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D&D Series

D&D Series #11: Preparing a World

Welcome book bees to another Dungeons and Dragons post! Today I want to discuss how as a DM one might prepare a world uniquely for the party. Most of this discussion will be focusing on worlds created by the DM for D&D or other purposes, though some of these aspects can be used by DMs to expand/alter existing worlds seen in official modules. It’s important to recognize that in the past several years, official D&D lore has been looked over by players and DMs and discovered lacking in many ways. Racist stereotypes are incorporated into several of the races, misogyny and homophobic themes can be found as well, and some members of the Wizards of the Coast team (ahem, Mike Mearls) have been outed as assaulters, racists, and otherwise awful people. D&D content is not made in a vacuum and thus it reflects the inherent biases of many of those that have built it. Creating your own world for D&D consumption can do the same if you don’t recognize your biases and work with your players to create a better world.

The Basics

The basics for any D&D world include, but are not limited to:

  • what fantasy races live in the world, and where
  • a magic system
  • a political history
  • geography
  • astronomy
  • population of mundane versus magical creatures
  • existence of legendary magic items
  • religion and deities

Additionally, it’s important to know the players you’re building this world for. If you want to incorporate certain themes or topics into the world’s history, politics, and religion, you absolutely have to make sure you won’t be making your players uncomfortable. Do you really need a history of slavery to make the world more interesting? Do some races really need to be homophobic? How can you change existing D&D lore to make your players more comfortable (such as altering the Drow racial history)?

The Fun Stuff

Once you’ve figured out some basic rules and parameters that will rule the world, and established what is and isn’t comfortable for yourself and your players, you get to have so much fun with world building! You can invent new fantasy creatures that serve a unique purpose, come up with deities that either puppet from afar or walk the earth with your heroes. Story ideas that you’ve never gotten a chance to tell can become historical events your players may have to learn about, you can pepper your fictional map with clues for items and special locations that your players could discover. There are so many possibilities!

In my D&D setting, I have stories about various NPCs and opportunities for players to meet those characters. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, and some stories are told while others remain just in my mind and notes. A variety of hidden places, people, and things are still waiting to be discovered one day…

Suiting the World to Play Style

An important aspect of world building for D&D is determining how your players want to roleplay. If they want a sandbox style world, you can create a vast and interesting fantasy world for them to explore with all sorts of opportunities for exploration and encountering the unknown. If your players prefer to roleplay vast, important, political schemes then you’ll need to focus on the history and social construction of your world when determining what they’ll encounter. You can also create more conflict in your world for combat centered players, and depending on the backstories the players want to build you can do all sorts of alterations to the world.

For example, my current players are more interested in characters and interesting locations than overarching political schemes. Though technically within the world there are big things happening on a political level, this rarely affects my players who are far more interested in a magical plotline taking place concurrently.

Why you should build your own world

My biggest argument for building your own D&D world is that it’ll better suit your players and their play style. As I’ve said many a time before in this series, communication at the table is key for keeping everybody comfortable. Additionally, D&D world lores can be harmful for many people, a fact that has been widely expressed by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ groups, among others. I would rather not support potentially harmful content in favor of enjoying a game without those elements that perhaps took more work to set up. My fantasy world doesn’t need racial slavery, homophobia, or sexual assault as major “conflicts and themes” the way some official content uses it.

Final Thoughts

I have read through modules from the Wizards of the Coast D&D team and seen problematic elements. Curse of Strahd has racist stereotypes of the Romani people, the Player’s Handbook presents the Drow and Half-Orc player races in demeaning and racist ways, and though efforts have been made to make language gender neutral and accepting of various gender and sexuality identities, there are still elements of unnecessary prejudice. Creating a world of your own does a few things: it does not support known racists and abusers, it ensures that elements important to the world are not triggering or harmful for your players, it encourages your own creativity, and it allows for more interesting and well suited gameplay.

Ways to help BLM, Educate Yourself

#FireMikeMearls information

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By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

One reply on “D&D Series #11: Preparing a World”

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