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On Behavioral Realism

Reynard

Legend
A friend and I were talking about how to run a successful game focused on treasure hunting in 5e and it led to a discussion on how players rarely seem to do things that real people do. The example that came up was the classic Inn situation: the PCs have been in the wild and the dungeon for a week or two and they finally come back to civilization, but when presented with prices for a room, a bath and a meal they decide to camp outside and eat rations to save money. Now, I was a US Army infantry soldier (during peace time; never deployed; I don't want to misrepresent) and after a week in the swamps of Georgia on a training exercise I would have given my whole paycheck for a bath, a beer and something out of an oven to eat.

This led to a more broad discussion of behavioral realism in RPGs, primarily about how players tend to operate largely in the game space when it comes to the very basic, human needs and desires and behaviors that rule our day to day lives. Even players that are very good role players from a funny voices and defined personality standpoint generally, in my experience, don't do tired, sick, afraid, horny, fed up, etc... well.

How do you try and encourage players to play like "real" people, who just want a bath after a sewer expedition or are willing to throw away half their earnings to impress the bartender? How do you convince players that emulating reality in this way not only enhances the game but makes it more fun for them? Or do you? Do you care if players engage in behavioral realism? Or maybe you don't experience the problem and you play with people, or are such a person, that inherently does these things.

Thanks.
 

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Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Take out tactical considerations, and maybe, maaaaybe, players will play with more realism. But hey, I'm not sure my players want realism. And I'm not sure if they really did play "real", it would be more fun. I mean tbh, if I was to see a real beholder, I'd a) sh*t my trousers, then b) run like f*ck and hope I wasn't the slowest person in the group... A more common situation - when players look like they are outnumbered and will get captured, instead they try to fight their way out. They would rather end up with a TPK than get captured...
 

Reynard

Legend
Take out tactical considerations, and maybe, maaaaybe, players will play with more realism. But hey, I'm not sure my players want realism. And I'm not sure if they really did play "real", it would be more fun. I mean tbh, if I was to see a real beholder, I'd a) sh*t my trousers, then b) run like f*ck and hope I wasn't the slowest person in the group... A more common situation - when players look like they are outnumbered and will get captured, instead they try to fight their way out. They would rather end up with a TPK than get captured...
I'm not talking about them playing normal people. The assumption is they are still badasses doing dumb stuff. But I've known a few spec ops soldiers (my brother included) some of whom did merc work later, and while they engage in a lot of behavior that aligns with "adventuring" they still come home and have kids, buy Subarus, and go out to the bar before heading back into the poop. I feel like most RPG players, even those that are really into their character's backstory and/or romantic options, treat their character like a game piece when it comes to most visceral human behaviors.
 
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MGibster

Legend
Now, I was a US Army infantry soldier (during peace time; never deployed; I don't want to misrepresent) and after a week in the swamps of Georgia on a training exercise I would have given my whole paycheck for a bath, a beer and something out of an oven to eat.

I've never been in the military but that's pretty much how my adventuring PCs act. I figure they're young, physically fit, and putting their lives on the line on a regular basis so when they return to town they're going to live like rock stars. In many RPGs, there's an incentive to scrimp and save as much as possible because they can use gold to purchase weapons, armor, spells, or other supplies that improve their changes of survival.

How do you try and encourage players to play like "real" people, who just want a bath after a sewer expedition or are willing to throw away half their earnings to impress the bartender? How do you convince players that emulating reality in this way not only enhances the game but makes it more fun for them? Or do you? Do you care if players engage in behavioral realism? Or maybe you don't experience the problem and you play with people, or are such a person, that inherently does these things.

You're asking a lot of questions here: The degree to which I care if player characters act like real people (however we define real) is dependent on the type of game I'm playing. In something fantastical, like D&D, I don't particularly care but in Call of Cthulhu I think it's kind of important.

But in general, I think the best way to convince players to emulate reality is to provide them with some sort of reward. If the rules don't provide a reward for behaving in a realistic manner then the GM should provide some sort of tangible benefit to doing so. This might be something concrete like an item, it could be new role playing opportunities, or perhaps something else.
 

Celebrim

Legend
In my game, to sleep you have to make a Con check with a DC set by your situation. Failure means you got a bad night sleep and are fatigued the next day. So 'camping out' has a real cost to it, and a good bed is worthwhile.

Likewise, you must make monthly Fort saves to avoid contracting disease (and more frequent checks if exposed). The DC depends on how well you've been living. Roughing it, eating bad food, or buying cheap rooms carries a cost.

In most cases, the PC's are interacting with a society that expects cleanliness. If they aren't cleaned up, then I'll apply penalties in social situations. If they don't dress well, then they get social penalties in situations where they are interacting with people of rank (and likewise forgo the bonuses they might otherwise have owing to their own rank).
 

Saelorn

Hero
How do you try and encourage players to play like "real" people, who just want a bath after a sewer expedition or are willing to throw away half their earnings to impress the bartender? How do you convince players that emulating reality in this way not only enhances the game but makes it more fun for them?
The characters live in a very different world from us. In real life, there is some sort of meaningful benefit to taking a bath every now and then. It might be hard to quantify, but it makes you feel better. There's a good reason for you to act in this way.

In the game world, that benefit doesn't exist. It isn't the case that the players are imagining it poorly, or acting out-of-character. It's just a different world, that works in different ways. In the game world, a bath doesn't make you feel better. And given that, the players are acting in a way that makes sense for their world.

If you want the players to act in a way that aligns with your vision of how the real world works, the most logical course of action would be to introduce some sort of penalty that's associated with actions you view as un-realistic, or a bonus associated with realistic actions. At a point during the 5E playtest, they suggested that you might need a comfortable environment (such as a tavern) in order to gain the benefits of a long rest; something like that should be sufficient for most purposes.
 


Reynard

Legend
Thanks everyone for your replies so far. it is interesting that many suggestions so far endorse punitive methods to encourage such behavior. I usually try and stay away for stick-based motivation in gaming simply because it makes things less fun for everyone, including me as GM who has to play the heavy.

@dragoner What genre is your game, out of curiosity? What you briefly described makes me think it is a modern game, which in my experience lends itself better to players acting like real people because they are closer to it.
 

Asisreo

Archdevil's Advocate
A common reward for roleplaying realistically would be to give inspiration. Inspiration is a delight of a reward, given that they are inclined to use inspiration which my players never remember.
 

MGibster

Legend
The characters live in a very different world from us. In real life, there is some sort of meaningful benefit to taking a bath every now and then. It might be hard to quantify, but it makes you feel better. There's a good reason for you to act in this way.

I gotta think basic hygiene is just one of the many things that isn't specifically covered in most game books for two reasons: Hygiene just isn't where the story is focused and because of the limitations imposed by time and the print medium you can't have rules for every conceivable situation. Not even GURPS can do that. (That's right, GURPS! I'm calling you out.) It's just assumed that characters take care of their equipment, go to the bathroom, and groom themselves and this isn't something we need detailed in the rules.
 

Sadras

Hero
Thanks everyone for your replies so far. it is interesting that many suggestions so far endorse punitive methods to encourage such behavior. I usually try and stay away for stick-based motivation in gaming simply because it makes things less fun for everyone, including me as GM who has to play the heavy.

A carrot-idea you can maybe expand on or maybe give you inspiration for something else

Lifestyle Expenses (Page 157 PHB)
Modest 1 GP = +2 temp hit points
Comfortable 2 GP = +4 temp hit points
Wealthy 4 GP = +5 temp hit points, and an additional +5 temp hit points after your 1st short rest
Aristocrat 10 GP = +5 temp hit points, and an additional +5 temp hit point after each short rest of the day
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I just figure that anyone who wants to be an adventurer has to be some level of insane, kind of like how we think of a lot of modern superheroes. Or Patrick Bateman.

"Do you like kender? A lot of people don't, but I feel like most people simply read about the exploits of Tasslehoff Burrfoot and maybe a heard a third-hand story or two and made up their minds. But while the initial portrayals lent themselves to stereotypes, there was a lot of nuance involved in regards to their inability to fully be in control of themselves, with their inherent kleptomania, wanderlust, and inability to feel fear. It was almost as though they relied on the party dynamic to provide the discipline that they themselves were incapable of generating, forming an underlying linchpin that allows the party to congeal in a way it never would have otherwise. Oh, Regdar? TRY GETTING A RESERVATION IN WATERDEEP NOW YOU STUPID BASTARD!!!"
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The characters live in a very different world from us. In real life, there is some sort of meaningful benefit to taking a bath every now and then. It might be hard to quantify, but it makes you feel better. There's a good reason for you to act in this way.

In the game world, that benefit doesn't exist. It isn't the case that the players are imagining it poorly, or acting out-of-character. It's just a different world, that works in different ways. In the game world, a bath doesn't make you feel better. And given that, the players are acting in a way that makes sense for their world.

Perhaps you in your game this is true, but it's not true in the game as written. While there is nothing that says that they do stink, there is also nothing that says that PCs will not stink if they don't take baths. There's nothing that says that they don't go to the bathroom daily. And so on.

The game leaves this out, probably because many people don't enjoy roleplaying these sorts of mundane details and just assumes that they happen off screen. Regardless, it's up to the DM and players to have these sorts of things played out or not.

If you choose to have the world be strange and weird, removing them as some sort of physical difference from ours, that's fine. That's your creation, though, not the game. Other DMs can choose to do things differently than you do.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I've found that XP awards for this sort of roleplaying are the best way to get players to do these things. Give out small awards for little things like spending money at the inn and such. medium awards for things that make sense for that PC and have a significant effect on the game, like running from the dragon on sight instead of attacking it or waiting for the fear roll. And substantial awards for roleplaying their character, even to the detriment of themselves and the party. For example, if the barbarian has a backstory that he back talks against authority figures and has done so consistently throughout his career, it would make sense for him to back talk to the king during a delicate negotiation. I see a lot of players suddenly switch PC personalities when the roleplay could get them arrested or worse.

You have to have players that want to play that way, though. I have one group that I play with that really enjoys this sort of play. We also understand that no matter what happens in game, even PvP, we're all friends out of game and don't take anything personally. Other groups that I've played in couldn't handle that sort of game. Their fun would be ruined by someone else getting their character into trouble or worse by bad talking to the king. I'd talk to your players about this and get their take.
 

atanakar

Hero
That is part of Downtime activities. Each group have their own way of dealing with that. There are prices for these items/services in the PHB, so they are definitely part of the game.

I'm against rewards/punishments systems for «encourage» such behaviour. Players will just abuse it and start to wash every time they can in rivers and pools during adventurers, to gain easy HPs or remove lighter conditions.

It is true that after a week of Canadian Reserve service I would have given anything for a shower. But personal hygiene were not the same in other eras of human history.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I'm against rewards/punishments systems for «encourage» such behaviour. Players will just abuse it and start to wash every time they can in rivers and pools during adventurers, to gain easy HPs or remove lighter conditions.

It's not abuse if that's what the DM and group want. Different strokes for different folks. :)
 


I ran a game where I tried to insert/encourage more realism and the response from one of my players was, "If I wanted to take a bath or go shopping, Id go home and take a bath or go shopping". Even though these scenarios can lead to good roleplaying, adventure hooks and possibly even adventures, they just wanted get to meat and potatoes of adventuring. I prefer more realism myself but I think you need to strike a balance with the players, perhaps on an individual level. If one player prefers, it indulge them without taking too much time, then move on. For the most part I'm assuming that when in town they are practicing a modicum of hygiene and etiquette and staying in relatively clean inns. I think in the end most people play RPGs for escapism, to do things they normally wouldn't or couldn't do and to leave the mundane things of the world behind for awhile.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Even players that are very good role players from a funny voices and defined personality standpoint generally, in my experience, don't do tired, sick, afraid, horny, fed up, etc... well.

The real question to ask is, what about playing tired, sick, afraid, horny, fed up, etc... will be fun for them? The players are each at the table for their own reasons - does such play serve those reasons?

For example, if you are playing a game in the style of Fritz Lieber, where Fafhrd and Grey Mouser often came upon their adventures through their mundane actions, then they have a reason to play in this manner. If, however, it is just an add on that doesn't impact the adventuring... why would you expect them to bother?
 

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