D&D General How "Real" is your world?

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
My world building used to be quite detailed, but I've dialed it back a notch, as I realized that some of the work I was doing was well, wasted. But I agree with @Ruin Explorer 's sentiments - it has to make some kind of sense to me.

I've seen too many campaign settings that have very cool elements that... just made no sense at all. A mighty city, and a very cool one to boot, on top of a cliff, in a desert, isolated from everyone else... what are they eating? Trade? but why would someone trade with them, they are out of the way and seemingly have no resources! This can be "fixed" with a bit of work, but it's disappointing that the work wasn't done by the creator of the setting.

And often the answers to these questions - especially when they have to be "special/fantastic" because a mundane answer wouldn't do it - can lead to adventure! So that city trade "desert silk", found in tunnels under the sand (sand worms are secreting it to stabilize tunnels, these small tunnels can be carefully dug up and the silk extracted). What if something goes wrong with this silk collection? That could be a great adventure seed.

That being said, there are some basic facts I like to "set in stone", that are probably particular to me, in case they come up later - and that's the weight of coins and the value (to answer the "we found 10 pounds of gold! ... how much is that?" questions), as well as the income/cost of living of one poor laborer, to use as a basis of comparison for pricing.
 

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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
world building is my favourite part of the game so I’ll put in extra time to a flesh out histories, factions and the lives and loves of my favourite NPCs.

I also have the PCs create their own NPCs and factions using an Influence mechanic (based on 3e leadership) to allow PCs to use their NPC relationships in game.

Dungeon World has the concept of Fronts, and I Think they provide a good tool for maintaining a lived in feel without railroading
 


AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
In my worlds, the Rule of Cool and Rule of Fun always overrule "realism." Verisimilitude is important to my settings, but (ideally) never to the extent that it gets in the way of the fun at the table. I want the players to feel immersed in the setting and the campaign's plot (if there is one), but if I want to throw in something completely wacky/nonsensical because I think it will make for a better adventure, I will.

So, I do care about stuff like local politics, developing factions, the effects of having centuries-old sentient characters/species in the world, and how magic would change things, but I also throw in whatever thing I think will make the game more fun even if it really doesn't make sense in the context of the world or the standard rules of D&D.

I take the same approach when I run official settings, too. I'm not going to try to be 100% accurate to the official lore of the setting (especially if it has decades-worth of lore, like Eberron, Ravenloft, and the Forgotten Realms), but I'm going to keep the core parts of the setting that make it fun. If any bit of lore would get in the way of that fun, I drop it.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I focus on the characters. The more real they feel, the more real the world will feel.
As a DM, fine; but as a player trying to look outward from my character and "see" the world from its point of view I want there to be a lot more than just the other PCs to look at/focus on/interact with.
 

wedgeski

Adventurer
I need a map, with towns, cities, rivers, roads, interesting locales, and a scale. That's about all I worry about from a world-building perspective. For a particular campaign, faction conflict is the next layer added. After that, the only 'real' that I worry about is how the NPC's treat the characters.
 

I've seen too many campaign settings that have very cool elements that... just made no sense at all. A mighty city, and a very cool one to boot, on top of a cliff, in a desert, isolated from everyone else... what are they eating? Trade? but why would someone trade with them, they are out of the way and seemingly have no resources! This can be "fixed" with a bit of work, but it's disappointing that the work wasn't done by the creator of the setting.
This is a perfect example, yeah.

Some authors very rarely create anything like this, whereas with others, a significant fraction of the setting will be like this. I know from experience that it doesn't work for my main group of players, because they like to manipulate the setting elements, not just follow the adventure, and if the setting elements don't make sense, they can't be manipulated properly. Like, they might want to pretend to be traders, or utilize the waste-management system in some way to infiltrate or exfiltrate from a place, and if those elements are just missing/nonsensical, that's a problem.

I've yet to come across a situation where something I came up with was cool but I couldn't find a rational way to make it work (and fairly easily too), so I'm always a little bothered by authors who didn't bother to do that (to me) small amount of extra work. Even worse is when something actively makes anti-sense, which you seen occasionally, like the tomb of a Paladin of the anti-undead god who was known for fighting the undead is protected by... a bunch of undead... not positive-energy undead, not like, not undead trying to stop people from getting something in that tomb for the sake of er... undeadkind, but rather just apparently thoughtless/lazy writing because it's a tomb therefore undead (like maybe they decided it was the tomb of a famous Paladin after designing it). In the example I'm thinking of, there was clearly no realization of the irony. And you can fix it a bunch of ways, but like, for me that does need to be fixed and there are usually easy solutions.
 

aco175

Legend
Remember the old Dungeoncraft articles that said to add a secret to anything you create. I like my secrets to be more fantastic over what would be real or normal. Anyone that played PotA and the village of Red Larch, where it had the secret chamber under the town with floating rocks and tied to a cult.

I also like to have the PCs interact with more commoners when traveling and about the villages and towns. It might have been a Matt Colville video talking about having each NPC have an objective and these small interactions give a bit of life to a town or road if the NPC has a reason to be doing something- even if it is a bit boring to the PCs.
 

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.
Pretty much this. Dungeons don’t have working non-magical traps from 200 years ago. Humanoids and Monsters in towers that have been sealed off for 20 years have starved to death (though there may be Undead and Fiends). Allowing for bounded accuracy, there is some consistency to the monsters you fight, so the same area won’t have 3 goblins at level 1 and Ancient dragons at level 16 without reasons. I try to have creatures act reasonably. Ambush predators will ambush. Beasts won’t attack a group of heavily armed humans for no reason. I will at least try to understand the villain’s motivation and walk through their plan from their perspective.

At the same time, I’m not going to spend hours tracing genealogies or researching period architecture. If I screw up, I will own it then move on.
 

payn

Legend
Pretty much this. Dungeons don’t have working non-magical traps from 200 years ago. Humanoids and Monsters in towers that have been sealed off for 20 years have starved to death (though there may be Undead and Fiends). Allowing for bounded accuracy, there is some consistency to the monsters you fight, so the same area won’t have 3 goblins at level 1 and Ancient dragons at level 16 without reasons. I try to have creatures act reasonably. Ambush predators will ambush. Beasts won’t attack a group of heavily armed humans for no reason. I will at least try to understand the villain’s motivation and walk through their plan from their perspective.

At the same time, I’m not going to spend hours tracing genealogies or researching period architecture. If I screw up, I will own it then move on.
Oh man, that reminds me of some of the painstaking stories Paizo put in their APs. Just big logical puzzles about why a gorillion was in the same place as a varguille, and why the varguilles are now dead, but so are the gorillions because they were infected before killing the varguilles. Which is why the room now has varguilles in it but no gorillions....

Non of this mattered when the PCs rolled through. As GM, I had no way to tell them this story without just telling them anyways.
 

Even worse is when something actively makes anti-sense, which you seen occasionally, like the tomb of a Paladin of the anti-undead god who was known for fighting the undead is protected by... a bunch of undead... not positive-energy undead, not like, not undead trying to stop people from getting something in that tomb for the sake of er... undeadkind, but rather just apparently thoughtless/lazy writing because it's a tomb therefore undead (like maybe they decided it was the tomb of a famous Paladin after designing it). In the example I'm thinking of, there was clearly no realization of the irony. And you can fix it a bunch of ways, but like, for me that does need to be fixed and there are usually easy solutions.
To me, even that is a pretty tame example. I’m running a published module by a respected company. The party is stuck in a large palace (a megadungeon) in a city that they need to puzzle their way out of. The curse of the palace is that once you enter you cannot leave (the party teleported in by accident). This has been the case for hundreds of years.

Naturally, one of the factions in the palace is a league of assassins using it for their headquarters. The kobold and mephit slaves of the owners are still around. There are a bunch of other factions of Humanoid creatures that need to eat that have someone survived in the palace with no apparent sources of food.
 

To me, even that is a pretty tame example. I’m running a published module by a respected company. The party is stuck in a large palace (a megadungeon) in a city that they need to puzzle their way out of. The curse of the palace is that once you enter you cannot leave (the party teleported in by accident). This has been the case for hundreds of years.

Naturally, one of the factions in the palace is a league of assassins using it for their headquarters. The kobold and mephit slaves of the owners are still around. There are a bunch of other factions of Humanoid creatures that need to eat that have someone survived in the palace with no apparent sources of food.
Oh jesus that's pretty bad.
 

Larnievc

Adventurer
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.
My worlds have verisimilitude but run on Pratchet’s narrative causality.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To me, even that is a pretty tame example. I’m running a published module by a respected company. The party is stuck in a large palace (a megadungeon) in a city that they need to puzzle their way out of. The curse of the palace is that once you enter you cannot leave (the party teleported in by accident). This has been the case for hundreds of years.

Naturally, one of the factions in the palace is a league of assassins using it for their headquarters. The kobold and mephit slaves of the owners are still around. There are a bunch of other factions of Humanoid creatures that need to eat that have someone survived in the palace with no apparent sources of food.
Er...if no-one can leave the palace then how are the assassins getting out in order to do their assassinating? Or do they just wait around to knock off anyone who wanders into the dungeon?

Inquiring minds want to know... :)
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I've realized that the best way for me to run D&D games is to make them feel lived-in, but not necessarily coherent. You need room to allow for centaurs, warforged, halflings, and goblins to all have a chance to bump into each other and decide to work together, which means a lot of your classic fantasy world setups simply don't work.

I don't need a town my PCs visit to have hundreds of years of history, and a list of all the major shopkeepers, but I do demand the town has an obvious reason to exist and details that feed into that. Same thing for dungeons, major factions, etc. They can't exist just to exist, they have to be doing something that wasn't simply waiting for the PCs to show up.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
To me, even that is a pretty tame example. I’m running a published module by a respected company. The party is stuck in a large palace (a megadungeon) in a city that they need to puzzle their way out of. The curse of the palace is that once you enter you cannot leave (the party teleported in by accident). This has been the case for hundreds of years.

Naturally, one of the factions in the palace is a league of assassins using it for their headquarters. The kobold and mephit slaves of the owners are still around. There are a bunch of other factions of Humanoid creatures that need to eat that have someone survived in the palace with no apparent sources of food.
Well, dammit, now I'll be wracking my brain (and the internet) to figure out what this is. Thank you. :shakes fist in frustration:
 

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.
To me, it feels "real" when I can see the NPCs and the background in my mind's eye. Then I'm describing what I perceive, in a way, rather than simply "making it up". I think that it feels "real" to my players when they start saying "I attack the monster" rather than "Holger attacks the monster". When their perspective shifts from third- to first- person I think I am succeeding. When they stop saying "Opal wouldn't do that", that's another sign that the world feels real.
 

I've realized that the best way for me to run D&D games is to make them feel lived-in, but not necessarily coherent. You need room to allow for centaurs, warforged, halflings, and goblins to all have a chance to bump into each other and decide to work together, which means a lot of your classic fantasy world setups simply don't work.

I don't need a town my PCs visit to have hundreds of years of history, and a list of all the major shopkeepers, but I do demand the town has an obvious reason to exist and details that feed into that. Same thing for dungeons, major factions, etc. They can't exist just to exist, they have to be doing something that wasn't simply waiting for the PCs to show up.
Lived-in rarely means coherent anyways. The least realistic bureaucracy is the symmetric one where every branch makes sense and is handled equally.
 



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