The key to this advice is to be brief. There is absolutely no need to write a book for each location your players might travel to. I have been running a campaign for 3 years and it has all been based off of this one sheet of notes.
In order, this is how I set up a continent/world.
- Draw the map, it can be any kind of outline, preferably with some different features like peninsulas
- Add rivers, major roads, and dominant biomes (forest, desert, mountain, etc)
- Place cities on waterways, crossroads, etc. If a city is off in the middle of nowhere with limited transportation, why?
- Given the transportation and biome of each city, think of a couple aspects of industry or culture that is more pronounced there relative to the rest of the continent
- Decide the racial composition and style of government
Because I know my handwriting is bad, this is the text of my notes sheet:
Osterfells: Crossroads of the continent
- independent walled city-state with surrounding farmland
- straddles the Ancien Route and the Oster River, a hub of trade and home to many guilds, seeing other races is fairly common
Tirahd: The Forgotten Kingdom
- city state with large, valueless holding of land. Radin is their vassal state
- port city, the King sells peasants as slaves to dragonborn elites in Balaam to fund lifestyle
- mostly destroyed in war with estraya 200 years ago
- Radin: rural, plains, surrounded by ruins, they have a walled off toll road
Estrya: The reviving nation
- Rebuilt a small territory around the Capitol after the Great War thanks to direct trade upstream with Elven and Dwarven outposts
- population is majority human but with healthy amounts of Dwarves, Elves, and Hybrids
- Canterfield is their vassal state. The economy there failed after Estrya moved its trade to the rivers, off the Ancien Route
Aliroh: The Jewel of the South (predominantly human, half-orc lower caste, some dwarven merchants/engineers)
- Aladiny themed, Egyptiany, on a Flood Plains
- Conflict between religious ruling caste and lower caste, religious caste is using anti-orc propaganda to divide lower class
- orcs and half orcs live in wastes, pillage ruins (probably dungeons?)
- industry and port city, resources down the Oster from Vimdural
- Wouldn't participate in the Great War between Tirahd and Estrya, Tirahd still mad about the perceived affront
Marduhn: Dwarven subterranean capitol
- treacherous mountain pass to reach city overland, rails underground between the city and Vimdural
Because of this simple blueprint for the world I was able to have lore information available on cities that hadn't been fleshed out entirely yet. Then, as the players decide to move place to place, you then have a tool to ad lib off of, or you can start fleshing out the area in between sessions. For example, we spent the last year in Aliroh, and as the party was sailing down the Oster river I had the time to flesh out their religion, government, design NPCs, etc. So by the time we reached Aliroh the following session, it was an entirely realized city.
- Dwarven city during invasion?
- Trade Empires: Which games supplanted it?
- First time DM: Writers block after Session 1
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "A Short Guide on World Building Before a Campaign" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
- Help balancing magical weapons for my party
- How to handle freedom in exploration and subsequent rewards
- Let’s Talk About Railroading And Worldbuilding
- ONLINE HOMEBREW 5E FR SWORDCOAST CAMPAIGN NEEDS PLAYERS (Grittier / Deadlier) Twice a week 7pm PST – Starting this Monday night (4/19/2012)
- 50 Plot Hooks for Sailors
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