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DND World Building: Creation Stories

Updated: Feb 8

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Some DMs are content to run adventures in the worlds that are provided for them such as the Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance universes if we're talking about official WOTC settings, or the many homebrew realities (including our very own Arclands, Northrealm and Phandrax Universes). However, for many of us, the allure of world building is irresistible, the idea that we can introduce our own bespoke reality for players to explore and enjoy is as compelling as in game DMing. This article is written to help explore the first thing we all have to think of when creating a coherent world or universe - where it came from in the first place.

It seems fitting that in our first few blog articles that we talk about the beginnings of all things, the creation of the fantasy universes that we’re all building. I’m going to start by assuming that you are either an established world builder or you’ve got world building dreams that are yet to manifest. Either way, one of the first explanations is how the world came into being in the first place. Later on in these posts I’ll start to introduce a world I’ll be creating from scratch and breathing life into week by week, but for now, let’s examine four ways that a reality can come to pass. This is far from being an exhaustive list and I’d love to hear if you have any suggestions to add. By the way, if you haven't already read it, check out our article on coherent world building

1.Divine Intention

Most world religions attribute the creation of the universe to divine intention (it’s important to note that in your reality, what a religious doctrine states, and the actual reality of the situation might be wildly divergent). A benign creator at the beginning of time creates order from chaos and breathes life into the world in their own image because…er…

Here’s where we encounter a logic chasm that we have to bridge. Normally, the answer that religious doctrines come up with is that the creator god is benign and likes to do nice things, like create life. Christianity tells us that God created Eden for Adam and Eve to live in and if the original sin of disobedience hadn’t occurred, everything would basically have worked out. One of the early challenges we face if we’re going down the route of divine intervention is ‘what did the creator god do all this creating for?’ This question opens up lots of possibilities for exploring an otherwise two dimensional entity and it enables us to begin to shape the world, the theology and pantheon of other deities if we wish to create them.

Was it:


Did the creator god want to shape the universe in their own image for reasons of pride?

Obligation: did the creator god owe their siblings in the divine pantheon a few favours and have to create worlds for them to rule?


Did a Loki or Anansi trickster dupe the otherwise omniscient creator god into creating a physical universe for them to get up to all manner of mischief in?

Interstellar Maginot Line

Did the creator god create planets, stars and galaxies as a vast belt to hold back some unspeakable evil?

These questions are important because their answers will shape every aspect of the reality the characters in your world experience, even if they have no idea exactly how the universe came into being.

2. Divine Accident

We assume that gods, by their nature are perfect and infallible, even though much of our own mythology suggests otherwise. The god of the Old Testament is vengeful and jealous, Zeus is a philandering patriarch who schemes against his wife to hide his infidelities, Odin gave away one eye for wisdom but exists in his own plots and plans. These are gods with very human frailties (we imagined them, so duh), and one thing that humans by their nature can’t conceive of is infallibility.

We have no frame of reference for what perfection looks like and a mortal meeting a perfect entity like a god might discover that its supreme logic could be cold and brutal or, if benign, almost impossible for mortals to fathom. What if there was a god who, whilst ordering the universe discovered that unfortunately the universe itself wasn’t completely capable of being ordered? What if there was a god that tried to make a world of perfection and failed?

Could the god of the Old Testament have accounted for the serpent? It seems as if the serpent in the Garden of Eden existed outside god’s control and essentially did its own thing, giving humans a free will and a sense of separation from god and an awareness of their mortality and vulnerability. Everything else that happens in Christian doctrine after that are god’s attempts to offer redemption to the children of Adam and Eve.

Every world needs a tiny seed of chaos inserted directly into the order so that there is dramatic tension. Because we’re dealing with foundational ideas here, the foundational creation concept that you decide will shape all the other notions you build on top of it. Here’s a quick example off the top of my head.

A creator god orders a universe in a precise ‘music of the spheres’ manner, and in his vanity he assumes he is the only intelligence in his beautiful lifeless universe. He is wrong, because the great white hole of matter and energy that spews life into the cosmos also created his brother, who loved disorder and chaos.

While the creator was enjoying everything he had created his brother appeared by his side and dealt him a terrible blow with a dark sword and the creator god’s blood spread across the universe bringing life to countless worlds. The now weakened creator god, no longer perfect, had to find all the life forms that were born unto him and his jealous brother, unable to create life, only to manipulate it sought to engage with these life forms too.

I think this might form the basis of a theology in the next few posts.

3. Mortal Tinkering

You might be creating a godless universe or working on a sci fi world where epic mythologies and theological grand narratives don’t apply. Science fiction works on a different set of tropes, not the infallibility/fallibility of gods, but the hubris and nemesis of man. Human beings travelling to distant worlds and prodding things they have no knowledge of underpins countless science fiction narratives.

Human curiosity, vanity and ego might be the cause of your world creation event; equally there might be a creator species that either terraformed a lifeless world or created an artificial planet or structure. Civilisations higher up the Kardashev Scale that have harnessed the power of multiple stars and have spread across entire galaxies might be able to create giant structures such as Alderson Discs.

At a certain level of technology and power, some of these creatures might be indistinguishable from gods themselves, or have decided for themselves that they are godlike. Are they infallible? Certainly not, and the thing they seek to tame and transform, the universe itself is beyond the control of anyone, god, mortal or supermortal. It is the wild mustang of the story, always ready to throw its rider.

To delve into the "Mortal Tinkering" aspect of world-building in D&D and RPG universes, let's explore several key concepts:

1. Alderson Discs and Megastructures: These are theoretical structures, massive in scale, designed to orbit a star. The idea pushes the boundaries of what a civilization can achieve, serving as a beacon of technological advancement and ambition. In your RPG, an Alderson Disc can act as a battleground, a utopian society, or a mysterious relic of a bygone era, challenging players to explore its vastness and the civilizations that built or inhabit it.

2. The Kardashev Scale: This scale classifies civilizations based on their energy consumption levels, offering a framework for the technological progress and societal organization of the civilizations in your game world. Incorporating this scale can help define the conflicts and alliances between different societies, their technological capabilities, and their aspirations or fears.

3. Dyson Spheres and Energy Harvesting: A civilization's attempt to build a Dyson Sphere can introduce themes of environmentalism, the ethics of energy consumption, and the potential for catastrophic failure. Such a project could unite or divide factions within your game, offering quests related to its construction, maintenance, or exploration.

4. Quantum Entanglement and Communication: Utilizing quantum entanglement for communication opens up intriguing plot possibilities, including espionage, instant messaging across the cosmos, and the challenges of securing such communications from eavesdroppers. This can add a layer of complexity to political intrigue and warfare in your universe.

5. Artificial Planets and Terraforming: The creation of artificial planets or the terraforming of barren ones can lead to narratives around colonization, the discovery of ancient technologies, or the moral dilemmas of altering ecosystems. These endeavors can serve as the backdrop for adventures, where the outcomes of terraforming projects or the exploration of artificial worlds drive the plot.

4. Cold Barren Universe

You can always dispense with the creation story altogether. There is no reason why your universe needs one and can be the product of a big bang event like the one we inhabit. The focus of your narratives doesn’t have to relate to how the universe was created, just the human and non human dramas of survival within it.

In crafting worlds without creation myths, the narrative focuses on survival, exploration, and confronting the unknown in a universe that offers no divine origin or purpose. This setting, while seemingly stark, presents a fertile ground for stories that probe the essence of existence and humanity's relentless pursuit of meaning. In such a universe, characters are not defined by gods or mythical origins, but by their actions, choices, and the strength of their will to forge destinies in the vastness of space.

The absence of a creation myth shifts the narrative emphasis towards the raw challenge of survival in an indifferent cosmos. Here, the elements, the scarcity of resources, and the mystery of what lies beyond the next star or inside an ancient, abandoned structure on a desolate planet become central themes. These elements compel players to navigate the harsh realities of their environment, making survival a compelling narrative in itself.

Exploration takes on a new dimension in a godless universe. Without mythic tales to guide them, characters must chart their own paths through the cosmos, uncovering the secrets of ancient civilizations, deciphering the laws of nature that govern their reality, and perhaps even encountering other beings facing similar existential dilemmas. This uncharted journey becomes a canvas for storytelling, where the discovery of each new world or technology feeds into the larger narrative of a civilization striving to understand its place in the universe.

To maintain player engagement in such a setting, Dungeon Masters can employ a variety of strategies. Creating a sense of mystery and the potential for monumental discoveries can drive player interest forward. Introducing philosophical and ethical questions about existence, the value of knowledge, and the nature of power in a universe without gods can provide depth to the gameplay. Furthermore, developing intricate political and social structures within this framework allows players to influence and be influenced by the universe in meaningful ways, ensuring their investment in the ongoing narrative.

Ultimately, a cold, barren universe stripped of creation myths opens the door to existential narratives that challenge players to find their own answers to the age-old questions of why we exist and what our place is in the vastness of it all. Through survival, exploration, and facing the unknown, players carve out stories of resilience, discovery, and, most importantly, the human spirit's unyielding quest for significance in the grand scheme of things.

5. Integrating Creation Myths into Gameplay

Integrating creation myths into gameplay enriches the RPG experience by grounding players in the world's lore and providing a deep well of narrative possibilities. To weave these myths into gameplay effectively, start by embedding elements of the creation story into quests. These can range from retrieving ancient artefacts tied to the world's formation to confronting remnants of primordial forces that shaped the land. Conflicts, too, can arise from ideological schisms about the interpretation of creation myths, pitting factions against each other and forcing players to navigate these tensions. Characters, whether allies, enemies, or neutral parties, can be deeply influenced by the creation myth, motivated by a desire to uphold, subvert, or uncover the truth behind it.

Incorporating theological and existential themes adds layers of complexity to campaigns, challenging players to grapple with questions of morality, destiny, and the nature of existence itself. This can be achieved through dilemmas that have no clear right or wrong answers but instead reflect the ambiguous nature of life and the universe. Theological debates can become central to the storyline, influencing political power dynamics, social structures, and the personal growth of characters.

To ensure these elements enhance gameplay rather than overwhelm it, balance is key. Provide players with enough information to understand the stakes and make informed choices, but leave room for exploration and discovery. Encourage players to engage with the creation myth and its implications through their actions and decisions, allowing them to leave their mark on the world and its history. By thoughtfully integrating creation myths into gameplay, Dungeon Masters can create a rich, immersive experience that resonates with players long after the session ends.

6. World Building Workshop: From Concept to Campaign

Creating a universe for your campaign involves starting with a solid foundation and expanding outward, weaving a rich tapestry of myths, geography, and cosmology. Begin by drafting a creation myth that sets the tone for the universe's existence, considering how this myth influences the pantheon of gods, the cosmological structure, and the interactions between divine and mortal realms. Develop pantheons that reflect the values, fears, and aspirations of your world's inhabitants, ensuring each deity has distinct domains, personalities, and histories that players can interact with.

For the physical geography, consider how the creation myth and divine actions have shaped the continents, oceans, and realms. Design landscapes that not only provide diverse environments for adventures but also reflect the history and mythology of your world.

Utilize tools like world-building software, mapping applications, and campaign management platforms to organize your universe. Resources like mythology books, historical texts, and other fantasy literature can inspire and deepen your world's complexity. Incorporate feedback from your players to dynamically expand the universe, allowing their actions to influence its evolution and history. This step-by-step approach ensures your campaign universe is both deeply rooted in its own lore and adaptable to the stories you and your players wish to tell.

Conclusion: The Living World

There can be a temptation amongst world builders to see the reality they have devised as the finished document and to consider that part of the process done and dusted. It doesn't have to be this way though.

Your world and the story of how it came to be will inevitably continue to grow over time and its origin story will evolve subtly too. You can keep adding to it, refining it, shaping it and looking at its complexities and nuances. Keep allowing it to grow and this will enable it to continue growing.

Creating a living, breathing world in RPGs emphasizes the essence of adaptability and ongoing development within your created universe. This approach fosters an environment where the actions and decisions of players actively contribute to the lore, allowing the narrative and world itself to evolve over time.

Encouraging continuous world-building during gameplay ensures that each campaign remains fresh, engaging, and deeply personalized. The initial creation stories lay the groundwork for this dynamic universe, serving as a compass that guides the adventures within it.

They are not just static backstories but the lifeblood of the world's identity, continually influencing its growth and the immersive experience of the RPG. As players navigate through the world, their interactions with its elements, characters, and outcomes weave new threads into the fabric of its history, ensuring that the world you've created is alive, ever-changing, and responsive to the epic tales that unfold within it.

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