• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

Does the world exist for the PCs?

Reynard

Adventurer
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?
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
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.
 
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.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
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 Théoden, to build sympathy. But that's because I know my players think Théoden is awesome.
 
Last edited:

Satyrn

Villager
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.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
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:

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
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.
 

Hriston

Explorer
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.
 

HJFudge

Villager
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.
 

Reynard

Adventurer
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.
My perspective is similar. The worlds to be built with a high degree of potential for PCs to get involved, whether that's working their way into the criminal underworld of the city, or poaching aurumvorax for their golden pelts. But I try not to design things for the PCs. I try, and am not always successful, to decide where the dragon's lair is based on where it *should be* not where it is level appropriate (just as an example).
 

Charlaquin

Explorer
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.
Perhaps another way of putting this: the world does exist “for” the players, it does not exist “for” their characters.
 
Last edited:

Dausuul

Legend
In between. The PCs and events going on around them are the "in focus" part of the world. Everything outside that bright focus is blurry and dim, but it does exist; I keep track of large events going on and occasionally drop references to them in the campaign.
 
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?
The world exists for the players, in the sense that I generally only bother developing the world in great detail if it pertains to something the players are going to interact with. But, the world is indifferent to the PC's. As far as the world is concerned, the PC's are nothing special, or at least nothing more special than a group of young but prodigiously talented individuals with amazing aptitude and potential for whom stories seem to spring up wherever they go.

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?
So, if I develop a settlement I do it primarily with an eye toward realism or verisimilitude. So for example, no shops for adventuring equipment unless the town is big enough to plausibly support a weaponsmith, armorer, apothecary, alchemist, hedge wizard, and so forth.

However, I do at the same time try to fill the world with plot hooks and adventure. Whether this has an eye toward the PC's or not, I couldn't really say, because if I expanded out the world it would always have these opportunities for adventure, intrigue, and derring-do. So, I guess you could say it's a whole world of adventure. Whether that's plausible I don't know, but I try to at least make it somewhat believable.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
In the words of Star-Lord, "Bit of both."

The world exists, in the sense that yes, there are things going on behind the scenes and gears are turning and wheels are moving and levers are being pulled.

BUT

Those things move in "slow motion" when the players aren't around/involved. In part because I have no interest in tracking them, and in part because what's the point of creating an interesting situation, only to have it resolve when noone is looking and the players aren't involved?

The players are like catalysts. Without them, life goes on as usual, politics moves slowly, things fail to get done so that in part, when the players arrive, there will be things to do, livestyles to upset, issues to become embroiled in. The players accelerate and amplify anything they're involved with, in part because the area is reacting to the sudden influence of new elements, and in part because that just seems to be the nature of players.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
At my table, The world exists for the players. Because it is their sandbox, it must be a space in which they can play, explore, create, and destroy.

That doesn’t mean things are static but for player involvement. But it does mean that the majority of my design focuses on things in their proximity more than things outside that area.

This holds true even for established, well-trod settings. I may draw extensively from existing material, but I’m using the world to create and deliver adventure content to the players (who are a participating audience). That includes all the toys a sandbox ought to have: assets, resources, obstacles, locations, goals, NPCs, hirelings, allies, and villains.

By necessity, some things in the sandbox need to be pre-arranged before the players get in there. And that means some things will be set up with them specifically in mind for that session, and some plans might be sketched out for later sessions. Always, I keep the players in mind.

If I were playing solo, I might let everything run its own course and just see how things play out. With my groups at my table, this activity exists for us to play with, so it gosh darn well better account for that.
 

Reynard

Adventurer
What about the little stuff? Like, you have previously established an ancient hero who was buried with his famed weapon. The players' adventures bring them to the tomb. Do you make sure the famed weapon is one your party can use, even if for whatever reason your players have chosen are or esoteric weapons? And if so does that player choice impact the historical context of the hero?
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
What about the little stuff? Like, you have previously established an ancient hero who was buried with his famed weapon. The players' adventures bring them to the tomb. Do you make sure the famed weapon is one your party can use, even if for whatever reason your players have chosen are or esoteric weapons? And if so does that player choice impact the historical context of the hero?
I try to avoid including things that would lead my players to petty graverobbing. If there's a famous hero with a famous weapon, it's likely the players are going to need to go on an epic quest to find it....and understand that legends are often blown out of proportion, or twisted in ways they don't realize. That doesn't mean they won't find a magic sword, but it might not be the kind of magic they wanted.

Also: I have a little note next to all my truly legendary magical weapons: they alter form to fit a worthy wielder. Which is in part why an ancient weapon might get "lost" only for some completely unrelated guy to show up later with a different magical weapon. It's one reason there are so few legendary weapons in the world.

Excalibur and the sword wielded by Samurai Jack may in fact be the same weapon, traversing time and space to be where and when it is needed.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Perhaps another way of putting this: the world does exist “for” the players, it does not exist “for” their characters.
Well, yeah. "For the PCs" is a very different thing from "From the players". Consensus is great.

To pick up a thread from upstream about tailoring events for characters, like whether or not one of them can use that magic sword. I think the answer for a good GM, barring pressing reasons to do it differently, would be to make sure a party member could use that sword. If the magic sword of Sir Stabbypants is the big carrot, it's a huge letdown of no one can actually use the thing. That said, if the whole idea is that the PCs are supposed to give that sword to someone else then as DM I have good reasons to maybe wire the thing so it can't be used by the PCs. I'm not going to tailor every bit of treasure to the party, that's kind silly IMO, but I'll do it up to a point.

The tailoring question is really one best answered by individual DMs. They know what kind of game they are interested in running, and they know the players at the table. That's where those decisions happen IMO, not in a vacuum talking about the game in general. I don't think that one way is better than another in any kind of absolute sense.
 

Advertisement

Top