Writing fantasy can be laborious, especially if inspiration eludes us. Fortunately, D&D can help us create incredible worlds and astonishing characters. The Dungeon Master is the creative force of Dungeons and Dragons. Said in other words, Dungeon Masters are the storytellers. And as such, they have full control of the story. While dice also have their say during the game, a good Dungeon Master is vital to have great entertainment.
The DM creates the world where players will explore. This means that D&D is perfect to build a fabulous creative muscle. Worlds are challenging to design for me. However, using D&D as a guide has proven to be a blessing.
Let’s create a world from scratch using D&D as an example. We need to take into account some core assumptions that will help us in this endeavor.
- Gods are real and they have an influence. Even if they’re just forces of nature, they can mess things up while your story is ongoing, or they did it in the past creating the mess your characters live in at the moment. Some characters might acknowledge their existence, and others deny it.
- Beyond the borders of civilization, the world is wild and dangerous. Think about secret caves, or ruins from the past, mountains and secret passages plagued with ghosts and evil spirits. Once you leave home, you’re in the wild and surrounded by danger.
- The world is so ancient no one knows its age. We might be living in the fourth age of the known history of the Fae world. Or we might be in a steampunk-like world that is trying to map the known Universe, but no one has any clue of how many civilizations have thrived and fell since the Universe began.
- There’s some sort of conflict. It can be war or a quest of a group of characters. Someone has to find a magic object to save the Universe or stop an evil adversary destroying a kingdom. Without conflict or obstacles, the story would be very boring. If you make it epic, then the odds might be in your favor.
- There’s magic. In fantasy there’s magic. Even if you make people play with craft (technology), there should be a great deal of magic running amok in the world. For example, Fae might use magic to heal, while humans might use craft and seek Fae help when they have no clue how to save someone.
Now that we have all those assumptions, how can we change the game? The easiest way is to ask questions like: is magic rare? If so, is it dangerous? Is our world super old, or are we in the first age? Do we know everything on the map? Is there any really unknown place? Do we have monsters? If so, what do they do? What do they eat? If the gods are running around, what type of gods are they?
Let’s say our world has reincarnations of the Norse Gods of old. If they’re reincarnations, we can change them, right? It’s a good idea to take known gods and play with them changing their personalities and looks. Then, we can make them influence our world later. Or, we can choose to create a pantheon from scratch. We can arrange a loose pantheon, with many deities ruling the same things or set of elements. Or we can prefer a tight pantheon (the Norse would be one of these). Or we could select gods that are ethereal, more mysterious, that want rituals of initiation from the beings living in our world.
You can choose pantheism (many gods), monotheism (one god), dualism (two divine forces that oppose each other, like good and evil), animism (everything in the world is alive, including rocks), or philosophy. What you choose will affect the rules of the world. If we decide that animism rules, we can make rocks talk and say something of value to our characters later.
Once we have an idea of what influences our world, and how old it might be, and how known it is, we can think about its inhabitants. What type of humanoids live in our fantasy world? If you’re super lost, you can always roll the dice, but it’s better to flex our brain’s muscles and decide.
- Elves. Elves are magical people, usually slender, who are part of the world, but not quite. They like to live in the midst of ancient forests, next to impossible waterfalls, and any ethereal places you can create. They love nature and magic. They’re artsy, love music, write poetry, and can be super spooky. Think about the dark elves of the Marvel Universe. Elves can be in direct contact with Gods. Since they’re in a mid-way, it’s easier to make them know all about gods. An equivalent would be a Fae.
- Dwarves. Very much like in Lord of The Rings, Dwarves are greedy, and keep up trying to get all the riches from the mountains. However, unlike LOTR, I like to imagine Dwarves as tall and challenging. You can choose to add them to your story at all, or make them as tall or short as you wish!
- Halflings. Humanoids that are similar to Hobbits, who are cheerful and are used to live in a world where other people are taller than them. You could also consider making halflings different, like children from two different races. Half-elf and half-humanoid would be a good example.
- Humans. The ones that tend to mess things up and create chaos and save the day, perhaps? You can have your main lead being a human in love with an Elf, for example.
- Orcs and monsters. Orcs are aberrations that were once Elves. However, you can make them smart and cunning. They do have their own culture, and they might even have evil pets, like dragons or impossible monsters.
- Any other being that might come into your mind. This is just a list of examples, but you can decide to make things funkier if you wish. Want to invent a brand new race? Go for it!
Once we’ve decided about the magic, how old the world is, and the humanoids that inhabit it, we have to think about the map of the world. Do we have small kingdoms scattered in our world? Do we have continents with big kingdoms? A combination of both? Are there independent settlements? When we’ve decided on those, we have to think about who lives there, and how many people might be living in that settlement. And then, we have to decide on their political systems, on each of them. You can choose to give your different lands the same system, but if you play with the different system, you can create conflict easily. Say you have an open minded King in a nation, a closed meritocracy in another, and a crazy plutocracy somewhere else. Aim to misbehave!
- Autocracy. A hereditary ruler has absolute power supported by a badass bureaucracy or the military, or a combination of both. You can make it evil or benevolent. And it can rule a great territory or a small one. It could even be an Empire!
- Bureaucracy. The government is ruled by different departments that are responsible for ruling the land. They have heads, ministers, presidents…
- Confederacy. A set of independent cities decide to contribute to a federation that promotes the same values. There’s a central government with people from all the independent cities or territories. It could be a Lord’s alliance, or a bureaucracy alliance, or a combination of different governments that do share the same values.
- Democracy. People elect their representatives, and these create the laws. Very much like in real life, you can make it as wonderful or creepy as you want.
- Dictatorship. There’s a supreme leader that rules everything. It doesn’t need to be dynastic. It’s very similar to an autocracy, but it all depends on how you set the rules here.
- Feudalism. It’s like the Middle Ages. There’re layers of lords and vassals in servitude.
- Gerontocracy. The elders rule the land. In the case of Elves, this can be horrible since they live for such a long time. Or, think about what if Gandalf ruled.
- Hierarchy. There’s a feudal or bureaucratic government, where every member is below another, except the one who is on the top of the hierarchical pyramid. For example, the King is on the top, and everybody else is below.
- Kleptocracy. The government is composed of individuals that seek wealth for themselves and clearly care nothing about the others. Imagine a Democracy in disguise, where the government is ruling as a Kleptocracy.
- Magocracy. The rules are mages and control magic. They can be feudal lords, or be a democracy.
- Matriarchy/ Patriarchy. In a matriarchy, women rule. In a patriarchy, men rule. Gender defines the rulers.
- Meritocracy. The most intelligent and educated are the ones who rule. It could be a form of bureaucracy.
- Militocracy. The military rule under martial law using an army. The ones on top could be elite military with magic, or by birth.
- Monarchy. Kings and Queens rule the land. It’s hereditary, and the only way to change this is either killing the monarchs or throw them away to some other land.
- Oligarchy. Only a small number of people can rule the land. For example, think about a nation which sets a group of people to rule a neighboring land.
- Plutocracy. The rich rule the land. They purchase representation, they buy the way up. Money rules here.
- Republic. The government is formed by elected representatives. For example, a democracy where landowners vote is a Republic.
- Satrapy. Conquerors have the power of the land. They rule it as part of a larger Empire. Satraps are like bureaucrats or military officers.
- Theocracy. The representatives of a God rule the land. Or you could make a god rule it. The center of the land is usually a sacred place.
Now that we know about the political system(s) that rule our world, we need to decide on the economy as well. Do we use coins? Paper money? Do we pay with magic? Do we trade ingot bars? Depending on what we choose as currency will affect how people make their exchanges.
And then we can even think about what languages are spoken in our created fantasy world. Do everyone speak the same language? Does each race use a different one? Or does each kingdom have a different tongue, and we do not take into account the races in our world?
This is undoubtedly a lot of work. But crafting a fantasy world from scratch can be both a massive undertaking and a delight. D&D helps us in having a guide. Taking a look at all the details helps in crafting a fantasy world that’s both alluring and credible. Once you’ve decided on all these details, it’s time to write all about it. Most of the descriptions of the world and its peoples might be left out of your book. But, the exercise of writing all about it helps in having a clear picture in your mind. And if you enjoy the training, you can continue using D&D to create fantastic characters, and story plots.
The Dungeons & Dragons Starter Box [The Book Depository] [Waterstones] can help you crafting a brand new fantasy world. It has guides, dice, and character sheets that you can use to craft your characters. If you want to go a step further, you can try the Dungeon Master’s Guide [The Book Depository] [Waterstones]. I have both, and they’re both extremely useful.
It’s a good idea to keep a journal or files with all the worlds you create. They’ll come in handy when you need them. And, if you want more training, consider becoming a DM. Or, if you’re not ready for that: be Kaulder, the witch hunter.
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