Skip to main content

Build With, Not Without, 5E's Books


Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons books are phenomenal. Wizards of the Coast are focusing on quality, not quantity with this edition and it’s showing. The books are useful to all folk, from Players and Dungeon Masters to readers and worldbuilders. That last word, worldbuilders, is what we’ll be focusing on right now. I’ve recently experienced an epiphany: worldbuilders should build on D&D 5E’s books, instead of constantly, completely reinventing them. This might seem obvious or simple, but I’ve been dumb to the concept for quite awhile. Let me explain…

A Solid Foundation

I’ve started rereading the core rulebooks for 5E, starting with the Player’s Handbook, while building my world. As I was whizzing through the chapter on race, I realized how much work has gone into all of these creatures: what they look like, their cosmic histories, common characteristics, hooks for Players or Dungeon Masters, and much more. And while I love my D&D world being unique, if all of the races outlined in the Player’s Handbook are not recognizable in my own world, what’s the point of it? I realized that I want a new Player in my campaign to be able to pick up the Player’s Handbook, read through the race chapter, and pick a race they think sounds cool without it being completely dissimilar in my setting.

There’s so much there: dwarves live in clans, humans are ingenious and widespread, high elves are aloof and wood elves are xenophobic, halflings live in human lands and pursue simple desires...use it, don’t trash it! Unless you’re going for a one-of-a-kind setting like Dark Sun or Eberron that lays out all of the similarities and differences to a “regular” D&D world, use the Player’s Handbook and all the other 5E books as a solid foundation. Build with, not without, these great resources.

Of course, your world’s history will be different — that makes it your world. It might have different gods and places, villains and monsters, but it should stem from the great 5E books. In addition, all the races outlined in the Player’s Handbook can have their unique quirks in your setting, something I call flairs and twists.

Flairs and Twists

Your world is your own and while I think as worldbuilders we should use the D&D books as a basic foundation, we can add a variety of interesting aspects to our setting without hindering it. Here are some examples of flairs and twists in my world:
  1. Halflings originally lived in the jungle and migrated to a vast plain with their dinosaur mounts. They’re now nomadic herders. They’re like the halflings of the Talenta Plains of Eberron. Lightfoot halflings are those who left this life and traveled to human lands, while stout are the subrace who stayed true and continued to roam the peaceful steppe.
  2. While rare, tieflings and aasimar can be of any race, not just humans.
  3. Dragonborn can be bred from the spilled blood of an ancient dragon.
  4. Most mountain dwarves are hated as much as gray dwarves (duergar) for allying with the draconic Kothian Empire and betraying the other common races. When their dragon allies turned on them, they had nowhere to turn and almost died out.
  5. Wood elves don’t usually worship deities, but spirits of the wild instead.
  6. High elves dabble in psionics.
  7. Hill dwarves serve as protectors of the ruins of the last, great dwarf civilization.
  8. Barbarians are far more common across Eldar because the world is wild.
  9. Tabaxi, lizardfolk, aarakocra, and urson (bearfolk) descended from lycanthropes.
  10. Gnomes were responsible for most of the major breakthroughs in arcane magic, including the mastery of airships, the creation of the warforged, and the construction of multiple lightning rails. Can you tell I enjoyed Keith Baker’s Eberron setting?
Lots of these examples stay true to their description in the core rulebooks and just add an extra twist. Sometimes, that’s all you need to make something compelling! The books provides lots of room for us to do this.

Not a Problem

All this being said, this is, of course, my opinion. My advice doesn't need to be followed and it won't be by many. But this epiphany has helped me tremendously. I'm building a world for me and my players to create stories and go on adventures in; as are you. You can make it be anything you want, but not utilizing the built-out, amazing content in the 5E books is silly to me. From the earliest pages of the Player's Handbook to the chilling locales within Curse of Strahd, there are tons of things to steal or build on.

Read and Reference

It’s stunning how many folks haven’t read the core rulebooks — I urge you to do this, at least once. There are tons of ideas captured inside these pages for both Players and Dungeon Masters. I’m currently rereading all of the 5E books, starting with the Player’s Handbook and ending, probably, with Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus when it comes out. Personally, reading over the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide (if you’re a DM) once a year is must. They truly help your game and your worldbuilding.

Some of you might be asking: where do I find the time to do this? It’s true, life is busy nowadays, but there’s always a time to read. I think I’ve found a great tactic, too! Instead of scrolling through social media (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram) for a few minutes throughout the day everyday, pick up a D&D book! You can use the physical book or download a copy onto your phone or computer. There are no excuses! There’s time to read these fantastic references and guides, you just have to make it.

In Summary

Instead of completely remixing the content inside the D&D books for your world, build on it:
  1. Use the 5E books as a helpful guide for you and your players. Try not to make your world too different, but do so if you really want to! Just look at the success of Dark Sun, Planescape, and Spelljammer!
  2. Add some unexpected twists and turns to your races, classes, and monsters.
  3. Constantly reread and reference your books! They’ll give you tons of inspiration and content.
Thanks for reading. Check back next week for my next article. If you're interested, I wrote a brief rundown and speculation piece on WOTC's next adventure; check it out!

Until then, farewell!

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

Comments

  1. i love these tips about reading the core rulebooks, since i have a friend that has been playing dnd for 3-4 years without picking up any of the books. he was always against them, and know after getting the dm's guide in a present, he has been brimming with ideas and plans
    now i can give him the players handbook without feeling pushy against not using the books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad! Everyone should, at the least, read the Player's Handbook cover to cover. It's great that your friend finally saw the light with your guidance.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Most Popular Articles of the Week

D&D Players and DMs, Be Thankful

It’s Wednesday night. The party are faced with a decision: continue toward the lair of one of their vile foes through cramped kobold tunnels, try to enter through a broken lightning rail, or turn back and face the enemies behind them. If they choose correctly, they’ll reach their destination before the mysterious Vaxilidan can complete the domination of those they hold dear. If they choose incorrectly, their loved ones will become horrific husks twisted by aberrant minds and incurable darkness. Of course, they choose the quickest and safest path: through the kobold tunnels! In single file, they crawl and slip their way down the wet passages until they arrive at a hole that leads into an ancient and flooded crypt. Dragon murals line the walls, kobold packs float in the murky water, and the cracks in the ground remind the party of a defeated foe. Their path forward muddied, they decide to delve into the crypt and a wild night of roleplaying and mad speculation ensues: kobold sarcasm and

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 e

How to Play an Archfey in D&D

Archfey are part of the god-like trio: archfiends, archfey, and great old ones. Each member of this class is unique, from Mephistopheles the Lord of No Mercy and Orcus the Prince of Undeath, to Hyrsam the Prince of Fools to Dendar the Night Serpent. Distinct from even these unique examples, archfey live on the Plane of Faerie, or the Feywild, where they play court and war amongst each other in a land of impossible flora and fauna. Most of the time, they won’t appear directly in your campaign. They’ll be faraway actors, pulling the strings in the background as your party traverses the world. However, what if you would like an archfey or three to become major players? What if you’d like to use Oberon the Green Lord as a villain? Maybe Titania the Summer Queen as an ally? How about your warlock forms a pact with Hyrsam the Prince of Fools? Well, you’ll need to know how to play one. Outlined below are how I see archfey in my world, Eldar. They might be different in your setting

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