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"Merely corroborative detail to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."
— Poo-Bah in The Mikado by W.S. Gilbert

"suspending disbelief is one thing … you're asking me to hang it by the neck until dead…"

Basic Information

In literature, fiction, and gaming:

Verisimilitude is the quality of appearing to be true or real. It contributes to willing Suspension of Disbelief and is an important counter to the "because dragons" argument (that is, that because a setting contains one or more fantastical elements, nothing else need make sense - see also A Wizard Did it).

Often, the little details are what establishes verisimilitude. Little touches that help you visualize the scene. Knowing the name of the PC's favorite restaurant. A character defined by their appearance or mannerisms. Passing by a landmark within the setting that gives a sense of place. Local slang and color.

It's also important that things make logical sense within the setting. If the existence of a power or species has obvious implications which the game world fails to address, the verisimilitude will be degrade more the more the players contemplate the setting. A common baseline is that things are "as in our reality unless otherwise specified" - if you are prepared to abandon such things, it's best to be aware how deep that rabbit hole can go1. See also: Fridge Logic

Character logic and reactions can contribute to verisimilitude as well. While you don't want your characters to be predictable (at least, not those for whom predictability isn't a personality trait), there should be a reason for them to act the way they do. See also: Genre Savvy and Characterization Tropes. A suitably immersive setting may be beneficial in suppressing murderhobo tendencies in your players - setting elements that exist for reasons other than for them to kill, or to buy equipment from with which to kill things, or to offer them money to kill things, may start to introduce to them the idea that there may be aspects to the world that don't involve killing something.

In Science and Philosophy:

Verisimilitude has a slightly different meaning in the context of science. Science approaches things from the point of view that there are no absolute truths, just competing theories with varying degrees of verisimilitude. The theory that has the most predictive power, and is most testable, has (provided the testing supports the theory) the most verisimilitude. A new theory that replaces a previous theory isn't the truth, it's just a better theory. [1]

This is often misappropriated by people who leave out the requirement for supporting data as supporting the idea of subjective truth ("that may be your truth, but it's not true for me!"), this too can be annoying.

See Also


2. essay: "On Thud and Blunder" by Poul Anderson

Game and Story Use

  • Unless you're running a highly postmodern or light-hearted campaign, it's probably in your best interests to inject as much verisimilitude into the setting as you can get away with.
    • While obviously you'll want to focus on the exciting bits, it's often very important and helpful for the GM to have a basic understanding of how the daily lives of the characters function.
      • You don't want to overdo it. No one wants to spend an entire session roleplaying the detailed minutia of a single mundane subway ride to their headquarters - unless that subway train is attack by bad guys, that is.
      • Just the same, dropping in one or two small unexpected details every session can help immerse the players in your setting.
  • GM confidence and mannerisms can produce verisimilitude, too. Knowing the answer to questions (about the setting) when the PCs ask them, and being certain that your answer is correct. Even if you just made it up…
    • This is different than rules knowledge. Depending on your group, be accurate to the rules may be more important then presenting confidence in your knowledge of them. If it's the first session of a game none of you have played before, there's no need to pretend you know all the corner cases. Rule on things as they come up, and make mental notes of what you need to brush up on later. If you're uncertain about something the player character would know, and which will affect how they use one of their powers, it's better to look it up than improvise an answer that might hamstring the character or upset game balance.
    • But when it comes to a question about the setting, or an NPC, or something similar that the GM made up anyway, then presenting the players the image that you know the details inside and out will inspire them to have confidence in you, and may help some players get / stay in character.
    • Rules/setting dissonance can be a problem - especially where the rules as written do not appear to be able to generate the setting as presented. Attempts to integrate rules and setting can be equally grating.
  • Sometimes a small detail added to help establish verisimilitude can have a larger effect on the game. You might consider why that detail happens to be or what would be the logical consequences of it or link it to other bits. Not every piddling detail is interesting enough to warrant this treatment, of course, but used judiciously, such details can actually build your gameworld.
    • An example from a Star Trek campaign I once ran. I wanted an excuse to have the PC, a civilian scientist onboard a starship, to sit in on a diplomatic dinner on an alien planet. I decided this alien culture places a high value on collaboration between spouses and therefore would not take the Captain of the ship seriously unless he brought along a "wife" or at least a date. That set me thinking about what that would imply about that planet's marriage customs and their society in general. And this led to more interesting interactions between the PC and her alien hosts.
  • Check out the Poul Anderson essay up in the Bibliography. No, seriously. You need to check it out if you're running a heroic fantasy campaign.
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