Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Crafting a Vibrant Setting

Bremen Town Musicians Back in August, we talked about “building the sandbox” for your Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) world, and we only barely scratched the surface. Today, I want to delve a more in depth. If we “built the sandbox” previously, let’s dig a little deeper and talk about the actual “grains of sand” (sand is a lot funner than it sounds!).

We all live on Planet Earth, right? (Otherwise: hello to the space aliens reading!). However, we don’t all live in the same town, country, or even on the same continent. That, my friends, is the sand. We might have established the world as a whole–as big as or as small as we planned it to be–but now we have to talk about the focused setting that our campaign takes place in. To do that, let’s think about what separates one culture from the next.

  • Language

One major aspect of many cultures is the native language. No, you don’t have to learn how to speak dragon for your sessions (I’m not joking; Draconic is a language), but it is important to think about from your character’s point-of-view. It’s incredibly likely that all of the characters in your campaign aren’t from the exact same hometown, so it’s more than possible that one of them speaks a language that the others do not. Maybe Common isn’t their first language, and there’s a communication barrier between them and a rest of the party. Maybe two of them speak Elvish and are always talking behind everyone else’s backs. Thinking about your characters as people from a real place helps flesh them out and make them seem more, well, real. Is your story current set in a big city where everyone would speak a common language? Or perhaps your characters have traveled to a distant, far-off land and one of them has to translate for the rest. That’s for you to decide!

  • Mannerisms

Some habits might be personality-based, but many we adopt due to the environment we live in. The cool thing about this in D&D is that generally, you’re in charge of crafting the culture of your character’s upbringing, so anything goes! Maybe in the far-off Luna Station Land, people pinky-swear with their toes instead of their fingers. Perhaps “hello” and “goodbye” have reversed roles in conversation. It’s not necessary to tear the whole world apart piece by piece, but having a few details in mind can make your character much more memorable to the people you’re playing with.

  • Politics

Not to get all culturally-relevant right now, but politics in an ancient, made-up land are just as important as they are in real life! Maybe you’ve decided that the Gnomes and the Dwarfs haven’t gotten over their prejudices from a war one hundred years ago. Perhaps a rebellion incited by the peasant Trolls against the nobles in Luna Station Land caused a great uprising. Think about your character as a citizen of the region they are from. What would their people think of their fellow party members, or the townsfolk around them? Does your character have preconceptions about a certain type of people? This is a great mini-project to delve into with other players, too. Maybe it’ll set your characters up for some development and lessons in open-mindedness along the way.

These are just a few aspects you can brainstorm about. If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out the core elements of culture in sociology. The similarities between real life and D&D might surprise you!

Until next time. Let the good dice roll!

P.S. Please don’t comment in Draconic. It’ll get marked as spam. Thank you.

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