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You know, I keep thinking about this topic (WHY, GOD, WHY?) and I'm remembering the example @pemerton used a while back. I think it was him. Anyway, apparently it resonated, and I thought I'd use it again to be helpful (I can't find it, so if I've misunderstood or misconstrued it in some way, I apologize):
I believe the setup was that it was a sci-fi or space game (maybe Traveler?), but that's not really important. The important thing that I remember is that the players were trapped in a room with no independent air supply. That's the setup.
The problem: there was nothing in the rules to account for this. I mean, we all "know" (from science, from movies, from general knowledge) that a room without air, with people in it that need air, will run out of said air. Thus killing people inside of that room.
The issue: Without rules to handle that situation, what do you do?
Now, if I recall correctly, the DM borrowed rules (or made up some) for this situation, and there were players at the table who didn't like those rules because they didn't accurately reflect what would really happen in real life in that situation.
I hope I did justice to what was presented; if not, again I apologize, but for purposes of discussion, I think what I remember - EVEN IF IT'S INCORRECT! - makes for a great starting point!
So, this is the kind of issue that often presented itself in early D&D; a situation without a clear method of adjudication. Now, if you were at your own little table, the DM would make a ruling of some kind (using the DM's knowledge and "common sense") and the play would continue. At most table, this would work great; at low-trust tables, not so great, as there is always the problem that one person's common sense doesn't match another person's common sense.*
Okay, but let's think about this more generally. One way that we see that D&D "evolved" from early OD&D (basically a glorified combat system) to 1e (with randomized tables for forms of government) is the creation of more specialized sub-systems to deal with different situations. In effect, EGG might come across the room example above, do some quick research (or just pull some information out of his posterior) and create a "room suffocation table" and tuck it somewhere in the DMG (as it did not, there are just scattered references- for example, casting Otiluke's freezing sphere when submerged (insta-suffocation) or the rug of smothering, but I might be forgetting something).
Of course, another way to deal with this type of issue is to create more universalized system for resolving issues. That's pretty much where RPGs have gone; instead of having specialized rules and tables to deal with individual situations, there is a more universal mechanic ("Set a DC!" in modern D&D terms).
So what does this have to do with realism?
Well, let's look at the room example.
I think that for someone like Max, having a rule regarding the amount of air (say, the number of rounds you'd last per 100 cubic feet, maybe with increasing issues over time until death) would increase his sense of immersion. This would be true even if the rule was simplified and approximate and poorly modeled reality (a rug of smothering will smother you in 3-6 rounds - good luck with that!). Because to him, reality is that without oxygen**, you die. It increases immersion to account for this. In addition, with a rule there can be improvement and discussion about how "realistic" the rule is and whether further increasing the realism of the rule is worth the tradeoff of additional complexity.
For others, this is just a fool's errand, because the world has innumerable special cases. Since any of these can be negotiated and dealt with at the time (or ruled upon, often with a rule system involving the player/DM agreement), then it doesn't make sense. Moreover, whatever the table comes up with at the time will be more "real" to the table than a rule. The agreed-upon narrative (and or mechanics to support it) will have the table buy in, and thus be more real.
IMO, again, just a difference in approaches.
*I am always reminded of the "bats and magic silence" example and thread- how much you know about bats will really change your answer, or, for that matter, whether you choose to follow strict RAW or rule of cool in cases of uncertainty.
**We are all nerds, and we know what I'm talking about here. Don't make me break this out.
This is not accurate. There will be times when maintaining weapons is not possible, just like when you track ammo and encumbrance, sometimes you run out of arrows. Most of the time it won't be an issue. Sometimes it will.
This is inconsistent, which is something to be avoided. It's nonsense for the DM to include degradation for NPC items, but make PC items immune to degradation. If PC items are not immune, there should be a mechanic to demonstrate it.
I think that may be the key; in the end, it's a difference of usage. Personally, I tend to favor Max's usage, but it's hardly worth 2000+ comments.
Speaking of usage .... you and I might have a different definition of "interesting[.]"
Dare I ask, how big?
Was your map laid out on the floor of an aircraft hangar?
I don't know if I am envious or scared. Terrified or amazed.
Hmmmm.... only portmanteaus will do! I may have mentioned this before, but I remember some grizzled wargamers who preferred naval combat (with a table that was, oh, I want to say 30' on one side with long push sticks for the boats). What I truly remember, though, is that they killed time between turns by calculating artillery distances between various landmarks in town.
You know .... as people do. It was a different time.
Then they'll bring carts full of duplicate weapons, and donkeys to pull them, which isn't a problem for some games.
The point is this would narrow the range of playstyles the game supports.
As it is, it's in the players' hands to make weapon maintenance a focus of play if that's the sort of game in which they're interested. If not, the game doesn't force it on them.
The existence of weapon degradation as an element of the fiction is in no way dependent on the degradation of weapons belonging to the PCs. I think 5E treats items on the character sheet as within the purview of the player, so it's left to the player to describe his/her weapon as s/he sees fit and is consistent with his/her conception of his/her PC. I can describe my character obsessing over maintaining his weapon and worrying about it failing me in a battle, while you can play a character whose sword always stays sharp without giving it a thought, and both of our character conceptions can stay intact.
"Arms, Armor, and Other Equipment
As a general rule, undamaged weapons, armor, and other equipment fetch half their cost when sold in a market. Weapons and armor used by monsters are rarely in good enough condition to sell."
I'm sure that weapons and armor used by monsters were in better condition when they had been freshly crafted and that the inferiority of their condition is due in part to degradation over time due to lack of maintenance.
If a player went out of the way to tell me their PC is not buying a whetstone and refusing to care for their weapons, then I'm going to make a weapon degradation an issue for them. Because they just told me specifically that they want weapon degradation to be a plot point! (Alternatively, they just have a preference for more simulation and realism in their games, which I can then flag as a player-DM mismatch.)This is the inconsistency that I'm talking about. It's a fact that PC weapons do not degrade. As I've pointed out multiple times now, I can refuse to have my PC buy a whetstone and let the DM know explicitly that I am not tending to my weapon in any way, and yet my weapon will be in the exact same shape is a someone using a whetstone religiously.
In some corner case games, sure.
This is wrong. It takes literally 2 seconds to say, "Guys, we're not using the degradation rules." And poof, you don't have to worry about it any longer. Inclusion of such mechanics does no limit playstyles in any way.
No it doesn't, as weapon maintenance does not exist. The players can buy a whetstone and have their PCs pretend to fix their weapons, but 5e includes no weapon degradation, so there's nothing to actually maintain.
You don't see a problem with, "Every NPC's weapons degrade, but the non-magical weapons your PCs have magically do not degrade."?
This is the inconsistency that I'm talking about. It's a fact that PC weapons do not degrade. As I've pointed out multiple times now, I can refuse to have my PC buy a whetstone and let the DM know explicitly that I am not tending to my weapon in any way, and yet my weapon will be in the exact same shape is a someone using a whetstone religiously.
If a player went out of the way to tell me their PC is not buying a whetstone and refusing to care for their weapons, then I'm going to make a weapon degradation an issue for them. Because they just told me specifically that they want weapon degradation to be a plot point! (Alternatively, they just have a preference for more simulation and realism in their games, which I can then flag as a player-DM mismatch.)
The lack of weapon degradation rules doesn't mean the PCs can't come up with a plan to rust out the contents of an enemy's armory, for example.