Thursday, December 9, 2010

WoW vs. 4e - Does the Setting Need to Make Sense to Be Fun?

I really don't even begin to understand all the lore surrounding the Warcraft Universe. There is simply so much going on. To be quite Frank, the system and the setting itself make very little sense to me. World of Warcraft is especially so. There seems to be a significant ammount of anachronism going on, what with massive cannons, zepelins, and motor cycle riding Minotaurs roving the streets of Orgrimar.

But, does it really matter that I don't get it? I don't really think so. It seems to me that when you get into playing a video game, you are able to suspend a lot of your sense of disbelief about the world. What you are seeing is what is there. If it weren't supposed to be there, it wouldn't be. When it comes to me playing WoW, I don't have any problem with the fact that a whole lot of settings, styles, and themes are all mashed together.


Becuase it is fun. I get a huge kick out of whatching a goblin parachute from a falling helicopter. I also get a huge kick out of summoning my vanity pet rocket-bot (which I think I got for Xmas one year). I do not however ask many questions about the world. I take it for what it is and I am grateful for that.

However, with role playing, and especially with games like D&D, the setting really matters. In order to develop a sense of immersion into the setting, I think a lot of people maintain that it is necessary for that setting to make sense. Players will question things that don't seem right. I believe everyone DM has had that moment where they have to think of an NPC name of the top of their head and come up with BoB the Half-Orc. This kind of extemporaneous NPC naming tends to ruin some people's gaming experience.

But, does it really have to?

If we are playing in a fantasy world, does the setting need to made perfect sense? With magic, or steampunk, or even cyberpunk elements, just about anything becomes possible. Is there really a need to explain how every little thing works, or, why every little thing is the way that it is?

If I want to throw some fantastic encounter on a flying city together and have the players go there, do I need to explain how the city is flying? why it is in this particular portion of the sky, or how it moves?

I don't think you should have to. This may just be my preference, but I don't really have a problem suspending disbelief even when it comes to Pen and Paper gaming. However, I don't really know how other people feel about this. What do you think? Does the setting need to make sense?


  1. First, there is a big difference between Bob the Half-Orc and a flying city. I think Bob ruins the game because players think one of two things, either: (1) the GM is lazy, or (2) this NPC isn't supposed to be here, so we aren't going to invest much energy in speaking with him.

    Flying cities, on the otherhand, do not imply laziness. They imply complexity. It invokes questions like, "Why did someone go through all the trouble of making the city fly?" or what not.

    From a player's perspective, I think what is important is that things are conceivable. If a beggar on the street, with no access to magic can teleport at will, PCs are going to want a point-by-point explanation. You don't have to give an explanation right away, but there had better be a reason somewhere in your notes.

    So, a complex reason is fine, I think. Especially with magic all around. Even a vague reason is okay, but if the world is too random, you risk making the rule system meaningless and then you're not really playing the game anymore.

  2. I also believe that the medium is important as well. You'll believe things in WoW because they look cool and you can see them on the screen. the cooler they look, the less believable they need to be.

    In an table top RPG, most of the "seeing" is done in the mind's eye, so you may be more likely to think about what you are seeing, onstead of just experiencing it.

  3. Yes and no.

    Consistency is the most important thing when you're building a world. Bob the Half-Orc breaks immersion because half-orcs are assumed to have names that sound like half-orc names (or orc names). But if everyone in your fantasy setting has names that are fairly mundane, at least you've managed to avoid the Aerith and Bob trope of the genre. But when you're building a world, decide what you're doing and stick to your guns.

    Flying cities? Come on, it's a world of magic where the PCs routinely throw fireballs around, it's not that big of a stretch. But you should probably decide, on some level, why someone bothered to make the city fly - even if it comes down to "the wizard who did it thought it was cool, and I agree with him." :D You only need to explain how the city flies if the characters ask someone who would know, and it's entirely possible that noone who knows exists! Any question that arises doesn't matter until it directly impacts the game.

    Where things gets weirder is that if you look at a setting like Eberron, where magic is often used to create things that resemble more modern technology, it isn't really that big of a stretch to add more of that to the world - after all, magic makes a lot possible. Just enough science and magic to close the gaps; motorcycles, airships, even guns aren't that big of a stretch, though each changes the tone and feel of the world that much more. But that's basically what Alchemy was supposed to be. WoW is almost a logical extension of some of the principles that went into Eberron, as far as I can tell. It all depends on how strongly you emphasize the core assumptions of your world - and what they are.

    But when it comes down to it, you do what's fun, and that's something that has to be decided on a group-by-group basis. If that's what you and your players want, go for it, that's awesome. :)

  4. Thanks for all the feedback. You all make very good points. After reading some feedback and some other blog posts, forum posts etc. I am really seeing more of a RIFTS feel in this setting. Apparently I am actually making more of a kitchen sink setting than anything else. Maintaining consistency is going to be a toughie.