D&D General How "Real" is your world?

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
I love to world build, and have created many worlds over the years. I hate to always run back to my Kaidan setting of Japanese Horror (PFRPG), but it's the only setting that was fully developed and published in some kind of complete form. Because much of the design mindset in the project was trying fix the many issues I've found in the original Oriental Adventures, and while focusing on key cultural elements of the setting, I sought for nuance of detail, rather than comprehensiveness of every possible element. I focused on a dozen key aspects and delved deeply for each, rather than trying cover every possible aspect. Putting aside the magic, folklore and cosmic horror aspects, Kaidan was as close to an analog historical Japan that I could achieve. I think I nailed the realism and verismilitude. Now I use Kaidan is the bar I set for all my other setting designs.
 

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If it's a world I'm running, things need to make basic sense to me, someone with some historical/archaeological training, and who doesn't like it when it's not obvious where food/water is coming from, where waste is going to and so on.

Populations should not be larger than makes sense for the land being farmed/hunter-gathered/etc. Cities should be built in places that make sense for cities, and if they're not, there should be some kind of logical reason how they're still populated/operating.

I don't particularly believe in "realism" in the sense of "everyone in the past was a horrible person"-type settings, because I feel like archaeology deeply undermines that. "Everyone in the past was weird!", sure, but horrible? No. And stuff comes and goes. This was shown to me strikingly when someone tried to suggest "communist" societies never existed in the past, and whilst that's literally true on one level, societies which shared many characteristics with them, which were utopian and communitarian, often did exist (and usually an existing power structure would work extremely hard to stamp them out - but it's easy to envision that failing for various reasons). Equally, values-wise, I'm fine if most societies in a setting have somewhat stereotypically "modern" values. Honestly the Romans and Greeks had a lot of ideas that could easily have resulted in those values, and even back in the time of Hammurabi you see a mixture of very modern-seeming and enlightened thinking next to extremely brutal/barbaric stuff and more than anything, a lot of very practical ideas.

So my priority tends to be that things make sense in a "could this society/place function?" sense, an archaeological/anthropological sense.
 

Reynard

Legend
It's interesting how much people still cling to the idea of "realism" as a metric for success. I feel like that is rooted in D&D's simulation roots, where (despite Gygax's protestations to the contrary) the rules tried to model all manner of "real world" issues. Sure, it abstracted hit points and coin weight, but it also emphasized resource management and travel rules and had some very crunchy, simulationist combat and equipment rules. But I don't think any of those things make a world feel "real."

"Real" to me in the context of a fantasy world is not only that it feels lived in, as I mentioned above, but also that it is immersive. After all, we are immersed in our real world every moment of every day -- except when we are immersed in another world by way of a book or show or game. And by this immersion, I don't necessarily mean losing track of time and visualizing the world (although it can include those things) but primarily that responding to the world is automatic and instinctual. If the game world feels real, you don't have to stop and consider how your character (or the NPCs if you are the GM) would react in that situation. You just do, because you are immersed and the freedoms and constraints of the world are natural.

It is surprisingly difficult to articulate, actually.
 

It's interesting how much people still cling to the idea of "realism" as a metric for success. I feel like that is rooted in D&D's simulation roots, where (despite Gygax's protestations to the contrary) the rules tried to model all manner of "real world" issues. Sure, it abstracted hit points and coin weight, but it also emphasized resource management and travel rules and had some very crunchy, simulationist combat and equipment rules. But I don't think any of those things make a world feel "real."

"Real" to me in the context of a fantasy world is not only that it feels lived in, as I mentioned above, but also that it is immersive. After all, we are immersed in our real world every moment of every day -- except when we are immersed in another world by way of a book or show or game. And by this immersion, I don't necessarily mean losing track of time and visualizing the world (although it can include those things) but primarily that responding to the world is automatic and instinctual. If the game world feels real, you don't have to stop and consider how your character (or the NPCs if you are the GM) would react in that situation. You just do, because you are immersed and the freedoms and constraints of the world are natural.

It is surprisingly difficult to articulate, actually.
I think I get what you mean. And this sort of evocation of the setting is what I really aim for. I try to design things mostly in broad strokes, with some details sprinkled on top. I try to make things thematically clear and coherent, and this also helps filling in the appropriate details when needed, as well as communicate the indented tone easily. Not that I don't think how things function at all, I do quite a bit, but I also try to keep in mind that exact specifics of things that are not pertinent to the characters' immediate experience are rarely actually needed. Like more "how would this world be described in an adventure novel" rather than "what sort of information an encyclopaedia would contain regarding this world."

Still, I like the world to have enough structure that it can some sort of independent existence outside of the characters. I.E. there is stuff happening in the background which the characters may or may not stumble upon, and which makes the world seem real, living place and can work as catalyst to interesting situations.

I wouldn't say that my approach isn't simulationist, it just is not solely that and the detail level of the simulation certainly varies depending on its relevance.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I value a certain degree of plausibility and verisimilitude in my campaigns for a couple of reasons. 1) It's easier to make the setting familiar to the players if the way people, weather, animals behave is similar to how the world around us works. 2) Like having stable rules, it helps set expectations for the players so they can better predict the outcomes of their actions and decisions.
 

I generally try to go for a "realistic" world, and prefer to play in ones of similar style. My personal favorite aspect is that the world moves without the PCs. If the party hears rumors about a cultist plot, the events happen even if the party takes no action on it. Something else I do (and enjoy) is when parts of previous campaigns within the setting impact the current campaign, even if only a little. Things like this show that while the PCs might be the focus of the game, they're not the focus of the world.
 

I run mostly kanon Eberron, so the world is pretty solidly internally consistent and most things make sense within the setting. (Although this may change if the PCs encounter the daelkyr.)

As to how successful I am in making the world seem "real"? - You would probably have to ask my players.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
"Real" to me in the context of a fantasy world is not only that it feels lived in, as I mentioned above, but also that it is immersive.
Agreed, and I'd add 'consistent' to that list; as in having seen something happen once, the characters (and thus the players) can be fairly confident it would happen again should the same circumstances arise.

I've found that for me that consistency can in part be achieved by having or inventing a science to underlay beneath the whole thing, that explains magic etc. in a physics sense and at the same time ties it to and-or integrates it with the physics we see around us every day.

My go-to line is often "it's real until it isn't", meaning that for mundane things (gravity, missile ranges, day and night, etc.) they're gonna work pretty much like the real world as best the game system will allow. From there, it's the underlying physics of magic that allows for the fantastic.
It is surprisingly difficult to articulate, actually.
Indeed.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I do exclusively homebrew settings, and then run them each for one campaign (or very rarely two) of four to seven years in length.

Each setting is internally consistent, making as much sense as it can while still following rules of the system I am using. There are lots of shades of grey, people (an expansive term here) have varied and believable motivations, etc.

It should seem real, given the limitations of the DM as the window into the world. To put it another way, if there was a Turing test about reality of the setting, there shouldn't be any red flags that it's not.

All of that said, since I do use Schrodinger's plotting and setting, nothing is true until it hits the table. So things can be revised as long as they don't impact anything already true (e.g. require a retcon), and those often are to help tell the story the table as a whole is interested in, as expanded in play from my thoughts on the needs for the next parts of the tale.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
From my perspective the setting design I do in any game I run exists solely to enable play. Sometimes that can be very detailed as it is when I run sandbox games, or it can be less detailed like when I do B/X style dungeon crawls or more character driven play. The aim is always to make it feel real but with a focus on being gameable.
 

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 strive to give small details that indicate "lived-in-ness," e.g. when the players visit a city they've never been to before, I'll describe a local favorite dish, or local clothing preferences, or distinctive architectural elements that make that area stand out. (The food examples are pretty popular with my players so I do that one a lot.) Little touches like that help to make it feel like it's a place out there somewhere, even as you see flying carpets and such.

There is an ecology and a biosphere with different climates. It's probably not very realistic, but I do try to make it at least passingly resemble IRL semiarid-to-desert regions (the primary ecological inspiration is Morocco). It has cork forests in the northeast and citrus groves/forests in the wetter parts. There are areas that diverge quite heavily from "arid" due to stuff like a major river flowing through (or near its headwaters, where several minor rivers converge in the same basin, creating a marsh area despite the overall arid climate), but by and large, it is a dry land, and the deep wilderness is desert, not forest. Monsters and other dangerous things live out in the deep desert, making it even more hazardous than it might otherwise be, but the various city-states (particularly the largest, Al-Rakkah) keep the roads relatively well-protected, and the monsters don't generally stray from their hidey-holes much.

There are two primary religions in the area: the older Kahina animistic/shamanistic faith, and the "newer" (but still very old) monotheistic Safiqi priesthood that largely supplanted it. The two exist in a tense peace, where the "moderate" members of each group basically agree to let bygones be bygones so long as neither side does anything particularly egregious by their standards (e.g. the moderate Safiqi "only" ask that the Kahina never preach that their deity, the One, is merely a powerful city-spirit; "orthodox" Safiqi demand they convert but this rarely ends well for practical reasons, while "orthodox" Kahina refuse to play along at all.) Some, particularly among the Waziri mages and merchant class, are effectively atheist or agnostic, but this isn't something most of them would make common knowledge. (To be clear, most Waziri and merchants are still at least nominally of the Safiqi faith, but if you go looking for exceptions, those are the two groups where you'd have the most luck.) Other religions exist, but most of them exist far away, so they haven't been particularly relevant. The party did recently learn that their dragon friend, Tenryu Shen, follow a religion which he sees as being equivalent to the Safiqi priests', but structured differently (in a way that effectively integrates a portion of Kahina doctrine); in his homeland of Yuxia, the being whom the Safiqi worship as the One is called the August Jade Emperor, and the other spirits are considered members, whether they know it or not, of the Bureaucracy of Heaven.

At least six completely distinct cultural groups (one of which has two main branches) have been identified in the game thus far. They are:
  • The Tarrakhuna. This is the native culture of the lands where (all but one of) the PCs originated, and the main setting of play. Arabian Nights flair and flavor. It's the one with two subdivisions, which both see each other as part of "the same culture" but sometimes in not-entirely-polite ways. They are the "city folk" and the Nomad Tribes. The two share one language, many religious beliefs, literature, essentially all of their oral traditions (just flavored/presented differently), and one believed-mythic-but-actually-true origin, but have many distinct cultural traditions and practices as well. Because the city-folk and Nomad Tribes both contributed to throwing off the shackles of genie-rajah slavery, one of their important shared values is that slavery is unacceptable. (Some still practice it in secret, but it's a HUGE no-no.)
  • Jinnistan. This is the elemental otherworld genie land, made up of many allied city-states, ruled over by nigh-immortal noble genies and populated by a mix of many races. Jinnistan is an even more intensely magical land than the Tarrakhuna, and its rulers can be capricious and cruel, but they can also be sources of incredible wealth and power if you learn to play their games. They still have somewhat tense relations with the mortal city-states of the modern Tarrakhuna because, thousands of years ago, the genie-rajahs ruled over (this part of) the mortal world and enslaved most mortals of the region. That sort of thing doesn't get forgotten easily.
  • Yuxia. As noted, this is a faraway land, one with wuxia/pan-Asiatic flavorings. (It also has an equivalent of Jinnistan, called Fusang, but Fusang is nowhere near as political or meddlesome as Jinnistan.) Consistent trade with Yuxia across the Sapphire Sea is a relatively recent event, though the fact that this land existed has been known for several centuries--it was just a matter of (a) finding goods worth trading with Yuxia and (b) finding a safe route through the many dangers and vast distances of the Sapphire Sea. Yuxia is also extremely big, much bigger than the Tarrakhuna, so it has many, many subcultures, but none of them have been directly relevant yet. Though he is a gold dragon in disguise as a mere dragonborn, Yuxia is Shen's native culture.
  • The northern jungles. There used to be a thriving civilization, more or less Mesoamerican flavored, to the north, but a sustained period of Bad Stuff a few centuries ago eventually broke the back of their civilization and they dispersed. (In brief: several natural disasters, a nasty plague, a drought, a resulting famine, various domestic unrest issues, and then an earthquake which severely damaged their main city AND seemingly killed off their direct connection to the divine....yeah, they basically called it quits.)
  • The eastern steppe. Beyond the mountains to the east (from which the major rivers flow), there are high, arid steppe lands, and a culture of clannish, horse-riding people, mostly dwarves, holds sway here. More or less, dwarves but Mongolian; mechanically many of them manifest as Barbarians, but the association isn't strict in either direction. We haven't delved too much into their culture because the player whose character came from there has left the game. But it might come up again in the future.
  • The "elf forests" to the south. Little was known about them, and they've suspiciously never meaningfully developed, and the forests remain eerily empty of people. The party has since learned that this was an intentional effect, a curse or enchantment that prevents anyone from building new permanent structures inside a large circular region of territory in these forests. Turns out, long ago, the El-Adrin civilization lived there, and depended HEAVILY on magic, but for some reason, a Big Deal Thing happened which would have ended their civilization (at least, the way they lived), so they pulled their whole damn civilization into a pocket dimension, awaiting the day they could return to the mortal world once the changes were reversed. Our party Battlemaster is intimately connected to the El-Adrin and hopes to help them return.
  • The Ten Thousand Isles of the Sapphire Sea. A very eclectic bunch, since a heavy inspiration for these islands is the Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, but the overall cultural tone is Polynesia/Melanesia/Micronesia. The name is metaphorical; no one has mapped the entire Sapphire Sea, so no one knows how many isles there are, and it might even be impossible to actually find truly all of them. The people here practice a more open/fluid belief system, seemingly seeing most traditions as just a specialized version of general spiritualism, though we haven't delved too deep into that yet. Our party Spellslinger is of this culture.
There are several relevant political institutions that have come up over the course of play, including but not limited to:
Sultana Thuriya and her royal court (the leadership of Al-Rakkah)
The Brass Ring (the unofficial-official advisory council, made up of the richest merchants in the city)
The Al-Rakkan military (Army, Navy, Palace Guard, Day Watch, Night Watch)
The Waziri Order (mages, but also educators for many professional fields including lawyers and some forms of medicine)
The Safiqi Priesthood (priests, but they also do a large portion of the region's medical and poverty-fighting services)
Within the priesthood, the Asiad al-Khafyun (the "secret masters"/"hidden overseers," the internal police of the Safiqi and also their arm for hunting down nasty murder-cults and Cthulhu-worshippers and the like....because that's a thing)
Some specific Nomad Tribes, including the orcish/half-orcish/human tribe led by Alimar bint Khamal, grandmother of our (on hiatus) party Ranger
The Silver Thread, a Robin-Hood-style organization of pro-social thieves, vagabonds, and ne'er-do-wells who work to protect the common folk from being preyed upon by the merchants of the various city-states
The various Jinnistani nobles of note, including His Majesty, His Eminence, Sahl Thaqib Humaidan al-Nazar yatt-Asmar, Prince of the South Wind (or just Prince Sahl for short. Most nobles, genie or otherwise, have similarly stupidly long names that get abbreviated to just their first name. It's an old genie tradition.)

And several bad-guy factions, like the (as yet unnamed) gang being secretly run by a black dragon, the "Zil al-Ghurab" or (as we usually call them) the "Raven-Shadows" who are an assassin cult that broke away from the Safiqi priesthood a long time ago, the Cult of the Burning Eye who basically revere some kind of eldritch being and are quite mad, and the Shadow Druids who are heretical Kahina that want to destroy all the cities and transform the region into a giant swamp so they can merge with death itself and transcend the cycle of rebirth.
 

Stormonu

Legend
It's "real enough" that you could drop someone from this world into it and they would be able to live there without freaking out. There's a moderately deep history and geography mostly works similar to ours. There are things, though that are different enough it would stand out - the sun visibly circles the flat earth, ships can fly among the clouds in certain mountain ranges, there's dragons and magic.
 

TheSword

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.
I think our campaign is pretty real. WFRP is the most earthy, lived in, setting going.
 

Reynard

Legend
It's "real enough" that you could drop someone from this world into it and they would be able to live there without freaking out. There's a moderately deep history and geography mostly works similar to ours. There are things, though that are different enough it would stand out - the sun visibly circles the flat earth, ships can fly among the clouds in certain mountain ranges, there's dragons and magic.
For my part anyway, I don't think proximity to "the real world" is a controlling factor in whether a game world feels "real" in the context of this thread. It could be a completely fantastical world, but probably not a completely whimsical one. That is, Narnia can feel real but Oz or Beyond the Looking Glass probably couldn't.
 

Here are some of my thoughts in brief.

The worlds of Skyrim, Oblivion, and Morrowind feel most real to me(1), the worlds of Daggerfall and Arena feel less real, and the worlds of the majority of other games feel least real to me(2).

Here's why.

Recent Elder Scrolls games give you a tip of the iceberg feel that is true--not just an illusion. There are hundreds of locations in those games you are never going to visit, but you know they are there. You know if you go there you will run into what is actually there--the game won't make up something that seems like it would make for a good story for your character at the time.

Older Elder Scrolls games had some locations like that, but most of the world, while vast, was procedurally generated, so you knew the kind of stuff that would be there, and that it didn't adapt to make a story based on your character, but it feels a little hollow because of all the random generation.

Many other CRPGs only present a world to the degree in which it supports the story being told about the protagonist character you are playing.

A real-feeling world to me is explorable. That's the basic essence of it. In order for a world to be explorable you need features and locations that are defined outside of the context of their presentation to the players. When locations only get defined by PC contact, then there is no iceberg to be a tip of, and your experience is one of a story being told rather than a world being explored. Content can be defined by virtue of being actually fleshed out(3), or by having an algorithm that provides consistent procedural generation(4). Any highly explorable D&D world is going to include a world skeleton that gives overall definition with a mix of at least a few somewhat fleshed out locations and a procedural generation method for fleshing out others as needed. Without any fleshed-out areas, it will feel hollow and nebulous. Without any consistent procedural generation it won't be explorable, since a DM can't reasonably pre-flesh-out a world with sufficient detail to hold up to player-driven exploration.

I'm highly eclectic in my role-playing. I'm the player/GM in the group who is excited to try just about any game presented to me. While there are a few particular combinations of play-style considerations that don't work well for me, in general I can enjoy most games when used in ways that aren't fighting their own systems(5). What I create and encourage others to try experiencing in D&D--high exploration campaigns--is due to the fact that D&D's decades of creative input have developed a setting uniquely suited to it. Quite frankly, you can't find another RPG that gives you a better opportunity to experience RPG exploration, and it is a shame that most modern gamers may never get to experience that because the direction for a while has been to use D&D as a story-playing experience (which any role-playing game can do, and which D&D has minimal system support for compared to many others designed for that exact style of play). I honestly feel that the deprecation of exploration in D&D is depriving players of an experience they otherwise can't have, while giving them an inferior version of an experience they can have many other ways.

At this point many people are having contrary thoughts pop into their mind, dismissing this idea either because they prefer story-driven play or because they've fomed assumptions about why such an experience is impractical for most gamers to attempt.

As far as playstyle preference, I don't have any desire to dissuade people from playing what they like. Just like with culinary tastes, I do encourage people to punctuate enjoying their known favorites with trying new things, since discovering new favorites can be an enriching experience. I also feel like people could better enjoy story-based play with another system, but I understand that the popularity of D&D can make it difficult to get players interested in playing in, or GMs interested in running for you a better-fitting system for a story-focused experience.

As far as the assumptions, I'll briefly(6) address them for those who think they might want to try the exploration experience but just don't know how or think it isn't practical.

You don't have to do a bunch of work upfront. While you can do so if you enjoy the results like me, you can set up an explorable world pretty simply, and then just develop the parts you need as you go--while still maintaining a true exploration experience. Here's how:

A) Decide some basic principles and themes.

What kinds of gods and/or religions exist in your world. "I want a Norse-themed, but not copied, pantheon that is ubiquitous among humans" is good enough to start. Grab D&D's simplified and gameable fantasy-historical Norse pantheon, and refer to all of the deities by a title rather than name. You can always add names later as needed or when they come to you, as well as add new ones or combine others.

What technological level aesthetic do you want? Early Middle Ages, Late Middle Ages, Rennaissance, Bronze Age, varies by region? Just tentatively set the highest and lowest levels present in your world. "Most of the world is Late Middle Ages, but there is a Bronze age continent and maybe couple Renaissance regions" is good enough.

What cultural aesthetics do you want? Wuxia, Arabian Nights, Scandinavian epics? This can be as simple as "Pretty much anything could be found" or "I want everything to feel alien rather than earth-inspired" or "I want to focus on three major regions, one North African in feel, one Meso-American in feel, and one Southeast Asian in feel, and I'm probably going to avoid traditional European fantasy because I'm trying something different".

What species are prominent? "I want dragons to be the originators of magic, and still be the dominant and feared casters in the world, and I want humans to be a young race that are generally in subjection to the warring elven and gnoll empires" along with something like "necromancers are feared and common" and "Monstrosities are particularly common but Aberrations are extremely rare" is a great start, or "the standard D&D assumptions are in place" is perfectly fine also.

Is the world about anything? Your answer can range from "Yes, the eternal battle between life and undeath is played out on history's stage again and again..." to "Nope".

B) Sketch a skeletal map. Just decide how big your planet (or other world-structure) is, and draw a basic stick-figure quality level of the continents. Label a few regions like, "Here be lots of dwarves" or "Shogunate-inspired lands".

C) Think of a skeletal timeline. "The world started out with a warring Kuo-Toan empire with high technology against a Bronze Age civilization that combined most of the other species. They rose up and defeated the Kuo-Toas, and after a dark age society eventually settled into an Early to Late Middle Ages aesthetic which has been going on for a couple thousand years now with various different lands and changing borders," is good.

D) Think of any D&D assumptions you need to clarify or change. For cosmology "Great Wheel Cosmology, basically straight out of 2e sources" is my personal favorite, but "There are some sort of heavenly and hellish and elemental and magical planes that feel typically D&D and I'll worry about the details later" is all you need to get started. You might need to decide that certain character classes, subclasses, species, equipment, aren't present, and maybe some new ones are.

E) Find some random tables. Previous editions of D&D are your friends here, though there are some examples in 5e for encounters, events, locations, etc. You can also find plenty of free random content generators online. You will eventually want to create your own tables, but for now you can start with using existing ones and rerolling results that dont' fit the things you've predefined about your world. You should, however, use results that are compatible with those definitions, because it will assist you in world building. If the first two random encounters in a region you haven't fleshed out yet is with satyrs and a cyclops, you might decide that there is a strong Greek mythology aesthetic there, and make new locations and random tables that lean into that theme.

F) Pick a place on the map. You can now zoom in and just create what you need as you go. The virtue in this little bit of upfront work (and you could literally do it in a couple hours or less if you aren't interested in changing a bunch of D&D assumptions) is that now you can keep your world consistent because everything has a framework within which to be set.

This style is incompatible with the story-driven play I prefer. There is in fact no good reason you can't set your story-driven play within a consistent explorable world. Unless you are committed to making up everything on the fly as a philosophical GMing position, having this background means whenever the players go outside of expected areas, you have built in answers to what they will find (whether fleshed out or procedurally generated). This also doesn't mean you can't spontaneously create things on the fly, that are consistent with the world! If the players break through the backdoor of a building while they are fleeing from a gang (or the guards) you can spontaneously decide to describe a fun scene where they interrupt a member of the town council (who they have previously met) in a silly situation. But if you lack the inclination, or nothing is coming to you, you can also use procedural generation (ie, random tables or generators) to determine what they find in the building. This simply adds that real tip of the iceberg experience to your game.

Hopefully that briefly demonstrates both why one might want to, and how one can easily get started on, running a campaign with with a truly explorable world.

And as one more note, if you make that skeletal map big enough, and your other themes broad enough, there is little reason to make a new setting for each campaign(7). You can therefore reuse a large part of this material in future campaigns by setting them in the same world--whether nearby or on the opposite side of it. You can also use existing published D&D settings, but you will need to supplement recent materials with some content from at least as far back as 3e (and ideally earlier), since later D&D hasn't provided sufficient random tables for good procedural world-generation(8).


(1) Ignoring the scaling enemies, ridiculously small settlements, etc.
(2) I'm sure there are some other non-Elder Scrolls games that are similar, but even most open-world CRPGs and D&D CRPGs like Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights fall in the bottom category.
(3) See the Forgotten Realms 2e Daggerford supplement that lists every inhabitant of a particular village for an extreme example.
(4) This generally means means random tables--see the 2e Monstrous Compendiums random encounters by terrain/environment for some great examples--the encounters represent the creatures that have been defined as existing in the world at the rarities that they have been defined as having, in encounter frequencies that are consistent and objective (rather than decided on the spot by the DM), and have no dependence on the level of the party.
(5) For example, the system I'm creating to power my modern fantasy setting creates a story-driven experience, not an explorable world, by design. The world is an altered modern earth, so it already feels explorable based on being played by earthlings, but there are no mechanics to support exploration, because the intent is to play movie-like stories instead of explore.
(6) Yes, this post is my version of brief when it comes to a subject I'm enthusiastic about like role-playing.
(7) You might need one completely different of course if that's the intent.
(8) Using existing settings in an exploration-enabled manner (since most were originally designed to enable that) is a whole other awesome way to go about this that allows you to make use of thousands of pages of other people's creativity at your leisure, but details of that would go beyond this post.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
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.
It reads like you're asking about internal consistency.

Does time pass consistently? Are people born, live, and die? Does the world exist separate from the PCs? Do the NPCs do things regardless of the PCs involvement? Will the NPCs carry out their plans unless stopped by the PCs? Will the ritual be performed in three days...regardless of how long the PCs take to get there? Do prices fluctuate based on an the abundance or scarcity of resources?

Yes. That's literally the goal for me in running games. I call that verisimilitude. It feels like a real place despite not being real.
 


Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I focus on the characters. The more real they feel, the more real the world will feel.

Totally this. I have found the more integrated characters are into the setting, the more they feel like real people with real lives, the more real the world feels to their players. If you put a lot of effort into world building, but do not do the work to integrate the characters you can get what I call the space alien effect where players feel like their characters are visitors to the world.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
Oh I don't think I even could run a game where the world doesn't feel like it operates by rules beyond those that serve the game or narrative.

I have no interest in a "a town" with no context or history, and while I tend to only map out enough to create a framework for improvisation, I do need that framework.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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