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Instant world builder – Part V: Thinking big

Written by Expy - Published on October 18, 2007

This article is part 5 of the Instant World Builder series.

Starting small. Thinking big.

In the previous Instant World Builder article – Starting small – I mentioned that designing a small area to start a campaign is a great way to save time, but the campaign still needs a grand plan. So what’s the big picture?

What kind of campaign are you playing?

In my current campaign, most of the action takes place in a big city. My players sometimes make fun of me by saying their characters will leave the city and never come back! They know that the rest of the world isn’t designed as precisely as that city.

Of course the PCs leave the city quite often and they have traveled the whole world but they always come back because:

  1. That’s the kind of game we’re playing. The best plot hooks come from the city.
  2. They know that I can’t possibly create a whole world and still convince my girlfriend I’m not that much of a geek.

The Map

Expy the dragon says:
When in doubt emphasize
the awesomeness of
red dragons in your world!

So keep in mind the kind of game you and your players want to play and don’t bother with the areas that don’t fit your campaign.

How big should the big picture be?

I think the grand plan should be to have a good idea of what the world around the PCs will feel like. You know you have enough material when:

  • You can come up with rumors and plot hooks on the fly – and they fit the campaign.
  • You know what kind of mood or style of play each region of the world calls for.
  • The players will feel confident they can go anywhere because you look like you know what you’re talking about.
  • You haven’t seen another human being in weeks because you were drawing a map – a big map.


World building is addictive. Creating the best campaign setting ever can really eat up a lot of your free time. I suggest starting small and when you have a few gaming sessions planned you can switch thinking up the rest of the world.

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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4 Responses to “Instant world builder – Part V: Thinking big”
  1. sean says:

    Should have posted earlier but I have been debating whether or not I actually want to build a world. I have been a nerd forever but have started Dnd only about five years ago. I have probably been a DM more than a player but I like both aspects. I think that building a world is a good idea for me, and these articles are really good for helping me think about how much time to put into it while still maintaining the gaming group in a different campaign.

    Fun stuff but it does seem like it will take up some time. I guess this comment is just a thanks for posting these articles to help me organize how in the world i am gonna do this between all the other things that eat up my time.

  2. Yax says:

    It is very hard to keep world building time down. I have three more articles lined up in the next 5 days and then I’ll package all of them together in a pdf.

    I think it’ll be easier to work with these articles when they’re all bundled together.

  3. Taylor says:

    I find a big thing about creating a world is talking to your players first and find out what they want – making a really high fantasy world (like forgotten realms) is no good when your characters want to play something low fantasy (like George R.R. Martin’s world).
    Also, i’m not sure if this has been mentioned before, but draw from real life. This world has a lot of colourful history – which is important to make your character’s feel involved.

    My two cents.

  4. Yax says:

    I haven’t mentioned drawing from real life. I’ll have to add something about that in the pdf. It’s a good idea.

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