I am relatively new to Dnd. I got interested when I was ten. Some family friends had books and we enjoyed making characters together but never really did anything. A year or so later I purchased the books myself and dd the same thing with my sister. Now, at 14 (fifteen in 2 weeks) I am looking to start up a campaign with my family. I will be using the 3.5e core rulebooks and would like to create my own world. I've read the world building section in the DMG and googled a few sites, but I would like to get some information from experienced players. I surf these forums and see a lot of people who know their stuff about Dnd. So experts (and even none experts), can you help me create the ideal world and campaign for my players by supplying me with recommended techniques, websites, guides, or checklists?
I'd keep things fairly general until your players actually encounter something, and start out focusing on a local area. There's not much point spending a bunch of time detailing all the cities across a continent when they won't see anything outside their hometown for a long while.
Also feel free to take ideas from published settings or non-D&D sources you find interesting.
Since I write science fiction and fantasy as a hobby, I can tell you that world-building can either be an exhaustive process whereby you chart every little detail down to the letter, even stuff that will never inform the story or the campaign, or you can design a rousing adventure that helps form the basis for even more world-building. I like to draw a map of the campaign world as a starting point, work out some ideas for major population centers that are there, terrain features, and what types of civilized populations or monsters might live there. I work out the relationship between these different nations and cities, whether they trade, whether they war, or whether there is just a lot of tension.
However, when it comes right down to it, D&D is unique in the fact that you are not the only designer of your world. Last week, I had a lot of characters come in since my party was travelling with a circus, but the one character I had not named or accounted for ended up being a central focus. I used a penny on the battle grid to represent this character, but still, she was interacted with and discussed as much, if not more, than some of the more central NPC's to the campaign. Before the night was out, she had a name, her own mini, and it's a pretty good bet that when she reappears, she'll have a stat block, a background, and probably a quest.
Set up enough of your world so that your players can interact with it and keep the lines of communication open with them. Sometimes, player questions or interactions will trigger story ideas or give you something you can plan for later on. As has been mentioned, borrow inspiration from everywhere. Know your world enough that you can improvise an answer if you have to, but early on, you don't have to have every detail nailed down, only what will be relevant to your players soon.
There's a wealth of material to draw upon in the source books from the current and prior editions. However, since you're new, it might be more fun and perhaps intersting to just dive in. Don't worry about guidlines or what others have done. Just keep in mind that you are creating a world for others to interact with. If you want to look at others' ideas, a good one to check out is Iomandra. Also look up Chris Perkins' articles - "The Dungeon Master Experience." You'll get a wealth of advice from those.
The most important thing is don't worry about doing it wrong. Just do it. (to coin a phrase )
I'm going to say similar things to the others and add a couple other tidbits:
If you have not done world building before, I would suggest taking something existing (one of the campaign settings), and mix some of your own creations in with those from the setting. This will save you time, and give you a way to get your feet wet with the task of world building--without having to take it all on at once.
Borrow, borrow, borrow. Change a thing or two about what you borrow and many folks will not realize that it wasn't invented just for this campaign.
A map, even a published one is a useful element to lend some legitimacy to your creation/campaign.
Names. Create names for important things/places/people (even if they have nothing but a name)--names can convey details about a culture, NPC, item, event, or place. Even a bad name is better than none (except in the rare case where something purposely doesn't have a name). Certainly don't waste time naming an NPC the party will never see again...but be ready to come up with names on the fly for people/places they might interact with again. When you name something, immediately write it down somewhere and a couple words about it. Between adventures you can go back and flesh out details.
Leave some mystery. Don't detail everything from the start. Allow the players to help shape the world by showing you what they are interested in. You want to give enough detail and hooks to leave them some interesting mysteries--and the ones they decide to follow are the ones you end up needing to detail out more fully.
My best advice to you, especially being new to it, would be to build it as you go.
Start small, with a single small town, with just a few landmarks. Work out everything you need to know about the town (seriously, town size max: 100 people), then jot down some info of some things that COULD be outside of the town.
Then, grow the area based on what the players do. Each new addition should add to the world. The players move from the town to a temple, from the temple to a city, from the city to the mountains, from the mountains to the desert, and so on. You don't need to know what's out further if the players aren't likely to care about it. This style helps let you create new adventures quickly as you need them. Try to keep a sense of continuity though, and occassionally harkoning back to previous places explored can give the feel that the world is truly organic, shifting based on the player's actions.
My next-best advice would be to decide what style of campaign you want to run. Epic, long-lasting campaigns in a single world SOUND fun, but the amount of time necessary to complete it is monstrous. For first-time DM's, I suggest running a string of single or double-night missions that are quick to get through. You can then tie them together later, using the time between games as character down-time.
I had played a while using Nentir Vale and Eberron, even some Forgotten Realms before I homebrewed a world, but Ill never use a published world again, so good for you!
Borrow borrow borrow is key, and then broad strokes... When I started I rebuild how each race fit into the world, not in detail but just an overview, like the Orc empire is in charge, Human are new, Elves are trying to bring in democrocy, ect, just one linners I could use to steretype the world at first. Next I told my players about it, let them start coming up with things, then layered over some detail and repeat. Before long, we had all made a world together, understood it, new the major players in it, how magic worked, who was at war with who for what ect. Its a lot easier, but it takes a few weeks of getting together and a lot of email and facebook chats... In the end I love this world more then any other Ive seen because I made it, just me and my friends.
In the Nentir Vale, all injured creatures are required to wear a name tag!
I prefer making home-built worlds to published ones; it's not too hard to improvise as needed, it's a lot of fun, and it gives me a lot more freedom with details.
Improvisation is your best friend in home-brew world creation. Some of my favorite ideas have come up on the spur of the moment in the middle of a game, sometimes inspired by off-hand things the players say or do, sometimes they are the result of a right-time-and-place situatioin, and sometimes I have no idea what inspires such ideas but they seem more creative than anything I would plan given time to think of them.
I deliberately leave holes in my home-brew adventures for things to make up during the game, as practice for improvisation: for examples, the occasional empty room that can be described and filled in as needed, and a single monster stat block in every game that has no description until the PCs open the door, are some of my favorites - they are great exercises in improvisation and building confidence for those unexpected events that PCs always seem to spring on DMs
Keep it simple - it's better to leave yourself some breathing room and improvise the small stuff as needed, than it is to map out everything at once, name every citizen, detail the contents of every chest in every inn in every town in the world, and so on.
Start small - the 4th Edition Nentir Vale "Points-of-Light" setting seems to be designed to encourage home-brewers to do just that, and it's a great place for home-brewers to start by building on a generic foundation as needed.
Borrow as needed - the less work you have to do on building something new, the better off you and your group will be, and usually it doesn't take much of a disguise to make something familiar seem fresh and new.
New names and descriptions for existing monster stat blocks are easier to work with than building new monsters from scratch, for example, and characters, setting ideas and plots borrowed from history, war and western films, classic literature, science fiction and contemporary horror, and more can be easy to modify slightly and adapt to a fantasy setting without being especially recognizable.
Let your Players in on the brain-storming, and encourage them to contribute their own ideas to world creation. Many of the coolest ideas ever added to my home-brew worlds were suggested by my Players
Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
"Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
"Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I've read the world building section in the DMG and googled a few sites, but I would like to get some information from experienced players. I surf these forums and see a lot of people who know their stuff about Dnd. So experts (and even none experts), can you help me create the ideal world and campaign for my players by supplying me with recommended techniques, websites, guides, or checklists?
Start by creating a map, I generally think this is the first bit of advice I'd give.
The map doesn't have to be massive, world spanning or the like, just a map that gives the players a 10 day journey to the east and west. Make sure the map includes locations that you can build encounters on, e.g Mountains, hills, swamp,forest, towns and a city(ish). Come up with a few ruins and names, plagiarise to the hearts content(unless you plan to publish it, then don't plagiarise)with the names (mere of dead men(swamp), Forest of Shadows etc).
Once done come up with some very basic information to deliver to the players on the locations for when your players ask ( ...Ah the mere of dead men is renowned for when a marauding band of corsairs landed and began pillaging and burning...the villagers of XXXX fled into the mere and it's said that they were never seen again..). This will also give players chance to inject what they think might be in the locations and you can use that to build adventures.
Where the races will be found and the PC's originate (e.g, the Little Hills are where the halflings and gnomes come from, the Eagle Peaks are where the dwarves live but a few live in town etc).
Create a single major contact for the PC's to work with, a number of notables of the area that the players will be dealing with during the first levels of adventure (town guard captain, notable mage, local innkeep, local brigand leader etc).
After this...just grow as the campaign requires or as you have time.
I don't worry about fully creating the NPC skills, stats, levels etc. Let the players think the person is the level they recon and just pitch the NPC history to the level you think they are (Sir Robert Hannon, although old, is respected for the battle of green valley where he dispatched 30 orcs personally). Hit the NPC's major points like appearance, attitude, traits(pulls on beard when thinking) and possibly any interest (Brigand leader Urgan is keen to recover his fathers longsword-his family were once nobles).
One piece of advice that I live by: don't get too detailed.
In video games, a computer will render only what you have your character looking at. It will have a framework going of the stuff that you'll see if you turn around, but it isn't hyper-detail rendered.
Same should happen for your campaign. Have a general idea of what you want to happen/describe/whatever, but don't shove it down the player's throats. They will ask you if they want information. Some people will be all over your created world. Other people will look at you and say "that's cool, but when can I kill things?"
Also, that reminds me of Checkov's D&D Rule:
Never place anything in front of your D&D players that you are not completely fine with them destroying completely.
This goes for bad guys, socio-economic situations (We're going to turn this town around!), political situations (We're going to start a democracy!), etc. One of the BIGGEST problems new DMs have is that they don't allow players to change the world because it doesn't fit with what the DM had in mind.
Those DM's don't realize: it is not "their world" anymore once they allow other people to play in it.
Salla, on minions: I typically use them as encounter filler. 'I didn't quite fill out the XP budget, not enough room left for a decent near-level monster ... sprinkle in a few minions'. Kind of like monster styrofoam packing peanuts.