Does the world exist for the PCs?
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  1. #1
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    The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)



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    Does the world exist for the PCs?

    A couple threads active right now got me wondering about this: in your opinion, does the world and its doings exist primarily for the benefit of the PCs, as opposed to it existing and going on despite (or even in spite of!) the PCs?

    I am probably not being as clear as I'd like, so I will use an example: when you create a settlement, do you develop it with the PCs in mind (including making sure there's a shop for adventuring equipment, and some NPCs with adventure inspiring plot hooks) or do you develop it independent of the PCs with an eye toward whatever definition of realism or verisimilitude works for your world? This question could easily extend to other locations, to NPCs and to social structures.

    Obviously it isn't a binary question, and some things might be PC-centric while others are more simulation oriented. I am just curious how people design or run their campaign settings. It seems like more and more the idea that D&D presents pre-made stories for consumption by the players gains traction and therefore everything needs to bend toward them and their characters. I am not a fan of that view from either perspective: a) in the context of RPGs stories are how we communicate what happened in play after the fact, and b) I like a world to be built on its own foundation and the PCs are people that explore it, act in it, even change it, but it doesn't exist for them.

    What do you think?
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  2. #2
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    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)



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    Well, the world, full stop, is different from a narrative told in that world. The world, lets call it the setting, does not exist for the PCs (I can spell solipsism). However, the setting does exist to service the narrative, which I'll call the game. The game does indeed exist for the PCs (that's why we play). The difference between the setting and the game is an important one.
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  3. #3
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    Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)



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    Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
    A couple threads active right now got me wondering about this: in your opinion, does the world and its doings exist primarily for the benefit of the PCs, as opposed to it existing and going on despite (or even in spite of!) the PCs?
    IMO the world exists for the PCs, to the extent that it's needed for them to roleplay and experience adventures. At the same time, that doesn't mean you should be making a world solely revolving around the player's existence like a bad video game. They can both be true at the same time.

    I just watched an episode of Overlord recently that shows this rather well. The knight and his sidekick entered a tavern, where some ruffians tried to pick a fight. The knight threw one of them across the tavern, where he smashed into a table, breaking a mercenary' potion. The mercenary who had the potion angrily confronted the knight, saying she had saved up her money and gone hungry several meals to pay for it. She points out that the knight broke the potion because of his carelessness, and that by his fancy armor is the only person in the tavern who could afford to replace it.

    In this scenario, the tavern is designed as a hook for the PCs (the knight and his companion). They get in a tavern brawl, and need to replace someone's potion. At the same time, they are not the center of the universe, despite being the most important people in this tavern. Their actions in the brawl intersected with that of the mercenary, who otherwise would have continued to go on with her day.

    Without the PCs, the tavern, ruffians, mercenary and potion would all still exist, and nothing would contradict that. The PCs add complications by walking in and having a brawl, but that doesn't stop the mercenary from having her own independent life.

    The best DM's create settings like this, that behave less like a character walking up and saying "Hi do this quest for me!" and something more like what would really happen in daily interactions.

  4. #4
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    I found, over the years, that simulationism in my world design didn't get me anything valuable, and took more work. It burned up time as the PCs wandered around in the simulation looking for the things they found interesting. As time moved from college into later life, sessions got shorter and less frequent, and there was less time available to burn like that.

    So, these days, I only go into detail on areas I know the PCs are going to enter, and I generally know why they are entering it, and I am detailing it as much as I need for that purpose. If they go off on a tangent from what they were planning, I improvise. And I find my improvisations are more likely to engage the players than my pre-generated simulation was.

  5. #5
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    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)



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    Quote Originally Posted by Umbran View Post
    So, these days, I only go into detail on areas I know the PCs are going to enter, and I generally know why they are entering it, and I am detailing it as much as I need for that purpose. If they go off on a tangent from what they were planning, I improvise. And I find my improvisations are more likely to engage the players than my pre-generated simulation was.
    I'm with Umbran. I might think about the world as a background, but like the United States in Die Hard, everything in the movie exists to facilitate John McLean tossing Hans Gruber off the top of Nakatomi Tower.

    To extend that when I create an NPC I'm going to take into account the players. If I play him up like Hans Gruber they're probably going hate him and want to kill him, but that's my intent. I don't need much reason beyond wanting the players to hate the character. If pressed I can come up with some rationale that feeds into making them hate the character more. By the same token if I want the characters to like the duchess I might characterize her as being something akin Thoden, to build sympathy. But that's because I know my players think Thoden is awesome.
    Last edited by Beleriphon; Monday, 3rd June, 2019 at 04:23 PM.
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  6. #6
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    Hydra (Lvl 25)



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    I've been running a megadungeon, a nice tight sandbox that is totally designed as a simulation of a fantasy megadungeon, to be explored and conquered.

    I think that means the world exists for the players, not the PCs. It certainly doesn't exist for any specific PC since they die often enough I have no idea who will be alive from session to session.
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  7. #7
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    Titan (Lvl 27)



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    Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
    A couple threads active right now got me wondering about this: in your opinion, does the world and its doings exist primarily for the benefit of the PCs, as opposed to it existing and going on despite (or even in spite of!) the PCs?
    Well, is the game an exercise in creating a story about the PCs, or a story about the world? If the former, the world exists for the PCs to have their adventures in. If the latter, the PCs exist as a medium by which the players experience the world & it's story.

    Kinda up to the DM, really. Nothing about 5e (nor the classic game, IMHO) really tilts it one way or the other. 3e & 4e were very player-oriented, so could be seen as favoring PC-centric approaches. The more a game emphasizes setting detail and metaplot*, the more it leans in the direction of PCs as windows for the player audiences. (In the context of D&D, only Dragonlance might be accused of that, I think - though I've never payed a lot of attention to published settings, so maybe I missed scads of metaplot somewhere else?)










    * a term that had to be invented to describe how campaign-invasive official WWGS-authored events in the oWoD setting became towards the end.
    Last edited by Tony Vargas; Friday, 31st May, 2019 at 06:48 PM.

  8. #8
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    The world exists outside of the PCs, but it can be quite fuzzy until and unless the PCs interact with it. I usually do quite a sand-boxy world and I set things in motion that will have their own momentum unless the PCs decide to act on a plot thread. So I may have 5 plot threads going on and the players decide which ones they're going to pursue. While I try to avoid no-win scenarios (I'll never make people choose between a demon and a devil) the players do get to decide priorities and whether or not they're interested in pursuing something.

    So if the group decides that ferreting out a corrupt official is less important than investigating the rumors of a village being attacked by a mysterious creature, I try to determine what the logical consequence of that is. Status quo? The corrupt official throws one of their allies in jail? When they get back the corrupt official has buried all the bodies so deep that there is no longer any proof of their wrongdoing? So I'll have high level notes on various allegiances, plots and things of interest going on and think about how or if that influences the world as perceived by the PCs.

    However, I try to only go into as much detail as necessary to maintain a cohesive world that makes sense. It's a big world and by having a general idea of what's going on I can be more creative when the PCs go veering off on some tangent that I had never expected.
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  9. #9
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    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)



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    The setting exists to give the characters (both PCs and NPCs) a time and place in which to be, so in that sense it exists for them. Otherwise, it's just a story about a world.
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  10. #10
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    How I usually run a campaign is that I create a world that has elements of drama and tension throughout. Its not detailed at first, very skeletal but the bones are there to build upon. I'll create a pitch doc teasing the main or potential 'conflicts' in the world and then ask the players to create their characters.

    So the short answer: No, in my games the world is created before I even go look for players.

    The longer answer is a bit more nuanced. The world is designed with the idea that it will be played in. It has places (and more is better) where players can interact and interface and influence. So whilst the world is not designed for the *specific* PCs that are made, it IS designed with the idea in mind that there will be PCs who will adventure and campaign within it. Hence, I build in points of tension and potential conflict as well as Other Actors with Agendas that will be able to either support or oppose various things the PCs might wish to do.
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