Skip to main content

The Major Powers in Your D&D Setting


The dry chamber was silent. All the grand chairs were filled, the table was littered with maps, pins, papers, and quills; yet no one spoke. They were all here, representatives from the greatest powers across Aphesus: A mighty dwarven battlemaster from Utgarda; a bloodthirsty gnoll warlock from Dol Dohur; a shy, enigmatic wood elf from Daioda; a zealotos life cleric from Lorinth; a wild halfling atop his raptor from Zinae. Yet no sound emerged from any of them. They all knew the severity of the disaster that brought them together — the decimation of the gnome country Klavangra — but none could muster the courage to speak. In this sultry, remote outpost, they sat, stunned and unsure of what to say or how to approach the matter at hand. Eventually, the silence would break; these are powerful people after all. Surely they’d know what to do. Here in this arid desert hideout, peace would be brokered...or war declared.

Thus far in the worldbuilding process, we’ve formed core tenets, established a great pantheon, and drawn a basic map. All of these have been broad strokes. Before we start adding depth to our world, we’re going to slide the brush across our entire canvas one more time. In this installment of the Worldforge, we’ll be creating the major powers of our Dungeons & Dragons setting; these will be the movers and shakers of our world, the cultures that are most widespread. Let’s make some powerful cultures!

Defining a Power

A major power can be anything from an influential city-state to a titanic empire that sprawls across your entire setting; we need to make a few. These notable cultures will likely interact with the actual player characters in your group more than deities — or even maps — ever will. Most of the conflict and intrigue in your setting should stem from these powers colliding, collapsing, and being born anew.

So, what is interesting to you? Look at your world and what it’s about. What kind of cultures do you want to fill it with? Most D&D worlds are rich with diversity: orcs and elves, halflings and tieflings, humans and dwarves. My general rule is to give every common race a single major power. The orcs control an enormous stronghold that once was held by dwarves. Dragonborn rule an entire empire that threatens every civilization that exists. That’s the first step to defining a power: you need to think about what that power is and who controls it. Here are a few examples:
  1. Nation of gnolls in the desert.
  2. Theocracy of halflings.
  3. Nomadic tribe of goliaths in the mountains.
  4. City-state of halflings in the jungle.
  5. Cabal of genasi.
  6. Magocracy of sorcerers half in the Material Plane, half in the Inner Planes.
  7. Country of warmongering humans.
  8. Empire of peaceful, idealistic gnomes.
After you’ve decided what the power is and who controls it, you need to create its culture. How does the nation of gnolls in the desert act? Do they worship gods, spirits, or the stars? Are they a militaristic society or do they thrive on hunting wild beasts and straying from conflict with other powers? As is the norm with worldbuilding, all you need to do is think up and initial premise and ask yourself questions about it to give it more depth.

When creating powers, I’ve found the following strategy incredibly useful, engaging, and fun. Take one or two cultures you know about, splice them together, and add a fantastical twist! This makes for interesting powers in your setting without too much work on your part and can give you a baseline to further develop after you’ve created a few of them. Read about ancient Egyptian culture and their devotion to the pyramids and monumental statues, combine that with the Mongol’s mastery of cavalry, and give your city-state of halflings in the jungle pterodactyls to ride. Voila — you have an interesting power; you can build on it later. Make some more!

Example Powers

Stuck trying to create a power or two? Take a gander at this short list for ideas:
  1. Empire of thri-kreen that look to the stars and constellations for guidance, construct enormous planetariums, and seek the destruction of all deities.
  2. Guild of warforged who live in the sewers of a major city and manipulate the politics of it from the tunnels below. They construct odd, “warforged” animals like rats and birds to spy on their enemies — and allies.
  3. Country of elves and dwarves who live together in a forested mountain chain and share a common history. Everyone speaks Elvish, the most common weapon is a battleaxe, and the professions of mining and artistry go hand-in-hand.
  4. Human jungle nation that relies on a chained devil for energy and magic.

In Summary

The last, large stroke across our world is the creation of a few major powers. Remember the following points:
  1. A major power is an culture or faction that will play a substantial role in your setting.
  2. Think about the what and who of a culture before you do anything else. Is it a diverse country? A city of gnomes? A guild of half orcs?
  3. To develop provocative powers, take two cultures you know about, splice them together, and add a fantastical twist! The possibilities are endless.

About YouTube

For the past few weeks, I've been uploading a new video to my YouTube channel on Friday mornings. Each of these videos is simply me reading my articles, starting from the beginning, and then elaborating on them at the end of the video. Sometimes, I've changed my mind on a topic, other times my opinion remains the same. If you're interested in listening the the articles read aloud, check it out!

Next up in the Worldforge series, we’ll be zooming in — creating a starting point for a campaign or adventure in our campaign setting.

Until then, farewell!

Follow RJD20 on TwitterYouTube, and Facebook for more RPG content.

Comments

Most Popular Articles of the Week

My Take on Matthew Colville’s 5E Action Oriented Monsters

Soaring into a manifest zone on their airship, the Misty Tide, the party erupts into a pocket of the Elemental Plane of Fire high above a sea of bubbling lava. Surrounding them are hissing fire newts mounted upon burning birds, prepared to hijack the airship and release the fire elementals powering it. The airship’s captain screams, “Hold out! We’ll escape ‘ere in a minute, I’ll get us through!” In response, the fiery raiders attack, lead by a striking fire newt warlock. The combat begins, and she thrusts her molten scimitar into the broiling air. The blade soars between each party member, scorching them with ease before reforming in her hands. Later in the combat, she deftly descends atop her burning bird below the airship, narrowly avoiding a blast of eldritch energy. In the struggle’s final moments, she dismounts from her tiny phoenix in a whirl, leaping thirty feet to gouge one of the party members with her scimitar and deal tremendous damage. Ultimately, she fails; the rest of h…

The Case of Screen v. Screenless

It's Tuesday night. The companions of the Caught in Galen campaign are split across the community of Vorici’s Rest. My notes are laid bare before me for tonight’s session. Luna walks the stone halls of a temple, unknowingly moving closer to a beholder-like beast. Flux jogs toward the Azure Graveyard, the bloodstone he needed to dispose of tossed in a nearby alley. Roy stalks toward the Faded Ember Inn with Skraw before coming face-to-face with a humanoid made of twinkling stars and eyes like radiant suns. 
Meanwhile, Jason and Ignis harry two warforged desperate to detonate the necrombombs in the cemetery. From the shadows, Jason expertly twirls bolas at one of the warforged’s feet! I roll to save: 4! The table cheers. With his pact-formed longbow, Ignis rains eldritch blasts on the other warforged. The disabled warforged attempts to remove the bolas: 1! The table cheers. Jason rushes to the fleeing warforged, stepping between Ignis’s booming blasts. The on-the-ground warforged tri…

How to Begin a D&D Campaign

The world is created, the characters are made, and the starting location is set, but how do you begin a Dungeons & Dragons campaign? There are many lines to check off on your list. Is the starting point created? Are all the session zeros finished? Is the initial plot formulated? Is the opening scene ready to go? As I prepare for the start of my next D&D campaign, Caught in Galen, I’m going to help you or anyone else out there itching to begin a campaign correctly complete their pre-campaign checklist.
The D&D Campaign’s Starting Point Where will the campaign begin? This is a key question you should know before your players begin to make their characters that I dedicated an entire article to awhile back. Will the party explore the titanic ruins of a dragon empire on a jungle continent? Will they delve into the depths of the Subterrane in chase of a rogue celestial? Will they begin caught in a giant city of an inherently magical population? Know this before anything else. Y…

An Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden Supplement - Abominable Adventures

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden hit the shelves on September 15, 2020. Wizards of the Coast’s summer 2020 adventure module encompasses the rise of a sinister threat around Faerun’s frozen northland civilization: Ten-Towns. Over the course of a Frostmaiden campaign, adventurers overcome burying blizzards, hunt a magical moose, and rid the snowy region of Auril the Frostmaiden and Goddess of Winter. Alongside the published module, a plethora of content creators have released and are continuing to release supplements to assist players and Dungeon Masters exploring Icewind Dale.
Abominable Adventures - An Encounter Guidebook in the Frozen Tundra is one such supplement.

Its creators kindly provided me with a review copy which I had a splendid time reading; outlined below is my review of it. This review includes a broad overview of the supplement, what I see as its best bit, and an area where it could be improved upon.

Before you make your decision on the buy, please take your time and …