What is *worldbuilding* for?
Page 1 of 266 123456789101151101 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 2658
  1. #1

    What is *worldbuilding* for?

    The thread title really says it all. But here's some context to explain why I'm asking that question.

    In classic D&D, the dungeon was a type of puzzle. The players had to map it, by declaring moves (literally) for their PCs. The players, using their PCs as vehicles, had to learn what was in there: this was about inventory - having enough torches, 10' poles, etc - and about game moves too - searching for secret doors, checking ceilings and floors, and so on. And finally, the players had to try and loot it while either avoiding or defeating the monsters guarding the treasures and wandering around the place - this is what the combat mechanics were for.

    The game is something of a cross between a wargame and a complex refereed maze. And *worldbuilding* is all about making the maze. I get that.

    But most contemporary D&D isn't played in the spirit of classic D&D: the players aren't trying to map a maze; when it comes to searching, perception and the like there is often an emphasis on PC skills (perception checks) rather than player game moves; there is no clear win condition like there used to be (ie getting the gold and thereby accruing XP).

    In the classic game, alignment (and related aspects of character motivation) become components in, and establish the parameters of, the puzzle: if I find a prisoner in the dungeon, should I be rescuing her/him (after all, my PC is lawful and so I might suffer a GM-imposed penalty if I leave a helpless person behind)? Or is s/he really a succubus or medusa in disguise, trying to take advantage of my lawful foibles? This is one reason why divination items like wands of enemy detection, ESP medallions and the like are so prominent in classic D&D - they're "game components" which, once obtained, allow a clever player to make better moves and so increase his/her chance of winning the game. And their function relies upon the GM having already written the dungeon, and having already decided what the truth is about the prisoner.

    But in most contemporary play, character motivations (and alignment etc) aren't treated purely instrumentally in that waym as puzzle components and parameters. I'm expected to develop my character, and to care about his/her motivations, for their own sake. This is part of the standard picture of what it is to be a good RPGer.

    So, given these difference between typical contemporary play and "classic" play, what is world building for?

    And here's a final thought, in spoiler blocksbecause it's a little bit tangential:
    Spoiler:
    In this blog post, Luke Crane has interesting (and very enthusiastic) things to say about playing Moldvay Basic. He also asserts that "the beautiful economy of Moldvay's basic rules are rapidly undermined by the poorly implemented ideas of the Expert set." I think at least part of what he has in mind there is that Expert-style wilderness adventuring doesn't establish the same clear framework for play. There is no clear maze, and so no clear parameters for establishing puzzles to solve in avoiding or defeating the monsters while getting the gold.

    I see this contrast, between Basic and Expert - dungeon crawling compared to wilderness exploration - as raising the same question as this thread: what is world building for once we're no longer playing a dungeon crawling, puzzle-solving game?
    XP Manbearcat, S'mon gave XP for this post

  2. #2
    Member
    Superhero (Lvl 15)



    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Location
    Brooklyn, NY
    Posts
    857
    Reviews
    Read 3 Reviews

    Block redrick


    Friend+
    I'm not sure that I agree with this definition of "world building." World building is about the broader canvas. It's the backdrop behind your in-game action. The items in world building aren't necessarily expected to be interacted with, at least not directly, but they bridge and surround the material that players (and their characters) do interact with.

    Classic dungeon design isn't world building. It's set design. When I pull out my graph paper and my room key, almost everything I put down is something the PCs could interact with in some way. I'm laying out the elements PCs will run into so that I have "a plan" and am ready for them when they do. When I fill in the names of towns on my Kingdom map, not so much. That's more to provide a greater sense of consistency for the places my NPCs come from, the broader events happening in the world.

    Classic dungeons have world building too, because there are artifacts and altars to gods and references to places and things beyond the immediate scope of the adventure. They're just nice in that they allow the DM to limit that world-building, because dungeons are a closed set. The PCs can only go in the direction the map allows. The only thing in the dungeon is what the PCs can haul in and what the DM put there.

    Thinking about this brought me to the Village of Hommlet. The Village of Hommlet is realized with a level of detail beyond any other town I've ever used. Every character has a home with a floorplan and a place they store their valuables. Is this Gygax's pedantic approach to worldbuilding? The village should feel alive, so let's plot out every detail so the DM can evoke a broader, living setting? Or was it just another form of set design? Gygax expected his players to explore the houses and look under the floorboards for treasure. What role does that kind of set design have in modern play? I've never played Hommlet, but reading the adventure, my instinct is to "use" all those damn houses and villagers. I feel like there are as many pages dedicated to them as there are to the moat-house.
    XP MarkB, Blue, Nytmare, DM Dave1, Chad Hooper and 2 others gave XP for this post

  3. #3
    Member
    Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)

    MarkB's Avatar

    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    England
    Posts
    5,177
    Reviews
    Read 0 Reviews

    Block MarkB


    Friend+
    Please can you define what you mean by "worldbuilding"? Because I know what I think it means, and I've never considered it to be a maze-building tool. If we're not working from a common definition of what it is, I don't think we'll get very far in discussing what it's for.

    Also, you're presenting a contrast between 'contemporary' and 'classic' gameplay, but are you asking what worldbuilding means in the contemporary context, or the classical one - or both?
    XP Sadras, Nytmare gave XP for this post

  4. #4
    For me, the primary purpose is to provide for exploratory aspects to play. Those aspects might be a map of a physical location with dangers and rewards. It might be fraught social relationships where interaction can lead to help or hindrance. It might be the actual way magic works that an insightful player can learn to take advantage of. It may be a world ripe with hidden factions vying for different seemingly inscrutable goals. It is an aspect of play I and most of my players enjoy.

    A strong secondary purpose is to provide a framework I can be reasonably confident does not favour one player over another and to limit the extent my biases are expressed in the world. The world building may be biased because I build most of it myself (the rest I steal and file off the serial numbers), but it has the advantage of review and sober second thought.
    XP redrick gave XP for this post

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Nagol View Post
    For me, the primary purpose is to provide for exploratory aspects to play. Those aspects might be a map of a physical location with dangers and rewards. It might be fraught social relationships where interaction can lead to help or hindrance. It might be the actual way magic works that an insightful player can learn to take advantage of. It may be a world ripe with hidden factions vying for different seemingly inscrutable goals. It is an aspect of play I and most of my players enjoy.

    A strong secondary purpose is to provide a framework I can be reasonably confident does not favour one player over another
    Can I push a bit more on this. Eg what is the exploration for?

    Is it to establish "win" conditions (or tools that can be used to win?) - that is in the neighbourhood of the classic maze/puzzle solving, but how do you deal with the issue that Luke Crane implies (in the bit above that I sblocked), that once you leave the dungeon context the parameters and situation are so loose that the players can't make clear choices or reach their own clear solutions?

    Or is it for its own sake? In which case "favouring one player over another" might mean writing a world/backstory that player A will enjoy learning about more than player B.

    I worry this post has come out a bit more tendentiously than was intended (!), but the pushing is meant to be friendly/analytic, not hostile.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkB View Post
    Please can you define what you mean by "worldbuilding"?

    <snip>

    Also, you're presenting a contrast between 'contemporary' and 'classic' gameplay, but are you asking what worldbuilding means in the contemporary context, or the classical one - or both?
    I'm talking about the GM writing up the setting. Most RPGs posit some sort of setting - an imaginary place in which the PCs live, and where their adventures occur. That's the "world". @Nagol's post gives examples - maps and other details of places; descriptions of personages; etc.

    Because it's a fictional world, it has to be authored/written. When the GM does that in advance, that's "worldbuilding". Or, if you prefer, "setting design". But I see "worldbuilding" used more often, so I chose that word.

    I'm pretty sure I know what that setting design is for in classic Gygaxian dungeoneering - it creates the maze/puzzle that the players have to "solve" (by mapping it; by cleverly raiding it; by looting it; all without having their PCs die, and rather accruing XP and hence being able to tackle harder dungeon levels). But in the OP I posit that this style of play is comparatively rare these days; so what is setting design for now?

    Quote Originally Posted by redrick View Post
    I'm not sure that I agree with this definition of "world building."
    OK, but that seems a mere quibble. I think you've worked out what I have in mind, and I'm curious as to what the point of that is.

    Quote Originally Posted by redrick View Post
    Classic dungeon design isn't world building. It's set design. When I pull out my graph paper and my room key, almost everything I put down is something the PCs could interact with in some way. I'm laying out the elements PCs will run into so that I have "a plan" and am ready for them when they do. When I fill in the names of towns on my Kingdom map, not so much. That's more to provide a greater sense of consistency for the places my NPCs come from, the broader events happening in the world.

    Classic dungeons have world building too, because there are artifacts and altars to gods and references to places and things beyond the immediate scope of the adventure. They're just nice in that they allow the DM to limit that world-building, because dungeons are a closed set. The PCs can only go in the direction the map allows. The only thing in the dungeon is what the PCs can haul in and what the DM put there.
    So, what's all this for? Eg why not just have a list of names on a sheet of paper, rather than a kingdom map? Why write down all those room keys in advance? Why specify the gods and altars in advance?

    More generally, what is the benefit, for RPGing, of the GM working out in advance of play what elements the PCs will run into and (directly or indirectly) interact with?

    Quote Originally Posted by redrick View Post
    Thinking about this brought me to the Village of Hommlet.

    <snip>

    Is this Gygax's pedantic approach to worldbuilding? The village should feel alive, so let's plot out every detail so the DM can evoke a broader, living setting? Or was it just another form of set design? Gygax expected his players to explore the houses and look under the floorboards for treasure.

    <snip>

    I've never played Hommlet, but reading the adventure, my instinct is to "use" all those damn houses and villagers. I feel like there are as many pages dedicated to them as there are to the moat-house.
    I don't know the answer to these questions. It strikes me as possible that Gygax carried over a technique that made sense when desiging the dungeon for play (map and key) onto a different context (the village as an element of backstory and more "abstract" setting) without noticing that it didn't necessarily make sense in that latter context.

    Or maybe he wanted to be prepared for a group of players ready to loot the village, because he thought they would bring their play expectations about dungeoneering into the new context of the village.

    But in any event, that would be one example of what I have called "world building": the GM (by choosing to use this module) has established a whole lot of stuff about the setting in advance of play - the village layout, inhabitants, their dispositions and possessions, etc. Why do this? (Assuming that it's not just meant to be another dungeon.)

  7. #7
    Member
    Superhero (Lvl 15)



    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    636
    Reviews
    Read 0 Reviews
    WotC Evacuee

    Block Bawylie


    Friend+
    World building is for exploration & discovery


    -Brad

  8. #8
    Member
    Cutpurse (Lvl 5)



    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    North Germany
    Posts
    734
    Reviews
    Read 0 Reviews

    Block 1of3


    Friend+
    So, given these difference between typical contemporary play and "classic" play, what is world building for?
    The confusion over your choice of "world-building" is that making a dungeon would not normally be considered that. World-building is a separate activity. Like www.orionsarm.com. That's world-building. Making up a universe that works by consistent rules, their places, societies, histories etc. But you are right, that isn't really the point.

    To understand what role this world/background/setting plays, we first need a model for RPGs that fit both varieties you describe. A common base to build on.

    An RPG is a game where people develop a story or narrative primarily by talking.
    A rule in a game is says what the people may or should do.
    Therefore in an RPG a rule says what people should talk about.

    Setting then is a rule. You should talk about elements defined in the setting. You should not contradict them.

    But that doesn't really answer your question. Because your question isn't really about settings or world-building or whatever. You are asking about the goal of playing. In what you call "classical" (your scare quotation marks), the players' goal is looting the dungeon as best you can without dying.

    The question you imply is: What is the goal, when we do not play in the dungeon? - But frankly, that question cannot be answered, except for: Anything else. A game of Vampire focussing on intrigue, will have a very different overall goal than one focussing on personal horror. And that is only a single game. Also note, that Vampire has very specific rules on how to set up a city.

    So you might ask: What tools do different games provide to set up the setting or scenario and what goals does that suggest. But we can't discuss this very well in general.
    XP monsmord gave XP for this post

  9. #9
    That's a curious use of the term 'worldbuilding'. Before reading the OP, I'd have answered "to entertain the GM".

    Actually, the answer may be the same, even though 'dungeon design' is closer to what you're trying to describe.

    One thing I really liked about the 'mega-dungeon' module "The Eyes of the Stone Thief" for 13th Age is that it doesn't have fixed maps.
    I.e. the authors clearly understand that the way RPGs are played have changed. The GM can arrange the described locations in whatever way makes sense for her and the kind of story she's trying to tell.
    And since you get the perfect excuse of the dungeon being alive, you can even re-arrange everything when the PCs enter it for a second (and a third, and ...) time!

    The real focus of the module are the many factions (and 13th Age icons) and their varied motivations for getting involved with the Stone Thief dungeon.
    XP pemerton, Manbearcat, AbdulAlhazred gave XP for this post

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by 1of3 View Post
    An RPG is a game where people develop a story or narrative primarily by talking.
    A rule in a game is says what the people may or should do.
    Therefore in an RPG a rule says what people should talk about.

    Setting then is a rule. You should talk about elements defined in the setting. You should not contradict them.

    But that doesn't really answer your question. Because your question isn't really about settings or world-building or whatever. You are asking about the goal of playing.

    <snip>

    So you might ask: What tools do different games provide to set up the setting or scenario and what goals does that suggest. But we can't discuss this very well in general.
    I am not asking what you say I am asking.

    I have already posited one (broad, but I think recognisable) goal of (non-classical) RPGing in my OP:

    Quote Originally Posted by the OP
    I'm expected to develop my character, and to care about his/her motivations, for their own sake. This is part of the standard picture of what it is to be a good RPGer.
    In a game with a goal along those lines, ie where the goal isn't to beat the dungeon but rather to express/develop my character and find out what s/he does and becomes, what is the point of pre-authored setting?

    EDIT:
    You also do suggest one answer to my question: the point of pre-authored setting is to establish a scenario. There's probably more to be said about that.

Quick Reply Quick Reply

Similar Threads

  1. Why Worldbuilding is Bad
    By I'm A Banana in forum *General Roleplaying Games Discussion
    Replies: 1901
    Last Post: Monday, 21st May, 2018, 06:14 PM
  2. need some help in worldbuilding
    By badgerfrank10 in forum *General Roleplaying Games Discussion
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: Thursday, 29th July, 2010, 05:03 PM
  3. Why Worldbuilding is Bad II
    By FireLance in forum *General Roleplaying Games Discussion
    Replies: 12
    Last Post: Friday, 18th May, 2007, 04:26 PM
  4. Blogging worldbuilding
    By GuardianLurker in forum *General Roleplaying Games Discussion
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: Thursday, 11th May, 2006, 04:29 PM
  5. Blogging worldbuilding
    By GuardianLurker in forum *Pathfinder, Starfinder, Older D&D Editions (4E, 3.x, 2E, 1E, OD&D), D&D Variants, OSR
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: Thursday, 11th May, 2006, 04:28 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •