Make it your own…

In the vast body of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), published settings offer a canvas rich with lore, characters, and landscapes that ignite the imagination. From the sprawling, dragon-laden realms of Dungeons & Dragons to the cyberpunk streets of Shadowrun, these worlds provide a foundation upon which countless adventures can be built. However, the true magic of RPGs lies not just in exploring these pre-crafted settings, but in tailoring them to fit the unique visions and preferences of each gaming group. This personalization transforms a familiar landscape into a one-of-a-kind world, enhancing the gaming experience for both game masters (GMs) and players alike.

The purpose of this article is to guide you through the process of making a published RPG setting your own. We’ll explore strategies for understanding the essence of the original setting, identifying areas ripe for customization, and seamlessly integrating your personal touches. Whether you’re a seasoned GM looking to breathe new life into a favorite setting or a newcomer eager to make your mark on an established world, this article will provide practical tips and creative insights to help you craft a story in a setting that resonates with you and your players.

NOTE: This article assumes you want to keep the original setting intact and use its themes and motifs, building off what’s there. A GM could of course could just take bits and pieces of a setting or multiple settings and smash them together, but that’s a different article.

Understanding the Essence of the Original Setting

Before embarking on the journey of customization, it’s a good idea to understand the original RPG setting you intend to personalize. This step ensures that your modifications and additions enhance the world’s rich tapestry. The essence of a setting goes beyond its surface-level elements—it encompasses the lore, themes, characters, and the very details that make the world unique and engaging.

Tips on Researching and Immersing Oneself

  • Study the core materials: Begin with the core rulebooks, sourcebooks, and supplements that detail the setting. Pay close attention to the history, geography, political factions, and major NPCs. Note the recurring themes and motifs that give the world its flavor.
  • Explore Supplementary Content: Look for novels, comics, and even fan-made content that expands on the world. These sources can provide deeper insights into the setting’s culture, daily life, and unexplored corners.
  • Participate in Community Forums: Engage with the RPG community online. Forums and social media groups dedicated to the game can be goldmines of information, offering diverse interpretations and insights that you might not have considered.
  • Play the Game: If possible, play the game as both a GM and a player. Experiencing the world through different lenses can help you understand what makes the setting resonate.

Customizing a published RPG setting is a journey of creativity, offering a unique opportunity to tailor a world to your vision and enhance the gaming experience for you and your players. [social_warfare]

Identifying Areas for Personalization

Once you’ve immersed yourself in the essence of the original setting, the next step is to identify specific areas ripe for personalization. This stage is where your creativity and the original setting’s framework collide, offering a playground for your imagination. Identifying these areas is both an art and a science, requiring a balance between maintaining the integrity of the original world and introducing elements that reflect your unique vision.

Identifying Elements for Modification or Expansion

  • Look for Gaps in the Lore: Every setting has its unexplored corners or briefly mentioned locales and characters that can serve as a canvas for your creativity. These gaps in the lore are perfect opportunities for expansion without conflicting with established elements.
  • Assess Underdeveloped Themes: Consider themes within the setting that are only lightly touched upon. Expanding on these can add depth and new dimensions to the world, offering fresh narratives or conflicts for players to explore.
  • Incorporate Unused Genres or Elements: If the setting primarily focuses on certain genres or elements, introducing underrepresented or entirely new ones (while still fitting within the world’s logic) can offer new experiences. For example, adding mystery or horror elements to a primarily adventure-focused setting.

Integrating Personal Interests

  • Align Personal Interests with World Themes: Identify themes or elements within the setting that resonate with your interests. This alignment ensures that your additions feel organic and enhance the setting’s depth.
  • Create Signature Locations or Characters: Introduce new locations or characters that reflect your interests or background. These can serve as focal points for new adventures or add layers to the setting’s social fabric.
  • Adapt Real-World Inspirations: Drawing inspiration from history, mythology, or other interests can add richness to the setting. Ensure these adaptations fit within the world’s context, providing a seamless blend of the original and the new.

Having identified areas for personalization, the next step is to breathe life into these concepts, weaving your unique touches into the fabric of the RPG setting. This process is where the abstract ideas formulated during your planning phase become tangible elements that enhance the game world. In the following section, we’ll explore strategies for incorporating these personal touches, ensuring that your contributions not only fit seamlessly within the existing world but also elevate the overall gaming experience by adding depth, intrigue, and a distinct flavor that reflects your vision and creativity.

Incorporating Personal Touches

After identifying the fertile ground within a published setting ripe for customization, it’s time to sow your seeds of creativity. Incorporating personal touches involves infusing the game world with unique flavors—be it through new locations, factions, lore, or even a nuanced reimagining of existing elements. This process is not just about adding content; it’s about enriching the setting in a way that deepens the players’ engagement and connection to the world.

Strategies for Adding Unique Flavors

  • Design New Locations: Create locations that offer new adventures or serve as the backdrop for complex narratives. Consider environments that contrast with or complement the existing ones, such as hidden cities, secret societies, or untamed wilderness areas ripe for exploration.
  • Introduce New Factions: Factions can add depth to the political, social, or magical landscape. Introduce groups with motives or philosophies that challenge the status quo, providing players with allies, adversaries, or moral dilemmas.
  • Expand the Lore: Weave in lore that fills gaps or answers questions in the existing narrative. This can include ancient histories, myths, or legends that have tangible impacts on the current state of the world.

Encouraging Creativity While Maintaining the Setting’s Core Appeal

  • While it’s important to introduce new elements, ensure they harmonize with the world’s established tone and logic. This balance keeps the setting recognizable to players while providing fresh experiences.
  • Involve players in the creative process. This can lead to a richer setting that resonates more deeply with the entire group, fostering a shared sense of ownership and investment in the world.
  • View the incorporation of personal touches as an evolving process. Be open to adapting based on gameplay experiences and feedback growing the setting organically over time.

Character Development within Customized Settings

A personalized RPG setting is a fertile ground for character development, offering players and GMs alike the opportunity to introduce backstories, motivations, and arcs that are deeply intertwined with the world. This customization enhances the players’ connection to the setting, making every quest, conflict, and resolution more impactful. By integrating characters into the fabric of the customized world, their stories become pivotal to the narrative, enriching the overall gaming experience.

Enriching Character Backstory and Development

Encourage players to create characters whose backstories are linked to the unique aspects of your setting. For example, a character could be a descendant of a faction you introduced or have a personal history with a new location. This creates a sense of belonging and relevance within the world.

Leverage the expanded lore to inform characters’ motivations and goals. Personal interests or experiences introduced into the lore can mirror in characters’ quests for knowledge, power, or redemption, making their journeys feel personal and driven by the world itself.

Unique Character Arcs

Characters could have arcs that involve their allegiance to, conflict with, or attempts to mediate between new factions, offering complex narratives that explore themes of loyalty, morality, or ambition.

Utilize newly created locations as the basis for exploration-driven arcs. Characters might seek out ancient artifacts, lost knowledge, or hidden realms that you’ve woven into the setting, driving adventure and discovery.

If your setting incorporates diverse cultures, characters can undergo arcs that explore their identity, heritage, or the integration of different cultural backgrounds. This can foster narratives of understanding, conflict resolution, and unity.

Collaborative Storytelling with Players

Regularly discuss character goals and backstories with your players. This collaborative approach ensures that the setting evolves in a way that is meaningful and engaging for everyone involved. Be open to letting player-driven stories influence the world. If a character’s actions have significant consequences, reflect those changes in the setting. This dynamic interaction makes the world feel alive and responsive.

Invite players to contribute to the world-building process. Whether it’s designing a new location or suggesting lore for an unexplored aspect of the setting, player contributions can enrich the narrative tapestry and foster a deeper connection to the game.

While personalizing a setting and weaving characters deeply into its fabric offers a richer and more immersive experience, it also presents challenges in maintaining canon and continuity.

Remember, the goal is not just to alter a world but to enrich it, making it more engaging and personal for everyone involved. [social_warfare]

Handling Canon and Continuity

When customizing a published RPG setting, one of the most delicate tasks is managing the original setting’s canon and continuity. The goal is to introduce new, personalized elements that enrich the experience without clashing with the established lore or disrupting the narrative coherence that fans of the setting appreciate. Balancing this requires thoughtful planning, clear communication with players, and a flexible approach to storytelling.

Managing the Original Setting’s Canon and Continuity

Establish which aspects of the original canon are flexible and which are inviolate. This clarity helps maintain the setting’s integrity while providing spaces where personalization can thrive.

When adding new elements, aim to complement rather than contradict the existing lore. Introduce homebrew elements that expand the world’s horizons, filling in gaps or exploring areas the original setting left vague or untouched.

Strategies for Integrating Homebrew Elements

  • Integrate homebrew elements through side quests or stories that run parallel to the main narrative. This approach allows for exploration of new ideas without altering the core storyline.
  • Adding myths or legends offers a way to incorporate personal touches without directly impacting the current state of the world. These can explain new phenomena, artifacts, or locations in a way that enriches the setting.
  • As the setting evolves with your additions, periodically review how these changes fit within the broader narrative. Ensure that new elements remain consistent with the world’s developing story.

Handling Player Expectations and Knowledge

  • Leverage players’ knowledge of the original setting to enrich the game. Encourage them to contribute ideas that align with their understanding of the world, fostering a collaborative storytelling environment.
  • Ensure that for every new element introduced, there’s a tie back to the familiar aspects of the setting. This balance keeps long-time fans engaged while exploring new territory.


Customizing a published RPG setting is a journey of creativity, offering a unique opportunity to tailor a world to your vision and enhance the gaming experience for you and your players. From understanding the essence of the original setting to incorporating personal touches and managing canon and continuity, the process is both rewarding and challenging.

Remember, the goal is not just to alter a world but to enrich it, making it more engaging and personal for everyone involved. We encourage you to experiment with the ideas presented, use the tools and resources recommended, and most importantly, enjoy the process of making the setting your own. The world of tabletop RPGs thrives on creativity and collaboration, and by sharing your experiences and tips with the community, you contribute to these ever-evolving narrative landscapes.

How have your made your favorite settings your own?