So now that I have a central idea for my campaign world, it’s time to get just a little more specific. My first goal is to outline the continents of the world with just a few general ideas to help guide me as I start to write down the specifics.
In Defense of Outlines
I’m a big fan of outlining before I write anything for D&D. In general before I even begin a campaign I outline the major story moments I think could happen, revising along the way based on the actions of the players. Then as we get into those beats, I outline the smaller story arcs associated with them. And then before each individual session I write an outline of what I want to plan before I start writing flavor text, encounters and the like (it’s actually very helpful here because if I don’t always have time to get into detail with my quest prep, but a quick skeleton takes about 5 minutes and can help keep a session on track as I fake it until I make it with improv).
Creating this world won’t be any different from preparing the story for a campaign. I’ll outline the continents and then outline each country. Maybe I’ll even get into outlining the major cities and landmarks. If I just dove in to writing detailed description, I could get caught up in one continent for hours and forget the ideas I have that I’m planning for the others. Sounds crazy, but that’s totally a thing that happens.
I should mention, my outlines are living documents. As I write the detailed descriptions based on the outline, I will move things around, add ideas, and take out things that aren’t working. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s good to keep a document of inspiration and ideas, so anything that doesn’t work you can save in there. Just because an idea isn’t working right now doesn’t mean it won’t be great for something else later. You’ll be glad you did it rather than scratching your head trying to remember what that awesome idea you deleted 18 months ago was.
The Outline of My Continents
Ok, enough English class, let’s get to the good stuff. While my players wanted a lot of history, they didn’t want too many nations because the game can get bogged down trying to keep track of all the different country relationships and names, so I kept the number of nations lower, but I tried to make them all feel different and relevant.
Since the Age of Discovery is our inspirational time period, I thought about how racially segregated our world was at that time. Similarly, I have segregated some of the playable races into their own countries while expanding on their cultures. That isn’t to say you wouldn’t find a dwarf living amongst humans and visa versa, but it is to say that these countries are majorly populated by the races with which they are paired.
- A feudal country, of mostly humans ruled by a king.
- A nation mostly of farming folk.
- The king has dukes answerable to him, who have earls, etc.
- Some are good, some are corrupt.
- Gnomes also live amongst the humans, serving as teachers, scribes, and advisors. They are few in number.
- Polytheistic pantheon of gods.
- The culture feels influenced by medieval Britain.
- Ruled by the elf council – a group of elders elected every 100 years.
- This country is a land of magic and secrets guarded by almost xenophobic elves.
- The elves are in a constant religious war with their kin, the drow.
- Nomadic halfling tribes also populate these lands and are tolerated by the elves, staying out of their way.
- A nation of skilled artisans.
- Duotheistic religion.
- Culturally Taliana will be influenced a bit by the Ancient Roman Empire
- This nation of dwarves is led by an Empress and The Noble Families.
- Part of their daily existence and political structure is a harsh caste system.
- Everyone from the nobles to the poor peasants are in a constant game of subterfuge that the long-lived dwarves play out over centuries.
- The dwarves are ever building bigger and better war machines, including warforged who serve as slaves in their armies.
- Polytheistic pantheon of gods.
- Vast desert that gives the dwarven culture here a bit of a Middle Eastern influence.
- A democratic republic made up mainly of dragonborn though they are accepting and encouraging of other races becoming citizens.
- This nation is a collection of islands, full of sea-faring folk.
- Center for trade and commerce.
- Dominated mainly by a monotheistic religion.
- Culturally influenced by Viking culture
- South of The Deep Orc Mountains, the world grows cold and dark.
- It is said that all manner of beasts walk these lands…
- The ruins of an ancient civilization, its magic, and knowledge also lie somewhere beyond the peaks.
- This entire continent is ruled by an Emperor citizens worship as a god.
- They trade with the nations of Findalay.
- The continent is mostly humans though other races have been sprinkled throughout.
- Currently, one of its provinces has rebelled and it’s citizens are engaged in a civil war that takes place in crowded cities, swamp lands, mountains, and deserts.
- Some areas are culturally influenced by ancient Chinese culture, while others are influenced by ancient Indian cultures
- A huge body of land just discovered.
- Many other nations race to claim land and colonies for themselves.
- Tieflings are native here and live in cities that look like huge spires.
- Packs of gnolls run wild.
- The orcs here lack the blood lust of their Findalayan kin, and live amongst the native human tribes and even procreate with them.
- Though primitive, it’s not all log cabins and tepees. Many tribes live in ancient ruins and some races have cities of their own.
- Much of this land is uncharted and there are rumors abound about cities of gold, deadly monsters, ancient ruins, magic fountains, etc.
- A huge Underdark exists beneath these nations with many of the usual dangers.
- However, the civilized Underdark dwellers are not as evil as they classically are. Drow and duergar have a basic moral code and get along with each other and even the people of the surface. They often come up to trade with the various nations.
- The drow are constantly at war with their elf kin however, due to the different gods they favor in their shared duotheistic religion.
- Many see this underground world as a potential way to make trade routes and spy on enemies.
- Due to a large underground ocean, the dwellers of the Underdark have just learned about Verda as well.
- The natives of Verda warn travelers from across the seas to not venture below ground because entities known as The Sleeping Ones dwell there and devour any who come near.
So far, I’m looking pretty good. Jotting down the ideas as they come in an organized fashion. You can see that some of the countries and continents have similar descriptors that include race, religion, influences, etc. The bullet points don’t get too specific. They get enough of the idea down to help me remember for when I can really sink my teeth into writing out each country’s description.
A History Lesson
I also decided to write down a few historical bullet points that came into my head as I was outlining. I made a separate document for them that looks like this.
- Many of the nations have been at war with one another at some point.
- Most recently Bragonay had attempted taking over the other countries, which almost succeeded.
- All have shaky truces currently.
- The Emperors of old were noble and kingly, but 50 years ago a general killed the Emperor’s family and took his throne.
- This is when the civil war began.
- Human tribes have warred with one another, but mainly kept to themselves, except for trade.
- A plague came through 10 years ago and wiped out many of the humanoids living there.
- Strange ruins from an ancient race can be found all over the world, from Verda to Parian.
- The ruins seem to have been created by some race of giants that apparently ruled the world at one point and worshipped the Sun and the Moon.
- Some of these ruins hold magic items, spells, runes and rituals.
So that’s the outline for my continents and countries. It’s pretty basic in its overview of things, but again, it helps me narrow the scope and gives me a good place to start as I get into detailing histories, economies, political structures, cultures, religions, flora, fauna, and the like.
Hey, if you’re enjoying the blog, please do me a favor and share it with any friends you have who might be into tabletop RPGs or leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts. You can follow me on Twitter @JamesIntrocaso and check out my podcast on The Tome Show called The Round Table.