"These look like crops! Who the heck
farms in this kingdom?"
An interesting phenomenon in World Building
in gaming, and certain kinds of Speculative Fiction
: the focus of a game or story dictates aspects of the setting in many subtle ways.
To provide an example, let's say you want to have legal duels to the death over a matter of revenge; well, in order to have that, you need to have very weak law-enforcement (a relatively strong law-enforcement body takes, of necessity, a very dim view of revenge, as it runs directly counter to the very premise of strong law-enforcement), a heavy honor code on the part of the background culture (otherwise, why take lethal revenge, and even if you do take revenge, why not just assassinate the target?), and a world where life is cheap (why risk your life on such a matter if it isn't?). An expansion of the Anthropic Principle
— the characters are on a given adventure because the world is designed to encourage adventures of that type.
Comes in two closely connected varieties:
- Focus maximizing setting fluff. Why, say, having vast armies of skeletons who can only be defeated by a single party of adventurers makes sense. Or why Pirates can exist without being hunted down by the local navy.
- Rule abstraction. The fact that (say) the economic model of a game is only realistic for parties of armed brigands loosely affiliated with a local community makes perfect sense when you're playing as a party of adventurers, but is quite noticeable if you try to figure out what happens if, say, you want to play a trader this time.
Note that Focus Maximizing Setting Fluff can be subverted. For example, you could have a setting where pirates are able to thrive because political instability in a region allows them to prey on merchants without fear of reprisal by the weak government. If at some point during the story, or just before the beginning, a more stable system comes into effect, or the regional government makes sudden strives into asserting its legitimacy, you could have a story where the pirate characters are forced to adapt or otherwise deal with the realization that their lifestyle is no longer viable since significant resources are now being applied to stop them.
Focus-maximizing setting fluff varieties include:
- An old-school Dungeons & Dragons-styled game needs a lot of unexplored wilderness and ruins. This strongly implies a recent collapse, or people moving into a new territory if you're willing to forgo ruins. Guess what two things most fantasy roleplaying settings have in their recent background?
- A more politically-focused game either implies a powerful city, within a relatively stable state, or a closely-connected world.
- A smaller scale tactical wargame (on the order of a very small number of units) is going to want a very connected world (to maximize the possible pairings), with more Border Skirmishes than outright war. As you go up in scale, the setting will have more and more war and political instability, to better explain why one side or the other is regularly throwing large fighting forces at a target.
- If you want pirates, you need either virtually no state at all, or fairly weak states. Or, alternatively (or in addition to), you can use their cousins, Privateers, who require at least fairly potent states capable of commissioning and supporting one, but not strong enough to send regular forces out to do it themselves. Another possibility is lacking a desire to do so, maybe due to political complexities where privateers are deniable assets that states can disavow but regular armies obviously are not.
- Bounty Hunting in the classic fictional sense relies on a similar kind of logic as piracy, in that you need a setting where the police are overstretched (or incompetent) or the criminals are otherwise beyond the reach of the long arm of the law, but the government (or perhaps a wealthy individual with a grudge) has the resources to make a bounty hunting career profitable to anyone who's willing to take the contracts.
- If you want Spy Fiction, you need (at least) two powers at each other's throats (possibly at war, depending on the kind of spy you want).
- Open conflict between two similarly powerful blocs requires some excuse for why nukes or equivalent WMD don't start flying. Mutually Assured Destruction usually works for this (it did in real life). For bonus points, have the two powers engage in proxy wars instead of fighting each other directly.
- Certain advances in technology may eliminate types of action and adventure that you want. If you want space combat to resemble the Age of Sail, you probably don't want the technology for fast, autonomous drone fighters or A.I.-guided missiles to battle at extended range with little human input. Point Defenseless has to be present if you want the glamour of fighter jocks that don't get unceremoniously blown out of the air en masse by Anti-Air. If you want knights in gleaming full-plate or lots of sword-dueling, you probably don't want a lot of worthwhile guns. On the other hand, you may not want to deal with a setting with no indoor plumbing or modern medicine, and if you want to have your cake and eat it too, you may end up with the Schizo Tech of most Punk Punk settings.
- Wide Open Sandbox crime games, or mob dramas in general, usually take place in a Wretched Hive where Police Are Useless or Dirty to explain why there can be so many or powerful gangs running around openly while the cops only go after the protagonist for the slightest offence.
Focus-maximizing rules abstraction include:
- If the focus is purely on the adventurers going forth and killing monsters and taking their stuff, then an unrealistic economic model can be argued to be more realistic, as the result of a more realistic system would probably be the same.
- Tactical wargames have a tendency to have more and more unrealistic logistics as their focus expands.
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- According to Word of God, the Schizo Tech in Naruto is due to trope. If a piece of technology would get in the way of ninjas doing cool ninja things, it doesn't exist. This is why you don't have motor vehicles (with some exceptions) or telephones, because they would obsolete running through forests and relying on messenger birds, but you still have computers, televisions and oddly short-wave radio. Modern telephones do apparently exist but no-one ever uses them.
- The world of One Piece is an argument for Intelligent Design theory, as the very geography seems tailor-made for wacky pirating adventures, and it strains credulity that it could have occurred naturally. The planet is mostly covered with oceans dotted with small islands. The only large landmass perfectly bisects the planet at the prime meridian. The equator, known as the Grand Line, is bordered north and south by "Calm Belts" with no water or air movement, making it impossible to sail through, and they're infested with giant, incredibly powerful Sea Monsters so attempting to make it through by oar power or other means is inadvisable in most circumstances. Standard compasses don't work (because of reasons), so the only way to navigate is through a "Log Pose," which locks onto the magnetic field of the next island on the Line and requires a varying amount of time to "reset" upon arriving there, explaining why sailors have time to fool around at the Town of the Week on every island, why they can't just sail directly for the MacGuffin at the end of the Line, and why there isn't regular trade or cultural exchange between most islands (justifying some of the Schizo Tech in the process). The World Government has special navigational Applied Phlebotinum that allows them to bypass some of these restrictions, explaining why they're able to show up exactly where they need to be to cause trouble for Our Heroes.
- Magic: The Gathering
- Every plane has the five basic land types, even planes where that doesn't make much sense, like City Planets. Almost every setting has five major races of sentient beings, each one strongly leaning towards a specific type of land and the associated terrain, with a dozen more minor races not so closely aligned to colors. Individual races may look drastically different from plane to plane, but almost always have the same basic culture and Hat. A major change to the world almost always happens during or right before the events of the first set on a given plane. There are exceptions to the last three of those rules, but those exceptions are almost always plot-significant.
- One example resembles RPG settings specifically: the plane of Zendikar is tailor-made for adventurers. A natural phenomenon called the Roil causes entire landscapes to shift regularly, meaning that entire continents are constantly recreated to be rediscovered over and over again. Developers have explained the original concept of the plane was an "adventure world."
- With Strings Attached is set in an Adventure-Friendly World that ran out of adventure. The society on Baravada is a crumbling anarchy, and the people are literally dying of boredom.
- Titan, the world in which the majority of the Fighting Fantasy games are set, is constantly having some part of it threatened by some sort of evil villain in order to support numerous homeless mercenaries the reader plays as. Most of the markets only seem to sell adventure-related gear, though it's mostly indicated that they also sell lots of other stuff, and the items the reader can buy are just the useful things that are on sale. Interestingly, Black Vein Prophecy and The Crimson Tide do make some effort to show a wider economy, and the effects of the wars and conflicts on ordinary farmers and craftsmen.
- Magnamund, the setting of the Lone Wolf gamebooks, is constantly being attacked by the forces of Naar necessitating the Kai Order running about essentially putting out fires. When the Kai Order is down to one person, Lone Wolf has to do this all by himself....
- Don Quixote is a Deconstruction: the protagonist wants to be a Knight Errant in a Medieval European Fantasy. Unfortunately, all he can be is the original Lord Error-Prone in a Picaresque novel. However, his world (heavily based on Real Life Spain) is really focused on maximizing the misadventures of a Lord Error-Prone. La Mancha, where the plot of the first part of the novel happens, has a hierarchical structure where everyone knows his place: An innkeeper calls the Victimized Bystander that wants to kill Don Quixote (because he attacked them first) invoking the Insanity Defense as a way Don Quixote will never be found guilty. But the population always takes the law on their hands, so they become Badass Bystander who beat Don Quixote; when Don Quixote doesn’t want to pay another innkeeper they gave Sancho a Humiliation Conga; etc. There is a rural police called the Holy Brotherhood, but they cannot be bothered with a loony guy. They are seen doing their job escorting criminals to their punishment, but their competence is dubious when Don Quixote can outsmart them. The second part of the novel show us all the resources the Spanish empire has are invested fighting the Ottoman empire. At the last part of the second part, don Quixote goes to Barcelona, where there is a Civil War. Then, this environment, that must be more friendly to a Knight Errant, is even more aggressive: the Loveable Rogue, a Affably Evil Anti-Villain, fears from his own men a treason; most of the Pirates are the Ottoman empire's Privateers, and we discover the Spanish crown has convinced the Muslim population to do The Migration as a better alternative to a Final Solution. The idea is that even without a Instant Emergency Response, La Mancha population knows there is a government and they better behave. The clash between fiction assumptions and reality is one of the book themes.
- In Dale Brown books, Mutually Assured Destruction is not strongly enforced. Nuclear release has repeatedly failed to result in full-blown nuclear war, instead occurring as part of or lead-up to conventional conflicts.
- The Hyborean Age in the Conan the Barbarian stories is an especially adventure-friendly world since it provides ample opportunity for a self-made man like Conan to have adventures at the outskirts of civilization, being a pirate, a mercenary, a thief, a general, a king etc.
- The title city of the web-novel Domina is a prison city largely abandoned by the mainland, with only the barest touches of regulation on all the guns and Bio-Augmentation going around.
- Discworld was one of these early on. There were great swaths of unexplored lands filled with ancient temples, marauding 'heroes' and evil monsters. There were cities, but their law enforcement was a joke, fatal brawls were daily events and it takes almost nothing to get the largest city, Anhk-Morpork, burned to the ground in the first novel. However, over the course of the series, this changes. Many of the 'monsters' (e.g. trolls, vampires, zombies) immigrate to the cities and become productive members of society. The City Watch becomes a formidable force for good. Technology advances, and the invention of clacks towers, newspapers, a reliable post and steam power eventually causes the sun to set on the old world.
- Star Fleet Battles started out as a licensed Star Trek game of ship vs. ship combat, but then the developers wanted to have battles with more ships in them, so a General War broke out, and then another, and then another. Also, because the traditional Star Trek universe avoids warfare and focuses on character interaction and solving problems nonviolently, the Star Fleet gaming universe deviates from the Star Trek universe in many ways, including a more militaristic Federation with more combat-specific ships, some of which originate in the Franz Joseph Star Trek Technical Manual. Gene Roddenberry, for example, was uncomfortable with the idea of the Federation having a dreadnought class of starship, but he never outright vetoed their canonicity.
- One of the reasons the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 settings are so prone to violent upheavals that sweep up all the factions is that every army needs to be able to fight every other army within canon (including itself), so high political instability is the order of the day. Notable however in that, for Warhammer in particular, the tabletop RPG version of the setting slightly modifies the setting in order to keep the world Adventure-Friendly for a different kind of Adventure. Although the high degree of political instability, mistrust and constant war is still present, the rules go to great pains to make it possible (and potentially highly lucrative) to set yourself up as a trader. Indeed the 2nd edition of the rules contained vast supplements detailing the incomes one could make, and the game's careers (read classes) included things like "Smith" and "Merchant" as well as "Soldier" and "Wizard". The game even included rules for a wizard selling spells and favours to locals.
- Legend of the Five Rings deliberately seeks to support both a card game, where the squabbling clans often fight petty wars against one another, and a role-playing game, where players (usually) play as samurai both battling supernatural and common dangers while upholding a social order that is likely to clash with its intended audience's at several points. In order to accommodate all of these, it adds a certain degree of violence and instability to the usual tabletop-world mix, which, following the example of Dungeons & Dragons, is already plenty dangerous at times. Players often jokingly note that Rokugan has had more wars in the last few centuries, following the start of the gameline, than in the millenium-plus that precedeed it.
- Dungeons & Dragons made this trope a staple of the Role-Playing Game genre, in order to allow the most possible adventures to take place in any given setting. The local monster populations are usually described in great detail, but not how the people in the area/town are able to sustain themselves. Most pantheons read like a list of gods an adventurer would worship, rather than gods that would be important in the everyday life of a commoner. This is an explicitly due to the Anthropic Principle, and secondary sources for many settings detail additional information to add depth to their worlds.
- Traveller has a strong interstellar Imperium, but due to Jump drive taking a minimum of one week to travel from one system to another there is a lot of room for pirates and other trouble-makers. Many players are traders, so there has to be a fairly workable economy. And there have been at least two collapses, and the Third Imperium is still expanding. And then there's Megatraveller, which takes place after the collapse of the Third Imperium.
- The world of Shadowrun is dominated by Mega Corps constantly stabbing one another in the back. Players tend to be "Shadowrunners" that corps hire to sabotage their competitors.
- Eclipse Phase has a post-apocalyptic solar system with lots of Killer Robot-infested ruins, a three-way cold war, exploration of new solar systems, and a mysterious alien superintelligence that subverts post-Singularity A.I.
- Thunderscape: the World of Aden has been deliberately designed to allow encounters with varied enemies. A decade ago Darkfall — some ill-defined, either malevolent or mindless force — brought to life all monsters that were considered extinct or never existed outside tales. Additionally, Darkfall seems to grant monstrous powers to anybody who asks. When you venture outside fortified cities, or just enter some real dangerous city slum, you stand an equal chance of being attacked by scrap metal that came to life, ambulatory dead, mutant rats or a corrupted feral child serving Darkfall.
- Exalted: Creation has gone through at least three apocalyptic events in the backstory, most recent one happening seven and a half centuries ago. The Great Contagion (a magical plague) has wiped out 90% of everything living and then the Balorian Crusade (invasion of Fair Folk hell-bent on returning the world to Chaos) killing off a lot of the rest. The world has climbed up since then, but it still has vast swathes of unexplored lands and ruins everywhere. Oh and the Scarlet Empress that stopped the Fae with an ancient superweapon has just vanished and all the threats to the world are stirring with new plans (and new and very powerful champions) in absence of that threat. Have fun!
- The Excuse Plot of Quake III: Arena is basically that the Gods wanted more entertainment, so they put you in the Arena Eternal.
- Unreal Tournament has a somewhat similar excuse to Quake: the Tournament is backed by the New Earth Government. Unlike Q3A, though, it has some backstory: basically, the NEG reasons that as long as people can sate their bloodlust by watching a Blood Sport, they don't try to kill each other for kicks. And if they do... well, the Tournament is always open to new contestants. Not to mention the hundreds of billions of profit Liandri and the NEG gets out of the broadcasts.
- The "setting" for Team Fortress 2 is a cartoony, 1960s mod-squad style world in order to handwave the paper-thin Excuse Plot.
- Noticeable in the Warlords franchise, particularly the Puzzle Quest-related spin offs. The relative political stability of the world depends on what this game's plot demands. In some games, everybody is at each other's throats. In others, the factions have set up a peace sufficient to allow the player to travel the world.
- Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale explores how an Adventurer-based Economy would have to work. There would have to be a literal Dungeon Master who constantly fills dungeons with treasure. Where they get their resources is not disclosed.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, the currency is meat. Actual meat, taken from bodies. Naturally, the best way to get this meat is from things that you kill. Combine this with all of the hostile races and a near-universal Healing Factor (the race that the players are have it, as do the Pork elves), and you have an economy based around fighting.
- The Constructed World of Strangereal was created specifically to encourage large-scale conflicts which could be won or lost by Ace Combat. Multiple militarized pseudo-European continents with opposed ideologies exist, modern fighter aircraft coexist with World War I-style giant superweapons, and there is a distinct lack of fissionables in the planet's crust — nuclear weapons take years to build each, meaning that they are usually the resources fought over instead of with, as Mutually Assured Destruction could not be assured. There have thus been TEN WW2-level conflicts in Strangereal's history (one for each game).
- Solatorobo has an economy that largely centers on quest brokers and people who sell stuff for adventurers (though there are mentions of musicians, fashion designers, cooks, etc., they tend to get little more than a passing glance in the game proper). And, notably, these quests tend to center on someone who has a functional Mini-Mecha and possibly some basic fighting skills; there are no quests up for plumbers, for example.
- X-COM UFO Defense takes place in a Crapsack World: The galaxy is ruled, rim to core and pole to pole, by an Always Chaotic Evil Hive Mind. Humans might be able to destroy the local node if they become The Unfettered - abolish every civil liberty and article of war. And there's another, unattached(albeit slightly less advanced) node in the Gulf of Mexico. And its destruction would reduce Earth's biosphere to the algae level. And there's an entire planet of Hive Mind aliens just one dimension over. And the best weapon against all these irredeemably hostile aliens are Half-Human Hybrids with Psychic Powers... who will eventually become a permanent underclass treated like parolees from cradle to grave and not allowed to breed without permission(which tends to be withheld between invasions). This works out fine as the backstory of a hyper-lethal squad combat game: the utter monstrosity of your enemy means that as long as you have any surviving humans, you can always find vengeance-crazed replacements for troops lost in combat, or at least someone you can wave a carrot at to die at your command, and you never really run out of alien baddies to kill, capture and vivisect. But taken out of context, X-COM is essentially sending unaccountable death squads against an enemy that can never really be beaten.
- In the world of Diablo most of the magical equipment you come by (barring some made using ancient relics) was forged by the demons for use in their wars. The events of the first game created a bustling trade from adventurers dredging the items up from the demons of the cathedral, while most traders in Diablo III admit to getting their goods by stealing, looting corpses, or digging them out of the ground.
- Defiance takes place thirty years after an alien invasion. What's left of the Earth Republic and the Votan Collective have an uneasy truce, but malfunctioning terraformers have spawned a variety of monstrous creatures, pieces of the Votan Arks periodically fall to Earth, causing destruction but also bringing valuable tech that Arkhunters scavenge (and fight over). And, of course, not all humans and Votan are aligned with either of the big factions (heck the TV series takes place in a multi-species city-state that frequently clashes with both of them). The Irathients and Volge in particular seem to have little interest in "civilization".
- The Elder Scrolls games are focused on world exploring. Guess what you'll find? The world is scattered with ancient ruins and caves filled with bandits, undead, daedra or whatever you need to fight, while the lore runneth over with the tales of ancient collapsed civilizations.
- The constant wars between the various kingdoms of the Mount & Blade games create opportunities for wandering adventurers to make a name for themselves, and the bandits that pop up in the absence of any effective police force (because most of the kingdoms' resources are going into fighting the wars) ensures there are plenty of targets for guilt-free looting and level-grinding.
- Touhou is a Shoot 'em Up series (or in the case of the Gaiden Games, Fighting Games) that devotes multiple Universe Compendiums to explaining the type of setting where everyone fights everyone else at the drop of a hat and events that risk upsetting the social order or just killing everyone are a regular occurrence, yet still manages to be a functioning society. Gensokyo is a small, isolated Fantastic Nature Reserve with creatures from all sorts of mythologies, most of whom are Blood Knights that recognise killing your opponent means you can't fight them again, and the humans recognise that youkai need to cause trouble so they don't wink out of existence, so Non-Lethal Warfare was instituted and everyone is remarkably forgiving given that it's all part of the fun.
- Lemuria, the setting of Child of Light, is a literal Fairy Tale land, so there's an evil queen and vicious monsters to fight and magical abilities and a child of prophecy and all that good stuff.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic takes place just after a cease fire has been reached between The Empire and The Federation (well, the Republic) where they kicked the crap out of each other. Tensions are still high but open warfare is off the table for a moment, so both sides focus on sabotage, subterfuge, and commando operations to weaken their enemy behind the scenes. So soon after the war order and law enforcement hasn't been reestablished in a lot of areas, so there's plenty of opportunity for both sides and independent parties to exploit people and regions to their benefit or just cause havoc. And being Star Wars, there are lots of ancient lairs and powerful artifacts lying around waiting for some enterprising individual to find them. Perfect for a MMORPG.
- RWBY is set on a world where humanity is mostly restricted to four kingdoms, with everywhere else being the domain of monsters that grossly outnumber mankind and are out to Kill All Humans. Huntsmen and huntresses are trained to beat back the monsters threatening civilization, but the female narrator of the first episode thinks their failure is inevitable.
- The world of Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures is partially built around the idea of freelance adventurers. Specifically, they supplement the highly corrupt judicial system. Criminals are supposed to be sentenced by a member of their own race, and society includes creatures that consider beings food.
- A Modest Destiny is meant to be a deconstruction of RPG tropes, with an economy dependent on the Thieves' Guild, and an industry of custom made dungeons.
- The Order of the Stick expands on how "a large number of Dungeons & Dragons settings describe the local monster populations in great detail, but often not how the people in the area actually make their living..." which turns out to be "Killing and eating monsters and taking their stuff, obviously." Thus, there are a large number of humanoid Rapid Aging Explosive Breeder races who the gods of the setting created solely to be slaughtered by roaming adventurers. Redcloak is a member of one such race who has lucked into an absurd amount of power, and is planning on doing something about it even if it destroys the entire universe.
- Overside has an indeterminate number of strange, fantastical creatures who are constantly meeting, merging, or competing with each other, with plenty of ancient legends, relics, and ruined empires from the days of yore to go around (some of which get rebuilt and repopulated by successor empires which later collapse and leave new ruins on top of the old ones).
- Goblins, being a Dungeons & Dragons-based comic, has adventurer as a separate profession. For their convenience there are several dungeon crawls around the world that is specifically designed to test the strength and wits of adventurers. Of course, most adventurers fail in these and get killed.
- Critical Hit's Season 1 and 2 World is one of these — it's a loosely affiliated continent of kingdoms, with monsters to the north, ancient ruins of Tiefling and Dragonborn civilizations, an underground city of robots, and even a moon full of Insane Gods and their creations.
- Worm is one of these, with the profoundly unnatural superhero/supervillain system existing only because of the mutual threat of the Endbringers and the manipulations of Cauldron.
- The world of Adventure Time suffered from an apocalypse about 1000 years ago due to a nuclear war and the return of magic, and still hasn't quite recovered. Civilization is limited to small, sparodic kingdoms, and the rest of the world is filled with ruins, ancient dungeons, monsters, etc, perfect for any young adventurers out there.