Wednesday, November 1, 2023


Middle Earth.
Dota 2's Setting.
Dominaria (and Ravinica).

There are certainly more; but this is a good starting list. What is this list? For me, this is some of the biggest, most expansive fantasy settings I know about. I barely even know the surface level details of most of them, but I quite like reading about them. Spending hours going wiki-diving and reading in game lore novels and books just to absorb it all. I see such great inspiration here for myself; and yet I think of these settings the more I feel a specific negative emotion- Jealousy.

Specifically- Why haven't I made something like this yet?

I know it's not a fair comparison. For starters, we are talking about settings that have been around for a very long time- some longer then I've been alive- and have had teams of writers and professionals work on and create. But it goes beyond the simple depth or breadth of them, but also how 'real' and realized they are. Created to be in video games, board games, tabletop, movies, etc. lets these fantasy worlds be more and more cemented in the popular consciousness and have their characters, cultures, and have their fantastical elements displayed and portrayed by artists, animators, and so on. These, to me, make them feel more "real" then anything I could create, giving me a sensation of inferiority to my own creative works and ideas. Once again, not a fair comparison given that these are media giants- with exception to Centerra of course, we're getting to that later.  Even worse, I can't avoid the totally illogical desire and daydream of having my fantasy setting being read by others and being so inspiring, cool, or interesting that they begin to imagine it themselves; singing its praises or downright using it to run their own games and campaigns. Like I said- it's not at all rational. But I can't help it- especially when you consider many of these fantasy worlds did actually start as D&D homebrew worlds; The Elder Scrolls and Diablo I know for a fact are at least partially based on D&D and probably started as personal home-table settings and now they are household names of fantasy.

The other problem, which is more personal to myself, is I've never truly had a "world" to go to. I've never truly put down the foundations or built up a long running series of games or online stories set in a single world. For my DMing career, I've usually done one or two shots, often in totally different or unique settings each time, or in a generic "fantasy land" that's just middle earth with the serial numbers filed off without any actual worldbuilding or connections. This is also compacted by the fact I haven't really had a long running single gaming group or campaign in quite a long time- both from covid and various people moving away- leading to a diet of smaller bite sized roleplaying chunks and homebrewing in my free time for fun. While many recommend starting with a Keep on the Borderlands or West Marches campaign style- advice which I followed throughout many years of DMing- It has since grown to become boring and not satisfy me, especially now that I feel I have "nothing" to show for it. Logically, I know this is false- it's the memories and enjoyment of those games that matter and are worth the effort, but emotionally, I find my lack of having one big world to come back to that I've carefully crafted over the years to make me feel defeated and an imposter when it comes to DMing.

The one that burns me the most is Centerra. Made by the Goblin Punch guy, which is one of my biggest inspirations to starting my own blog, is probably one of my favorite fantasy settings of all time. Specifically, the gonzo weird ass edgy OSR funnel style of fantasy world- which is exactly what it's going for. It's probably one of the most inspiring fantasy settings for that reason- though I'll admit to not exactly wanting to get Isekai'd there, as you wouldn't last long and it's certainly not a fun place to live or die in either, lol. Routinely inspiring and interesting, I really cherish all of the regional and lore-related posts over there. It's a great read. But once again- even with only the specific images he sources for his posts and his words, Arnold creates a great fantasy world that leaves me feeling creatively impotent. This isn't meant to be throwing shade or a pathetic bit of hero-worship, just a simply observation and emotional dump- by the way, don't take this the wrong way if you read this Arnold, you produce good content. I'm just jelly.

It's also a bit silly as well. You don't need a dedicated fantasy world or setting to play or run tabletop games, and that's totally fine. While I'd much prefer just making something up over playing in Faerun or whatever, it's good enough for your game- depending on the scope. But everyone has that dream campaign of a world-changing or exploring game with intersecting faction, deep lore, and long unfolding histories of character choices and lineage, something next to impossible to run without a deep investment of time and energy in a concrete world that is detailed and filled in. It's also, secondly, the most concrete and final creation of a DM or GM, whose work is primarily within imagination and/or writing. Their fantasy setting is the more concrete and full encapsulation of their abilities, and without one, you feel more like you're playing pretend compared to the other pretend-players.

I'm not old enough to think I can't do new things still though. The solution is simple; just start making one. Makes sense, but even so, I can't help but feel like I can't do it. Without the same level of interest and time that younger-me would have had to put into creative ventures, mine will invariably be of lower quality and clarity. This also compounds with my own personality and method of creative thinking- where I loathe writing down or committing details because I will always invariably want to change them in the future. This sounds like it would be fine just to not care about this kind of pointless token of DM experience, but I do care about it, logical or not. I want the reward without putting in the work or cultivating the mindset to facilitate that change. 

So, as for now, I have no fantasy setting to default to, and it makes me jealous of those who do. Does anybody else feel this way? I hope this one didn't come out too whiny, I just wanted to share a personal experience of mine and maybe you can relate to it.


  1. YES. You've put the words to it, yes, always, constantly. I want the feeling of having *made* a massive sprawling interconnected and deep setting... I just don't want to have to *make* it, ya know? Sounds like a lot of work.

  2. There was a time I thought similarly, but I've been disillusioned with worldbuilding for its own sake for a while now. So much of worldbuilding is merely trivia - fake trivia, which isn't even good for winning a pub competition.

    "where I loathe writing down or committing details because I will always invariably want to change them in the future" - Arnold Goblinpunch has no compunctions against changing details of Centerra. Centerra draws on Arnold's education in theology and science to create a world as cruel, absurd, slaved to biology/history as any attributed to God or Gnon.

    Advice: just be yourself.You are a world, or rather a reflection of the world. Put facets of that reflection to paper. Or don't, and wallow.

    t. semiurge

  3. There are setting that are embedded into my perception to the point that almost everything I create appears to be just a pale echo of them. All my demon worlds are part-Malfeas. All my strange cities are part-Sigil and part-Fallen London. All my underworlds are part-Tenebrae. One that is embedded the most is, probably, Bloodborne, because despite this being a quite small game (lore-wise it is rather compact) - something that can be feasibly done by one person, if we only think about the world and not a video game itself - it is a world of such concise and elegant complexity that people still discover connection between jar messenger cosmetics, mercury, Oeden and Argentinian-invented birthing device years later.

    Instead of jealousy my reaction is mostly of powerlessness. I am not good enough, not inventive enough, not imaginative enough to write anything that would have created something as interesting, regardless of it being an original ideas or something that builds on these embedded premises well. Settings that are embedded in my perception dominate the output so fully that in a sense I cannot (almost ever) create anything that is not a simplest rehash of them; they are indeed very beautiful settings, but they don't leave place for anything else.

    (One of the few original thoughts is my perception of abyss, but it is depressing by itself to realize that one of the few original thoughts that I have is about a cosmic landfill.)

    Yet by itself the worldbuilding is a welcome activity to me. I _like_ to think about this stuff and I don't think that semiurge is entirely correct that worldbuilding for its own sake is nothing but false trivia. People do get interested in worlds and their details just for worlds sake (this is why all those wikis exist). Maybe not that many people comparatively to people who just played a video game, but they do exist; a lot of time I had great joy just reading somebody's minisetting.

    (I also believe that worldbuilding - i.e. thinking about world elements, connections and details - is a useful mental exercise by itself; it makes one to do research, occasionally, and learn new things if nothing else)

    As for the permanent world, I don't have any either but I have about 5 to-go creatures?/cosmic principles?/templates? such as endless and wandering desert Ava Umao (that remains connected on one end to each world she ever visited) in case if I need to quickly create something I feel comfortable to DM.