The first step to creating an amazing campaign with unforgettable NPCs and wicked villains is to decide on the setting.
The setting of a campaign determines what is possible, what is valuable, and why your world needs a hero. However, it can be difficult to come up with a unique campaign setting that isn’t already a worn out trope. Not to worry, Halfling Hannah is here to help you come up with a unique, fun and exciting campaign idea and help you along every step of the way.
Here are 10 amazing campaign setting ideas for your next homebrew campaign that are compatible with D&D 5e!
What are the best settings for a homebrew Dungeons & Dragons game? Some amazing settings to try out are:
- A World Without Magic
- Post Apocalyptic World
- Nature’s Revenge
- Blighted World
- Viking Crusade
- Ancient Desert Civilization
- Primitive Barbarian
- The Orient
- Gothic Horror
- Tal’Dorei (AKA the World of Matt Mercer!)
Each of these setting ideas can be used within the Dungeons & Dragons rule set while giving the game a totally different feel from the traditional “middle-earth fantasy.” If you are looking to use any of these unique and fun settings in your next campaign, there are a few considerations you will want to take into…well…consideration.
If you are new to the concept of “homebrewing” a campaign, I have a complete guide on how to create your first home-brew. This guide has plenty of tips and tricks for new and experienced DMs alike, so be sure to check it out.
A World Without Magic
One of the rules of the Dungeons & Dragons world is that magic is real and common place. No one bats an eye when a wizard cast a spell in public and healer are often clerics with Devine powers. But what if this wasn’t the case?
What if your next campaign flipped that rule on its head? In this setting, magic has been slowing disappearing. Clerics at the temples find they no longer have a connection to their deities, Wizards’ spells no longer materialize and, on the off chance they do, they are weak, as if appearing through a veil. Even Sorcerers natural connection to the magic within them seems severed. But, why?
There are a variety of ways you could take this campaign, here is one option:
Before being cut off from her followers completely, one of the gods manages to send out a cry for help. The gods are being rounded up locked away by dark forces of evil seeking to sever the connections between mortals and the divine. But, who could save the gods?
In this setting, your players are (of course) the heroes on a path to find a way to bring magic back and set the gods free. They will need to find the ancient sources of magic, still untouched by this curse, in order to fulfill their destiny.
This setting can be extremely fun but also challenging. Players who are used to solving all their problems with magic may find it difficult to adjust to the life of a muggle.
This setting also gives more attention to classes that often don’t get the spot light, like monks, barbarians, rangers, rogues and fighters. These classes suddenly become extremely important as they do not rely on magic.
Another consideration is that players will have to rely on their hit dice for healing (not the cleric) and, therefore, will want to avoid taking damage as much as possible and rest for often. This is great for players that like to find ways around direct combat or like to maximize their chances by sneaking around and setting up attacks.
An alternative beginning to this setting would be to start the campaign normally, then have the magical members of the party slowly begin to lose their abilities. One day a spell just stops working, or only does half as much damage as normal and the players have to figure out why. Slowly, these effects take more and more of the groups magic until they no longer have any abilities.
Note: If you use the alternative, you will probably need to allow multi-classing to ensure you don’t have a useless wizard wandering around with the group (although that could lead to some fun role play..) or, continue to allow cantrips or spells of a certain level or lower.
Post Apocalyptic World
Imagine if the heroes of any of the campaign adventures in Dungeon & Dragons had failed. What would that world look like?
Imagine if Tiamat succeeded in coming back and enslaving all people to the dragons. What if the giants full took control of the land and were never reunited under the Storm King? What happens when adventurers fail to stop the bad guy? Answer: An amazing apocalyptic campaign!
Any of these settings could be an exciting campaign as it is up to a whole new generation of adventurers to make the world right again.
When creating a post apocalyptic setting, you will need to take some time to decide a few things:
How would the world have reacted?
In order to make this campaign feel real, you will need to take the time to decide how the various cities, nations and factions would have reacted to the event. This may take quite a bit of time. Some options to include might be:
- Underground resistance movements lead by the former rulers
- Which cults are now in power, who is leading them and what is their structure?
- New forms of currency
- Which gods are allowed now and which are banned/defeated
- New cities established by the ruling power
- New powers/feats granted by the event
- What would the
- Areas not effected by the event, if any
- Primary rebellion location
What does daily life look like now?
What happens to the common people after a cataclysmic event? What is their daily life like?
Perhaps the majority of people hiding in caves or underground in order to survive. Humans are on the brink of extension and those on the surface are enslaved or “chosen ones.”
Where are your players in this conflict?
There are a variety of ways you could start out your players in this campaign setting. They could be “chosen ones” seeking to discover the last strong hold of human rebellion in order to completely destroy them.
Your players could be slaves and their first session could be their escape. They would need to find a way to survive while they looked for the fabled “city of light” which contains the last members of the human race.
Answering these questions will help to create limitations and opportunities for your players in this world. I love this survivor game style! It is off the beaten path, unique and a lot of fun to play!
It’s no longer sunshine and roses in this campaign setting. Nature has had enough of humanoids plundering its bounty. It’s time to fight back.
Druids announce full out war on cities, leaving many in ruins covered in vines and thorns. Wolves and bears, normally keeping to the woods, have begun organized raids on settlements that encroach on their territory. All of nature has turned against the people. Can your party bring back peace?
This setting has some really fun player options. Players can either choose to fight on the side of nature, or on the side of humans (its up to you if you allow both sides at the table. Player-vs-Player could be interesting!)
The purpose of this campaign could be either to eliminate all the cities (if on the nature side) or to find out why nature is rampaging and appease it somehow (if on the side of humans).
This setting can be a complete campaign on its own, or it can be use as an interesting side quest on a smaller scale.
If you want nature to be the focus of your next campaign, but would rather have your players save it rather than fight it, try a blighted world.
Nature has been corrupted and the forests are slowing being taken over by blights and dire beasts. This blight makes animals uncontrollably savage and makes them grow to incredible sizes. It also causes normally safe and peaceful forests to turn into dark and evil places, filled with Twig, Vine and Needle Blights, Ettercaps, Hags and other abominations.
People are gathering in cities for protection, but over population is causing starvation and disease to run rampant.
What is the cause of this blight and can it be undone? It’s your party’s job to find the source and destroy it to return the balance of nature! Gosh! I am getting excited just writing about it!
Itching to do a high seas adventure, but pirates are a bit too mundane for your tastes? Why not run a campaign featuring the OG of pirating, Vikings!
You could run this setting a variety of ways. If you are looking for an authentic feel, run a low magic campaign focusing on hand to hand combat and archery. Then put your party on a boat and start raiding villages! (You know you want to!)
You can even blend the traditional feel of Dungeons & Dragons and a viking adventure by substituting the D&D gods for Norse gods. Thor could give a Storm Cleric his power, Freya could provide inspiration for Druids while Loki teaches the Tricksters their arcane deception. The Norse pantheon really works quite well with the current D&D magic system.
For this setting you will need to understand the rules of sailing. For this, I recommend picking up a copy of the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide from from your local game store.
This handy guide gives you the rules on combat at sea, sailing and other useful information for a heavily water based campaign. (you can see my full review of this guide on my DM Must Haves page).
You also might want to brush up on your Norse mythology and Viking history. Crash Course has some really great videos on the topic, my favorite is below. Of course, if you are more of a book nerd, there are lots of great options as well, but this video is a great place to start with Norse gods and will give you lots of ideas!
Ancient Desert Civilization
Most campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons feature forests and mountains, (I know mine do) but there are lots of adventures to be had in the desert as well.
Picture an ancient Egyptian style campaign, with pyramids, the Egyptian pantheon of gods, lost desert temples and hidden oasis!
The monster manual features many monsters that either live in the desert or could easily be adapted for the area. Most players never encounter these interesting monsters because their campaign never takes them to the sandy wasteland.
Whether you want to do a short adventure or a full campaign, desert excursions make for interesting play!
Primitive Barbarian World
Similar to a viking campaign, just without all the water. This campaign setting could feature a group of barbarian warriors and their adventures in the untamed wilds.
In this setting, there are no major cities, magic isn’t yet well established (and perhaps most people are still afraid of it) and monster hunting is the primary source of glory.
This setting could even take place before most of the lore in Dungeon & Dragons, giving players the change to become legends themselves. I think it could be really cool to even have those legends be a part of later campaigns that happen in the future of the same world, allowing you to create your own lore and your players to be invested for campaigns to come!
For this setting I would include the following limitations, (but these are just me, it is a homebrew after all! Do what you want!) Here are my suggestions:
- No Wizards: Language would be too primitive at this point for the creation of spells and there is no formal education for magic, therefore, no wizards. Sorcerers, Bards, Clerics and Druids would all be acceptable as they rely on gods or innate magically abilities.
- No Enchanted Items: No wizards means there is no one who can put an enchantment on an item. This does not mean that there aren’t magical items, afterall, the gods can give gifts to mortals, but it does mean that enchanting items is out.
- Basic Weapons & Armor Only: Nothing fancy here. No guns or metal alloys (like steel) this is a primitive world which means all tools, weapons and armor are also primitive. Think lots of wood, stone and iron.
Enough with the west, let’s go east! Take your campaign to ancient China, Japan, or Korea to the scene of Samurais, ninjas, and the Emperor’s/Empress’ court. This setting changes just about everything in your campaign, from the description of the design of buildings, to the food served and the type of hospitality given.
You could have your party pull off a heist at the Festival of Lights, or send them of a quest to find a golden dragon to request a cure for a rare disease plaguing the Emperor. Let the flavors of the Orient seek into every inch of your campaign with this exciting setting.
Luckily, there are some resources released by Wizards of the Coast which include elements of the Orient, so you won’t be going it alone with this setting! Specially check out this free, online PDF Oriental Adventures (note: this is runs on 3e rules, so if you want to run 5e rules, you will need to make a few substitutions) and Kara-tur the Eastern Realms.
Kara-tur specifically describes locations and lore of the Eastern Realms and is a very useful resource for an Orient, however, it is out of print. A physical copy will cost you nearly $100, but you can get a digital download for just $4.99 at the link above. (I don’t make commissions if you click that link, I just found it useful).
In most D&D settings, common people do not appreciate the fine art that is necromancy. Raising the dead is frowned upon in most societies and the full potential of the practice is, therefore, left unfulfilled.
But not in this setting. Here the dark arts take center stage. This world is filled with necromancers, crazed wizards, powerful vampires and chaotic monstrosities all fighting for power while the common folks hide in fear.
Perhaps the veil between the Shadowfell and the Material Plane has grown so thin that monsters, ghosts and evil forces can freely enter the world and its influence slowly drives people insane.
Or maybe necromancy has just been accepted as common practice and most mindless, labor intensive jobs are performed by zombies.
This campaign could just be crazy, over the top, dark and creepy, which, for some strange reason, sounds really fun to me! Vampires, Mummy Lords, Nightwalkers, Skulks, oooh, I just gave myself chills!
If you aren’t into heading into a Gothic paradise every week, this could also make a for an epic Halloween mini-campaign for the month of October!
For a taste of this style to see if you and your players would be interested in full campaign like this, I highly recommend running “The Curse of Strahd.”
This is a full adventure that takes players from level 1 to level 5. It takes place in the Shadowfell, a strange, twisted version of reality. Here is an excerpt from the adventure:
Under raging storm clouds, the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich stands silhouetted against the ancient walls of Castle Ravenloft. Rumbling thunder pounds the castle spires. The wind’s howling increases as he turns his gaze down toward the village of Barovia. Far below, yet not beyond his keen eyesight, a party of adventurers has just entered his domain. Strahd’s face forms the barest hint of a smile as his dark plan unfolds. He knew they were coming, and he knows why they came — all according to his plan. A lightning flash rips through the darkness, but Strahd is gone. Only the howling of the wind fills the midnight air. The master of Castle Ravenloft is having guests for dinner. And you are invited.
Finally, if you don’t have the time or experience to come up with a whole new world of your own and you just want a completed, fun and interesting setting to base your homebew around, I would suggest checking out Tal’Dorei.
Matt Mercer’s world of Tal’Dorei is full of interesting regions, cities and history which you can use as the backdrop for you own campaign. It already has maps, locations and lore, you just have to plug in your story.
Less work, just as much fun! You can see my review of Tal’Dorei on my DM Must Haves page and buy your copy from your local game store.
Remember, It’s Not the Location, It’s the Memeories
Wherever you decide to set your campaign, it is the players and the interactions that will make it truly memorable. As long as you are doing your best and having fun, then you are in the right place.
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!