What Makes a Good Setting?

What elements are necessary or important for you when using a setting? Or when designing one?

I’m running Blackapple Brugh for some friends and have basically no material yet outside the module itself. They’ve asked enough questions that I’ve thrown out answers to that I’m thinking it’s time for me to flesh out the surrounding setting.

So I’m looking for a list of key components to help me keep from missing something. This is my first time doing this sort of thing.

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Sorry, I had initially replied with a popular worksheet for creating settings (Matt Colville’s My Campaign sheet) but I realized it doesn’t really apply if you’re starting from an existing module.

I haven’t read or run Blackapple Brugh but I assume it already includes a town and a dungeon? So you might be able to start by just making up a few other nearby towns and the name of the kingdom that they’re in.

Can I ask what kinds of questions the players are asking that you don’t have answers to?

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I always recommend starting small: You don’t need to flesh out the entire world or continent fully at first. Leave yourself some of those blank spaces for later should they come up! I might name a distant Region so I can start referring to it (“Oh, this book looks like it’s from the Legendary Library of Al-Tasura far over the Sea of Sorrows to the South”) but I don’t need to know much else about that place until the Players start getting interested in going there.

If you’re using a Hex Map, then working your way outward can be a good way to handle the World Building. Name some Nearby Regions, get a general idea about them and what they’re “known for.” Name major Landmarks/Features like Mountain Ranges, Swamps, Forests, Lakes, Bays, Rivers, etc. This gives you a way to refer to them concretely. For areas that are closer, and more likely to see Play, you can place things like Dungeons/Site-Based Adventures. You can build Encounter Tables and sketch out some interesting Settlements. That’s where I like to focus a lot of my energy at first (I have put together a Hex Stocking Example here that explains my process a bit :slight_smile:)

Start thinking of some big “movers and shakers” in the World. Big political entities, warlords, powerful NPCs, big “Named” Monsters like Dragons and such. These are going to be the seeds for the Factions that the PCs might inevitably butt heads with. The sooner you have some general ideas for these, the easier it is to work them into a situation: “Oh these are the Greenbow Bandits they hate Local Lord Thuven because he burned down their village a few years back.” This can lead to further Adventuring Hooks and help seed those Rumor Tables. Once something has a Name, Players are more likely to get interested in it I’ve found :slight_smile: .

Get information from your Players. Ask them what they’re interested in Exploring or Doing. I use this all the time to help “guide” or "focus’ my Prep. I don’t really want to spend a lot of time on fleshing out the Settlements/Monsters/Dungeons in the Dismal Desert only to find that they’re interested in buying a Ship and exploring Piracy in the Bay of Forgotten Foes.

It can be intimidating to think of that big, wide, world of blank and empty space initially…but by starting off in bite-sized chunks, sticking to what’s important for the next few sessions, it gets a lot more manageable. The act of Play can definitely give you more ideas on what you want to explore in your Prep, or what items you can put on the “backburner” for now. As long as what you’re doing is Fun for you though, it’s never wasted effort.

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It’s not exactly that I don’t have answers, it’s more that I’ve had to improv answers and now I want to flesh it out.

For example, this week they fought a group of goblins from the random encounter table. Instead of the fight I thought it would be, they slept the group, killed all but one, and charmed and interrogated the last one. They asked questions like:

“How many are you?”
“Are you from around here?”
“How long did it take you to get here?”
“Can you draw a map?”
“Can you draw a map of Lord Gizgik’s camp, too?”
Etc.

I had to improv all the answers and maps on the spot.

Afterward, they said something about needing to go find the camp to keep the town safe, so now I’ve got to at least flesh out the camp, map the route between them and the camp, and figure out enough about the ecosystem to make the trip gameable.

But if I get some momentum and want to keep going, I want some kind of setting designing reference to check with.

Oh, and Blackapple Brugh has a town, dungeon, and things to do in the town and immediate area.