You are here

Sample Module Design - The Setting (Part One)


As explained in my previous article in module creation, Getting Started, there are five main ingredients in making a module: Setting, Synopsis, Critical Path, NPCs, and Maps. This tutorial is an example for new DMs who want to create a setting for their modules. Together we will see the creation of a module in the kingdom of Heirokanth, and in future tutorials we will create a story and add the other ingredients necessary to complete a module.

First we need an idea for our setting. What will our kingdom be like? Inspiration for this can come from many sources, including movies, books, and history itself. One of my favorite periods in history was the expansion of the American west, where the open frontier lured brave adventurers. We can use that as the seed for our setting...


The kingdom of Heirokanth was settled long ago by humans during a time of expansion. Its capital, Ruthelis, is located on the southern shore of the continent, while unexplored lands lie to the north, collectively called the Northern Territories.

The settlers had encountered native halfling tribes, who were either displaced or absorbed into Heirokanth's society, with little conflict. The halflings called themselves the Arbori, after their forest diety. As the kingdom grew, more natives were encountered, but these were more aggressive tribes of orcs and goblins, who saw the Heirokanthians as invaders.

Explorers found the mountain range to the north was inhabited by dwarves, and they had within one mountain their city of Belazan. Initally mistrust and fear kept the humans and dwarves at odds, but today there is a mutually beneficial trade agreement between Belazan and the kingdom of Heirokanth.

This should provide plenty of opportunity for conflict and adventure. Now that we have a basic background for our setting, we can add some of the important details about the societies involved, such as political systems, religions, magic and demographics. 


The official religion of the kingdom is the worship of Beolyn, an ancient goddess of Law. Her worshippers erected the great church of Beolyn  in the kingdom's capital of Rutheliss. The church eventually had formed into a beurocratic heirachy wielding great influence throughout the kingdom. Today, the king of Heirokanth is more a figurehead than a leader, leaving the decisions to the power-hungry high priests of Beolyn. The civilized settlements of the kingdom are still mostly human, with some minorities coming in from the sourrounding lands and trade routes.

What distinguishes our setting from the standard, ordinary D&D setting? So far, really not much. If we examine the potential conflicts, we can create a situation where suspicion and greed might cause different ways of thinking in the ways of magic.


Arcane magic in Heirokanth is fairly uncommon, originally due to the scarcity of material components used in spellcasting. In its efforts to remain in power, the church of Beolyn planted the seeds of fear in its people, declaring that only divine magic, which was granted by the goddess Beolyn, was the only magic that good citizens of Heirokanth should practice. Arcane magic was eventually feared and hated by the common people. While this is the view of a majority of the humans in Heirokanth, some dismiss it as superstitious propaganda (mostly wizards and sorcerers).

Arbori magic is tolerated only because it is divine magic, used by their druids and shamans. Also because they use spells that are generally beneficial rather than destructive, and the halflings are thought to be cute and harmless. But those who are close to the church are suspicious of any magic that does not originalte from Beolyn, and many see the Arbori as barbaric pagans who will ultimately turn to evil.


To help define the setting further, we'll sketch out a general map of the kingdom, and use an outline form to add more details to the information we have already...


The Kingdom of Heirokanth



  • Geography
    1. Climate and terrain: Temperate hills and forests (Ruthelis, southern coast and surrounding area), mountains (kingdom of Belazan, lands opening into the Northern Territories).
    2. Ecology: Standard
  • Demographics
    1. Capital city of Ruthelis: 96% human, 2% dwarf, 1% gnome, 1% other races.
    2. Neighboring towns & villages: 79% human, 9% dwarf, 5% gnome, 3% half-orc, 2% halfling, 1% half-elf, 1% elf.
    3. Belazan: 96% dwarf, 2% gnome, 1% human, 1% other races.
    4. Outlands bordering the Northern Territories (edges of map): 37% half-orc, 20% orc, 18% goblin, 10% ogre, 7% dwarf, 5% halfling, 2% yuan-ti, 1% gnome.
  • Economics
    1. Coinage: Heirokanth dollar (standard gold coin).
    2. Taxes: Royal tax collector, quaterly, 20%.
    3. Tithes: Church tithe collector (varies), 10% (mandatory only in Ruthelis).
    4. Moneychangers: found only in Ruthelis and other trading ports.
  • Politics
    1. Political Systems
      • Theocracy (capital city of Ruthelis, church of Beolyn).
      • Monarchy (nobles of Ruthelis).
      • Feudalism (neighboring towns and outlying villages).
      • Clans (outlying Arbori villages and areas encroached upon by barbarian and monster tribes from the Northern Territories).
    2. Legal issues
      • Arcane spellcasting is illegal in Ruthelis and nieghboring towns. Punishment is severe in the capital, variable in the towns, and light or non-exisitant is outlying villages, unless a Magistrate of the church is governing there.
      • Weapon use is highly resticted in Ruthelis. Most other towns require peacebonding and suspend the use of missile weapons and polearms except by militia and soldiers.
    3. Social Classes
      • Upper class: Priests, Nobles, Knights, Magistrates, Wealthy merchants, Herlads, Wardens, Captains.
      • Middle class: Reeves & Village elders, Merchants, Constables, Mercenaries, Seargents, Sheriffs, Minor officials and clergy, Craftsmen, artisans & scholars.
      • Lower class: Soldiers , Pages, Common serfs (farmers, laborers, servants, beggars), Hermits, Barbarians, Witches
  • Religion: Mixed
    1. Unified heirarchy (church of Beolyn)
    2. Regional clans (worshippers of Arbora)
    3. Dispersed ancestral traditions (worhsippers of assorted deities).
  • Magic: Limited
    1. Divine magic is accepted by the church of Beolyn [clerics and paladins] and the temples of Arbora [druids and rangers].
    2. Arcane magic is opposed by the church, forbidden in the city of Ruthelis, and discouraged in most other cities [wizards]. In outlying areas and villages it is ignored, tolerated or feared [sorcerers], and sometimes encouraged [bards].


The Big Picture

So far we have defined a fairly well thought-out setting, and have the "big picture" for our campaign. We have defined the kingdom well enough in terms of politics, religion, and magic. We have given some thought to how the classes fit in, and why some are especially valued or disdained. We have defined which races are common and which are the minorities, as well as what monsters are common in the area. Already we can see where adventure may be found. We can see where tensions lie between the various races and governments, and can begin to get a grasp on how people feel about trade, magic, technology, religion, and government.

All of this is essential for running a long-term campaign, and should be done before we even touch our first module. Even if you have decided to use a pre-made world as the setting for your campaign, you will need to define the local area as we have for our kingdom here.

But we only want to create a small module which concentrates on an area around a single town. It is still a valuable excercise to outline the big picture, because no town exists in a vaccuum, and your modules may later seek to expand beyond your little rural area.


X Marks the Spot

Now we can choose where in our kingdom to start our adventure. Since we know that wizards and sorcerers may have a difficult time in Ruthelis, it is probably best to start in one of the outlying towns. Looking at our map, we see that in the center there is a likely spot for a town, midway between Ruthelis and Belazan. Such a town is a good location for a trading post, and would be more tolerant of any mages in the party. It would also not be far from the untamed lands still held by orcs to the west, and goblins to the east. This town would also be right next to a forest, which could provide an industry for the town's economy.

We shall name our town Murkfield. What happens when the PCs start the game? What is going on in Murkfield that they don't know? What is that strange noise coming out of the forest at night? Those and other questions will be answered next time, in Part II: The Synopsis.

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
  • up
  • down