Over the years I have developed countless campaign worlds for role-playing games. When constructing a new campaign world I almost invariably start with two things: geography and religion. These two things shape culture and history even in our own “real” world. Geography impresses upon the people who dwell there a certain framework. They plant the seeds of religion as the people seek to explain the world around them. Geography and religion combine to further forge a society as people groups seek to overcome and subdue their surrounds.
When I seek to create a new campaign setting, the first question I ask (and attempt to answer) is, “where is this located”. Sometimes I envision the big picture, creating a whole galaxy and drilling down to a single star, planet, continent, region, etc. Other settings are begun at microscopic level with a single valley, mountain range, island, etc. Some of my favorite resources for fantasy world building have been GURPS: Fantasy (4th Ed), A Magical Society: Guide to Mapping, and the World Builder’s Guidebook (TSR – 2nd Ed. AD&D).
After the maps are drawn I begin thinking about the races. Which one’s occupy the world (or are currently known)? Where did they start from? How did they get here? What do they believe? Personally, I find it easier to begin with the major non-human races and tackle human societies last. There are a myriad of ways of tackling faith systems. Sometimes I dive right in and start creating deities and allow the creation and myth and religious structures to form out of the pantheon. Other times I start with the creation myth and form the specific deities or powers as the story evolves. In either case, the geography is going to help influence the religious landscape. For example, a society that inhabits an inland plain probably won’t have a sea deity, whereas an island based people might venerate a sea god above all others. Again some resources I’ve found helpful in the creation of pantheons and religious systems is the World Builder’s Guide (mentioned above), Deities & Demigods (TSR – 1st ed. AD&D), and GURPS Religion.
For the current game world I’m developing I’ve chosen to start with the Elven people. I’m basing their religion on the Japanese Shinto mythos. I had originally thought to base their religion on basic animism, but wanted greater points of focus to make their story more interesting and give those playing elven clerics an anchor point. I thought first of basing it on Native American mythos (particularly that of the plains tribes) but decided ultimately to use the Shinto faith as my foundation. Once I finish the background for the elves of this new world I’ll post it to my Scribd account and provide a link here.