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I've seen a lot of comments on questions that say things like 'Questions about third-party worlds are not on topic'. If you like to comment this, then that's fine. You're as free to say it as you are to say 'Don't palapat', 'Avoid lekaboming when possible', or 'Quendigo is absolutely prohibited'. However, it appears that people want others to act on this statement, in which case we need some idea of what is meant by 'Third-party worlds'

The term 'commercial worlds', refering to worlds from fiction sold commercially, is the basis for this divide. However, this distinction is not the one that is usually followed. For example, this question regarding a common cryptid from the 16th century apparently counts as third-party, whereas the orcs from Lord of the Rings, and later Dungeons and Dragons, have over 100 questions still open. Those seem like commercial worlds to me

Even so, what counts as taking from a commercial world? (Assuming LOTR orcs are third-party) Let's say I take my world's ghoulish devil-goblins and give them scaly skin and fangs. Would these then be counted as Tolkien's orcs? If not, how far must I go before it falls afoul of this rule? Or am I free to make a complete copy of Tolkiens orcs and present it as my own?

From what I've seen, it seems like the latter: This comment, and the associated close votes, are only thrown about when the asker is honest about their question's context and inspirations. Is that the intention? To promote lying, deceit, and hiding context? I don't see any other outcome as being very likely

In short, I have no idea of what this rule is supposed to be or do. Does anyone else know?

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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? Why the rule against third party worlds?. It seems like you asked the exact same question a year ago. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 20:49
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings This is a question about what the rule actually prohibits, not why it exists $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ Side note : Don't take for granted that still, old opened questions would not be closed when asked today ^^. For instance, I stumbled on this murloch question and chose to close because several elements were amiss -including 3rd party-, but it's far too much of an hassle to take on every old question, hence it's done very sparingly. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Also, very closely related (but not exactly the same) : Are questions involving mythical creatures on-topic? Is folklore different from 3rd party worlds?. In most parts, Sphenning's answer can also apply here. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2022 at 22:01

3 Answers 3

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I wrote a concise list of "the rules" some time ago. From that we learn:

  • The question must be about the rules of your world, not a story based in your world or the actions/choices/development of any character. (Sources: "Too Story Based" close reason, Help Center)

Your world... not the Real World (see two bullets down), not a 3rd party or commercial world... not even mythology in any instance save the Anatomically Correct Series (which has specific rules). Worldbuilding is the design and consistent use of rules and systems for a fictional world of your own design wherein an infinite number of stories may be told.

The 3rd-party and commercial rule was established by Monica Cellio, one of our earliest users, and was linked above. To quote from her answer:

This site is for questions about building worlds, not questions about how others' worlds work. Now very few ideas are completely original, so your world might use elements from, or derived from, other worlds, but there's a key difference: If you ask "how does a lightsabre work in Star Wars", the only authoritative answers come from the Star Wars canon. If, instead, you want lightsabres in your world and ask "how can I power my lightsabres given (constraints)", that's a worldbuilding question that will likely get answers that have nothing to do with the Star Wars canon.

Ask questions about your world. If you've borrowed ideas that's fine, but the focus is on your world, not what another author intended. (Monica Cellio, May 2019)

In short...

  • The purpose of this site is to help you build your world, not someone else's. The premise is simple. The only person who can explain how someone else's world can be expanded to answer a question is that other person, alone. Not us unless that other person happens to be a user (not that I've seen yet... It'd be cool of Lucas was a member, but if he is, he's hiding really well).

  • Asking how a concept, idea, etc. from someone else's world can be implemented inside your own world is valid — but don't abuse the privilege. You are expected to explain the rules of your world so we can help you implement the idea in your world. The moment you suggest that your world is, for example, magically identical or materially identical to that other person's world or in any way identical or materially identical with the Real World your question falls out-of-bounds. We are not the place to ask how a lightsaber works either in Star Wars canon or according to Real World physics. But we will consider how to implement the idea of a lightsaber within the context of the rules of your world.

Meta-driven community rules like this are an effort to protect the original intent of the site: to give people a place where their own creative efforts can find assistance. The 3rd-party/commercial world rule came about because people not actually trying to build a world of their own wanted discussions of idle curiosity. That violates both our intent and Stack Exchange's intent. We're tolerant, but we're really not here to let people chase idle thoughts. That's why Quora and Reddit exist.

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  • $\begingroup$ You haven't answered my question. This is like responding to 'At what age cam someone buy alcohol?' with 'Alcohol can damage developing brains' $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing We have a no questions about 3rd party rules, because any question asking about a 3rd party world by definition isn't a good fit for this site, as per other pre-existing rules. We derive the no 3rd party worlds policy from existing rules. It makes it easier to communicate that there's something more fundamental with the Q than saying VTC:NAW. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing really? It very nicely explains what the rule is, and in addition why the rule is there. $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing If you want an answer in the manner you require, it's this. "Because people who used this site long before your arrival said so." That, of course, is the basic nature of all human law. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 2:41
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Do you think "Because people who lived in your country long before you said so" is an adequate definition of murder? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Not in any way that conforms to the reality of the rule's use $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing You lost this debate before signing up as a user. You asked what the rule was. We told you. You asked how the rule came to be. We told you. You don't like it? What are you expecting me to say? And frankly, Yes, Ichthys, the definition of murder provided by people hundreds of years ago suits me just fine. It's your problem that it apparently doesn't suit you. If you want to define your own laws or break the rules at whim, that's what Quora and Reddit are for. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Yes, actually. At least your behavior indicates that. You've been told what the rule is (and complained) and told how it came to be (and complained) and you constantly ignore rules when you post questions. What do you expect me to believe? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing You asked a very similar question last year, that question pre-supposed that you understood the rule. There are now 3 answers and lots of commentary all telling you the exact same thing. It's increasingly unlikely that you're actually asking in good faith out of a genuine interest in understanding the rules. You can prove us wrong by following site policy, not arguing incessantly about every policy you don't like, and otherwise not disrupting the normal community moderation process on this site. You don't have to like site policy but we expect you to follow it. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Saying that the rule exists is not an explanation of what is and is not allowed $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing There are 3 answers saying the exact same thing about what is and isn't permitted. There are plenty of other questions about the 3rd party world policy also explaining what is and isn't permitted. Arguing in the comments again isn't going to change anything. Knock it off. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Oh, you have got to be kidding me! I can't help someone who has already decided not to learn! Debate over. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Does the rule ban metaphors too? It fits as well with what you've said $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Did you ask about how the rule is enforced? You did not. Stop moving the goalposts. As someone who doesn't follow site policy when voting in the review queue, I'd refrain from bringing up lax policy enforcement if I was you. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I feel like how the rule is enforced is pretty closely linked to what the rule actually prohibits $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 20:47
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It Is What It Is

I've seen a lot of comments on questions that say things like 'Questions about third-party worlds are not on topic'. If you like to comment this, then that's fine. You're as free to say it as you are to say 'Don't palapat', 'Avoid lekaboming when possible', or 'Quendigo is absolutely prohibited'. However, it appears that people want others to act on this statement, in which case we need some idea of what is meant by 'Third-party worlds'

Fair. New users would benefit from a simple explanation.

First, some definitions:

  • First Party --- This is the querent, the person who comes here to ask a question.
  • Second Party --- This is the respondent, the person who comes here to answer a question.
  • Third Party --- This is someone who is not a WB.SE user.

Any one of these people can make a fictional world. Querents are worldbuilders, such as yourself, who come here to ask questions seeking help about the world(s) you're working on.

Respondents may be non-worldbuilding but interested specialists; or they may be, like me, worldbuilders who choose to answer queries rather than ask. First and second party thus establish a relationship between you the asker and me the answerer. You, the first party, ask questions about the worlds you yourself are making; I, the second party, answer questions about the worlds you yourself are making.

Someone else who is not you and not me, the third party, is not here to ask questions about their own worlds. We don't allow you, the first party, to ask about that other person's work; and we don't allow me, the second party, to answer such questions.

Example of asking about a First Party World: You once asked a question about centauroid clothing. This was a question of worldbuilding (culture / clothing) that we presume pertains to a fictional world of your own device. For the purposes of that query, that's your world! You made it, you own it, you ask about it.

Example of asking about a Second Party World: If you had asked a query about how a certain race of winged people, the Denê, wear clothing, this would not be a question about any world you're making. That's because the Denê are my winged people and the live in my fictional world. I don't think this situation has ever come up in WB.SE, but I would answer the question because it's my world and I'm a WB.SE user and am competent to answer the query. This would be an example of asking about a second party world.

Example of asking about a Third Party World: If you ask a query about the evolution of Klingon forehead ridges, this too would not be a question about a world you're making. You're not the proper party to ask that query because you can not establish definitions, can not establish fictional context and you are not the proper party to adjudicate any answer given. You didn't come up with Klingons or their natural history and thus have no right asking about them. I, on the other hand, have no business answering this question because, while it's a good question, it's not a good question for WB.SE.

The term 'commercial worlds', refering to worlds from fiction sold commercially, is the basis for this divide. However, this distinction is not the one that is usually followed. For example, this question regarding a common cryptid from the 16th century apparently counts as third-party, whereas the orcs from Lord of the Rings, and later Dungeons and Dragons, have over 100 questions still open. Those seem like commercial worlds to me

"Commercial world" is simply a subset of Third Party Worlds. A commercial world is simply one that has been monetised and has a variety of legal protections and ethical entanglements. The world was made by someone else and it is that person, the author, who has the right to come here and ask questions about it.

Commercialisation is NOT the basis of the divide. The basis of the divide is "who made the world". If the answer is "Ichthys King made the world", then Ichthys King gets to ask questions about it! If the answer is "Will Wyzywyg made the world", then Ichthys King has no business asking about it here.

Even so, what counts as taking from a commercial world? (Assuming LOTR orcs are third-party) Let's say I take my world's ghoulish devil-goblins and give them scaly skin and fangs. Would these then be counted as Tolkien's orcs? If not, how far must I go before it falls afoul of this rule? Or am I free to make a complete copy of Tolkiens orcs and present it as my own?

For the purposes of WB.SE, we don't care what you "take" from someone else's world. It is patently obvious that your bog standard fantasy Orc is "taken" from Tolkien's legendarium. If one of those fantasy authors wishes to come here and ask about the Orcs they have in their own worlds, we shall help them! If that author wishes to come here and ask about Tolkien's Orcs, we shall close their question and invite them to ask on F/SF.

You answered your own question. You "took an idea" from Tolkien, which is fair. You gave it scaly skin and fangs. It's a thing of your world, so you are free to ask about it here. The prohibition is against you asking about Tolkien's Orcs. Obviously.

You fall afoul of the rule when you ask: "How do Tolkien's Orcs do XYZ?" Again, obvious. You're simply not allowed to ask about someone else's world who is not here to answer you. This is not what this forum is for.

You avoid disaster when you ask: "How can my Orcs do XYZ?"

From what I've seen, it seems like the latter: This comment, and the associated close votes, are only thrown about when the asker is honest about their question's context and inspirations. Is that the intention? To promote lying, deceit, and hiding context? I don't see any other outcome as being very likely

We don't care if you copy. We care only about whether or not the thing you copied is within its original context (Tolkien) or within the context of your own fictional world (Ichthys King).

There is no deceit involved, and you really are making this much more difficult for yourself than you need to!

In short, I have no idea of what this rule is supposed to be or do. Does anyone else know?

In short: the rule is supposed to keep you from asking questions about worlds you did not make. Plain and simple. Everyone knows this, and if you've read this far, you do too!

Now, go forth and ask questions about your own world!

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  • $\begingroup$ Small nit. Any ask about a 2nd party world on this site is only contextually a 2nd party ask. Asks aren't targeted to specific users but to the community at large. For everyone but the creator it would be an ask about a 3rd party world. This is an uncommon edge case but since you bring up 2nd party worlds for completeness it might be useful to clarify that 2nd party asks aren't a good fit for this site either. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings --- What's an "ask"? Do you mean a question? Anyway, if you do, I think we'd agree --- I suspect the question would simply be asked in the usual way, to the entire community. There might be a sort of round about hint that the querent is trying to get a specific user's attention. I concur: not a good fit for WB. Better than 3rd party, though! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ Your correct, ask = question. If a question is 3rd party for all but one of our community it is effectively a 3rd party. Using a question to get a specific user's attention seems to run contrary to the intent of this site. 2nd party is interesting for the sake of completeness but isn't necessarily to seriously consider when determining whether a question is a good fit. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 4, 2022 at 8:07
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The no questions about 3rd party worlds rule is self defining. It prohibits any questions about 3rd party worlds. Simple as that.

When asking a question a 3rd party world is any world that the asker has not created themself. This is the standard usage of the term 3rd party. First and second party are whoever is involved in an exchange, in this case asking questions and answering them on this site. A 3rd party is everything else.

It's pretty easy to assess what this rule permits and what it prohibits.

I present to you the simplest flow chart:

  1. Is your question about a 3rd party world? If yes GOTO 2: If no GOTO 3:
  2. Your question is prohibited under the no questions about 3rd party worlds policy
  3. Your question is permitted under the no questions about 3rd party worlds policy. (It may be prohibited for other reasons)

Commercial use is not a factor in this assessment. If you ask a question about your friend's homebrew D&D setting, it's just as prohibited as asking about the MCU.

Our reasoning for this policy is well explained in JBH's answer, as it is in the question you asked last year, as it is in multitudes of other questions on this site. But to summarize we're here to help you build worlds not speculate about already built worlds.

If you want to incorporate something from a 3rd party world in a world you're building that's great, we're happy to help. The burden will be on you to ask your question so that it's clearly asking about building your world not speculating about another world.

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  • $\begingroup$ So what exactly is a third party world supposed to be? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing a world by a third party. Basically, not by you. "Third party" is a common term to mean "somebody else" especially in legal contexts. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ So all the questions about dragons, mermaids, and unicorns need to be closed? They weren't made by anyone here, were they? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Do they try to ask for an explanation of an element that is not part of an original world? If so - probably. But a lot of the questions I've seen use an element inside an original world with their own constraints. Which is very explicitly allowed. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 11:14
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ What about the anatomically correct questions about commercial creatures? They generally involved placing creatures in an original world, so what's with all the close votes? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Close votes might be cast for a different reason than a third party world rule. Or might be wrong. Or who knows - there might be other things involved. You've not provided any context to your question, so I'm not sure how you expect a proper answer: "What about the bananas?" carries about the same informational value. The answer to both of these questions can be: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Most of your questions have many issues. But for 3rd party worlds the burden is on the asker to make sure that the form of the question is about building a fictional world, not speculation about something from a world that is already built. If you just ask "ACS Gungans?" You're not creating your own critter, you're just engaging in speculation about something from a 3rd party world. Read this post that quotes JBH above for more information. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings 'the burden is on the asker to make sure that the form of the question is about building a fictional world' Why though? This is a worldbuilding site, shouldn't that go without saying? Is it also my burden to explain that the questions are about what they're about? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ Because we do not permit any question as long as it's about worldbuilding. It's literally built into the architecture of the site. Every stack exchange rejects posts that are too broad, ask to many questions, are too based in opinions, or are intended to foster discussion rather than answer a particular question. Re-read the help center Particularly the sections on how to ask, what not to ask, and why questions get closed. Importantly it's insufficient to tell us that you meet a requirement, the text of the post alone needs to actually meet it. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings Asserting that certain types of question are inherently bad is not an argument $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing This has nothing to do with whether a question is good or bad. This site is part of the Stack Exchange network, and with that it follows the format of Questions and Answers only, stricter requirements on questions, including prohibition of discussion questions, subjective questions, broad questions, and multiple questions per post. Because of this certain questions about worldbuilding are not permitted. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings OK, so those questions aren't allowed. What does that have to do with third party questions? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing A question about a 3rd party world is by definition not about building a world. They can also violate other site policy requirements. Like with any other question on this site the burden is on the writer to create a post that complies with site policy. It isn't enough to just say "This complies with site policy" it must actually comply with site policy. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings But what is a third party world? You're still yet to define it in any useful way $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ On this site it refers to any world that is not yours. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:13

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