D&D 5E When players design the setting...

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Note: This thread is an offshoot of one I started here, a thread which focused on preparing for Session 0 for my new campaign. In this thread, I want to focus more on the setting the players made, and start brainstorming ideas for it.

Last week I had a fantastic Session 0 with four new-to-TTRPG's players, two coworkers of mine and their significant others. It went great! Everyone was super enthusiastic and we were able to make characters and get things rolling for our first adventure next weekend.

As part of Session 0, I did something I've been wanting to do for years and years and years. I guided the players in designing the setting. To do this, I created a questionnaire, which can be accessed here. I'll also post it in spoiler tags. The questionnaire has questions and suggestions for Gameplay, Setting, Magic, Threats, and First Adventure. I took notes as the players talked, made suggestions myself, and made sure everyone had a voice at the table.

GAMEPLAY

What is the tone of our campaign?
  • Heroic Fantasy: This is a time of adventure. You will play as rambunctious, quirky, perhaps even foolhardy heroes, seeking out fortunes and getting into scrapes. The themes will be lighthearted, thrilling, and sometimes humorous. Inspiration: Pirates of the Caribbean, Guardians of the Galaxy, Three Musketeers.
  • Epic Fantasy: This is a time of darkness. You will play as ordinary heroes carrying the light of hope against the spreading shadow of evil. The themes will be corruption, optimism, and fighting back against greater odds. Inspiration: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Witcher.
  • Exploration: This is a time of discovery. You will play as travelers exploring new lands, uncovering mysterious ruins, and returning to civilization laden with treasures and lost knowledge. The themes will be travel, wilderness, and survival. Inspiration: Legend of Zelda, Lewis and Clarke, Studio Ghibli
  • Political Fantasy: This is a time of intrigue. You will play as the agents of a court, growing your power through diplomacy, scheming, or war. The themes will be politics, warfare, and conspiracy. Inspiration: Game of Thrones, Renaissance & Medieval History, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
  • _____________________________________________________

What level of risk will our characters face?
  • High Risk: this is a deadly campaign in which the odds are stacked against us. Enemies do more damage and may be out of our league. Death is a high possibility.
  • Some Risk: this is a challenging campaign in which death is a possible consequence. Though we are able to defeat most enemies, some will be very powerful. Death may occur.
  • Low Risk: this is a fun campaign in which it is highly unlikely characters will die. Enemies might be defeated through combat, but there are usually other solutions. Death will only happen when it best serves the story.
  • No Risk: this is a relaxed campaign in which characters do not die. Combat is only one of many ways to solve a problem. Even if the worst happens, characters will be imprisoned, lost as sea, or permanently scarred rather than dying.
  • _____________________________________________________


What is the level of technology in our campaign setting?
  • Standard fantasy: swords and armor, catapults and castles, wagons and sailing ships.
  • Standard Fantasy: A world of knights, peasants, and castles. Combatants are clad in metal armor and use swords, bows, and crossbows. People travel in wagons and sail on ships.
  • Primeval: Stone, bone, and wood make up most weapons and tools. Combatants wear thick hides or leather armor, and fight with bows, clubs, and spears. Beasts pull hand-drawn carts, and iron tools are rare.
  • Steampunk: Gunpowder, steam technology, and industry have revolutionized the world. Combatants use dragoon pistols, blunderbusses, and electrified rapiers. People travel in floating dirigibles or steam-powered trains, lit by flickering electric lights.
  • Magitech: Magic, not electricity or coal, power the technology of the world. People travel in flying airships and go to distant realms through portals. Magic-powered robots build cities of impossible dimensions. Imagination is the only limit.
  • _____________________________________________________


SETTING

What is the dominant environment of our campaign?
  • The sun-baked desert stretches to the horizon, broken by harsh badlands and blessed oases.
  • Thick forests or jungles climb steep mountain slopes; rivers rush through verdant valleys.
  • Islands dot the cerulean sea, the boundless horizon only occasionally marred by a broad, sandy coastline.
  • The arctic winds blow constant snows over the harsh peaks, steep fjords, and stark forests of these cold lands.
  • _____________________________________________________

What is the power structure of our campaign setting?
  • A single major sovereignty rules over most of the realm; power is divided between various counts, barons, and governors.
  • Rival city-states vie for power, forming and breaking alliances and always threatening war.
  • The realm is ruled by petty warlords and fierce chieftains; will a single power rise to unite the fractured populace?
  • Divine or supernatural beings rule over the people; some are worshiped, while others demand sacrifice.
  • _____________________________________________________

Who are the common folk of our campaign setting?
  • Almost everyone in the realm identifies with a single dominant culture; they speak the same language, celebrate the same holidays, and view outsiders with wonder or suspicion.
  • Banners and flags mark the territories of many different cultures; the food, music, and even currency changes as one crosses the many borders of the realm.
  • The realm is divided between two rival cultures; each has its own customs, laws, and tangled history.
  • The cultures of our realm were once diverse, but have recently become united under a single banner; some welcome the unification, others rebel against it.
  • _____________________________________________________


MAGIC

How common is magic in our campaign setting?
  • Magic is just another tool like a hammer or sword; even common folk use magic rituals to help their crops grow and to protect their homes.
  • Magic is common among those with training, such as priests, scholars, and guards.
  • Magic is rare and much respected; those who wield arcane power command much respect or terror.
  • Arcane magic is almost universally associated with evil, chaotic, or suspicious sources, such as demons, dragons, or the undead; those who use it may be the target of fear or ire.
  • _____________________________________________________

What is the nature of gods and divinity in our campaign?
  • Most people worship a single god or goddess, though different sects or saints may teach varied tenants.
  • The gods exist in their own distant realm, though they make their presence known through visions and miracles.
  • The gods walk the land in the forms of giant beasts, immortal beings, or living elements.
  • There are no gods; divine magic comes from belief in one’s community, the wilderness, or ancestor worship.
  • _____________________________________________________

What is the balance of nature and civilization in our campaign?
  • The darkness of the wild is feared; great beasts and monsters lurk there, and only the strength of our walls and the bravery of our soldiers keeps us safe.
  • Civilization and nature are united; buildings are made up of living trees or are built into dunes or caves, and the world outside of nature is viewed with suspicion or malevolence.
  • Civilization is split between those who live in the cities of stone and those who live in the refuge of nature.
  • Some nature is wild, other has been tamed; the true danger is in the areas of wilderness corrupted by necromantic, chaotic, or demonic magic.
  • _____________________________________________________


THREATS

How dangerous is our campaign setting?
  • The realm is relatively safe, outside of normal threats such as storms or bandits; only when disturbed do the true forces of destruction arise.
  • We are safe behind our walls or on our well-guarded roads; stepping out into the wilderness, however, is to step into a second, dangerous world.
  • The world is a frightening place, full of danger; most folk stay safe behind thick walls, barred doors, or magic barriers.
  • The realm just recently survived a time of great terror; peace has settled for now, but there are always signs of new threats on the horizon.
  • _____________________________________________________

What is the nature of the mortal foes our characters will face?
  • Raiding parties of beserkers breach our borders and pillage defenseless villages; their lust for gold, blood, or captives knows no end.
  • Radical religious cults seek worshippers to join their flock, or sacrifices to the terrors they call on for power.
  • The greatest danger is the wilderness itself; the beasts, plants, and wild spaces are the true foe of travelers.
  • Bandits, robbers, and corrupt merchants harry travelers, and may have powerful allies guiding their attacks.
  • _____________________________________________________

What supernatural forces threaten the realm?
  • Great monsters and their spawn rise from depths of the wild with a hunger than can only be sated with mortal flesh or glittering treasures.
  • Outsiders from other worlds have breached our realm; their corruption spreads and threatens to unravel the bonds of civilization.
  • Powerful spellcasters summon supernatural servants to spread their power, seeking immortality or sovereignty over the realm.
  • Curses and enchantments warp the minds of travelers and sovereigns; folk fear the devious desires of spirits made of magic itself.
  • _____________________________________________________


FIRST ADVENTURE

Where does our first adventure take place?
  • We begin in a small settlement at the border, the great frontier stretching out to the horizon.
  • We begin in a major city, surrounding by the bustle of merchants, nobility, thieves, and infinite opportunities.
  • We begin in a caravan, traveling between settlements.
  • We begin returning to our home town, a village where we are well-known.
  • _____________________________________________________

What is the connection between our characters
  • The characters know each other well; most are family or old friends.
  • The characters belong to the same order, guild, or business venture.
  • The characters all owe a great debt to the same enigmatic figure.
  • The characters were brought together by greater forces, and start as prisoners, recruits, or survivors.
  • _____________________________________________________

What is the motivation of our first adventure?
  • We are following rumors of a great treasure hidden away or guarded by dangerous forces.
  • Someone close to us is being threatened by a terrible enemy or mysterious curse.
  • We find ourselves in the middle of a dangerous situation, and will try to escape with our lives!
  • We are hired to recover a lost heirloom, slay a dangerous beast, or capture a devious foe.
  • _____________________________________________________

It took about two hours for us to go through the questionnaire. Here's what the players came up with:

  • Epic Fantasy: This is a time of darkness. You will play as ordinary heroes carrying the light of hope against the spreading shadow of evil. The themes will be corruption, optimism, and fighting back against greater odds. Inspiration: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Witcher.
  • Some Risk: this is a challenging campaign in which death is a possible consequence. Though we are able to defeat most enemies, some will be very powerful. Death may occur.
  • Standard Fantasy: A world of knights, peasants, and castles. Combatants are clad in metal armor and use swords, bows, and crossbows. People travel in wagons and sail on ships.
  • Thick forests or jungles climb steep mountain slopes; rivers rush through verdant valleys. (The players also wanted some desert, ocean, and arctic!)
  • A single major sovereignty rules over most of the realm; power is divided between various counts, barons, and governors.
  • The cultures of our realm were once diverse, but have recently become united under a single banner; some welcome the unification, others rebel against it.
  • Magic is rare and much respected; those who wield arcane power command much respect or terror.
  • Most people worship a single god or goddess, though different sects or saints may teach varied tenants. Player Addition: This is a false religion created by a corrupt leader. In the past, gods walked the land in the forms of giant beasts, immortal beings, or living elements.
  • Some nature is wild, other has been tamed; the true danger is in the areas of wilderness corrupted by necromantic, chaotic, or demonic magic.
  • The realm is relatively safe, outside of normal threats such as storms or bandits; only when disturbed do the true forces of destruction arise.
  • Radical religious cults seek worshippers to join their flock, or sacrifices to the terrors they call on for power.
  • Outsiders from other worlds have breached our realm; their corruption spreads and threatens to unravel the bonds of civilization.
  • We begin in a small settlement at the border, the great frontier stretching out to the horizon.
  • The characters were brought together by greater forces, and start as prisoners, recruits, or survivors.
  • We are hired to recover a lost heirloom, slay a dangerous beast, or capture a devious foe.
Here is a summary of the notes I took while the players talked:

  • Players want to fight corrupt institutions (cults, religions, etc).
  • A "dark lord" destroyed all knowledge of this world, we have to bring it back by exploring.
  • Players want darkness, would like exploration and politics mixed with epic fantasy.
  • Mix of high risk encounters with low risk chill sessions.
  • Past was more magical, now setting is more "standard fantasy."
  • Single evil sovereign who uses supernatural beings as agents.
  • There are many different cultures who were "united" (conquered) under the banner of the dark lord; dark lord's culture is human.
  • Dark lord promotes a false religion; real gods were exiled / killed.
  • Nature has been corrupted (by aberrations?)
  • The dark lord has made the realm safer (for travel, trade, etc), but new threats gather on the horizon (corruption?).
  • Some humans in charge will actually be aberrations hiding in human form.
  • Chaotic Neutral fey presence.
  • Characters are brought together as prisoners to a settlement at the border.
  • They are sent out to take on a task, told whoever accomplishes it is free. A situation arises in which they have to work together.

While I helped two of the players make characters, the other two helped design a the starting town, using this form I made, and this recording sheet.

Settlement Name: _____________________________________________

Population Size:
Hamlet
20 - 400
Village
400 - 900
Town
900 - 4,000
City
4,000 - 15,000
City State
15,000 - 50,000
1 Feature 2 Features 3 Features 4 Features 5 Features

Features:
Major TempleBlack MarketThieves GuildEntertainer's HallPopular PubStrong FortificationsBusy Market
Bustling Town SquareKnight’s Training HallPalaceInn Full of TravelersPortAcademy_________
_________

Reputation: The settlement is known for being… (choose two)
RemoteHistoricShadowyFriendlyIsolatedStrictWealthyViolentFortifiedPeaceful
BeautifulChaoticAbundantOpulentStrangeDividedMagicalCulturedBusy______________

Common Folk: Choose up to three…
DragonbornDwarf
(Hill)
(Mountain)
Elf
(High Elf)
(Wood Elf)
(Drow)
Gnome
(Forest Gnome)
(Rock Gnome)
Half-ElfHalfling
(Lightfoot)
(Stout)
Half-OrcHumanTieflingGoblinoids
(Goblin)
(Hobgoblin)
Orcs__________

Leadership: The settlement is lead by…
a single…a pair of…a small council of…a colloquium of…

priestsmagesmerchantsnobleswarlords
knightssageselderssupernatural beings__________________________

who are known for being… (choose two)
aloofgeneroussmugcleversuspiciousambitiousintolerant
timidcunningkindcharmingobliviouscautiousresourceful
anxiouspowerfulcruelwiseyoungreligiousviolent



History: Before it was a settlement, the site used to be…
Mines or a lumber yardA lost civilization, of which only ruins remainA busy trade routeAn abandoned temple to some forgotten godA criminal hideout
Untouched wildernessA site for a religious pilgrimageAn abandoned palace, stripped of its wealthA safe harbor on a dangerous coastA small, pastoral gathering of farms
An oasis in a wastelandThe final resting place of a legendary heroThe site of a miracleAn ancient graveyard________________________________

Market: What unique item can be purchased at this settlement?
potionscommon magic itemsscrollsfancy clothinghomesunusual mountsrare weaponsstrange armorsspecial toolsgems
odd instrumentspoisonstrained animalsrare booksrobust drinksdivine foodsblessingscursesvehiclesmaps

Troubles: Choose 1 for a Hamlet or Village, 2 for a Town or City, and 3 for a City State…
Natural disastersDreadful omensRival residentsLost heirloomRevolt against leaderVengeful outcastsBrutal weatherMissing citizensHalted productionUnjust leader
Disastrous accidentCursed pastCorrupted by dark magicScarce provisionsSickness run amokAttack is imminentA leader has fallenBeasts on the huntHaunted by spiritsTrade route blocked

Important NPC: Who is trying to solve the challenges?
Role:
HealerCriminalScoutPerformerWorkerMagePriest
SailorAdventurerLeaderGuardArtisanWarriorMerchant

Beliefs: Choose two…
CharityRevengeChangePowerFaithGloryHonor
FreedomRespectMightDestinyCommunityOrderFamily

Actions: They are trying to…
obtain an objectmake an agreementseek a truthcure an illfind a personseize powercreate an item
travel to a placerebel against powerprotect a persondefend a placeavenge a wrongfulfill a dutygain knowledge

Here's what they came up with:

Drakes Hill is a town recognizable by its major temple, bustling town square, and popular pub. It has a reputation for being historic and divided. It was a common trading post for many folk who through the years have vied for power over the post, but suffered greatly. Now they share the space.

The town square is chaotic and loud, busy at all hours, and always has folks arriving on horseback.

Most folk there are human, dragonborn, and drow. Drakes Hall is lead by a small council of elders from each species, who are known for being suspicious and violent. Having witnessed the destruction of past centuries when the town was controlled by power-hungry folk, they quickly snuff out anyone with power who stays too long or who cause trouble.

Long ago, Drakes Hall was a sacred dragon hatchery. Now its markets sell commercialized dragon goods, exploiting the things that were once sacred.

Drakes Hall is facing troubles from a potential rebellion. Because the town is far out on the reaches of the realm, it is a target for those who wish o expand their power but are unwelcomed in most other settlements.

One important NPC is Smog, a drow who believes in overthrowing the leadership and restoring peace. He is trying to form a band of rebels in order to gain more power and be a true threat to the council of elders.

All in all, great stuff! I've had a lot to think about over the last week. In the next post I'll write my own interpretation and ideas.

I think this Session 0 was a real success. The players were so excited about the setting they created, and I had so much fun with the collaboration.
 

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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
This is awesome. If I had more time to run a homebrew campaign, I would would definitely try this. But since I haven't had the time for that in years, my last few campaigns have been more me coming up with a menu of systems and campaigns that I know I would like to run and would be able to run in Foundry without a huge amount of preparation overhead, and then discussing with my group until we come to a consensus.

But your process sounds like a lot of fun and is something I hope to be in a position to do in the future.
 

DrunkonDuty

he/him
My current campaign is also player designed. Although we didn't have a questionnaire. It was more freeform. Everyone wrote ideas on a card. We then went through them and voted.

It's worked out well. Everyone is really invested in the game world. All the characters have links to things in the campaign. It's a lot of fun.

Now if only we could do something about the scheduling...
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Here are some thoughts I'm having about the campaign setting:

This used to be a land of gods. The gods, in the forms of giant animals or people, kept the land protected from the corrupting influence of other planes, such as Hell and the Far Realm. In return, the people worshiped them, and that worship was the source of their power.

One of the gods, a mouse worshiped by beggars and thieves, became jealous of the other gods. Rather than fight off a force from the Far Realm, he made a deal to allow it entry. In return, he gained the ability to consume the other gods and gain their power.

The Mouse God worked from the shadows. He used his new psionic abilities to take over the mind of a human, who started a cult worshiping the Sun. His influence (aided by agents from the Far Realms) spread, and soon the Sun King became a popular religion. The Sun King taught that the other gods were just demons, and should be slain or exiled. Of course, any gods captured were eaten by the Mouse God.

Over time, the gods were killed, exiled, or went into hiding. The Sun King conquered the realm, and started to collect and hide any evidence of the gods. Magic changed from an everyday skill to something available only to those trained in official academies. Divine magic became rare as well, since there were no longer true gods to worship.

However, the Mouse God's source of sustenance became rare. His forces couldn't find any more gods to consume. He retreated into a cave beneath the throne, and his thrall, the Sun King, went into a sort of living death, awakening only when needed.

It has been a generation now since the Sun King was seen outside of the royal city. His institutions (the Academies, Banks, Temples, and Military) control the realm, and keep it safe from invaders and rebellion. Each institution is corrupted by aberrations.

Meanwhile, influence from Hell and other realms is still corrupting nature. Without the gods to rebalance the world, it's up to heroes to protect mortals from these threats.

Anyone who still worships the old gods, or seeks knowledge of them, is taken prisoner and sent on patrols to find the remains of old gods. These divine corpses are sent back to the royal palace, where the Mouse God consumes them.
 

aco175

Legend
Feels like you need something to kick off the new campaign. Perhaps one of the old gods wants to overthrow the mouse god and reestablish the old ways. He begins the game in hiding and only as a mentor to the PCs. Perhaps point them to some locations of stored magic to get them started and over time come to reveal himself. Perhaps he can only manifest in minor ways and speaks through animals or an old woman.

Another idea to use as a kick off is that there is a bigger threat from the far realm that the mouse god cannot control and needs the old gods to help him out.
 


BookTenTiger

He / Him
For the initial adventure, I'm thinking of having the characters, along with a dozen other prisoners, told to wander into the northern wilderness in order to bring back a "dragon's heart." They're not too sure what that means, but they stumble upon the bones of an ancient dragon half-buried under rubble. It turns out this was a god once worshiped as the goddess of the moon, winter, and weather. Druids built a temple under her final resting place, inside of which the characters will find the dragon's "heart," a seed which can be planted in order to birth a new god.

What the characters choose to do with it is up to them!

After that, I'm going to try to use mostly Factions / Fronts, interesting locations, and character motivations to introduce plot points, and then follow where the players want to go.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Here's my first draft for a campaign map:

1705199037577.png


Altar Hall: Seat of the Solarian Church.

Bannerman’s Forest: A thick forest dotted by verdant clearings, babbling streams, and lush farmland. It is divided into many domains ruled by jealous knights, who fight constant squabbles against their neighbors.

Barrow: The only city not ruled by a viscount of the Sun King, Barrow is a crowded trading city.

Bear Island: An unpopulated island inhabited by bears and devils.

Cloudwater Bay: A treacherous bay full of islands and shipwrecks, named for the white glacial waters that feed into it.

Desert of Faith: A stretch of sand and badlands said to be the birthplace of the Sun King.

Doros: A fortified city that controls the mines of the Whisperveils, and acts as the bank of the Sun King’s empire.

Eel Head: A long stretch of tide pools, marshes, and haunted hills.

Far Marches: The outer reach of the Elios Empire, a cold land of dark forests, gray mountains, and glacial rivers.

Gray Tombs: The forbidding wall of mountains and glaciers that marks the northern border of the Elios Empire.

Redwater Sea: An inland sea crowded with ships, named for the red algae that stains the waters.

Solari: Royal city of the Elios Empire, and seat of the Sun King’s Throne. Its gates open only for those in the upper echelons of the Elios Empire.

Valor City: Seat of the Valor Knights, an order sworn to keep the Sun King’s peace throughout the land.

Whisperveils: A range of mountains cloaked in mist.

World Ocean: The endless western sea.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
There's also things like Mythic Grove's "Session Zero System" to help build setting. I haven't had a chance to see it in action yet, but it has some interesting elements to it.

 

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I quite like Fabula Ultima for this, each player (and I think the DM) gets to add things to the setting, so with 6 players, 6 things get added at each step. Even after designing the setting players can still add to it, creating another city or village or whatever as part of their origin.

Probably somewhat similar to the process you used, it just has tables for people to roll on if they can't think of anything.
 

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