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Thread: Gygax on Realism in Game Design
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 09:01 AM #1
Gygax on Realism in Game Design
Since we're going back to the beginning, I decided to unearth the beginning, and actually read some stuff in high Gygaxese. I'm beginning to think I might have liked Gary, tendency for long-winded, slightly pompous rants aside.
Interestingly, most of the variant systems which purport to “improve” the game are presented under the banner of realism. I have personally come to suspect that this banner is the refuge of scoundrels; whether the last or first refuge is immaterial. “Realism” has become a bugaboo in the hobby, and all too many of the publishers — TSR included — make offerings to this god too frequently.
When fantasy games are criticized for being “unrealistic” — and by fantasy I certainly mean both imaginary “science fiction” games and heroic fantasy — the sheer magnitude of the misconception absolutely astounds me! How can the critic presume that his or her imagined projection of a non existent world or conjectured future history is any more “real” than another’s? While science fantasy does have some facts and good theories to logically proceed from, so that a semblance of truth can be claimed for those works which attempt to ground themselves on the basis of reality for their future projections, the world of “never-was” has no such shelter. Therefore, the absurdity of a cry for “realism” in a pure fantasy game seems so evident that I am overwhelmed when such confronts me. Yet, there are those persistent few who keep demanding it. The “camel” of working magic, countless pantheons of gods and devils, monsters that turn people to stone or breath fire, and characters that are daily faced with Herculean challenges which they overcome by dint of swordplay and spell casting is gulped down without a qualm. It is the “gnat” of "unrealistic” combat, or “unrealistic” magic systems, or the particular abilities of a class of characters in the game which makes them gag.
D&D is a make-believe game. It is designed, however, to facilitate close personal involvement in all aspects of play; this makes suspension of disbelief easier for those who can initially accept a game form which does not relate to any reality except a few tenuous areas... It is a game for the imaginative and fanciful, and perhaps for those who dream of adventure and derring-do in a world all too mundane. As a game must first and foremost be fun, it needs no claim to “realism” to justify its existence.
(Bolding mine, a few italic tags missed due to age)
Last edited by Morrus; Thursday, 6th September, 2012 at 06:04 PM. Reason: News article promotion
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Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 11:37 AM #2
Many who critised missing realism did not do so about the rules system but about the adventures preented (hello huge hydra in a smallish room with only normal doors).
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 12:07 PM #3
Guide (Lvl 11)
Most of my problems with rules systems aren't about realism, if they do not intend to be set in the real world, but about logic, elegance and internal consistency.
Everyone is weird, but those who are weird in the same way call themselves normal.
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 12:34 PM #4
Don't bring Gary into this. He was less than fond of 3e, and we can probably be safe in saying he would have been less kind about 4E. He would be laughing his ass off reading the threads in this forum.
You need to quote Cook, Tweet,Heinsoo, Mearls, and others if you want to Edition War about how 5e is shaping up or should.
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 12:54 PM #5
Superhero (Lvl 15)
I wiuld just keep in mind that the discussion about reaism and gaminess were very different at the time he said that. People were making intricate and extraordinary attempts toward realism that you just dont really see today. I dont know that one can take a 30 year old quote from Gary and assume it sheds much light on what the man would have though about current discussions concerning things ike martial encounter powers or putting game play considerations ahead of setting considerations. I think he was really talking more against attempts to break combat into detailed and realistic mechanics.
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 02:46 PM #6
Hydra (Lvl 25)
We owe a lot to Gygax...
But, If I were to judge that writing as I do others here and now, well, he didn't seem to have a lot of confidence in his own position. If you have to *start* the piece by calling people names (even highfalutin' names like "scoundrel") then perhaps your point isn't nearly as strong as you think it is...
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 03:12 PM #7
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
And considering the fact that he himself produced several rule-systems that got frequently house-ruled out because they were too cumbersome in attempting 'realism' (notably weapon speed factors), quite possibly he should be less ready to throw stones.
"All right, I am not the Shadow. You have nothing at all to worry about. Except, oh, wait, I'm pointing a gun at you."
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 03:19 PM #8
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
I think he just playfully paraphrased an old quote.. Don't remember the author, but it went like this: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel".
Made me chuckle actually.
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 04:10 PM #9
Grandfather of Assassins (Lvl 19)
(...came to the thread because of the sound of a can opening...)
I think the word "realism" is used by different people to mean different things:
- consistency/reliability of the rules, meaning that if I can do X in situation Y, more or less I expect to be able X again if Y repeats at a later date; I don't think "realism" is exactly the same as "consistency" but sometimes the word is used for this
- support of suspension of disbelief: yes, there can be hydras in a small room and it's up to you to figure out how it's possible... but if the DM exaggerates with the quantity (especially if then she repeatedly doesn't deliver an explanation at all) it may just be too absurd for many people to take
- correspondence with real-life expectations: if you crit someone in the eye with a sword and he doesn't die... the problem is if you start feeling unable to make predictions on even basic phenomena, because most of the times predictions are the starting point of a tactical choice
- differentiation of details: having 10 types of rapiers with slightly different rules can be a boon to someone's campaign and totally boring to someone else; you can't really criticise either way, it's just a matter of gaming style and preference
I suppose Gygax had in mind certain gamers who can be obsessed with any of the above, which of course can become detrimental to everybody's fun at the table if they don't share the same preference. But I hardly believe he was against any level of realism... to me his early editions of D&D even had more realism than I can personally take, with all those rules subsystems and tables for everything!
"There is no survival without order, there is no evolution without chaos."
"You have to see past the RAW to understand the rules of the game."
"And rules are OVERRATED by the way!
Wednesday, 5th September, 2012, 04:45 PM #10
Lama (Lvl 13)
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