I have read a lot of dungeon master guides. Most of them focus on topics that are of little interest to me, such as “how to be a game master” or “rules and variants.” I understand the purpose of those sections, but they have never been of much interest to me even when I was starting out. World building is always of interest to me. Unfortunately, most dungeon master guides place world building in the middle or at the end of the book.
The middle of a book suggests that world building was important to someone, but not important enough to place it first. Last in a book is one of two philosophies: it will be the last thing read and remembered or not important at all; if someone wants to know they can look for it. Which is why most games that involve world building never feel like my game. I have designed many worlds for one group or another to play in. However, because the focus of the books is not about making the game mine I have always felt like I was borrowing someone else’s rules.
Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition has gone about this differently. Perhaps someone else has done this as well, but I cannot think of anyone off the top of my head; the world building section is the first section in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Brilliant. Instead of the usual advice about how to run a game, deal with players, or endless rules questions, variants, and oddities the focus is on making your game YOURS!
Even better, the world building section does not skimp on how to from how to design a world-top down or bottom up to where does your world fit in your universe. The information is useful without being overwhelming. Suggestions read like suggestions, not inferences that you really should be doing it their way. Being honest, there is a lot more on the subject of world building that could be written and has been already written, but what is included hits the high points and sets up the foundation of you are designing your world, not playing or borrowing theirs. I admit when I started reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I was prepared for tons of magic items, rules related material, how to game master, and finally a tiny bit on designing your own world.
Finding world building first, put me in the best possible mood to read through the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Of late, I skim through dungeon master guides since so much is cut-n-pasted from previous sources. Now I am taking my time and making notes for a world of my own. Will I get to use this world, probably not any time soon. But that is a sign of how impressed I am with the information and organization, my imagination was sparked. That right there is the best thing I can say about the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, it sparked my imagination.