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More DMing analysis from Lewis Pulsipher

BryonD

Villager
I certainly read a lot of posts from self-describes "sim" D&D players (mostly 3E) on these boards and wonder why they aren't playing one of those other systems
There are other really good options.
For me, 3E simply hit the sweet spot best.
 

Starfox

Villager
I guess my question is, in what sense is this sort of play really giving you wargaming or realism-sim? If the GM manipulates action resolution to produce the plot-appropriate outcomes, where is the wargaming? And how is the game being run as a sim? Those aren't rhetorical questions, they're genuine. But they're also sceptical to this limited extent: that when I've seen, or played under, GMs running this sort of game, it plays out pretty much as Pulsipher describes in his article: player skill and choice is subordinated to the GM's priorities.

But I'm sure I haven't seen everything there is to see under the sun!
Basically, the setup is always the same; GM presents the situation, players decide how to tackle it based on their characters' personalities and abilities. Player agency is largely in selecting what situation to tackle.

What this kind of game is after is not simulation but verisimilitude (if I understand that word right). The main focus is immersion, the joy is to meet challenges from the character's perspective. Wargaming-wise, there is a constant stream of little tactical situations. These are rarely balanced, but must still be passed with a minimum of fuzz and while maintaining your characters' ethics and roles. Realism-wise, its a matter of what you're simulating - simulating "clash of the titans" is certainly different from simulating the life of a 6C feudal peasant. Pathfinder is closer to the former than the later, and other systems I play even more so. Obviously there can be no simulation of a magical battle with cloud giants around a cloud castle (as such things do not exist and both giants and cloud castles would collapse under their own weight to begin with), so it is verisimilitude and staying close to genre that is the goal, not simulation.


Then again, I stated from the start that not all games are as good at each aspect. Pathfinder might seem lacking in the wargame and simulation aspects to you. To me it is more lacking in complexity (there is too much) while I like its wargame and simulation qualities. It all depends on the participants' preferences.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I think you're looking at this too pessimistically.
I am being pessimistic, certainly.

While there was a reasonable amount of simulation snobbery of C&S, RM etc players against D&D, I think it was also healthy that there were flourishing systems and fanbases to support a variety of playsytles. I certainly read a lot of posts from self-describes "sim" D&D players (mostly 3E) on these boards and wonder why they aren't playing one of those other systems
Honestly, I think that's part of the problem. There are a lot of good reasons to play a system that doesn't 'support' your style in the sense typically used today (and that sense is 'over-reward' or 'penalize other styles' or something), and D&D is beneficiary of a number of them because it is so widely-known.

Personally, one of the things I really liked about 3e was the way the rules worked as a fairly consistent set of 'laws of physics' for the world. The way PCs and Monsters could take levels in classes, for instance. It /could/ have gone even further in that direction (and could have been a /lot/ better-balanced while doing it), but there was a lot of fun to be had with it to the degree that it did. Conversely, one of the things I really liked about 4e was the way it /didn't/ do that nearly as much, and instead had rules that were fairly consistent in emulating genre conventions. I haven't found a corresponding virtue in 5e's ruleset, but then I haven't gotten to see the whole thing yet. ;)

But I've played RQ, and I've played a lot of RM. Pulsipher's characterisation of those systems, and also his comment that D&D can't deliver that, fits accurately with my experiences. And I know from experience that those systems can be fun!
In the 80s I didn't get to play RQII as much as I'd've liked, but I did enjoy it. I also enjoyed D&D. The systems are extremely different - RQ was arguably significantly better in the technical sense at the time -but they were still each playable in a broad range of styles.

I guess my question is, in what sense is this sort of play really giving you wargaming or realism-sim? If the GM manipulates action resolution to produce the plot-appropriate outcomes, where is the wargaming? And how is the game being run as a sim?
I suppose you'd have to accept some fuzziness and matters-of-degree around 'wargaming' and 'sim' to see how they'd be compatible with the GM fudging things in favor of plot. One way that was used a lot in D&D, though, was simply not letting the players know it was happening - something for which the DM screen is handy.

It's also possible for the campaign to play to one predilection more than the others at time, over its course. So you could have a campaign that includes a few genuine battles that are played out with the dice falling where they may and tactical acumen provided by the player(s) of the character(s) leading troops being critical, a few set-piece battles, some puzzles, traps, moral quandaries, and logistical issues to sort out in detail, some personal interactions, and yet still a broad story arch and dramatically appropriate climax and denouement. That's not a matter of choreographing some almost-impossibly-precise and complex paragon of gamesmanship, either - it can grow quite organically from the players (including DM) each pursuing their enjoyment of the game while allowing others the same privilege. It's when the predilections rise to the levels of prejudice, and letting another player enjoy the game in a different way becomes intolerable that you have the weird sort of acrimony we saw in the edition war, and mere preferences held up as incompatible 'styles' that must be segregated from eachother.

That is, I thought that was a recent phenomenon, but the OP quoted article gives an example of someone going there way back in the early years of the hobby.
 
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What this kind of game is after is not simulation but verisimilitude (if I understand that word right). The main focus is immersion
That makes a lot of sense to me. As far as D&D goes, I think of 2nd ed AD&D as the poster child for this sort of approach. When I say that, does that make you think I'm understanding you properly, or have I misread you?

I suppose you'd have to accept some fuzziness and matters-of-degree around 'wargaming' and 'sim' to see how they'd be compatible with the GM fudging things in favor of plot. One way that was used a lot in D&D, though, was simply not letting the players know it was happening - something for which the DM screen is handy.
This goes back to "illusionism", the term that [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] used. So it's sometimes wargame, sometimes not, but the players don't know when.

It's when the predilections rise to the levels of prejudice, and letting another player enjoy the game in a different way becomes intolerable that you have the weird sort of acrimony we saw in the edition war, and mere preferences held up as incompatible 'styles' that must be segregated from eachother.

That is, I thought that was a recent phenomenon, but the OP quoted article gives an example of someone going there way back in the early years of the hobby.
Again, I think this is a little harsh.

It's not that sim-players have n place and must be segregated. Rather, I read it as a competely reasonable statement that if you are looking to enjoy sim-realism play, D&D won't deliver (and Gygax even says as much, in multiple places, in his DMG). But other games, like C&S, will.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
The Paizo adventure paths, and specifically the players guides that come with them, are very much in this vein, so I think it can be said to be pretty mainstream.

Basically, I am saying you're right, and that it is not a problem.
I think it is very mainstream.

I don't think its "a problem", per se. Its certainly not a problem insofar as its a mainstream mode of play and people have fun.

I just think that there may be a contention at its core that strains credulity; that being that each of these agendas function in harmony with one another rather than pushing against each other. That can't possibly be true (for the reasons I state above). At any one time, a GM will have to subordinate one interest for another (or possibly two others), be it worthy climax over player agency in action declaration and resolution or living/breathing world over worthy climax. I would say those two prioritizations are the most predominant.

I thought that was a very strange decision on the DM's part. I've run games like that before - Star Wars - but I think you need to make sure that, as the DM, you work with the players (and vice-versa). When they jump into the river you carry them along the current, you don't trap them in an eddy.
What you describe is unfortunate because I think your response is a pretty common one for an analytical, experienced player who is looking for a certain type of experience. Its emotionally and immersively jarring from a genre perspective to have the autonomy of your, very reasonable (and intentionally helpful for the GM), "move" subordinated by the GM's will.

If it was coming from another angle, the "wargaming" perspective, it would be dissatisfying to have your strategic planning, tactics, and finally your action declaration upended by by an agenda at odds with that, which could either by the living/breathing world or the GM-imposed climax. Worse yet, is when the GM's model that spits out the living/breathing world doesn't match your own and not only have they imposed on your player agency but they've simultaneously hindered your immersion interests.

Great GMing requires an understanding that you can always get better and you can always learn something new. I think a lot of long-time GMs might be far too steeped in their sense of their proficiency in their craft such that they are not disinclined toward (a) learning from their players or (b) learning from new approaches. Methinks your GM could use a does of both.

I think always adopting and maintaining a philosophy of "I'm not as good as I think I am and I'm not as good as I'm going to be" is good medicine for GM's whose sense of themselves and their craft has ossified.

Interesting. As I said in my OP, I've tried to use RM for that, but there are problems. I can see how CoC avoids them: because the players aren't meant to exercise must agency, the fact that the system overrides that agency isn't a problem. And that loss of agency is precisely the story that is meant to be produced.
Yes and yes.

Also, @LostSoul , I've probably been guilty of being that GM on occasions in the past - especially in my early RM days - as I haven't known properly how to keep all my balls in the air!
If I were a player in a sim-heavy game I would be very averse to my GM having any balls in the air regarding a worthy climax, outside of initial situation framing. I wouldn't want climax to be GM-imposed. I would want all elements of the framing to be clear so that my decision-points are as well-informed as I can get them. Come what may. Whatever climax, dud or provocative, emerges from those decision-points and mechanical resolution is my (our) own to wear. This is, of course, a classic Step On Up (Wargamer) + Right To Dream (Simulation) hybrid. Those agendas can play nice with each other. When GMs get their hands in the cookie jar of climax-imposition/enforcement, that is when things can go pear-shaped. It better be with an extraordinarily deft touch (illusionism) or your players' wargaming interests would need to be rather milquetoast.
 
I just think that there may be a contention at its core that strains credulity; that being that each of these agendas function in harmony with one another rather than pushing against each other. That can't possibly be true (for the reasons I state above). At any one time, a GM will have to subordinate one interest for another (or possibly two others), be it worthy climax over player agency in action declaration and resolution or living/breathing world over worthy climax.
For this sort of play, isn't the most important tenet of GM advice White Wolf's "golden rule" ie the GM needs to know when to use and when to suspend/fudge the action resolution mechanics?

If I were a player in a sim-heavy game I would be very averse to my GM having any balls in the air regarding a worthy climax, outside of initial situation framing.
In practice, though, it's not quite that simple. For example, in RM a player might declare some modestly complicated manoeuvre (like [MENTION=386]LostSoul[/MENTION]'s motorcycle shenanigans from the other thread). And then you, as GM, have to assign it a difficulty. In this judgement, the sim aspect is almost never clear cut, in part because we don't really know what degree of real-life skill a +30 or +50 modifier equates to, in part because as a GM I mightn't know much about motorcycling, etc.

Being too strict on the sim can shut down the player's dramatic agency in a way that also hurts their sim. I think this is what happened to LostSoul.

One occasion when I think I got in right in RM, on the dramatic agency side of things, was applying the jumping rules and acrobatics rules when the elven athlete and archer was jumping up from the lower deck of a galley, through the hatch to shoot at targets on the upper deck (then dropping back down to cover). The required number of die rolls (jump + shoot, with the acro bonus being a % multiplier to the normal archery bonus) was about right to give that good "sim" feel, and the resulting chances of success were enough to make luck important, which gives that classic gambling fun that is part of any RPG and especially part of a crit-roll based system like RM.

In objective terms was it sim-compliant? Probably not - the feat seems moderately ludicrous, although I don't know much about either jumping or archery. But no one complained at the time!
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
For this sort of play, isn't the most important tenet of GM advice White Wolf's "golden rule" ie the GM needs to know when to use and when to suspend/fudge the action resolution mechanics?
For anyone interested in reading it:

V;tM 2e, p52
The Golden Rule
Remember that in the end there is only one real rule in Vampire: there are no rules. You should fashion this game into whatever you need it to be - if the rules get in your way, then ignore or change them. In the end, the true complexity and beauty of the real world cannot be captured by rules; it takes storytelling and imagination to do that. Indeed, these rules are not so much rules as they are guidelines, and you are free to use, abuse, ignore and change them as you wish.
This and the AD&D2e "a rule0 for everything" really injected this GMing principle into the bloodstream of TTRPG culture. Obviously, we still see it to this day within a non-insignificant strain of the D&D community and several frequent posters on this board.

The answer to "know when to suspend/fudge the action resolution mechanics" naturally becomes whenever the rules get in your way of fashioning this game into whatever you need it to be. "System doesn't matter." As I'm sure anyone who has read my posts knows, I have a stridently unfavorable opinion of this principle and the GMing techniques and play experience (specifically for myself as GM but also for most of the players I have run games for) that emerge from it when it anchors play.

In practice, though, it's not quite that simple.
You'll get no disagreement from me there.

Being too strict on the sim can shut down the player's dramatic agency in a way that also hurts their sim. I think this is what happened to LostSoul.

<snip>

In objective terms was it sim-compliant? Probably not - the feat seems moderately ludicrous, although I don't know much about either jumping or archery. But no one complained at the time!
I think this is why high concept simulation can consistently churn out favorable play experiences while process simulation tends to struggle in the hands of all but the most deft and synched users (GM and table). And done so with less headaches for all parties involved, to boot. This is a point @Balesir brings up often (of which I agree with completely). Assuming the resolution mechanics are reasonably robust, modeling a genre with merely a tacit nod to process requires much, much less overhead and handling time than modeling (a) the component parts of a stochastic system, (b) the stochastic system itself, and (c) attaining consistent table consensus on interpretation of both a and b.
 
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Starfox

Villager
That makes a lot of sense to me. As far as D&D goes, I think of 2nd ed AD&D as the poster child for this sort of approach. When I say that, does that make you think I'm understanding you properly, or have I misread you?
Personally I never liked 2E and didn't play it much, but the general opinion of 2E here seems to mesh with what you're saying. So no, you did not misread me. (got to love all that negation)
 

Emerikol

Villager
Self-proclaimd simulationists on these boards probably do sit mostly in the "wargame" camp, but most of them are not simulationists in the GNS sense (at least, not purist-for-system sim). For instance, they tolerate hit points as a health mechanic and turn-by-turn initiative as an action economy - whereas I think it is probably universal across purist-for-system simulationist RPGs is getting rid of these D&Disms.
Actually this is Exhibit A for someone who doesn't know what the S in GNS means. If you believe the S in GNS has anything to do with accurate modeling of events then you've failed. They are not related. The guys who play these massive operational board games with a zillion rules are NOT GNS simulations. They are just plain English dictionary simulationists. The two are only passing related. Those super hyper simulationists though are still using turns when they play those hyper detailed games.

The people doing the S in GNS are probably better described by bawylie in his discussion of narrative mechanical unity. Not saying that was the Forge intent so much as it represents the people who think they are S but who instead are NMU.

I'm going to get with Bawylie and try to do a post on NMU at some point on my blog.
 

Emerikol

Villager
Lol. Give up on 'simulation,' and GNS but add in another forge theory, and 5 more words that people are going to have quibbles with over the definitions.
I think actor stance is not really something too many people dispute. I'm not avoiding debate on terms I am comfortable with but I am avoiding simulation because I feel both sides are confused on what the forge people meant.

I know exactly what a dissociative mechanic means and after the fire of the D&D boards, I consider myself an expert at applying and defending the concepts.

For some reason, many fans of 4e seem dead set on preventing any analysis of playstyles that results in one or more of the playstyle groups disliking 4e. Tons of people dislike 4e and there are distinct patterns in the reasons they give for their dislikes. So a playstyle does exist which rejects the form of the game provided by 4e. Any reasonable person would stop denying such a playstyle exists and instead focus on figuring out what exactly it is that unifies them in there dislike.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I know exactly what a dissociative mechanic means and after the fire of the D&D boards, I consider myself an expert at applying and defending the concepts.
So you've gone back after abandoning it in favor of 'DS mechanics?'

Have you come to terms with the fact your definition fits many mechanics from all editions of D&D (it's clear you've taken to applying it to 5, which is unfortunate), or have you further refined that definition? I wouldn't mind hearing what it is atm.


For some reason, many fans of 4e seem dead set on preventing any analysis of playstyles that results in one or more of the playstyle groups disliking 4e.
I can't speak for every 4venger, but I never wanted anything more than to carry through with some honest analyses - even objective ones, where possible.

I know you didn't much care for the conclusions. It did become very clear in the course of the edition war that not only were there 'playstyles' being manufactured just to legitimize wholly subjective opinions, but that even when playstyles were recognizeable and plausible, the lengths a game had to go to in providing 'support' for them were not so reasonable. Many folks seem to feel their style wasn't 'supported' unless playing in that style was substantially over-rewarded with in-game effectiveness, or unless other styles were actively discouraged in some way (whether by being disfavored mechanically, or just talked down in 'advice' sections). Obviously, that's an attitude that has gotten in the way of 5e's objective to support as wide a range of playstyles as possible.

Tons of people dislike 4e and there are distinct patterns in the reasons they give for their dislikes.
You're not wrong. For one thing, it'd only take a few hundred gamers to constitute several 'tons.' ;)

Seriously, though, there /are/ very clear patterns. Most reasons given reduce to 'realism' arguments, for instance. For a clear example, consider the coining of 'Dissociative Mechanics,' itself: the Alexandrian objected to martial dailies on the grounds that they were 'dissociative,' yet, by the definition he came up with, they were actually associative, since the PH1 provided a reason for them being 1/day, so, he dismissed the reason given on the grounds of realism and fell back on an alternative that fit the definition.

Another clear pattern is in what the net effect of adjusting the game to eliminate their objections would be. Very consistently, the result would be an imbalanced game - either one strongly favoring casters and dis-favoring martial characters, or one offering lavish 'rewards for system mastery,' or, of course, both.

There are also clear distinctions between the reasons given by fans of 3.x vs those given by fans of earlier editions (which tend to catch 3.x in the same general blast radius). And, unsurprisingly, the net effect of accommodating those reasons would have been to make the next version of D&D a virtual re-print of the favored edition in question.

So it's not hard to conclude from the above that to re-capture those 'tons' of gamers for 5e, all WotC has to do is make sure that 5e is imbalanced in favor of casters, 'rewards system mastery,' is a veritable re-print of both 3.5 and AD&D, /and/ is selectively 'realistic.' As impossible as it sounds, it doesn't look like they've missed the mark by as much as one would expect. Though, of course, there are clear cases - like overnight healing - where they've failed. It'd've made a lot more sense to bring back the WoCLW in some way - that magic items are so optional would have allowed old-schoolers to keep it rare and 3.x fans to 'master' it.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
It's not that sim-players have n place and must be segregated. Rather, I read it as a competely reasonable statement that if you are looking to enjoy sim-realism play, D&D won't deliver (and Gygax even says as much, in multiple places, in his DMG). But other games, like C&S, will.
There are lots of games out there, and lots of them do specific things (or even everything) better than D&D. But none of them have D&D's name-recognition and history. So, while many players may /want/ to play something other than D&D - something that favors their playstyle over others, for instance - they may or may not always be able to find a group of other players who all want the same thing and have all stumbled over the same alternative game that delivers it. OTOH, /any/ group of RPGers you bring together, is likely to contain a majority of members who are familiar with D&D - it's not at all unlikely that every one of them started with that game.

So I don't really think it's reasonable to say 'just go play another game,' to anyone. That doesn't mean D&D should cleave to the narrow and extreme requirements of any one style. Just that it should try to accommodate a broad range of styles without favoring one over another. As with a lot of other issues, the key to doing that is balance....
 
For this sort of play, isn't the most important tenet of GM advice White Wolf's "golden rule" ie the GM needs to know when to use and when to suspend/fudge the action resolution mechanics?
No. It isn't. Almost the reverse. If you have conflicting agendas, you need to be able to trust something. And that something will be the rules at least as much as the GM. You are best off applying the Golden Rule when everyone at the table has aligned agendas - but the game doesn't do what you want.

Being too strict on the sim can shut down the player's dramatic agency in a way that also hurts their sim. I think this is what happened to LostSoul.
This. In my experience players with good intent don't try things that violate their sense of simulation. Which means that 95% of things that get shut down by the GM are also shutting down the player's sense of sim.
 

Balesir

Villager
I think this is why high concept simulation can consistently churn out favorable play experiences while process simulation tends to struggle in the hands of all but the most deft and synched users (GM and table). And done so with less headaches for all parties involved, to boot. This is a point @Balesir brings up often (of which I agree with completely). Assuming the resolution mechanics are reasonably robust, modeling a genre with merely a tacit nod to process requires much, much less overhead and handling time than modeling (a) the component parts of a stochastic system, (b) the stochastic system itself, and (c) attaining consistent table consensus on interpretation of both a and b.
I am summoned and so I come ;)

I am somewhat short of time at present, however, so I may only have time to give a fairly brief synopsis of the thinking I have been doing after following the "Cliff Notes" and other threads around here (and reading this one throughout).

The simulationist wants to reflect reality as much as possible. A fight with a broadsword and chainmail ought to work just as it did in the Middle Ages. . . . These people have no place in D&D; D&D is solidly in the wargame camp, and simulationists should try Chivalry & Sorcery or make up their own games.

<snippage>

Mapping Pulsipher's terminology onto Ron Edwards' terminology, I would say that:

simulaton = purist-for-system simulation
wargaming (on its own) = skill-based step-on-up
absurd = luck-based step-on-up
novel (on its own) = high concept simulation
wargaming + novel (combined as described above) = story now
First off I'm afraid I'm going to disagree very much with this characterisation of Forge Sim. I'm pretty much in agreement with Emerikol on this, in fact:
Actually this is Exhibit A for someone who doesn't know what the S in GNS means. If you believe the S in GNS has anything to do with accurate modeling of events then you've failed. They are not related. The guys who play these massive operational board games with a zillion rules are NOT GNS simulations. They are just plain English dictionary simulationists. The two are only passing related. Those super hyper simulationists though are still using turns when they play those hyper detailed games.
"Purist for System", as I understand it, is mostly about the game world being faithfully reflected in the game mechanics. The game world literally works as the mechanics say it does. This can be achieved in one of two ways:

1) The rules are paramount; if the rules imply that high level characters can jump off a cliff and walk away, then that's what they can do. It's just an odd quirk of the game world that this is possible - but possible it certainly is (because the rules say so).

2) The "world" is paramount. Of course, the "game world" does not really exist, so what this actually means is that someone's vision and conception of what they want the game world to be is paramount. The usual, perhaps even default, case is that this "someone" is the GM. They simply adjust/selectively apply/make up the rules such that the game world behaves just as their model of it demands that it should behave.

Neither of these requires that the game world be in the slightest bit "realistic". Indeed, with the first it is extremely difficult to make it so and with the second it will only ever be so (assuming that it tries) for those whose model of reality accords well with that of the GM. As an aside, I see no reason whatever why D&D (any edition) cannot be played in either of these modes.

One facet of these modes, however - especially the second one - is that they can have a tendency to "drift" into a quest for "realism". Partly, this may be as a result of a desire for "character immersion", for which it seems intuitive that verisimilitude can be helpful, and we certainly tend to assume that modelling the real world will "naturally" be believable. I think there is also a tendency for GMs faced with the need to make a decision about some aspect of the game world they have not considered before to let the game follow reality in the appropriate respect as a sort of "default". Their instinct may well be sound, since the "real world" as we know it seems to work, so the chances of generating a flawed model may well be minimised by this course. I do think, however, that adopting this approach has pitfalls.

The main pitfall is actually much the same as that encountered by "Type 1" games (per my two categories above) when they try to be "realistic". The real world is actually extremely complex, and the "rules" for it are immensely involved and difficult to fully comprehend. This is as much an issue for a GM making "rulings" as it is for a designer making "rules", because "rulings" are in reality nothing other than rules invented on the fly. Making rule(ing)s that are genuinely "realistic" is hard and, in addition, the very best you will achieve is rules that emulate your own model of how reality works. With others who have a similar model to yours, this will probably be OK-ish. With those whose model differs substantially from yours, it can be a disaster.

On the "Dissociated mechanics"/"Narrative Mechanical Unity" thing, I think this is an apparently natural wish for those who want Purist-for-System, intuitive world-physics RPGs (because they wish to play immersively, possibly). I understand the impulse for this, but I think it's problematic on two fronts:

a) The requirement, at least for immersive play, seems to be that the player is aware of reasons that the character is aware of for in-character decisions. More generally, there must be "in-world" reasons why a character can/cannot do something. This is unexceptional in itself - indeed, the logic of purist-for-system play implies that it must be so; if the rules of the game dictate something, then PFS says that the game world must say this, also. The difficulty comes in demanding that the rules system should dictate what the in-world reason is. I see no reason why this responsibility should fall to the rules system, and I can see large issues with doing so - which leads to...

b) The requirement that the in-world reasons for things should be the same at all instances. PFS doesn't actually require this, but many folks seem to demand it and the demand that the rules system explain the in-world causality (per point a) militates heavily towards it if the system is not to become extremely cumbersome. This is a difficult point to summarise briefly, so I'll try an example in the hope it will become a bit clearer. Essentially, though, the issue is that ability or inability to perform skilled acts often relies upon "circumstances" that are subtle, detailed and rely upon facility with the skill in question to see and appreciate.

Example: In swordfighting combat, the ability to pull off a move will likely be dictated by a host of details concerning relative physical positioning. Where are your opponent's feet relative to yours? Where are his or her arms? How is your balance and that of your opponent apportioned between left and right feet? If the blades are in a bind (touching), exactly how much pressure is there between them and in which direction? Guy Windsor has on his "Swordschool" site some (long) seminar videos that go into just this latter point; he goes so far as to suggest that medieval masters (Fiore dei Liberi specifically) distinguished between "Largo" and "Stretto" moves that could be (wisely) attempted only depending precisely upon the exact degree of force exerted in a bind. In short, the possible moves available to a swordsman will depend at least as much upon her opponent's actions as upon her own.

Given such a huge range of subtle effects and circumstances that will, in the "real world", dictate what is and is not possible, a game system that wishes to be "realistic"* has essentially three options:

i) To introduce rules to cover all or most of the possible circumstances. I think most would say that this approach is only marginally practical and is likely to result in a cumbersome system even if achieved.

ii) To abandon trying to cover all such circumstances and simply to adjudge some actions sometimes possible, sometimes impossible (or just harder) apparently arbitrarily. This of course raises the issue of "dissociation", in that the system no longer tells us what the "circumstances" are - we must imagine them for ourselves, assuming a priori that there must be some and that the character will know at least approximately what they are. If imagining such circumstances "on the fly" is not among a players learned behaviours, this method may prove troublesome and un-immersive until the "skill" is acquired (assuming they are bothered to do so - and, to be clear, why should they?)

iii) To reduce the list of "circumstances" to just a few and to ignore the other factors as "minor" or irrelevant or even "not applicable in this game world". This is a fairly common and quite traditional approach in RPGs, but it has a couple of problems. The first problem is that for those who have any appreciation for the possible "circumstances", the "simulation" will feel absurd. Again, if you are really interested watch the (warning, ~1.5 hour!) dagger seminar by Guy Windsor to see some examples of how this works. The second issue is that if the circumstances are identical on every occasion, then the optimal move will be the same on every occasion. This is the D&D 3.5 "trip fighter" issue. If the details of opponent balance and positioning are (effectively) appropriate for this move all the time, then this move will be the clear optimal action in every case. The reason this does not happen in real fights is that the circumstances are never the same; if you want variety in the game, then modelling circumstances in some way - be it abstractly or explicitly - is required.

I hope it's obvious by now that I understand and sympathise with the desire to play immersively (at least sometimes) and to model a "real feeling" game world, but I also see some serious difficulties in so doing that game designs hitherto have failed adequately to address, at least to my satisfaction.

Add to these requirements the demands for player agency, "balance" and fairness required for Story Now! and Gamist play and I think a "broad church" RPG, while not necessarily impossible to attain, will be a tough nut to crack. So far, I don't see 5E getting particularly near it.


*: Because worlds where variety in approach seem to be inherently more "believable" than ones where they don't (per the discussion after this *), I actually think that this applies to almost all RPG rule systems, not just "realistic" ones, but I'll leave that point for you to judge for yourselves while reading the remaining points...
 
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Emerikol

Villager
I am summoned and so I come ;)
1) The rules are paramount; if the rules imply that high level characters can jump off a cliff and walk away, then that's what they can do. It's just an odd quirk of the game world that this is possible - but possible it certainly is (because the rules say so).
I would call this the "rules are the physics of the world" and "NPCs live by the same rules as PCs". Still we agree.

I
2) The "world" is paramount. Of course, the "game world" does not really exist, so what this actually means is that someone's vision and conception of what they want the game world to be is paramount. The usual, perhaps even default, case is that this "someone" is the GM. They simply adjust/selectively apply/make up the rules such that the game world behaves just as their model of it demands that it should behave.

Neither of these requires that the game world be in the slightest bit "realistic". Indeed, with the first it is extremely difficult to make it so and with the second it will only ever be so (assuming that it tries) for those whose model of reality accords well with that of the GM. As an aside, I see no reason whatever why D&D (any edition) cannot be played in either of these modes.
Good points on the description. I believe people should play this way though if that is what they find fun. I find the approach fun. The world I present to my players feels real to them so we are enough on the same page for it to work. Perhaps that is a form of genre preference.


One facet of these modes, however - especially the second one - is that they can have a tendency to "drift" into a quest for "realism". Partly, this may be as a result of a desire for "character immersion", for which it seems intuitive that verisimilitude can be helpful, and we certainly tend to assume that modelling the real world will "naturally" be believable. I think there is also a tendency for GMs faced with the need to make a decision about some aspect of the game world they have not considered before to let the game follow reality in the appropriate respect as a sort of "default". Their instinct may well be sound, since the "real world" as we know it seems to work, so the chances of generating a flawed model may well be minimised by this course. I do think, however, that adopting this approach has pitfalls.
I would substitute realism with cinematic realism. Things we'd spew our Mt. Dew when we see in a movie are the kinds of things we'd reject in a game. I realize that is entirely subjective but we have a small group of players in any D&D campaign so it's quit possible to please such a subset when it comes to believability and immersion. If you can achieve this with a small group of other players you've got something entertainment wise more valuable than most other things at least for me. Without immersion though, the high cost time wise and commitment wise of D&D is not worth it. Other games are so much easier to get into and out of.

The main pitfall is actually much the same as that encountered by "Type 1" games (per my two categories above) when they try to be "realistic". The real world is actually extremely complex, and the "rules" for it are immensely involved and difficult to fully comprehend. This is as much an issue for a GM making "rulings" as it is for a designer making "rules", because "rulings" are in reality nothing other than rules invented on the fly. Making rule(ing)s that are genuinely "realistic" is hard and, in addition, the very best you will achieve is rules that emulate your own model of how reality works. With others who have a similar model to yours, this will probably be OK-ish. With those whose model differs substantially from yours, it can be a disaster.
You only need a group that agrees. I believe unlike you perhaps that we all share a lot in common when it comes to basic sense of reality. We might disagree. More often some don't care.


On the "Dissociated mechanics"/"Narrative Mechanical Unity" thing, I think this is an apparently natural wish for those who want Purist-for-System, intuitive world-physics RPGs (because they wish to play immersively, possibly). I understand the impulse for this, but I think it's problematic on two fronts:

a) The requirement, at least for immersive play, seems to be that the player is aware of reasons that the character is aware of for in-character decisions. More generally, there must be "in-world" reasons why a character can/cannot do something. This is unexceptional in itself - indeed, the logic of purist-for-system play implies that it must be so; if the rules of the game dictate something, then PFS says that the game world must say this, also. The difficulty comes in demanding that the rules system should dictate what the in-world reason is. I see no reason why this responsibility should fall to the rules system, and I can see large issues with doing so - which leads to...

b) The requirement that the in-world reasons for things should be the same at all instances. PFS doesn't actually require this, but many folks seem to demand it and the demand that the rules system explain the in-world causality (per point a) militates heavily towards it if the system is not to become extremely cumbersome. This is a difficult point to summarise briefly, so I'll try an example in the hope it will become a bit clearer. Essentially, though, the issue is that ability or inability to perform skilled acts often relies upon "circumstances" that are subtle, detailed and rely upon facility with the skill in question to see and appreciate.
This is why I allow player/DM communication to represent the thoughts of the character. I state the DC to represent knowledge the character with such skills would already have. I make passive checks against knowledge skills and I tell the players when I think it makes sense. So my players don't have to even ask in some cases because I just tell them. Based upon your knowledge of heraldry you'd say this shield was made during the fourth dynasty and so forth.




I
Example: In swordfighting combat, the ability to pull off a move will likely be dictated by a host of details concerning relative physical positioning. Where are your opponent's feet relative to yours? Where are his or her arms? How is your balance and that of your opponent apportioned between left and right feet? If the blades are in a bind (touching), exactly how much pressure is there between them and in which direction? Guy Windsor has on his "Swordschool" site some (long) seminar videos that go into just this latter point; he goes so far as to suggest that medieval masters (Fiore dei Liberi specifically) distinguished between "Largo" and "Stretto" moves that could be (wisely) attempted only depending precisely upon the exact degree of force exerted in a bind. In short, the possible moves available to a swordsman will depend at least as much upon her opponent's actions as upon her own.

Given such a huge range of subtle effects and circumstances that will, in the "real world", dictate what is and is not possible, a game system has essentially three options:

i) To introduce rules to cover all or most of the possible circumstances. I think most would say that this approach is only marginally practical and is likely to result in a cumbersome system even if achieved.

ii) To abandon trying to cover all such circumstances and simply to adjudge some actions sometimes possible, sometimes impossible (or just harder) apparently arbitrarily. This of course raises the issue of "dissociation", in that the system no longer tells us what the "circumstances" are - we must imagine them for ourselves, assuming a priori that there must be some and that the character will know at least approximately what they are. If imagining such circumstances "on the fly" is not among a players learned behaviours, this method will prove troublesome and un-immersive until the "skill" is acquired (assuming they are bothered to do so - and, to be clear, why should they?)

iii) To reduce the list of "circumstances" to just a few and to ignore the other factors as "minor" or irrelevant or even "not applicable in this game world". This is a fairly common and quite traditional approach in RPGs, but it has a couple of problems. The first problem is that for those who have any appreciation for the possible "circumstances", the "simulation" will feel absurd. Again, if you are really interested watch the (warning, ~1.5 hour!) dagger seminar by Guy Windsor to see how this works. The second issue is that if the circumstances are identical on every occasion, then the optimal move will be the same on every occasion. This is the D&D 3.5 "trip fighter" issue. If the details of opponent balance and positioning are (effectively) appropriate for this move all the time, then this move will be the clear optimal action in every case. The reason this does not happen in real fights is that the circumstances are never the same; if you want variety in the game, then modelling circumstances in some way - be it abstractly or explicitly - is required.
This viewpoint is a classic error. Abstraction is not unrealistic. When I play an operational wargame where I move DIVISIONS or even ARMIES across Russia in world war 2, the combat is very abstract. I do not need to know where every rifleman is taking cover or whether my tank hits his tank. D&D combat is very much the same. The d20 roll is based upon probabilities. The footwork, dodging, maneuvering etc.. is assumed.

I
I hope it's obvious by now that I understand and sympathise with the desire to play immersively (at least sometimes) and to model a "real feeling" game world, but I also see some serious difficulties in so doing that game designs hitherto have failed adequately to address, at least to a degree.
I appreciate your perspective and I don't mean to be harsh at all in my responses so do not take me that way. For me D&D just isn't worth it without it being really immersive. As a board game, it just doesn't bring enough to the table to overcome all the costs involved in playing it.


I
Add to these requirements the demands for player agency, "balance" and fairness required for Story Now! and Gamist play and I think a "broad church" RPG, while not necessarily impossible to attain, will be a tough nut to crack. So far, I don't see 5E getting particularly near it.

I think one key issue people miss is that most everyone wants all the priorities. They just rank them in importance differently. I believe I could make any 4e player happy without using a single dissociative mechanic. If I worked hard enough at that goal. The devs seem to consider that effort not worth it but I'd think it really is worth it.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
I am summoned and so I come ;)
Thanks for checking in and good post!

On the "Dissociated mechanics"/"Narrative Mechanical Unity" thing, I think this is an apparently natural wish for those who want Purist-for-System, intuitive world-physics RPGs (because they wish to play immersively, possibly). I understand the impulse for this, but I think it's problematic on two fronts:

<snip fronts and breakdown>
This viewpoint is a classic error. Abstraction is not unrealistic. When I play an operational wargame where I move DIVISIONS or even ARMIES across Russia in world war 2, the combat is very abstract. I do not need to know where every rifleman is taking cover or whether my tank hits his tank. D&D combat is very much the same. The d20 roll is based upon probabilities. The footwork, dodging, maneuvering etc.. is assumed.
I've seen you post this on several occasions and I think there is a communication or understanding breakdown of what people are saying when they're referring to the issues with abstraction. I'll try another angle.

There are two main issues at work. I'm going to define them:

1) Immersion - The capacity of players to perceive the emotional, mental and sensory experience of their characters.

2) Player Agency - The capacity of players within a gaming construct to act independently and to make their own free, informed choices.

I hope it is clear that the two can be exclusive to one another. Player agency can manifest in the extreme in a wargame setting where the players are entirely making their free, informed choices from Pawn Stance, bereft of immersion. A player can be immersed fully in their character's emotional, mental, and sensory experience even as their GM suspends the action resolution mechanics, and thus the player's agency, as they feel is required to fashion the game after their metaplot inclinations.

So, given the above, when folks talk about abstraction being problematic to process simulation (contrasted with genre simulation - high concept sim), they're referring to precisely what Balesir is speaking on in his above post; the 2nd and 3rd order effects/circumstances inherent to complex systems from which informed actors derive their decisions. They're considering these things within the confines of (1) and (2) above.

To put it another way, one person may have a shallow understanding of how something works (such as swordplay). They may use "common sense" (1st order coupling of cause and effect - which is likely to miss an enormous number of, possibly imperative, parameters but the data is smoothed enough such that the person's judgement doesn't become unbounded, sometimes leading to truly absurd experiences) or they may use "genre logic" to underwrite the sense that they make of what has transpired at the table. Good enough for them. They feel that they are informed because their capacity to perceive/access the mental/emotional/sensory information of their character is sufficient and, as such, their decisions are informed and of their own volition.

However, other folks may have a much deeper understanding of what is underway and the machinery that makes it so. As an actor looking for process-simulation and undertaking a decision, it is all but impossible to "unlearn" what you know and settle back into "common sense" or "genre logic" perspectives. You're looking for very specific information, much of it 2nd and 3rd order, to empower your decision-points. You've been running your own subconscious permutations in real life from this perspective for far too long. Without requisite granularity, your capacity to perceive the emotional/mental state and sensory information of your character is blunted. Without those inputs, your ability to make informed, free choices is rendered obsolete. You now experience neither immersion nor agency. And that is because of abstraction. Hence, abstraction, and the intentional information loss inherent to it, causes play to become jarringly unrealistic for you.

That is, of course, if you are (a) particularly learned in a field, (b) of a particular mental/emotional bent, and (c) looking for the kind of simulation of process which underwrites your own mental processing.
 

Savage Wombat

Adventurer
So like, if I were a trained paramedic - I'd be OK with the DM saying "make a Healing check" and rolling a die, but if they wanted me to role-play how I went about treating the patient, I'd start asking questions the DM isn't prepared to answer, which impedes my ability to reply in character?
 
There are lots of games out there, and lots of them do specific things (or even everything) better than D&D. But none of them have D&D's name-recognition and history. So, while many players may /want/ to play something other than D&D - something that favors their playstyle over others, for instance - they may or may not always be able to find a group of other players who all want the same thing and have all stumbled over the same alternative game that delivers it.
I think that when the article was written (in 1981) this was much less of a problem. I think back then there were more active RQ, C&S etc groups.

That's part of what I was getting at when I was saying, earlier upthread, that modern sim-inclined players don't seem familiar with those other games in the way that such players were 30 years ago.

Actually this is Exhibit A for someone who doesn't know what the S in GNS means. If you believe the S in GNS has anything to do with accurate modeling of events then you've failed. They are not related. The guys who play these massive operational board games with a zillion rules are NOT GNS simulations.
I'm going to disagree very much with this characterisation of Forge Sim. I'm pretty much in agreement with Emerikol on this, in fact:

"Purist for System", as I understand it, is mostly about the game world being faithfully reflected in the game mechanics. The game world literally works as the mechanics say it does
The problem with Balesir's characterisation here of purist-for-system is that any RPG can be played in that way, if you read the rules back into the fiction. (Several posters on these boards seem to take that approach - eg [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION]).

But Edwards, in characterising purist-for-system, clearly has in mind that there are external constraints on our conception of the world, which the system then has to model/account for. If you look at the systems he actually identifies as aspiring to purist-for-system, they are exactly the sorts of systems that Pulsipher (and Gygax) has in mind as contrasting with D&D:

The big commercial models are GURPS, BRP (in its "unstripped" form), DC Heroes (now Blood of Heroes), Rolemaster, D6 (derived and considerably Simulationized from Star Wars), and the Hero System (as such, mainly derived from Danger International and Fantasy Hero rather than early Champions)​

He says this about d20: "Whether D20 should be included in this category [of purist-for-system sim] is a matter for some debate." I agree.

Here are some general remarks that characterise sim, especially purist-for-system:

The game engine, whatever it might be, is not to be messed with. It is causality among the five elements of play. . .

Internal Cause is King
Consider Character, Setting, and Situation - and now consider what happens to them, over time. In Simulationist play, cause is the key, the imagined cosmos in action. . .

System is a major design element here, as the causal anchor among the other elements. . . .

Resolution mechanics, in Simulationist design, boil down to asking about the cause of what, which is to say, what performances are important during play . . .

The causal sequence of task resolution in Simulationist play must be linear in time. He swings: on target or not? The other guy dodges or parries: well or badly? The weapon contacts the unit of armor + body: how hard? The armor stops some of it: how much? The remaining impact hits tissue: how deeply? With what psychological (stunning, pain) effects? With what continuing effects? All of this is settled in order, on this guy's "go," and the next guy's "go" is simply waiting its turn, in time.

The few exceptions have always been accompanied by explanatory text, sometimes apologetic and sometimes blase. A good example is classic hit location, in which the characters first roll to-hit and to-parry, then hit location for anywhere on the body (RuneQuest, GURPS). Cognitively, to the Simulationist player, this requires a replay of the character's intent and action that is nearly intolerable. It often breaks down in play, either switching entirely to called shots and abandoning the location roll, or waiting on the parry roll until the hit location is known. Another good example is rolling for initiative, which has generated hours of painful argument about what in the world it represents in-game, at the moment of the roll relative to in-game time.​

The bit about initiative resonates particularly strongly for me, because of all the variant rules and options that are part of RM, none has been done and redone more than initiative - there must be at least a dozen published initiative systems, all of them trying to handle the conflict between "taking turns" in game play and continuous, simultaneous resolution in the imagined reality of the gameworld.

It is with the above remarks from Edwards in mind that I repeat my earlier post from upthread:

pemerton said:
Self-proclaimd simulationists on these boards probably do sit mostly in the "wargame" camp, but most of them are not simulationists in the GNS sense (at least, not purist-for-system sim). For instance, they tolerate hit points as a health mechanic and turn-by-turn initiative as an action economy - whereas I think it is probably universal across purist-for-system simulationist RPGs is getting rid of these D&Disms.
The reason that simulationists reject hit points and turn-by-turn initiative is not because they are "unreaslistic" in any generic sense, but because they violate ingame causality.

For instance, turn-by-turn initiative allows for peasant railguns, whereas not even the simplest version of initiative in RM or RQ will do that; and hit points (especially in their pre-4e form) allow for it to be true both that (i) a character is near-death and (ii) a character is easily able to recover without magical aid. Which violates the imputed biological/physilological causality of people who are understood to be ordinary in their capabilities except when using magic.

To block peasant railguns, or bag-of-rats, or other stuff like that in d20 requires GM fiat - which is to say, the game engine must be messed with. No self-respecting RM or C&C player would put up with it!

EDIT:

Of course you can have a purist-for-system game that supports unrealistic or impossible oucomes eg DC Heroes. In RQ you can build demigods (give them high CON and (say) 10 points of armour on their skin). In RM you can do the same (see the Mythic Greece supplement, for instance).

But D&D is not this. It's not that it produces unrealistic outcomes. It's subsystems (hit points and action economy chief among them) violate ingame causality.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I think that when the article was written (in 1981) this was much less of a problem. I think back then there were more active RQ, C&S etc groups.

That's part of what I was getting at when I was saying, earlier upthread, that modern sim-inclined players don't seem familiar with those other games in the way that such players were 30 years ago.
One of those things that I guess varied with region back in the day.

Where I lived, anything other than AD&D or Champions! (the guys who wrote it were from the general area), was hard to find. Well, or later, Battletech and then Storyteller...
and the Hero System (as such, mainly derived from Danger International and Fantasy Hero rather than early Champions)
Not so much, no. Skills were lifted from those (and really didn't work out that well) - the rest of Hero is very much Champions!-based. Not that there was ever huge differences among the various hero games before they unified in '89 - they were all basicaly compatible, the non-Champions ones just had lower point totals and different skill lists. (Also it seems like Hero's effects-based power-design system would drive these guys crazy.)

The reason that simulationists reject hit points and turn-by-turn initiative is not because they are "unreaslistic" in any generic sense, but because they violate ingame causality.

For instance, turn-by-turn initiative allows for peasant railguns, whereas not even the simplest version of initiative in RM or RQ will do that; and hit points (especially in their pre-4e form) allow for it to be true both that (i) a character is near-death and (ii) a character is easily able to recover without magical aid. Which violates the imputed biological/physilological causality of people who are understood to be ordinary in their capabilities except when using magic.
The veils over that realism aren't even particularly thick.

To block peasant railguns, or bag-of-rats, or other stuff like that in d20 requires GM fiat - which is to say, the game engine must be messed with.
I don't see what's so wrong with fixing what's under the hood. But, really, 'peasant railguns,' for instance, don't shoot a projectile out the end: whatever baton they've been passing all that way just falls in the square of the last peasant. Fixing the bag-o-rats could be done by fixing the actual mechanics of WWA & GC, instead of just freaking out and slamming it with GM-fiat or trying to insist that this or that creature isn't really an 'enemy' or whatever. Same goes for most such 'murphy's rules' - either they don't really work that way (they're the result of selectively applying realism or amateur physics to game-rule 'physics'), or they're the result of a rules glitch that can be fixed in a reasonable manner.
 
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BryonD

Villager
"Purist for System", as I understand it, is mostly about the game world being faithfully reflected in the game mechanics. The game world literally works as the mechanics say it does. This can be achieved in one of two ways:

1) The rules are paramount; if the rules imply that high level characters can jump off a cliff and walk away, then that's what they can do. It's just an odd quirk of the game world that this is possible - but possible it certainly is (because the rules say so).

2) The "world" is paramount. Of course, the "game world" does not really exist, so what this actually means is that someone's vision and conception of what they want the game world to be is paramount. The usual, perhaps even default, case is that this "someone" is the GM. They simply adjust/selectively apply/make up the rules such that the game world behaves just as their model of it demands that it should behave.
There are reasonable and realistic problems. But they are also very easily overcome.
For example, Item #1 must include the realization that (a) the rules can't account for every situation and (b) the rules in the book don't have to be perfect and nothing is wrong with changing something to best fit you group. To be extremely specific: I have long had a house rule for falling that every "1" on the d6s for falling is 1 point CON damage in lieu of the normal damage. The mechanical reality remains that you can fall off a cliff and survive. But when you can survive clubs from storm giants, it isn't a total disaster to survive falling. And I find that the CON damage works. It is amazing how much players disproportionately fear CON damage. The players DO NOT WANT their characters to fall from great heights. They are afraid of falling. Problem solved. I realize this is just one example. But I've yet to find a situation that can't be satisfactorily solved. I will readily admit to experiencing issues and learning the hard way the "hey, this thing needs to be fixed before next time". That isn't remotely a fatal flaw as long as you can solve it. And that is running at 100%. On the other hand, if you did want to have this level of immersion and the rules just give up on it, then that IS a fatal flaw.

On item #2, that can happen. But IME it doesn't. And I think this is a common issue with people talking about game style they don't like. They have a strong tendency to project their own issues onto other peoples' game, whether they exist at those tables or not. A hugely fun experience for everyone at the table is paramount. The people I play with tend to want the consistent world systems, so that of course matters a lot. But any "adjustments" made are always to adapt to the unique nature of the situation at hand. I'm frequently complimented on consistency and fairness. Item #2 just doesn't ever raise its head as a problem.


I'm not saying that everyone has to share the same desires. But I will say that if you don't see these challenges as easy to overcome then maybe you might not know what you are missing. And if you are having an awesome time, then by all means don't screw with a great thing. It is about having fun. "Knowing" these things is completely irrelevant to the priority of playing what works for you. But, if you want to comment on why games that work awesome for other people don't work in your eyes, try looking at it with their eyes.
 

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