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D&D General Do players REALLY care about the game world?

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
Over the decades of playing and running games and creating what I think of as fascinating worlds, I was informed in a non-insulting "yeah, cool. Nifty. Uh, when can we kick ass?" sort of way that my players don't really care about the world except in the context of having a place to adventure. The reasons why the world is the way it is are cool and all, but seem to not really have a huge impact (I have a reason why there are only three gods and a host of saints/apostates, for example). I could just as easily run using any world as long as the adventures are cool.

And I find, unsurprisingly, that I'm the same way. Oh, sure. I like cool worlds. But I'm also fine with bog-standard fantasy worlds as long as the adventures are fun. And, at times, prefer it as I don't want to remember all that esoteric stuff and just wanna play. Yah know?

Got me thinking about just running Sword Coast stuff and not taxing my brain anymore.

So, as PLAYERS (as DMs, sure, as that's where a lot of our fun comes from), do you really care that much about the game world?
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
Over the decades of playing and running games and creating what I think of as fascinating worlds, I was informed in a non-insulting "yeah, cool. Nifty. Uh, when can we kick ass?" sort of way that my players don't really care about the world except in the context of having a place to adventure. The reasons why the world is the way it is are cool and all, but seem to not really have a huge impact (I have a reason why there are only three gods and a host of saints/apostates, for example). I could just as easily run using any world as long as the adventures are cool.

And I find, unsurprisingly, that I'm the same way. Oh, sure. I like cool worlds. But I'm also fine with bog-standard fantasy worlds as long as the adventures are fun. And, at times, prefer it as I don't want to remember all that esoteric stuff and just wanna play. Yah know?

Got me thinking about just running Sword Coast stuff and not taxing my brain anymore.

So, as PLAYERS (as DMs, sure, as that's where a lot of our fun comes from), do you really care that much about the game world?
I do.

I have a DM whose worlds have significant depth and secrets, and I've spent countless hours going over the clues, trying to riddle out the mysteries of his setting.

That said, I don't expect that, and I'm perfectly happy with just a basic fantasy world to run around in. But that DM's talent for crafting depth into his world really sets him above most DMs in my estimation. It's the kind of DM I aspire to be.
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
I discovered quickly that players only care about what the campaign world does to (and for) their characters.

I've played D&D for 41 years with home-brew worlds that fit on 2-3 pages of description.

As long as you have a detailed starting location, interesting villains and a god for the cleric you are set. Everything is on a 'need to know basis' in relation to what the characters are trying to do.

Setting depth is developed over time. Not beforehand.
 


DEFCON 1

Legend
I discovered quickly that players only care about what the campaign world does to (and for) their characters.
This has been my experience as well.

Which actually is good in a way... because that disinterest keeps them from finding the campaign setting books and reading them like a novel, thereby spoiling all the stuff I'm pulling out to create the stories and adventures for them. :)
 

So, as PLAYERS (as DMs, sure, as that's where a lot of our fun comes from), do you really care that much about the game world?
My experience as a player is that it varies absolutely freakin' hugely.

It can be anything from "Ooooh this is mysterious and fascinating!" to the point where I'm really wanting to know more, to "Okay fine w/e let's kill stuff".

Two things which make people care more in my experience as a player are:

1) The setting has some kind of central mystery/big premise to it.

2) The setting actually has stuff for PCs themselves to engage with and influence - i.e. it's not "too big" for the PCs to be significant.

A good example of a D&D setting where I, as a player, cared about the setting would be Dark Sun - there's the mystery of how exactly this happened and what exactly is going on, and the game is clearly set up so you're on the way to being one of the movers-and-shakers.

Two things which make people care much less about a setting in my experience as a player are:

3) Generic fantasy. Especially if it's generic fantasy with some hilariously minor twist that thinks its a big deal.

4) The power structures of the setting are basically hostile/unattainable to the PCs. This is true of the Forgotten Realms, for example - most of it is set up with very static power-structures, most of which are simply hostile to adventurers unless they're directly useful to them, and indeed Greenwood himself basically had to detail a new area to give people a place where the PCs might actually get in charge fairly recently.

The biggest killer in caring about the game world? The DM doesn't care. If the DM doesn't care, I definitely don't care.

However my overall experience is different to yours. 30+ years of DMing and playing, and I'd definitely say it does matter what setting we play in, unless we're just playing in some rando generic fantasy setting which doesn't want/expect the PCs to gain much power, which would very much include the FR, Dragonlance, Wildemount, some implementations of Greyhawk and so on. In that case it doesn't matter a great deal, and any engagement with the world will be down to the DM creating elaborate plots to engage us with it.

This was actually a very helpful thread because I hadn't been thinking about his but I am writing up a new campaign setting ATM and I will ensure I make it engaging on these terms.
 

schneeland

Explorer
My experience is mostly that of @Marc_C - with the exception that at least some of my players care for the consistency of the world and locations appropriate to the genre*, and that over time there might be certain prominent NPCs they care for.

* this is mostly for non-fantasy things, though
 

pogre

Legend
I think you are going to get a skewed response here because folks who post are really into the game and most of us are at least part time DMs. IMO players care only as far as the campaign lore directly effects them. For the most part, players do not care. I have one player out of my regular six who does care to a greater extent.

My approach to sharing campaign world background and history I try to use the Mad Max: Fury Road as my guide post. Sprinkle bits of lore in a short, meaningful cameos revealing only what is relevant to the campaign at that time.

Expecting most of your players to invest in your world is a path to DM burnout IMO.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
For myself, to a limit. I guess more importantly, it's how that info is delivered to me -- a big info dump, no, I find that hard to digest. But info revealed organically through play which slowly builds an immersive world? I'm all for that!
100% Yes.

When I create a campaign setting it's not all at once. I give names and rough identities to far off lands, I give fairly detailed information to neighboring lands, and I give a lot of information to the places the players are in/from. And then I go from there.

As an example: The Ashen Lands has 12 gods. 6 of them are concepts, 3 of them are ideal adventurers who slip through the world in disguise with no core identity, and 3 of them are "Manifest" entities with explicit names. Only 1 of which I've actually -bothered- to name. The other two of the 3 gods with names just haven't come up.

"Info Dumps" come in the hands of players. "Can I roll a History Check to learn about this thing?" and then based on what they get, they get the information -they- want, not the information -I- have as I continue to expand my setting in the background.
My experience as a player is that it varies absolutely freakin' hugely.

It can be anything from "Ooooh this is mysterious and fascinating!" to the point where I'm really wanting to know more, to "Okay fine w/e let's kill stuff".

Two things which make people care more in my experience as a player are:

1) The setting has some kind of central mystery/big premise to it.

2) The setting actually has stuff for PCs themselves to engage with and influence - i.e. it's not "too big" for the PCs to be significant.

A good example of a D&D setting where I, as a player, cared about the setting would be Dark Sun - there's the mystery of how exactly this happened and what exactly is going on, and the game is clearly set up so you're on the way to being one of the movers-and-shakers.

Two things which make people care much less about a setting in my experience as a player are:

3) Generic fantasy. Especially if it's generic fantasy with some hilariously minor twist that thinks its a big deal.

4) The power structures of the setting are basically hostile/unattainable to the PCs. This is true of the Forgotten Realms, for example - most of it is set up with very static power-structures, most of which are simply hostile to adventurers unless they're directly useful to them, and indeed Greenwood himself basically had to detail a new area to give people a place where the PCs might actually get in charge fairly recently.

The biggest killer in caring about the game world? The DM doesn't care. If the DM doesn't care, I definitely don't care.

However my overall experience is different to yours. 30+ years of DMing and playing, and I'd definitely say it does matter what setting we play in, unless we're just playing in some rando generic fantasy setting which doesn't want/expect the PCs to gain much power, which would very much include the FR, Dragonlance, Wildemount, some implementations of Greyhawk and so on. In that case it doesn't matter a great deal, and any engagement with the world will be down to the DM creating elaborate plots to engage us with it.

This was actually a very helpful thread because I hadn't been thinking about his but I am writing up a new campaign setting ATM and I will ensure I make it engaging on these terms.
Oh, oh hell yes. All of the this.

It's also setting dependent. Some settings -lend- themselves to the violence. Usually through specific sessions. If I'm playing a Psionic Warrior on Athas and we're making a long trek through a dangerous wasteland I'm -just- looking for fights. If you have an NPC pop up with important quest information in the middle of nowhere there's every chance that as invested as I am in the game I'm going to miss half of what that NPC says trying to look for the ambush/battle that needs to come because you've hyped up the area as a Dangerous Wasteland. Not a place to hang out and talk in the open.

And because sometimes the situation feels skeevy because presentation and expectation don't line up, there's every chance I'm going to distrust this NPC like a 6 year old girl with advanced physics textbooks walking the streets of the Bronx at 3am.

5xhbgR3.png
 

Bitbrain

Fully vaccinated!
So, as PLAYERS (as DMs, sure, as that's where a lot of our fun comes from), do you really care that much about the game world?

As a player, the less “gothic horror” the setting feels (and the less werewolves, vampires, and necromancy-and-undead-being-evil is a thing), the more invested I’ll be in your world.
 


Aging Bard

Canaith
I discovered quickly that players only care about what the campaign world does to (and for) their characters.

I've played D&D for 41 years with home-brew worlds that fit on 2-3 pages of description.

As long as you have a detailed starting location, interesting villains and a god for the cleric you are set. Everything is on a 'need to know basis' in relation to what the characters are trying to do.

Setting depth is developed over time. Not beforehand.
This is very true, but it seems that there may be a large contingent of new DMs out there who not only resist this, but feel like failures if they cannot design a rich detailed setting. I'm not exaggerating. There was an interesting post by the Angry GM about his patrons expressing exactly this worry, and that anything less than a deep setting would disappoint the players. His point, in the typical Angry way, was that they should just randomly generate a bunch of s*%t for the players to interact with, and then trust the players to interact with the s*%t they like. It's those interactions that build the world, not in advance (Marc_C's point as well).
 

manduck

Explorer
I care. So do the other players in my group. We must be a rare breed. Though the game world often has a big impact on the over all game and we always integrate the PCs into it as important people. Our games aren’t just a bunch of orphaned murder hobos. Not that other games are, but it does happen. You need family and friends, to come from somewhere and things like that.

We also get a lot of player feedback on the world. We’re free to make a little piece of it our own. The world starts off broad, like there is a dark god in control or something, then players fill in the details. If you get the players involved in building the world and give them the power to make their mark, they’ll get involved and interested. Most of the time anyway. Some people just want to show up and kick ass. Nothing wrong with that. Different players like different things. I’ve just found a group of likeminded people and this is how we approach it.

The other benefit of player input is that it’s less work on you as the DM. You have a table full of people to help out. Take advantage.
 

I think you are going to get a skewed response here because folks who post are really into the game and most of us are at least part time DMs. IMO players care only as far as the campaign lore directly effects them. For the most part, players do not care. I have one player out of my regular six who does care to a greater extent.

My approach to sharing campaign world background and history I try to use the Mad Max: Fury Road as my guide post. Sprinkle bits of lore in a short, meaningful cameos revealing only what is relevant to the campaign at that time.

Expecting most of your players to invest in your world is a path to DM burnout IMO.
I think this claim re: players not caring is a bit generic. But I agree with your approach re: sharing world background/history. Fury Road is the way to go. Different groups react to different things though, and the same group will engage with some settings and not others. If you know this you can work the setting so it's more/less engaging.

For example, I know with my main group, whether I'm playing or DM'ing, the main thing they engage with is NPCs who actually have a personality and agenda, whether helpful or harmful to them. If those NPCs matter to the setting, they'll engage with the setting more.

One interesting thing I personally noted long ago is that players (in multiple groups) engaged with the Cyberpunk 2020 setting way more than the Shadowrun one, despite the fact that the Shadowrun setting is probably better-constructed and more in-depth, and both are somewhat gonzo cyberpunk settings.

I think this is actually because 2020 is shallower, and more punchy. Like, the very simple stuff going on with each corporation makes it a lot easier to engage with. Ever since then I've kind of seen shallow-ness as an asset in certain elements of setting design.
As a player, the less “gothic horror” the setting feels (and the less werewolves, vampires, and necromancy-and-undead-being-evil is a thing), the more invested I’ll be in your world.
On the flipside, this seems so specific that it likely only applies to Bitbrain lol. But if you were his DM it would behove you to know this.
 

I care. So do the other players in my group. We must be a rare breed.
I don't think that's the case at all - you are given a reason to care because:
We also get a lot of player feedback on the world. We’re free to make a little piece of it our own.
Which I don't think is really the case in most campaigns, even if the DM would definitely say it was. Large numbers of people run pre-gen campaigns, for example (many of which are high-quality), with stuff like Strahd or Ice Maiden, and that stuff very much doesn't need the PCs to have "friends and family", nor benefits from it, nor does it allow the PCs to really "make a piece of it their own".
 

Bitbrain

Fully vaccinated!
On the flipside, this seems so specific that it likely only applies to Bitbrain lol. But if you were his DM it would behove you to know this.

1. Yes, it is extremely specific of me. I’m weird like that, but also enough of an adult to simply be honest about it up front and not be an jerk at the table.

2. No such luck. It’s been nothing but ghouls, undead shambling mounds, zombies, werewolves, and vampire spawn since he took over last year. I start running our next campaign in July, so I won’t have to wait too much longer.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Anytime you group a hugely diverse number of people together and speak about them as if they're all the same, you're doing a disservice.

* Some * players care about the story a lot. They're there to see how the story resolves, and combat, for them, is the randomization that adds to the drame.

* Other* players will never care about the story. They're there to kick butt and invest nothing in the story. As a DM, when I sense these players at my table, I help shift their roles to secondary character storylines. I don't force them to be overly involved, or attentive, even, to the storyline. However, I drop hooks for them all the time. If they decide to bite, I do my best to draw them into the story.

* The majority of the players in my experience* are going to respond to what you give them as a DM at the table, regardless of what you've done away from the table. What do I mean? If you tell a good story, you can draw them in and hook them. If you don't tell a good story at the table, regardless of how well you craft the world, they're not going to bite.

If your PCs are not showing interest in your world, it may not be the world or players that need to change - it might be your delivery at the table. Maybe you're tired. Maybe you're insecure in your delivery. Maybe you've never spent any time learning how to build tension, deliver lines, or do all the other things that give players the rush at the table. After all, DMing is role playing - acting - and all the things that can ruin a good play can disrupt your game as well.

Whether you're struggling or not, self reflection is a good idea. Try recording yourself as a DM and listen to what you're doing. Ask another DM to listen and provide feedback. Watch 'professional' DMs and focus on what they do to draw the players into the game. Ask your players what their favorite stories have been in your games. Try watching Matt Colville, Matt Mercer, or any of those other major DM names talk about what they do and figure out what makes sense for you.

On the other hand, sometimes our world crafting is too convoluted for our own good, and we're driving players away because they feel like they're lost in a sea of lore. If that is what is going on, you need to give them a break,.

Try inserting a (published?) standalone module into your game as a change-of-pace. My method of doing this since the early 1990s has been to use Ravenloft adventures (or something similar). Where the PCs are pulled out of their storyline to do something else with no relationship to their storylines, to the world around them, or anything else they know ... and then after they complete that 4 to 8 session adventure, we drop them back where they were and take the time to recap where they left off (dropping a few hints here and there for things that they've overlooked). When I use Ravenloft for this, I make it seem like a standalone adventure, but I am actually using it as a Lore Dump where the history of the Dreadlord, the Domain, or other elements of the story actually foreshadow things to come in the main campaign - but NONE of if capitalizes upon what they already know. It is introducing information, not using established information. Down the road, they'll realize the powers that be dragged them to Ravenloft to learn, not to try to save XXXXX (which rarely actually works in Ravenloft).
 
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When I create homebrew settings (which I do for each new campaign), I tend to set out a lot of "seed ideas" rather than fully-fleshed concepts.

For example, I'll sketch out the idea of an isolated abbey full of vampire-hunting monks. I'll give it a name, and that's that.

Whatever seed ideas the players glom onto, I'll develop more (often with input from the players). Whatever they don't catch onto, I'll drop, or repurpose.

So in my current campaign, that isolated abbey also got a Hermitage attached to it because of one character's background, and a Goliath warrior leader because of another character's backstory. The Abbey sat high in the mountains for 50 sessions, but the players kept saying "let's go there next, let's go there next!"

Finally they made their way to the Abbey, and now they are very invested in the setting and backstory!
 

Setting can absolutely make or break things for me, especially where it leans into genre and theme.

Ask me to be in an Eberron campaign with all sorts of pulp steampunk action and i am IN.

Ask me to be in Ravenloft with horror and despair and I will skip.

Ask me to be in 40K or Fading Suns or other grimdarkness and I will gnaw off an arm to escape.
 

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