Finding inspiration for worldbuilding is easier than you may think. Even if you’re mentally exhausted and creatively, there are thousands of different sources at your fingertips. For our first WorldBuilding Wednesday, here are a few sources for worldbuilding that I regularly consult.
Where to Look for Sources to Write a Dungeons and Dragons Campaign or Other Settings and Mediums
When I sit down to create a world for my latest Dungeons and Dragons campaign or even just a short novel, there are a few main places I search to find inspiration. Here’s a quick list of them for those short on time:
- Other works of fantasy (even from authors in a different country from yourself)
- Film or game soundtracks
- Myths and legends
- Movies/TV shows
Let’s delve deeper into these sources for worldbuilding to see how they can help.
My number one favorite place to find inspiration is history. Granted, I’m already a bit of a history buff, so it goes with the territory. History is wrought with incredible acts of heroism and villainy. Perhaps one of the best things about using history as a source of inspiration for worldbuilding a DND campaign is that it’s endless.
You can go as far back as the first recorded history if you really wanted to. For myself, I tend to stick in the Ancient Egypt/Rome and Medieval cornerstones when I build my worlds. Those three areas alone can offer you thousands of years’ worth of content to twist and use for your own storytelling.
2. Works of Fantasy
If you want to be a great worldbuilder, then you need to read. It’s really the only way to hone your skill. There are masters of worldbuilding out there. J.R.R. Tolkien is, perhaps, one of the best known. However, he’s not the only one. Yet using Tolkien is an example, he has an extensive history of the world he created.
Depending on your needs, you may not have to be quite as thorough as Mr. Tolkien, but he’s a great example to consider.
You don’t have to read every great fantasy book out there either. For one, try to read novels or comic books that are more inclined with the kind of world you’re trying to create. Don’t read a high fantasy novel if you plan to make a campaign that’s steampunk-based.
Likewise, don’t be afraid to try reading translated books from fantasy authors across the world, too. New countries offer new ideas and methods of story telling that you may want to adopt.
Another important source of inspiration I use for Dungeons and Dragons or even just writing a short story is music. Typically, I tend to opt for soundtracks or classical music. Lyrical music I find distracting. However, you may find that the lyrics of a particular song inspire to create a species or a bit of lore. That has certainly happened to me in the past (and you shall see the fruits of in another WorldBuilding Wednesday).
The kind of music I listen to depends on the story I’m telling. Does the world I’m creating feature heavy on pirates? Then I’ll put on soundtracks that are nautical in theme (looking at you, Mr. Hans Zimmer). Perhaps I want to work on a battle. Then I’ll put together some dramatic music that I wouldn’t mind slaying a few orcs to.
Music can define the scene. Allow it to guide your mind and hand during the creative process.
4. Myths and Legends
One of the hobbies I enjoy is digging into myths and legends. There are so many out there! You can search for regional myths, national legends, or even world myths. Each country has similar monsters but also unique creatures and cryptids. You may even discover that your own city or town has a local myth or legend.
Perhaps the best thing about myths and legends is that the hard work is done for you. It already comes with a tale. Yet the tale, itself, is a mystery. It gives you a foundation to then build up and use as you like. Whenever I want something different from the standard monsters we see in the Monster Manual, I tend to either look up reddit or start searching the web for myths and legends that intrigue me.
5. Movies and TV Shows
Just like reading fantasy novels, watching movies and TV shows are also a great source of inspiration. When you want to make sure that your players or readers can recognize the world you’re building, then you may want to use common tropes that’s found in movies and TV shows. Of course, the bad part about using common tropes found in visual fantasy is that your players and readers may already expect how certain story threads are going to end.
To avoid your players and readers becoming bored with your creation, you’ll want to subvert those tropes. Yet, keep in mind, that you shouldn’t be doing it for shock-factor alone. One TV series tried to do that already and fans are still angry about it (myself included). Any twist you want to make has to make sense and be all about the characters. Don’t shock for shock’s sake alone.
If you don’t already follow nature photographers on Instagram, then you’re missing out on a huge source of inspiration. If you’re like me and can’t get out of the city enough to take hikes on nature trails, then you have to live vicariously through nature photographers. Their stunning photographs never fail to inspire me to create a location or even a whole region for a world I’m building.
Even a simple shot of a forest gives me ideas for a battle map. They capture nature that is untouched. For many Dungeons and Dragons worlds, these are the kinds of landscapes that your players will find themselves in. It can help you create more organic and realistic battle maps while capturing their sense of immersion.
Here are a few I follow:
Start Searching Today
Inspiration for creating new Dungeons and Dragons content is all around you. If you have a favorite method for drawing inspiration, then let us know in the comments!