Placing DnD Races in Your World Building

*For this article we’ll be using the term “Race” as it has historically been used in the DnD races context and not it’s real world application. While species and ancestry are less problematic terms, gaining in use and publication, we’re going to use the current published language of DnD as it is now to talk about DnD.

Welcome back to the Worldbuilding Process series. If you need to catch up on the journey thus far, see the Worldbuilding Process Main Page. In the last post we finished applying the important resources to track to our world map. We will continue to be in the mode of tying parts of our fantasy world to the map for a little longer. This time, we want to layer the DnD races, Pathfinder races, or whatever races/ancestries you decided on back in the Worldbuilding Abstract section. Way back in THIS POST about setting up the core assumptions of the world we set down a guide for what races make up most of the inhabitants of the world we’re building.

World Build Races as Guides Not Rules

The DnD races showcased in the world building are not ironclad choices for PCs. For example, I’m running a game in the world we’ve been building where one of the PCs is a Tabaxi. You’ll notice in the recap of the world’s races below, Tabaxi are not represented.

Generally as a DM I would steer the player towards a more common race, or reskin the race if the player just wanted the mechanical traits, but the player really latched onto the Monster Hunter World Palico idea as a character and there wasn’t any reason to stand in the way of them playing a character they’d love. So, I let the player know that their race was quite rare outside of their small homeland area and would draw plenty of attention the farther they strayed from home.


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DnD Races & World Building

The world’s civilized races are broken down into Common, Uncommon, and Rare. This breakdown helps us determine how widespread the populations are and the influence of their cultural heritage.

Common DnD races comprise about 50% of the world’s civilized population, 33% for Uncommon races, and 17% for Rare races. So for those races that don’t make the cut that means together they represent less than 1% of the population or less than 10,000 per 1,000,000 civilized people.

Common Civilized DnD Races

Dwarf, Elf, Human

Uncommon Civilized DnD Races

Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-Elf

Rare Civilized DnD Races

Genasi, Goliath, Tiefling

World Building & Civilized Races

We keep throwing around the term “civilized races.” We’re using the term to distinguish the common, uncommon, and rare DnD races in our world building from less influential humanoid races and those that are considered monstrous DnD races by the core rules.

The civilized races in our world are those that have achieved at least most of the core requirements for being called a civilization as used by historians today. The tenants below should not be used to world build mono-cultures for your DnD races. Simply that the civilized DnD races participate in these tenants, often together by mixing their ideas.

Civilization Tenants

  1. City Builders
  2. Distinct Style (Art & Architecture)
  3. Established Trade System (Currency)
  4. Formalized Religious Practices
  5. Large Public Works (Inspire & Service)
  6. Organized Administration & Law
  7. Social Hierarchy
  8. Specialized Labor (Stable Food Surplus)
  9. Standardized Record Keeping (Writing)

Avoiding Empty Civilizations

The first priority when world building races in this fashion is to ensure all points of latitude have some possible representation of civilized people. Later we’ll be assigning large cities and other high-profile locations to our map and we don’t want to end up with, say, a major city with a hundred residents only to learn none of our civilized DnD races are represented in the area.

To ensure this won’t happen, each common, uncommon, and rare DnD race we’re using for our world building will cover 2/3rds of the map. With our current world map broken down into 60 columns of longitude, that’s very easy to accomplish: 40 on and 20 off. With 9 DnD races to spread across the world, we shouldn’t have any longitudinal column of our world that doesn’t have least one race represented. Should that happen for some reason, we just make an adjustment to one of the races until we achieve 100% coverage.

The added bonus of this approach means that each of our civilized races will be absent in 1/3rd of the map. That means not even our common races are ubiquitous. There will be places where humans are not represented in the population and Common is not spoken, a rarity for DnD world building, I know.

However, It’s important to remember that we say DnD races X, Y, Z are represented at this point in longitude, we’re not confirming they are all there in this specific population breakdown. We’re only setting the foundation. IF an occupied city, castle, etc. is situated at the location, these are likely the civilized DnD races you will find occupying it.

Adding the Curve

Because each of the major civilized races cover most of the world map, we want to ensure they’re not covering that spread in an equal blanket of people. To do that we’re going to create a bell curve distribution for each race. At the center of each curve that race will be more populous and that representation deteriorates as we approach the wings of the curve.

World Map Distribution Curve for DnD Races

  • 02 Columns of the Quaternary Density
  • 04 Columns of the Tertiary Density
  • 06 Columns of the Secondary Density
  • 16 Columns of the Primary Density
  • 06 Columns of the Secondary Density
  • 04 Columns of the Tertiary Density
  • 02 Columns of the Quaternary Density
  • 20 Columns of ZERO Density

How to Assign DnD Races to Your World Map

We’ve finished our background work, we have our world maps ready and not it’s time to spread people across it! I’m using a spreadsheet, like we’ve used previously for the resource distribution. I find it the easiest way to create and reference this information for the map, without creating a bunch of map layers in Photoshop or cluttering everything up with notes directly on the map.

Since we have 60 columns of longitude breaking up our map, we roll 1d60 for each common, uncommon, and rare DnD race. The result is the first column of the quaternary density and just keep moving East across your world map assigning all the columns. I color coded the density to make it easier to visualize.
Primary: Green
Secondary: Yellow
Tertiary: Orange
Quaternary: Red

Quick look at my world’s spreadsheet

Defining Relative Population Density

You may be looking at your different columns of longitude and notice that a column has the primary density of a rare race, the secondary density of an uncommon race, and the quaternary density of a common race. It can leave you wondering what the relative difference is in those population densities. Does the rare race have a higher population than a common race in this area?

To answer that question, I assign these numbers directly to the colored spreadsheet cell so I can tell at a glance.


So, for the above example, it’s 4 for the rare race, 6 for the uncommon race, and 3 for the common race. As it turns out, most of the people in the area are of the uncommon race despite it being an area of high population density for the rare race.

By totaling the numbers of represented races you can create a quick and dirty DnD race roll table to use for NPCs around the world.

How to World Build Using Your Results

I’ve already been using this to great effect in the game I’ve been running with the palico-inspired player character. A human is assigned governance of the current adventuring area.

Despite humans being a common race in the world, they are not represented in the current area. It’s one of the areas outside the human representation bell curve. So, there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the local, non-human populace with the appointment and the new problems that need solving (by our player characters of course) are being tied to the human governor’s mismanagement.

The human governor is not doing a great job of countering this sentiment; they are not a people person and already feel like an outsider in the location. To make matters worse, an influential, local NPC is fomenting dissent. Many people want to see the foreign governor ousted and leadership passed to a local dwarven noble with strong family ties to the area.

That’s just a background plot, world building for the area, not the main thrust of the current adventure. But, the PCs (similarly all being DnD races not represented in the area) are also outsiders doing work for the human governor and it is not making them very popular with the locals. Of course, neither was the party openly accusing disenfranchised NPCs in this small community of racism. That will probably come back to bite the party in the butt later.

But you know how it is, player characters are always unintentionally making their lives harder on themselves.

Next Time, World Building Locations for Our DnD Races

Simple and straightforward this time, which is good because next time we’ll be adding some high profile, atlas locations to the world map and that’s going to take me a little bit of time to put together!

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