One of the more fascinating elements of Dungeons and Dragons is the lore of the stories. Heck, even the lore of the characters that compose the stories – you can find some amazing evolution of monsters in the Monster Manual when you compare the first edition to the fifth, for example. The DMs and the players are responsible for crafting a history to not just their characters, but of the land itself. This was something I was chomping at the bit for; Every Tolkien book I’d read, every Dragon Age game I’d played, all the Arthurian lore and the St George and Flight of the Dragons, all of this had been building up inside me waiting to burst.
First up, each individual town needed its own description. Simple enough – proximity to certain areas lent itself to easy tales. Then the presiding rulers of the areas, which was a lot easier when names were distributed. Motivations for the rulers, their hopes, desires, and fears, were a bit trickier to compose. Take for instance a barony between a lake, a forest, and a mountain. This place ended up being called "Hilldwyn," and was full of traditional townsfolk (of course), but from its vantage point ended up being an important military outpost that could scan three separate yet important avenues for attack. Who would be the baron? Why, a war hero would be delightful, so Baron Krall took his estate and governed the town with the hardass nature of a former solider, but with the benevolence of a ruler that cares for his citizens.
Second up was establishing a greater lore for the land of Yndred itself, crafting a ruling dynastic lineage that spanned a thousand years. Which was…challenging.
I had to consider where to start, how to reach the present, who begat whom, were there any wars that defined the reign, were there any treaties, new lands, new castles, scandals, children…a whole bunch of shit, man! Creating a lineage of ten rulers was enjoyable, but it was WORK: I had to arrange how they were related, what individual aspects separated them from each other, how the previous generation would influence the next, what each monarch would do over the course of their reign to leave a legacy in Yndred. As a DM you can really let your freak flag fly during this, and the best part is that these aren't just historical aspects of rulers, these are potential narrative plot points that can be integrated into your campaigns!
Next was time to establish a proper chronological timeline, and that took hours to get the math right. The funny part was, I ended up fudging the math (“Well, that’s not surprising,” says Grant’s ACT scores) and was left with a 40-year gap of no connecting monarchs.
Instead of freaking out and scrapping the whole damn thing, that simple mistake leads to a story for the land, one that cast a shadow on the kings and queens that came afterward. In fact, I liked the damn thing so much I stretched it to 60 years, and it’s now called the “60 Years of Silence,” and I can’t wait to keep fleshing it out.
Lastly, I got to have backstories for my players, and use those to help craft more lore. This is something that a lot of DMs and GMs might get shafted on – some players are new to the game, or aren’t very big on conjuring up stories with depth to define the characters they’re making. Some are just murder hobos looking to get right to the killing. But if you are lucky you have players who are just as excited as you are, players who jump headlong into their characters and just come up with some exceptional work.
My players Anderon, Alexandros, Penelo, and Tuuli (using character names to protect their precious secret identities) had rich backstories that allowed me to begin to think long-term stories, to begin outlining ways to cultivate NPCs with ties to their pasts, with scenarios that would call out their true natures. When you play and plot in D&D you pray for adventurers like these.
Next up is diving into the actual start of the story arc, so hike up your girdles and get ready for adventuuuuuuuuuure!
One of the best publicly known DMs today is the incredible Spencer Crittenden of Harmonquest. This guy is a wonderful DM to emulate in that he plans his stories well, allows his players to act out their scenes, and works with them to heighten the moment or allow a bit to breathe. For more info on how he secured a gig that allowed his talents to flourish, read THIS piece, or check out the video below for a sampling of the dude’s unreal skills.