I have created so many homebrew stories over the years, and I still love it! I’ve only ever played in one module, and I’ve enjoyed it too! However, my experience has really only been with homebrew worlds and stories! So we’re going to start a series where we talk about different aspects of homebrewing! In the comments please give us topics that you’d like to see!
There are so many topics to cover when talking about homebrewing stories and a world for your players to enjoy. Especially if you are starting from scratch for a world! It can be a daunting task, but oh so rewarding. I thought today I’d talk a little about how to start a homebrew world. This is just to get the ideas flowing, not a step by step how to. But, back in the day when I was first getting started I would have loved a few pointers to steer me in the right direction.
In my experience there are a few ways to start a world. I’m certain there are a lot more ways that I haven’t tried, but these are the paths I’ve trod so far. Please share with me the ways you began a homebrew world! I’d love to read them and try them out! I am going to walk through the easiest way to begin, at least for me. I’ll continue to talk about ways to start homebrew worlds in future articles! These articles will be focused mostly on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, but the ideas could easily be used for any system.
The simplest way for me to build a world is to begin with a small village or a single location where you will start out your player characters. A quaint village of no more than thirty or forty people. Or a fortress that guards a pass or the edge of a territory. Something large enough to give you a decent supplies of NPCs, but not so large as to be terribly daunting. With this style of homebrew you can start your game once you’ve finalized your town, outpost, or fortress. All you need is the centralized location and a vague idea of the surrounding area.
Here are a few tools to help with map making if you aren’t able to draw your own, I know I can’t!
Medieval Fantasy City Generator – it will randomly generate simple maps for villages to large cities.
Dyson’s Dodecahedron – this blog is amazing! I’ve linked to the city and town section, but if you explore you’ll find loads of useful items for running a blog.
I also use Pinterest and good old fashioned Google to search for maps to use as well. There is a plethora out there! If you have map making skills let me tell you that I am so jealous! You’ve got a leg up on me.
Once you’ve got your location set, it needs a name! Names can sometimes be the most difficult thing for me, I want it to be easy to pronounce and also sound cool and elicit a response of anticipation in my players. Since we’re talking about the simplest way there are so many name generators out there that are easy to use and provide some really excellent choices. I’ve done this many times with great success and it helps move the process along nicely.
To help immersion of your players and to give your world a richer feel take a moment to think about who lives there. Is it a village of Dragonborns? Firbolg? Gnomes? If so take a moment to look through the Player’s Handbook and the naming suggestions provided there. Use those ideas and expand on them to give that village the right flavor. Or you can use a few websites to help:
Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons Name Generator – this is a helpful tool to generate names for the base races of Elf, Half-Elf, Human, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling, and Half-Orc.
Fantasy Name Generator Dungeons and Dragons – this site has so many name generators for so many things I come here often, but I’ve linked specifically to the Dungeons and Dragons Section. Scroll down and you’ll see icon options for each of the races.
Use these character names to help name the town, surrounding fields, farms, hills, and forests. That will help the little area of the world to feel cohesive and a little bit more real.
If your village or outpost has a primarily Human populace I look to the cultures of the world to help with names. Is the village located in a jungle? A desert? The mountains? Take a look at real world locations, the cultures that make those places home, and take those names and use them as inspiration.
7 Continents – a great site to look up real world places to steer you in the right direction for names. I will look up the deserts of the world and then the people that make those places home. Using the names of cities and locations in these areas as inspiration to build my fantasy cultures and places.
Even though it is a small area you are creating, you want to do your best to give your players the sense that there is a whole huge world beyond the confines of this small village or outpost. A general sameness with the names around your village and the village itself will go a long way to get your players to feel a connection to your world. When all else fails with naming things use a Thesaurus! I adore mine and sometimes new words are an excellent source of inspiration.
Now that you have the basics of your small outpost settled you need to populate the place with a few notable NPCs. I usually have about ten on hand with a quick list of other NPCs that I can use at a moment’s notice. Who do you put into the village? Well here are a few sites to help you!
What did people do in a medieval city? – A great resource for job titles and what they did in the world.
Medieval Jobs – another great place to read about the types of jobs and what they did in the world.
100+ City Professions – a quick and dirty list of job titles.
As for NPC names follow the same theme you did for naming the village and surrounding area. In that way you keep the sounds and feel of this corner of the world the same. Add one or two exotic characters into the mix, people that have migrated to the area from somewhere else in the world. Give your main ten or so NPCs some sort of backstory, just a sentence or two. Enough to give you a feel for the person. Then assign them one or two personality quirks. And if you want to go the extra mile give that NPC a family!
When you make your NPC quick list just give them a name, a job, and one personality quirk that gives them a little bit of life. I usually have an excel document at the ready with about fifteen bare bones NPCs because players always take the story to places you are not ready for!
A List of 500 Character Quirks – a giant list of quirks of personality and looks.
100 Character Quirks You Can Steal from Me – another wonderful list to help you flesh out characters.
Right now you’ve got enough done to drop your players into the world and start playing, once you’ve written a story of course! However, if you want to add yet another layer of immersion into the world. Look up the building types for the area you’re working in. What types of buildings are more prominent in that area? Use these building types when describing the village it adds yet another feel to the world as a whole and helps the players to visualize the area.
And with that you’ve got what you need to start a world for your players to interact with! At this point, as they are creating their characters and back stories I would ask their help in building out the world you’ve just started. Were their characters from your village? If not, have them give you a city/town/village name, what race primarily lives there, and how far away from your outpost is their home? Also, ask them if their home is part of the same country as your village. This gets them to do some of the creation work for you.
The two very last things I consider adding is a bit of history for the area. A local legend, or stories of a war from ages ago, or a story about how the town is thriving or not suddenly. Also, what type of political structure is the area? Empire? Monarchy? Led by a Council? All of these extra steps will just add yet another layer of immersion for your players.
There you have it! This is one way to start a homebrew world! Like I said there are so many to pick from, and a lot I’m sure that I haven’t tried yet. I sincerely hope that this helps you in creating your very own world for your games! I’d love to hear if this worked for you or if you have any improvements on this process. Happy Creating!
Hombrew Series Next Article
Upcoming Homebrew Articles:
Sample Village using this method
Adding more details to the simple village, creating plot hooks, and expanding the area
World Building starting with a country history
World Building starting with a continent map