5e DM READING ORDER Part 3: Expanding Your World 4/23/21

Updated: Apr 29

Continuing to fill the design hole in D&D 5e we look at campaign style. Chapter 1 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. (DMG) identifies core assumptions about fantasy settings. The three chapters in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes give you the classic D&D lore about the five core non-human races. This provides a template from which to build your own campaign. Many experienced players will expect these classic D&D "races" to function as described here. You're building your own world. You don't need to incorporate these "races" in the ways described here, feel free to subvert expectations. My recommendation to read the Mordenkainen chapters is intended to get your wheels turning and ideas following.

As you continue chapter 1 of the DMG you'll find sections on Play Style and Flavors of Fantasy. These sections are particularly helpful. Converse with your players and consider their personalities as you determine a style and flavor of your game.

The second half of this list provides examples from four more books outside the DMG. If you want a deity driven game you don't need to run a Theros campaign. However, Mythic Odyssey of Theros provides the best example of how to run a deity driven campaign. You can use it as a template. Likewise you don't need to run a comedic game like Acquisitions Incorporated but you can lift the ideas to develop your campaign. Acquisitions Incorporated shows DMs and player's how to think of adventuring as a business. This is great way to get player buy in and and start a player-driven game.

I love dark fantasy and I love science fantasy, so Ravnica is right up my alley. But two of my players specificity don't like science fantasy, so I don't run Ravnica games. I lean hard on dark fantasy for my sake and leave out sci-fi for my players taste. However, long before Ravnica released I used factions to build my world. When Guild Master's Guide to Ravnica came out I was thrilled! This book illustrates how to build your world around factions (in Ravnica all the factions are guilds.) It gives unique spell lists to each faction. This helps establish the flavor of the factions. It also incentivizes the players to learn about them, because their characters gain specific benefits from joining a faction. The book continues to provide plot hooks for each faction. Then it provides perspectives on how each faction views the other. Personally I think Ravnica is the best designed D&D campaign setting.

Matt Mercer's Wildemount setting is also extremely well designed. Thus worth mentioning here even though I didn't include it on the recommended reading list. Mercer takes the traditional regional approach to world building with many great design ideas coming from four distinct regions. It's fantastic! But I don't recommend this style of world building right away. Regional design is the most difficult approach and requires the most work in my opinion. It's also difficult to create a world without leaning of fantasy tropes, and historical cultures. You're likely to end up with "Japanese" Hobgoblins, "Scottish" Dwarves, "British" Elves, "Irish" Gnomes, "Norwegian" Humans, and "Kiwi" Halflings. You end up with a world that's just like Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk and Krynn. There's no need to expend all that effort on a copy of what already exists. Save this style for when you know yourself, your players and the game better.

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything offers the other traditional approach: a Group Patron. Even though this is the newest book on the list Group Patrons are the oldest campaign style. Tash's offers you new 5e mechanics but it's a classic way to drive a campaign. You can design a local community, create a conflict, and create patron who hires the player characters to deal with the conflict: Bilbo lives in the Shire, a group of Dwarves want to return to their homeland, Gandolf convinces Biblo to be their burglar. Classic!

While world building is often the most time consuming it's also the most rewarding. Enjoy!

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