• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

D&D General On simulating things: what, why, and how?


Being one of the "middle schoolers" that started as a lad in the mid 80s with the Basic set and eventually discovering 1E right before it got replaced with 2E (which was my preferred D&D for many, many years), I have a strange relationship with "simulation."

NOTE: I am using the term in its most natural definition, not necessarily in its jargon definition. I am talking about, loosely stated, "presenting rules ina way that sort of look like how things actually work, if you squint."

Anyway -- because I started with a version of the game that at least sometimes nodded in the direction of this kind of simulation, my tendency is to continue to do so, even after it has not only fallen out of fashion but also out of the rules almost entirely. Part of me wants the game rules to reflect the reality within the game (and to some degree, the reality outside my window) even when doing so might not be the most efficient or "fun" way of doing things. That's a tall order, of course, and I am not interested in truly rigorous simulation. But even so, I would love to see rules for shields that reflect their absolute dominance in ancient combat, along with rules that take into account how demanding and horrible bending space and time to create magical effects could be. Some of these desires are similar to earlier editions, while others are not. Some other game systems that appeared early in the hobby were direct attempts to simulate history or fiction ina way D&D did not, of course, so we can talk about those games too.

But overall, let's have a friendly discussion about when and how to use simulation in D&D, and also why.

log in or register to remove this ad


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
There was a time I wanted heavy sim in the rules. Eventually, it just bogged down the game for little gain. Though, I sometimes miss it still. I think sim has for me become a thing of taste. Like old school vs nu-skool. Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I dont. I am kind of glad to have systems that both lean in and out of it. Dont have strong feelings one way or the other at this point because I can have either if I want.

Jack Daniel

To me, the whole entire point of an RPG is that it can use something like simulation to subvert the structure of a story. Why do we want the rules of an RPG to help us accurately model "what would happen"? Because sometimes, narrative logic defies logic-logic and harms suspension of disbelief. When a hero escapes one danger after another just because they're the hero, or when the plot contrives to make happen one convenient coincidence too many, a part of us naturally balks at that.

How many times have you read a book or watched a movie and thought to yourself, "Wow, that main character just did something really stupid, because the plot needed them to do that so that the stakes could be raised; but I sure wouldn't be that dumb if I were in the hero's shoes!"? RPGs let us choose the smart move instead of the narratively predictable one — but, crucially, in order for that to make sense, the game-world has to operate on a logic that at least approximates the players' picture of reality.
Last edited:


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
For me simulation sucks. I'm doing this for entertainment and escapism, I don't want reality creeping into my games. I can turn on the news for that
I totally get this sentiment. Though, I lean into gaming to explore further reality through a fantasy lens. I use gaming as training for my real world experiences. (Obviously not combat, but im talking RP, decision making, philosophy, and politics...)


I like to have visuals that at least wouldn't look out of place in an action movie + magic. If it gets too far from that, I have a hard time immersing myself in the game.

I don't want real world logic (and think people discount possible side effects of magic) because I don't want my hero to defeat the troll only to die from an infection after the battle. That, and too much simulation would simply be too complicated.

At the other extreme I don't want to play in over the top anime world either. If things get too far from reality it's not believable. If I wanted to play a toon, I'd play a different game.

So for me 5E makes a reasonable compromise even if it's imperfect.


Moderator Emeritus
I definitely have a simulationist bent, but between some of it being too onerous even for me and players balking at some of it, I try to let it go when it doesn't totally break immersion for me. But there are some things we used to do along these lines that I'd love to do again. For example, a 3E house rule I had was that stablizing someone with a medkit took 1d10 rounds. The idea of stabilizing someone who is gravely injured without magic with one action is beyond the pale for me and I'd like to go back to that.

We never worry too much about encumbrance and where people keep stuff, but if your scroll or potions are in your backpack, shouldn't it take an action to root around and get it out, let alone use it? Heck, in my 2E days we assumed that all packs and encumbering stuff that wasn't a weapon was dropped at the start of a fight. So, getting a healing potion sometimes meant having to make your way back to where you dropped your pack! I loved that stuff, personally - but also understand that is not everyone's steez.


Exactly, I don't want some dark dreadful this is how much the world could suck if magic was real. Lord of the rings is great I love the books, but I'm looking more for Narnia, and king Arthur, the belgariad, the elenium, curse of the misteraith,. I want the world to be magical, and I don't want the magic to just turn into psuedo science, 7th, 8th,and 9th level spells should be scary even to the caster. Paladins should be scary even to 20th level mage's. I want the players to be able to shape the world, but I want them to be worried about the unpredictable consequences of magic. Without that unknown factor I'd just as soon play a sci-fi game

Remove ads