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


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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?
It depends on the group, the DM and the individual players within the group.

My Dad wants to get the life story of every NPC. My son just wants to murder stuff. My daughter has a long list of things she wants to encounter in the fantasy world (she was thrilled there was a second Muk coloring book, in case anyone's wondering if there's an audience for those books).

My play by post players, who go at a much slower pace, are deeply invested in the lore and NPCs.

My in person players, who might only get to play one or two times a year for about three hours, want action, and they want it now.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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.
You win the thread as far as I'm concerned.
 

38 years as a DM with connections with many tables. So far I have seen the following trends:
1) If the players are or can be in the major league, they will care a lot more about the politics and the gaming world. If they can build castles and upgrade to kingdoms, the involvement in the gaming world will grow to almost epic proportions. But this is not the cup of tea of many players. One of my groups is really into this and builds castles, cathedrals and what not. The other prefer to go from adventure to adventure and will go wherever the wind blows.

2) If the players feel that they will never make a big impact on the world they are much more enclined to keep interactions with the world with what directly will influence their character on the right now. And it is not the kind of We saved the world but more like the kind of political powers a 1st level character could achieve if the player really get to it. If at 1st level, players feel they can influence some decisions makers in the world. They will be more inclined to try it. If even at 20th level they feel like the:" Don't call us, we'll call you". As mercernearies are, then their interactions will go down.

Also, a lot of that is in the hands of the DM. If the DM do not play the political and historical part, his players are much less enclined to do themselves. It all a matter of pacing.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
And that's coming from a guy who loves world-building for its own sake. In my experience, most players don't. They simply do not care about anything beyond the adventure at hand. Any world-building that I do as DM is done for me, not for my players.
A lot of the worldbuilding we DMs do is just self-gratification. mapsturbation, if you will.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
As others have said, but more simplified, players care about what matters in the campaign and to their characters.

A part of the world that can matter is the Quori conflict in Eberron, with the Dreaming Dark's goal to keep Il-Yannah from gaining control of Dal Quor ever again, but that only really matters a) if the players are playing in Eberron, and b) if that specific part of Eberron plays into the plot/characters in that specific campaign. In my current Eberron campaign, Quori spirits are where Warforged Souls come from, as well as the sentience of Docents. My campaign's Warforged Artificer wanted to figure out how to create docents in order to gain more rank in House Cannith, so this part of the world's lore mattered a ton. They currently don't care about the Lords of Dust, Lady Illmarrow, the Eldeen Reaches, Dolurr, or Argonnessen, even though they're fairly important parts of the world of Eberron, and they don't care because they (currently) don't matter to the campaign. There's a ton of interesting lore about all of those parts of Eberron, but the players don't care about all of that because a) it didn't come up when making their characters, and b) it hasn't mattered for any of their adventures so far.

In my new small Ravenloft campaign (one-on-one campaign with the player being a Survivor from VRGtR with the Squire character trying to escape the aberrant wasteland of Bluetspur), the player could absolutely not care less about the Domain of Dread for Strahd, even though the setting is named after his castle. It doesn't matter, even though it's technically part of the same setting.

So, yeah, that's really what it boils down to, in my experience. Of course, this is a generalization, and certain players may want to learn as much about the world as they possibly can even if their character or campaign doesn't involve that part of the world, and there may be other players that don't care about any of the lore as long as they get to go places and kill monsters and get rewards for doing that (treasure, levelling up, allies, etc), but most players seem to tend to care about the world to the extent that I have described in this post. I've also noticed a similar phenomenon for the mechanics of the game, with players only caring about the mechanics of the game if they matter to creating/playing their character or if it comes up in the campaign (ask your players how much you fall during your turn, and when you fall, and you're likely to not get any accurate answers the answer is 500 feet, and you fall as soon as you are no longer flying/standing on ground, and then again at the end of your turn, using the rules from XGtE).
 
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DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
At the risk of just reiterating my game mastery/design philosophy here, my experience is that players tend to care a lot more about the parts of the gameworld they feel like they can change. They get invested in things where their investment is rewarded with agency.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

Completely depends on the Player and the Players "mood" that day. For me, as a Player, I like to know stuff about it. Stuff that lets me imagine the scene... colours, smells, and sounds mostly. If the DM can 'paint the picture' by using words that describe aspects to his/her world, I'm in! :)

Example: "The architecture is very similar to old Baklunish, but many of the onion-dome tops are painted with Keolandish colours and styles". I can imagine that easily. It takes moments for the DM to describe...and the only way I know what it looks like is because I know what the Baklune people of Greyhawk 'are' and what 'Keolandish colours' means. Without that knowledge, the DM would have to take longer to describe, and that description could be used for any D&D world setting.

So yes. I think at least SOME info about the world needs to be presented to...and retained by...the players. If I've been playing with a Player for a few months, and I say "You can barely make out the kilts that the men wear as they sit around the fire, drinking, but the colours indicate a Keolandish clan. One tent, off to the back, displays a single banner, baring the coat of arms from Geoff"...and the player looks at me and says "Huh?"...I die a little inside. :( The Players should know that this is...odd. Why? Due to the world history and all that stuff. Players that don't recognize the significance (or potential oddity at any rate) may very well end up in a world of hurt later on. Then I get the "But how were WE to know they were pretending to be soldiers from the Dutchy?"...and I point out the kilts versus banner thing, and they go... "What?! You didn't tell us that was important"...and I point out the handout I gave them three weeks ago that shows the Grand Dutchy of Geoff's banner and the brief, one paragraph, history of why the Dutchy has been so safe...other than that one little 'war' with Keoland. Then they go "Oh...crap...yeah...well...hmmm....".

Bottom line: Some players really get into it. Some don't. Most are somewhere in between. As long as they at least read and keep the notes, hand outs, etc that I give or point them to, I'm happy. The Players who are into the world/history/politics will point stuff out to the "less informed" Players. This plays out nicely in game most of the time, with the supposedly uncultured Barbarian having to explain to the Cleric of Boccob, "How in the Oerth can you be so well-read...yet so obtuse when it comes to the very country you are traveling through?!?". ;)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

That's not a question you should be asking at the beginning of the campaign.

You need to ask it at the end. Of course player's don't care about the details of your world at the beginning. It's like having strong feelings about a recipe before you've tasted the end product.

dmrings.PNG
 


Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
In my experience most players care about the things their characters are connected to. You have to invest in building connections with the players' characters if you want more than casual 'That's nice' sorts of investment.

Caveat : Some players don't want to connect their characters in the setting in anyway. Getting them invested in the setting is counterproductive because that's not why they are gaming.
 

I think it is very important for a DM to make their players care about the world. If they don't, and you could swap the world to any other setting for all they care, then something is wrong.

I think it is all about establishing a connection between the players and the world. Having characters and places they care about.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
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?

Mostly no, for a variety of reasons.

First reason is that I have been almost exclusively a DM since the beginning of 5e, so it's kind of a miracle when I get to be a player... when that happens, I'm ok with whatever game world the DM wants to use. So read this "I don't care" as "anything is better than nothing".

On a less positive note, I also don't care much about homebrew settings because I don't usually expect homebrewers to come up with anything interesting or original. Most of the time, top-down homebrewers just end up with the millionth rehash of deities following exactly the same concept as every vanilla setting, and a world-like map with random fancy names. I've been guilty of the same in the far past, so I know that it's fun to design yet-another fantasy setting, but ultimately it doesn't matter.

Third, if I don't know the DM, I also generally prepare myself for the worst, including the possibility that it's that kind of DM that just makes everything difficult and likes seeing player characters die since first level, and then enjoy explaining why your character's death happened because you did something "stupid". I am not going to invest much attention into your fantasy setting until I have the feeling that we'll actually play in it long enough that it matters.

Fourth, sadly the most common way to play D&D is to breeze through the levels, up to whatever level the DM finds uncomfortable and decide to reset the campaign with new characters. This means there is generally not enough time to really explore the setting in depth as much as I would probably like to. My preference would be to interact with the setting from below i.e. travel to different region or perhaps even continents, explore and discover plenty of locations of interest, interact with factions and groups, establish relationships with several recurring NPCs, witness shifts in power, fight lots of creatures but not just one battle each... Instead, the speed of levelling usually means that your best chance at interacting with the setting is making history i.e. going after the BBEG and save the world from the usual apocalypse, which frankly is almost always the same in all settings.

The conclusion is that for me as a player, I invest a lot more attention into what is coming against the PCs. Exploration is my favourite pillar of the game, but I focus more on the small scale. Then, only if the game progresses, I can start looking up at what's going on in the world at large.

So, how do you make your players more interested in your homebrew, that you loved so much to design from the myth of creation down to the smallest stinky tavern downtown? :) IMHO the safest way, is to feature a FEW bold brush-strokes of design, possibly some twist of the typical fantasy setting. It doesn't have to be particularly original (it won't), just enough to capture the player's attention and stick to the mind: "you live in a world overrun by pirates at sea and ruled by theocracies at land, where dinosaurs are the main mean of transportation and labor, and full moon always means vampire spiders on the loose!". Deliver all the settings details gradually, resist the temptation of making a lecture on geography/history on session 0. The best homebrew I ever made and played (in 3e era) was actually the result of having rotating DMs, each of which added their own stuff and regions to the setting, making pretty much everyone interested because we were more or less all designing something, and curious to see how others would connect their stuff with the rest, but it's not something easily repeatable.

However... published settings are an entirely different matter. At least they have an advantage over homebrews in the fact that they offer a shared experience with thousands of other gamers. If you play in Forgotten Realms, eventually you're going to meet others who also played, and you're going to tell each other about what regions you saw, what published adventures you beat, what monsters or NPCs you had to fight and how did it go... This sharing possibility is IMHO a big advantage of published stuff over homebrew, and a good encouragement to also read more about the setting and therefore feel more engaged with the fantasy world while playing.

I definitely suggest to use published setting non-canonically, change what you don't like and add whatever else you fancy. Don't ask players to buy books, just tell them they can find information on almost every famous setting on the web, should they wish to know more for playing. And let them know that things won't be exactly like they are written on the web, both because of multiple editions and because of your own variations. This means the players can never know more than the DM about the setting, as they will only have a fragmented and not necessarily reliable knowledge of the world (like, you know, real life).
 

jgsugden

Legend
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.
There is room for different approaches, and this certainly can work, but there are also situations where players love exploring a world, lore and setting.

I've also been playing over 40 years. For over 35 of them, I've had a primary homebrew world. It has sat fallow at times, and I recently 'rebooted' it when I moved across the country. However, with minor evolution and a bit of superficial overhaul to use published Gods instead of my homebrew Gods, it is the same world.

When a player asks me a question about the lore of the world, I often know the answer. I don't figure it out. I know. It came up in the 4000 hours of playing and 6000 of prep I've done for the setting. There are major cities in the setting that I can navigate in my head as easily as I could navigate my hometown, telling you about what used to exist on that corner between the Battle of Baytown and the attack of Fyraxus. I can tell you about 8 generations of a royal family, including all the plots against their rule. When players come to play at my game, I can make it feel like a living world.

Think of it like video games in the 1990s. You'd often reach 'the end of the map' or find doors that could not be opened in those games, and could go no further. This ruined the suspension of disbelief. It reminded you, "This is only a game." Just as you get pulled out of a TV show by characters doing unrealistic things, having a world that doesn't feel lived in can make it harder to tell a great story within it. Knowing your world so well that you either know the answer, or you have a real good idea how to come up with an answer that fits with everything else, makes this a lot easier.

Matt Mercer does not seem to have 40 years of history playing in Exandria. He seems to have created it for the Critical Role group, but if you listen to him, he has spent a lot of time world crafting and you can see how much it benefits him. When he needs an NPC to fill a role, he has people to call upon that have been established, referenced or hinted at before. It feels like a living world in his skillful hands.

You don't need to go to these lengths - but when you do and you put some effort into it, it can be very rewarding.
 

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
Generally players care about frontstory and not backstory; that is, they care about parts of the world that the PCs actually engage with, but not bunches of obscure lore. Players aren't going to care that Svegny and Ruritania had a history of war until 231 years ago when the Duke Elsmitty and the Lady Tarella married unless it's involved in a situation they care about and enjoy. If an invading enemy army destroys the capital city Grandestiton, killing tens of thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands more, it's pretty abstract even if you wrote dozens of pages of history for the city; sure, players will probably not like the enemy, but that's because they're in a game to fight people. However, if the army trashes the small backwater of Lumberdawn that the PCs had as a base for their first few sessions, remember a bunch of local NPCs from, and started their own pub/temple/etc. at, they'll probably take it a lot more personally, and will probably feel a little guilty about the 'Morning Wood' jokes they made - even if you just made up the town as they played and aren't even sure when it was founded.

I saw this pretty clearly with a guy who ran a multi-group 1e sandbox-style game set in his homebrew world. He did invent many countries and histories, and had a bunch of things like NPC classes for various professions and roles, but there were only one or two people out of the fifty or more who played in the world who dug down into that sort of background. Instead, what people talked about and wrote about was their individual adventures and interactions. While there was a bunch of 'world' stuff happening, and I think even a major war and shifting political landscape in the background, the things people would tell you stories about or write in the game's magazine (kinkos-published, this was the 90s) would only be events their characters had a part in.

People who are heavily into backstory generally want more than a homebrew campaign provides - they're either into literary properties adapted into a setting (like LOTR or GOT/SOIAF) or they want long-running established settings with lots of tie-in materials and development over time (Elder Scrolls, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and the like). Typically a homemade setting doesn't have enough meat for them, they want to read novel-length works.

So yes. I think at least SOME info about the world needs to be presented to...and retained by...the players. If I've been playing with a Player for a few months, and I say "You can barely make out the kilts that the men wear as they sit around the fire, drinking, but the colours indicate a Keolandish clan. One tent, off to the back, displays a single banner, baring the coat of arms from Geoff"...and the player looks at me and says "Huh?"...I die a little inside. :( The Players should know that this is...odd. Why? Due to the world history and all that stuff. Players that don't recognize the significance (or potential oddity at any rate) may very well end up in a world of hurt later on. Then I get the "But how were WE to know they were pretending to be soldiers from the Dutchy?"...and I point out the kilts versus banner thing, and they go... "What?! You didn't tell us that was important"...and I point out the handout I gave them three weeks ago that shows the Grand Dutchy of Geoff's banner and the brief, one paragraph, history of why the Dutchy has been so safe...other than that one little 'war' with Keoland. Then they go "Oh...crap...yeah...well...hmmm....".

To me, this feels like the DM handing out homework, expecting me to memorize minor factoids, and then sneering at me if I don't remember minor details from some paper almost a month ago. And it goes against the idea that the characters are supposed to be individuals living in the game world instead of purely avatars for the players to play the game; whether the player remembers obscure details from the handout, the characters should know. I'm not saying 'you're a terrible DM and you shouldn't be allowed within 100' of a DMG' (this is clearly a legit playstyle), but I am saying that I would just stop playing in a game the first time 'you're in a world of hurt because you didn't remember specific information on the handout I assigned a month ago that your character would know' happened. I play games for adventure and general escapism, and this really would not hit the mark for me or a lot of people I know.
 

Larnievc

Adventurer
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’m a forever DM and in my experience if you have a world you play in for years and years people end up caring. If the campaign world changes each campaign they don’t really care about it.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Sadly, I don't think any of my players can even properly name the game world we've playing on. As a DM, world-building is important to me, but my players even have difficulty correctly remember the name of the BBEG they're supposed to be hunting down. If it's out of their direct periphial vision, it's quickly ignored or forgotten. And this has been going on for 40+ years.
 

aco175

Legend
No player is going to care about your homebrew as much as you do. The DM spends hours making something and the players are mild to meh about it. There are times where one or two will be, that was cool. Mostly you make something cool and unique and a player will say, "That sounds just like such and such show that I remember".

I switched to FR Sword Coast for 5e and played in Nentir Vale for 4e. This is partly work related reasons since I found that I could spend my limited time planning adventures and not world building so I could get the biggest bang for my time. There is also a part of having a world already built for you being better than the one you can make by yourself. I'm not saying that me or you do not have good ideas for a world or campaign, but generally they tend to mimic the ones already made.
 

No player is going to care about your homebrew as much as you do. The DM spends hours making something and the players are mild to meh about it.

That is not my experience. My players have memorized the names of countless npc's, most of the important deities, the name of the world, the names of various tribes, the names of several countries, and the names of several cities. For example, if I were to ask any one of them what the name is of the god of death, they would know the answer instantly.
 

That is not my experience. My players have memorized the names of countless npc's, most of the important deities, the name of the world, the names of various tribes, the names of several countries, and the names of several cities. For example, if I were to ask any one of them what the name is of the god of death, they would know the answer instantly.
Yeah, my players all have definite (and disparate) opinions about the local bishop.
 

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