Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wading In: "Realism"

Another old discussion that still seems to come up frequently online - some aspect of a game or the rules for some activity are "unrealistic" in the opinion of someone playing or running a game. Ah well:

  • Rules vs. Physics: Typically this discussion relates to a simulation type game rather than a narrative type game - Pathfinder or Traveller more than Marvel Heroic or Fate. To me, for these kinds of games, the rules define the physics of the game world so when someone states "a normal human can't do that" my thought is "in your world - in this game's world they can" and that's the end of it. Maybe being a reader of the old "Joe Genero" comic opened my eyes to this kind of thing early enough that it doesn't bother me. Honestly, why does it matter how fast the fastest man alive now can run vs. human movement speeds in the game? Who cares how long someone can hold their breath or how long a man can keep his head above water in plate mail? Most of these "benchmark" style arguments can be fixed with one change: the length of a round. If a game chooses to use a 6 second combat round that's done for certain reasons, and human lung capacity was probably not one of them. For a game that is centered upon being realistic, like GURPS, then it might be worth checking, but even GURPS can be fairly cinematic and most other games don't even begin to care about this kind of thing. 
  • The curse of personal experience: It's inevitable - the IT guy hates the hacking rules. The swim instructor hates the swimming rules. The car guy hates the vehicle/driving rules. The closer to the real world a game gets, the more likely someone in the group a) has experience with something similar and b) starts thinking that their personal experience is more important than whatever the game says on the subject. For me this usually ends up with something like "look, I appreciate what you're saying but that's what happens in the real world and this game is not happening there." I suspect if you're playing a real-world type game then this argument isn't all that helpful but fortunately for me we rarely do that. In most of them you have all kinds of physical laws being broken, from massive dragons flying over the landscape and spitting fire to starships breaking the speed of light or time-traveling or all kinds of far less realistic actions going on but this one area is hard for them to let go. Try - for the sake of your fellow players who are likely not experts in this same area, try to let it go. 
  • This is especially annoying when it comes to magic or made-up tech. People get into arguments over how a spell really works. Think about that for a second. I know I have heard someone loudly proclaiming "it seems unrealistic that a wizard could (do X) but a cleric can only (do Y)" - where does realism enter into it? If the rules state how things work, then that's how they work! One person's take on the "realism" of magic can pretty quickly enter the realm of ridiculousness. Advanced technology is at least as bad if not worse because with a veneer of technical justification people start thinking they know how things "should" work even when they bear no relation to current technology. 
Now I would never declare that a GM should never tweak the rules of a game. We've all done it, and it's just part of running RPG's. However, over the years I have seen a lot of bad house rules based on "realism" with no consideration to how it affects the rest of the game. I've seen weapon users (fighter types) nerfed into uselessness through misguided attempts at "realism", while magic zooms along unmolested. Hey, want to know what's most realistic? No magic! "There's no way even the best swordfighter in the world could do X in 6 seconds" - sure, but I bet he comes closer than the worlds best magician is going to get to throwing a fireball! Just go enjoy your fencing hobby or your SCA event or your programming job or your lifeguard job or your SCCA racing and set it aside when the tabletop game starts.

For me, "realism" is a consideration but not a deciding factor in almost any RPG.


Barking Alien said...

Was Joe Genero the predecessor to Murphy's Rules?

Best line ever written about RPG 'Realism':

"There's no way even the best swordfighter in the world could do X in 6 seconds" - sure, but I bet he comes closer than the worlds best magician is going to get to throwing a fireball!"

My gaming motto made readable.

I once tried to play Metal, Magic and Lore, and it was so 'realistic' it eliminated any sense of the heroic. It was also bogged down by its attention to minutiae.

When I commented on that I was given the whole 'realistic approach' speech. I responded with, "You want realistic? Those goblins we fought don't exist. There are no goblins. This entire session was therefore unrealistic'.

Yeah. I want my games about as realistic as good, Hollywood action movie.

Blacksteel said...

I think they were contemporaries. It was pretty funny though.

I've had realism phases over the years but they mostly passed.

Barking Alien said...

I was raised on movies, comic books, TV, and novels. Few of these were overly realistic.