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

Well, I have no idea where the Scottsmen came from in all this, lol. I think the game surely doesn't give you any OTHER criteria to use EXCEPT railroady ones.
The game advices to set the DC by the difficulty of the task, not by it's relevance to the 'plot'. Granted, it doesn't go into much detail in this and it should. But I generally feel DMG is rather lacking in useful advice department.

As for answering your question, I think in order for something to be a simulation, in any meaningful sense, it must take in all the most substantial relevant factors, and it must produce results that match with what is being simulated. There is a mapping which must exist Reality <-> Simulation in which you can say "if I run this simulation, and it produces such-and-such results, that tells me something about the reality it is mapped onto." Otherwise the term 'simulation' is literally without meaning. Every single process of any kind can be termed a 'simulation' of something! I gave the example of the wall. What is the condition of the wall? If that isn't feeding into the model of climbing the wall, then I don't see how the model can be a simulation of anything. I mean, sure, the exact subtype of limestone the wall is made of may be a factor so minor we need not consider it and we can still get meaningful results. However, if I go out with actual people and climb actual walls, the simulation needs to tell me something about what to expect, or it is not a simulation.
OK. So what would this sort of mechanic actually look like? What games use such mechanics?
 

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Hussar

Legend
The game advices to set the DC by the difficulty of the task, not by it's relevance to the 'plot'. Granted, it doesn't go into much detail in this and it should. But I generally feel DMG is rather lacking in useful advice department.


OK. So what would this sort of mechanic actually look like? What games use such mechanics?
Again, that's dodging the point. We don't have to show you what simulation mechanics look like. I mean, we already have- the so called "quantum pocket" is a perfectly fine simulation of being prepared to undertake a task. Gives results that make perfect sense in the context of the fiction of the game - so, we've already shown you what simulation mechanics look like. Plus, it's been pretty clearly demonstrated that "black box mechanics" which only give you results are not simulations.

So, what exactly are you looking for here? I mean, take a more simulation approach to combat.

Attacker makes attack and succeeds. Defender can choose to parry or dodge or soak the attack (possibly more than one depending on the situation). Defender fails to stop the attack from succeeding. Attacker deals damage in keeping with the attack made.

In other words, the simulation is granular enough that we can actually follow events from A to B to C and the mechanics inform the narrative.

Or we're doing a conversation. A wants to convince B of something. Now, again, we need a more granular system than D&D has. A makes an initial statement of some sort and B makes a counter argument. Mechanics decide who succeeds this round. After a pre-set number of successes (based on what exactly you're trying to convince the person to do - the more difficult, the more times you need to succeed), one side or the other prevails and the goals set out at the outset of the contest are resolved. Again, we have a system where you have enough points of information all the way along to actually create a narrative that can be followed instead of "Roll persuasions, you succeed, the NPC does what you want (within reason set by the DM)". What you said, how you said it, what arguments you made, tone, anything like that, is completely unknown in the current system.

But, again, none of this is terribly rare or hard to find. These systems are found in lots of RPG's and have been found in RPG's for a long time. Granted, they generally aren't found in D&D, but, that's because D&D isn't a simulation system. So, of course you don't have this level of granularity in D&D.
 
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I'd point out that you're the one claiming that these are simulations. It's rather on you to show that these are actually simulations and not just making claims that you cannot back up.
I have several times explained what I think these mechanics simulate and how. These terms are not precise, this is what I (and apparently several other people) mean by them, I don't need to 'prove it'.


The whole "quantum pockets" thing is really interesting to me. @Crimson Longinus has flat out stated that these are not simulations.
It indeed is interesting. To me it seems more like emulating a stry structure than a simulation, but I have not super strong stance on this. I certainly understand why people would see it as a sort of simulation.

And, he has made it pretty clear that D&D is or at least should be, about simulation.
I don't think it is or should be about simulation. But it has some simulation in it and I'd wish it had a tad more.

Yet, we have quantum pockets in the PHB. The caster's Component Pouch has been standard equipment for quite a while now. A pouch that contains any and all components you need to cast any spell that doesn't have a cost attached. So, no tracking ammunition (exactly how many pinches of guano do you have for your fireballs?), and, so long as the cost is negligible, it's an unlimited resource.

But, no one seems too bothered by that. But, we suggest that our professional adventurers simply have "slots" for equipment to be filled as needed, and suddenly that's a bridge too far and completely not simulation. :erm: It always seems very strange to me that the things that people claim shouldn't be part of the game are already part of the game and have been since 5e was released.
Well, I don't think component pouch or infinite ammo are simulations. And whilst I don't generally bother with exact tracking such resources I don't assume that component pouch quantum generates any (no cost) component either. When characters learn new spells they go shopping for components, even though most times that is handwaved.

To go back to the original question. What makes something a simulation? I'd say at the very basic level, granularity. Enough granularity and you get a simulation.

Take a picture of a very expensive sports car. Hypercar. Beautiful piece of machinery. But, I think everyone agrees at this point, there's no simulation.

Now, take two pictures of this car, one in pristine condition, and the other a burning wreck. Ok, still not a simulation, but, at least our brains can start to fill in a story, but, barring any other information, all we know is that the car was destroyed.

Now, take three pictures. One of the car in pristine condition, add a picture of Mr. Richard Hammond in the middle and then a picture of the care as a burning wreck. There's a simulation. We can track A to B to C and understand pretty clearly what happened. ((For those who are not Top Gear/Grand Tour fans, Richard Hammond is a presenter on the car show that has repeatedly crashed many very, VERY expensive cars, including a beautiful Rimac hypercar a few years ago.)

Ok, so this is a bit tongue in cheek, but, it does get the point across. In order to have a simulation, you need a certain level of granularity. Pages back, I had a picture of a stick figure at the bottom of a hill, a cloud then the stick figure at the top. That's what D&D is. As soon as you engage mechanics, pretty much any mechanics, in D&D, you get this fuzzed out cloud where all the mechanics do is present you with a resolution. You have no idea how you arrived at that resolution - you just have a picture of a burning car.

So, ot answer the question of what is needed, well, granularity is generally needed. Although, sometimes, you can end run around granularity - such as the quantum backpack solutions. It's simply assumed that you put that tool in your backpack and retrieve it as needed. Now, since your backpack can only hold so much, you can't pull just anything out and once you've decided that you have items A, B and C, you cannot have item D. It actually does rather nicely simulate being well prepared for doing whatever it is you are going to do while maintaining enough limitations to avoid breaking the simulation.

See, the whole thing about simulation is that so long as you never contradict previously established facts, you can get away with a lot of things. But, you do have to establish some sort of baseline though. The backpack has useful items because you prepared before you left home. Your character lost HP but wasn't hit because your shield blocked the attack. I mentioned earlier about black boxes. Well, if you make the black boxes small enough, it becomes more like a moving picture - a series of still where any one taken out of context would be meaningless, but, strung together, inform a coherent and comprehensible narrative.
Again, that's dodging the point. We don't have to show you what simulation mechanics look like. I mean, we already have- the so called "quantum pocket" is a perfectly fine simulation of being prepared to undertake a task. Gives results that make perfect sense in the context of the fiction of the game - so, we've already shown you what simulation mechanics look like. Plus, it's been pretty clearly demonstrated that "black box mechanics" which only give you results are not simulations.

So, what exactly are you looking for here? I mean, take a more simulation approach to combat.

Attacker makes attack and succeeds. Defender can choose to parry or dodge or soak the attack (possibly more than one depending on the situation). Defender fails to stop the attack from succeeding. Attacker deals damage in keeping with the attack made.

In other words, the simulation is granular enough that we can actually follow events from A to B to C and the mechanics inform the narrative.

Or we're doing a conversation. A wants to convince B of something. Now, again, we need a more granular system than D&D has. A makes an initial statement of some sort and B makes a counter argument. Mechanics decide who succeeds this round. After a pre-set number of successes (based on what exactly you're trying to convince the person to do - the more difficult, the more times you need to succeed), one side or the other prevails and the goals set out at the outset of the contest are resolved. Again, we have a system where you have enough points of information all the way along to actually create a narrative that can be followed instead of "Roll persuasions, you succeed, the NPC does what you want (within reason set by the DM)". What you said, how you said it, what arguments you made, tone, anything like that, completely unknown in the current system.

But, again, none of this is terribly rare or hard to find. These systems are found in lots of RPG's and have been found in RPG's for a long time. Granted, they generally aren't found in D&D, but, that's because D&D isn't a simulation system. So, of course you don't have this level of granularity in D&D.

So it seems that you have decided that there is some arbitrary degree of granularity and detail that the mechanics must have to qualify as a simulation, and that degree is roughly "more than D&D has." Fine if you want to define it like that, but I don't feel this is particularly convincing standard.
 

Hussar

Legend
Well, I don't think component pouch or infinite ammo are simulations. And whilst I don't generally bother with exact tracking such resources I don't assume that component pouch quantum generates any (no cost) component either. When characters learn new spells they go shopping for components, even though most times that is handwaved.
How is this different from a quantum backpack then? If it's just handwaved, then when the characters plan to go out to do something, they go shopping for equipment. The exact equipment is simply not specified until needed.
So it seems that you have decided that there is some arbitrary degree of granularity and detail that the mechanics must have to qualify as a simulation, and that degree is roughly "more than D&D has." Fine if you want to define it like that, but I don't feel this is particularly convincing standard.
That's a bit dismissive.

I was pretty clear here about the degree of granularity. Sure, it's a bit vague, because, fair enough, we're never going to have an exact line. But, a single image is not a simulation. A before and after picture is not a simulation. You need at least, at the very least, a "during" picture to have a simulation. But, D&D doesn't have that. All it has is before and after. That's not "arbitrary". That's the actual definition of what a simulation is. If you cannot actually use the simulation to learn how you got from before to after, then you don't have a simulation. Full stop.

The point you have to realize here is that it's not me who's redefining a simulation. You and a handful of others are basically defining simulation as "anything I like". See, I really don't care about simulation, so the fact that D&D has no real simulation in it doesn't bother me in the least. But, I'm also not going to pretend that it does have simulation so I can for some bizarre reason claim that non-simulation mechanics (defined as mechanics I don't like) must be kept out of the game.
 

How is this different from a quantum backpack then? If it's just handwaved, then when the characters plan to go out to do something, they go shopping for equipment. The exact equipment is simply not specified until needed.
No, the items are specified. The pouch has components for spells the character knows. If they learn new spells, they need to get those components. What may be handwaved is the exact shopping process. But should the character learns new spell and wouldn't have chance to obtain components for it (say the are in a location in which that is not possible) the pouch wouldn't contain those components.

That's a bit dismissive.

I was pretty clear here about the degree of granularity. Sure, it's a bit vague, because, fair enough, we're never going to have an exact line. But, a single image is not a simulation. A before and after picture is not a simulation. You need at least, at the very least, a "during" picture to have a simulation. But, D&D doesn't have that. All it has is before and after. That's not "arbitrary". That's the actual definition of what a simulation is. If you cannot actually use the simulation to learn how you got from before to after, then you don't have a simulation. Full stop.
I simply don't agree. Also, before and after pretty strongly implies the 'during'. This is just a question of granularity and detail. If we have a character who is proficient with thieves tool, (and a number measuring their competence) opening a lock (and a number measuring quality of the lock) it is pretty clear what is being modelled here.

But please, give me an example of game in which these sort of tasks are resolved in a way that would qualify simulationist for you.

The point you have to realize here is that it's not me who's redefining a simulation. You and a handful of others are basically defining simulation as "anything I like".
No. Simulation is a mechanic that aims to model the fictional world in which the game is taking place.

See, I really don't care about simulation, so the fact that D&D has no real simulation in it doesn't bother me in the least. But, I'm also not going to pretend that it does have simulation so I can for some bizarre reason claim that non-simulation mechanics (defined as mechanics I don't like) must be kept out of the game.
This is not what's happening.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
No, the items are specified. The pouch has components for spells the character knows. If they learn new spells, they need to get those components. What may be handwaved is the exact shopping process. But should the character learns new spell and wouldn't have chance to obtain components for it (say the are in a location in which that is not possible) the pouch wouldn't contain those components.
None of these claims are actually part of the rules of 5e. The item description doesn't even throw this to the GM to adjudicate as a matter of course, so you'd have to use a hard use of Rule 0 to get here. Given that pouches are the other option to a focus, which not only doesn't have any of the drawbacks you list above but also cannot have them, applying additional burdens of what is a flavor choice seems odd.
I simply don't agree. Also, before and after pretty strongly implies the 'during'. This is just a question of granularity and detail. If we have a character who is proficient with thieves tool, (and a number measuring their competence) opening a lock (and a number measuring quality of the lock) it is pretty clear what is being modelled here.
It's the underwear gnome problem.

1. Steal underwear.
2. ???
3. Profit

This is a classic black box. Input goes in, something unknowable happens, input comes out. This is a large part of 5e mechanics as well. What you're doing is looking at the input and output of the box, and then coming up with a story to bridge the two. The story creation comes after you know the ending, though, not during. The process doesn't tell you how it happens, that's what you create after the fact.

Or, in other words, a post-hoc rationalization.

And there's nothing at all wrong with doing this -- so many game rely on this kind of narration! It's just a hard sell to say that the black box resolution, followed by post-hoc rationalization of the process should be called 'simulation.' This isn't an issue of granularity -- you can have very course simulations and very fine ones, but it's important to know what the process is to move between points and be able to analyze and tweak that process. There's not process in 5e skill resolutions (or attack actions) to tweak. We have no idea how you climb a cliff with the 5e resolution process, regardless of if we chunk the cliff up into 15 foot segments or 100 foot segments. No information comes from the resolution other than success/failure.


But please, give me an example of game in which these sort of tasks are resolved in a way that would qualify simulationist for you.
Aces and Eights features a pretty simulationist version of gun combat, at least in the hit location procedures.
No. Simulation is a mechanic that aims to model the fictional world in which the game is taking place.
That's actually a new definition I haven't seen in the thread. This very much argues against things you've said upthread, especially about systems with fixed target numbers. They're modeling the fictional world as well. I'm gonna bet there's a upcoming argument about how they aren't real fictional world modeler, though, as that's what happened last time. Some feature that isn't really about modelling the fictional world was identified and used to exclude it from the category. If only there were a term for such a claim... oh, well, it will come to me, I'm sure.
This is not what's happening.
It is, kinda, but I disagree with @Hussar that there's no sim in 5e. The jumping rules are sim. We can tell that you can only jump as far as you can based on the raw strength you possess. It's not a great sim, but there's an understandable cause and effect relationship there.
 


To go back to the original question. What makes something a simulation? I'd say at the very basic level, granularity. Enough granularity and you get a simulation.

Take a picture of a very expensive sports car. Hypercar. Beautiful piece of machinery. But, I think everyone agrees at this point, there's no simulation.

Now, take two pictures of this car, one in pristine condition, and the other a burning wreck. Ok, still not a simulation, but, at least our brains can start to fill in a story, but, barring any other information, all we know is that the car was destroyed.

Now, take three pictures. One of the car in pristine condition, add a picture of Mr. Richard Hammond in the middle and then a picture of the care as a burning wreck. There's a simulation. We can track A to B to C and understand pretty clearly what happened. ((For those who are not Top Gear/Grand Tour fans, Richard Hammond is a presenter on the car show that has repeatedly crashed many very, VERY expensive cars, including a beautiful Rimac hypercar a few years ago.)

Ok, so this is a bit tongue in cheek, but, it does get the point across. In order to have a simulation, you need a certain level of granularity. Pages back, I had a picture of a stick figure at the bottom of a hill, a cloud then the stick figure at the top. That's what D&D is. As soon as you engage mechanics, pretty much any mechanics, in D&D, you get this fuzzed out cloud where all the mechanics do is present you with a resolution. You have no idea how you arrived at that resolution - you just have a picture of a burning car.
No, a movie of a car is not a car simulation. It ILLUSTRATES the car, so it is a DEPICTION of the car, but there is no substance here. No properties of the car are mapped to any properties of a simulation such that there is a single mathematical/logical MODEL which describes the behavior of both of them. Without that, you simply have a depiction. A SIMULATION must be an ANALOGY. It has to contain some essential features which stand in for essential features of the simulated thing. Without that, its something else.
So, ot answer the question of what is needed, well, granularity is generally needed. Although, sometimes, you can end run around granularity - such as the quantum backpack solutions. It's simply assumed that you put that tool in your backpack and retrieve it as needed. Now, since your backpack can only hold so much, you can't pull just anything out and once you've decided that you have items A, B and C, you cannot have item D. It actually does rather nicely simulate being well prepared for doing whatever it is you are going to do while maintaining enough limitations to avoid breaking the simulation.

See, the whole thing about simulation is that so long as you never contradict previously established facts, you can get away with a lot of things. But, you do have to establish some sort of baseline though. The backpack has useful items because you prepared before you left home. Your character lost HP but wasn't hit because your shield blocked the attack. I mentioned earlier about black boxes. Well, if you make the black boxes small enough, it becomes more like a moving picture - a series of still where any one taken out of context would be meaningless, but, strung together, inform a coherent and comprehensible narrative.
I think the 'granularity argument' does have some essence of truth in it. That is to say, if a simulation only corresponds with the thing it simulates at a very few points, then it is likely that the ways in which we want it to be an accurate analogy will fail. Still, as you point out, its circumstantial.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I'm not sure who "we" is in this sentence. There are lots of RPGs that are very complex and detailed and still get played. There are RPGs lighter in rules than 5e, but much, much tighter as well. I don't think the drive for RPGs is to rely on the GM handling all of the simulation. In 5e, certainly, that's the role of the GM.
The “we” was referring to us players of D&D 5e.

I think I’m very under qualified for this discussion. :)
 

I don't think that you can show that D&D is a simulation by showing that its rules produce results that are consistent with its rules!

The question is, what are those rules simulating? What are they a model of?

But what does this mean? Upthread, it was suggested that a simulation means the rules dictate an outcome without regard to what would be the most fun or the best story. But action movie logic is entirely about fun and story! So here you seem to be mixing oil and water.


The simulation here seems to consist in the GM narrating fiction to the players. What is that simulating? Not the PCs' cognitive processes, presumably!

This is a point I have made many times!
I think the key point is when @Oofta says "simulates action movie logic" but that's not a possibility. 'Action movie logic' is not a thing that has characteristics which are amenable to analysis in the sense that we can discern salient properties that can be turned into a model and then used to build an analogy. The thing being simulated cannot be sufficiently well described to be simulated. We can say that a movie is an analogy of a book when it recapitulates the same story in a new medium. They might thus both partake of a common 'plot logic'. However I don't think that makes the movie a simulation of the book! Likewise when someone tells a story in an RPG of a marketplace with goods and prices, etc. they're not 'simulating an economy', they are simply depicting the visible traits that a market has. Honestly I think in a sense @Oofta is selling RPGs short, they aren't SIMULATING anything, they ARE a thing. If there is 'action movie logic' in an RPG it isn't a simulation, that is real genuine action movie logic!
 

Oofta

Legend
My take on all of this is simple. Nobody can tell me what I think simulation is. Like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder.

Of course we're still waiting for someone
I don't think that you can show that D&D is a simulation by showing that its rules produce results that are consistent with its rules!

The question is, what are those rules simulating? What are they a model of?

But what does this mean? Upthread, it was suggested that a simulation means the rules dictate an outcome without regard to what would be the most fun or the best story. But action movie logic is entirely about fun and story! So here you seem to be mixing oil and water.


The simulation here seems to consist in the GM narrating fiction to the players. What is that simulating? Not the PCs' cognitive processes, presumably!

This is a point I have made many times!
Fantasy worlds have different rules and expectations, so D&D doesn't simulate any one thing when it comes to magic. When it comes to non-magic I want D&D to be a rough simulation. When it comes to magic, I don't really care what you call it to have it be reasonably consistent and logical representation of the type of tropes and expectations we could see in fantasy fiction.

Call it flarfengoogle if you want. I call it a simulation of a plausible reality where magic exists. Many simulations are for events or situations that are only theoretical, I don't make an exception for RPGs.

So we disagree, big whoop. So basically there is no word in the English language we can use to describe aspects of the game that mimic reality or any fictional genre. Emulation doesn't work, simulation doesn't work. It's not purely a game like poker. I find it all meaningless flarfengoogle.
 

The game advices to set the DC by the difficulty of the task, not by it's relevance to the 'plot'. Granted, it doesn't go into much detail in this and it should. But I generally feel DMG is rather lacking in useful advice department.
OK, that's an objection, but it isn't No True Scottsman... Honestly, the problem here is that the DMG says "set the DC by the difficulty of the task", but what is "difficulty of the task?" There IS NO ACTUAL UNDERLYING WORLD, so there is no cause-and-effect structure to create said difficulty! The difficulty is thus simply a number, which itself now has to be created out of SOMETHING. Since the GM is in complete control of what the fiction is within the world, he's in complete control of the value of this difficulty that sets the DC. So the end result is exactly the same, the GM decides, based on some unstated criteria and in some unstated way, an adjective. He then calls this adjective 'difficulty' and sets a DC according to the 'rule' in the DMG. You point to the rule, without analyzing the entire logical structure, and claim it is a 'simulation', but it isn't, its just a number attached to an adjective that was set through some entirely opaque process that has nothing in particular to do with anything that might be getting 'simulated'. See what I mean?
OK. So what would this sort of mechanic actually look like? What games use such mechanics?
OK, the Space combat system from Classic Traveller has elements of being a simulation. There is some actual attempt to portray weapons and tactics which are analogous to things that reasonably can be extrapolated from known physics and engineering. It is still a game (maybe not a very good one actually, and partly because it is fairly realistic) but there is at least some sort of pretty consistent stuff in there, like the further away you are from the enemy's laser turret, the less probability there is of a hit (IE the angular resolution of his aiming system is a fixed number, but the arc subtended by your vessel at a greater distance is smaller, and evasive maneuvers are proportionately more effective, etc.). It is at least an ATTEMPT to inject some kind of correspondence between realistic things that might actually exist and happen and things that represent them within the game and how they exist and happen.

Now, I agree that, in some trivial sense, falling damage in D&D 'simulates' falling, sure. However I think it is much more driven by the 'falling trope' of dramatic fiction than by an attempt to actually match with physics. Meanwhile, the Traveller space combat system actually AVOIDS the normal tropes of things like space opera where everything is blasters and N-Rays and tractor beams or whatever (queue Star Trek, you can immediately see the difference). I mean, sure you can find a few rare SF books who's space combat might be similar to Traveller's but CLEARLY the thought process started from "what would space combat actually be like?" and the rules grew out of that. Honestly, I think the author probably wasn't very knowledgeable about subjects such as sensors, control system, C3I, etc. and chances are his 'simulation' is pretty bad! Still, its an attempt.

So, as a final point. I can't say whether or not every single thing in every FRPG is or is not a simulation. Nobody can do that, its not a clear line. I really don't think the idea of simulation does much good work in these games though. I think it is MUCH more productive and useful to think about how these things work in terms of producing story logic and necessary structure in terms of orienting participants and giving them indications of what to expect and what inputs will produce what sorts of outcomes. When we build rules structures like the D&D combat system, they map onto story logic, and they orient the players, and the conventions and structure of them allows us to know what is likely to happen and what the different 'moves' we can make will do. When an RPG hews fairly closely to a logical structure that has some correspondences with things we understand in the real world "swords hurt you" then we can also go beyond the board-game-like structure of typical games and into an open-ended mode where the players can suggest moves beyond what the system/fiction already cover. The GM is then expected to respond in a way that is expected and justified, either by an appeal to 'fairness', 'playability', 'genre logic', or a very loose kind of analogizing with real world situations. I think that analogizing is so loose, and shallow, that calling it 'simulation' just doesn't do useful work. As I pointed out with Traveller space combat though, you can find SOMETHING that is a bit 'simulative in nature' here and there, and that means it is hard to be really absolutist.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
My take on all of this is simple. Nobody can tell me what I think simulation is. Like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder.
Oh, sure, you like what you like. 🤷

But this isn't a useful position to take in a discussion of a thing, is it? You've started from the position that it's 1) not discussable as any kind of generally applicable concept, only the trading of personal interests is available; and 2) that you're utterly disinterested in changing any of your opinions. That's a pretty toxic position to enter into a conversation with.
 

Put it this way, if I was going to simulate ACTUAL MELEE COMBAT such as what is depicted in D&D, first I would build a model of forces and such that took into account mass, momentum, etc. in various ways. I'd want it to analogize the generation of kinetic energy by muscular effort, transferred into weapons, and then delivered to targets.

At the process level I think you'd need to evaluate who is acting and who is reacting, somehow, and then consider factors like whether the attacker is being cautious or reckless, and then likewise considering the options and choices of the defender (if any). This would all need to include some sort of perceptual model as well as somehow representing the 'OODA loop' that is each participant's mental process.

I am so far from having a coherent idea of how this would even work that I cannot state how this all would be designed, but it would be VERY different in character from what Gygax proposed, or what most existing FRPGs do now. I mean, probably, the best sort of strategy would simply be to go with a very loose system of intentions and moves, more like what Dungeon World 'combat' is like than being similar to D&D. It might be possible from there to formalize it a little more, introduce position, size, etc. as more definite objective factors, etc.

The thing is, I don't believe any of the above will actually make a terribly interesting game!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Mod Note:
Folks, rather than publicly call each other's positions "toxic", how about we disengage from folks with whom we find discussion less-than-constructive. Thanks.
 

OK, that's an objection, but it isn't No True Scottsman... Honestly, the problem here is that the DMG says "set the DC by the difficulty of the task", but what is "difficulty of the task?" There IS NO ACTUAL UNDERLYING WORLD, so there is no cause-and-effect structure to create said difficulty! The difficulty is thus simply a number, which itself now has to be created out of SOMETHING. Since the GM is in complete control of what the fiction is within the world, he's in complete control of the value of this difficulty that sets the DC. So the end result is exactly the same, the GM decides, based on some unstated criteria and in some unstated way, an adjective. He then calls this adjective 'difficulty' and sets a DC according to the 'rule' in the DMG. You point to the rule, without analyzing the entire logical structure, and claim it is a 'simulation', but it isn't, its just a number attached to an adjective that was set through some entirely opaque process that has nothing in particular to do with anything that might be getting 'simulated'. See what I mean?
The GM looks at the game world, and assesses how hard given task is and assigns a DC. This simulates some things being harder to do. Hopefully the GM does this in coherent and predictable manner. Like I said, the books could certainly offer more advice and example on this, to help GMs to maintain consistency.

Like if making chocolate chip cookies has a DC 5 and making macarons has a DC 15, then that simulates the latter being quite a bit harder to successfully make. Further that we add character's baking skill to the roll simulates that some people are better at baking than others. We can critique detail and accuracy of the simulation, but I think it is silly to say that it not a simulation at all!

OK, the Space combat system from Classic Traveller has elements of being a simulation. There is some actual attempt to portray weapons and tactics which are analogous to things that reasonably can be extrapolated from known physics and engineering. It is still a game (maybe not a very good one actually, and partly because it is fairly realistic) but there is at least some sort of pretty consistent stuff in there, like the further away you are from the enemy's laser turret, the less probability there is of a hit (IE the angular resolution of his aiming system is a fixed number, but the arc subtended by your vessel at a greater distance is smaller, and evasive maneuvers are proportionately more effective, etc.). It is at least an ATTEMPT to inject some kind of correspondence between realistic things that might actually exist and happen and things that represent them within the game and how they exist and happen.

Now, I agree that, in some trivial sense, falling damage in D&D 'simulates' falling, sure. However I think it is much more driven by the 'falling trope' of dramatic fiction than by an attempt to actually match with physics. Meanwhile, the Traveller space combat system actually AVOIDS the normal tropes of things like space opera where everything is blasters and N-Rays and tractor beams or whatever (queue Star Trek, you can immediately see the difference). I mean, sure you can find a few rare SF books who's space combat might be similar to Traveller's but CLEARLY the thought process started from "what would space combat actually be like?" and the rules grew out of that. Honestly, I think the author probably wasn't very knowledgeable about subjects such as sensors, control system, C3I, etc. and chances are his 'simulation' is pretty bad! Still, its an attempt.

So, as a final point. I can't say whether or not every single thing in every FRPG is or is not a simulation. Nobody can do that, its not a clear line. I really don't think the idea of simulation does much good work in these games though. I think it is MUCH more productive and useful to think about how these things work in terms of producing story logic and necessary structure in terms of orienting participants and giving them indications of what to expect and what inputs will produce what sorts of outcomes. When we build rules structures like the D&D combat system, they map onto story logic, and they orient the players, and the conventions and structure of them allows us to know what is likely to happen and what the different 'moves' we can make will do. When an RPG hews fairly closely to a logical structure that has some correspondences with things we understand in the real world "swords hurt you" then we can also go beyond the board-game-like structure of typical games and into an open-ended mode where the players can suggest moves beyond what the system/fiction already cover. The GM is then expected to respond in a way that is expected and justified, either by an appeal to 'fairness', 'playability', 'genre logic', or a very loose kind of analogizing with real world situations. I think that analogizing is so loose, and shallow, that calling it 'simulation' just doesn't do useful work. As I pointed out with Traveller space combat though, you can find SOMETHING that is a bit 'simulative in nature' here and there, and that means it is hard to be really absolutist.

I really feel that you're still just quibbling over accuracy and amount of detail. Also there again is mixed in some "fantasy cannot be simulated" flavour; i.e. lack of tractor beams makes something simulationistic.

Like in Traveller space combat, things that are farther away are harder to hit in D&D too. In D&D there are just two range increments, short and long range. How many range increments there needs to be, until this becomes simulation of the feature of the game (and real) word of the distance mattering for ranged weapon accuracy? I don't think that this is meaningful distinction. In both cases there is a clear attempt to model the reality of the game (or real) world via mechanics. The one attempt being more accurate and granular is just a difference of degree, not of kind.
 

The GM looks at the game world, and assesses how hard given task is and assigns a DC. This simulates some things being harder to do. Hopefully the GM does this in coherent and predictable manner. Like I said, the books could certainly offer more advice and example on this, to help GMs to maintain consistency.
What game world? The one that says "Oh, there's a cliff here." There is nothing which constrains any characteristics of this cliff; it is merely an imaginary thing. There's no world with plate tectonics and erosion and etc. that forms cliffs. Instead it is simply something that someone imagined would be there. It could be 30' high, 300' high, 3000' high, or heck its a fantasy world it could be 3 million feet high! It could be made of any sort of rock, or cheese, or demon flesh. Maybe it has overhangs, maybe its wet, maybe its dry, maybe it is sheer, maybe not. Perhaps there are paths going up, or not. ALL of this is entirely up to the GM and probably most of it wasn't specified when some line was drawn on an imaginary map and the words "The Great Cliff" were written on it. At most there's some general 2 sentence description. At SOME POINT there's some level, some decision point, where the GM or some writer or other decided "well, this cliff better be a DC 20 climb check because <story logic reason here>" or at best because he didn't have his coffee that morning and felt mean!

And no, the books CANNOT provide any more meaningful advice here! There is nothing to provide! Its up to the lady describing the cliff, 100% up to her and nobody and nothing else! All they could do is discuss the possible story uses of cliffs and examples of how they have been used in games past.
Like if making chocolate chip cookies has a DC 5 and making macarons has a DC 15, then that simulates the latter being quite a bit harder to successfully make. Further that we add character's baking skill to the roll simulates that some people are better at baking than others. We can critique detail and accuracy of the simulation, but I think it is silly to say that it not a simulation at all!
It depicts that one is harder than the other. I don't think that is meaningfully a 'simulation', we don't know why one is harder, and we have no justification for why my guy with a total +3 to his cooking skill can make one on an 8+ (65%) and the other on an 18+ (15%). It isn't somehow related to anything in the real world, it is just some numbers that were pulled out of thin air and used to depict that one is harder than the other. Nor are these DCs meaningful in any way to model some question like "would it be easier to make macaroons or leap out the window and land without injuring myself?"
I really feel that you're still just quibbling over accuracy and amount of detail. Also there again is mixed in some "fantasy cannot be simulated" flavour; i.e. lack of tractor beams makes something simulationistic.

Like in Traveller space combat, things that are farther away are harder to hit in D&D too. In D&D there are just two range increments, short and long range. How many range increments there needs to be, until this becomes simulation of the feature of the game (and real) word of the distance mattering for ranged weapon accuracy? I don't think that this is meaningful distinction. In both cases there is a clear attempt to model the reality of the game (or real) world via mechanics. The one attempt being more accurate and granular is just a difference of degree, not of kind.
Fantasy cannot be simulated! I mean, I agree with you that being 100% absolutist about it in the sense of "you cannot simulate falling in D&D" is kinda extreme, if D&D has a decent enough model of damage and whatnot, maybe we can, and nobody can logically draw some exact lines here. Still, tractor beams CERTAINLY cannot be simulated, no more than fireballs can, they are both utterly fantastic constructs of imagination not subject to ANY laws, as are cliff faces and such things. I am sort of able to simulate falling in a pit because once I've decided there's a 20' deep pit with a hard stone floor I've PRETTY MUCH figured out all the relevant factors.

So, going back to the cliff example above. If we have once (say in some previous adventure) already nailed down all the factors, and we now we say to ourselves "how hard would this baby actually be to climb" at least we're in a situation similar to the pit. Maybe someone can then write some little mini-game that simulates that situation. I don't think that means that the general workings of the 5e skill system has any character of simulation to it.
 

@AbdulAlhazred

OK. We are now at "imaginary things cannot be simulated," and "simulation must match reality (near) perfectly." I obviously don't agree, and frankly I find such definition in the context of games about imaginary things utterly useless. But I guess at this point it is just the best to agree to disagree. 🤷 I will however continue to use the word the way I deem sensible.
 

Oofta

Legend
@AbdulAlhazred

OK. We are now at "imaginary things cannot be simulated," and "simulation must match reality (near) perfectly." I obviously don't agree, and frankly I find such definition in the context of games about imaginary things utterly useless. But I guess at this point it is just the best to agree to disagree. 🤷 I will however continue to use the word the way I deem sensible.
Some people just want to define what the word simulation means for everyone else. That if any aspect of D&D does not follow that strict definition, than no aspect of D&D can be considered simulation.

Nobody has come up with a better alternative, so I will continue to consider D&D a necessarily crude simulation of a magical world.
 

@AbdulAlhazred

OK. We are now at "imaginary things cannot be simulated," and "simulation must match reality (near) perfectly." I obviously don't agree, and frankly I find such definition in the context of games about imaginary things utterly useless. But I guess at this point it is just the best to agree to disagree. 🤷 I will however continue to use the word the way I deem sensible.
I don't know about 'nearly' or '(near) perfectly'. It is more like we must be able to actually construct some sort of model that says "why is this the outcome of our simulation?" One problem with all these examples and whatnot is we don't even know what the real world factors are. You talk about macaroons and oatmeal cookies, but what are the factors that make one or the other harder or easier to bake? If I have ZERO of those factors incorporated in my 'model' of baking then I can't even say if 5 and 15 are proper DCs on this given day, given these available ingredients, etc. Even if the 'model' happens to be plausibly correct in one instance its like saying a broken clock has the right time twice per day...
 

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