Novelist M. John Harrison has nothing good to say about worldbuilding in sci-fi stories:

Worldbuilding is dull.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism.” (Via Boing Boing.)

I’ve read sci-fi (and fantasy) novels where the entire focus is on worldbuilding, they definitely smacked of mental wankery on the author’s part. But I’ve also read plenty of kickass sci-fi (and fantasy) novels that heavily emphasize worldbuilding — I don’t agree with Mike’s premise. Would Tolkien’s books have been nearly as enjoyable if he wasn’t a passionate worldbuilder?

That said, even though I’m a big proponent of not building more of your campaign worlds than you need to, reading Mike’s post was a bit of a kick in the teeth. I know the parallels are inexact, but worldbuilding for a story and worldbuilding for a game do have a lot in common — and in both fields, it’s an enjoyable activity for the author/GM. And while I think he takes it too far, he does have a point.

After thinking about it a bit, what I take away from his post is that “enjoyable for the GM” doesn’t necessarily equal “enjoyable for your players.” I’ve never been a hardcore homebrewer, so this could just be my personal GMing biases coming out, but I believe worldbuilding should be done in moderation.

As with any aspect of GMing, if you focus on any one element to the exclusion of all others (worldbuilding included), you’re doing your players a disservice — and your game will suffer for it.

What do you think?