"These look like crops! Who the heck
farms in this kingdom?"
An interesting phenomenon in Worldbuilding
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 D&D-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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Anime & Manga
- 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 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.
- Magic The Gathering
- The game has this on the level of the worlds bending towards the baseline iconography and mechanics (mountain-dwelling cultures like goblins tend to be impulsive and/or emotionally intense, with magic that specializes in destruction and chaos), as well as with them bending towards mechanical quirks in the individual sets (a block where each color pair has its own mechanical quirk takes place in a world ruled by a collapsing alliance of guilds that each combines the motivations and tactics of a different pair of colors).
- As a meta example, the plane of Zendikar seems taylor-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.
- 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....
- In Dale Brown books, MAD 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 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.
- 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 uncomforbable 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 insane 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 is similar, except without Warhammer's sense of self-parody. Its setting, Rokugan, is a version of feudal Japan where adherence to bushido is turned Up to Eleven, and where the fabric of society melts down in general civil war every generation or two. This, of course, allows for a TCG where entire clans are pitted against each other by Nonentity Generals, but also for a harsh Crapsack World for the RPG, where a samurai is challenged with insane, no-win situations just from the nature of living in the world.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Fourth Edition more or less follows through on the logic of this trope with the implied Points of Light setting in the default game, as noted in the official commentary on it.
- Note that 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...
- Of particular note is Oerth. As the "standard" D&D world until 3.5E, it's especially Adventure-Friendly to the point where its pantheon reads like the gods an adventurer would worship rather than a commoner. There is no god of the harvest for example in the 3.5E Player's Handbook. There are also no patrons of business, love or craftsmen all of which one might think would be important in everyday life.
- Eberron has a lot of issues, the main continent just got out of a hundred-year war that shattered a long-reigning kingdom, another continent is a vast jungle that was once home to an empire of Giants, there's numerous secret societies plotting to take over civilization as well as two different brands of Eldritch Abomination whose cults are trying to bring their masters back to the material plane.
- 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.
- 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 WW 2-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 a 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.
- RWBY specifically namedrops the "points of light" idea. 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, without question. With 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)... Overside is a world that is made for tale-telling.
- 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.