Crash’s Course Ep 09: Worldbuilding

Hello and welcome to Crash’s Course, a short form podcast where I share my thoughts and advice on playing and running tabletop role playing games in roughly about 5 minutes.

I’ve been on a worldbuilding kick lately, so I thought that would make a good topic. I mean, sure, there’s lots of good campaign settings out there ready for you to use, but they’re not yours, you know? Why not make something original, and as an extra bonus, have it be something where that one party member can’t buy the same source book and as a result can metagame everything.

(I’m not saying every group has one, but … OK, a friend was running a Waterdeep campaign and because I read D&D comics in the 80s I already knew who, more importantly what, the Xanathar was. I wasn’t trying to find spoilers, I just remembered that one weird thing from 40 years ago. Once you know something, it’s hard to not know something.)

If you’re serious about building your own campaign, I strongly suggest you read two books: Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. Both books are system-agnostic enough to be worth it regardless of your TTRPG preferences. I won’t be going over or even summing up the content of those books, there’s too much, but I do intend to “yes, and” for the rest of this episode.

You may be tempted to build out your whole campaign setting before your first session. If that’s where you find your joy, go for it, but I don’t recommend that path. Instead, flesh out maybe one or two towns, perhaps a smallish kingdom. Your party is going to grow and change in ways you don’t expect, and having room to fill in will have future you remaining eternally grateful.

When I started my campaign setting of Circulus, I gave the players a map of a giant continent with lots of boundary lines, but only one spot had a label – the area where they’d be spending the winter. Even now, with lots of areas explored and tied in with different characters’ backstories, the map’s still mostly empty. We have room to grow.

Of course it’s still a good idea to have a big plot point or two to differentiate your setting from the others. What makes it special? This could be something you tell your players right away to get them interested, or perhaps, especially if it isn’t common knowledge, you save that detail for a grand reveal down the line.

With Circulus, I did a little of both. Players went into the game knowing it was a world where a continent-spanning empire ended, leaving the countries and city states that sprang up as a result more or less loosely confederated. It also, oddly enough for a D&D setting, had no dragons at all. They had legends, they even had dragonborn, but no dragons, no kobolds, and hardly any monsters other than the undead and a handful of goblins who to be quite honest just wanted to be left alone.

This was, of course, a lie. I had an ancient green dragon barnstorming the party when they hit level 3 and the reveal was glorious. It turns out that what I said had been the truth for a long time, but the boundaries between this world and others were breaking down, and all kinds of things were being pulled through.

(Roughly half of the party had origin stories starting them off in other campaign settings before coming to this one. Really, they shouldn’t have been too surprised.)

Note that I didn’t explain why there was any barrier set up preventing inter-world travel, or why it was breaking down. I had some rough ideas in my head about that, but I deliberately didn’t write them all down. As the PCs gained in levels and the plot adjusted course in response to their decisions, I came up with a way better reason than my initial half-formed concept. If I’d planned that out years before anyone would have been able to discover it, I might have felt stuck with a not-as-good concept that I’d carved in stone.

So to sum up, build a town, create one or two world-spanning “truths” that make your world unique, share some facts, withhold others, and don’t be afraid to lie to the party if the real truths aren’t common knowledge.

That’s all for this episode, subscribe to just this podcast on Mastodon at or subscribe to all my TTRPG podcasts at

Music is Deadly Windmills by JAM from, used with permission, as it’s public domain.

This podcast is distributed under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

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