D&D General How "Real" is your world?

Reynard

Legend
This is going to be subjective, and people are going to disagree from the very beginning about certain definitions, but I am curious how "real" you consider your campaign world to be. It doesn't matter if you use an official 5E setting, a legacy setting, a 3rd party setting or something you designed yourself. I am not really asking about the setting details but how real the world feel when you playing.

What I mean by "real" in this context covers a lot of ground, much of it nebulous. Things like: feeling lived in by whoever populates it; having an ecology even if it isn't a realistic one; same for an economy; does it have religions and cultures and political institutions that make sense in the context of the wider world. Like that.

To reiterate: I am not talking about "realism." I am not even talking about verisimilitude necessarily, although it is related. I am referring to the feeling that the world as a whole operates by rules beyond those that exist to serve it as a game or as a narrative.
 

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it depends...

I love world building, and sometimes I do it to crazy levels of details (I know that the king 4 generations back to a kingdom months of travel away was really a bastard of the sword master and the queen, so that changed the line of kings) but in general I like to make worlds to at least make sense most times...

having said that I also made a world where tree bark was made of milk chocolet (you could just rip it off and eat it like a hersy bar) and root beer sprang out of some natural springs... that world also had naturally flying mountains.
 


But for my default world: as real as I can make it. Which probably isn't very.
I bet most people who try to make them as simulations and realistic as possible still fail. People just don't have the time, and we also are all bad judges of what is and is not real.

and the real world has some design flaws the campaign creator should have rethought...
 

MGibster

Legend
For me, no. I've said it in other threads, but D&D worlds feel like themeparks to me. It's like visiting Disney World and going from Animal Kingdom to Epcot and then to Magic Kingdom. None of these places are real, and they simply exist to provide visitors with a specific experience. And that's how D&D settings work. They simply exist to provide the PCs with an experience. They feel about as lived in as the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
For me, not at all. Any setting I run a game in is there purely for the players and the game / narrative they are experiencing. I personally don't care about the setting's growth, what it has going on behind the scenes, or anything that isn't directly related to what the characters have or are going to experience. That stuff might already exist in the setting book I am using (which is why I use setting books), but I'm not a world-builder nor a writer. So I won't expand on that stuff until my players butt up against it. The best way of describing myself related to DMing would probably be a game facilitator. So anything not related to the game as it stands or where it probably can and will head is not really touched upon at all.
 

payn

Legend
What I mean by "real" in this context covers a lot of ground, much of it nebulous. Things like: feeling lived in by whoever populates it; having an ecology even if it isn't a realistic one; same for an economy; does it have religions and cultures and political institutions that make sense in the context of the wider world. Like that.
I gotta plug bounded accuracy as a great feature for making the real setting come to life. By real I mean a setting that makes sense for its existence. Why have trolls, demons, and dragons not taken over the world yet? So, I would agree with the above in that it's real as it makes as much logical sense as a fantasy world with magic can.

That said, I also like crazy unreal worlds too, but its nice to have a real default in the ruleset that you can dial up from there.
 

Mallus

Legend
My current campaign setting is a 4000 X 450 mile arc of unbreakable magic material with about 3 miles of biosphere on top. It floats in a inky void along with a sun and smeary stars that look more like comets. The whole thing is a construct about 500 years old (so the legends go). It's inhabited by 30+ intelligent species.

None of that really answers how believable I think it is, though. That'll come done to how realistic the NPCs and their motivations are as I play them.
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
I designed Yarnmaster specifically as a lighter alternative to HarnMaster. When I run Yarnmaster, I run games in Harn and tend toward realism. When I run D&D of any stripe, realism pretty much goes out the window. The rules don't really encourage it and I feel as though I'd be playing against the grain by trying to force it. Same deal with Tunnels & Trolls. But I play different games for different reasons. For example, I play T&T because I can play a Living Skeleton as a PC! :)
 

Oofta

Legend
I do my best. I put a decent amount of thought into climate and weather patterns, where deserts would be vs swamps for example is one simple example. I also try to think about how the world would work if magic were real which is why I have low level everyday magic going on. It's not Eberron levels, but small magical rituals are quite common and utilitarian.

As far as societies and interactions with monsters and whatnot, many of my adversaries are (demi)humans or people that have made deals with the literal devil or otherworldly power. I tend to do more urban adventures than anything with the occasional lycanthrope, vampire or other monster that can pass as people most of the time. Until, of course, some idiot cracks open that book of evil nasty stuff and unleashes heck.

At the same time I only do broad brushstrokes and don't get into a lot of detail. I have ideas of how safe or unsafe various regions are, how it will affect how people live and the defenses they build. I also make assumptions that there are defenses we don't have in the real world. For example there's no need for a ballista on a gimbal that can fire a net to counter a dragon attack in the real world because in the real world dragons aren't real. They exist in some areas of my world, or at least people know about them.

On the other hand I also have realms that don't work exactly that way. I don't use the great wheel, I loosely base my cosmology on Norse legends of a giant yew tree that connects different realms. The underdark is Svartleheim for example, and doesn't follow all the rules of our world. My current campaign has the group in Muspleheim, land of fire giants, where the sky is not lit by the sun but by a fiery dome that Surtr renews every morning.

So I'm sure that there are gaping holes in my logic. I attempt to have my campaign world be the real world + magic. More or less.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
My current campaign world is as real as the setting of a typical action movie. The elements that the PCs interact with come into focus, the rest of it exists in a nebulous "things work about the way you expect them to work" state in the background. I work to make sure that the elements the PCs come in contact are consistent with the world we're building, but that's about the extent of it.

But that's mostly because of my players. They're only as interested in the world as a setting for adventures to take place in. If they were more interested in the world as a whole I'd spend more time on the background elements. (This is not a dig on my players - I love them all to death - but they are very much interested in their characters and in fighting bad guys and in coming up with world building elements that affect their own and other player's PCs, and not so much with just general worldbuilding or exploration. That's just not where their fun is.)
 

MarkB

Legend
I like to have anything I add to the world make some kind of physical / sociological / economic sense, at least at first glance, but I don't put any time into working out the geography, weather or economy of a game world. So long as it looks broadly plausible in context, that's enough.
 

Reynard

Legend
For my part, while I would like to make my worlds real and lived in, I don't usually put the effort in I should to make that happen. I create new worlds for every campaign and major con event I run, so I create what needs to exist for play rather than deep dive. I run into similar problems writing. I am a stand alone story/novel writer, not a long series writer so I don't world build the way you need to for a really "real" feeling world.

In gaming, one thing I aim hard for no matter how unrealistic the setting is for the world, the people and hopefully the PCs to feel emotionally real, though.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
"Enough so it feels real to the character and that the characters can feel real" is my goto answer.

I like when the setting can be relatable to our world within the fiction, and I often adjust settings to make them more relatable to my reality and that of my players. I also prefer when rules convey a relatable world too and while I don't aim for "realism" in play, I do prefer rules (or game elements) that are more in line with my own experience.

For example, I like Star Wars-like space opera settings. They are far from realistic but I can relate how my spaceship will slow down if I let go of the throttle. How turning doesn't rely on lateral or vectorial thrusters, or how my laser blaster shoots (relatively) slow bolts of light like tracer rounds in a machine gun. I can relate how gravity pulls me down on one axis, allowing me to move by walking on the floor and grab things that will fall if I let go of them even if gravity in a YT-1300 makes no explainable sense scientifically speaking, and how acceleration forces that should reduce me to mush feel like a fast elevator starting or slowing down or at worse, a roller-coaster ride. I'm cool with 5-ton fire-breathing flying dragons and yet, I still have issues with falling 50 feet and keep up running as if nothing happened...
 
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Thought goes into a bunch of 'can X go with Y' questions, but not the actual science/math/economic crunching. I haven't done the math to see if a peasant or smith can live at the listed lifestyle cost/month given their wage and needs, but if characters flood the ____ market, the price will drop (someone will be upset while others will be overjoyed). I've given basic thought to what other creatures can't be present if griffons have lived in this valley for centuries, but I haven't mapped whole ecosystems. Speaking of griffons, if they are present in a region, then castles have ballista on the towers.

On some level, everything is at a 'good enough' level, as the goal is to make the world seem not-ridiculous, but not poke at the contradictions inherent in the pseudo-medieval-but-magic-is-real setting.
 

I think there is a line in a Conan story where he says if life is a dream “it’s real enough to me.”

I cannot recall which story it was but it resonates with me! Close enough!

When we play we increasingly play in the now. History is usually imparted by the adventure as it relates to the adventure.

I think my group has in recent years minimized worldbuilding as switch DMs and are more about the personalities and battles.

We respect that torching a building in a town will get you hunted or that people will have reactions based on their personality but none of use are deeply into the currency gold piece is a gold piece and so on.

We hat said I typed up 30 pages of my world and it has not see much use. I have holidays, religion, countries, creation myth and basic regional tensions.

I have not put it to use more than twice but when it’s my turn to start a campaign I will go in this new direction.

I think we are generally however more like a serial where we join the heroes in action and don’t say a tone about time between the adventures.
 

Yora

Legend
NPCs need to behave in ways and create societies in ways that make sense in regards to how things objectively work in the setting and their worldviews. And the environment will behave as in reality, unless some natural law is specifically altered by design.
Going at it from the other side, there shouldn't be anything in the world, or anything that NPCs do, just because it's a story and it would be dramatically convenient.
Mostly this just means that the world must remain consistent.
 

Mercurius

Legend
This is going to be subjective, and people are going to disagree from the very beginning about certain definitions, but I am curious how "real" you consider your campaign world to be. It doesn't matter if you use an official 5E setting, a legacy setting, a 3rd party setting or something you designed yourself. I am not really asking about the setting details but how real the world feel when you playing.

What I mean by "real" in this context covers a lot of ground, much of it nebulous. Things like: feeling lived in by whoever populates it; having an ecology even if it isn't a realistic one; same for an economy; does it have religions and cultures and political institutions that make sense in the context of the wider world. Like that.

To reiterate: I am not talking about "realism." I am not even talking about verisimilitude necessarily, although it is related. I am referring to the feeling that the world as a whole operates by rules beyond those that exist to serve it as a game or as a narrative.
Which one? ;)

I love world-building - and if I'm honest, it is more of a primary hobby (or art-form) to me than RPGs, and they essentially exists as two distinct "streams" that sometimes meet (or it could be said that my engagement with world-building creates separate sub-streams, one being stories and the other game settings). It didn't start that way - I discovered D&D and started reading fantasy novels around the same time (early 80s), and world-building was an eventual out-growth of that. But starting in the late 80s, my main or "mythic world" began to separate--eventually completely--from RPGs, and I developed other "game worlds" to play D&D in (as well as still other worlds for other story ideas).

My "mythic world" is (or feels) quite real. It seems to exist in its own right, and I feel less that I am "building" it, as in constructing it from scratch, and more that I am gradually seeing it in greater detail, like putting a puzzle together over many years. In other words, I feel like I'm more the chronicler of a world that exists in its own right that I'm gradually "seeing," and less like an architect of something that doesn't exist until I put pen to paper. So in terms of your question, it definitely feels like it exists outside my conscious awareness.

But I haven't used this mythic world as an RPG setting for maybe three decades. At this point, it is very far removed from anything D&D. In fact, I remember the moment when I realized that the race of beings that I called elves were not actually elves, but something different. This happened a lot, and gradually, over time, the world took on its own life. I could use it for a D&D setting, but it would essentially require a whole new set of races, classes, and sub-systems and really, when I play D&D, I tend to prefer a relatively "classic" approach, so I've developed D&D settings to use when I DM. This "game world" uses the building blocks of D&D lore and riffs off them, but stays relatively traditional. It doesn't feel as real as my mythic world, but it also doesn't have to. Where the mythic world feels like it could be an actual world out there in the cosmos that I'm "receiving" data on through my imagination, my D&D setting feels more purely constructed - something that I have put together from various elements from D&D canon, various books and other media. In a way it is an attempt to make the archetypal D&D fantasy setting with some personal twists.

Actually, Samuel Taylor Coleridge has a taxonomy of imagination that describes the difference quite well:

The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.
My mythic world seems to be largely the product of what Coleridge calls secondary imagination, while my D&D worlds are more the product of fancy. In fact, there is an ongoing tension in the process of creating the mythic world - I have to constantly keep "fancy" at bay, or rather hear through the noise of its meddling to get at the "signal," if that makes sense. Sometimes I come up with an idea that doesn't feel quite right, and gradually the "true" idea emerges underneath it. It is almost like some ideas start as a "fanciful placeholder" and are eventually replaced with a product of secondary imagination.

On the other hand, my D&D setting is more the product of fancy in that it is intentional built to serve a distinct purpose: to play D&D in. In a way it is much easier, because I don't have to worry about the "true" idea - I just put together bits and pieces that serve the main purpose of the world: to be a setting for D&D game play.

As an aside, I think most RPG worlds are largely the products of fancy, and our common cultural view is that fancy = imagination, and even that Coleridge's secondary (let alone primary) imagination is just a bunch of quasi-mystical woo-woo, even pretentiously elitist. To that I would say, woe is us. In fact, I think this is a limiting factor on a lot of art, and why most film studios and authors (and game designers) tend to just regurgitate and re-skin endlessly.

To quote Seinfeld, not that there's anything wrong with that! A game world is essentially a back-drop for game play. And the setting of a film or book is meant to serve the story. But it does end up feeling like the vast majority of fantasy worlds that are put forth are mostly just re-combinations of already existing bits and pieces, rather than living and breathing worlds that feel like they exist in their own right.

That said, occasionally some film or book or RPG seems to tap into a deeper wellspring, and even worlds built on fancy still sometimes have elements of Coleridge's secondary imagination. To some extent, I think that the degree that a world has its own unique signature and vibe (that is, is original rather than derivative), often at least correlates with the degree to which its creator tapped into secondary imagination.

I am not equating novelty with originality, but that the latter has something to do with something existing outside of the "fixities and definites" of the mind, as if its origin is elsewhere. Meaning, I'm using "origin" as coming from the depths of imagination - not derived from pre-existing cultural artifacts.
 


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