Making a D&D Setting Map

By RJ on 28 March 2019

One of the best ways to define your world to others is to visually outline it. It also helps you envision it while creating more in-depth details of it. Establishing your world’s tenets (part 1) and its primary gods and/or pantheons (part 2) doesn’t need to be visualized. However, when you begin to draw up empires, talk about countries, discuss factions, cultures, monsters, and peoples, it’s good to have something to reference. It’s good to have a map.

In this next installment of the Worldforge, we’re going to make a map for our homebrew world. Heed this, though: I am not a great artist. I am not a professional cartographer. I am simply a wannabe writer and creator who loves to play DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and play D&D in my own world. The advice below will mainly be about how I create a map in the context of a world. It will not be how to draw a map, how rivers should never split, how plate tectonics form continents, or the intricacies of where deserts should logically be located. My philosophy is simple: We’re making a fantasy world. It need not follow all the laws of nature that our own world abides by. With that addressed, let’s continue to build our worlds.

A Right Proper Map

The first map of our world should be rough, sketched onto a standard sheet of white printer paper or a torn page from a notebook. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t need to be final. But, the map should be compelling to us. The odd shapes and faded lines on the paper should cause us to imagine and question, “What’s there? Who lives there? Why is that peninsula strangely-shaped?” For a first map, I recommend you think about how many continents you’d like your world to have. Continents are large land-masses that stretch for hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles. Earth has 7 (6) continents. For a fantasy world, it’s fine to have more or less than that. Listen to your hand; how many land-masses does it put to paper?

After you have your “world map” of 1, 2, 3, 4...continents, set it aside and pull out another sheet of paper. Choose a single continent from your world map and copy it onto this next sheet. Now draw a few islands around it, scattered about. Say hello to your true first map. This single realm will be what we work on to begin because after outlining our world’s tenets and important religions, it’s time to hone in on a relatively smaller piece of it: A single continent. Think about it. How much of all the great, famous settings do we know about? Most adventures in the world of Toril (Forgotten Realms) happen on the Sword Coast on the continent of Faerun. The majority of Eberron’s quests prance about on Khorvaire or Xen’drik. Almost all Greyhawk conflicts are concentrated in the eastern corner of its biggest continent, Oerik. So, once we know about our world in a broader sense, we can focus in on a “tiny” piece of it. Eventually, when we play home games in it, we’ll have to zoom in even further, so this is good practice!

An Aside: How to Proceed?

I’m not an artist. I can’t draw very well. My hand-drawn maps aren’t great and I cringe when I look at them, but they work. Luckily, we live an age when there are plenty of tools only to assist the artistically-incapable folk like me out there. Here are a few different ways to create your map:

  1. Draw it by hand. Maps drawn by hand, if they’re not drawn by a professional, will look a little janky, but they’ll do. It’s better to have a map than to have no map at all.
  2. Use Inkarnate. It’s a powerful, free map-making software that has lots of tutorials online. I used to utilize it for my maps.
  3. Buy Wonderdraft. It’s an incredibly powerful map-making software that can be bought for $30 online. With it, you can make massive maps with tons of customizability. I currently use Wonderdraft.
  4. Use PhotoShop/Paint/et cetera. Kind of like drawing it by hand but digitally.
  5. If you’re not a fan of drawing at all, you can always steal from the real world - or someone else. Well-known Dungeon Masters like Chris Perkins are known to take real-world locations and turn them fantastic. His homebrew setting of Valoreign was simply England rotated and enlarged a tad. You can always lift the Sword Coast and put a massive sea in between the north and south sections. If you’re not selling it and simply using it for your own personal pleasure, you have the freedom to do whatever you want. If you don’t want to draw a map, simply use someone else’s and wait for the next Worldforge article!

One Realm to Rule Them All

Now we have it: The first part of our own worlds that we will polish. In the future, it’ll have fantastic locations, interesting factions, terrifying mysteries, formidable villains, and much, much more. For now, though, we have to draw it. We have to make a map of it. You should already have an outline of the coast; that’s a great start. ‘Tis time to move inland and ask ourselves a few questions.

Where are the poles of my world?

If your world’s shape is based on Earth, which I advise, then the poles will be located in the north and south. This is important because it decides the climate of your continent. If portions of your continent sit among the equator, they’ll likely be covered in tropical rainforests or dense jungles. If the northern or southern lands of your realm stretch close to the poles, they’ll be cold and covered in snow most of the time. For the “polar” regions of your world, lightly sketch over them with a pale color like white or grey or label them as such. Polar regions are important to a fantasy world. They’re often inhospitable to most folk, so they’re perfect places for fierce barbarians, horrifying magical beasts, and outcasted peoples to live. Make sure some part of your FIRST continent is a polar region!

Where are the deserts?

Next up, place a few deserts of varying size across your realm. I’d go with four, one large, one small, and two medium-sized deserts. These regions are very important to a typical fantasy realm; think about how they might one-day incorporate into yours. Did ancient civilizations once rule the desert? Perhaps the desert was created by a magical cataclysm? Why type of entities live here? Enormous citadels, buried holy sites, and strange, savage monsters are common in deserts, making them perfect locations for adventures!

Where are the mountains?

If you desperately want to keep your world up-to-code Earth-wise, do some research on plate tectonics and how mountain ranges form. Otherwise, create four to five mountain ranges across your map. They usually form north to south, but who’s to say they can spring up east to west in our world? One of the mountain ranges could block off one of your deserts from the rest of the continent, leading to its arid climate. Another could lock off one of your polar regions. In some places close to the coast, place a few islands “in line” with the mountains. Most mountains don’t simply end when they hit the water, they continue; these continuations can lead to the creation of islands. If you want, you could only place a single, giant chain of mountains across your realm, with lots of small ranges scattered about. Go wild! If it looks good, you’re doing it right.

Where are the forests?

Now it’s time to create the largest forests of your continent. Encase your mountains in them and make sure they stray away from deserts; you don’t want to be inconsistent. Trees should not bleed into arid wastelands. Ensure the shapes of your forests are odd and unpredictable, as if they were formed by thousands of years of peoples cutting them down, them regrowing, and then being chopped down again. Their borders are irregular and they can go on for many miles. Put maybe seven or eight large forests throughout your realm. Elves, fey, and lizardfolk need somewhere to live. Remember, if part of your realm is near the equator, add a few tropical rainforests or jungles along it. They can be the source of exotic peoples and pulp adventures!

Where are rivers and lakes?

Everyone’s favorite: Rivers and lakes. First draw a few rivers snaking north to south, never going uphill. Some can disappear into mountains, others can weave into and out of forests. After that, add lakes along these rivers, connecting to them. Four or five big lakes that show on your continental map should do. After that, maybe dot the land around these lakes and rivers with marks of swamps, bogs, or marshes. Rivers that go through forests create especially swampy locations perfect for bullywugs and froghemoths.

What About the Rest?

Now you have a plethora of notable features: polar regions and desert regions, mountains and forests, rivers and lakes. At your leisure, you can add smaller pieces to your map. Draw in some hills that lead into the mountains. Dot some tiny forests around your map. Add a few more small lakes, maybe a mountain or two. At the end, the “blank” spaces between the major geographical features are merely grasslands or savannas, farmlands or tundras. Those “bland” features are necessary, too.

Okay, we have the geography of our first map set up; now it’s time to add some labels to it. Alas! That’s where we’re ending this time. In the next installment, we’re going to create a few nations, regions, or peoples and add them to our continental map. Nonetheless, you should be proud. You now have a visual representation of YOUR world. When people ask to see it, you now have something to show them.

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Heated Disagreements at a D&D Table

It’s Saturday afternoon. The members of my Eldar II Campaign have just successfully defended a monk monastery against a small horde of red dragonborn, thri-kreen, and yuan-ti. In doing so, they discovered a dark, ancient secret of what is buried beneath the monastery. It complicates things. The party as a whole has a clear path forward. This defense was merely a pit stop, a side quest. But now, one of its members, a blue dragonborn barbarian named Rovan, is against traveling onward to Imixia, a realm of burning rivers and charred wastes. This secret, the battle, and its fallout have changed Rovan’s perspective on two of his party members. Thus, the once clear path is muddled and murky. Rovan doesn’t think his party has his best interests in mind anymore. Unfortunately for the rest of the party, this disagreement stalls the party in the peaceful monastery. So, what happens when a once unified force is no longer of the same state of mind?

Last Saturday, I experienced the most heated player versus player and character versus character disagreement in my time as a Dungeon Master. The two/three players involved brushed it off, but I didn’t. I saw how it affected the flow of the game and others’ enjoyment of it. I’m keen on not letting it happen again, at least not for that extensive period of time.

I think I learned from the conflict and others might find what I learned useful; so let’s talk about it. What do you do when your party begins to argue over what to do next, to the point where the game slams to a halt? In the moment, I tried all of the following strategies. However, I could have used them better if I’d been prepared for a fight like this. Now that I’ve experienced it, I’m ready.

Introduce Something New

The entire party argues over who should get a magical ring. The barbarian and paladin disagree about whether the goblin captors should die or be given a second chance for redemption. One rogue thinks the group should travel down the left hall and the other is insistent on going right. No one is budging on their opinion. Nothing is changing their mind. Seconds turn to minutes...minutes to hours...ugh.

So, as the Dungeon Master, introduce something new to the situation. For my particular party, I had one of their trusted NPC allies approach the conversation and try to add his perspective. It didn’t work. I tried again, with a different approach; it helped the situation but didn’t solve it. You need to be careful with this strategy because you don’t necessarily want to clearly favor one side (unless one party is being completely asinine). Perhaps the goblin tries to flee, bite through his binds, or recite the lines he heard the paladin shout during battle. Try to give a little credence to one side, or introduce new stuff that completely nullifies the question. You don’t want your entire party to become stuck for an hour or more talking about something that’s not dramatic, not fun, and just interesting to a few party members. I made that mistake and I regret it.

This is the best approach to disagreements: The Dungeon Master introduces a new element into play that pacifies the party or switches the party's attention to it. Introducing something new can nullify the issue and keep the game going, in the game. The options that follow don't do quite the same thing.

Call for a Vote

A different quick and easy solution that completely nullifies the question at hand is calling for a vote. The party votes on the next course, and the majority wins. Majority rules. The wizard gets the Ring of Invisibility because the wizard, rogue, and cleric think he should. The majority agrees that the goblin gets a second chance, so he does.

The problem with this approach is that it takes away player agency. It intervenes in the story and turns something that could have been dramatic and fun into a vote. So, only use it in circumstances such as the ones described above, circumstances that won't end well. Unluckily for me, this still didn’t work with my group. They were adamant that if the other character remained in the party, they couldn’t. So...

Someone Leaves

If the characters cannot come to terms and won’t move forward, one of them must leave the group. Some groups allow player versus player, I usually don’t, but it happened in my situation for a brief moment. I hated it. D&D is meant to be collaborative. The party works together. Sure, some disagreement and drama between members makes the campaign more interesting but it should never come to blows. When it did, I flat out said: “Okay, if neither of you can travel with the other, one must leave. Decide who.”

If a standoff comes to this, you’re having a bad session. The other approaches should have definitely worked, but if they didn’t and this doesn’t...or maybe before you try all the rest...

Zoom Out of Character

Stop playing D&D. At this point, over an hour of arguing had drained the rest of the table and I was done. I told the players directly that they needed to solve this, right now. I wasn’t going to run two different campaigns. I wasn’t going to kill one of their characters. I didn’t want to decide their course for them. However, their argument needed to stop. No one was having fun at the table and the game was completely stalled. Their characters can adventure together and dislike each other. Their goals and motives may differ, but at least a single, common goal unites them and the rest of the party. That’s enough for D&D. If you don’t think your character would continue with them, then leave. It’s as simple as that.

That solved it. Maybe I should have skipped to this approach sooner. Overall, I probably could have done much better if I’d encountered this before - and now I have. My DUNGEONS & DRAGONS games will never be stalled because of a simple disagreement again. I hope the same goes for yours.

In Summary

If your game becomes a stalemate, try to end it using the following techniques:
  1. Introduce something new. Enemies attack! New information is discovered. An NPC offers their advice. Help the characters come to a conclusion in the game world.
  2. Call for a vote. If the PCs can’t decide, have them take a vote in or out of character. Majority rules.
  3. Someone leaves. If the disagreement is so great that two characters can no longer party together, then someone leaves.
  4. Zoom out of character. The most effective and most serious way to approach a disagreement. This approach takes you out of the game and communicates the severity of this issue to your players.
That’s all for this week; a short one, I know. Next week, I think we’ll be returning to the Worldforge.

Until then, farewell!

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Building a D&D Pantheon - Part 3

“The ancient texts, you’ve not read them?” the robed figure asked. Her voice sounded accusatory, angry even, but the minotaur shook his head. “Then the time, it has not come.” The robed figure turned to leave but paused beneath the worn stone doorframe. “Understand this: Our way is not the only way. Before us, there have been many, and still today, there are people different than us.” Her voice quieted. “The Azurian Order rarely acknowledges it. The only way, polytheism is not. Elves of the wood worship spirits of old beasts, bearfolk only the stars. All power rests in the trapped primordials, firbolg think, and kenku think a single god rules all.” At this, the minotaur scoffed and the robed figure appeared before him in a moment, somehow looking down upon him even though he stood a good four feet above her. “I knew, ready you were not. How?” Her eyes locked with his, “...because respect, respect for other religions, you lack.”

Welcome back to the Worldforge, a series in which we build our own homegrown world together. For the past two articles, we’ve tackled creating a pantheon for our world. We’ve discussed whether or not deities exist, where they live, how often they interact with the material world, and more. Last time, we created our first pantheon: Eight deities or divine forces that represent the domains usable by clerics in fifth edition DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. This article will conclude this particular arc of the Worldforge and talk about more pantheons, other possible religious systems, and hooks related to the divine.

If you missed any of the past Worldforge articles, check out the Worldforge Library for a complete listing.

Okay - let’s begin.

Pantheons, Pantheons, & More Pantheons

Last time we created a general pantheon for our world: a grouping of gods worshiped across the planet, from dark deities of the world below to goddesses of light and health hailed as heroes to the goodly folk of our realm. That’s the baseline. You’re set, ready to move to the next step - if you’d like. Of course, if you’re crazy like I am, you’d probably yearn to flesh out more of your world. For a standard D&D adventure or campaign, one pantheon is all you need, eight or so deities for your players to choose from, as well as the wanting to create new gods if your players also want to. This set and attitude to create more will provide you with more than enough divine content for plenty of escapades across your world.

But...let’s say you’re insane like I am. Why stop with a single pantheon? Usually, cultures have distinct pantheons. For example, the Greeks had a very different outlook of the divine than the Egyptians or the Norse. And all three of those cultures had a drastically different idea than the natives of North America...and still, that culture had a completely different concept of the divine when compared to their “neighbors,” the natives of South and Central America. Taking this to the next level, it wasn’t uncommon for tribes and clans that lived rather close to have conflicting opinions on their own culture’s interpretation of deities.

What I’m saying is, in a fantasy land where deities and cosmic forces exist, there can be an unlimited amount of them, acting and reacting in the cosmos. You can channel respectable amounts of creative energy into making a pantheon for the hill dwarves of the snowy hillocks, the eccentric sun dwarves of the blazing desert, and the ore-obsessed mountain dwarves deep within the earth. Go wild...well, not to wild. Don’t make an infinite array of deities - one for the elves in the west, one for the elves in the southwest, one for the elves in the know what I mean. Generally, I’ll outline what each of the cultures of civilizations in my world believes in. Elves have their own pantheon, orcs have their own pantheon, humans steal from other pantheons, and some cultures don’t have pantheons. This brings us to the next portion of this article...

Other Religions in Your World

I know we’ve just spent three articles talking about the importance of creating a pantheon for your D&D world, so what I’m about to tell you might hurt. The worship of a pantheon of gods, or polytheism, isn’t the only type of religion that should be in your world. Polytheism is important and integral to a fantasy roleplaying game like D&D, to most settings anyway, but there’s more out there. Briefly, we’re going to explore other belief systems that you can weave into the fabric of your world.
  1. Monotheism is the belief that a single deity overlooks the world. A culture in your world could believe a small alteration of this and only allow the worship of a single deity, although folks know many do exist.
  2. Dualism is the belief that two, great deities exist with completely opposing viewpoints: Good versus evil, night and day, summer and winter. A civilization or two opposing civilizations could each believe in two gods that are greater than all other gods. These civilizations would constantly be in conflict, conflicts that have lasted for hundreds of years.
  3. Animalism is the worship of animals or beasts. I tend to use this in conjunction with a form of spiritualism: Cultures worship powerful animal spirits locked in the Feywild. These spirits grant them divine power and gifts. Animalistic cultures hold animals in high regard, sometimes preferring a single animal or a group of animals to all others.
  4. Spiritualism is the belief that spirits in the worlds beyond grant divine power. In D&D, this could totally be possible. Powerful ghosts and specters (godlike ones) could grant power to a certain culture or people.
  5. Shamanism is the worship of a people’s ancestors. Think barbarian tribes and those who hold elders and those who’ve passed on in high regard.
  6. Deism is the worship of a single, supreme being that created all that exists and left this world long ago. Some creatures, like illithids and beholders, could believe this.
  7. Astrolatry is the belief that the stars pulse divine power and guidance. This could be 100% true in some worlds. 
  8. Cultism is the belief of something extremely frowned upon or downright wrong. Cults of demon princes, archdukes of Hell, eldritch entities, and more can capture the hearts and minds of an entire civilization...
Adding a lot or a few of these different beliefs or systems of worship can create the opportunity for compelling stories in your world. Why do the humans of the south fiercely follow this single deity? Who eventually wins the dual of the gods in a dualistic society? Can the animal spirits of an animalistic culture project themselves onto the Material Plane? Do the stars truly grant strength and clairvoyance to the bearfolk elders of the moving glaciers? Give it a try. Pick three different beliefs and add them to your world. When we eventually get to creating cultures, we’ll return to them.

Divine Hooks

How can you incorporate all this work you’ve done into your campaigns and adventures? Here’s how!

d4 Plot Hooks

  1. Who and How? A holy relic is stolen from the local temple, but only true worshipers of the temple’s deity are allowed entrance into the treasury.
  2. The Dark Daughter. An avatar of a deity appears in front of a queen and warns her of the birth of a dark god’s daughter in her country. She will grow quickly and head a horde that will lead the country into ruin.
  3. The Divine Quartet. Four cults merge into one, heeding the call of a goddess long thought dead.
  4. The Death of Magic. The death of the god of magic throws all arcane magic off balance, leading to deaths and disasters across the planet. How can this be remedied?

d4 NPCs

  1. Ulrian de'Turn. A divine leader of a group of drow trapped in a jungled part of the Underdark. Following the lead of him and his ancestors, these drow have become one with the strange, twisted beasts and monsters that roam this subterranean thicket.
  2. King Coralius. A son of the god of justice and chivalry, born to a human mother. He’s risen to the top of this society, becoming its god-king from his humble roots as a commoner. If his secret were to be discovered, it could be manipulated for vile gain.
  3. Duugenveim. A powerful animal spirit that lives in the Feywild. It appears as an enormous, green-furred moose. The creature is worshiped by a tribe of hill dwarves of a northern realm. Their enemies, a town of duergar, know the hill dwarves obtain their power from this beast and seek its demise.
  4. Alactraz Bent. An eccentric gnome diviner who’s convinced he’s discovered the true secret behind the universe’s creation: The Lawful Maker. No one believes him...but is he right? Can it be proven?

d4 Cultures

  1. The Skywatchers. A society of bearfolk who follow the messages the stars and constellations send them. Their power, they believe, grows the fuller the moon shines in the night.
  2. The Halfhearts. A cult of halflings that are convinced the gods of humans created the halfling race as a cruel joke. They’ll get their revenge, by any means necessary.
  3. The Children of Hell. A clan of tieflings that worship the souls of their devil mothers and fathers. They try to emulate their past deeds, their appearance, and current goals.
  4. The Lolthian Empire. An empire of drow ruled by the firstborn daughter of the Spider Queen. Under her rule, much of the Underdark has been conquered by the dark elves.

In Summary

Phewph! We’ve done it. The basics of religion in our world are established. Alas, we’ll still tinker with them forevermore - that’s part of the fun - but at least we have an outline created. To recap what we accomplished in this article:
  1. There’s no limit to the number of pantheons you can create, but there is to the amount you should create. One or two for every culture or civilization in your world should suffice. Go wild, but not too wild.
  2. Not all cultures necessarily pray to a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Lots of religions can exist in your world, from monotheism and dualism to animalism and spiritualism. Varying your cultures’ form of belief or worship is refreshing and can lead to interesting stories.
  3. Gods and goddesses, spirits and cosmic forces, holy symbols and divine relics, zealous priests and rampant demigods - religion in D&D is a deep and profitable mine of plot hooks, adventures, items, and NPCs. Don’t refuse to dig it. Pick up a pickaxe and start swinging!
And so this chapter of the Worldforge series ends. Your world, while not shaped yet, has a few pillars and at least one pantheon of gods or other divine entities. Look out for the next part of this series; I believe what we’ll do will surprise you.

Until then, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to

Building a D&D Pantheon - Part 2

The minotaur, Alovnek, shut the door in his face. The robed man had better leave now, the minotaur thought. Three denials, a feigned gore, and a face full of minotaur spit would drive him away. To Alovnek’s surprise, he still heard breathing on the other side of the thin, wood door a few moments later. He waited longer. The breathing continued. “You’re stubborn. You’re good and stubborn. The Azurian Order likes those kinds of people.” The voice was muffled but still rung in Alovnek’s ears. “You and I both know you’ve felt it- the call of Ispiria; it’s the only reason you let me, a diminutive man wearing strange white robes speak to you.” The minotaur groaned. He knew the man was right, he’d felt the call days earlier...but he was so young. Why would Ispiria rob him of his youth? Life was good here, among his people- “Come on, Alovnek. We need fighters like you. And trust me, in good time, you’ll need us. The goddess’ call might not come again. I’ve risked much in coming here.” There was a pause, “I won’t be returning.” The robed man let his words pass through the door, sighed, and turned to the east, to the road that led back to the coast. He’d need to leave soon, his presence would be noted by any Kothians in the area. No sound of movement or breath came from inside the hill-home for many moments. Disappointed but hopeful, the robed man started eastward, stomping his steel boots into the mucky ground of the hillocks, leaving a clear trail behind him...just in case.

Deities can drive the stories we tell at the table. They can be the basis of your character’s beliefs, the villain pulling the strings of evil-doers, or the guardians of an ancient artifact that helped lock away the primordials. If faces don’t grace the sources of your divine power, folks are always chasing after a way to give that cosmic energy a name, trap all of it for themselves, or channel it for all the world to see. Divinity is ever present in our D&D worlds and it helps us create compelling stories, from the humble beginnings of a simple cleric in a village to battling the god of death atop of crumbling primordial of earth.

Welcome to the Worldforge, an ongoing series about building your D&D world or setting, step by step. Currently, we’re in the midst of molding a pantheon for your world. Last time, we discussed whether or not deities or divine forces existed, where they were located in the multiverse, and their level of interference and/or influence in or on the world. With those three basic questions answered, we’re ready to begin making actual deities!

Between this article and the last, I made a separate page on this website called the Worldforge Library; the page will keep an updated, chronological list of all The Worldforge posts, so you can easily bookmark and reference it while creating your world! Alright. Let’s get to building some gods.

The Starter Set

Deities, divine forces, cosmic energies, whatever, they exist in your world. Now, we must put faces to them. Using DUNGEONS & DRAGONS as your game of choice, I’d recommend creating a starting pantheon, a starter set: Deities worshiped worldwide. They can be good. They can be evil. They can be recently ascended gods or beings of divine power who’ve ruled over the cosmos for millions of years. It matters not. However, we should begin with a set of gods that relate or represent the eight, core domains of fifth edition D&D: Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, War, Forge, and Grave. This starter pantheon should have at least one god that relates to each of the aforementioned domains.

Okay, we know we’re creating eight initial gods. But who will these gods be? In a general D&D setting, many different pantheons exist, from the pantheons of elves, dwarves, and humans to pantheons of orcs, devils, and even lizardfolk. This leads to hundreds or thousands of deities existing, which can seem daunting, and it is. That’s why we’ll be starting with a starter set; eight deities that are widely known in your world that can come from any of your world’s cultures.

Side note: Even though we’re creating an established set of deities right, as I mentioned before, hundreds if not thousands of deities might watch over your world. This means that if a player creates a cleric or paladin, looks over your deities, and isn’t interested in any of them, you should work with them to create a deity that they do enjoy! Even if your world has but a few gods, try to work with your players to meld one to their liking; they’ll be interacting with it far more than your musings in Google Drive or your journal. I’ll say it again: Your players drive your games forward. They are the main characters, the stars. It may be your world, but they’re the primary drivers and you should create stuff they enjoy. If they want to worship a god that doesn’t exist, make it in your world, but ensure it fits your world’s tone.

Back to making a starter pantheon of eight gods. Where to begin? First, I’ll let you in on a well-known secret of worldbuilders: Steal and reskin. I like to make lots of my own material from scratch and so do many others, but swiping content from elsewhere is a great tactic. This definitely works with making a pantheon as well. Gods and goddesses are everywhere. You can utilize Zeus and Hera from the Greek pantheon for your world, taking them as is or skinning them to be completely different. You can pick up the goddess Mystra from the Forgotten Realms and have her oversee all of your world’s magic, or turn her into an arcane goddess of war. From Eberron, you can lift the Silver Flame, a cosmic force that represents goodness in the world, but in yours, could be a force that represents the creation of all things. As long as you’re not selling your world for profit, using pantheons, deities, and cosmic forces from other settings is perfectly legal and not frowned upon at all. Do it and be proud! It’s what the content is there for.

However, if you’re up for creating completely new gods, it’s back to asking yourself questions. What are the deity’s ideals? What do they represent? Where do they live? What do they look like? Who are their followers? What is their symbol? Lots of questions, lots of answers, and lots of fun. Let’s begin. For this article, we’ll create a goddess or god of knowledge.

Their Name and Ideals

Start with a name and be careful: A new is the first aspect of your god that any outsider sees. It needs to sound cool and fit the overall theme that you want to give the god while fitting the theme of your world. Look to real-world gods for inspiration: Ares and Set, Athena and Isis, Freya and Idun. Next, think about their ideals. What are their leading principles? What do their clerics preach? A goddess of knowledge can represent a lot of different aspects of “knowledge.” Is she a goddess of knowledge, creativity, and growth? How about of knowledge, peace, and pleasure? Maybe of knowledge, wisdom, and success? All incredibly different goddesses, all amazingly unique. These ideals will influence her, her followers, and her image across your world. A goddess of knowledge, creativity, and growth is probably referenced by craftsmen and farmers and her clerics probably help build not only structures and cities but the knowledge of those folk. Let’s look at a goddess of knowledge, peace, and pleasure; she’ll probably have followers that spread peace, rarely fight, and seek pleasure in all things, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Think of the possibilities!

Their Home and Followers

Now, let’s think about where this deity resides. A goddess of knowledge could live in her own plane of existence, an enormous study of her own design. If she’s good-aligned, maybe she lives on Mount Celestia, among the Seven Heavens and celestials. If she’s evil, either the Abyss or the Nine Hells could be a great lair for our goddess. Once you’ve figured this out, you also know what type of followers she has. If she lives in the Nine Hells, legions of devils and spellcasters serve her. In a realm of her own, perhaps golems of all types protect her, spellcasters praise her, and living spells made by her own mind patrol her realm and the entire multiverse.

Their Appearance and Symbol

Finally, conjure up and image of her in your head. Is she a beautiful, human woman with stark white hair that floats ominously behind her and robes that glow with the power of a thousand arcane runes? How about a well-crafted tome whose pages flap in an imaginary wind? A humanoid creature composed of prismatic shards that glow with azure energy? Put yourself in the deity’s head. What would she want to appear to the world as? The possibilities are endless. Afterward, it’s time to come up with a symbol for the deity, something that can be emblazoned on armor, flags, and weapons. For a goddess of knowledge, a simple, open book, a fiery rod, or a bright sun could do. Think of something unique and attach it to your deity. Once you’ve done that, you’re done; you’ve created the first deity of your world. Now it’s time to do it seven more times so you have a complete starter set.

Eldar Lore...

Here’s the deity of knowledge I created for my world of Eldar. His name is Ether and he is one of the Draconic Deities; he usurped the divine power of the previous goddess of knowledge, Mystra, when the dragons slaughtered the old gods during the Draconic Incursion. Ether is the god of knowledge and secrets; he and his followers believe only the most powerful should be given the secrets of this ancient world, primarily his worshipers. They keep forbidden secrets away from the general public, not only for fear that if it was released their enemies could use it against them but for the fear that their allies could use these secrets to overpower them. They also scrape the Mortal World and all of the Planar World, always searching for undiscovered secrets lost to the ages. Lots of secrets, lots of intrigue, lots of vaults with this knowledge locked away...Ether lives in Kestavar, a plane of existence that he made himself from the shell that Mystra left behind. It’s a grand, blue expanse of buzzing energy, spells that are actually alive, and enormous, floating libraries with the compiled knowledge of the multiverse. Each library is protected by a Keeper of Secrets, one of Ether’s personally created golems. Only those he trusts, or those who can overpower the golems, can enter these massive libraries. Ether’s followers include arcanists, spellcasters, dragons amassing knowledge, golems, and aboleths. To those he deems worthy, Ether appears as a skinny gold dragonborn adorned in pale silver robes inlaid with glistening mithril. His symbol? An open tome obscured in shadow. That’s my god of knowledge!

In Summary

It’s time for you to create your starter pantheon: Eight gods that represent eight of the choosable player character domains for D&D 5E. Remember:
  1. These deities can be from any culture in your world: Deities of the dwarves, gods of the drow, cosmic forces channeled by fiendish beings.
  2. Use inspiration from established D&D settings (Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, et cetera) and the real-world (Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, The Norse, Native American Mythos) when making your own gods.
  3. Each deity you create should have a cool name, certain ideals, a host of followers, a home, a certain look, and a symbol.
Once you’ve created this starter pantheon, it’s time for you to think about religion in your world...from polytheism to animalism. But that’ll be in the third and final part of the Building a D&D Pantheon portion of The Worldforge.

Until then, farewell!

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