D&D 4E Bridging the cognitive gap between how the game rules work and what they tell us about the setting

I don't need specificity, just some examples to look at. Remember, my "oldest" D&D experience was 3.5. I don't have played anything older, and unless there is a good reason to do so, I don't plan to, either.

I don't know anything about 2e and earlier rules. And the ones I know I don't like it. Like that one about f*cking your players if they take time buying stuff. Are you talking about that kind of rules?
There is really almost nothing. I mean, I am thoroughly familiar with AD&D (both editions) as I started playing before it was even written, and all my books are first printings (like, my 1e Monster Manual actually is missing some of the art which didn't make it into the first print run). The 1e DMG is entirely written by EGG, and he does have a chapter where he rambles on about how maybe social structure works in a medieval society. None of it is rules, per se, it is just a bunch of very amateur writing on the subject. I mean, I can claim no greater expertise than Gygax on the subject, but even I can easily spot a bunch of pretty silly statements, and on the whole his treatment is highly colored by modern conceptions and tropes, at best. That's basically it.

I mean, other than that, what is there? There's some rules covering the hit points, pay, etc. of ordinary citizenry, but it is all completely gamist and doesn't have any association with realistic medieval type economics or society, whatsoever. There's an overland exploration and (generously) orienteering rules section. I think his rules on consumption of rations might be in the right ballpark, but all the rest of it is simply "here's some fun rules for playing D&D overland" and doesn't really connect with reality in any particular way. At best it is abstract enough that we cannot really say it is either realistic or unrealistic. It works modestly well as a part of the game, and that is, IMHO, all that was intended.

There's a level of realism in AD&D that is basically: If you take a fall, you will be hurt. That's about as detailed and realistic as it gets. Rules for things like diseases, healing, fatigue, etc. are mostly tropes and often fairly misinformed, but generally meet players expectations, which is all they really NEED to do. Take horses for example: magically D&D horses extend your overland mobility greatly, but in the real world this is, at best, highly situational. Sure, riding is 'faster' than walking, sort of. I mean, I don't think D&D SHOULD have rules for realistic use of horses, it would be tedious and require a lot more detail than the equipment lists can give you. Still, no attempt at realism was made, and I doubt Gygax even knew one end of a horse from the other (again, I'm not a huge expert myself, but I have owned a few horses and ridden them at least).

Obviously people's definition of verisimilitude is going to differ, but my diagnosis of D&D generally is it caters to fantasy tropes first, and then makes a few concessions to popular ideas about 'how things are' where that doesn't interfere too much with fun game play.
 

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James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
This is what you call "realism"? Because for me, this is overcomplicated as f, and honestly unfunny, to boot. Is one of those things I'll never bother to use in a game just because it adds a level of complexity to a game that should be about having fun and not stressing out.

If you like that kind of "realism", more power to you, I guess. I'll take an unrealistic game over this all the time, thank you very much.
If you go back, he was responding to the idea that "the Monstrous Manual, the Historical Reference series and the Arms & Equipment Guide fits the bill. The 1e DMG as well as the Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival Guides contain a wealth of world building info with an eye toward verisimilitude in many areas."

This is something right out of a Historical Reference book that is definitely NOT built with an eye towards verisimilitude.
 

Voadam

Legend
But is the magic part of a cogent system? See if you think about it, the vast majority of magical things you see in a game fall mostly fall into "stuff players can't access". If Keraptis has built a giant aquarium using permanent Walls of Force or the aforementioned floating river with a permanent Reverse Gravity, or has bound a small army of Efreeti to ensure no player uses shenanigans to bypass his clever funhouse, and the players ask "hey, how did he do this?", the answer isn't "Feat A + Subclass B + Spell C" it's FIAT.
It sounds like the answer is permanency, wall of force, reverse gravity and whatever the 1e binding spell was, not fiat.

The answer to the PCs would presumably be "high level magic" or "unknown magic" or "you don't know" not "FIAT".
Now you might say players have no need for such abilities, and it might be unbalanced if they had them, but a cogent magic system would have answers beyond "well uh, Wish and lucky die rolls" or "a God/Artifact" did it.

Or hey, when you see a Human Noble shout commands at his bodyguards to give them all free attacks (with a refresh on a d6 roll), a player might say "huh, how does one get to be such an amazing leader?". Well the answer is, you don't. Again, it's fiat.

Enemy has a cool flying castle? Don't ask how, you're probably not getting one. Unless the DM wants you to, of course. Because there's probably not any rules for it in the first place (and if they are, it's probably rules for me and not for thee, lol).

You want to talk about a cognitive gap, this is a huge one, and it's existed from the very beginning of the game. But it's accepted because that's just how things are. NPC's have unique powers that players can't have, there's stuff in the world that has no explanation- how is that island floating in mid air? Uh...a rift to the Elemental Plane of Air. How was it formed? Magical cataclysm or something?
The no explanation is not a flat fiat generally, it is generally that it is a magical world with phenomena that is not understood or that different people have different skills and capabilities.

It is not "Don't ask how" it is "You may not find an absolute answer to every question."
Now I'm not saying I want players to be able to access this stuff- I mean, you got to think about game balance, which is why NPC Drow have always had a host of special powers and bespoke gear that PC Drow can't have (and even if you capture it, oh sorry, it's reliant on Underdark radiation that never seems to bother the Drow you fight, but means the gear melts if sunlight hits it, lol). Or even why suddenly PC Kobolds no longer have Pack Tactics, but all the ones you fight still do.
Having stuff that PCs can't do seems a separate issue, the world is bigger than just people powered phenomena so PCs not being able to replicate everything themself is generally fine.
But the fact that there's no explanations for any of it keeps the world from making any sense. You just have to shrug and say "man, I have no idea how the Curse of Annihilation works- that Acererak, wot a funny guy!"

That seems incorrect to me. :)
 



Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
This is what you call "realism"? Because for me, this is overcomplicated as f, and honestly unfunny, to boot. Is one of those things I'll never bother to use in a game just because it adds a level of complexity to a game that should be about having fun and not stressing out.

If you like that kind of "realism", more power to you, I guess. I'll take an unrealistic game over this all the time, thank you very much.
Is it supposed to be funny?
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
But is the magic part of a cogent system? See if you think about it, the vast majority of magical things you see in a game fall mostly fall into "stuff players can't access". If Keraptis has built a giant aquarium using permanent Walls of Force or the aforementioned floating river with a permanent Reverse Gravity, or has bound a small army of Efreeti to ensure no player uses shenanigans to bypass his clever funhouse, and the players ask "hey, how did he do this?", the answer isn't "Feat A + Subclass B + Spell C" it's FIAT.

Now you might say players have no need for such abilities, and it might be unbalanced if they had them, but a cogent magic system would have answers beyond "well uh, Wish and lucky die rolls" or "a God/Artifact" did it.

Or hey, when you see a Human Noble shout commands at his bodyguards to give them all free attacks (with a refresh on a d6 roll), a player might say "huh, how does one get to be such an amazing leader?". Well the answer is, you don't. Again, it's fiat.

Enemy has a cool flying castle? Don't ask how, you're probably not getting one. Unless the DM wants you to, of course. Because there's probably not any rules for it in the first place (and if they are, it's probably rules for me and not for thee, lol).

You want to talk about a cognitive gap, this is a huge one, and it's existed from the very beginning of the game. But it's accepted because that's just how things are. NPC's have unique powers that players can't have, there's stuff in the world that has no explanation- how is that island floating in mid air? Uh...a rift to the Elemental Plane of Air. How was it formed? Magical cataclysm or something?

Now I'm not saying I want players to be able to access this stuff- I mean, you got to think about game balance, which is why NPC Drow have always had a host of special powers and bespoke gear that PC Drow can't have (and even if you capture it, oh sorry, it's reliant on Underdark radiation that never seems to bother the Drow you fight, but means the gear melts if sunlight hits it, lol). Or even why suddenly PC Kobolds no longer have Pack Tactics, but all the ones you fight still do.

But the fact that there's no explanations for any of it keeps the world from making any sense. You just have to shrug and say "man, I have no idea how the Curse of Annihilation works- that Acererak, wot a funny guy!"
In my games there are explanations for every one of the situations you describe, and all of them are potentially accessible to PCs who put in the (often considerable) time and effort. None of it is fiat.

So I basically refute your entire premise.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
In my games there are explanations for every one of the situations you describe, and all of them are potentially accessible to PCs who put in the (often considerable) time and effort. None of it is fiat.

So I basically refute your entire premise.
I didn't know we were discussing your game. I thought we were talking about the game as presented by the rulebooks. I can't really discuss your houserules and in-game lore if I don't know it.

And refute all you like, if the DM has to do all the work the game system doesn't in order to make the game realistic, I submit the game wasn't all that realistic in the first place.
 


Voadam

Legend
It was probably Glassteel, but the issue is, they keep reprinting White Plume into editions that don't have such spells...
I remember you could reach through to the water, so not a clear tube with glassteel holding it up or invisible wall of force.

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23: There is a stream running through this room that is suspended in mid-air. It enters and leaves through two tunnels, each of which is about six feet in diameter. The lowest points of the tunnels where they come through the walls are a bout two feet from the floor. The stream only half-fills the tunnels: consequently, when it flows through the room it is hemispherical in cross-section (see accompanying illustration for clarification). Objects can be thrust through the sides of the stream, but no water other than a few drops will escape. It would even be possible to walk right through the stream, but only a very strong person could do so without being swept off his feet. The stream flows quite quickly, from the west to the east, and within it blind cavefish dart about. It is lukewarm.

Modified reverse gravity? Ghost of a tunnel? Modified control water? Custom spell? Spacial geometry phenomena?

All cool possibilities a DM could go with even without a definitive answer given. I love that type of speculation, it makes the fantasy world come more alive to me. This leads me to never advocate for players not to ask questions about the world they are in.
 

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