When I joined this site, I felt I missed a lot by not joining before. I really enjoy the questions as well as the answers.

Not to be misunderstood, I am a scientist myself. I always trust in concrete proofs and facts. However, this site is called world building. Which - in my understanding - means you primarily use your imagination. You imagine a world -- or a scenario, and then ask a questions about it.

What I've seen is people who are trying to either convince everyone how absurd/stupid the question is or finding a loophole in the world. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think this is right way to encourage people (especially newcomers like me) to post in this site.

For instance, this comment to my question is very productive and extending the quality:

I'm pretty sure that by 2999, the audio/visual style advertising as we know it will be gone and instead ads just be a constant series of battles between the various advertisers' mind-control devices and our anti-mind-control devices.

However, I see many comments in various post that basically say "you're so dumb, let me point out where you are mistaken."

if needed, I can refer to sources but I do not want to make this a personal discussion

What I see here is people are free to ask about

effects of events or world elements, including biology, technology and magic, on specific aspects of that world's societies, cultures, and environment

but they are frequently found not realistic/easily refutable, despite one of the tags say


For questions of Earth\humans that extrapolate beyond available data: hundreds of years at least, thousands commonly, millions preferably.

which clearly indicates you are free as a bird to imagine a world, of whose possibility of reality cannot be discussed.

I am using SO for a long time, and I just wanted to sincerely remind:

There is always a downvote option if you did not like the question. Comments are perfect for asking clarifications. Answering the asked question is a perfect way to go. But commenting or answering "this question makes no sense since this and this are never possible" is not OK.

If someone asked about anatomically correct phoenix, commenting or answering

When a living creature is burnt, there is no way to undo because when oxygen and carbon reacts, then the gas revealed is mixed into air. Therefore, this question makes no sense.

is neither improving the post nor serving the purpose of this very site. I would recommend Puzzling.SE for those who seek posts those are concretely fact-based and without loopholes.

Question: Do you think I am being too sensitive?

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for bringing this concern to meta. I hope everybody will give more thought to how their feedback can come across, even though it's well-intentioned. Meanwhile, if you see any comments that are on the wrong side of "be nice" ("that's dumb" would be), please flag them for moderator attention. We don't see everything that happens, so call our attention to it. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ Upvoting and also having this problem too. I generally hate people pointing out some issue in my question in way that I am the one stupid... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are being too sensitive. I understand that I am the mean guy you are complaining about. But, some ideas are just bad. I believe that the purpose of a worldbuilding forum is to find out what ideas are subpar. It sucks to hear negative feedback, and being mean about it is something we should not do (and again, I know I am a prime contributor). But this site is not for story generation, it is for finding holes in plots and gaps in logic to refine good stories into great ones. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ I welcome your post as I am new to the site too and have had feedback like 'have you tried watching TV?' and my question might be 'off limits' - not conducive to a supportive and welcoming forum but I can overcome this. I do not think you are too sensitive, no. Thanks for the post. I believe it might be difficult to ascertain how a person might be seeking story generation. I know my own question was based on finding holes in my work-in-progress plot as I am not the knower of all knowledge. This site has the makings of being a brilliant source of knowledge building. Could we keep it positive? $\endgroup$
    – Judy
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion No, I was not mentioning a specific occasion or user. This is a general thing. Also, story I don't understand what is wrong with story generation. $\endgroup$
    – padawan
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to surround yourself with yes-men, this cynicist is going to have to leave you to your own devices (is that really what you want? see bold text). IMO, there aren't enough naysayers. That's just how I think: having all the reasons why something wouldn't work is much more valuable than one (story gen'ed) reason why it would. That's why I prefer questions tagged "reality" - the kid gloves can come off, so to speak. - "this site is not for story generation, it is for finding holes in plots and gaps in logic to refine good stories into great ones". Can we keep it real? ;) $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ What's wrong with “idea generation” questions? : "There is no objective way to evaluate one idea as better than others." $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 19:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mazura you are literally saying "let's keep it real" in world building? well... $\endgroup$
    – padawan
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think you're being too sensitive, but I do think that comments in WB such as "When a living creature is burnt, there is no way to undo because when oxygen and carbon reacts, then the gas revealed is mixed into air." are amazing as a start. The following sentence was unfortunate and unhelpful. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 10:44

6 Answers 6


One of the issues with Worldbuilding Stack Exchange - and worldbuilding in general, really - is that everyone has different criteria for what "realistic" means, or what is possible or what isn't. That's the great thing about imagination: You can do anything, if you change the boundaries of what is or isn't possible.

The thing is, people often don't know if something in their world will work. I often don't, so I ask questions here. We even have a tag for people wanting to know if a premise is realistic or possible, . In those cases, it's absolutely fine for answers to say "This will not work" if the question is asking for an evaluation. Anatomically Correct Phoenix, the question you linked, uses the tag, but it uses the tag only because it asks, as a side note, if there's anything that definitively indicates that the entire setup is possible.

Now, there's a difference between saying "No, this won't work" and saying "No, this won't work, and it's because [X, Y, and Z]." The second kind of answers are the sort we want; the first type are generally useless and should be downvoted. Even if the answer says that something isn't possible but only gives a couple sentences explaining why, it may be unhelpful. Answers contradicting the premise should be detailed, because often the reason the author missed the impossibility is that it isn't immediately obvious.

I think the community consensus is that it is almost always okay to refute the premise within the laws of plausibility of the world1, unless the author specifically indicates that they are handwaving away some impossibility, with, for instance, magic. I do agree with this; if I want it to rain in my world all day, every day, but there's something that makes this completely impossible, I really, really want to know that.

Basically, there is a huge range of levels of plausibility between questions. Some are willing to handwave away pretty much anything; others want detailed, scientifically rigorous answers (see ). If a question uses laws that does not make sense within the context of the world, it is always okay to challenge it in an answer. You just have to be sure that you understand what exactly the limitations are.

Oh, and if anyone says "This is dumb", flag away. Insults like that are not okay, no matter how inconsistent the premise is.

1 Our default assumptions are generally that worlds retain our universe's laws of science, and answers should try to use logic and science, where possible. Obviously, the author needs to tell us if there is something about the world that's different.

  • $\begingroup$ The OP is complaining about the tenor of comments, and not about the quality of answers. Yes good answers do precisely what you suggest they do, the main problem is the casual dismissiveness in comments to questions. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ Your first and second links are the same. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ Should the second link be meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/4225/19951 ? Also related is meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/2407/19951 $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Thank you for pointing that out. Fixed. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir24601 I actually had a different one in mind, but I've added the first of your linked. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android The OP mentioned both cases, and I think the same logic applies to both. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 What was the one you had in mind? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir24601 I've edited it in. It was this one. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the correction. My observation is that the problem is more acute in comments. In answers usually effort is put into pointing where the question needs improving or where its assumptions don't stand scrutiny. Sometimes commentators seem to be trying to outdo each other in finding fault with questions. Fortunately, not always, but enough. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ Does a world really have to retain our universe's laws? What about the world in the Divergent Series? There were laws that would break down physics, yet in that world, those powers worked. True, when I asked about the ability of first born on a world that had half of Earth's G and air pressure, people on Earth live in those very conditions today. I needed to know how quickly would a person born to those environments adapt. To ask a question about a world, especially in SiFi, you will get universes and worlds that have different physics than we know today. Otherwise, we create boring storylines $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ @GeorgeMcGinn No, it doesn't have to retain our laws. But the person asking the question has to specify when he/she is departing from those laws. In other words, the community should assume reality unless question substitutes its own. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM I agree. But I have read some comments where the person asking the question really wants help in making their concept work. Like I asked if babies born on a planet with half of Earth's gravity and atmosphere on a planet like Mars with a strong magnetic field, all else equal to Earth, many were stuck in the it will not work when they should have been thinking if It is plausible for an infant with a new slate. Even if I were to explain how a planet in my universe can orbit 19 suns, many are stuck in the today's physics and can't imagine how that could work. That's a disservice to the WB. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 21:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @GeorgeMcGinn One issue is consistency, which is something we've talked about a lot; I think I even wrote a post about it for the Worldbuilding blog. So you can make up a universe with different laws, but if they contradict each other, that's a no-no. So $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868 Mod
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ "is that everyone has different criteria for what "realistic" means" -- they usually mean self-consistent or verisimilitude rather than "realistic" $\endgroup$
    – Pod
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 As long as they contradict themselves and not what we think it should be in our Universe. Like in Avatar, the Floating Islands. The world has its own quirks with gravity but it is restricted to a certain area of the moon. If the floating islands were found hovering over where the humans set up their base, that would be a contradiction in that world. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 11:18

I've actually seen far too many instances of what you mention.

In my view this is how the Q&A should work:

The question asserts either

  • a premise, that is to say the initial state of an aspect of their world, and asks how that premise would affect the development of something within that world...

My world has 19 suns, how would that affect the religion of the humans of that world?

  • ...or a desired outcome and asks how to achieve it (though I suppose this could also be considered a premise from an atemporal point of view).

What socio-economic pressures would cause war between my world's elves and fairies?

The answers should simply build upon these premises or desired outcomes, but never refute them outright or poke holes in them. Much as how axioms work in mathematics. By build upon, I mean find ways to alter the premise to make it concordant with reality. In the anatomically correct Phoenix answer, the accepted question does this brilliantly: the phoenixes don't actually get reborn, they simply lay an egg before lighting themselves on fire, which looks as if they get reborn from their ashes.

Edit: There is actually a 3rd type of question that I for some reason totally forgot about; ones that ask whether something is plausible or not, in these cases, yes it is fine for an answer to refute it as not so (if they provide adequate reasoning, of course).

Now on the other hand problems arise when the question demands too much or have too many restrictions. I'm sure you all know what I mean, questions similar to:

Only using hard-science how can I propel rockets in my world 6,193,091 billion-million times faster then light only using a thumbtack and three shoelaces?

(yes I am exaggerating but sadly not that much actually).

In these cases any answer given will never be able to fulfill the full extent of the initial query. This further becomes problematic when those answers get berated by comments displaying their shortcomings.

So the real question is: how fantastical can a question reasonably be?

And when people don't agree on the answer of the above, that is when you get the complications you talk about.

  • $\begingroup$ I basically believe that it is a matter of connection. Someone builds a world, if you don't feel that you belong into it, you just skip. On the other hand, the world should be somehow precise and well-defined. Most of the comments do not point out imprecision -- and hence my complaint. $\endgroup$
    – padawan
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @padawan I agree. When I see questions about worlds I think are ridiculously absurd or nonsensical, I skip them as surely someone else will find them interesting. There are badly worded questions which create other problems. However, I see Qs commented on as unclear, when it is obvious the commentators haven't exerted themselves to try to make sense of the Q. Your complaint is justified. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android I agree with padawan, however, whose to say my world is ridiculous when I am asking for help in building it? How many great SIFI stories have unbelievable worlds, but somehow it works with the characters. We can't judge someone's world harshly based on our own prejudice - in that I mean what we know or believe science to be. Badly worded questions may also be a matter of interpretation, or mis-interpretation. And it may be the person really never gave the world they're creating much thought before asking the question. We need to make sure that there is a framework to explain first. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ I totally disagree with this answer. Consider the 19 suns. If the question is "How would religion be affected?" the answer is critically dependent upon how the heat is handled. Is this still a temperate world because the heat is diverted? Or is this now a desert planet where people exist only deep underground? The religion would be totally different. The OP has to get the community to the point where we know what kind of world this is as a result of the as-far-as-we-know impossible change. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM I still agree with padawan. Too many get stuck in today's physics that they can't imagine anything else. I too am a scientist. A computer scientist and cosmologist. Heat isn't the issue. Why? There are people living on the planet. So it must be orbiting in the habitable zone of all 19 suns. Or a Dyson Sphere or magic is used. My clarification would be how many super blue giants, red giants, brown dwarfs, white dwarfs, white stars (like our Sun), yellow stars, and the probable green star (green stars are thought to be H/O/HE stars). Religion would be based on color and/or size $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @GeorgeMcGinn If the question explicitly states "and there are people living on the surface in an Earth-forest-like domain" then I'm good. If it leaves that open, that's when I reply with "insufficient handwavium." PS: Green stars are just regular stars covered in naturally-occurring celophane. :-) $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM You could be very right about green stars :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM I took the 19 suns & religion example question as an off the top of AngelPray's head joke. Well it made me smile. Ditto war between elves and fairies, and the overhyped FTL drive. The point about the tension how fantastical or realistic questions can be is a good one. Doubt if it can be resolved easily. I though green stars were stars surrounded by cellophane dyson spheres, so I must be wrong. :) $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree with your statement "answers should simply build upon these premises or desired outcomes, but never refute them outright or poke holes in them." I believe that is specifically the purpose of the reality-check tag, and generally the purpose of having a world-building forum. I am probably that person who is on the wrong side of mean most often, but I pretty much come around these parts to apply some hard-science or logic insight that other people might have missed. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 18:43

The other Stack Exchanges don't generally allow hypotheticals the way WB SE does. That has to impact our standard for how to ask questions. Easy example: When so many of the questions are looking for loopholes, responding with an obvious loophole (i.e. "your world is impossible") strikes me as a valid response.

Another example:

But commenting or answering "this question makes no sense since this and this are never possible" is not OK.

Within the scope of WorldBuilding, I see no way to apply this standard when so many of the questions are about hypotheticals: "Assume A and B, now C happens, what's the result?" To reply "A and B cannot happen together so we cannot derive the result you request" seems like a perfectly valid response UNLESS the OP specifies HOW they are allowing A and B to happen... but they frequently do not. Without the rules of magic/handwavium, we cannot extrapolate the effect of that magic/handwavium on this world, nor can we theorize what another world where magic/handwavium exists would look like.

Your phoenix example is a perfect situation to examine.

The challenge is to make an anatomically correct phoenix. If someone raises an objection that says, "This cannot be done and you cannot even begin to get close, full stop." that is a legit answer. To use an example from my own field, "How can I optimize for both performance and memory use at the same time?" an answer would be, "You cannot without some sort of handwavium." If the question provided no handwavium, then, in my opinion, this is answering the question, not invalidating it.

I think that's a really important point, so I'll say it again: In the context of WorldBuilding, answering that "X is impossible without more handwavium" is an answer, not a rejection of the question.

And that sets WB apart from other SE sites. In my opinion.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The problem is the reverse of what you said about hypotheticals. It is an absolute given in worldbuilding questions and answers will be about hypothetical constructs. To dismiss a hypothetical as not possible misses the point of worldbuilding. It is about finding ways to make the seeming impossible seem possible. If that requires typhoon-strength hand-waving, so be it. So saying the Q makes no sense is not OK. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ The question has to supply the degree of handwaving allowed. When questions do not, then "impossible" is the correct answer. Otherwise, every answer is, "Yes, assuming magic." @a4android $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ Certainly if the OP wants,say, a science-based answer, but I was thinking of cases where it's obvious the OP doesn't understand how much hand-waving is needed. Questions may require close reading to discern the level of hand-waving. This gets especially tricky when one or more of the premises doesn't make any sense at all. My point is because we knowingly deal in hypotheticals, more latitude is required in how we answer. Bouncing questions is a crude instrument for improvement. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 3:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @a4android I agree it is a crude tool, but tracing their IP addresses back to their homes so I can understand what terrible life choices lead them to that dark corner of contradictory thought is too time consuming. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are there to help improve or clarify questions. It's too easy to be negative or close questions which can be contrary to this site's nice policy. Time consuming? Yes. Doesn't win any reputation points? Yes. Helps improve WB? Yes. Definitely not easy? Yes. Somebody has to care about doing things right here. I'm sure you do. Nobody has to do it all. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android also note that the topic here is not closing the question but is instead about answering the question asked and whether a "not possible" response is appropriate. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the reminder. Trouble is they're part and parcel of the same problem. Basically unhelpful and negative responses to questions. I would prefer there were more concerned efforts to improve questions instead of beating up on them. It more of an issue about whether the site's nice policy is being properly implemented. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android You can't have it both ways. Either we quibble over the question until it is a good question or we answer the question as asked. Opposing both (which, to my eyes, you seem to be doing) only works if all questions are good questions at the moment they are asked, which they never will be. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ In the Code Review, you can get hypothetical, for someone who is designing a game may ask how one person can outsmart the other without contradicting previous answers. When it gets ridiculous is after you provided your answer, they ignore what you said (even when you provide code or a formula as proof) and still think the answer is wrong. Even worse, you answere and they completely change the question so everything you and others said now is wrong. That's wrong. I don't mind having someone say good, but what would happen if? Negating answers like that is a moderator's job to stop it. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM Sorry if there's any misunderstanding. I wasn't opposing both. I was trying to make a case for being more helpful to questioners. There are more than enough questions that are so bad it is hard to see how they can be saved. I'd rather people tried to improve them first, and if that doesn't work it's the end of the road. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android I think you and I are in violent agreement. :-) $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM I hope we can less violently agree in future.:) Now I'll go and try to worry less about green stars. They must be evil. Green stuff is always evil. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 11:22

Do you think I am being too sensitive?

Yes and no.

While people tend to be a little heavy handed when refuting a premise, refuting the premise often leads to a much better premise.

If the questions amount to "my world works this way, due to suspension of disbelief (handwavium), how do I explain it or what are the results of it?" A response that amounts to "you're using an awful lot of handwavium" should be expected.

I know that I'm retreading already covered ground, I guess I'm trying to point out why people do it... If the premise is thin to begin with you're asking for a greater suspension of disbelief. This isn't always a bad thing, but sometimes something that is being handwaved can be reworked slightly and make for a more believable world.

This is an area where science fiction worlds and fantasy worlds tend to clash, or perhaps better put, where science fiction creators clash with fantasy creators... While there is obviously overlap in audience, the style of the creation and the expected "reality" is often different.

More or less, I'd like to continue to see both types of response. Some that take the premise and run with it and others that challenge the premise and offer creative solutions. Hopefully both add something worthwhile to the world in question, but more importantly having both types of response will help future world builders.

  • $\begingroup$ So are the floating mountains/islands "handwavium" or are they rooted in the physics of the moon they are on? How about the strange looking creatures and the tree of life with all the memories of the dead. So in your opening, how would refuting the floating islands make them any better? Based on the position of the planet and how that part faces it, there's less gravity to hold the mass to the ground, and enough atmosphere to keep them from floating into outer space. Sounds pretty realistic to me. (The planet if I recall is like a super sized Jupiter). SyFi and Fantasy are two different genres $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 11:26

I know exactly how you feel, and IMHO, you are not being too sensitive. I began here last summer, thoroughly enjoying open minds and expansive imaginations. I soon learned that even a Really Good answer is often subject to snarky, mean-spirited and pointless commentary. This has kept me from ever asking even one question.

I took a six month hiatus out of disgust and disappointment.

Other SE, yes. In here, no way. Too often too opinionated, too careless with other peoples' interests and feelings.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ If you see snarky, mean-spirited comments, please flag them! We do have a "be nice" policy here, but mods don't see everything that happens on the site. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Joe, are there any that you can specifically call out? (I see mostly nice comments to most of your answers). I am alarmed and apologize in advance that people made you take a six month hiatus from this particular SE. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not going to go on about it, the only thing worse than one A-hole opinion is a second one speculating pointlessly about the first. look at Sept 6: Russia's Alternate Geological History...that was the final straw. I have since grown to understand who to ignore utterly. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 14:49

It's often necessary to pull apart bits of a question, and sometimes the whole thing, to get at what the OP actually wants from the answers. But I feel you have a genuine grievance not only because there is a lot of it, and users who seem to do nothing else, but also because of the tone many people take when they're making such comments. I've gotten close to dumping the exchange altogether after such answers have been heavily rewarded to spite the fact that they make no positive contribution.


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