• Justin Handlin

10 World-shaking Events for Dungeons & Dragons

Updated: Feb 20

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10 World-shaking Events for Dungeons & Dragons

When we think of world-shaking events, we tend to think big: wars that pit the forces of good against evil in a final confrontation, natural disasters that lay waste to entire civilizations, invasions of vast armies, or extraplanar hordes, assassinations of world leaders. These are the events that title the chapters of history.

Rise of a Leader

In dramatic stories, a new leader’s rise often comes at the end of a period of struggle or turmoil. Sometimes it’s a war or uprising, other times an election, the death of a tyrant, a prophecy fulfilled, or the appointment of a hero. Conversely, the new leader might be a tyrant, a fiend, or black-hearted villain, and the era that just ended could have been one of peace, tranquility, and justice.

Death of a Leader

All that begins must end. With the fall of kings and queens, the maps of the world are redrawn, laws change, customs and cultures alter. The fall of a tribal warlord means one thing to the larger powers attempting to tame the land under one rule, and something entirely different to the tribe he ruled. When these people lived, they shaped their civilization and their culture. When they passed on, the world wasn’t the same for their absence. The attitude of the inhabitants shifts subtly at first and then changes dramatically as the people look back or reminisce about the time before.

Cataclysmic Disaster

Earthquake, famine, fire, plague, flood—disasters on a grand scale can eradicate whole civilizations suddenly and without warning. They redraw maps, destroy economies, and alter worlds. Sometimes the survivors rebuild from the ruins. The Great Chicago Fire, for instance, provided an opportunity to rebuild the city according to a modern plan. Most of the time the disaster leaves only ruins—buried under ash like Pompeii, or sunk beneath the waves like mythical Atlantis. You can use real historical cataclysms in our history to bring ideas forth for your world’s cataclysm. For instance, think of planar warps and magic gone awry like a nuclear incident. They’re big events that unnaturally alter the land and society.

Invasion or Assault

One of the most common world-shaking events, an invasion occurs when one group forcibly takes over another—usually by military strength, but also by infiltration and occupation. An assault differs from an invasion in that the attacking force is not necessarily interested in occupation or taking power. On the other hand, an assault might be the first step of an invasion.

As a world-shaking event, an assault or invasion makes a definitive impact. It can’t be just another military action—regardless of the scale, the incursion stands out because its repercussions change the characters’ world and its effects resonate long after the initial attack or takeover.

Related Article: Enhance Lore and Exploration Pillars with Different Types of Puzzles

Rebellion, Revolution, Overthrow

Dissatisfied with the current order, a person or group of people overturns the dominant regime and takes over—or fails to take over. Regardless of the result, a revolution (even an attempted one) can shake the world and shape the destiny of nations.

In a medieval fantasy world, revolutions are often bloody and brutal—but they need not always be. Nonviolent revolutions or overthrows (such as the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989) can occur as the result of a vote or mass protest.

The scale of a revolution need not involve the common masses against the nobility. A revolution can be as small as a merchants’ guild revolting against its leadership or a church overthrowing its priesthood in favor of a new creed. The spirits of the forest might attempt to overthrow the forces of civilization in a nearby city that cut down trees for timber. Alternatively, the scale can be as dramatic as humanity rising to overthrow the gods.

Extinction, Depletion

Something is gone from the campaign world that once existed. This might be a variety of plants, a precious resource (such as platinum, mithril, or adamantine), an animal species or the wild game of a region, or an entire race or culture of people. This element or creature is hunted or exploited to extinction, or else suffers some other fate that eliminates it from this part of the world, leaving behind little but its memory. Its absence causes a chain reaction that affects every creature that uses or relies upon it.

New World Order

The foundation of a new order, kingdom, religion, society, cabal, or cult can shake the world with its actions, doctrine, dogma, and policies. On a local scale, a new order contends with the existing power groups, influencing, subverting, dominating, or allying with them to create a stronger base of power. Large and powerful organizations can exert enough influence to rule the world. Some new organizations benefit the populace, while others grow to threaten the civilization they once protected.

Discovery, Expansion, Invention

New discoveries change the world. Discoveries of new lands expand the map and change the boundaries of empires. Discoveries of new magic or technology expand the boundaries of what was once thought possible. New resources or archeological finds create opportunity and wealth and set prospectors and power groups in motion to vie for their control.

Prediction, Omen, Prophecy

Sometimes the foretelling of a world-shaking event becomes a world-shaking event in and of itself: omens that predict the fall of empires, the doom of races, and the end of the world. Sometimes an omen points to change for the good—a legendary hero or messiah—but the most dramatic prophecies warn of future tragedies and predict dark ages. Unlike other world-shaking events, the outcome doesn’t happen immediately. Instead, individuals or factions work to fulfill or avert the prophecy according to how it will affect them. The prophecy’s helpers or hinderers are the forces that create adventure hooks in the campaign by the actions they take. A prophecy should foretell a big event on a grand scale since it will take time to come true (or be averted).

Myth and Legend

Sometimes a world-shaking event takes on mythic or legendary proportions. If wars, plagues, discoveries, and the like can be called “regular” world-shaking events, these are the events that exceed and surpass them, the ones that come along only once a millennium (if ever) and shape the world’s mythic outlook for all time to come. These wildcard events change a region or the whole world on a grand scale. Some forms this may take could be a crashing comet, destruction of a moon, another plane merging with the material realm, or even a multiversal war.

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Character Concept: Raymond Stapleton, Male Human

Description: He is an attractive man, lean and moderately muscular. He is wearing dark clothing and a heavy breastplate, keeping many of his physical features obscured. His brown hair is thinning but still full. His fair skin shows little sign of his aristocratic breeding.

Personality: He is highly sensitive about his name. He loathes it, but will not take any guff about it from anyone. He cannot resist a sob story and will often dote over anyone who has one.

History: Born in the north to a Crown heir, Raymond learned a great deal about his father's area of expertise. He worked as a nervous Crown heir and found it very stressful. He struck the Crown-heir job and began his own company from there.

Motivation: Sabotage a competitor, and to fight the greatest warriors and to fight in the greatest battles ever

Monster Variant: Vadhagraha

Origin: Tarrasque

Lost Features: Horns. Swallow, Chomp

New Features: Fly 80 feet.

Multiple Heads. The Vahagraha has three heads. While it has more than one head, the vadhagraha has advantage on saving throws against being blinded, deafened, stunned, and knocked unconscious.

Whenever the vadhagraha takes 100 or more damage in a single turn, one of its heads dies. If all its heads die, the vadhagraha dies.

At the end of its turn, it grows two heads for each of its heads that died since its last turn, unless it has taken fire damage since its last turn. The vadhagraha regains 60 hit points for each head regrown in this way.

Reactive Heads. For each head the vadhagraha has beyond one, it gets an extra reaction that can be used for opportunity attacks.

Wakeful. While the vadhagraha sleeps, at least one of its heads is awake.

Omega Blast. The vadhagraha creates ten thin glowing beams of searing fire from its eyes that track its targets. Each beam hits a creature of its choice that it can see within 120 feet. A beam deals 1d4 + 1 fire damage to its target. The beams all strike simultaneously, and the vadhagraha can direct them to hit one creature or several.


Redirecting Roar. When vadhagraha is hit by a ranged attack it can release a powerful sonic roar increasing its AC by 2 against the attack. If the attack misses because of this increase the vadhagraha, a creature within 30 feet of it is chosen at random and becomes the new target for that attack. Use the original attack roll to determine if the attack hits the new target.

Encounter: The End of an Era

Natural disasters have been wreaking havoc on the world. The temple of the followers of the Light, led by the elf archmage Jalana Domine. She seeks powerful spellcasters to help her end the disastrous events. The followers of Light indicate that the disasters aren't natural. They are the result of the seals that hold the world breaker weakening. It’s been over 3,500 years since the final Sealing. The world's greatest wizards gathered to seal Vadhagraha, the world breaker in its prison. The four seals need to be filled with power and infused or Vadhagraha will break free. Each seal is locked away in a hidden temple and protected by the four elements; earth, fire, wind, and water. Each of which is placed on powerful leylines, conduits for arcane power around the planet. The trial consists of ten straight days of channeling arcane energy into the seals. Each temple is now the center of a different kingdom. The resealing will release enough energy to destroy the capitals that stand upon the temples. Should Vadhagraha break free from the prison that is the moon? The world will quite literally end and be reshaped to the world destroyers desire.

Magic Item: Chili-Mince Cornbread

“A traditional traveler's snack made with fresh steamed dough mixed with corn rounded and baked. The bread is cut in half and hollowed out and filled with diced chili peppers and small chunks of peppered meat ”

Wondrous item, rare

This delectable meal was magically infused by the chili peppers that were grown in an area filled with the ashes of a dying fire elemental. There is enough bread for one use. When you spend 1 minute eating the cornbread, you gain resistance to cold damage as well as you are immune to the effects of extreme cold temperatures. Additionally, you can cast the dragon’s breath a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus. These effects last for up to 1 hour. Spells such as dispel magic or similar effects will end the magical effect.

Dungeon Master Tip: Tabletop Music Companion (Early Access)

There is no denying that audio tracks can make D&D much more engaging. Having multiple tracks to easily change during the situation really helps set the atmosphere. But what if you could easily, at the press of a button change from one track to the next that represents the situation, not just the location? Really catching the atmosphere? Tabletop Music Companion nails this.

Let’s say the characters seek the villains' lair. You open the boss battle audio, set the atmosphere to outside and the music begins. During the trek, the characters stumble across some excellent herbs for potions of healing, press the simple lucky find button for a congratulatory sound and a smooth transition back into the atmosphere. As they close in on the lair, the ranger leads them into a monstrous beast that gives chase, pressing the hunted button changes the music to match the tone.

This music progression continues all the way to the big bad boss battle. Once you select the encounter music you can start with the neutral option as the battle begins. As the characters close in on victory or begin to get their hide handed to them, there is yet another track to select for the situation. This even further engages the players and the audience. What a powerful tool! We highly recommend it. This takes your music track to the next level.

Player Tip: Don’t be a Dick: Obsidian Notes

This powerful note-taking software allows you to easily string thoughts, concepts, and ideas together. Simple hyperlinking and even a visual line showing what is connected. Much like a digital conspiracy board. If you’re looking for an easy way to connect, NPCs, quests, factions, and pretty much anything else together. This is certainly the tool to do it! 100% free and available for most platforms.

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