World Building: What are the essentials?



  • This is not intended to be a how-to on world building in general, or a how to best lay out that information. (I'd love to see one of those, but this ain't it.)

    This is a pair of questions for discussion:

    As a player, what information do you want and need about a game world to effectively play the game (ex: be able to formulate a character you feel fits the world and knows what the characters should know about it)?

    As a player, what kind of information do you find gets in your way more than it helps you accomplish this?

    Note: 'Too much/little information' is something that can generally be handled structurally, same as 'well organized' or 'easy to find/reference' information; 'how much' is something that varies for everybody, so this is not about quantity, but about the specific kinds of facts and information you are seeking.

    Not the broad strokes, either. Everybody knows you have to cover basic history, basic setting, or include a writeup of what factions are present and what they represent. This is about specifics.

    For example: a game will have titles for various positions within its governing structure or within a given faction; most do in the real world or any given group with any structure at all. This is information characters generally would know as pertains to their society or faction, and likely use in day to day roleplay in many settings. It's not necessarily the first thing people think of outside of a L&L game, though it's relevant in many more (military, nobility, secret societies, etc.)

    Something of a side tangent, but also, I think, relevant and potentially helpful:

    Is it important to you, as a player, to have information available that distinguishes 'what locals would know' vs. 'what out of towners/new arrivals' would know?

    If you're a new arrival, what kind of information is useful to you about your character's original culture? (This is more relevant in original settings than modern 'real world' setting games for obvious reasons.)

    Does it help to have information about what misconceptions, rumors, etc. from your character's original culture's perspective about the game's setting?


  • Pitcrew Banned

    As a player, what information do you want and need about a game world to effectively play the game (ex: be able to formulate a character you feel fits the world and knows what the characters should know about it)?

    A genre, plus any details about the world that are atypical for that genre. Putting them in bullet points is ideal, with the option to go to another page to read more when it becomes relevant. Wikis are great for this purpose.

    Basically, give me broad strokes that get progressively more specific as I delve deeper. The specific information is less relevant than the granularity of it, and that the broadest stuff comes first while the most specific stuff comes last.

    As a player, what kind of information do you find gets in your way more than it helps you accomplish this?

    Fifty thousand word historical accounts of events from the perspective of an NPC who I will never deal with in game. I should not have to spend an afternoon to find out that it's basically generic fantasy setting, except the elves have blue hair that gives them magic powers this time. You should just come out and say, "It's like an R.A. Salvatore novel except the elves have blue hair that gives them magic powers."

    Not the broad strokes, either. Everybody knows you have to cover basic history, basic setting, or include a writeup of what factions are present and what they represent. This is about specifics.

    The specifics don't matter, really. What matters most is how they're presented. First and foremost, you should tell your potential players what the fucking point is, i.e., what your setting is fundamentally about, as opposed to every other setting out there; "Arkadia is a fairy tale setting with dark fantasy/horror notes" is way more important to know than "King Leopold XXIV hated coconuts so much that if he smelled coconuts on a suitor for his daughter he'd have them beheaded." You want both in your setting information, but you want to get that latter detail way, way down the line.

    Is it important to you, as a player, to have information available that distinguishes 'what locals would know' vs. 'what out of towners/new arrivals' would know?

    Depends on if you're going to be running the game exclusively in one city or locale.


  • Coder

    1. Have people willing to answer all these questions on and active as much as possible.

    2. Do not mock the questions people have; you can’t think of everything and almost all the time questions are asked by people who are looking for help.

    I think these two things are critical, because there is not going to be any complete information, and a lot of people are not used to having agency within a certain role. Saying, “hey, as long as blah you should be fine” is one of the most helpful things I’ve heard people say about setting.

    Or theme, if we’re also talking about that. ;)



  • @Thenomain said in World Building: What are the essentials?:

    I think these two things are critical, because there is not going to be any complete information, and a lot of people are not used to having agency within a certain role.

    I agree with the two points mentioned in full, but they aren't actually what I'm asking here.

    I'm asking: as a player, what information do you consider important to help provide that more complete resource for everyone involved.

    How it's presented and how it's shared or pointed to is step two, essentially. I'm talking about step one: what information do you include in the first place?

    The person building the world has their ideas about what is or isn't important, but they're one person (or a small group). @Apos hit on this well in Random Bitching. They are building and creating and there is a great deal that 'if X, then Y is obvious!' going on in their heads that isn't necessarily apparent to a third party (whether that third party is a player, a staffer, or even a co-world-builder). These are the 'well, duh' details to the creator that is sometimes completely opaque to the end user, and are actually important information that should be made readily available.

    I'm asking: as a player, what specific information do you look for either when constructing a character, or in the day to day roleplay of that character within that world?

    Or theme, if we’re also talking about that. ;)

    I'm with @WTFE on the theme/setting gripe. What story themes you want to have in the game are obviously a factor in constructing the game world, but world building is not 'building a theme' in any way. Your setting should support and reinforce and enable the story themes for the game, but the game setting is not the same as the game themes at all, and really shouldn't be used as interchangeably as it often is. For instance, WoD's theme is 'supernatural horror' and its setting is 'somewhere on or off the planet at some point in history'; both are factors in the experience of the game, but they're not the same species of animal at all.


  • Pitcrew

    I think for me, the information I need to know is:

    • What is my character likely to be doing day-to-day, given their faction/position/job/whatever.
    • What is going to be driving my character's extraordinary actions (is there a war on, is interpersonal politics important, is it all about getting a good marriage)?
    • What do most of the others (the NPCs) in their faction/position/job/whatever think of other factions/positions/jobs/whatever.
    • What is important to the people (NPCs) around my characters, so what would they assume is important to my character?

    I'm sure there's more, but for me, those are the big ones.



  • One thing I REALLY dislike is the just spamming a link or help file (or for things based on books or what have the book/page number/whatever). If someone is asking they were, probably already looking at the aforementioned thing and does not understand. To play of @Thenomain 's comment. I don't know if it is a world building essential but, in general, it is something that makes a game feel more welcome to me. The actual explaining things and not just throwing information that is often written for people who understand the theme pretty entirely.


  • Pitcrew

    @icanbeyourmuse said in World Building: What are the essentials?:

    One thing I REALLY dislike is the just spamming a link or help file (or for things based on books or what have the book/page number/whatever). If someone is asking they were, probably already looking at the aforementioned thing and does not understand.

    As someone who is a habitual question-answerer, it's really not my experience that this is the case the majority of the time. (And people who have already checked the available resources tend to be fairly clear about that in their initial question.)


  • Coder

    Okayokayokay. My point was that you shouldn't over-think this too much. Think, yes, but act.

    @surreality said in World Building: What are the essentials?:

    As a player, what information do you want and need about a game world to effectively play the game (ex: be able to formulate a character you feel fits the world and knows what the characters should know about it)?

    • The basic genre.
    • Some particulars about how the genre is portrayed.
    • Some information about the setting the game is set in.
    • More detailed information about the main location the game is played in.
    • Leading information to help me draw my own conclusions about the rest.
    • All in less than 20 pages of printed text. If you want to give people more, fine, but I feel that I should be ready to go if I read the first/summary paragraph of each wiki page.

    As a player, what kind of information do you find gets in your way more than it helps you accomplish this?

    If it's done well, then extras are benefits, not drawbacks. 'Nuff said.



  • @icanbeyourmuse I'm with @Roz here that often people will mention having read it if they had; I always tried to hybridize the answer, though.

    "The info we have on that is <here>, what were your questions?" It covers the person if they just hadn't found it, and keeps the line of communication open for discussion whether they had previously found it or not for any clarifications that are potentially needed.


  • Pitcrew

    I want to know:

    • What the social structure looks like, and what are the values and major customs of any original factions, in broad strokes.
    • What do PCs do? What roles can PCs play, what roles can they not play, and what spread of roles and actions is expected from PCs.
    • What should PCs of different origins know about the world? Ideally, the big stuff should be clear, concise, and easy to find - mysteries are good, but the things that PCs encounter in our daily lives should not be mysteries.
    • Sort of a correllary: if an original theme, highlight your big mysteries on an OOC level. Don't just start putting 'the sun rising in the west' in poses and descs and hope that characters notice it, because when you're doing an original theme, it's hard to tell if something is an actual mystery, or just something where the GM maybe doesn't care/know about accurate details. It's a game, and it's hugely helpful for there to be a bit of, "Hey, about a year ago, the sun started rising in the west, and no one but your character seems to have noticed. That's weird!"
    • Tell me what the focus of your setting is, so that I don't write a character who sticks themselves on the periphery accidentally. I admit, as a player, I want to find where the action is, and settle myself into it. Make that easier for me, please, by highlighting your focus rather than saying "just play what you want".

  • Pitcrew

    I feel like MUs don't give enough detail on what the majority views of NPCs are, especially on L&L servers. What beliefs do they have? What's their day to day life look like? What cultural norms do they expect to be adhered?

    Are commoners expected to rise from their seats and offer a bow when even the lowest of nobles enters the room? When the king/queen/emperor/empress shows up are they supposed to prostrate themselves before them and never look into their face? Is a noble sharing a drink with a commoners a major faux pas that will get the noble censured? Or are they just fancy titles and Duke Biganmighty is some rich guy who goes out with Bob, Frank, and Dave for a drink after their Saturday golf game? The latter is what we tend to default to in our RP because it's what we know. Without details on how this unequal feudalist society works and some reinforcement of that, nobles just become rich people in America.


  • Pitcrew Banned

    @Ominous How would one go about describing cultural mores in ways that are easily consumable?


  • Pitcrew

    @Lain If the writer is a lazy, a set of "commandments" would work. Just a bullet point list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots.

    • Thou shalt rise when any noble enters the room.

    • Thou shalt always be on hands and knees when the emperor is present.

    • Thou shalt not look at the emperor, lest his guards behead you.

    • Thou shalt always give Duke Biganmighty a 20 stroke handicap on his golf game and let him have a do-over when he hits the ball into a water hazard. First round at the bar is on him.


  • Pitcrew Banned

    @Roz said:

    @icanbeyourmuse said in World Building: What are the essentials?:

    One thing I REALLY dislike is the just spamming a link or help file (or for things based on books or what have the book/page number/whatever). If someone is asking they were, probably already looking at the aforementioned thing and does not understand.

    As someone who is a habitual question-answerer, it's really not my experience that this is the case the majority of the time. (And people who have already checked the available resources tend to be fairly clear about that in their initial question.)

    I will say that if the introductory help file is a 10,000 word wall of text I likely won't read it unless I really like the concept of your site. You get one thousand words of content to give me before I just start asking questions on the help channel shamelessly.

    There's no shame in using modern use of language like bullet points or even very modern use of language and iconography like infographics. In fact, it's more shameful to try to describe it entirely in verbiage these days; it's not the nineteenth century anymore, so purple prose is unnecessary even when you're trying to be "deep" or detailed.


  • Pitcrew Banned

    @Ominous said in World Building: What are the essentials?:

    @Lain If the writer is a lazy, a set of "commandments" would work. Just a bullet point list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots.

    • Thou shalt rise when any noble enters the room.

    • Thou shalt always be on hands and knees when the emperor is present.

    • Thou shalt not look at the emperor, lest his guards behead you.

    • Thou shalt always give Duke Biganmighty a 20 stroke handicap on his golf game and let him have a do-over when he hits the ball into a water hazard. First round at the bar is on him.

    That's not laziness. That's just good style in the 21st century. Just imagine if it were written in a more "literary" fashion:

    There are a handful of rules that must always be followed in order to function in Not-Medieval-Yurop. First, whenever nobles enter the room that you are currently occupying, you must rise reverently. Secondly, physical displays of prostration, a la hand and knees on the ground and face pointing downward, are necessary in the presence of the Emperor. Thirdly, the minimum golf handicap for Duke Biganmighty is 20, and he gets to start over whenever his golf balls find themselves in the water. Finally, he will pay for the first round at the bar every time.

    Which one is more comprehensible? I'm going to lean heavily on the bullet points.


  • Pitcrew

    @Lain If the easiest method of presenting the information is also the best, then that's a win-win.


  • Pitcrew

    • How the setting differs from our world

    • How it differs from others in it's genre

    • Important traditions

    • Important institutions

    • Myths, legends, and heroes if relevant

    • Basic economic info like what people use as money and how they earn it

    • Who are the antagonists, and why



  • Again, just want to restate -- presentation of information is step two.

    This is about step one: what information do you think you need or find necessary or useful -- not what format it's presented in, not a preference for how many words or what style it's written in, how easy it is to find, who is available to answer questions about it, and so on.

    That is a completely different subject.
    That's data structure, 'how is data presented?'
    This is 'what data is required?'


  • Admin

    @surreality said in World Building: What are the essentials?:

    As a player, what information do you want and need about a game world to effectively play the game (ex: be able to formulate a character you feel fits the world and knows what the characters should know about it)?

    My first question when I come across a new game is to know what it's about, and if it interests me. That information needs to be right there, smacking me in the face; if you are going to run a swashbuckling pirate game then tell me. Don't leave any room for doubt, I don't want to have to read between the lines to figure out if it's a tactical simulation, a sex game or whatever else. Be explicit.

    Then I love it when there's an 101 after that - don't just toss walls of text in my face since, at this point, I don't know yet if I want to invest so much time. Just ease me into it, give me the basics, tell me what the environment is like in general (is it historically accurate? pure fantasy? is there magic?) and some tidbits about the political/social status of the time so I can already start pre-thinking about cool concepts I can play.

    This is the stage you're getting me excited about your game.

    As a player, what kind of information do you find gets in your way more than it helps you accomplish this?

    If you still have my attention now I want to see if it's actually worth diving into... start giving me some meat. Organization here is key - break it down! A history section to know what the world is like, a few systems entries to know how mechanics work, if there are classes, what the factions are. Categorization here for me is key so I can pursue what I'm curious about at my own pace without having to cherry-pick through the 18 pages of prose you wrote that night you were feelin' it in order to find what I'm looking for.

    Is it important to you, as a player, to have information available that distinguishes 'what locals would know' vs. 'what out of towners/new arrivals' would know?

    To me it is, but I'm weird about information. And it's not just locals, it's... I need to know if the metaplot is common knowledge for example. If I'm applying for an vampire would he know the Gangrel Prince who vanished was in truth Malkavian since you mention it in the helpfiles? Is it known the Sabbat have been trying to infliltrate the Camarilla for the ten years? Seperating OOC from IC knowledge somehow comes in very handy for me.

    If you're a new arrival, what kind of information is useful to you about your character's original culture? (This is more relevant in original settings than modern 'real world' setting games for obvious reasons.)

    I suppose it'd be nice to have points of view. If my englishman is coming to this New World town how much has he heard about the weird shit that's been going on there? As a local what's the average perception of fresh fish coming in? Do we like Irishmen or do we hate these buggers around these parts? Have there been racial tensions or are people more or less united since there's a bigger threat around?

    Does it help to have information about what misconceptions, rumors, etc. from your character's original culture's perspective about the game's setting?

    The tough part there usually is keeping them up to date and current. It also does little good to have strange rumors about what's really going on if as soon as characters get into any scene they get the stock IC welcoming package telling them everything about the werewolf attacking the city and exactly how to kill one.


  • Pitcrew

    @surreality said in World Building: What are the essentials?:

    As a player, what information do you want and need about a game world to effectively play the game (ex: be able to formulate a character you feel fits the world and knows what the characters should know about it)?

    If we're talking about what information I want right up front, as I come across your server for the first time, this is what I look for.

    First, you're home page should have in big bold letters near the top the address and port to connect to your world. It surprises me how many servers have this information tucked away somewhere rather than having it be prevalent. Some have it hidden so well that it's quicker for me to go to MUDstats or Top MUD Sites and just look it up there than it is to scour every page to find it. Maybe this is to cut down on bots or something. I don't know, but it's a good way to deny yourself players. If it's that hard just to find out how to connect - the most important thing of all in regards to playing on a server, just imagine how hard it will be to find out all the minor details.

    Second, the main page should have a summary of the themes, the setting, and current events on the server. Give me an elevator pitch summation as well. It's DUNE, Pirates of the Caribbean, Earthsea, Planescape, Birthright, and Conan the Barbarian all rolled into one. I want to say to myself "I love some/all of those things OR that combination sounds intriguing even though I am not a fan of many of those things. Sounds badass and I should check it out" OR "I dislike most/all of those things OR that combination sounds awful. I think I will stay away." You've already got me invested a bit, so I will dig deeper with the first, and the latter has helped me not waste my and you and your player helpers time, as I won't dip my toes in things and pester them with questions. Once you have my interest and I am logging on as a guest, I like the few servers I have been on that allows Guests to walk a small part of the grid to get a feel for things and even see some RP.

    If your server uses a pre-existing IP, state that upfront and give me information on where I can find more info. Give me the entire list of books, the names of the TV series in the franchise, the names of the video games in the franchise, or whatever, so I can check it out and get a better feel. Also be damned specific of what time period and location in this IP we are working with and where the server departs from the IP. Are we doing Battlestar Galactica but without any of the cast from the series and only player created characters filling the important roles instead? Is this Star Wars but in the Force Unleashed Universe where spoilers Darth Vader gets killed by his apprentice and the apprentice becomes the Darth Vader character?

    Now that I am interested and am trying to make a character, this is the information I would like to see.

    Seriously what characters does the server have a glut and scarcity of? I don't want ads by players asking for someone to play their cousin, sister, former roommate who all would be filling roles that are superfluous at this point. The vast majority of players have no idea what the server needs. You, the staff, should, and, if you don't, I probably don't want to be playing on your server. I want a list made by staff saying "We need sniveling thieves; devious, cold-hearted information brokers; and a player for flamboyant Prince Floofypants. Applications are closed for big, strong, dashing McFightyman as 98% of the male characters are in that archetype currently." This is one thing that Kushiel's Debut was good at. I always knew what character types were being looked for and they offered an xp bonus if you created a character that fell in those areas. Firan also did this a little bit with their bonus xp for taking certain characters off of the roster.

    What is the typical day for a character of this archetype and what are the cultural norms they are expected to adhere to? This one needs no explanation. Help me get into character by understanding what this character would be doing on a regular basis and what their worldview is. What titles are used for who, what kinds of food do we eat, what kinds of products are available, what's the typical salary, what religions are there and how devout is my character expected to be, what will get me murdered in the street, what will get me executed by the state, what do people see as being virtuous/necessary traits and what traits do people see as vices/liabilities? Be as detailed as possible. While I won't absorb it all in one go, it will be used as a reference for practically everything.

    What plots/factions/interesting things are accessible to me so that I can get involved? Make a big jobs board if you have to. Sure, it may be a bit MMORPG-like feeling like a quest vending machine, but, if that's what it takes, do it. Give me a list of the people to contact to join X faction/get involved in Y plot/join Z club. If after the first week I am unable to tell you what the big plots are and how I can get involved in them, your server has a problem.

    What expectations are there for specific roles? Does being the head of a faction come with a lot of OOC responsibilities like being the president of a club IRL or is it just a fancy hat to wear and, if I have a problem, a question, or an idea, I should instead poke Soandso? If I do have to poke Soandso, make it clear that that is who I should be poking, rather than wasting my time trying to reach the person with the fancy hat. ALSO, if it's not just a fancy hat, don't go over that person's head. If Bob is the treasurer, then ALL expenditures MUST go through him or Alice the vice-treasurer. Don't tell me it's a position with clout but deny me the clout. I became treasurer to control the purse strings, so let me control them and let me smack people with my e-peen when they try to go around me. If you don't want that on your server, it's a fancy hat title and make it clear it's just a fancy hat from the get-go. Furthermore, if it does have clout but the person isn't doing their job, kick 'em out. Don't toe the ground and demurely say 'Well, they're busy IRL." I don't care. Life happens, but you're holding up people's shit. Yes, this is a hobby, but so are clubs and they won't put up with a missing president or treasurer. Appoint someone as an acting treasurer or let the vice treasurer have the full role for a time, if you can't bring yourself to apply boot to said absent backside.

    As a player, what kind of information do you find gets in your way more than it helps you accomplish this?

    Do not have player made Wanted Ads without staff made ones as well. As I addressed above, nine times out of ten players have no clue what the server needs. I don't want to get excited about playing a character then a month or two into playing them realize that they are in a niche that is oversaturated and they have nothing to do aside from being the advertiser's sister/brother/cousin/maid/butler/sextoy.

    The History of Everything Ever is nice but it is not as important as the now stuff. I need to know what is going on NOW and what my character's regular, daily life is. I like having access to a giant page of history, but it is a nice, secondary addition. If you have to decide between the giant history write-up or the daily life write-up, do the latter.

    The ginormous page of feats/merits/bennies should be able to be saved until later. Kushiel's Debut had a merits page on their wiki that probably took half an hour to a full hour to read in its entirety. Nothing kills the thrill of creating a new character like having to stop and peruse every entry to see if it might apply to my character, then doing the arithmetic of which of the feats are essential and which I have to cut and get later with xp. I should be able to skip that section of chargen, if I want, and add merits as I play, figuring out my character's background and role on the server better.

    Is it important to you, as a player, to have information available that distinguishes 'what locals would know' vs. 'what out of towners/new arrivals' would know?

    Absolutely! If your server doesn't have the helpful gimmick of all new characters have to also be new arrivals to the area the game takes place in, I need to know what my character would know from living there for the past X number of years. I hate it when a new player says or does something that is incorrect and someone poses that the character is acting odd, is an idiot, etc. when it's simple ignorance on the new player's part rather than intentional. And it almost always happens! I page the player and let them know of the error, but there is always that one person who makes a big deal out of it IC. Can we all agree that these people need smacked?

    If you're a new arrival, what kind of information is useful to you about your character's original culture? (This is more relevant in original settings than modern 'real world' setting games for obvious reasons.)

    Everything. If you thought of it, write it down on the wiki/website in that giant page of cultural stuff. I may not absorb it the first time, but at least it will always be on hand to refer to.

    Does it help to have information about what misconceptions, rumors, etc. from your character's original culture's perspective about the game's setting?

    Yes. This goes hand in hand with the answer immediately above this one. There is no such thing as too much information for this. At some point, everything will get touched on by RP, so might as well cover it in the culture write-up, letting players know for sure how things are rather than them winging it and being way off of the mark, possibly starting a wrong viewpoint for half of the playerbase.


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