All right now I promise you, this is my very last post wrt my question about firewood, ropes and buckets.

Many works of fiction are guilty of the same sin: stockpiling blatant nonsense. Cartoons like Powerpuff Girls or Looney Tunes aside, where apparently intentionally the authors hold logic and common sense in a total disregard, I happened to watch many works where the absurdities were obvious even to me, yet I had a feeling that they were not that obvious to the authors. Such moments were not nice for me - I found them annoying, spoiling an otherwise interesting experience.

My ideal, perhaps a silly one, was a piece of fiction, fantastical work that no reader would feel the urge to scream "What a blatant nonsense!" at any point. And I've already felt such an urge numerous times, even wrt to works that were applauded "mature" like The Witcher the game.

Even though I'm mainly writing for my drawer, I decided to take an utmost care to ensure that my works are free from such nonsense. This means that I've devised two rules to follow:

1) The work must be coherent (duh). The logic and common sense must not be broken. 2) Whenever the rules are not explicitly overridden by incorporated fantasy/sci-fi elements the real-world rules should remain in force by default.

Admittedly, keeping these rules has proven much more difficult than I was predicting. I'm notoriously failing to keep them.

Point 2) has proven especially tricky, as I'm always hitting the issue of not having enough knowledge to judge whether some idea of mine is plausible or if it is just a blatant nonsense. I hoped Worldbuilding SE would help me here.

Apparently, I was wrong. I was told that my question was off-topic because it was about the real world rather than about some fictional world of mine. The hard part of point 2) is that such considerations will frequently lead to questions about the real world even if I'm incorporating fantastical elements in my work. And I do incorporate some fantastical elements; only none of these elements seem to me to override how fast will wood decay in open weather.

So, it would seem, even if some work is in the genre of fantasy, we can not always use Worldbuilding SE to ensure the plot is not broken.

And there is also literary realism. Here I can't think how could such an author use Worldbuilding SE if this rule is to be kept:

Historical events of or historical facts about the real world, except when provided as examples or comparisons in the construction of an imaginary world

"But using defaults from the real world is not wordbuilding! By definition, building a world means we're not using defaults from the real world! So unless you can outline how your world differs from the real world with regard to what you are asking about, your question is off-topic here and you should not ask it."

This is, at least, how I understand what I've been told.

I actually kind of disagree here. Even if the village was placed in a world where all laws are exactly the same as in the real word (which is not the case), a village is still its own little world. Building a village means building a world. Even if the village was lying in one of the real life countries, which again is not the case in my work.

So, questions if it is probable that the villagers will do X in the given conditions seem to me to be questions about World Building. And these are questions that every writer, whether he writes in the genre of literary realism or fantasy must be able to answer, or else his plot is broken.

Or if not, then I propose adding to the FAQ the following post:

My question is similar to what can be considered in the real world, can I ask it here?


Worldbuilding means building a world different from the real world. So unless you can show how, in regard to your question, your world differs from the real world, you may not post it here.

To help you understand the issue, please consider the following three examples:

  1. Would villagers in my village keep their firewood outside?

In this question all rules from the real world take place by default, so it's off-topic here. Whether or not there are dragons in your world is irrelevant, unless you state that the firewood being stolen by dragons flying by is one of your concerns.

  1. A wizard has devised weather-proof firewood, would the villagers keep it outside?

The question is on-topic here, so you may ask it, though the answer seems to be a little obvious.

  1. What minimal changes to the laws of nature are required to make firewood being washed down by rain not a thing?

This is an excellent question, one of those we welcome with open hands.

Yes, this means that this site is not for authors writing in the realism genre. Sorry guys. Your questions are off-topic here.

  • $\begingroup$ Haven't got time to write a full answer, but consider asking your question to another site, for example The Great Outdoors $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 7:24

4 Answers 4


It's normally fine to ask questions about building a world that is based on an existing real world, including present-day or historical Earth. Many, but not all, of my own questions fall into that category in one way or another.

The purpose of Worldbuilding SE is to help people create realistic worlds. Realism, in this case, isn't necessarily about "being like Earth as of today", but can also be about internal consistency in a world that is completely unlike Earth. However, there is little to say that someone creating a realistic world can't start with the Earth that they are familiar with, and tweak it in various ways: add a creature here, move a continent there, sprinkle some magic pixie dust over the result, alter the climate in a fourth way, or what have you; then try to figure out how that change affects some other aspect of their world.

That said, you should be careful to make your question not only about the real world. We've discussed this multiple times (for example here, here, here, here and here, likely among many others; searching Worldbuilding Meta for real world is a revealing experience).

If your question is squarely about the real world, then the appropriate subject-specific Stack Exchange site is probably a better fit for it.

However, if your question asks about or at least involves near its core something imaginary, or hypothetical, then it'll probably be better received on Worldbuilding than on the subject-specific sites. This is a general rule of thumb, not a promise about any particular question or any particular other site in the network.

Even Worldbuilding has quality standards, though (even though it can be hard to tell at times). To begin with, you must ask a question, and that question must be answerable (just discussion fodder doesn't qualify). Generally, it needs to be clear how your question is about building a fictional world. You should show clearly that you have done some rudimentary research on the subject; in my opinion, showing that you have read some relevant Wikipedia articles is a low bar for this, and highlighting existing questions across the network and discussing how those relate to yours is a very good step to take. Not only does this show that you have tried to find the answer yourself before asking us to help, but it also helps prevent us going down the same paths that you have already explored and dismissed for some reason.

Summing up, as it says in What topics can I ask about here?, which I recommend that everyone read through from time to time,

Questions on this site should be about building settings and the reasons around why they are the way they are. A setting might not be a planet; it can be larger than a multiverse or smaller than a village.

As you can see, there is nothing in that which would prevent asking about a setting that is set on Earth. Not even the scope exception about real-world history applies, unless you are specifically asking about the history of the real world (in which case you're probably better off asking history experts rather than worldbuilding experts).

If your question does get put on hold and you either don't understand why, or disagree with the reasons stated, then don't hesitate to bring it up here on Worldbuilding Meta or in our general chat room, The Factory Floor and ask why the question was put on hold. (Make sure to include a link to the question!) Doing so is likely to draw additional eyes to your question, and if the closing was in error, that can typically be corrected fairly quickly; alternatively, you can get feedback on how to adjust your question to make it on topic on the site, or where on the network it might be on topic (you can then "flag" the question for moderator attention and request migration, and one of us will look at it and make a decision about migration, possibly in collaboration with the moderators on the proposed target site). You can also try using the sandbox to get early feedback on your question before posting it on the main site.


Not to be too blunt here, but I don't think the problem is so much the topic as the question itself.

I answered that question, and it's generally frowned upon to do so if you consider a question off topic, so it's safe to say I don't have an issue with it (or questions like it) being asked here. But it's borderline enough that users who consider world building to require more fictional elements will vote to close (and to be honest they have a point too, the question asked in the title is something you could Google easily enough).

The reason the cesspit question is better received and hasn't been closed despite sharing some of the reasons people voted to close the firewood one as off topic is because it is better written.

I don't think there is any reason why questions about the real world can't be asked here, though they should be things that can't easily be Googled (alternative history type questions like the duct tape one fit this, you might find an answer to that through Googling and research but it requires an element of creativity which makes it a good fit for here).

I think if you had asked "How would a medieval village store communal resources such as firewood, rope and buckets?" it might have been better received. As it is your question proposed a situation, then contradicted this and then completely ignored it to ask whether rope and wood rots when left out (a question which isn't really suitable for this site).

But at the end of the day this site is one moderated by its community. And one of the down sides to that is that unfortunately some questions will be closed if the people online that day don't find them suitable whereas others (which appear similar) get upvotes and lots of answers because different users looked at them. The best you can do to ensure your questions stay open is to make them as appealing as possible and be sure to ask them in a way that fits the guidelines of the site.


You can do research in any number of areas and that's not WB. Want to know how a fire company works, what size pipes are in a sewer, the visibility of the moon at the south pole — all research not WB. Sometimes the specific problem is not real but the knowledge and working out is — how much sewer is needed for a city of size X,what is the precession rate of a planet with Y characteristics.

I think the main difference that makes it worldbuilding is creativity. The answers invent things, make up stuff. That is something that would rule it out of normal per-subject SEs.

Or, the answer is more about ramifications than the thing itself.

Or, it is about invention and innovation. In this case the subject needs to have a major effect on the setting/culture/environment — asking how to use paracord while camping (so what if it’s on an alien world) is not liked, but asking about mass transit or macroeconomics is.

Just my observations — it’s hard to make concrete, and there are always exceptions. And many closed questions still prove useful to the asker if he really wanted to know the answer, rather than treat the answers as a form of entertainment in itself.


It's rare that the many Masters of their Profession and Jacks of All Trades who frequent this site can't answer any given question,1 but answering every question put to us (I'll count both you and I among them) is not why we're here or why this site was created.

The specific purpose of this site is to build something new: new worlds with new rules. Yes, in most cases those new worlds have a huge overlap with our real world — but the site's purpose is to focus on the part that's new, diffent, and creative.

And this is a point worth emphasizing. Our purpose is not to help OPs write their story. Our purpose is to help them discover their world. The difference is subtle, but very important.

Real-world questions can be answered anywhere and everywhere, which is why we don't want to answer them here. Indeed, a vast number of them are answerable with a simple Google search that almost always points to a Wikipedia article. When they're not, they're answerable on almost any other Stack Exchange site. (Frankly, WB:SE regularly sees questions that are more easily, accurately, and appropriately answered on physics.SE, astronomy.SE, biology.SE or writers.SE.)

This might all sound selfish, but we want to keep the site focused on its intent. Worse still, many of us, well, we work for a living, and what time we have to contribute we want to spend on the creative and imaginative portion. I hope you can forgive us.

1Or pull an answer out of thin air that, while having potentially little or no actual science basis, will knock your socks off. It's amazing the creative imaginations mingling on this site.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The points you make here are valid and I generally agree. That said, I do find that some posters have a tendency to criticise answers that (while sock knockable) have potentially no scientific standing. Perhaps that is the fault of those posting answers (myself included) where we haven't explicitly stated that we're delving into pseudo-science. That's certainly the mistake I made in my answer on The Planetary Light Curve. I do agree though that we're here because it's fun; it needs to stay that way. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 23:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TimB, I watched that happen and regret that you were treated so badly. Nobody's perfect. I made a very similar mistake and was treated much more gently. I'm grateful that I have learned at least as much as a participant on this site as I've taught... but there are a few out there who like to wield a big stick, and it makes the site less fun. At least nobody's asking to change the rep ratio for up/down votes like another SE site I visit. Their reasoning was "it's not fair." They felt OPs and answerers alike should be punished more for their imperfection. Life's too short.... $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 0:34
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Completely agree with you about the rep ratios and the rationale JBH. Also, thanks for the sympathy on the light curve answer. :) I think the rep ratios are correct because they promote the 'have a go' approach to answering; too many smart people don't put their knowledge out there for fear of ridicule already. Hammering them when they finally put themselves out there and trip up seems counter-productive to me. If Light Curve had cost me 10pts / downvote, I'd probably have closed my user account as not worth the hassle, especially as I'm relatively new to the site. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 0:54
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @TimB « If Light Curve had cost me 10pts / downvote, I'd probably have closed my user account as not worth the hassle, » nah, if we flubb an answer, just delete it. It happens to all of us. Part of your situation is being new — we’ve been over the shell theorm repeatedly and people get tired of explaining it in detail (and it's already out there to read) again. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ "what time we have to contribute we want to spend on the creative and imaginative portion." this was the impression I got at first blush and was somewhat surprised that a highly-regarded answer to my first [long-winded] question was "that's too expensive". it seemed like some folks decided it was cheaper to upvote an answer from the most popular answerer (which barely addressed the actual question, especially compared to all other answers so far) than to downvote the question (assuming that my lack of foresight/insight was the chief difficulty). $\endgroup$
    – N. Presley
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 0:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @N.Presley, to be honest, most people don't want to DV questions or answers. But you will find people who will DV competing answers (competitive), DV because they know more about a topic than you do (peanut gallery), DV because they don't like you (troll), DV because they need to achieve a badge (well, we all do that once...), etc. Your observation isn't wrong, but beware, there be dragons off the edge of the map. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 0:57

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