Using international waters to avoid legal punishment seems to be asking a real-world legal question. I think law is in principle on-topic on Worldbuilding (same as sociology or religion or other "how people act" questions are), but I'm having trouble seeing the worldbuilding in this one. Am I missing something?


7 Answers 7


The question is off topic as it is asking about our existing world.

A reality check question describes an artificial setting and asks whether it is realistic (consistent with what we know about the real world).

Asking about the real world with no changes is not building a new world, but assessing the existing one. This is interesting but not what our site is for.

I am in favour of questions on building worlds that are arbitrarily similar to our own. However, I draw the line at simply asking about our world. This question is off topic and should be closed to avoid setting a precedent of real world questions.

In short:

If you want to write a detective story set on Earth, with no changes, then you have no worldbuilding to do.

  • $\begingroup$ So then what are the earth and reality-check tags for? $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Shokhet reality-check is what I have addressed here - it's about whether something is consistent with our reality, not questions about our reality itself. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Shokhet earth currently says 'For questions that specifically deal with the language, technology, species or any other object or thing that is related to the planet Earth.' I see this as implicitly requiring that a world is being built that is earth-like, rather than just asking about the Earth. I don't think it makes sense to say that explicitly when it is already in the context of the worldbuilding site. It's a very fine line, but I think it is an important one. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ I would sum it up like this: $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ If you want to write a detective story set on Earth, with no changes, then you have no worldbuilding to do. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Shokhet having said all that, I also find Gilles' points compelling. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ How did you figure out I was looking at your comments when you posted your most recent one??? Stalker!! :P ....I see your point now; you might want to edit your second to last comment into your answer to make that clearer. $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ .....but if asking about "a planet exactly like earth" is on-topic, all I have to do is add in a few words to pretend that I'm asking about the world that I built myself -- does that really make such a tremendous difference? What if I use "Earth" as shorthand for "the world I built myself that is exactly the same"? $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Shokhet maybe we're starting to merge into a worldbuilding hive mind... Yes I'll edit it in as I think it's a good point for questions that genuinely are about the existing world, but I think the question we're debating is on the border and toys with the idea of building something new. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ IMO, the specific question is fine; but this question is important for other questions also. $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:58

I admit that I'm not very familiar with this site (also, I have a bit of an a priori in favor of this question since I spent some time answering it). But it seems to me that it's a pretty run-of-the mill reality check question. Compare:

  1. “I want to build a spaceship that allows my characters to …, is it compatible with the laws of physics in our world?”
  2. “I want to build a micronation that allows my characters to …, is it compatible with the laws of nations in our world?”

Question 1 seems perfectly on-topic. What's so different about question 2 that would make it off-topic? Glancing through meta discussions, I don't see any sentiment to restrict the site to SFnal world building.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, that's an interesting point; thanks. Maybe if the question read a little more like "I want to build" and less like "what does current law say" I wouldn't have had the reaction I did. I agree that laws of jurisprudence are just as on-topic as laws of physics and this is definitely not an SF-only site. There's something about the current question's formation that's bugging me but I hadn't been able to figure out what. This seems like a part of it. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that the response to this question would have been different if it had been worded differently. "I want to build a micronation" seems on topic, but "I want to get around the law off shore" doesn't. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ I think part of the intuitive feeling that it is off topic may stem from the fact that it is written largely in the first person. It asks "how could I get away with this" rather than "how could my characters get away with this". That in itself shouldn't make it off topic, but does make it sound like it isn't really about worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ I think it's important to separate whether the question is on topic from whether the poster is genuinely building a world. The latter can give a gut feeling that the question isn't quite right, but if it is on topic then it should stay. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @githubphagocyte Agreed. I get the feeling that where the question says “I”, we can read “my protagonist”, and that wouldn't change the answers, but would make the question less ambiguously on-topic. Do you think such an edit is warranted? Sufficient? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ My guess is that the edits required to get reopen votes would not really change the question enough to invalidate any of the answers. So if the 5th close vote arrives, those edits will probably be made but they aren't essential. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 22:02

I don't think it's that much of a stretch to see how this can be on-topic. It only needs like one or two gratuitous sentences saying something like, "suppose someone wanted to create a new environment by starting a new pocket dictatorship on an uninhabited island, or even a ship, barge, or set of vessels, on 21st Century Earth. What set of laws would they need to work around?"

Seems like a world-building question to me, and it seems sufficiently implied that it's not strictly necessary, and that the question should not be put on hold, but that it could benefit from some such addition.

The question has net 20 upvotes, and an great answer to it has over 40 upvotes, as opposed to downvotes and people saying "boo hiss".

Should we just add an edit with something like the above addition to it?

  • $\begingroup$ I think that edit would help a lot. And that's a good point; the intent was evident to you but I was missing it, and that'e exactly the kind of situation where edits can be a big help. I want the question to be on-topic and it's gotten at least one great answer; let's fix it up. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 2:19
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio Ok I added a note to the question. How does that look? $\endgroup$
    – Dronz
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you; that looks much better to me. That edit should have put this into the reopen review queue, so let's see what others have to say. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 2:43

What is the site's operating definition of the word "World"?

Consider that the OP might have, without leaving the specificity of the "real world", asked about the psychological world view of fictional characters trying to legally provide (non-child) prostitution services to American citizens on a yatch which travelled outside national waters before the carnality began.

What if they had asked what plot turns could be expected due to the complexity of maritime law?

What if they specifically asked how the fictional characters might escape prosecution, thus providing the story with a happy ending? (no pun intended)

Would these questions satisfy the intended focus of this forum?
Notice that none of these questions concern the conventional idea of world building.

After all, aren't we trying to provide authors with a place to work out the details of their stories? Aren't we trying to help them build a believable, fictional world?

...and before anyone brings up the detective novel again, let me clarify something which I think is important within the context of this discussion. All writing involves world building. Even when the author is trying to write non-fiction, they are limited to rendering the subset of reality which can fit on the paper and within the reader's attention span.

We are all world builders. Whether we do it by adding the fanciful or by subtracting the mundane, shouldn't be a criteria for participating on this forum.

  • $\begingroup$ I've learned some of the answers to the questions above during a recent plot-building question which I asked and which subsequently got put on hold as off-topic. Plot/Story building is not part of this site's mandate. Rather, SE sites in general are trying to build canonical references to questions which have definitive answers. The WorldBuilding branch of SE further limits interaction to those involving the development of fictional worlds. So most of my question rephrasing above would still be considered off-topic. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 19:00

I have to say I agreed with you at first. However, at second glance I'm reconsidering.

In general, yes there's no worldbuilding in it - until the OP comes to the idea of making/claiming an island. Specifically, one of the answers says that instead of trying to find an unclaimed island, he could create one. Now we're definitely into worldbuilding. Defining that island, whether just the island or the world surrounding it, is on-topic here, including defining its laws.

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    $\begingroup$ That one of the answers proposes a little bit of worldbuilding doesn't seem to make the question about it, though? Note that I'm asking about this on meta instead of just wielding the mod-hammer in part because it's not clear to me.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio Aye, true. It is definitely an edge-case. If I had to say, I'd probably keep it, but I wouldn't veto arguments for closing. $\endgroup$
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 20:58

The question was edited per this answer and subsequently reopened by the community.

I'm marking this as accepted to indicate that the situation seems to have been resolved, but I'm not trying to shut down discussion if there's more to say about this.


Sounds like an information gathering for me. We don't really know what the guy is planning - for all we know he might be planning to murder someone in real life (although it's highly unlikely).

My personal impression is that OP's starting point is that someone did something wrong on international waters and got away with it, and now the author is trying to figure out how to justify it. Considering that in the real world it's incredibly hard to pull off such trick, I'd say that the fictional world in question definitely need some building.

Other, less likely reason to ask such question is that he is building some world from scratch, but wants to borrow some legal stuff from ours.

We don't know if OP had any of this in mind, but in my opinion there are valid reasons why other people may be looking for similar data for their work, so the question is on topic.


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