Are you a brand new or novice Dungeon Master looking to wade into the waters of homebrewing your own campaign? You are an intrepid adventurer, and I salute you!
While a homebrew can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be! You can make your world as detailed or as simple as you want.
To start writing your own homebrew adventure, you need to consider the following:
If you have these four things, you are well on your way to a great home-brew! But there are several considerations in each of these categories.
Choose Your Setting
Where your campaign takes place is the most important decision you need to make to start your homebrew. If you need some ideas, be sure to check out my article on 10 Amazing Campaign Settings for Your Next Homebrew
To create your own setting, you need to decide how you will deal with each of the following in your world:
How rare or common is magic in the world you are creating? Though this might seem like a small detail, it will greatly effect every part of your world, and must be considered carefully.
If magic is rare, then magic items will be nonexistent outside of major cities, and even there they will be extraordinarily expensive. Magic users may also find they are either perceived as blessings from the gods, or as evil to be destroyed. Either way, using magic around common folk will cause quite the stir!
If magic is common, however, then basic magically items and potions might be found all over your world, even in the most backwoods of villages. Likely there will be a great number of magically items for sale and no one will think twice about a magic user wondering about.
What races are dominate in what areas of your world? Is it a diverse world, or is it dominated by primarily one race? Are their races that are believed to be extinct? All of these are important questions to answer when building your world, as they will directly affect your players choices and actions.
The cool thing about homebrewing is that you can decide the level of technology in your world! You can do space travel, you can have guns, you can have a steampunk world or a primitive world, it is completely up to you!
Keep in mind that if you chose to include technology that is not already a part of D&D, then you might have to create new items. (I am currently writing an article to help you learn how to do this the right way, check back soon!)
If you want to homebrew, you really need to have access to as many monsters as possible, in order to pick the ones that best fit your world. This means you will want to pick up copies of The Monster Manuel, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and Volo’s Guide to Monsters. All of which you can find on my DM Must Haves page or pick up from your local game store.
You will also want to consider how common monsters are in your world. Are they a constant threat or are they more the stuff of fairytales than real life? Will your adventurers need to go to the limits of the world to find monsters, or will they be fighting them off day and night?
Wilderness & Cities
For this one, you will want to consider the ratio of wilderness or cities. You can go to extremes and create a campaign that is all wilderness or all city (think of a continent that is one continuous city) or you can have a blending of the two.
Once you have planned the ratio, then consider what this means for your world. If your world is mostly city, what does this mean for the animals and monsters? Were they eradicated long ago? If it is mostly wilderness, what does this mean for merchants and traders, technology and human interaction?
Consider all the implications you can, this might even help you create your main plot or side quests (or maybe even your villain!)
Finally, will you be using D&D’s lore, or creating your own. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, or are just feeling really inspired, I would suggest using preexisting lore. It saves a lot of time and there are countless resources to help you!
Building Your World
Although you do not need a complete map of your world from the very beginning, you will need a basic idea of at least the area around which your players will start. I highly suggest having a concept of the location of the following:
- At least 2-3 major cities
- Ocean/coast lines
- Large bodies of water and rivers
- Mountain Ranges
- Forests, Deserts, Tundras or any other distinctive areas
If you are someone who enjoys map building, I suggest checking out Inkarent.com where you can create your own custom fantasy maps for free! I have used this website many times and love it. (I don’t receive commissions or bonuses for sending you to this site, consider this an unbiased opinion)
Choose Your Villain
Villains are the heart and soul of your campaign. Without something to fight against, your players will not feel a real sense of purpose. The villain of your campaign can be a person, a group, a political system, or even a god or cult. Whoever or whatever your villain is, you need to consider the following when creating it:
- Why should your players care? A great villain should have some personal ties to the party. This could be as impersonal as destroying the players’ homes, or as personal as a family connection. One way or another, you have to make it personal if you want your players to go after them with their heart and soul.
- Why are your players the only ones who can stop it? (or ARE they?) What is special about your party that makes them uniquely able to handle this villain? Are they a kingdom’s “last hope” or are they simply getting in the way? Are the people rooting for them, or are they a bunch of outsiders no one expects anything from?
- What is at stake if they don’t stop the villain? The obvious one is the end of the world as they know it, but it doesn’t have to be that cosmic in scale. Even the slaughter of a city is enough of a tragedy that your players will likely fight to stop it. Again, this should be personal. Do they need to save a friend? A city? A forest? Make it specific and, before you ever introduce the villain, make them care about it.
- How will they find out? I like to have the villain quest available in several locations from several NPCs, allowing the players multiple locations and times to stumble upon the truth of what is really going on. This is much more fun than just telling them about the villain, everyone loves a mystery!
- What are the options for stopping the villain? Only having one option isn’t any fun! “Here’s a bad guy, kill them” is very one sided. Think through some different options, such as subversion or insighting revolts and riots. The more possible options, the more likely your players will find a way they will enjoy most.
If you are looking to create a necromancer villain for your campaign, I have the perfect article for you! Check out “A Quick Guide to Creating a Necromancer Villain”
Know Where you are Going but NOT How You Will Get There
While you are choosing the setting and the villain, your players should still be the ones to write the story. This means you need to know where you will end up (defeating the Big Bad) but you should have no clue how your players are getting there. Should counter intuitive? Well, it is a little, but here’s how you do it.
Multiple Roads to the Same Destination
As the old adage says, “All roads lead home.” This can be changed for DMs to “All roads lead to the Villain.” Never try to force your players down one road. All humans hate that. Instead, give them the illusion of choice. You know no matter what they do, a specific NPC will interact with them. I know that. They have no idea. Keep it that way.
Allow your players to make whatever choice they want, then adjust your NPC locations or attack or whatever else you have planned to move the plot forward to follow them. This very simple idea will save you many a headache and keep your players happy too!
Be Willing to Trash Ideas
The most difficult part of a home-brew campaign is facing the fact that many of your brilliant quests, NPCs, and lore will never be discovered by your players. If this thought in unbearable to you, then you might not want to make a home-brew.
All players are different and they will all want to solve their problems in various ways. There is nothing wrong with this. You need to embrace the fact that most of the ideas you have, will never be shared. The over all plot will be developed, of course, but probably NOT in the way you thought.
If you want to run a home-brew that is actually fun for your party, then you need to make peace with this fact before you ever run a game. If not, you will be constantly trying to force your players to go places and interact with NPCs, and that is no fun for anyone.
While you may think it sounds like great fun to keep a campaign going to years (I know I certainly do!) many of your players simply won’t find this realistic.
Your home-brew should have a timeline in which the plot progresses, regardless of your players actions. These plot points should have real and noticeable effects on the world, thus pushing your players to act. This will ensure they game progresses.
For your first home-brew, I would suggest a timeline of 9 weeks. This allows players to commit to a certain amount of time, making it more likely they will 1. show up and 2. finish the campaign and 3. you won’t run out of ideas.
As much as you think that you will never run out of ideas, running a homebrew is exhausting. There will be weeks when you won’t have time to prepare and times when you are simply out of ideas. Having a set end in mind will help to keep you sane until you get used to the demands of home brewing.
Not Easy, But Worth It.
Creating your own home-brew adventure will not be an easy task. The steps I have given you will certainly help in the process, but there are many other considerations you will need to address as you go. There is be a lot of time and effort that will go into creating your world. But please trust me when I say it is worth the effort.
When you see your players’ looks of amazement as you describe your sprawling city, or their anger when facing your villain, or tears at winning (or losing) in a conflict you created…there’s nothing quite like it.
I hope this encourages you to take the plunge and try your hand at home-brew. Because, we need more DMs like you!
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!