The Art and Science of Worldbuilding For Gameplay [+]

I have gone back and reviewed the posts.

First, there was this:
Then this reply:
And I explained how it would occur. As best I can tell, @prabe agrees with me at least in broad terms. So I feel I have at least understood his point correctly!

If you want to assert that nothing in a setting can limit gameplay because it is inherent to the gameplay to be limited by the setting, knock yourself out! But I don't think that such metaphysical pondering is at all responsive to @prabe's much more practically-oriented point.

None of what you quoted has anything to do with my comment.

My comment is following a train you started with this:

I'm not talking about "playstyle" nor "playability". I'm talking about limits on game play.

Nor am I arguing against world building. Rather, I'm saying that one point of world building, in the context of RPGing, is to limit game play.

log in or register to remove this ad


None of what you quoted has anything to do with my comment.

My comment is following a train you started with this:
What you quoted didn't start a train. It was part of the discussion that you assert has nothing to do with your comment! Which is consistent with my view that your comment is a non-sequitur.

In the sense in which "limits on game play" was introduced by @prabe, one point of world building seems to be to establish such limits. As @prabe also posted, and I agree with, if those limits are excessive (by the standards, expectations etc of whoever is doing the RPGing) then game play will suffer.

Getting the limits right seems to me a major consideration, maybe the pre-eminent consideration, in world building for RPG playability. @hawkeyefan has given some examples that illustrate world building that pays due regard to this consideration.

What you quoted didn't start a train.

Yes, it did. Trying to worm out from what you said isn't going to work.

Either engage what Im telling you is wrong and what Ive been talking about or drop the replies. You are trying really hard to avoid engage what I've said and it is plainly obvious you don't want to address it.

So, as said, engage, or drop it. If your next reply is just more of the same, you are not engaging with what Ive been saying.

I believe the disconnect you're having is that you aren't recognizing that an action is taking place in that example. When the player directs their character to search for a Secret entrance, their success at finding one (through whatever resolution mechanism the game uses) is what says if there is one definitively. Failure doesn't mean there wouldn't be one to find, but it does mean whoever tries again will have to succeed against a higher difficulty, and that the question of whether there is one or not has an unknowable answer until someone succeeds.

Its still a choice being made because they're attempting to avoid having to make the choice to brute force their way in, or take whatever other routes are available. To actually deny this would be robbing the players of their volition.

Now, unless the change is basically flavor, there is no reason to just unthinkingly add huge, consequential things wholesale to the world on a players whims, but there's also no reason to deny the possibility of a secret entrance to a building. That just isn't that critical of a detail and if it is you did your worldbuilding wrong.

And plus, it doesn't have to be an actual secret entrance anyway. A successful check on the players part could instead just reveal an opportunity to make their ingress easier, which is effectively what they're really asking for. The secret entrance part is not important.
Yeah, this point does get warped all out of recognizable shape pretty often in these here parts. Take Dungeon World, a typical PbtA. You can't really 'search for secret doors' as a game mechanic! You could be in a situation where you want to see if there is one, because it would be logical and useful to you. So, certainly a player could state "I check these walls for cracks, markings, or anything else that seems indicative of the existence of a secret door.

Now, this isn't exactly one of the 'moves' that the player has, it isn't a standard move, nor a playbook move. So, the GM could reason "well, no move is triggered here, its now up to me to make a GM move, being guided by the principles and mindful of the agenda." Said move could be "You do notice some oddities in one section, and the nearby torch bracket seems a bit cockeyed." OK, so the GM has framed something into the scene, and typically it will lead to more 'adventure'. The GM could also simply decide some orcs come along while you are dawdling, or whatever.

Another consideration here in this sort of play is that things kind of depend on context. If the party is urgently attempting to give some people the slip, then maybe Defy Danger produces the result of a secret door by which to do so. This one will need a check, the character's might end up better off or worse off. If the player describes their search a bit more generally, it could also be considered to trigger Discern Realities, and the player will ask the GM one of a list of pretty general questions about the area. Assuming a secret door has high utility, and the roll was good, the GM will not be OBLIGED to describe a secret door, but they will need to give the player something useful, so it might be a pretty solid obvious move.

And, finally, note that narrative consistency is a basic assumption. If it is already established in play beyond a doubt that no secret door exists, well, why are you searching? It won't suddenly show up! The GM is required to honor existing fiction. It would probably be bad form for the GM to put a secret door in a ridiculous spot too. That being said, there's a lot of stuff in the world that seems pretty illogical at first glance, but the world is complex, old, and filled with odd stuff! I expect a fantasy world will be too. Going along with that, the GM is supposed to emphasize the fantastic in their framing. In fact GM prep COULD put a secret door there, in which case I'd imagine the PCs would find it for sure if they look.

When building my current world this is something I explicitly tried to avoid. I wanted it to be a cool place where interesting stuff happens, but none of that stuff is a world shattering metaplot that wraps everything to be about it. I mean sure, there is stuff in it I want to address, but it is not some one overarching story and the players are free to disregard things they don't find engaging without the pressure of "if you do nothing, the Evil Overlords plunges the entire world into eternal darkness etc."
I would tend to respond that "gameability" is always a paramount consideration. Over the almost 5 decades of running FRPGs I produced a pretty heavily explored and explicated 'place'. But every single step of that was necessarily shaped and constrained by the needs of play. I'm pretty familiar with a lot of the classic RPG settings. I cannot think of a single case where the fundamental tenet was not "a place in which the chosen type of agenda can be pursued." Its unlikely that a world built without regard to those considerations would really provide that much value as a tool for play, would it?

Then you end up with a world that is not much use beyond that one story, in which case you have shifted from world building to campaign prep -- related but different things with different goals.
Well, I present contrary evidence. You can go here, Erithnoi Main and you can find some of the material I extracted from the last wiki I had built way back 15 years ago or so. There are a LOT of other bits, notebooks full of junk from the pre-Internet days, etc. All of it was simply extrapolated to address whatever the immediate game was. There's basically nothing there that doesn't exist because someone needed it in play. Yet I see nothing about this material (aside from its not exactly very polished) that makes it unsuitable for additional games in the way you claim. I just don't find that assertion convincing. It may reflect the state of some constructed game worlds, but it doesn't appear to be a TRUTH in general.
That seems at odds with the whole idea of developing the world for a singular story.
That is because you assume that the story is something you're constructing ahead of play.
You did not design Eberron. The people that did wanted it to be useful for many different potential campaigns. That was the intent of their design.
I'm simply pointing out that their goals are irrelevant to me.
GMs are not authors.
I didn't use the term 'GM' or equivalent. Doskvol for instance is a vehicle which we used to tell the tale of the Wandering Souls. It wasn't the GM (@Manbearcat) who did the telling, though he certainly did some of it. In fact I would say that the play, and the resulting transcript of play, involved inputs by the BitD designers, as well as all the people at the table.

When talking about the playability of a setting, themes are easier for me to engage with as a GM and player than the sort of world-building that emphasizes lore. The Nentir Vale and World Axis setting is another setting, IMHO, that is built on themes over lore. I have an idea of what players can do less because the oodles and oodles of lore but, rather, because the themes that are supported by what lore there is.
Right, what I look for, or aim at, is heavily thematic environments which evoke specific types of reactions. To me, 'general setting' is really rather bland.


Staff member
Mod Note:

@Emberashh @pemerton

I’m thinking disengagement from each other would be a great idea. If you both want to continue interacting with others in this thread, perhaps even using your respective accounts’ ignore lists would be in order as well.


you can scroll on down, the abyss is massive
"Spire: The City Must Fall" is a game that's about society, inequality, oppression, and revolution and its cost. It's a game about espionage, subterfuge, and resistance.
Glad someone mentioned Spire, I was going to as well but for a different reason. I can't remember where I first encountered this analogy, but I think it's a good principle of worldbuilding for this medium: set up your world so that it's a powder keg about to blow. Factions maintaining a delicate peace, tensions bubbling under the surface, conflicts about to happen, but currently it's that brief moment of calm before the storm.

Then the player characters wander in. And whatever aspect of the world they decide to take an interest in, it's going to have serious consequences. You don't know exactly what shape the explosion is going to take, that's up to them, but you know that there will be one. The other benefit here is that the players feel like their actions are having a significant impact on the world itself, which I'd regard as a desirable outcome (as a slightly simple example, in my current game the players have completely removed a couple of the keyed locations from the city map through use of, uh, arson).

Spire is a great example of this. The setting is incredibly detailed (some might say too detailed), but everything's constructed with player engagement in mind; the city's absolutely packed with fuses to light. Even if the action of the campaign is confined to just a single district, you've got extremely good odds that after a few sessions, much of the setting, if not all of it, will never be the same again.

I have gone back and reviewed the posts.

First, there was this:
Then this reply:
And I explained how it would occur. As best I can tell, @prabe agrees with me at least in broad terms. So I feel I have at least understood his point correctly!

If you want to assert that nothing in a setting can limit gameplay because it is inherent to the gameplay to be limited by the setting, knock yourself out! But I don't think that such metaphysical pondering is at all responsive to @prabe's much more practically-oriented point.
I would venture to guess that what @Emberashh is trying to say is basically that the interest in play, the challenge, is inherent in these limitations. That is, the fictional position of the characters, as you correctly point out, excludes certain otherwise-possible statements of action. In crude terms, a wall is in front of me, I cannot any longer proceed forward. This is a limitation on the play options of the player arising out of world authoring of some sort, or perhaps some other process of play. The contention is that this is not 'limiting of play' in that it simply provides a reason for the players to solve the constraint in some way.

I would point out that such constraints, in narrativist play, also serve this sort of purpose. They simply constitute the landscape which the PCs will need to navigate and will thus shape narrative. I leave it to you all to hash out your terminological morass, though I personally don't think the disagreement really has a lot of substance.

Remove ads