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

One of the things that gets undersold when it comes to how we represent things in our games is not accounting for cognitive load, our ability to reason about things and pure practical play.

Both Worlds Without Number and Pathfinder Second Edition use abstracted encumbrance systems. Are they more accurate than ones we account for exact weights? Not really. However, the numbers are much easier to use at the table, much easier to reason about and take less handling time. An encumbrance system we use will always be more accurate than one we do not.

A system that is painful to use or more trouble than it's worth will not see use at the table. We're going to end up ignoring it most of the time. Sometimes we end up with more accurate simulation in play by using systems that help us manage the load, so we do not end up eliding it.
Yep. This is why I prefer rather broad strokes simulation.
 

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Oofta

Legend
Since I've been mentioned several times (and it's not late at night and I've had some caffeine :coffee:) I thought I would clarify my thoughts. Short version? Simulation models a flow of possible events. In D&D it's modeling the reaction of PCs to events in a fantastical world.

I think any system that broadly gives the impression of mimicking the environment, world, events we're trying to to evoke can be considered a simulation. A technical definition of simulation can be found here "A simulation is a model that mimics the operation of an existing or proposed system, providing evidence for decision-making by being able to test different scenarios or process changes." Another relevant sentence "Any system or process that has a flow of events can be simulated." Many of the things raised as reasons why D&D is not a simulation is never mentioned in any of the general definitions I can find. There's no mention of the various subsystems telling us why those subsystems acted in the way they did, it's all about what we are simulating reacting to those subsystems.

Now, obviously the article I found after 30 seconds of googling is about simulating the real world but the key to me is that you're just mimicking something, a flow of events. So I consider the Fallout games a simulation of a fictional post-apocalyptic world based on an alternative 50's vision of the future. That doesn't mean I believe radiation can make magical mutants or that the power armor they use is realistic, it doesn't need to be. If you use the VATS system, it becomes obvious that every time you shoot at someone the game is rolling percentile dice in the background to see if you hit. It doesn't "justify" why you hit, it just rolls the digital dice. Much like when an attempt to climb is made we role the polyhedral random number generator.

The flow of events is what we are simulating. It's how our PCs interact with and respond to a fictional magical world. When I play D&D I'm not running a rock climbing simulation. I'm simulating the attempts of the PC to overcome obstacles which may include climbing a wall they cannot automatically climb. The results of that attempt to climb and what happens to the PC on success or failure is what matters. If Bob can't tell that Sue is lying but Alex could have, it's just simulating the fact that in this specific instance Bob wasn't paying enough attention or is not very good at reading people. Whether the people at the table add fluff to justify why Bob wasn't paying enough attention is just decorative narration, it doesn't change the outcome. The game's simulationist aspect is not altered by the fact that we also add narration.

As far as dragons, the fiction for dragons in D&D is limited to the rules of the game. Dragon lore varies so widely there has to be some baseline. Some dragons are small crocodile sized that St George slew, others are basically gods that can consume stars. I use D&D's baseline as established in the MM. That means that at a maximum they have an AC only slightly better than a PC in plate with a shield. That AC can be matched (or exceeded) by magical enhancements a PC would normally have at high levels. Even an ancient red dragon only has a little over double the HP of a 20th level barbarian (assuming 18 con). Hard to kill? Absolutely. It's why a lone PC would probably be literal toast. Impossible to kill? No, not according to the fiction established by the rules of the game*.

Are high level PCs in D&D supremely good at what they do? Even exceeding normal (real world) human capabilities? Sure. That's part of what we're simulating, a world where the best of the best can indeed face down dragons. At times it's a very crude simulation, one that has many simplifications and limitations because it's a TTRPG.

In any case, that's my definition, backed up by definitions of what simulation means outside of the gaming world.

P.S. If you want to have a discussion that's fine. If you want to tell me I'm wrong because of some definition of simulation you've established I probably won't respond. If you can find some non-game-theory definition of simulation reference that contradicts what I've said, I'll take a look when I have time. I'm not being dismissive of other people's opinions, I just don't see the point of saying "you're wrong" vs "no, you are".

*Although in my games I rarely use high level dragons because unless there are unusual circumstances I would use tactics that would likely kill off one or more PCs. They're more than just a static pile of HP, but that's a different discussion.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So, could you explain to me how to go forward from there?

By realizing that there's no pleasing some people, shrugging your shoulders and moving on with your life without further comment. We have an Ignore function to help you with that, if you need it.
 

Since I've been mentioned several times (and it's not late at night and I've had some caffeine :coffee:) I thought I would clarify my thoughts. Short version? Simulation models a flow of possible events. In D&D it's modeling the reaction of PCs to events in a fantastical world.

I think any system that broadly gives the impression of mimicking the environment, world, events we're trying to to evoke can be considered a simulation. A technical definition of simulation can be found here "A simulation is a model that mimics the operation of an existing or proposed system, providing evidence for decision-making by being able to test different scenarios or process changes." Another relevant sentence "Any system or process that has a flow of events can be simulated." Many of the things raised as reasons why D&D is not a simulation is never mentioned in any of the general definitions I can find. There's no mention of the various subsystems telling us why those subsystems acted in the way they did, it's all about what we are simulating reacting to those subsystems.
Your own first proposed definition answers this. A simulation needs to 'mimic the operation of an existing or proposed system'. I think that all of my objections are based on this particular phrase, or the general 'is a model', or perhaps some flavor of 'being able to test different scenarios'. That third one I find many putative simulations fail on based on the fact that they are so simple they don't really admit of different inputs. I'd also note that something like an encumbrance model doesn't seem to have much of a character of 'a process that has a flow of events' to it, being simply a static model, though I'm less concerned with that as it could at least serve as a component input to other processes which might be simulations of something.
Now, obviously the article I found after 30 seconds of googling is about simulating the real world but the key to me is that you're just mimicking something, a flow of events. So I consider the Fallout games a simulation of a fictional post-apocalyptic world based on an alternative 50's vision of the future. That doesn't mean I believe radiation can make magical mutants or that the power armor they use is realistic, it doesn't need to be. If you use the VATS system, it becomes obvious that every time you shoot at someone the game is rolling percentile dice in the background to see if you hit. It doesn't "justify" why you hit, it just rolls the digital dice. Much like when an attempt to climb is made we role the polyhedral random number generator.
Sure, but does their combat system really, in a meaningful way that corresponds in some degree to reality tell you what factors are really relevant in terms of the overall lethality of gunfire in different situations? In other words, could you look at the model, or run the simulation with various inputs, and extract from it some useful and predictive output that would inform decisions in the simulated type of situation (IE when setting up a real gun battle for instance). My guess, having played one or two of these games, is that it would be of very marginal use there, but that it is at least moderately good at generating (along with other inputs from participants) a suitable NARRATIVE of a gun battle. It seems far less like a gun battle simulator and far more like a narrative generator. I mean, you can certainly go ahead and talk about it in simulation terms, but I'm skeptical that is the most effective approach. For instance, things that are likely to make it a better simulation are unlikely to make it a better game, nor perhaps to improve the narrative in terms of the qualities that are likely valued by the participants.

However, I think the questions I'm raising fall well within the realm of what and why the OP's original question was aimed at discussing.
The flow of events is what we are simulating. It's how our PCs interact with and respond to a fictional magical world. When I play D&D I'm not running a rock climbing simulation. I'm simulating the attempts of the PC to overcome obstacles which may include climbing a wall they cannot automatically climb. The results of that attempt to climb and what happens to the PC on success or failure is what matters. If Bob can't tell that Sue is lying but Alex could have, it's just simulating the fact that in this specific instance Bob wasn't paying enough attention or is not very good at reading people. Whether the people at the table add fluff to justify why Bob wasn't paying enough attention is just decorative narration, it doesn't change the outcome. The game's simulationist aspect is not altered by the fact that we also add narration.
Right, this is why I call these games something closer to narrative generators than simulations. They are not really concerned with accuracy. The primary concerns involve how, when, and where the participants make inputs, the comprehensibility of the situations portrayed and how they can be reasoned about, and then about other non-narrative aspects like how enjoyable the game process of play itself is.
As far as dragons, the fiction for dragons in D&D is limited to the rules of the game. Dragon lore varies so widely there has to be some baseline. Some dragons are small crocodile sized that St George slew, others are basically gods that can consume stars. I use D&D's baseline as established in the MM. That means that at a maximum they have an AC only slightly better than a PC in plate with a shield. That AC can be matched (or exceeded) by magical enhancements a PC would normally have at high levels. Even an ancient red dragon only has a little over double the HP of a 20th level barbarian (assuming 18 con). Hard to kill? Absolutely. It's why a lone PC would probably be literal toast. Impossible to kill? No, not according to the fiction established by the rules of the game*.
5e dragons seemed pretty darned tough and BIG to me when I have seen them depicted in play. Outside of some significant trickery mid-range 5e dragons didn't seem to be something you could really defeat at all in a practical way. One thing our encounters drove home in spades, you better approach it on your own terms, because if the dragon gets to pick how and where it fights you, then its pretty much game over.
Are high level PCs in D&D supremely good at what they do? Even exceeding normal (real world) human capabilities? Sure. That's part of what we're simulating, a world where the best of the best can indeed face down dragons. At times it's a very crude simulation, one that has many simplifications and limitations because it's a TTRPG.
Right, but a 20th level Battlemaster actually is NOT significantly better at Athletics than 'ordinary humans' by the rules as written. That was the issue discussed, if you can actually defeat a 10 ton dragon, you couldn't possibly lose a contest of strength with any sort of realistic ordinary human.
In any case, that's my definition, backed up by definitions of what simulation means outside of the gaming world.

P.S. If you want to have a discussion that's fine. If you want to tell me I'm wrong because of some definition of simulation you've established I probably won't respond. If you can find some non-game-theory definition of simulation reference that contradicts what I've said, I'll take a look when I have time. I'm not being dismissive of other people's opinions, I just don't see the point of saying "you're wrong" vs "no, you are".

*Although in my games I rarely use high level dragons because unless there are unusual circumstances I would use tactics that would likely kill off one or more PCs. They're more than just a static pile of HP, but that's a different discussion.
Well, if people have a discussion where they don't agree on certain points, then the only reasonable and fair tactic is to point out where the other person's logic falls short in some way, right? That and/or making some alternative argument are the only two approaches that seem possible to me.

I mean, I don't have a problem with the definitions you put forward at the start of the post, but I believe they are entirely consistent with, and congruent with the ones that I put forward myself! So, my main observation is that it doesn't appear that RPGs, most of them at any rate, are terribly concerned with simulating anything. They seem concerned with providing a recognizable depiction of the ordinary world outside of whatever conceits they are adding. You can, to some varying degree, apply the definition simulation to some of those. The problem as I see it is that simulation in general has a focus on making a useful and faithful mapping of real/potentially real scenarios back and forth onto its models in order to create predictive power. The agenda there is heavily in the direction of improving the quality of that mapping with the understanding that it will both increase predictive power, and potentially generate insights into the physical system being modeled.

IMHO RPG depictions don't really have the above simulation agenda. Honestly, games like Aftermath showed us this back in the mid-80s. You can make really detailed models of things (guns in this case) and then deploy them in the form of a really complicated combat system, but the result is not a materially better game experience than that had by playing something like Traveller, at least for most people. I mean, there were a bunch of serious gun heads that loved Aftermath, but I found the play in that game really rather dull myself. So, my general advice to game designers and GMs, certainly in terms of 'simulation of process' kinds of things (like use of skills or combat) is to focus more on how the depiction works in game and narrative terms, and less on worrying about how it maps onto the fiction in a mechanical sense.

Finally, I don't even think that simulation is actually the concern for most people who are using the term. It seems more like the most common concern has more to do with how the process incorporates or does not incorporate elements that are present in the fiction, amongst other concerns. So, for instance, even though something like an inventory subsystem that produces results more likely to objectively mimic the outcomes of experienced characters choices of equipment might seem to be a better simulated inventory by any reasonable definition of simulation, it is selected against for other reasons like its effect on how and when the narrative unfolds. It feels super hard to have any scope for discussion of how depictions work in RPGs with that in mind since any but one very narrow set of mechanics is met with scorn from some direction or other.
 

Since I've been mentioned several times (and it's not late at night and I've had some caffeine :coffee:) I thought I would clarify my thoughts.

Since you deny that anyone can tell you what simulation is, and retreat from all dialogue when unable to refute ideas you don't like, it would seem a position of complete hypocrisy for you to also claim that you can tell other people what simulation is.

And yet there's a lengthy post in which you proceed to do just that. Is this some sort of joke?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Since you deny that anyone can tell you what simulation is, and retreat from all dialogue when unable to refute ideas you don't like, it would seem a position of complete hypocrisy for you to also claim that you can tell other people what simulation is.

And yet there's a lengthy post in which you proceed to do just that. Is this some sort of joke?

Mod Note
This sure looks like an attempt to make this about the person of the poster, rather than the topic.

Please don't do that.
 

Oofta

Legend
Your own first proposed definition answers this. A simulation needs to 'mimic the operation of an existing or proposed system'. I think that all of my objections are based on this particular phrase, or the general 'is a model', or perhaps some flavor of 'being able to test different scenarios'. That third one I find many putative simulations fail on based on the fact that they are so simple they don't really admit of different inputs. I'd also note that something like an encumbrance model doesn't seem to have much of a character of 'a process that has a flow of events' to it, being simply a static model, though I'm less concerned with that as it could at least serve as a component input to other processes which might be simulations of something.

Right. D&D is set in a fictional proposed realm I don't see a conflict. They also specifically mention video game simulations, many of which are complete fiction. So I think the word still applies. Feel free to differ.
Sure, but does their combat system really, in a meaningful way that corresponds in some degree to reality tell you what factors are really relevant in terms of the overall lethality of gunfire in different situations? In other words, could you look at the model, or run the simulation with various inputs, and extract from it some useful and predictive output that would inform decisions in the simulated type of situation (IE when setting up a real gun battle for instance). My guess, having played one or two of these games, is that it would be of very marginal use there, but that it is at least moderately good at generating (along with other inputs from participants) a suitable NARRATIVE of a gun battle. It seems far less like a gun battle simulator and far more like a narrative generator. I mean, you can certainly go ahead and talk about it in simulation terms, but I'm skeptical that is the most effective approach. For instance, things that are likely to make it a better simulation are unlikely to make it a better game, nor perhaps to improve the narrative in terms of the qualities that are likely valued by the participants.
If you're building a simulation of a grocery store, you don't care why a shopper picks up Captain Crunch over Wheaties. You just know that they do, probably have some sort of randomization based on past behavior and sales figures. You may have some fallbacks such as what cereal they will buy if their favorite is out. You can also increase sales percentages based on where the cereal is located (endcaps are a big sales boost) and so on. But end of the day simulations don't care why something happens, they just care about the impact it has on the grocery store and overall sales.
However, I think the questions I'm raising fall well within the realm of what and why the OP's original question was aimed at discussing.

Right, this is why I call these games something closer to narrative generators than simulations. They are not really concerned with accuracy. The primary concerns involve how, when, and where the participants make inputs, the comprehensibility of the situations portrayed and how they can be reasoned about, and then about other non-narrative aspects like how enjoyable the game process of play itself is.

5e dragons seemed pretty darned tough and BIG to me when I have seen them depicted in play. Outside of some significant trickery mid-range 5e dragons didn't seem to be something you could really defeat at all in a practical way. One thing our encounters drove home in spades, you better approach it on your own terms, because if the dragon gets to pick how and where it fights you, then its pretty much game over.

Right, but a 20th level Battlemaster actually is NOT significantly better at Athletics than 'ordinary humans' by the rules as written. That was the issue discussed, if you can actually defeat a 10 ton dragon, you couldn't possibly lose a contest of strength with any sort of realistic ordinary human.
Why would they be? We aren't attempting to simulate training for the Olympics. Being really, really good at fighting doesn't mean you suddenly know how to pole vault. You have a bit of an edge if it's something you have training in because your proficiency bonus goes up. Your long jump increases if you've been pumping iron and are stronger.

But you're also talking specific game mechanic implementation, which I think is a bit of a red herring. The game simplifies a lot of things, I never said it was a particularly good simulation in all aspects.
Well, if people have a discussion where they don't agree on certain points, then the only reasonable and fair tactic is to point out where the other person's logic falls short in some way, right? That and/or making some alternative argument are the only two approaches that seem possible to me.

I mean, I don't have a problem with the definitions you put forward at the start of the post, but I believe they are entirely consistent with, and congruent with the ones that I put forward myself! So, my main observation is that it doesn't appear that RPGs, most of them at any rate, are terribly concerned with simulating anything. They seem concerned with providing a recognizable depiction of the ordinary world outside of whatever conceits they are adding. You can, to some varying degree, apply the definition simulation to some of those. The problem as I see it is that simulation in general has a focus on making a useful and faithful mapping of real/potentially real scenarios back and forth onto its models in order to create predictive power. The agenda there is heavily in the direction of improving the quality of that mapping with the understanding that it will both increase predictive power, and potentially generate insights into the physical system being modeled.
But the posts that I see arguing against simulation is that it's not real world or the simulation doesn't tell us why something happens. I'm saying I don't think it matters, you can simulate things that are only proposed. We don't care why something happens, we just care that events happen and what is the reaction to those events. It doesn't matter why grocery shopper #4053 buys as many groceries as they do, it just matters how we can efficiently restock the shelves and whether or not it's going to cause a backlog at the cash register.
IMHO RPG depictions don't really have the above simulation agenda. Honestly, games like Aftermath showed us this back in the mid-80s. You can make really detailed models of things (guns in this case) and then deploy them in the form of a really complicated combat system, but the result is not a materially better game experience than that had by playing something like Traveller, at least for most people. I mean, there were a bunch of serious gun heads that loved Aftermath, but I found the play in that game really rather dull myself. So, my general advice to game designers and GMs, certainly in terms of 'simulation of process' kinds of things (like use of skills or combat) is to focus more on how the depiction works in game and narrative terms, and less on worrying about how it maps onto the fiction in a mechanical sense.
D&D does vastly, vastly simplify complex things. Many simulations do. I don't think the level of granularity in how we get to an event, what matters is that the system (the PCs) respond to it.
Finally, I don't even think that simulation is actually the concern for most people who are using the term. It seems more like the most common concern has more to do with how the process incorporates or does not incorporate elements that are present in the fiction, amongst other concerns. So, for instance, even though something like an inventory subsystem that produces results more likely to objectively mimic the outcomes of experienced characters choices of equipment might seem to be a better simulated inventory by any reasonable definition of simulation, it is selected against for other reasons like its effect on how and when the narrative unfolds. It feels super hard to have any scope for discussion of how depictions work in RPGs with that in mind since any but one very narrow set of mechanics is met with scorn from some direction or other.

The OP to me, was asking how "realistic" you want D&D to be, how much do you want to mimic reality. In reality you probably want to avoid fights as much as possible, in some games a long rest/full recovery taking an hour is still too long because the group wants constant action. Some DMs will tell you that no, your wizard with the scribe background doesn't have a scrap of paper unless it's written on their character sheet. It's that spectrum that I think most people care about but it gets sidetracked by discussions of what words mean. There will never be a truly objective definition of what a reasonable level of simulation is.
 

Challenging moderation
When any poster completely refuses to engage with with posts, ideas or reasonably constructed positions about simulation with the claim that 'no-one can tell me what simulation is' and yet continues to make lengthy posts telling others what simulation is, that can only be done from a position of complete hypocrisy.

Any similarity to ongoing posting in the thread is purely coincidental.
 


Right. D&D is set in a fictional proposed realm I don't see a conflict. They also specifically mention video game simulations, many of which are complete fiction. So I think the word still applies. Feel free to differ.
As I have been saying, I'm not categorically deprecating ALL use of the term simulation. Yes, a D&D fiction can be thought of, in some particulars perhaps, as a 'proposed scenario', though I think we need to be careful to say that is only possible to the extent your setting corresponds with reality (which is very likely for basic stuff like gravity and food). If we get into more 'systemic' stuff like economies, demography, geography, biology, etc. I think it becomes a good bit less clear we have A) the information needed to simulate anything, and B) that the world is meaningfully similar to ours at that level.

I think its very possible for video games to be illustrations of modeling reality and playing them could be considered a simulation. I doubt that very many games are realistic enough to be meaningfully simulations, but my understanding is the military itself has developed such simulations, using largely 'game tech'.
If you're building a simulation of a grocery store, you don't care why a shopper picks up Captain Crunch over Wheaties. You just know that they do, probably have some sort of randomization based on past behavior and sales figures. You may have some fallbacks such as what cereal they will buy if their favorite is out. You can also increase sales percentages based on where the cereal is located (endcaps are a big sales boost) and so on. But end of the day simulations don't care why something happens, they just care about the impact it has on the grocery store and overall sales.
Oh, I don't agree with that! One of the primary reasons for simulation is in order to understand the system being simulated. You build a model, and to the degree that the simulation mirrors the system's behavior you can then hypothesize that the model is representative, internally, of processes present in the actual system. This is the ENTIRE THRUST practically of climate modeling for instance. Same with simulations of industrial chemical processes, for example. I mean, sure, sometimes you don't care, often you REALLY REALLY DO. If the object is playing an RPG, OK, you are probably not that concerned with improving your understanding of reality.
Why would they be? We aren't attempting to simulate training for the Olympics. Being really, really good at fighting doesn't mean you suddenly know how to pole vault. You have a bit of an edge if it's something you have training in because your proficiency bonus goes up. Your long jump increases if you've been pumping iron and are stronger.
But we certainly do have a wide variety of situations that characters in a typical D&D game find themselves in where the speed and power needed to stand up to a dragon in melee combat would be a HUGE benefit, yet the character is just depicted as a (albeit fairly exceptional) normal human. Being strong enough to push back on a dragon when it decides to just walk over top of you, at 10 tons, certainly would have serious implications!
But you're also talking specific game mechanic implementation, which I think is a bit of a red herring. The game simplifies a lot of things, I never said it was a particularly good simulation in all aspects.

But the posts that I see arguing against simulation is that it's not real world or the simulation doesn't tell us why something happens. I'm saying I don't think it matters, you can simulate things that are only proposed. We don't care why something happens, we just care that events happen and what is the reaction to those events. It doesn't matter why grocery shopper #4053 buys as many groceries as they do, it just matters how we can efficiently restock the shelves and whether or not it's going to cause a backlog at the cash register.
I think in D&D terms this is not an unreasonable position when talking about something like modeling athletic ability or similar stuff. If you move to something like simulating the market dynamics of a fantasy city? I think it simply doesn't work treating it like a black box. Those are really complex non-linear systems that IME (having done some of these things) require deeper modeling and analysis where you are going to want to know quite a bit about processes within the model, and it will really need significant iteration. I mean, there are some basic economic models that are THEORETICALLY supposed to give you something like a price as a direct output with certain inputs of costs and demand and information, etc.
D&D does vastly, vastly simplify complex things. Many simulations do. I don't think the level of granularity in how we get to an event, what matters is that the system (the PCs) respond to it.


The OP to me, was asking how "realistic" you want D&D to be, how much do you want to mimic reality. In reality you probably want to avoid fights as much as possible, in some games a long rest/full recovery taking an hour is still too long because the group wants constant action. Some DMs will tell you that no, your wizard with the scribe background doesn't have a scrap of paper unless it's written on their character sheet. It's that spectrum that I think most people care about but it gets sidetracked by discussions of what words mean. There will never be a truly objective definition of what a reasonable level of simulation is.
Right, so this is a perfectly good topic of conversation that I would think addresses both the sense of what the OP poses, and relates that to the question about what do we mean by simulation. Honestly, I'm not sure why people are so invested in that word! I want to depict certain things, and your argument, which I mostly agree with, is that we don't care a whole lot about the NATURE of what we are depicting, we just want some results that give us a feeling of verisimilitude, or produce a sense of suspension of disbelief. I don't think 'realistic' itself even really enters into it so much, but it is more "which things do you want to mimic in order to get that."

Like with combat, for me, I'd like it to match up with my sense of what the character is generally capable of. So a reasonably consistent view of their physical abilities across various things, whether fantastical or maybe the character is just pretty mundane. In the later case I'd expect that combating things like large monsters would NOT involve getting into melee with them, as multi-ton (or even half ton, check out tigers) magical monstrosities are going to just rip up normal humans! I mean, speed could replace strength there, but without some supernatural level of ability in one or the other even melee with a bugbear is going to be dicey, and forget something ogre sized!
 

Oofta

Legend
As I have been saying, I'm not categorically deprecating ALL use of the term simulation. Yes, a D&D fiction can be thought of, in some particulars perhaps, as a 'proposed scenario', though I think we need to be careful to say that is only possible to the extent your setting corresponds with reality (which is very likely for basic stuff like gravity and food). If we get into more 'systemic' stuff like economies, demography, geography, biology, etc. I think it becomes a good bit less clear we have A) the information needed to simulate anything, and B) that the world is meaningfully similar to ours at that level.
I'm not saying everything in D&D is simulation and never have. On the other hand I probably believe that quite a bit more of it can fall under that label than you do. Obviously some things such as initiative are purely game rules because we can't handle the truth ... umm ... can't handle simultaneous actions easily.
I think its very possible for video games to be illustrations of modeling reality and playing them could be considered a simulation. I doubt that very many games are realistic enough to be meaningfully simulations, but my understanding is the military itself has developed such simulations, using largely 'game tech'.
You've never played a driving sim. Race car drivers use them to practice.
Oh, I don't agree with that! One of the primary reasons for simulation is in order to understand the system being simulated. You build a model, and to the degree that the simulation mirrors the system's behavior you can then hypothesize that the model is representative, internally, of processes present in the actual system. This is the ENTIRE THRUST practically of climate modeling for instance. Same with simulations of industrial chemical processes, for example. I mean, sure, sometimes you don't care, often you REALLY REALLY DO. If the object is playing an RPG, OK, you are probably not that concerned with improving your understanding of reality.

You don't believe simulations have "black boxes"? How do you think they work? Simulations involve large number of people all the time and include behavior randomized based on averages. It's pretty core to many simulations. If you're testing how your emergency services respond to a fire in a skyscraper, you don't care how the fire started. If it's possible for there to be structural collapse or explosions, you don't care what causes those events, you care about how well the emergency services handle those events.

The simulation is not concerned with what triggers an event, it's concerned with the flow of the system and how it responds to events. In D&D "the system" is the PCs, how they respond to events. Not sure how else to say it, it's pretty clear to me. The DM sets the stage, the world and inhabitants the PCs interact with, the simulation is the actions and results of the PCs interacting with that world not the world itself. The events only have to mimic what the world would look like.

But we certainly do have a wide variety of situations that characters in a typical D&D game find themselves in where the speed and power needed to stand up to a dragon in melee combat would be a HUGE benefit, yet the character is just depicted as a (albeit fairly exceptional) normal human. Being strong enough to push back on a dragon when it decides to just walk over top of you, at 10 tons, certainly would have serious implications!
But again, this is just an outlier effect of simplified rules that doesn't really affect 99% of combats. In addition, no fighter can shove a dragon without magic or some supernatural ability. You can't normally shove someone more than 1 size larger than your PC. On the other hand, a huge or larger dragon (being 2 sizes bigger than your PC) can walk right over the top of you.
I think in D&D terms this is not an unreasonable position when talking about something like modeling athletic ability or similar stuff. If you move to something like simulating the market dynamics of a fantasy city? I think it simply doesn't work treating it like a black box. Those are really complex non-linear systems that IME (having done some of these things) require deeper modeling and analysis where you are going to want to know quite a bit about processes within the model, and it will really need significant iteration. I mean, there are some basic economic models that are THEORETICALLY supposed to give you something like a price as a direct output with certain inputs of costs and demand and information, etc.
If you're simulating a market economy, you're on your own in house ruling territory so I'm not sure how that applies. The game is silent on the issue. Also, good luck, economists have been trying to model economies for a long, long time. :)
Right, so this is a perfectly good topic of conversation that I would think addresses both the sense of what the OP poses, and relates that to the question about what do we mean by simulation. Honestly, I'm not sure why people are so invested in that word! I want to depict certain things, and your argument, which I mostly agree with, is that we don't care a whole lot about the NATURE of what we are depicting, we just want some results that give us a feeling of verisimilitude, or produce a sense of suspension of disbelief. I don't think 'realistic' itself even really enters into it so much, but it is more "which things do you want to mimic in order to get that."
Yeah, I want my game to give results that feel like the PCs are in a high fantasy game. Reality sucks at times, D&D is an escape.
Like with combat, for me, I'd like it to match up with my sense of what the character is generally capable of. So a reasonably consistent view of their physical abilities across various things, whether fantastical or maybe the character is just pretty mundane. In the later case I'd expect that combating things like large monsters would NOT involve getting into melee with them, as multi-ton (or even half ton, check out tigers) magical monstrosities are going to just rip up normal humans! I mean, speed could replace strength there, but without some supernatural level of ability in one or the other even melee with a bugbear is going to be dicey, and forget something ogre sized!

People have been hunting tigers, bears, mammoths without the Renaissance level tech PCs have for a long, long time. Put on full plate and a bear will knock you down, but it will have a hard time chewing through high quality steel. Eventually it will, of course. I don't think animals are particularly well modeled, bears for example are immensely strong. But I also understand that there are only so many options given how the math is set up. If a bear had a 30 strength, no hunter would survive an encounter with one but obviously they do. But again, that's just an indication that it's not a particularly accurate simulation.

Don't get me wrong, D&D combat is a bit over the top/silly at times for the sake of grand adventure. Some of that's simplification - if you're hunting wild boar you want a specialty spear designed with a cross guard for example. But it's just not worth the effort to put in that kind of fidelity. Some of it's just fun, our PCs are super heroic and beyond the human normal.
 

I'm not saying everything in D&D is simulation and never have. On the other hand I probably believe that quite a bit more of it can fall under that label than you do. Obviously some things such as initiative are purely game rules because we can't handle the truth ... umm ... can't handle simultaneous actions easily.

You've never played a driving sim. Race car drivers use them to practice.


You don't believe simulations have "black boxes"? How do you think they work? Simulations involve large number of people all the time and include behavior randomized based on averages. It's pretty core to many simulations. If you're testing how your emergency services respond to a fire in a skyscraper, you don't care how the fire started. If it's possible for there to be structural collapse or explosions, you don't care what causes those events, you care about how well the emergency services handle those events.

The simulation is not concerned with what triggers an event, it's concerned with the flow of the system and how it responds to events. In D&D "the system" is the PCs, how they respond to events. Not sure how else to say it, it's pretty clear to me. The DM sets the stage, the world and inhabitants the PCs interact with, the simulation is the actions and results of the PCs interacting with that world not the world itself. The events only have to mimic what the world would look like.
but you ABSOLUTELY DO care about how fire propagates through a structure, and airflow and etc. etc. etc. and you MODEL these things, often using discrete models that incorporate simulation of physical process! These are CLASSIC realistic modeling methods, trust me. Yes, you may also use, often, statistical mechanical methods when you have large numbers of identical discrete elements. OTOH you may NOT. In galaxy formation simulations with 10's of billions of particles EACH ONE is individually modeled, every gravitational interaction is calculated out. There's no 'one way' that simulations work.
If you're simulating a market economy, you're on your own in house ruling territory so I'm not sure how that applies. The game is silent on the issue. Also, good luck, economists have been trying to model economies for a long, long time. :)
Heh, you need not tell me. I've worked with people trying to do it. I mean, you actually CAN do a lot of stuff, particularly with modern ML techniques. I mean, I could easily create a commodity model that will tell you the price of some commodity with 80%+ accuracy, but it could be wildly far off the other 20%, lol. Silly people thought they could get rich running that model. Tried to tell them better, but fools and money...
People have been hunting tigers, bears, mammoths without the Renaissance level tech PCs have for a long, long time. Put on full plate and a bear will knock you down, but it will have a hard time chewing through high quality steel. Eventually it will, of course. I don't think animals are particularly well modeled, bears for example are immensely strong. But I also understand that there are only so many options given how the math is set up. If a bear had a 30 strength, no hunter would survive an encounter with one but obviously they do. But again, that's just an indication that it's not a particularly accurate simulation.
I don't believe anyone ever hunted a bear this way. They built traps, deadfalls, pits, drove them with dogs, treed them, shot them with arrows, and maybe finally some crazy young stud closed in after the bear was on its last legs and plunged in the spear that finished it off. That is pretty clear from the terminology and stories of this kind of hunting.
Don't get me wrong, D&D combat is a bit over the top/silly at times for the sake of grand adventure. Some of that's simplification - if you're hunting wild boar you want a specialty spear designed with a cross guard for example. But it's just not worth the effort to put in that kind of fidelity. Some of it's just fun, our PCs are super heroic and beyond the human normal.
I entirely agree with you on the 'fun' part, and that's kind of my point. It doesn't happen so much anymore, but a lot of people burned a lot of brain cells imagining they were really simulating stuff in some profound way and believing that making it a 'better sim' was something worthwhile (maybe sometimes).
 

Hussar

Legend
/snip

But I've never heard anyone call CaGI it simulationist, so something must have gone wrong somewhere!
Just to clarify - I'm using the definition I posted in bold. If you're using the Forge term "simulationist" then, sure, totally not going to count Come and Get It.

But, for me, yeah, it qualifies fairly well. There's a pretty direct correlation between the stated actions of the player and the events in the game. Come and Get it is a bit wonky because it does rather skip over what the fighter actually does to attract the enemies. So, I'd say it's much more on the edge of a simulation, but, yeah, I'd say it's close enough for government work. I mean, heck, most of the powers in 4e actually do line up pretty well as simulations - Hammer and Anvil, for example, works pretty much like it says on the tin - I hit the target and an ally adjacent gets a free shot too. Seems pretty easy to narrate. A (I hit) ->B (ally gets a free shot due to the nature of my hit -> C enemy is attacked twice, if the first attack hits.

Because of the granularity of most of 4e's powers - each power is a distinct action with distinct effects - I'd argue that in combat at least, 4e leads to the closest example of D&D actually being a simulation of combat. (Note, simulation as defined as " a system which will, through the use of that system, directly inform the narration of that event."
 

Hussar

Legend
Yes, but I'd rather use coherent interpretation which doesn't change depending on how many people perceive the event.
Fair enough.

But, that's YOU. You've added that. There's nothing in the game that says we should even consider that. If I rolled a 6 or 16 or 106, the narration doesn't change. All that matters is that I succeeded. At no point do the mechanics actually influence the narrative. After all, you're third person could also roll a 5. Which means that it doesn't matter.

The whole point of a simulation in an RPG is that the mechanics MUST inform the narrative, which also means that they must invalidate some other narratives. You cannot have mutually exclusive narratives resulting from a simulation.
 

Hussar

Legend
Umm, I followed the link that @Oofta supplied above and this was the quote from the very first paragraph -

A simulation imitates the operation of real world processes or systems with the use of models. The model represents the key behaviours and characteristics of the selected process or system while the simulation represents how the model evolves under different conditions over time.

Additionally, there's this line, right below:

This visual simulation should include details of timings, rules, resources and constraints, to accurately reflect the real-world process.

Those bolded bits are pretty much the key points. If your simulation doesn't represent how the model evolves over time, then it's not a simulation. Which is why I push back so much on this. D&D mechanics don't tell us how very often. You start at the bottom of the hill, you finish at the top of the hill and the system does not tell you in any meaningful way how you got from bottom to top. All you know is you managed to beat an arbitrary number using bonuses to a d20 that are largely divorced from any sort of narrative of the character. Again, what does being proficient in Athletics actually mean? How do we narrate that?
 

Hussar

Legend
Y'know, funnily enough, I don't usually watch live plays, but, I've gotten into Viva La Dirt League's NPC D&D. Dunno why. it's just kinda amused me. But, in the latest episode, it highlights very nicely exactly what I'm talking about with skills in D&D. I made a 1 minute clip here, from episode 96, so, where the one player is trying to hide his true identity from a group of NPC's.


Now, I know, I know, it's being played for laughs. Fair enough. Although, to be fair, I've certainly seen more than my share of this kind of moment at D&D tables over the years. But, the point right at the end there of, "How can he be good at deception" pretty much nails it on the head for me. Even though the DM has even taken into account the really, really bad attempt at deception, the character's bonuses are so high that he succeeds anyway and makes the whole scene a farce. Funny, at least to me. But, as far as a simulation of trying to deceive goes, well, it's pretty far removed.

I suppose you could argue that the DM shouldn't have asked for a roll, but, then again, that's pretty standard to ask for one at this point. Not unreasonable. But, really, there's a perfect example of how the simulation doesn't really work very well (like at all) because it doesn't actually match the narrative.
 

Oofta

Legend
but you ABSOLUTELY DO care about how fire propagates through a structure, and airflow and etc. etc. etc. and you MODEL these things, often using discrete models that incorporate simulation of physical process! These are CLASSIC realistic modeling methods, trust me. Yes, you may also use, often, statistical mechanical methods when you have large numbers of identical discrete elements. OTOH you may NOT. In galaxy formation simulations with 10's of billions of particles EACH ONE is individually modeled, every gravitational interaction is calculated out. There's no 'one way' that simulations work.
We're at a whole different scale. I'm thinking about dispatching firemen, police for traffic control, ambulances and how prepared hospitals are. You don't care about the fire itself other than to roughly model the consequences of the fire based on either random numbers or numbers the author puts in.

Heh, you need not tell me. I've worked with people trying to do it. I mean, you actually CAN do a lot of stuff, particularly with modern ML techniques. I mean, I could easily create a commodity model that will tell you the price of some commodity with 80%+ accuracy, but it could be wildly far off the other 20%, lol. Silly people thought they could get rich running that model. Tried to tell them better, but fools and money...


I don't believe anyone ever hunted a bear this way. They built traps, deadfalls, pits, drove them with dogs, treed them, shot them with arrows, and maybe finally some crazy young stud closed in after the bear was on its last legs and plunged in the spear that finished it off. That is pretty clear from the terminology and stories of this kind of hunting.
You might want to tell this guy that you can't hunt grizzlies with a spear.
I entirely agree with you on the 'fun' part, and that's kind of my point. It doesn't happen so much anymore, but a lot of people burned a lot of brain cells imagining they were really simulating stuff in some profound way and believing that making it a 'better sim' was something worthwhile (maybe sometimes).


Another example of a simulation would be Microsoft Flight Simulator (MFS). Whether you're flying a Cessna or a 747, the sim doesn't model the function of the engine be they gas engines driving a propeller or a jet engine, it just knows that given X throttle the engine provides Y thrust. If you fly into a thunderstorm, it just models typical storms with randomized wind gusts and conditions that fall in the range of the severity of the storm.

MFS also has things like a HALO drop ship, a shuttle craft that transports crew from a spaceship to earth. It's a totally fictional craft designed for a video game. The craft is simply not possible with any technology that we know of. But people still haven't dropped the "S" off of MFS.

Being a simulation doesn't stop being a simulation if it lacks granularity or details. I don't think it stops being a simulation if aspects are completely fictional.
 

We're at a whole different scale. I'm thinking about dispatching firemen, police for traffic control, ambulances and how prepared hospitals are. You don't care about the fire itself other than to roughly model the consequences of the fire based on either random numbers or numbers the author puts in.
Yes, you have to have SOME SORT of model of the fire. That is, suppose the firemen choose to do X, that will change how the fire spreads or doesn't spread (IE opening a door can RAPIDLY change what happens next! Trust me, or take a firefighting course). Now, obviously you may just assume the fire and the firemen do X, Y, Z and only build a simulation of ER operations and triage, OK. Nobody said that you have to simulate the whole world, but you will surely still have models of the things that are part of your simulated domain. If I give a guy blood, my blood inventory goes down, etc. There will be a stepwise through time progression where the state at each step will be output of the previous one, plus perhaps external inputs, modelling, and generation of the next state.
You might want to tell this guy that you can't hunt grizzlies with a spear.
But that is exactly what I mean. He doesn't, NOBODY DOES melee with a grizzly bear! It would be insane, you would die. No human can survive that (except by sheer luck) because a 1500+ lb grizzly is multiple times stronger and faster than us. Grizzly is about the size of an ogre in most systems. Think about it.
Another example of a simulation would be Microsoft Flight Simulator (MFS). Whether you're flying a Cessna or a 747, the sim doesn't model the function of the engine be they gas engines driving a propeller or a jet engine, it just knows that given X throttle the engine provides Y thrust. If you fly into a thunderstorm, it just models typical storms with randomized wind gusts and conditions that fall in the range of the severity of the storm.
Well, it does have a model of your 'engine', and it can even be told to simulate things like engine failure. Sure, those models are not literal physics engines that implement all the laws of physics to produce perfectly realistic engine behavior, nobody said THAT. However, if you input different commands to your 747's engines, they will react in a realistic fashion, which requires some fairly complex logic, it isn't just a single number or lookup table or something. Trust me on this, jet engines are complicated and the complicated aspects of them are highly relevant to flight. I worked on 747 avionics system design back in the day. I doubt MSFS handles ALL the variables, but it is known to be reasonably authentic and detailed. Obviously you can do something that 'feels like flying' which is MUCH simpler. I am not sure I would call it meaningfully a simulation though. Certainly there is some sort of dividing line.
MFS also has things like a HALO drop ship, a shuttle craft that transports crew from a spaceship to earth. It's a totally fictional craft designed for a video game. The craft is simply not possible with any technology that we know of. But people still haven't dropped the "S" off of MFS.
No, but I don't think that makes it a simulation! Again, there has to be a system you are building a model of, and without any actual system, no model is possible. I would agree that, if you could build a REALISTIC model, then you have a simulation. KSP is realistic enough that it can model some actual behaviors of real spacecraft in an emergent kind of way (IE you build something using modeled components and it exhibits behavior that is not coded into the thing from the start and which closely resembles things that real-world spacecraft do). THAT I would call a simulation, even if the specific rocket you build in KSP never existed. For example someone built a model of SpaceX Starship and illustrated how its aerodynamics implemented the 'belly flop' maneuver (although the KSP version looked a good bit different from the actual thing, so obviously the sim is not perfectly accurate).
Being a simulation doesn't stop being a simulation if it lacks granularity or details. I don't think it stops being a simulation if aspects are completely fictional.
I think it stops being a sim if it simulates something that is entirely fictional, but I don't think we really disagree there. I just think that it is not useful to use words like 'simulation' when talking about most RPG mechanics. They are vastly far from even the level of MSFS or KSP, which are themselves not good enough to be really useful beyond illustrating what something "might be like" to a degree.
 

I think it stops being a sim if it simulates something that is entirely fictional, but I don't think we really disagree there. I just think that it is not useful to use words like 'simulation' when talking about most RPG mechanics.
And I don't think it is useful to have so strict definition of simulation that it disqualifies most RPG mechanics if the aim is to talk about RPG mechanics.
 
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Oofta

Legend
Yes, you have to have SOME SORT of model of the fire. That is, suppose the firemen choose to do X, that will change how the fire spreads or doesn't spread (IE opening a door can RAPIDLY change what happens next! Trust me, or take a firefighting course). Now, obviously you may just assume the fire and the firemen do X, Y, Z and only build a simulation of ER operations and triage, OK. Nobody said that you have to simulate the whole world, but you will surely still have models of the things that are part of your simulated domain. If I give a guy blood, my blood inventory goes down, etc. There will be a stepwise through time progression where the state at each step will be output of the previous one, plus perhaps external inputs, modelling, and generation of the next state.

So we agree that you do not have to simulate everything, sometimes you can just have high level events that occur. Perhaps if you were doing a presentation you might give examples of how something happens for context and to get people to understand what could happen, but it's not relevant to the simulation.
But that is exactly what I mean. He doesn't, NOBODY DOES melee with a grizzly bear! It would be insane, you would die. No human can survive that (except by sheer luck) because a 1500+ lb grizzly is multiple times stronger and faster than us. Grizzly is about the size of an ogre in most systems. Think about it.
Okay. I thought about it. I seriously doubt "nobody" does this, on the other hand with plate armor people would be more likely to do so. It's also more about simulating things like the fight with the cave troll in LOTR.
Well, it does have a model of your 'engine', and it can even be told to simulate things like engine failure. Sure, those models are not literal physics engines that implement all the laws of physics to produce perfectly realistic engine behavior, nobody said THAT. However, if you input different commands to your 747's engines, they will react in a realistic fashion, which requires some fairly complex logic, it isn't just a single number or lookup table or something. Trust me on this, jet engines are complicated and the complicated aspects of them are highly relevant to flight. I worked on 747 avionics system design back in the day. I doubt MSFS handles ALL the variables, but it is known to be reasonably authentic and detailed. Obviously you can do something that 'feels like flying' which is MUCH simpler. I am not sure I would call it meaningfully a simulation though. Certainly there is some sort of dividing line.

No, but I don't think that makes it a simulation! Again, there has to be a system you are building a model of, and without any actual system, no model is possible. I would agree that, if you could build a REALISTIC model, then you have a simulation. KSP is realistic enough that it can model some actual behaviors of real spacecraft in an emergent kind of way (IE you build something using modeled components and it exhibits behavior that is not coded into the thing from the start and which closely resembles things that real-world spacecraft do). THAT I would call a simulation, even if the specific rocket you build in KSP never existed. For example someone built a model of SpaceX Starship and illustrated how its aerodynamics implemented the 'belly flop' maneuver (although the KSP version looked a good bit different from the actual thing, so obviously the sim is not perfectly accurate).

I think it stops being a sim if it simulates something that is entirely fictional, but I don't think we really disagree there.

We disagree. The HALO Pelican is totally fictional, anyone flying it is flying an imaginary vehicle that as far as we know is not possible. At least not until we invent magic. ;)

I just think that it is not useful to use words like 'simulation' when talking about most RPG mechanics. They are vastly far from even the level of MSFS or KSP, which are themselves not good enough to be really useful beyond illustrating what something "might be like" to a degree.

I don't see the point of limiting ourselves to game theory definitions of simulation.
 

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