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Ok, so this is kind of a meta worldbuilding question, but it doesn't really fit meta. It is more about worldbuilding itself. I have been browsing the site for a while, and I have gathered that things that are more powerful than omnipotence, multiple omnipotents, and unbeatable weapons are impossible, even in any fictional world anyone could make. What I don't get is that sphennings said that in worldbuilding, one doesn't have to follow any rules and nothing is impossible or cannot be done. But Tortiliena has said that there can be no unbeatable fictional character. So how can everything be possible in fiction, but an unbeatable character be impossible in fiction? Can someone please explain this?

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  • $\begingroup$ I've never said that you can't have a godlike character, at most that they're not the best idea as a worldbuilder to have (in short they tend to create extensive deus ex machinas and Marie Sue). What you might have confused with is that some people think we can deduce magic counters against invulnerability or infinite power, something we cannot because those rules are in direct, logical contradictions. $\endgroup$ Oct 13, 2022 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ I saw a question here where you said people would just keep making up new weapons to kill the character. And AlexP said that it can't be established. (Please note that I am just going off memeory, as I can't find those questions anymore. $\endgroup$
    – user98873
    Oct 13, 2022 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena But its not possible to make a thing that can't be killed by the author. It is also not possible to have a common premise in all of fiction. It is also not possible to have a fictional character kill the author. Those were the questions I was talking about. I forgot the actual titles. I really don't see how you can have a StackExchange for fictional things, unless you are talking in context of real world science and facts. The bad questions get roomba'd and the good questions get 12, 13, 17 different answers. $\endgroup$
    – user98873
    Oct 13, 2022 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ "How can a, undefeatable god race be... defeated?" requires an answer to create a rule which overcomes the rule "My race is an undefeatable god". In other words, you need to trample on the author's initial premise. It's something the author can do if they so wish -it's their rules-, but we should not do it for them, we the complete strangers who have no idea what the author wants. $\endgroup$ Oct 13, 2022 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ It seems like the well-recieved questions are not the ones that are "objectively answerable" but the one that everyone likes. My other question was well received, and yet I don't think it is possible to answer it with "facts and citations," since time travel has not facts. $\endgroup$
    – user98873
    Oct 13, 2022 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I was talking about the questions of "how to make the race unbeatable," not the "how do I stop my unstoppable bad guy" questions. The latter is against site policy. I bet if I asked "How to make an uber powerful, unbeatable character then the question would be roomba'd. Therefore it is against StackExchange policy, there for it is not answerable, therefore it is impossible. $\endgroup$
    – user98873
    Oct 13, 2022 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ I feel like we're deriving towards site policy, which is more suited on the meta-stack exchange, as it speaks on how questions are received, not something directly linked to worldbuilding. I just want to clarify what I actually told back then, and also that I don't wish people to think I said they can't set some rules "because I told it". That would be unfit in regards to the ideals I wish to reach 😅. We can further discuss it in chat if you wish. $\endgroup$ Oct 13, 2022 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ Oct 13, 2022 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ to quote an old saying, "fiction, unlike the real world, has to make sense" $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 13, 2022 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ There's an implicit rule present in this forum as well as fictional worlds, that says we need to remain coherent and comprehensible. WB SE helps build worlds that are coherent and comprehensible, and very often plausible. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Oct 14, 2022 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ We're almost into 'Even God doesn't make square circles' territory. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Oct 14, 2022 at 1:23
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor Could God make a square so heavy that it becomes a circle? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Oct 14, 2022 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron Lol, and would it belong to the set of heavy square round things that doesn't include it? $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Oct 15, 2022 at 6:28

5 Answers 5

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As an author, you are free to have an unbeatable character. David Oglemann. His punches topple mountains. He eats killer bees for breakfast. He eats them through his eyelids. He doesn't need to eat of course. He does it for fun. And he is immune to all harm. Both physical and emotional harm.

But in the following chapter you are also free to introduce another character. Ovid Daglemann, who taps David on the shoulder and reduces him to a fine paste.

"But David said he was unbeatable!" cries the reader.

Ovid shrugs, "I guess he was lying. . . . "

"But the third-person narrator said David cannot be harmed!" laments the reader.

Ovid rolls his eyes. "I guess it was third-person limited."


As an author you are free to put anything in your story. You are free to have flying pink elephants. You are free to have potatoes look like bananas and vice versa. You are free to set the whole plot on a spinning ball of rock filled with molten goo, hurtling through space. You are free to snork meeble-feeble OMOOOO 56gft***;.

See that last bit? It doesn't mean anything. That's the problem. You cannot include that bit in your world because it does not describe anything. So you cannot put the thing it describes in your world. The same applies with a square circle. Or two omnipotent beings. It just doesn't mean anything.

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  • $\begingroup$ Daron you could put that in your world, if you define it. $\endgroup$
    – user98873
    Oct 13, 2022 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ The fact that you just wrote it down and said you could "snork it" makes it part of a story. $\endgroup$
    – user98873
    Oct 13, 2022 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Guy Yes if it meant something I could put it in my world. That does not detract from my point. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Oct 14, 2022 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ Yes the sentence "snork meeble-feeble OMOOOO 56gft***;." is part of a story now. But that is not what we mean when we say something like a story has ants. We don't mean the story contains the sentence "There are loads of ants". We mean the story contains the ants themselves. And in this case "snork meeble-feeble OMOOOO 56gft***;." plays the same role as "There are loads of ants" but nothing plays the same role as the ants themselves. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Oct 14, 2022 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ In other words, there are implicit rules against incoherence and incomprehensibility in this forum and worldbuilding itself. That nonsense is 'in a story' but still falls afoul of such implicit rules. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Oct 14, 2022 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ David Oglemann wears Chuck Norris underpants. You know I'm right. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 14, 2022 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Ovid Daglemann doesn't wear underpants at all. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Oct 14, 2022 at 14:57
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Of course in fiction you're free to do whatever you want. The only limit is what you're capable of describing.

But if people are coming here to ask questions about worldbuilding, they're probably asking how to do something in a way that's plausible, or self-consistent, or at least entertaining, and those things do place limits on what you can do.

Sure, you could have an omnipotent, unbeatable character if you want, but you'll struggle to make an interesting story out of that.

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The Language of Rules

Here on Worldbuilding.SE we spend a lot of time talking about rules. The rules of the Stack. The rules of your world. Rules, rules, rules, rules, rules. Some of those rules define the limits of user behavior. Some define what kinds of questions we're willing to answer. But there's one that's unwritten. And it's amazing that we need to even mention it, but it's the crux of your problem.

All rules are expressed in language. Call it Mathematics or English or anything else you like, if you can't express the rule using language, then you also don't have a rule and our one-and-only goal on this Stack is to help you define your world's rules.

And that means we have a problem when a user posts a question on this Stack and ignores the definitions of words.

Omnipotent: (of a deity) having unlimited power; able to do anything. (Oxford English Dictionary)

You, as a world builder, may want to explore the idea that there is something more powerful than an omnipotent being, but in doing so you've violated the definition of the word and by asking that question here you've placed us in the unenviable position of having to figure out what on Earth you're talking about.

From that moment forward, you're telling a story (off-topic), not building a world (on-topic), because without the basic definitions of words we all share and need to share to communicate meaningfully there's no way to help you do anything. And you can't simply say, "I'm not changing the definition, I'm exploring something more than the definition encompasses" because to a group of principally science nerds, that makes even less sense.

Mathematicians understand the concept of infinity very well. What is infinity + 1? Infinity. What is infinity - 1? Infinity. Is there something greater than infinity? Yep, infinity. If you divide infinity into one, what do you get? Zero (an infinitely small number). If you divide infinity into infinity, what do you get? We don't know! Because there's no way to meaningfully judge which of the two measurements is larger than the other.

And that's the problem you're having with asking us to let you ask questions about characters that are stronger than all-powerful characters. Because there's no way to meaningfully judge which of the two characters is stronger. You're not asking questions about the rules of your world, you're playing games with language and asking us to play along.

No thanks.

Questions must be specific as well as answerable. If you are looking for discussion, brainstorming, or an overall process rather than specific questions and answers, the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange might not be a good place for your question. (Help Center)

Questions that play games with language are neither specific nor answerable and we, the community, judged that we will not play that game a long time ago. We will not answer questions about how to overcome godlike creatures because in the world of "specific and answerable" the one and only way to overcome a godlike character is for the character to not be godlike. The character must have defined, specific, qualitative weaknesses that can be exploited and overcome. Without them, you're asking questions that would make more sense on philosophy.SE (and would likely get closed there because they don't play games, either).

Conclusion

If you want help developing the differences in strengths and capabilities between two species, races, or (maybe...) characters (we don't like focusing on individual characters) or anything else (like weapons), then you need to give up using words that have absolute and well-defined meanings in ways other than they were intended. We're not interested in helping you figure out a definition for infinity + 1 that is anything other than infinity because that violates a rule on this Stack: questions must be specific and answerable.

So, while it's true that you, the author of your world, are welcome to do "anything" at all in your world. We, the community of Worldbuilding.SE, cannot and will not embrace "anything." We have rules. And within the context of those rules, we will help you define and consistently use rules for your world.

And while it's not written in the Help Center, we nevertheless expect you to appropriately use the definitions of words and to avoid undefinable paradoxes. Can God create a rock that He cannot lift? That may be an interesting philosophical question.

But it's an inappropriate worldbuilding question because infinity divided into infinity is undefined.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think we have any prohibitions on helping people build inconsistent worlds. If a question was otherwise well written, not too broad, POB, etc... I wouldn't reject it for wanting to make their world inconsistent. We don't see questions asking for that because most worldbuilders choose to strive for internal consistency with their worlds. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 14, 2022 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings I don't claim that we require consistent worlds. I only state that one of our goals is to help users define/develop and consistently use rules. The consistent application of a rule by the OP has nothing to do with whether or not a world is consistent. What this answer boils down to is that we must work within a finite space defined by the Help Center and the definitions of worlds used to ask questions and therefore asking for something outside that finite space should anticipate closure. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 14, 2022 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ I thought we were here to help people build worlds, however they see fit. In practice most people want consistent worlds. We should not reject someone's well asked question if they make it clear that consistency is not a concern. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 14, 2022 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings You and I are likely the two most involved policemen on this Stack. You know as well as I that "however they see fit" is subject to the rules of the Stack. And for the second time, I did not claim that we require consistent worlds. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 14, 2022 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I feel it's more like you have to breach the world rules the querent set/told us beforehand in order to answer. Any answer would therefore side dodge the question's premise, not actually answering it. If I follow JBH's reasoning, we'd have to define the question's words more accurately to avoid those conundrums, something which is getting closer to word choice rather than actual worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2022 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ if we consider that "story-based" means "writing" in general, I feel the reasoning is sound. Personally, since I make the cut between creating a story (character choices, plots, etc.) and how to write (word choice, writing style...), I'd rather close for lacking details/clarity with this stream of thoughts, instead. Or just downvote, since it would have been good to look at the definition of such strong terms beforehand ^^. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2022 at 12:36
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What you need to remember is that all writers want to write good stories. When someone says 'You can't put such and such in a story', what they usually mean is 'Good stories do not have such and such, and since you are trying to write a good story you must not include it'. You can write anything, but your desire to write a good stories limits what you can do.

Of course, nobody has ever objectively proven what makes a story good, and there are even stories where the whole point is that they are as badly written as possible [This Gun in my Right Hand is Loaded is a great example]. For this reason, it is generally better to statements like 'You can't do this' or 'You have to do that' as guidelines to follow rather than laws that must always be obeyed.

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"Impossible" is too strong a word to be applied to fiction. Things are impossible in the real world because they violate causality or other laws of physics. In fiction, the only limit is the readers' imagination.

Note that I didn't say the writer's imagination. Technically, everything is limited to the writer's imagination, but in reality, fiction is a form of communication, and communication can't exist without both a speaker and a listener. When you communicate, you create a set of rules that both sides are expected to follow. If you don't follow those rules, then you can pay a hefty price.

The easiest example is betrayal of suspension of disbelief. If you set rules early in your fiction, and then don't follow those rules later, your audience will be left dissatisfied. If, for instance, you meticulously adhere to hard science, and then solve a problem with telekinesis, then your audience will cry "deus ex machina!" And they should, too. Similarly, if you place something in the Wizardly World, and then it turns out that the bad guys are space aliens, it throws your readers off.

You absolutely must write in limitations for your characters, otherwise there is no conflict. If everything is easy, then nothing is interesting. This is the Mary Sue rule. It's why Superman stories are so hard to write. His limitation is that he runs with a perpetual hard handicap of not letting anyone die.

Another thing that a character can't do is nothing. A completely passive character would be a severe challenge, and I've never seen it pulled off. It makes character growth impossible.

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  • $\begingroup$ You're misusing the term suspension of disbelief. It's when people ignore inconsistencies. If a inconsistency leaves your audience dissatisfied then their disbelief was not suspended. A good writer can get their audience to ignore all sorts of problems when their story is compelling enough. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 14, 2022 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings, I did have a mis-wording in there, thanks. $\endgroup$ Oct 14, 2022 at 16:45

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