So I’m trying for a second time to go through and create a homebrew world for Dungeons & Dragons, and I’m feeling really good about this one.
In Dungeons & Dragons, you play as characters in a world, a fantastical one separate from our own. Now, many people use a premade world, one that is created by professionals from the company that makes D&D, most commonly Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or more. Some people just play in a generic setting, that isn’t necessarily complete, or even one that makes sense. This is how the game used to be played, and it was referred to as “Fantasyland,” where you come to a semi-generic town, each with a tavern, a general goods store, a blacksmith, a temple, a nearby wizards tower, and some wilderness full of danger, lairs, ruins, and more.
The final setting, is one you create yourself from scratch. This is called homebrew, and there are two major ways to do it. One is Top-Down, where you start with the gods and the magic system, the races involved, geography, history, and more, which I wrote about at length here. Another way is the Bottom-Up method, where you focus on the town your adventure begins, and only discover what’s next door when you get there. It’s a form of Just-In-Time creation that keeps you on your toes, and reduces the amount of preparation you have until you can play.
Regardless of which method you choose, you won’t be able to create and entire continent of diverse, unique, and interesting areas to explore. At some point you’re going to have to just make stuff up. This should be exciting, because players shouldn’t be the only ones that get to be surprised by the questions just around the corner, but a Dungeon Master should be able to as well.
Well, since I’m creating a homebrew world, in a style that’s primarily the Bottom-Up method, I decided to come up with my own generator for finding out what’s in my world.
When I start this adventure, I’m going to run it as a Hex Crawl. A Hex Crawl, as I mentioned in my Traveling article, is where the map is covered in a hex-based grid, where a single hex is one days travel to get through. This is based on the idea that when you walk, you usually average three miles per hour, and you walk for 8 hours (unless you’re rushing), which comes to 24 miles. In the days before traffic, people referred to distances primarily in the amount of time it takes. So my generator will be for what the next Hex will be.
The system should represent what you think about your world. There are a lot of assumptions and probabilities in my system, based on what I think my fantasy world should feel like. Some things won’t quite feel right to you, but hopefully they help you get your own ideas for your system.
First and foremost, you should figure out what your Starting Town is. This is where Session 1 takes place, gets the party acquainted, maybe a basic adventure. This can be whatever you like, but the main decisions you need to make are:
- What is the biome (forest, desert, mountains, etc)?
- What size is the settlement (village, town, city, etc)?
- Any bodies of water nearby (rivers, lakes, coast, etc)?
- Local leadership (Social, Political, Economic, Religious, Military)
Once you have your Starting Hex, you can begin.
First things first, you should figure out the biome mix. Again, a biome is the environment, and an area one day’s travel across could be a simple environment, or it could be a mix of multiple.
So, you roll a d6 (6-sided dice), and the result tells you how many biomes are in this hex.
- Result 1-3: 1 Biome
- Result 4-5: 2 Biomes
- Result 6: 3 Biomes
It’s most likely that the area will be simple, but it’s possible there are complexities.
Next, you roll a d10 to see what those biomes are.
- Result 1-5: Same as previous biome
- Result 6: Plains
- Result 7: Hills
- Result 8: Mountains
- Result 9: Forest
- Result 10: Desert/Tundra
As you can see, there’s a 50% chance that the biome (or one of them) will be the same as the one you just left, because often it takes more than a single day to pass through an area. Then there are the five biomes that I want in my world. Perhaps you want different biomes. Perhaps you think that there should be more plains, or less desert. That’s entirely up to you to make adjustments.
If the result is the Same as Previous, but the previous hex had multiple biomes, you can choose one that you feel fits and makes sense. If you roll the same biome twice, then you can roll again, you can just have it be a more simple environment, or there could be a fantasy twist, if you want a more high-magic system. Double mountains means floating mountains, double forest means magical forest.
However, when you combine multiple biomes, that’s where it gets fun. Forested mountains have unique dangers to regular mountains. A Mountain-Plain could be a Mesa, or there are mountains with a large valley between them. This allows you to be creative.
Next we focus on the bodies of water, because the large majority of civilizations are built on or around water, for the sake of agriculture or trade. It can be assumed that almost every hex has at least some water, somewhere, but these are large enough that they would show up on a map as a landmark.
Roll your d8
- Result 1-2: None
- Result 3-4: River (50% chance next Hex is the same)
- Result 5-6: Pond/Lake
- Result 7: Wetlands
- Result 8: Coasts (50% chance next Hex is the same)
The wetlands can be a swamp if it’s in the forest, a marsh if it’s in plains, or Weltand-Mountains might mean that landslides are frequent from melting snow in the Spring and Summer.
Now that we have the physical location, we can get to any Settlements. Roll that d10!
- Result 1-4: Village (up to 1,000 people)
- Result 5-7: Town (up to 6,000)
- Result 8-9: City (up to 25,000)
- Result 10: Capital
These settlement names are based on the Dungeon Master’s Guide, except the Capital, which is the Capital City of whatever Kingdom/Nation you are in. Of course, you probably can’t have more than one capital, so if you roll on that twice, then you’d just make it a metropolitan city, like how New York City isn’t the capital, but it’s giant.
Now, in my system, I think that cities have towns on the outskirts, and towns have villages on their outskirts. Cities usually get too crowded in order to have enough agriculture to support it, so then you’d have a town or two, and the same for towns. It’s a pyramid scheme of settlements. In our world, we usually call these areas “suburbs.” So for every City I roll, it comes with two towns, and for every town I have, it comes with two villages. So a hex will either have 1 village, 1 town + 2 villages, or 1 city + 2 towns + 4 villages. These show more rural to urban areas.
These each have different types of leadership to me, where the bigger a settlement is, the more power the local leadership has. Villages could have a City Council or a Reeve, Towns could have Mayor or Baron, a City could have a Governor or a Count, a Metropolis could have a Minister or Duke, and the Nation itself could have a Prime Minister or King. Of course, this entirely depends on what form of government you want your civilizations to have.
Races in the settlement can be interesting, because in some settings, the races could be strictly drawn, where Dwarves are exclusively in the Dwarven Nation under the mountains, Elves are only in the Elven Nation in the Forest, etc, or it could be a big bag of whatever, because everyone lives together, like in Eberron. However, Matt Colville has a video on City Demographics, where he breaks down demographics into different categories.
For more info, go check out the video, as it’s great. If you want to roll randomly for each category, you can use this chart. D100
- Result 1-40: Human
- Result 41-50: Dwarf
- Result 51-60: Elf
- Result 61-70: Halfling
- Result 71-75: Dragonborn
- Result 76-80: Gnome
- Result 81-85: Orc/Half-Orc
- Result 86-90: Tiefling
- Result 91-95: Goblin
- Result 96-100: DM’s Choice
Of course, the smaller a settlement is, the less likely it is to have a variety of races. Smaller communities tend to be monolithic, whereas larger communities tend to be diverse. Maybe Villages only have Dominant and Minority, Towns also have Enclaves and Individuals, and Cities have Groups and Singular. Not to sound repetitive, but feel free to change this as you want.
Now we return to our Dungeon Master’s Guide, which has a Random Settlement generator on page 112, and I can’t post the tables in their entirety, but you can create:
- Notable Traits
- Known for Its…
- Ruler Status
- Race Relations
- Current Calamity
With these you can create some basic ideas about the people in the area.
Lastly, if there are any features outside of the town. Once again we are rolling a d10.
- Result 1: None
- Result 2-3: Major Monster Lair
- Result 4-6: Temples/Shrines or Religious Site
- Result 7-10: Castles/Citadel or Military Site
Again, if you want your setting to be more High Magic Fantasy, you could include some amazing locales to explore.
The very last thing you can do randomly, is to get some rumors about the area. The ideal way to do this, in my opinion, is that once all of this information has been determined, you go around your table and ask everyone to say one rumor they have heard about this local area. If you don’t have/want players to be involved, you can find some great rumor tables/generators online. The wonderful thing about rumors, is that you can make them completely accurate, have a grain of truth, or be completely false and ridiculous. These are pure inspiration that you have no obligation to keep or change.
Now the only thing you can do to have a fully created area, is to name the settlements, choose the government, and other superficial decisions. This is easy because it almost feels like a Paint-by-Numbers scenario, as all the interesting aspects have been determined.
Now that we have a system, let’s generate a hex, because it’s fun! I’m going to roll on every one of these tables, and tell you the result. Then we’ll add the flavor at the end.
- Biome Count: 2
- Biomes: Forest / Same as Before (Plains)
- Body of Water: None
- Settlement Size: 1 Village
- Race: Dominant Dragonborn / Minority Humans
- Notable Traits: Built Atop Ancient Ruins
- Known for Its: Dark Magic
- Ruler Status: Religious Leader – Reeve
- Race Relations: Tension or Rivalry Between Races
- Current Calamity: Suspected Vampire Infestation
- Feature: Nearby Major Temple/Shrine
- Rumor: There is a person of remarkable esteem trapped deep within the dark forest.
Now, this is already really cool! Let’s think about this.
So, I want the vampire infestation to be the source of the Dark Magic, which came from the Ancient Ruins the village was built atop on the edge of a forest.
We know that the local leader is a religious leader, so maybe there were vampires here long ago, and a group of religious-based vampire hunters came and destroyed them. They built a Major Temple/Shrine in this location so that they can monitor and keep the vampires from returning. This also explains why it wasn’t built nearby water.
If the Dragonborn are the dominant race, I’m going to assume that they are the hunters, since that’s a more rare race, and the humans simply moved in around the area, supporting the temple.
Now, the vampires seem to be returning, and while the Dragonborn Vampire Hunters don’t blame the humans, they have locked down the town “For Their Protection” having strict curfew times and no one is allowed to leave. Of course, the humans think that the Hunters were simply getting bored and antsy, and they are overreacting over what is probably just some wolves or other non-magical threat that usually resides in the forest.
The Hunters believe that the only way they can stop the vampires from returning, is to save the “Person of remarkable esteem trapped deep within the forest.” They clarify that it is actually their deity, who can be summoned through a ritual in the forest. Again, rumors aren’t always exactly how they’ve been told. They can’t perform the ritual until they have a MacGuffin which has been lost to the ruins below.
So we have a location, a threat, some clear NPCs with clear motivations, a healthy amount of drama, and even the set up for a full adventure. While you could pass through, this could easily be a two or three session adventure for mid-tier adventurers. We can name the town after something to do with the faith of the Hunters, which could be decided on your pantheon. Really the specifics after this don’t even really have anything to do with how the adventure will go, and you could fill in the blanks in a few minutes.
That was really fun, and if this article wasn’t already *checks notes* 2260 words, I would roll again and make a whole ‘nother hex. But we’ll call it here.
Biome Count d6
Result 1-3: 1 Biome
Result 4-5: 2 Biomes
Result 6: 3 Biomes
Result 1-5: Same as previous biome
Result 6: Plains
Result 7: Hills
Result 8: Mountains
Result 9: Forest
Result 10: Desert/Tundra
Result 1-2: None
Result 3-4: River (50% chance next Hex is the same)
Result 5-6: Pond/Lake
Result 7: Wetlands
Result 8: Coasts (50% chance next Hex is the same)
Settlement Size d10
Result 1-4: Village (up to 1,000 people)
Result 5-7: Town (up to 6,000)
Result 8-9: City (up to 25,000)
Result 10: Capital
Result 1-40: Human
Result 41-50: Dwarf
Result 51-60: Elf
Result 61-70: Halfling
Result 71-75: Dragonborn
Result 76-80: Gnome
Result 81-85: Orc/Half-Orc
Result 86-90: Tiefling
Result 91-95: Goblin
Result 96-100: DM’s Choice
Known for Its…
Result 1: None
Result 2-3: Major Monster Lair
Result 4-6: Temples/Shrines or Religious Site
Result 7-10: Castles/Citadel or Military Site