D&D Tips For DMs Creating Their Own Campaign Worlds

Creating a Dungeons & Dragons world requires great effort on the Dungeon Master's part. From determining geography and city placement to the demographics and peoples who live in it, Dungeon Masters must put a large amount of care and effort into making a truly vibrant world. Striking the right balance between bland and over-the-top, connected and disjointed, living and dead requires an amount of planning and consideration that many players won't realize. But when the party is making their way through a city the Dungeon Master carefully plotted out or interacting and forming bonds with NPCs of the Dungeon Master's creation, it becomes worth the effort.


Many worlds exist across the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. From the iconic lands of Ed Greenwood's default D&D setting, The Forgotten Realms, to Gary Gygax's Greyhawk, the possibilities shown through those who came before are limitless. As time has passed and Dungeons & Dragons has become more popular, more worlds with new ideas have been created. The steampunk-inspired world of Eberron or the brutal wastelands of Dark Sun show that fantasy doesn't have to be generic, or exclude more modern or dark elements.

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To create a well-constructed and memorable Dungeons & Dragons world, Dungeon Masters must be prepared to put in an effort beyond simply reading a sourcebook and preparing for unplanned eventualities. Considerations must be made not only for the physical look and layout of the world, but who inhabits it and how they interact. A task this big can seem daunting, but by breaking it down into several smaller steps, it is doable.

Starting Small In Your Custom D&D World Can Lead To Greatness

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Starting in worldbuilding can be overwhelming, like ending a long-running Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. Limiting the scope of what has to be built immediately can make the task less intimidating. Starting with just a town or city can allow a Dungeon Master to put elements of the greater world in without fleshing out the whole thing. Not everything has to be built before the campaign begins. The players rarely have access to what goes on behind the screen or in the mind of the Dungeon Master. As long as the small area that the players are playing in is fleshed out, the world will feel fleshed out. Like a painted backdrop for a stage play, the world outside the immediate area only needs as much detail as is necessary to placate the audience.

Player Backstories Help With Dungeons & Dragons Worldbuilding

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Getting the players invested in a Dungeons & Dragons world goes a long way for the enjoyment of everyone at the table, especially if the Dungeon Master loves to roleplay. One way to do this while simultaneously building a world is to incorporate elements of the player characters' backstories into the setting. If there is a cleric or paladin in the party, making one god for them and then one god opposed to their god can give hours of roleplay material without having to flesh out an entire pantheon. Party members with familial bonds can also help flesh out the world, as those family members may exist in a different part of the world. This part need not have more than a name and a rough location relative to the players for it to feel real to them. As they make moves to go toward this family member, then the Dungeon Master can use the backstory to flesh the location out more.

Reading The Dungeon Master's Guide Helps DMs Stay Consistent

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The Dungeon Master's Guide is almost entirely devoted to worldbuilding. Its guidelines, while by no means comprehensive, are perfect for a Dungeon Master starting in worldbuilding, even when constructing larger Dungeons & Dragons maps. From the average population size of fantasy cities to tables of inspiration for shops, buildings, and town features, the DM's Guide provides key insights for any aspiring worldbuilder. It starts large, with sections on pantheons and cosmology, before delving from detailed battle maps into town dynamics and individual NPCs.

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While it was previously advised to start small, if starting at the top and working down is what works best for a DM, then that is exactly what they should do. The DM's Guide is an invaluable resource. While not necessary, it is recommended to give it at least one read through before embarking on any major worldbuilding quest.

Don't Sweat The Details Of A Dungeons & Dragons World

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Many DMs get bogged down in the details of worldbuilding. Whether running a two-player Dungeons & Dragons adventure or running for a party of seven, every street in a city doesn't need a name. While a certain level of detail can increase the verisimilitude of the campaign, too much detail work will likely lead to a Dungeon Master with an entire tome of world lore that the players will never see. Every NPC doesn't need a detailed backstory (often, a vague description and a random quirk will get the job done). Getting caught in the details of one particular town or NPC can mean spending hours on it while letting entire sections of the world languish on the drawing board, which can be a serious detriment to a DM preparing for their first D&D campaign. This is where another skill of the Dungeon Master comes into play: improvisation. By keeping things loose and vague, the Dungeon Master can improvise an answer to a player's question on the spot, then write it down to codify it later, with the players being none the wiser.

Variety Is The Spice Of Any Dungeons & Dragons World

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Seeing the same NPC types and the same town layouts over and over again can get repetitive, but Dungeons & Dragons' official material has plenty of variety to avoid such issues. When designing a world, it is important to include diversity to make it feel fleshed out. There are over 50 official playable races, including some unique Dungeons & Dragons non-humanoid races. Finding a place for at least half of them in a campaign world will make it feel more diverse than many, and add variety to the types of people and encounters the party can come across. These different societies each interact with every other in different ways, and when one of those interactions becomes important to the story of the game, the Dungeon Master can flesh it out.

Each Dungeons & Dragons world will be distinct in its own way. While it is very easy to use (or reskin) an existing world and call it a day, creating a personal world to run games in is one of the joys of being a Dungeon Master. While the task is monumental in scope, breaking it down into smaller sections and not tackling the whole thing at once can lead to a world that will last far beyond any single group or campaign.