In which our intrepid hero writes something sensible—for the second time in a fortnight.

I try not to repost my comments on other people’s blogs here too often, but I’m always proud when I write something that (at least prima facie) seems to make a lot of sense. Like my opinion on intellectual property, in response to a recent post on my friend Craig’s blog, for instance.

Martin Ralya’s Treasure Tables blog is (in my opinion) one of the best GMing resources on the Internet. His recent post—“Is Worldbuilding Pointless?”—prompted me to make the following comment:

Most GMs I know enjoy worldbuilding. It’s a good exercise in creativity, and a well-reasoned worldbuilding process can be a goldmine for adventure plots.

On the other hand, it’s a case of diminishing returns—the greater detail you go into, the less likely your players are to come across that detail.

If you’re constructing languages, then there’s almost zero chance that your players are going to use them; there’s simply no point. Likewise, John Arcadian’s point on the name of the elven queen’s third cousin—unless such a fact is crucial to the plot.

I agree with BluJai’s comment on internal consistency. But (as steve states) you only need to do enough work to ensure a degree of verisimilitude; everything else—whilst it might be cool for the GM—is essentially wasted on the players.

The best guideline I’ve found for this was in the first edition of Dream Pod 9’s Heavy Gear rulebook—the “Y-cubed Rule”. To quote:

When you design a scenario, examine every major element, character and plot twist by asking yourself the following question three times: Why?

If your answers to all three questions make sense, then your plot element is likely to be believable. For example, you decide that Harvey “the Killer” Burns is not trusted by the rest of his gang. Why? Because Harvey beats up his fellow gang members every once in a while. Why? Because Harvey has a major problem controlling his temper and is prone to fits of blind rage. Why? Because Harvey is addicted to a strong mood-altering drug. According to the Y-cubed Rule, the lack of trust Harvey’s gang shows towards him is credible and can lead to additional plot elements.

I’ve found that it’s a good compromise. You don’t waste enormous amounts of time creating every detail of your world, but it’s solid enough that most players can suspend their disbelief. It also ties in well with Monte Cook’s suggestion in his old Dungeoncraft column of attaching a “secret” to every major fact in a campaign.

If your PCs want to push deeper, then it’s fairly easy to amend on the fly. Just make sure you record these impromptu plot developments somewhere where you can quickly refer to them, as needed.

(Update: I’m reliably informed that the “secret” thing is from the Ray Winninger days of Dungeoncraft. My bad.)