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Building and Preparing

Dungeons and Dragons can be a full-time hobby. Sure, most of us spend the majority of our time playing the game with our friends and acquaintances, building the story, world, and characters in real-time, but there are others who arrived at this amazing pastime for a different reason. They didn’t pick-up D&D to simply prepare and play; they started playing D&D because they sought to create a world. I’m one of those folks.

Alas, I’ve learned that those two aspects of dungeon mastering correlate greatly. Building a world helps you prep for a D&D campaign and preparing for D&D helps you build a world. How, exactly? Well, in a few hundred words, you’re going to completely understand why.

Having a Foundation

Most dungeon masters, at the very least, have a vague understanding of the world they’re playing in. If you’re exploring a premade setting like the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Dark Sun, you have plenty of material to build upon this understanding. However, when you’re utilizing a world of your own design, you usually have much more to do. Once you learn and read about a published setting, or create a skeleton for your own world, you’ll have much less to prepare for. There’s no need to have a list of deities handy if you already have them in your head, or are perfectly fine with creating one for your world on the spot. The land to the west doesn’t need to be left unnamed and unknown if it comes up during the session, instead, you’ll already know what it is! Reading about the published setting you’re using before play or building up your own world before your first session makes preparing and improvising much easier. It also has the added benefit of giving your players a sense of realism and immersion. If they ask what the population makeup of the city they’re exploring is, and you shoot back an answer, they’ll be impressed.

At this point, I know you’re thinking: But how can I prepare for everything? Do I have to read every tome about the world of Krynn or the starscape of Spelljammer? Must I know where the commoners get their food and what the climate was like in this region 100 years ago? Well, well, well...that’s where understanding how and what to prep comes in.

Learn to Understand, Learn to Prepare

More experienced dungeon masters abide by a simple rule of D&D: Even the best-laid plans of dungeon masters don’t survive contact with players. Unfortunately for those who like to control various aspects of the game, this means that you can’t prepare for every possibility. During play, events are going to unfold in untold ways, battles are going to be won by underdogs, and items are going to go unfound. However, once you understand this and you understand your players, preparation and worldbuilding become much easier. Emphasis on that second half of the previous sentence: You must learn how your players operate. It will make your life much easier. Once you understand how they play, what decisions they’ll likely make, where they’ll probably go, building locales, NPCs, and items become way easier. When you know a captive scenario that the last session ended with will likely end with the PCs surrendering, you’ll probably need to flesh out their captors’ personalities, the area they’re being taken to, and various methods of escape. If the opposite is true and you think the session will start with a fight, create a fantastical battleground and tactics for the enemy.

To use a real-life example, in my elemental desert (Enoach) campaign, my party is dead set on controlling the now-defunct temple of a storm deity. However, the town’s officials seek to reclaim the temple because it’s the largest stone structure inside the town’s walls. The last session ended with a declaration to make this temple their own, so I plan on next session beginning with an emergency hearing held by the town’s leading council. I’ve created a few previously unseen personalities, a special location for this hearing to take place, and a few awesome scenarios that can happen. I am 95% sure they’ll go to this hearing, but, if I’m incorrect, that’s fine; I’m quick on my feet.

In Summary

I hope you took away a few important lessons from today’s article. In particular:
  1. Preparing for D&D and improvisation during the game is far easier if you have a firm foundation of the world you’re playing in.
  2. If you know what to prep, you know what to build.
  3. Learn what kind of players are within your group. It will help you flesh out your world and hone your campaign to make it the best it can possibly be.
Until the next article, farewell!

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