In a recent question, the idea of discussing worldbuilding in the context of game mechanics and litrpg things was discussed. KerrAvon2055 and sphennings stated that game mechanics were off limits for worldbuilding.

I disagreed, since litrpg is now very common for stories and worldbuilding, like He Who Fights Monsters, or The Completionist Chronicles, or Sufficiently Advanced Magic where game mechanics and ranks of powers are a core element of how worlds work, such as how in He Who Fights Monsters you rank up by fighting monsters from Iron to Bronze to Silver to Gold to Diamond with steps for each rank and the mechanics of each stage are important to the world and the plot.

What do people think?

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    $\begingroup$ The question wasn't about a world. It was purely about game systems. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 29, 2022 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: I suspect the problem is that many (maybe even most) people don't know what LitRPG is. It is a special kind of fantasy, where the game mechanics is fully visible to the characters and very much part of the world. It doesn't have to be a game, it can be a conventional novel; the defining characteristic is that the characters are living and adventuring is game-like world. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Yes, to be clear - it's a novel where game mechanics are part of the narrative. It's not a novel that you "play", e.g., like a choose your own adventure books. With that said, this still requires creating a game system to write about. And I don't think that's a worldbuilding problem. You can most definitely have a flawed or imperfect mechanics. That can work when woven as part of the narrative. If the mechanics are to be perfected, then it's still not worldbuilding but game design question. In either case, I don't consider it worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: Developing a fundamental part of the fictional world is not part of worldbuiling? Remember that it is a fictional game. It does not have to be playable for real. It can exhibit all the features of fictional knowledge -- it can be unreliable, it can change, it can be changed, it can be only gradually known and understood and so on. Saying that it is not part of worldbuilding is like saying that the legal and judicial system of the world is not part of worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP it's either a question about how to differentiate powers in narrative or how to design powers to be different in a game. I don't consider either of these as worldbuilding. Yes they are used in a world where game mechanics are part of the world but if answering the question as game design (because in-world it's still a game design question) would be to...well, answer a game design question. With all the trappings that goes with it. The heart of the question is game design. Or writing. One of them. I'm really not sure which one. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: And therefore questions about the legal and judicial aspects of fictional worlds should go to Law SE, questions about the geography and climate of fictional worlds should go to Earth Science SE, questions about trade and money in fictional worlds should go to Economics SE, and so on. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP and questions about Star Trek should also be asked here because Star Trek is also part of a fictional world? $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ That would probably be a separate question- are authors of recognized franchises allowed to come here and ask for help with worldbuilding? E.g. could GRRMartin come to ask for some help with the ASOIAF prequel. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep that's not what I meant. I mean I create a fictional world analogous to current Earth. In my fictional world, Star Trek exists. Should I then be asking questions about Star Trek on Worldbuilding.SE as it's part of a fictional world. Analogous about asking questions about game design on Worldbuilding.SE as it's part of the fictional world. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't this fairly common? For example, the top question is about the fictional character of Santa, the second top question is about the fictional character of Cthulhu. If a fictional world is relevant to worldbuilding, it should be askable. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ "Isn't this fairly common?" hopefully not. Because I don't think Star Trek is a worldbuilding question. Same with game design. If this stack is to just become a kitchen sink for any and all topics when the magic words "in a fictional world" are used, so be it. I don't like it but I don't have to. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/162634/… worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/23597/… worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/41204/… there are a bunch of star trek worldbuilding questions. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 29, 2022 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep Thanks for bringing those to our attention. We normally leave alone old questions but since you've brought them up, our policy is to close them under current rules. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Aug 29, 2022 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep --- are authors of recognized franchises allowed to come here and ask for help with worldbuilding? E.g. could GRRMartin come to ask for some help with the ASOIAF prequel. Yes! Yes they are -- and many times I really wish authors would come here for worldbuilding help! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ --- No. You ask about ST specifically in F/SF and you ask about your world here. Specifically, you can ask about integrating ST as a franchise or cultural artifact within your world here. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 14:50

4 Answers 4


I suspect the problem is that many (maybe even most) people don't know what LitRPG is.

It is a special kind of fantasy, where the game mechanics is fully visible to the characters and very much part of the world. The work doesn't have to be a game; it can be a conventional novel, or a movie or whatever. The defining characteristic is that the characters are living and adventuring in a game-like world.

Compare and contrast:

  • Conventional fantasy:

    SQUIRE STRAIGHTMAN: The merchants we met said that whoever slays the dragon will get half the king's gold and his daughter for a wife.
    KNIGHT SLAYSALOT: What are we waiting for? Let's ride to the dragon's lair and do battle with it!
    NARRATOR: And thus they mounted their trusty steeds and proceeded at a canter towards the barely visible mountains, to find the dragon and fight it to the death.

  • LitRPG fantasy:

    SQUIRE STRAIGHTMAN: We are prompted that there is a dragon to be slain for 10,000 gold and 2 ranks status elevation.
    KNIGHT SLAYSALOT: What are we waiting for? Let's use 5 transportation points and move to the dragon's lair!
    SQUIRE STRAIGHTMAN: We don't have 5 transportation points. We need to complete two quizzes to get them.
    KNIGHT SLAYSALOT: All right then, we do two quizzes.
    NARRATOR: And thus they proceeded to solve two quizzes. The first quiz was as follows: ...

In the LitRPG genre, the fictional game mechanics is a fundamental part of the world. It is just as fictional as the other parts of the world. It does not have to a game mechanics which could actually be played in real life. It is just as fictional and fantastic as dragons, elfs, dwarfs and wizzards.

The fictional game mechanics, as any fictional element, might be only gradually known and understood by the characters; it can change in mysterious ways; it can be changed by the characters themselves; and so on.

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    $\begingroup$ You can have any number of transportation points translate into an arbitrary measure of movement. Such an arbitrary domain isn't suitable for this site. However in-world consequences of a game system would be suitable if TP is in mile increments, and movement within a hex is free then people would build their towns and cities. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings: I am not sure why you would believe that the number of transportation points is relevant, or even fixed, or even computable from a rule. It is a fictional game mechanics, which is most likely not even fully developed as in an actual playable game... It is like complaining that when S. Holmes and Watson take a train to wherever they are going one would have to develop the full schedule of all the railways in Great Britain, and since there are infinitely many possible schedules one should not ask questions about detectives travelling by rail in a fictional Victorian UK. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 29, 2022 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ A fictional game mechanic, that isn't fully developed, seems like the exact sort of thing that we should not permit asking about on this site. If it's purely arbitrary, then by definition every answer will be equally valid, nothing more than brainstorming, and idea generation. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Aug 29, 2022 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ The obvious solution to the problem of ignorance is to link to a good (and succinct) definition of what LitRPG is. We ask querents to link concepts to definitions all the time. Good definition and example, by the way! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ I linked to your explanation from our Resources post. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 18:42

TLDR: If you want help examining the impact of your game mechanics upon your fictional world ask away but questions of game design, should not be asked on this site.

Most topics can be embedded in a worldbuilding question. RPG mechanics are no exception. I could for instance say "In my world there exists a slack clone, what would the source code for that chat program look like?" I've successfully embedded a programming question within a worldbuilding question, but it's ultimately a programming question with the most tenuous relationship to building a fictional world. Similarly if you're asking us to construct mechanics for a game, the connection to worldbuilding is tenuous at best. You can select whatever mechanics you want and they'll be equally valid from a worldbuilding perspective.

We already reject embedding story questions. You can't salvage asking "What should my dark lord do?" by transforming it into a question of backstory "500 years ago what should my dark lord have done?" You're still asking about a story which isn't permitted on this site. Game mechanics share many of the same issues which importantly include not being about worldbuilding.

Once you create your game mechanics asking about the consequences of them upon the world is something we should continue to support, but asking questions about what mechanics to create isn't something we should support.

  • $\begingroup$ Hm. I'd argue that while you "embedded" a programming query within a worldbuilding question, you actually haven't successfully integrated it as a worldbuilding query. It's a juxtaposition without relation. I'd VTC that in less than a New York second. And lay on the horn the whole while. Successful embedding would relate the programming to the nature, the fundamental underpinnings, of the world itself. If the physics of the world had both electrons and "randomons", you could integrate the programming query by asking how to deal with random switching of EM wossnames in the hardware. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas Embedding is trivial and is not sufficient to make something appropriate for this site. Just because you can embed a question in worldbuilding does not make it about worldbuilding. Since game mechanics are arbitrary a question about them is going to be difficult to turn into a worldbuilding query that's more that trivially embedded. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 4, 2022 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think we're in agreement, just using different terms perhaps. Merely embedding is not enough, and I gave what I think is a reasonable example of how it can be done in such a way as to be successful. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas My point is that trivially embedding a games design question isn't appropriate for this site. Asking how in world game design would be affected by some in world thing is a different story. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 4, 2022 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ That's exactly what I said. Trivial embedding = juxtaposition without relation. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ That was what I was intending to express in this post. Just because it's tangential to worldbuilding does not make the Q appropriate for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 4, 2022 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ I guess the basic issue I have with your response is that, to me, it doesn't really slam the nail with a hammer the way Tortelina's did. I mean: I totally concur with your TLDR's two statements, but I don't see how either statement really addresses the question. I didn't read it as a question of "effects of game mechanics on world" or as a question of "game mechanics outside of world". Unless I completely misread the question, it's asking about the interlacing of game mechanics and world structures. And that's what I missed in your response! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 4, 2022 at 20:25

Asking about game-design can be on-topic

World building includes geography, culture and creatures for the world, not to mention magic and planetary physics, in short, everything from the physics underlying your reality to the entire universe you want to build.

From "What topic can I ask about here?"

As long as you ask about something related to the world you are currently building, it's on-topic. This "something" includes common disciplines like physics and biology, but also more unusual ones, including game-design.

If your world is so tied to game rules -like an isekai or a Virtual Reality MMORPG world-, then it's very likely game-design will come into play, which in turn means that game mechanic issues can be found. How can I keep the players' stats universal acrosss Earth companies's games? For a futurist VRMMORPG, how can you entice players to stop and not overexert their body through in game-mechanics only? If answered, these questions could help in creating a better, more immersive world for your reader/listener/player/spectator. This is also what can prevent from people to complain about the implausibility of a game world :).

But why did you vote to close this question as off-topic, then?

It's quite tricky for me to answer without feeling I'm obfuscating it, so please bear with me ๐Ÿป. When asking, you have to make clear you're creating, you're building a world. In other words, that the issue is one you're facing as a worldbuilder, not a theorical one as a biologist or a physicist. For instance, you can ask whether the rumor of a sniper firing from space would hit its target could be ever true. It gives a world the issue can attach to, the question is directly bound to it.

In contrast, you shouldn't ask how much energy an anvil would have when it falls and hits the ground without describing anything else. If you have anvils litterally thrown out of the window in your world and they need a precise amount of power, then it is quite likely to be on-topic. But without any, most would consider as a pure physics question as few would see why people would drop anvils randomly and think casually about the exact energy on impact in the first place. To sum-up, it's advised to bring some basic worldbuilding context and relates it directly to the question you are asking to be understood as a worldbuilding issue.

And this is where the limitation of game design lies. Unlike physics, biology, social sciences, ... which are grounded into a fixed reality -our reality-, game-design is -for a good part- rooted in the artist's mind, and some is invented/chosen as they see fit1. This doesn't prevent one from being on-topic, but it makes things quite harder as this real-world discipline is blended with the world you're making. After all, both happens in one's mind. Therefore, it's very hard to make the difference between something designed and balanced from inside the world (on-topic) with something designed by you, the game-designer (pure game-design, so off-topic). Starting with this confusion-inducing element is not ideal :/.

This is why I chose to close the question as off-topic. As it was only speaking of the world on game-mechanics terms, there was absolutely nothing I could hang on to distinguish the question as a worldbuilding one or as a question you could genuinely ask as a game-designer. So I just couldn't answer even with a bit of worldbuilding, only as a game-designer ๐Ÿ˜ฃ. To be reopened the asker needs to tell us about their world, how they blend it with the game rules; Here, I think it's more than advised to differentiate the world from the discipline it is soaked in, it is almost mandatory. Indeed, regardless if it's an isekai, lite-rpg, 4th wall-breaking videogame, can we really find a world in a tower of rulesets and game systems alone?

1 : This subjective choice implies questions which are more likely to be opinion-based than others. There are quite some traps with game design questions, actually ๐Ÿชค๐Ÿญ.


This little-read and little-voted-upon post deserves a LOT more attention than it received

Ignoring our 3rd-party/commercial world rule for the sake of this example,1 there's a clear line between the following:

  • Off-Topic: Questions asking how to develop game mechanics or player interfaces as found, for example, in the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.

  • On-Topic: Questions about world rules in the context of game mechanics such as TSR's Greyhawk.

From a practical standpoint, both of those documents contain rules. The difference is that one contains rules that explain how someone plays the game and the other contains the rules for interacting with the world.

An argument could be made, what's the difference?

The difference is that game mechanics involve rolling dice, referencing charts, and can be applied to any world. A perfect example is the Unreal Engine, which can be used to implement pretty much any world, but does not inherently impose restrictions on the expression of any world.

We're not here to help people build their version of the Unreal Engine. We're here to help people create worlds they may later implement using the Unreal Engine.

And that's the difference.

Had I seen the linked question while it was still open I would have voted to close it. It doesn't matter to me how integrated the process by which players play the game is integrated into the world. If we open that particular pandora's box, then we'll be answering questions about how best to explain information that was once found in game play manuals to players via the world in the game.

That's not what we do.

In fact, it's not worldbuilding. It's user experience building.

No matter how integrated the process of playing the game the reality is that the two can always be completely separated. In fact, Nepene's linked question could have been asked by replacing the example of the fireball with a laser pistol, or a sword, or Jungian Psychiatry, or any other example, because the question was about how players interact with the game and not the world. The rules may be intrinsic to how the game is played, but they're not intrinsic to the world at all. Once the question was answered, it could be universally applied to any game Nepene chose to create because it's independent of the world.

Do we have a precedent?

Kinda yes: Does the Stack wish to allow questions concerning the profession of worldbuilding?

And kinda no: How would you make money by "worldbuilding"?

If we don't answer questions about worldbuilding as a career, then I believe it's quite a stretch to allow game mechanics no matter how tightly bound to the world's design. If we were to allow questions about game mechanics, I believe (very strongly) that it would first require convincing the Mods that twelve votes constitutes community consensus toward an adjustment to the Help Center pages permitting career questions.

But until that and a similar modification is made on behalf of game mechanics, the simplest answer is that they just don't meet the Help Center rules.


Questions about game mechanics are off-topic.

However, if there isn't another stack focused on developing game mechanics, that seems like it would be a shoo-in for Area 51.

1โ€ƒAnd this is important because I'm going to advocate that we are NOT the place to develop the game mechanics. In other words, if you create your own game mechanics and then want help building a world around those mechanics, we're glad to help. But developing the game mechanics themselves... not our job.

  • $\begingroup$ Unreal Engine does set restrictions on what you can do : The engine is clearly most useful for 3D projects, 'specially first and third person ones. The lack of help/doc about Paper2D and the apparent fact it's deprecated makes it quite hard to make 2D projects. A probably better yet still famous example is Unity Engine, whose approach is a little more "generic" (with its own weaknesses). $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2022 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ This note aside, I downvoted because there are some confusions between game engines and games, and thus the comparison tears at the seams ๐Ÿ˜ฅ. The game engine is not the game you make, as much as "generic" rules like physics are not the world you make. The first is only a tool to make the latter ๐Ÿ”งโžก๏ธ๐ŸŒŽ.[...] $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2022 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ [...] This miss the difference between building a world and real-world problems found in their appropriate domains (physics, biology, sociology...). If we were to disallow such questions for your suggested reasonning, then we shouldn't allow any of those domains to be used in worldbuilding questions, because physics, biology, geology, ... are general rules which can be applied to any world. [...] $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2022 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ [...] I believe the confusion takes root in the assumption that game mechanics are universal, while they're in fact made per game : game-designer teams often make a "game-design bible" per project, whose purpose is to share with the whole team what should be followed, including game-mechanics โš™๏ธ. This is to be opposed to game-design principles ๐Ÿ“– like the 3Cs (character/camera/controller), reward loops, game pillars or the importance of feedbacks, which are tools, things learned at school to make better game-design.[...] $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2022 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ [...] To sum-up, asking about game design principles ๐Ÿ“– is pure game-design, therefore -and hopefully obviously- off-topic. On its side, game mechanics โš™๏ธ need to prove they're building a concrete world, like physics, biology or sociology questions should prove the same to be considered worldbuilding. The problem lies more on the ability to bring a proof, which isn't easy due to the abstraction game-mechanics already bring to the table. It's the closest I can bring the "general rules" argument to the conclusion of being off-topic. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2022 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena The suitability of Unreal as an engine for 2D games does not matter to the analogy that JBH is making. Choosing Unreal, or any other game engine, has no influence on the world of the game. It may influence the type of game you can easily create. It may influence how that world is represented to the player. But, the representation of a world in a tangible medium, is independent of the world itself. By way of example the world of 40K remains the same, regardless of whether you're playing a 2d or 3d video game, reading a novel, playing any edition of 40k or any of the spin off games. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 21, 2022 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Sphennings I get the point, however we're talking about "building" worlds, not the worlds themselves. Building/extending worlds is dependent on medium/genre conventions, especially for "one-time" ones. For instance, people jumping on mushrooms and taking insta-health kits are both more accepted in games than elsewhere. The world is not the work in the end, but what is created in it is bound to it. Focusing on 3D means that you're less enticed to re-use 2D game world tropes... A bit like live-action movies have more troubles exagerating physics than animation movies. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2022 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena There are plenty of worlds with 2d, 2.5d and 3d games set in them. The Metroid series is a great example of this. If you're building your world in lock-step with fixing it in the tangible medium of a game then game design and implementation will probably inform the world that is built. However for the purposes of determining what is appropriate for this site, our rules are clear, questions of game design or mechanics are about game design and mechanics not worldbuilding. Even if health bars are diegetic, and visible to everyone, questions about their design should not be asked here. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 21, 2022 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I downvoted your answer, too. I completely disagree that game design is ever on-topic here - especially when you blur the lines by claiming (and this is my summary, not your words), "worldbuilding for the purpose of game design is on-topic therefore game design is on topic" you're doing no one a service. You're just making clarification of our rules, policies, and procedures harder. Player interaction with a game is off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 22, 2022 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Interesting that you chose to downvote after you wrote your answer, but I'm straying away ^^. I believe you inverted the words : It's more "game design for the purpose of worldbuilding is (->can be) on-topic therefore game design is on-topic", otherwise you missed my reasoning ^^". In parentheses is the clarification I'd like to make, nothing is pure black and white, and oversimplifying things won't help people understand more, either. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2022 at 5:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Sphennings and JBH, I'll end with this (I'm sorry I can't spend much time recently, even though I like debates) : This is not what the help-center clearly states, and I advise to read it closely again : World building includes [many domains] in short, everything from the physics underlying your reality to the entire universe you want to build. Everything means what it means :). It's further implied in the tour when "using culture to construct imaginary worlds" (if you consider games to be part of culture, that is ^^). [...] $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2022 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ [...] If you happen to disagree with the help-center and have no quote from it that directly blast it, I invite you to ask a change in the help-center to explain exactly what "domain" can be used to make worldbuilding or not. On my part, I haven't seen any element contradicting directly, and the video I linked shows a clear link between world design and game mechanics (like in... Any isekai or litrpg, actually).[...] $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2022 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ [...] Finally please remember that it doesn't make every game design questions on-topic (as detailed in my comment somewhere above), nor it prevents other closure reasons as I stated latter in my answer. I'll say it again : As much as we'd like it to, nothing is pure black and white, there are almost always, always nuances of greys. "Almost" because even this statement have nuances of greys ^^. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2022 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena If we apply your policy every NAW question can be salvaged by trivially appending "it's for a world I'm building". That standard of review for NAW questions is ridiculous. This is a conversation about the nuances of what is and isn't NAW. We have always prohibited trivially embedded worldbuilding questions. A good standard for NAW review needs to address embedding correctly. Yours does not, unless it's hidden in your hand waving of the nuance this question is attempting to resolve. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 22, 2022 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Even you don't follow the everything is worldbuilding standard, as can be seen with your comment and VTC on OP's closed question. They sat they're building a world and everything, but as you've shown you understand in practice, just saying "I'm building a world" is insufficient for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Sep 22, 2022 at 7:05

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