Are you about to start a new dnd (or other rpg) campaign and don’t know where to start with the creation of a new world? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Just follow these 4 steps and give yourself a flying start!
1. What’s the scale of your campaign?
The first thing to find out, is whether you want to create a complete world or just a specific part of it. While it’s tempting to create a new world, it’s not always necessary for every type of campaign. Especially when you have a clear theme in your head on what your campaign will be about. For example, when you want to have a Viking-style campaign where your characters venture out into cold, inhospitable lands, you don’t need a full-fledged world with deserts and jungles. In that case, why not create just a region that fits your campaign idea?
This map of Skaranger is a campaign map for potentially dozens of Viking-style adventures.
An important consideration for choosing the scale is whether you plan on using the world or region for a single campaign with multiple adventures, or if you plan on using it for many more things to come. In one world, you can develop multiple campaigns in various environments, which is perfect for those who are in it for the long run. But if you’re more the type who likes to jump from one idea to the next – for example from high fantasy to low fantasy, from an apocalyptic world to an alt-history, etc. – a smaller, regional scale might be more suitable.
2. What theme do you choose for your campaign?
Once you know whether you’re going for a complete world or a smaller, more specific region, it’s time to pick a theme. When you’re going for a whole world, possible themes could be:
- A post-apocalyptic world;
- A world overrun by monsters;
- A high fantasy world full of magic and wondrous landscapes;
- An alternative history of earth;
- A world that’s 99% covered by oceans;
- A world that’s just recovering from an ice age.
Any of the above themes can also be applied for specific regions. Just replace the word ‘world’ by ‘region’. Other example for regional campaign themes are:
- A mysterious, newly discovered mountain nation called The Witchlands;
- A region protected by a huge wall on all sides behind which the Land of Monsters lie;
- A large, dense, dark and cursed forest;
- A steampunk setting in a wasteland created by a meteor hit;
- A pirate campaign on a tropical archipelago;
- A mysterious city, hidden deep in the swamps.
This map of the city of Hiragh is the perfect starting point for a campaign in swamps or marshlands
An important aspect of picking a theme is to actually stick to that theme. It’s easy to flood your campaign with all kinds of different things, which individually might all be great concepts but just don’t make for a consistent whole. A good campaign needs consistency, and it will hugely benefit the immersion for your players if you stick to one theme rather than jump to a different feel and vibe each game night.
3. What’s the main plot of your campaign?
It’s a big mistake to think that a theme equals a plot. A theme is generic, somewhat vague and meaningless without a proper plot. Your theme – and with that, your campaign – only gets attractive with an exciting, mysterious or otherwise interesting plot. To come up with a good plot, make sure to include the following things:
- A goal or a point at the horizon; a good campaign is more than a collection of stand-alone adventures or encounters. There needs to be something greater to achieve. Create a sense of mystery by revealing bits and pieces of an end goal, right from the start. Throughout the campaign, players gradually gain more knowledge of this end goal until the final climax;
- A challenge or conflict; there needs to be something to fight for, something to strive for or something to choose. Give players the feeling that they are in control of the campaign’s outcome. Give them a sense of urgency and a prospect of a reward for overcoming a challenge;
- A twist; it’s not fun watching a movie or reading a book when you already know the end. The same goes for a dnd campaign. You want your players to know just enough of the plot to feel both urgency and motivation to move forward. But you don’t want them to know exactly how things end yet. So, keep a few twists and mysteries up your sleeve in order to keep your players engaged and surprised. For example, that nice lady they are helping turns out to be a bloodsucking vampire. Or that valuable artifact the players found and planned on selling appears to be a magnet for monsters. Or the king they are fighting for appears to have made a secret alliance with an evil sorceress…
If you’re looking for more inspiration on plot hooks or a basis for your next campaign, this Kingdom of Ordur pack might be a good start.
4. What are the adventures that take place in your campaign?
At last, it’s time to create individual adventures. While adventures are little stand-alone games, a good adventure adds to the main plot as well. The classic way to do this is by having a main villain that needs to be slain (end goal and main plot of the campaign), but not without first dealing with its accomplices (adventure goals and sub-plots of the campaign). So, a single adventure could be about clearing a bandit hideout, while the bandit leader is working for the main villain that you eventually have to face. In the bandit camp, players can find a clue about the whereabouts of the main villain. That way, you weave the single adventures together in the main story.
Other well-known examples of sub-plots (adventures) building up to the main plot (campaign goal) are:
- Find a number of artifacts (adventures) in order to stop an evil lord from destroying the world (campaign goal);
- Perform a number of tasks (adventures) in order to receive a much desired reward (campaign goal);
- Find clues and solve a series of mysteries (adventures) in order to help a person, village or kingdom (campaign goal).
A campaign can make you visit various locations, each with their own adventure, but all leading to the same campaign goal. A campaign about monster hunting for example, can lead you to a small island group where players have to fight the Man-eating Birds of the Puffin Islands.
Hopefully, these steps help you in creating your own dnd campaign. If you still feel lost, or would prefer to have a campaign map as a base for inspiration, just check out the dozens of campaign map of worlds, regions and cities in the webshop.