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How important is "realism"?

Endroren

Explorer
Publisher
How important is it that your games reflect reality? Examples include making coins in a D&D game more closely reflect the size and weight of real medieval money, limiting the number of predators in an area to a realistic number, or not having sound in space. Are there some specific "realistic" elements that make the game more fun, but other things that always disrupt the story? Or maybe you don't care at all?

My friends and I have been debating this, and I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks.
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
How important is it that your games reflect reality? Examples include making coins in a D&D game more closely reflect the size and weight of real medieval money, limiting the number of predators in an area to a realistic number, or not having sound in space. Are there some specific "realistic" elements that make the game more fun, but other things that always disrupt the story? Or maybe you don't care at all?

My friends and I have been debating this, and I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks.
A certain degree of it is necessary for players to be able to expect how things work. But it’s also got to be colored by the genre. Superheroes will fall if dropped off a building, but are unusually resilient even if not powered in a particular way to survive falling. And super-strong characters can lift things based just on weight, not leverage and with the result not affected by the material strength of the thing being lifted (such as things breaking apart).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
A certain degree of it is necessary for players to be able to expect how things work. But it’s also got to be colored by the genre.

This is my take on it as well. The game will not be notably improved for my players by setting the weights of coins by historical examples. Realism for the sake of realism has little value to me or my usual gamers.

Realism for sake of support of genre can be good, but should be measured against other elements - if you are breaking realism 27 different ways, invoking realism for a single favored element can often seem petty, or disjoint from the rest of the presentation.
 

MGibster

Legend
How important is it that your games reflect reality? Examples include making coins in a D&D game more closely reflect the size and weight of real medieval money, limiting the number of predators in an area to a realistic number, or not having sound in space. Are there some specific "realistic" elements that make the game more fun, but other things that always disrupt the story? Or maybe you don't care at all?
I hate to be "that guy," but it really depends on the game. Also, I don't necessarily need realism I just need the appearance of realism. Verisimilitude. For games like D&D, I couldn't care less about how the economy works, the size and weight of coins, or be bothered to figure out how my fantasy city feeds itself. None of that really contributes to high octane fantasy adventure. I don't even care if the geography doesn't make any sense.

For games set in the recent past or present, I usually like a little verisimilitude. If I'm playing a "realistic" game like Call of Cthulhu, it's going to take me out of the game if a PC can leap 15 feet into the air or walk away after getting shot in the face three times without the aid of the supernatural. On the flip side, things can get a little too real when setting a game in the 1920s. I typically won't have a PC run up against the virulent racism, sexism, or xenophobia that was so prevalent in American society at that time because it wouldn't make for a fun game.
 

payn

Legend
It used to be very important to me. I liked tracking rations, ammo, carry weight. I also liked worlds that made sense like the coin example. However, all the bandwidth that went into simulationism started to weigh down on my sense of adventure and advancement of story. I came to the conclusion that there is a certain amount of bandwidth at the table to dedicate to all the elements of an RPG. I was dropping too much into the realism pursuit. I still like to be realistic when I can, but I have let up on the need to be hyper-accurate in my older age.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
My answer to how much realism? is just enough. For a lot of fantasy games that 'enough' is far lower than it might be for a game set in the modern day. As several posters have mentioned this is often a function of genre expectations as much as anything else.
 


Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Some musings on my group idiosyncracies...

1. Internal consistency has more weight than realism. Players must be able to work with limited knowledge of the setting compared to their characters ; if a "rule" of the world is established and they memorize it, it's to be respected for their choices to make sense in setting (or, if it's established for a long time, a break must be explained somehow). But this consistency isn't necessarily realistic (If superhero fall and landing is a thing, the GM shouldn't surprise players claiming that yes, you can die from a 5-ft fall, roll damage, and if resurrection is a commonality in the world, assassination should still be mean, but not something that would bother royalties much.

2. It's oddly genre-independant. I play a game in the "real world" roughly (X-files like at most) and I am pretty sure that absolutely no government agency would keep our group in employment anywhere in the world given our disregard of rules and procedures. We once landed safely an attack helicopter on the roof of a building, by making a crit roll in Driving (narrated as looking on youtube for an appropriate tutorial). I feel that our Sharn sleuth campaign was... more realistic despite, you know, fireballs.

3. Us geeks can be oddly obsessive on minutiae.

"Two weeks later, after an uneventful trip, you arrive in Xzor, the capital of the evil empire of Kargath". As a GM, we've all done that. In my group, it would be met by "What? Two weeks? How could we do that? We're not crossing the Swamp of Death. We'll do all the way around by taking the North Shire road, that will be three-week and a half if we do 35 km a day." And another player will interject "What?!? No way. I am not walking that fast several day in a road! Even riding is too tiring." "OK, let's settle for taking a boat at Hangton Ford and go down the river? We'll be there in 4 weeks." "Four weeks and three days, last time we were in Hangton Ford (shuffles notes) the boat was running twice a week and we can't count on getting lucky and arriving on Monday or Thursday" Especially of course if the campaign has absolutely no sense of time pressure and noone cares if the trip takes 12 parsecs. ;)
 





Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Most of us have rather poor knowledge of what really is realistic which compounds the issue.

Well, to be fair I've never actually parkoured up a wall and stabbed a hobgoblin in the face while dodging tentacled death spells. I keep meaning to, but it's tough to organize around my work schedule.
I have climbed up the student union buildings on the local university campus in a way that might be less beautiful parkour but I haven't met the hobgoblin unless it related to "little minds" LOL, and tentacles of bureaucracy I am sure do not count.
 

I agree that it is group- and genre-dependent.

With that said, for my fantasy games, I have mixed preferences. I tend to like the fundamentals of the world to feel realistic. Economies make some sort of sense. Political conflicts are believable. People behave generally as I would expect people to. There can be fantastic elements, of course, but there's at least a surface-level effort to integrate them into the fictional reality. I don't care about digging too deeply into the details. The GM should not require multiple PhDs.

For action scenes, I'm good with a pretty cinematic take on things. Fast and furious.

Somehow all of this fits together pretty well in my head. :)
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
How important is it that your games reflect reality? Examples include making coins in a D&D game more closely reflect the size and weight of real medieval money, limiting the number of predators in an area to a realistic number, or not having sound in space. Are there some specific "realistic" elements that make the game more fun, but other things that always disrupt the story? Or maybe you don't care at all?

My friends and I have been debating this, and I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks.
Verisimilitude is important. Proper realism is not. But, as others have said, adherence to expected genre conventions is more important, to me. I know space combat shouldn’t have sound...but any space combat that doesn’t have pew pew noises really throws me off. I blame Hollywood, but I’m more interested in fun that realism. But without some nods to it in the form of verisimilitude, I can’t enjoy it.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
How important is it that your games reflect reality? Examples include making coins in a D&D game more closely reflect the size and weight of real medieval money, limiting the number of predators in an area to a realistic number, or not having sound in space. Are there some specific "realistic" elements that make the game more fun, but other things that always disrupt the story? Or maybe you don't care at all?

My friends and I have been debating this, and I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks.
I only need very basic realism in terms of physical reality. What matter to me is realism in terms of sociology and interpersonal interactions.

In the realm of physical realism, beyond basic stuff like gravity, I don't like to see insistence on realism to stop players from doing things they would normally expect to do in a game in the genre we're playing in. I do use reality as inspiration for what the players can do, however. Meaning, if the game doesn't allow a thing that is possible IRL, or limits something beyond the limits of reality, I'm gonna work out a way to get closer to the heights of human capability.

In 5e DnD, for instance, I treat jump distance, climbing and swimming at half speed, even combat movement speed, as the baseline or norm. If pcs want to go beyond those values, they can roll for it, and I have done some math to get a rough idea of how to manage that. I just can't stand when the system tells me that a very fit PC can "dash" at a slower pace than I walk my dog.
 


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