D&D General How time do you put into working on settings you never run?


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
In another thread, the question was asked how many PCs have you created that you have never played and that go me to thinking about all the time I put into world building for settings I may never run.

Beyond prepping areas for my current game where the players may never get to, I also work on a homebrew setting that I have not run a game in for about four years or so. Then there are all the settings and games I've bought from kickstarter and other places that I enjoy reading through and thinking about but may never play.

This is a common enough trope in TTRPG circles that I know this is a fairly common situation DMs find themselves in.

How much time do you spend on creating or reading settings and adventures you'll never run? How much of that is material that you feel bad about not being able to run versus just lonely fun that you are happy spending time on?

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In the other thread, my ratio is about 1:1, since I don't put effort into building a character I know I'm not likely ever going to play. As a DM... the hours wasted (well spent!) on my Greyhawk setting is astounding. While I do run Greyhawk, 99% of my work never actually comes up, so I think this counts...


I am a forever DM. I put 3-5 hours a week into the current campaign, and on top of that, I have 3 other campaign worlds with “some building” done on my wiki. I will put 3-4 hours into one of them here or there, sort of randomly, every few months. Sometimes I will get inspired and work longer, but they are settings “for me” because there really aren’t enough adventures to run, or they are too weird, or other reasons.


Hundreds of hours, I suspect. I own copies of all the official D&D settings, most I haven't played in but have surface knowledge of them all. I've actually run games in Greyhawk, DragonLance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Ravenloft and Spelljammer.

I also own dozens of non-TSR settings (original Blackmoor, City-State of the Invincible Overlord, Scarred Lands, Sovereign Stone, Wheel of Time, Humblewood, etc.), but haven't used anything but a few monsters or tidbits from them at best.

I have about a dozen or so campaign worlds of my own devising (Amberos, Crimson Empire, Crystal Lattice, Frost & Fire, Moltaire, The Narrows, Kalaria, Twilight Realms, Steel & Powder and Nine Necromancers). Of the homebrews, I've actually managed to play Amberos (my main homebrew), Crystal Lattice (created for a TV show, but never went anywhere) and Crimson Empire (playtested for publishing).

I'd have to say over 80% of my time has been spent reading/creating vs. actual play time. But, I do enjoy the reading quite a bit, and a fair bit has inspired me to incorporate bits & bobs into various segments of my games.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Hmmm I always run a game or two in any world I build, but Space Fantasy! and Islands World are both pretty underused considering how many hours I’ve put into development.

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Doing it now (and I can't believe I'm able post this again in a different but appropriate thread!):

Revisiting Reavers of Harkenwold
1: Expanding the Iron Circle || Part I: The Iron Circle || Part II: The Iron Circle (cont.) || Part III: The Fell Court || Part IV: The Ashmadai || Part V: Gardmore Abbey
2: Building the Adventure Outline || Part I: The (Original) Adventure Synopsis || Part II: Just Add the Starter Set || Part III: The Revised Synopsis (Part I) || Part IV: Regarding Eladrins, Elves, and Goblins || Part V: TBA

I honestly don't know if will ever be able to run any of this, but I wanted to share my thought process and approach while I have the time and freedom to do so. At least it might give other DMs ideas and something to use. Plus, it's helping me get back into the practice of good writing. ;)


Moderator Emeritus
These days? Basically zero. I have a current homebrew I develop as it becomes necessary for the game (either by the PCs directly traveling there or learning about it) but aside from the initial few hours work I did to establish the place (based in part by a place in my old homebrew I never really got to use - so I cheated) I have not spent time developing the setting overall.

My old homebrew Aquerra, on the other hand, I spent many many hours working on over a period of a couple of decades during which I mostly ran games (and later, others ran game there too). I used to love just making up places, and cultures, and histories - but these days my interest lies a lot more in crafting terrain and stuff, since world-building stuff can be easily stolen from other sources.

I have never really run games in a world that was not a homebrew. In the early days, as a DM I never gave much thought to "the world," I just ran modules - some of which were set in Greyhawk, some in the Known World (aka Mystara), and some that were generic. I started my first homebrew in HS around 1987 and started my second in 1989 (with 2E) and finally gave up on that second one in 2016.

Musing Mage

Pondering D&D stuff
Almost none, truth be told. Any work I put in is for groups that are already in play, so the settings get used. I am lazy and don't like prepping stuff that won't get used...

That said, there are obviously elements within any given seting that don't see the light of day. Adventure hooks, NPCs etc. That's fine, they are there and ready just in case.


He / Him
Creating settings is a real hobby of mine. On long drives or in boring meetings I'll start brainstorming new D&D settings.

That said, if I'm not using it for actual play I'll just create about 25% of a setting, trying out new systems or bits of it that most interest me.

It's when I have players actually interacting with a setting that my creative juices really start to boil!


I spend considerable time on the hobby. Making maps, reading adventures and rule books for games I'll never run. Printing, assembling, and painting models that will never see a minute on the gaming table. I guess I do it out of habit and to relax. I also write and perform music no one but me will ever hear, write fiction no one will read. All these creative processes have value to me, and I guess that's the important thing.


When I was about 12 or 13, I created a map of my world on hexagon graph paper. I then "inserted" the various modules available at the time at different locations around my map. (e.g. I would make a notation indicating that the mountain range I drew was the location of the White Plume mountains.)

That was the first and last time I ever did that, but I never ended up using it as an actual campaign setting.


I used to do more 20 years ago, but lately I only do what I need for the current game and try to stay a few weeks ahead of the PCs. If I do get an extra hour in the week , I work on a few NPCs or an adventuring party that the PCs will meet. I try to get some generic things that I can plug into the game, even if it may take a while to get them in.


Frequently too much, although it depends on where I am in my depression cycle. I wrote a huge amount for a "demiplane of dungeon" setting that I imagined because the Dungeon World PbtA game is filled with lies and does not actually take place in a world-sized dungeon. Then I kinda ran out of steam.


Most of the settings I've created prior to becoming a publisher, I had a kernel of an idea, created a map, laid out the basic local sovereignties, and the politics going on between those sovereignties, over the course of a weekend. I'll spend the next few days creating the fundamentals of one sovereignty intended as the PCs home, or starting base - then develop over time, as needed on the way. Now I have settings I've designed that I never played, but I intended to one day more fully develop then publish, but the bulk sits on a shelf for now, as other projects have gotten in the way, and haven't needed to look at it for awhile. But as a GM, building a setting for a game, but not with any serious intentions of publishing - I run them all. I've never developed a personal setting that wasn't played in, even if for just a handful of sessions (life got in the way of a campaign).

Now the Kaidan setting of Japanese Horror (PFRPG), published as an imprint under Rite Publishing, that I am the developer, cartographer, illustrator, page layout, and share in copyright, that development took about 3 months on my part, before I presented what I had to Steven Russell of Rite Publishing (RIP), whom I had done some commission work previously. We first created the introductory trilogy of modules of 5th - 7th, called the Curse of the Golden Spear with The Gift, Dim Spirit and Dark Path (I created detailed outlines of the first two modules, and an ad hoc one for third module, which I wasn't sure how the first 2 modules might alter how the 3rd is played). I created a series of in depth papers on specific subjects like Samurai and the Bushi, Yakuza, the Social Castes, the Religions - written like term papers, and provided to the authors assigned to each sub-project, though Jonathan McAnulty did the bulk of the writing. Then I served as technical advisor, and sometimes made recommended alterations to given archetype abilities, but I mostly steered the fluff, moreso than the crunch. Steve funded it via his own inhouse Patron system (like his own Kickstarter), and it took about 6 months from funding to release the products. Of course in this case, it wasn't me alone in the creation, and would certainly have taken me a year or more to have accomplished the same on my own.

Considering a total of 16 products were developed between 2010 and 2017, that's 7 years it took to develop it all, granted that the publisher, and myself were working on other projects, for other publications at the same time, so that's not 7 years at 100% work it, so it might have ultimately taken 3 years of actual time dedicated to such an endeavor. Also consider in that same 7 years, I created over 1,100 maps on commission for other publishers.
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CR 1/8
Not a whole lot on setting. I focus more on individual adventures, then stitch them together into a point-crawl overlayed onto a nebulous geography and possibly a loose schedule of potential developments in the absence of PCs. Aside from maybe a vague idea of major historical events and cosmology, I don't typically develop much setting-level detail at all until it's needed. I also freely use randomizers to flesh out - or at least inspire - even big stuff, which simplifies things.

Then the whole lot gets dropped in the "awesome idea!" hole, likely never to emerge again.

That said, I have written up a lot of very brief overviews of "high concept" settings that will never see the light of day. So maybe sink an hour or two into some random idea, just to outline the "What if?" world and think about the sort of campaigns that might fit into it. All in the hope of returning to it later on.

Then it, too, gets dropped in the "awesome idea!" hole, never to emerge again.


I'm not sure exactly how many hours I put in when creating a setting, I've built some basic campaign settings which had enough to set the scene, sometimes including a bit of info about gods, cities, and the environment but it normally doesn't go into deep detail with names and stats of important people or layouts of dungeons or the names of threats or anything like that. It can be fun though, taking a strand of an idea and letting your creativity run with it to create a setting. Who knows, maybe I will take the info I've noted down (assuming it is still floating around in a cloud service somewhere) and turn it into a campaign for my friends.

When it comes to reading settings, I'd say I do a lot more. I have many setting books that I intended to run but end up creating something else and running that instead. I still love reading them though, the old Mystara gazetteers, the dragonlance, dark sun, al-qadim, planescape, and FR books are all good reads and provide me with ideas for my own setting.


Victoria Rules
Near zero - building a full setting is enough work that when I do build one, i'm going to use it.

I do sometimes proto-design or doodle around with adventures that never get used, but that's different.


Staff member
It depends on how I feel about the campaign. There are some I have notes on that are just formal outlines, created over a week or so.

There are others encompassing dozens if not hundreds of pages that took months or years of work.

The former are the games I think are nifty and worth committing to permanen medium so I don’t forget. The latter ones were born of deep inspiration, and could double for the story bible for a book, play, TV show or movie.

Most prominent among the latter are a post-apocalyptic fantasy campaign and a bunch of work I did figuring out how to run a MtG-based Fantasy HERO campaign.

And then there’s a couple of adventures/campaigns in particular that I’m trying to reconstruct after having run them in the past, but that got lost due to computer issues- viruses, motherboard failure, software incompatibility, etc. Those are very important to me because they were created and run when I was at my undisputed personal best as a GM.

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