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

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Like a lot of others, I've found that the players only care about the world if/when it directly matters to them in the moment. Tell them there's an order of battle mages and they'll yawn. Throw a squad of battle mages at them and suddenly they care. If you use the distinction between foreground and background, the players (and their PCs) generally only care about what's in the foreground. The background is irrelevant...right up until you bring it to the foreground. Another way to say it is unless it directly matters to the story at hand, it doesn't matter.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
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.
I agree. They might come to care over time, through exposure to the setting in chunks that actually matter to them. But no fresh player really cares about the setting. Not until you make them care by bringing it into the game in a way that matters to them.
Mostly you make something cool and unique and a player will say, "That sounds just like such and such show that I remember".
With the caveat that nothing's really unique, it's always just a jumble of things we've previously seen, read, watched, etc and we're recombining them in new and interesting ways. So a player spotting your inspiration simply means you need to file off more of the serial numbers.
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.
I've found this to be situationlly true. Sometimes it's far easier to study an existing setting and work within it, other times it's far easier to not be constrained by the setting and create one as you go. For me, it's the difference in tone that I want in the game that makes the choice for me. If I want something grounded, I'll go with an established setting. If I want to really play up the fantasy, I'll go with a homebrew setting. There's nothing worse than running a setting that your players know better than you do. "That's not on the corner of X and Y, that's on the corner of Y and Z". Homebrew simply eliminates that as a potential problem.
 

Great question in the OP. My answer in short is "No, no one cares about your game world. Not even the people playing it." In my own games, as an example, I've found that it's easier for me to take the Forgotten Realms and change a few elements to suit my taste than create a whole game world from scratch and effectively communicate that to my players. (That latter part being the most difficult.) Also, I've discovered that I really like 13th Age's strategy -- the campaign setting is intentionally "half-designed" so that DMs and players alike can shape it to suit their game. In my own campaign building I'm now trying to take a similar approach -- to intentionally leave gaps that will be filled in later by the players' action and stories.
 

Stormonu

Legend
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.
I feel you're very lucky. I've run both homebrew and published worlds and short of one player who came in as a fan of the Forgotten Realms, I don't think any of my players over the years would remember much of anything about the game world.

Well, maybe anything other than Ravenloft and Strahd...
 

As a tactic, a great way to communicate the lore of your world is through NPCs that embody that lore.

In other words, it's better to have an NPC talk about the ancient curse in the castle than have players find journals in the castle chronicling the curse. It's better still to have an NPC actually cursed by the castle. Better than that is for the NPC to be someone the players have a history with and care about. And best of all is if the NPC then takes actions that impact the PCs, for good or ill.

13th Age does something smart with the Icon system. The Icons are really just factions. But putting a face on the faction immediately gives it more emotional weight. It's more compelling for players to work for (or against) the High Druid than a circle of druids.
 

I feel you're very lucky.

I think you do need the right type of players for it, but there are ways to make the setting stick better with the players.

Weave names of deities into the plot and into descriptions of rooms. Have npc's often invoke the names of deities in common every day speech. Name squares and streets after saints and deities.

Give npc's names that are easy to pronounce and spell. Alliteration does wonders here. Names that have a lyrical quality to them, also help. Take a page out of George R R Martins playbook, and give lots of characters a nickname that is easy to remember. Like Jamie Lannister, aka The Kingslayer. Or you can do both, by giving a character a name that includes a nickname, and is an alliteration. Such as Scurvy Scarlet.

Name towns and cities after important landmarks, and be sure to often mention the landmark they are named after. I tend to frequently sneak them into my descriptions. Not a sunrise goes by, without me mentioning that the coastal town of Montcolere is in the shadow of a dormant volcano, and that fog rolling down the mountain ensures that the town is always shrouded in fog.
 
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It's better still to have an NPC actually cursed by the castle. Better than that is for the NPC to be someone the players have a history with and care about. And best of all is if the NPC then takes actions that impact the PCs, for good or ill.

And if you want the name of the npc to stick, give them an unflattering nickname referring to the curse. If that nickname is an alliteration of their actual name, the players will remember both.
 


pming

Hero
Hiya!

EDIT: It also occurs to me that "world of hurt" means different things to different people; to me, it doesnt' mean "death and dismemberment", but more of a Homer "DOH!" mental-anguish type of thing. Just needed to clarify that I think. :)

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.
I can understand that perception. But then again, "anything" can be considered 'homework' if the person doing it isn't interested in it in the first place. ;)

I mean, "Ok, you're new to D&D. Here's the main book for players...the Players Hand Book. Give it a look see, read what you want and think about the character you might want to play". <-- could be "homework" to some people. I actually had one player, a girlfriend of a friend, who was quite annoyed at having to actually read anything in the Basic Players Book (out of the Basic Box Set #1)...including what her character class actually was. She enjoyed playing, rolling dice and making decisions, you know, all the actual "game and roleplaying stuff". But getting her to read what the "Magic Missile" spell did...you'd swear we were asking her to read War and Peace! ;)

As for ME and my DM'ing style... rarely (ever?...I can't remember it ever happening...) will a PC's "death" result from the Player not knowing XYZ about factoid ABC from country 123. It's usually just a benefit. I might say something in passing like, "...and at the end of the dock is a ship flying a flag of a black, four-pointed wavy star on a red field" after describing a few other ships with their flags. Now, if the PC's were involved in some "shenanigans" that involved trouncing a couple of Scarlett Brotherhood theives/assassins/monks a little while ago...this might give them a heads up to keep their heads down. But if the Player(s) DIDN'T recognize the standard on the ship...it's not going to "kill them"; it's just information that might give them a bit of a tip.

So, I guess you could say it's "good to be informed...but it's better to be lucky". ;) As such, my players and our general "Play Style" is much more old-school, which involves a lot of questions. Newer players, I've found anyway, tend to rely on the DM feeding them the "needed information" for whatever quest/adventure they are on. Just yesterday I FINALLY managed to play with my bro and his group online (Fantasy Grounds Unity; 5e game). I could tell that all of the other players other than my bro and maybe one other guy, were all "new'ish" (re: learned with 3e or later). Very little in the way of "mundane questions"...usually their questions were specific to the immediate focus (re: "How far away is he from X?", "Is it a stone or wood fence?", etc). I think I caught them off guard when asking and doing stuff that had 'nothing' to do with the immediately obvious "pointer", but had to do with more NPC motivation, backstory, world info, city laws, etc.

Anyway...bottom line...: My Players might find the "world history/background/info" to be useful and beneficial to them...but not "necessary for success/survival". That's all. :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 


Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
Weave names of deities into the plot and into descriptions of rooms. Have npc's often invoke the names of deities in common every day speech. Name squares and streets after saints and deities.

This is a good example of what I meant before about forestory vs backstory. You're putting things that in a lot of settings would be distant background in the foreground for players to be a part of, which in my experience makes a huge difference in engagement. A lot of game setups just have a list of deities somewhere in the background but don't bring them into the game, and the players look at it long enough to pick one to fit a cleric, and maybe grab a name of a god of death, luck, war, or something else to make quips or insults with. If the names of deities are invoked commonly, they become part of the PC's world instead of a checkbox to click when building a cleric or paladin.
Hiya!

EDIT: It also occurs to me that "world of hurt" means different things to different people; to me, it doesnt' mean "death and dismemberment", but more of a Homer "DOH!" mental-anguish type of thing. Just needed to clarify that I think. :)
That's a pretty important distinction actually - I read 'world of hurt' as meaning that the PCs would likely fail (or have the difficulty ramped over the top) if they didn't remember some offhand info in a packet from three weeks ago, not just that they'd have a DOH moment later on. That's significantly less hostile of a game than my initial read, so thanks for clarifying.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
That's a pretty important distinction actually - I read 'world of hurt' as meaning that the PCs would likely fail (or have the difficulty ramped over the top) if they didn't remember some offhand info in a packet from three weeks ago, not just that they'd have a DOH moment later on. That's significantly less hostile of a game than my initial read, so thanks for clarifying.
Yeah, after posting I re-read it and figured I needed to get more specific on what that meant to me. :)

I probably need to be more careful about my wording in regards to my DM'ing style and my group's preference; for example, we would probably be what could be consider an "DM vs. Players" sort of game...but it's not what the current gaming mindset would read that to be. I think it would be akin to playing a game of Poker with your friends, using pretzel sticks as chips; everyone is trying to "win" and "beat the other guy"...smart play, AND bluffing your friends, are the order of the day. But, when it's all over, everyone knows that the game was for funzies...the fact that Tracey "bluffed the last two hands and cleaned everyone out" isn't held against her. In fact, quite the opposite! :)

Just like when I'm DM'ing and the NPC's "pull one over on the PC's and kill one, maim another and sell the rest into slavery". The Players don't think it was "me", personally, deliberately 'cheating' or something in order to 'win'; they just know that "I, the DM" managed to "bluff them", leading to their PC's current predicament. But it goes both ways; the Players have completely "screwed up" the NPC bad guys plans or whatever...or utterly annihilated their key stronghold/dungeon, barely breaking a sweat. You know the saying, "Sometimes you get the Owlbear...sometimes the Owlbear gets you". ;)

My games are DEFINITELY on the "tougher than normal", and because of that, I now fall into the "Killer DM" bucket. Go back 25 or 30 years though...and my DM'ing was just "Tough...but fair...". Today though? The game has been pushing the "You play a HERO and will perform HEROIC deeds of HEROIC proportions to win the day and Save the World!". Older days? It was more "CAN you survive the trials of the Horrible Caves of Death?". I guess I'm still "stuck" on the later mindset. And I'm quite happy right where I am. :D

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Have to answer that in my experience, no.

The may care about individual NPCs who they meet, but there really don't care who was king of Exotitca in 493 BS.
 

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?
Absolutely. Setting matters a ton for my engagement. I definitely DO want to kick butt, sure, but JUST kicking butt in a narrative vacuum gets boring real quick.

Like a lot of others, I've found that the players only care about the world if/when it directly matters to them in the moment. Tell them there's an order of battle mages and they'll yawn. Throw a squad of battle mages at them and suddenly they care. If you use the distinction between foreground and background, the players (and their PCs) generally only care about what's in the foreground. The background is irrelevant...right up until you bring it to the foreground. Another way to say it is unless it directly matters to the story at hand, it doesn't matter.
My players, thus far, have been pretty distinct from that. They like learning about the history of the world for its own sake--and when that happens to become useful later, that's even better. Of course, I do my best to make that history relevant to them in one way or another, so that it's not JUST me info-dumping them. But I've had plans in motion pretty much since the beginning of the game, and the players have been learning the cosmology, geography, history, etc. both because it's directly relevant and because it simply is interesting to them. E.g., they did some genealogy research for one of the characters, purely because they were curious....and then it turned out that that family history is probably more interesting than it seemed at first.
That is, the Bard is a tiefling from both of his parents, one with devilish blood, the other demonic; on his mother's side, he has a succubus great-grandmother, but on his father's side, they've been tieflings as long as anyone can remember....and, indeed, as far back as there are genealogy records, which is quite some time due to incidental other relatives of his. Except, it's clear documented fact that his paternal line doesn't branch: every generation, one and ONLY one child has ever produced children. Many times there have been celibate siblings or siblings who died young, but there's never been cousins on that side of the family, ever. That's really weird! And it made them curious about why that would be the case, so they dug deeper, and found more mysteries. They've since narrowed down the Bard's devilish ancestors to one of two options: Glasya, Prince of the Sixth Circle of Hell and daughter of Asmodeus; or Baalzephon, former Prime Minister of Dispater, Duke of Hell and general of the Blood War. AKA, really scary no matter which one it is.

Of course, it helps that one of my players is fanatical about his own world-building for the book he's writing, and another is a trained anthropologist, so "learn about a culture/location" is right up their alleys. The third player, I have to work a bit harder for, and perhaps he is only interested in things for the "foreground," but he's also really really new to TTRPGs.
 
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ccs

41st lv DM
After observing my 5e group for the better part of 4 years....
*1 player - Definitely. Even when she knows the campaign is a finite one-shot. She has added stuff to the world through her characters.
*2nd player - He'll tell you he does. And he's very knowledgeable & stuck on the FR. But this is a lie. He does not. And if the action isn't set in the FR? Then he cares even less. In fact, he doesn't actually care about what's directly affecting him adventure-wise beyond how to overcome the enemies/obstacles/challenges.
*3rd player - Sort of. His world of preference is Golarion (PF, PF1 specifically). Though he'll try.
*players 4 & 5 - Sort of - not really. It varies as much as their availability....

Me...
As a player? Yes. I don't get to spend enough time on the PC side of play. So I'm going to get the most out of it while it lasts. I will make characters that will fit into whatever world your running. I will engage with the plot, the NPCs, details, etc etc etc. If you let me I'll add details.... Great fun will be had.
 


Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
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?
In campaigns,yes of course. One shots, not so much.
 

cbwjm

Hero
I think my players like finding out things about my world when it's introduced in the game, not sure how many would be keen on reading a large world document, though they were fine with a short 3 pager (it wasn't very dense and the 3rd page was just deity details in case someone wanted to play a cleric, paladin, or druid). I know when playing in largely the same. Happy to read a few pages for details which helps me establish a character and then finding out details later on can be fun. Doesn't really matter if that world is an official or homebrew.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Now I'm kind of wondering about the variability in how much our fellow human beings on Earth in the Sol system care about the backstory of their "setting". Seems like some really get in to science and history in general, some care deeply about their own history and genealogy, and either don't have the time or don't have the inclination.

As far as the question, I'm reminded of the twilight zone episode (iirc) where some people are caught between the seconds and learn that the parts of the world people see are built on demand each second (like a stage). So, I don't need there to be a logistics chain supporting the bad guy we're going after... until we ask about it.

And there are lots of things I don't need, except for my particular character concept during creation. I need to be as open when I DM as I appreciate my DMs being for me as a player. When they don't have it locked down yet they admit it, and then are happy to take any suggestions and incorporate a bunch of them that don't contradict anything, instead of trying to frantically write the world out themselves out of naybe some author's pride or the like.
 

After reading other posts, I think I need to clarify things a bit further with two examples.

I ran OotA thrice; once with both of my groups and once with our Friday night dungeons. The first group was going with the flow, acting and reacting to stimuli but never initiated anything of their own beyond what was asked of them or what the situations warranted.

The second group, made alliances with Grey dwarves, Mithril halls, Triboar and the Lord's Alliance. They went to build a castle on the entrance to the underwater that led to the trading outpost, controlling the flow of trade towards that trading post and used the castle itself as a staging ground to their forays into the underdark.

The third group is mainly for show, but they too, to a lesser extent, used politics and alliances to get their way and improve their chance of success.

Of these, only the second group succeeded. The first one was obliterated by Demogorgon and the third ended in the Labyrinth through a streak of bad luck and very poor, but entertaining decisions.

I should point out that I am on the hard side of DMing and all my players appreciate it. I am also very democratic and all rules, house or optional are voted upon by everyone. I roll on the open, so no fudging from me. All of this makes games particularly hard games where attrition can be high, buy the feeling of achievement that comes with a successful endeavor is hard to beat. Like @Paul L Ming I am often seen by external players as an adversarial DM. That is far from the truth. Nowadays, hard is considered adversarial and this is a loss for our community. I DMed for a few of those that were scorning my style and guess what? They liked it in the end.

Hard does not mean no RP.
Hard does not mean no explorations.
Hard is simply that, hard...

And when you know something is and will be hard, you often try to find every single little advantage that will help you tip the sales in your favor. Be it tactics or politics or even simple historical knowledge, you will try to use those to your advantage. And thus, because you want these advantages, you will interact with the game world a lot more than if you do not need that advantage to succeed.
 

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