A July 2022 renovation of the tag and others has changed the context of this question. It is now obsolete. Please see the following question and the link under "Conclusion." If we can't burn the "reality check" tag, can we rename it?

We get a lot of questions asking "is X plausible?" or "is X realistic?" Considering the Help Center states that our goal is to help people build imaginary worlds, such questions seem unreasonable ("it's your world, it's plausible/realistic by definition"). But the real problem is that questions of this type usually don't have an actual problem to solve and intrinsically violate the following Help Center rule:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Therefore, I am seeking advice for users concerning questions of the type, "is X plausible/realistic?"

A Bit of History

Before the first "is X realistic?" question was asked, an astute worldbuilder asked whether or not such questions would even be on-topic. The question was not directly answered, but Monica's indirect answer is revealing:

Questions in this area should be about the problem you're trying to solve.

In other words (if Monica will forgive me for reading between her lines), they're off-topic.

A comment to her answer is also revealing:

If the question is "Is this realistic?" then you've already solved it.

And that's the basic problem with questions of this type.

  • They could be a 1 question if all the proper details are provided.
  • They may be masking a real worldbuilding problem.
  • They may be masking the OP's insecurity about an otherwise really cool idea. In other words, there isn't a worldbuilding problem to solve, the OP's simply looking for an affirmation that they've created something worthwhile.

1The tag is probably the most abused tag on this Stack. People use it without reading the wiki. They use it without even reading the one-sentence summary in the Help Center ("Provide the relevant details of your world and a situation and we will make sure it remains internally consistent."). My general opinion is that the correct solution for improving questions of the type "is X plausible/realistic?" is not to convert them to a question, but to help the OP identify the actual problem they're trying to solve.2

2In case you were wondering, the difference between a good question and a bad one is seen in this example: bad: "Is this bridge realistic?" good: "I designed a bridge with the following characteristics (list...), I expect the following kind of traffic to use the bridge (list...), is my bridge realistic?" The bad example presents a usually fictional idea and asks that it be judged against Real Life — where the fictional idea doesn't exist and therefore the check intrinsically fails. The good example lists the relevant rules of the user's world and a relevant situation that would use those rules and asks if the use of the rules is consistent.


1 Answer 1


Make it the Usual

There are essentially two kinds of Reality Check queries: the good kind and the other kind. As you point out, "is this plausible / realistic / sensible / reasonable" questions are all a type of reality check. The issue is then whether it's well conceived and composed or whether it still needs work.

The usual advice to give the querent here is the same I'd give to anyone who just wrote a question that has problems: edit to resolve the problems; review the pertinent resources to guide your question formation.

As it turns out, you, Jerenda, Monica and the TagWiki are all dancing a lovely bransle around the issue! The querent's problem can be resolved by:

  1. Ensuring that there is an actual worldbuilding problem. If there's no problem to solve, the question should be deleted. At the least, it should be closed until the querent can dig up a reasonable worldbuilding problem to solve.
  2. Proper tagging. The question should be tagged , because asking about plausibility, realism, sensibility and the like are at worst near synonyms for a reality check. We must all remember that reality checks ask about whether a concept or phenomenon makes sense within its own fictional context, not the real world.
  3. Proper content. Questions should provide the proper details: there might be some flaws in my solution, so I ask here if my solution is realistic --- we have to know the "relevant details" of the world to answer the question.

If the problem is anything other than a worldbuilding problem, then it's off topic here and would probably best be asked on a discussion forum. Insecurity of one's own imagination or descriptive powers can't be dealt with here!

In order to help such users along, it might be a good idea to review the ideas in this Meta question, along with the points made in the linked Meta question and fold them into the tag wiki itself.

It seems that the tag wiki could really use a short paragraph on how to write a good reality check query!

  • $\begingroup$ "reality checks ask about whether a concept or phenomenon makes sense within its own fictional context, not the real world" How do you do this with stuff like a standard Earth-like fantasy world? Or even an alternative Earth? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10, 2022 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing -- You'd do it the same way. An "Earth-like" fantasy world almost certainly has differences -- climatic, geologic. Even an alternate Earth will have historical, social and maybe biological differences. For a question like this to be good, the OP would have to reveal the "relevant details" that pertain to the reality check. E.g. in an alternate Earth, OP might be really keen on matriarchies and might posit a post apocalyptic culture in North America and ask whether X might be realistic given Y social norms and realities of survival. I'd argue that would be quite acceptable here. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ What relevant details of climate and geology would you include in a question about a creature's foot anatomy? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing -- Dunno. That's kind of up to you, as it really depends on the question you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing The fundamental problem with, "I have Earth except for this new creature, how plausible is it?" is that the answer is always, "It's not plausible at all because the creature never developed on Earth." The whole point of worldbuilding is to ask the question, "if I have a creature like the following, what would I need to change about Earth for it to exist?" If you can't explain any changes in your world's rules, then the only other valid answer is, "it's a fictional creature, make it so, Number One." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 4:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact It's not plausible at all because the creature never developed on Earth A lot of creatures once fell into the category of 'never developed on Earth', such as humans, animals, and even life itself. If these were all 'not plausible', then how exactly did we come about? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing once fell into the category is being sophomoric. The answer would be even harder for someone at the time before such a thing existed to explain the existence of the thing than for us today. You might as well ask, "what would be realistic schematics for a Star Trek teleporter?" The question would be just as off-topic. We're not gods and other than hybridization I know of no science behind the creation of a new creature that could be used to extrapolate a result. It's easy to look into the past and see how something came to be. But something that doesn't exist yet? Nope. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact "I know of no science behind the creation of a new creature that could be used to extrapolate a result. It's easy to look into the past and see how something came to be" If we can look back and see how things come to be, why is it so impossible to extrapolate this to the creation of unreal creatures? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing -- Largely because you'd have to account for every potential path evolution (either natural or directed) and technological meddling might take going forward. Looking back is easy because the path is there to see for those who can understand the signs. Also, consider what the word "plausible" actually means. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing You're assuming that the body of knowledge we have about evolution, biology, and genetics, is so great that we could do that. That is a really bad assumption. Humanity isn't well along the path of understanding those things (which we'd need to be to extrapolate the creation of unreal creatures), it's barely scratched the surface of knowledge. If the extrapolation you're suggesting were reasonable - so would curing disease and modifying existing creatures - neither of which we can do without mountains of both research and trial-and-error. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact How is being able to explain the possibility of a description in any way comparable to modifying the endless complexities of real living organisms? And why does adding in more intricacies in the form of worldbuilding context make it any easier? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Why would we have to account for evolutionary pathways to state that a mile-high rat couldn't exist within real biology? And why wouldn't we have to do that if the world was different? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing -- Because you're talking about a "standard-Earth" world. There is absolutely no problem whatsoever coming up with any number of mile high rats on a world that is not a "standard-Earth". "I have Earth plus this one creature..." means that you're using, well, Earth. And all the history that comes with it. Obviously we have no problems when it comes to fantastic planets with all kinds of odd creatures! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas "You're using Earth. And all the history that comes with it" Imagine a scenario in which someone provides a detailed cosmogony of their partly-Aristotelian world in a question. Would you need to invoke every last detail of this history when answering about how a winged quadruped is inconsistent with a rule against 6-limbed vertebrates? And if you can shelve the history in this case, why is it so impossible to do the same with more familiar details and rules? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 22:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing This has become a tedious conversation. We do our best here, but there comes a time when what is being asked is no longer productive. To put this simply, "is X realistic?" in terms of the several creature-related questions you've asked is senseless. The Real World is not your fictional world, which is the mandate of the help center, so asking if your fictional critter can exist is a waste of time. If nothing else, it violates the help center's book test: such a Q can easily be answered with an entire book about modified or extrapolated biology. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 2:06

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