Smallworlding

meaning and definition

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    What is smallworlding?

    Smallworlding is a form of metagaming that occurs when a character makes decisions based on the player’s out-of-character (OOC) knowledge of a limited (small) player base.

    For instance, if a character decides that Mary Smith is guilty of a crime simply because she’s the only player character (PC) capable of it, even though there are non-player characters (NPCs) who could also be responsible, that’s smallworlding.

    Essentially, the player’s OOC knowledge influences their character’s behavior in a way that disregards the game’s setting.

    Smallworlding is often unintentional, but it can distort the in-game reality by narrowing down suspects or information sources based on OOC assumptions rather than in-character observations. It can reduce immersion and detract from the storytelling experience.

    The concept of smallworlding emerged from online text-based roleplaying games and tabletop games where limited player populations could influence character interactions and storylines.

    As roleplaying communities became more interconnected online, the tendency to assume that only PCs are significant actors in a story became more pronounced, leading to this form of metagaming being recognized and named.


    Smallworlding examples

    1. Assumptive Investigator: A detective character assumes that Mary Smith is the thief because she’s the only PC who could have stolen the treasure, ignoring clues that might point to other NPCs or VNPCs.
    2. Limited Suspects: A character investigates a murder but only considers PCs as suspects despite evidence suggesting an NPC’s involvement.
    3. Exclusive Plot: A player assumes that a plot point involving a magical artifact is controlled by a particular PC because they are the only player known to possess such knowledge, ignoring possible NPC involvement.
    4. Faction Assumptions: A character assumes that a rival faction only involves PCs, leading them to overlook NPC allies or adversaries.

    Myths about smallworlding

    “Smallworlding is always intentional.” Smallworlding is often unintentional and stems from the player’s eagerness to progress the story without considering the depth of the game world. It’s usually not a deliberate form of metagaming.

    “Smallworlding is harmless.” It may seem harmless, but smallworlding can limit storytelling potential and reduce the game’s immersion by ignoring NPCs and other in-game possibilities. It can also result in antag characters, the conflict-generators, getting shut down more quickly than they would otherwise.

    “It only happens in games with limited player bases.” Even in games with larger player populations, smallworlding can occur if players rely solely on OOC knowledge rather than in-character exploration.

    Smallworlding FAQs

    What is the difference between smallworlding and regular metagaming?

    Smallworlding specifically involves assuming that PCs are the only significant actors based on a limited player base. In contrast, metagaming is a broader term that includes any OOC knowledge influencing in-game decisions.

    See: Metagaming in RP and examples.

    How can I avoid smallworlding in my roleplaying games?

    To avoid smallworlding, ensure your character relies on in-game evidence and considers NPCs and other possibilities rather than focusing solely on PCs. Roleplay realistically and keep OOC knowledge separate from in-character knowledge.

    Is smallworlding considered cheating?

    While not exactly cheating, smallworlding can undermine the game’s narrative integrity. Players should strive to respect the game world’s logic to enhance immersion and storytelling quality.

    Can GMs help prevent smallworlding?

    Yes. Game masters (GMs) can help by creating richer NPCs, ensuring clues point to multiple suspects, and reinforcing the importance of investigating thoroughly rather than assuming PCs are always involved.

    Is smallworlding exclusive to mystery-based games?

    No, smallworlding can happen in any genre where characters rely on limited knowledge. It’s especially prevalent in games with crime or conflict, which means it can occur in genres like fantasy, sci-fi, or horror.

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    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."