How to create a believable D&D setting

Creating an entirely new world is one of the most difficult tasks for new and experienced Dungeon Masters alike. When you first sit down to write about the setting of your new D&D campaign it can seem overwhelming. There are so many details to consider. If you’re like me, it can often be difficult to know where to start.

Sometimes a blank page can be the biggest inhibitor to creativity.

I find it much easier to start by limiting myself to certain key elements. I’ll first start by asking myself different questions.

  • Is the world wild (forest) or is it tame (towns/cities/farms)?
  • How does magic work in my world? Does it have a single origin or is it all encompassing?
  • What is the tone of the setting? Is the area scary or friendly? Comedy or Tragedy?

When you’re starting to answer some of these questions in the beginning, it’s okay to not have all the details figured out. The important part is to have a rough outline and tone of what world you’re creating and how it contributes to the main story. The details will come later. I like organizing these bigger questions in a notebook that I can reference at any time.

dnd notebook

I’m a big advocate of being organized while planning as little as possible in the beginning of the campaign. For example, I’ll plan the high level concepts such as the world map, governing bodies, races, religions, and economy. But I’ll leave the details for when I start planning each session. These details include town/city layouts, their smaller governing bodies, surrounding vegetation, etc.

Creating a D&D setting is like building a house. First, you lay out your foundation with the big questions. Then, you can start to lay the bricks with each individual session and the unique details that breathe life into your story. Don’t feel like you have to have every small thing figured out before you begin.

Another thing you can also do is ask your players to explain their characters’ hometowns. This is a fun option, because not only does it take a bit of work off your plate as the Dungeon Master, it brings your players into the world creation process and gives them more ownership of their character’s backstory.

Every DM has their own process for creating their own worlds. I hope these tips have been helpful! Have some of your own tips? Feel free to share them with me :)