campaigns are also a good time to start establishing mid and high level enemies the PC's will fight later. If your goal is to have the PC's fight Baron Von-Whoopass at 20th level on the deck of his flying pirate ship, have him show up now, burn a few towns to the ground and hint that the baron is looking to employ wizards with woodworking experience.


  • A good world can be reused for multiple campaigns.
  • If this is your first time being the DM, then start your players at level 1.
  • Make a list of names and brief descriptions of characters so that if you need one you do not have to interrupt the game flow. For example:
    • Name: Jesswit Looks: tall, thin human with red hair Other: speaks with a slight stutter when he's nervous.
  • Always have level-appropriate, random encounters ready. Nothing is worse when players beat an encounter too easily or go in a direction you didn't anticipate. A combination of improv and a good encounter table will make your game 10 times more awesome than if you just "whip it out there".


  • Be careful with decisions that you cannot reverse easily, such as the weather in your world. If you decide to make the whole world a desert, then be ready for the difficulties that creates.
  • Unexpected things will happen, good DMs learn how to deal with these situations well.
  • Be careful not to put your campaign a rail. This means that you shouldn't force players to go in a certain direction, or design the campaign solely on one plotline with nothing else for the players to do. Develop a world, create points of interest, and let the story unfold as the players discover it.

Things You'll Need

  • The 3 Core Books:
    • The Player's Handbook
    • The Dungeon Master's Guide (very important!)
    • The Monster Manual
  • A notebook, or a binder with paper &
  • A pen and/or pencil, ~or~
  • A computer (preferably a laptop)
  • A set of dice (20,12,10,8,6 and 4 sides)
  • Some people to play with you when you're done!

Article Info

Categories: Role Playing Games