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

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.
I'm sure in the entire history of the world that a number of people got jumped by a bear and had to fight with it. 99.9% of them were promptly mauled/eaten. Undoubtedly one got very lucky and impaled the bear on his spear and killed it. I mean, that is one of those things about ACTUAL combat, the outcomes are less a matter of some process being worked out, and can be more just 'that one bit of luck', so there's much more of a 'long tail' in outcomes than D&D will generally produce. Honestly, such long tails are not usually that desirable in RPGs where it is expected you will progress to higher degrees of power over time, as it will tend to mean every PC gets one day of bad luck and goes down forever.

This is just one of the many fundamental ways in which the depiction in an RPG needs to NOT be a simulation, not just "is a poor simulation" but needs to actively AVOID being one. This is a big reason I don't generally like using the term, as it implies a set of goals and constraints that are different from what actually apply to most RPG design and play.
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. ;)
Then you cannot simulate it, that would be a nonsensical thing.
I don't see the point of limiting ourselves to game theory definitions of simulation.
Well, I don't know what you mean by 'game theory definitions', I am primarily working from the common dictionary definitions. RPGs generally have reasons to NOT want to actually simulate things, even if they could in principle (which amount to 'Reality is not as fun as you think'). Its just a different set of incentives, and that's not even getting into the non-existent stuff that is impossible in the real world, and so definitionally cannot be simulated unless we really stretch our definition to the point where it seems unuseful anymore.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

pemerton

Legend
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."
This is why I find 4e the most immersive and visceral form of D&D combat. It makes me imagine and engage with what is actually happening between the foes!
 


Why not? Is there some reason that RPG mechanics have to be simulations, or some benefit to being able to call them simulations?
When people start to talk about simulationist mechanics in RPGs, that pretty strongly implies that what they mean by this is something that actually exist in RPGs. It seems extremely counterproductive to interject that discussion by trying to define simulation so that it actually doesn't in practice apply to RPGs in any meaningful sense.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
When people start to talk about simulationist mechanics in RPGs, that pretty strongly implies that what they mean by this is something that actually exist in RPGs. It seems extremely counterproductive to interject that discussion by trying to define simulation so that it actually doesn't in practice apply to RPGs in any meaningful sense.
I'm not sure that doesn't just offer the opportunity to get to what's actually going on. That's the point, really, to discuss what's going on. I'm less interested in the specific label that a look at what play is. Simulation/not simulation is more a sideshow about labels.

I'm concerned about looking at why a game that gets a nod for trying to feel like the real world has the giant whipsaws in assumption between fighting a giant and having a limited to human capability skill resolution system much more than what label it's called.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
My personal standard is this: in order to be simulation-oriented a mechanic needs to be designed specifically to model something. That thing can be fictional, but it must exist prior to the design of the game. Post hoc justification of mechanics designed with gameplay purposes in mind certainly do not count. Man to man combat mechanics based on a game that models ship to ship combat definitely does not count.

That's not a black mark by the by. It just is from my perspective.

So, man to man combat in Riddle of Steel fits. Vices in Blades in the Dark do not even if they sometimes produce more believable play.
 

My personal standard is this: in order to be simulation-oriented a mechanic needs to be designed specifically to model something. That thing can be fictional,
Yes!

but it must exist prior to the design of the game. Post hoc justification of mechanics designed with gameplay purposes in mind certainly do not count.
I get the sentiment, but I'm not sure really agree with this. We cannot necessarily know if the writer first had a cool fictional concept for which they created mechanics or whether they first came up interesting mechanic for which they gave fictional identity that made sense for it, or perhaps some combination of the two. If the end results doesn't look different then it doesn't really matter what the exact process of their creation was. These things often work in conjunction, influencing each other.

Granted, sometimes inventing fictional representations after the mechanics might result the concept feeling vague and unmoored and the mechanics representing it poorly. I kinda had that feeling regarding some of the 4e's "grid filler classes" as well as some powers for which the fiction seemed like an afterthought.
 

Oofta

Legend
Why not? Is there some reason that RPG mechanics have to be simulations, or some benefit to being able to call them simulations?
Is there a reason you dislike it? I think D&D has some simulationist aspects. It's simulating actions and stories you would see in fantasy novels. Why is it so bad to call it simulation? It's not a judgement call, it's not justification of anything being "better". It's just a word that people understand ... to simulate something is to do something like it, that evokes the same imagery and feeling. That's all. I really don't understand what the hangup is.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
The flow of events is what we are simulating. It's how our PCs interact with and respond to a fictional magical world.
As with @Hussar's post upthread, this means that 4e D&D's Come and Get It counts as, or is a part of, a simulation: the fighter performs some sort of manoeuvre using their weapon, as a result of which their opponents end up closer to them, and get beaten up. This absolutely gives the impression of mimicking the environment and the events we're trying to evoke in our play!

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."
This technical definition is not the same as what I've quoted just above. Obviously, combat is a process that has a flow of events, and hence can be simulated; but no version of D&D mimics the operation of that process, nor provides evidence for decision-making by testing scenarios. In D&D we don't make decisions based on modelling the process: we make decisions by actually participating in a gameplay process (that involves rolling dice, adjusting hit point tallies, perhaps tracking position on a board, etc). We don't simulate playing the game - we actually play the game.

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.
Here, I agree with @Campbell. If we're establishing the fiction by reading it off the game rules, then whatever those rules might be, they're not a simulation of anything. Because the supposed "thing" - the fiction - is not establishing any parameters against which we measure the adequacy of the rules outcomes.

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.
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.
This particular bit makes no sense to me, for different reasons: whatever is involved in a person getting better at hand-to-hand fighting will also make them faster, stronger etc in general, such that they are better at jumping, and perhaps also at pole vaulting (although the latter does use a more specific skill set). You can't be strong and fast enough to stand against a dragon, for instance, without also being strong and fast enough to pull of other amazing athletic feats (like throwing things long distances, pushing over heavy objects, lifting great weights, jumping far, etc).

The 5e Basic Rules (p 71) say that "you can move through a hostile creature’s space only if the creature is at least two sizes larger or smaller than you." A Bugbear is classified as Medium, STR 15, 27 hp; an Ogre as Large, STR 19, 59 hp; a Young Red Dragon as Large, STR 23, 178 hp (cf a crocodile which is Large, STR 15, 19 hp). What stops the Ogre or the Dragon from just pushing past a human warrior, as a bear or elephant would?

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.
The ability of a human warrior to stop an Ogre or dragon just pushing past them comes up a fair bit in D&D melee combat, I think. And how does a fighter shove an Ogre, or a Young Red Dragon? If they're strong and/or fast enough to do that, they're pretty athletic!

Also, p 73 of the Basic Rules tells us that "[o]n a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier." For a 20 STR fighter, that's 6 hp. So a 20th level fighter can punch a crocodile to death in one round of combat. That's a pretty strong person! Wouldn't they be able to push over cars, punch down doors, even knock over small houses, etc?

EDIT: A BattleMaster can use superiority dice and manoeuvres to push the Ogre 15 feet away! And adding d8 superiority dice to damage means that an 18 STR fighter can kill the crocodile with two punches (2*(1+4) + 2d8 =, on average, 19 hp of damage). So a 5th level fighter can pull off this superhuman feat!
 
Last edited:

Hussar

Legend
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.
Everyone agrees that you don't have to simulate everything. No one is claiming that the simulation has to be absolutely perfect to be a simulation. But, where we do disagree is that while you don't have to simulate everything, you DO have to simulate something. If all you have is the before and after picture, and everything in between is just in a cloud of possibilities, that's not really much of a simulation.

I'm really not sure why you keep ignoring the middle here. It's not "simulations must simulate every single detail". Of course not. The whole point of a simulation is that they simplify complicated events so they can be studied. But, where I'm calling things out is that in D&D, there is no detail. You cannot actually narrate anything based on the resolution mechanics. Any narration is done after the result is known, to backfill the story to fit the result. It's 100% after the results are known. And that's not how simulation works. (Again, I'm using the plain English definition of simulation)

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, even with plate armor, let's be honest here, the bear should win far, far more often than it loses. And, let's not forget, that in D&D, your fighter isn't fighting one grizzly bear, the fighter might be fighting three. Then, ten minutes later, two more. I think it's fair to say that this is going WAYYYYY far away from anything approaching what could be done in the real world. Wouldn't you agree?

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. ;)
Actually, I do agree with you here. I don't see why simulation has to be limited to real world anything. So long as the simulation produces information about how you get from A to B, then it's a simulation, regardless of what is being simulated. As you say, flying a spaceship in a video game is a simulation - it's 100% made up, and doesn't resemble anything in the real world, but, it's still a simulation. However, if all we get is "Spaceship in Space meets Enemy Spaceship" followed by "Spaceship explodes" with nothing in between, then it's not a simulation.
 

I fully agree that there is inconsistency between martial characters' combat power and their general athletic ability. The simulation (or "simulation") would feel more consistent to me if the latter was boosted.

I also think that simulation of may normal animals in D&D is lacking. A lot of them have pretty pathetic stats. I think this is result of them being kinda an afterthought, and most people wanting to fight all sort of fantastic monsters, but a 19 HP crocodile, c'mon!
 

Hussar

Legend
I fully agree that there is inconsistency between martial characters' combat power and their general athletic ability. The simulation (or "simulation") would feel more consistent to me if the latter was boosted.

I also think that simulation of may normal animals in D&D is lacking. A lot of them have pretty pathetic stats. I think this is result of them being kinda an afterthought, and most people wanting to fight all sort of fantastic monsters, but a 19 HP crocodile, c'mon!
Well, really, it's kinda a knock on effect of the level system. If we start doing animal stats that reflected their real world lethality, then the monsters would get just such a massive boost. So, if we bump a crocodile to 40 HP, for example, how much should we bump a wyvern? After all, they're about the same size (ish) but, typically a wyvern is seen as MUCH more dangerous than a crocodile.

Which means that our low level Tier 1 PC's are stuck fighting rats and giant spiders for three or four levels because everything else is just too dangerous. So, in the name of having something to use in an adventure, we accept that the monster stats are largely set because of the game, with some nods towards at least believability, if not actual simulation. So a bigger animal does have more hp than a smaller animal, but, the range of HP (and thus CR) for animals is going to be pretty heavily constrained by the needs of the game.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Is there a reason you dislike it? I think D&D has some simulationist aspects. It's simulating actions and stories you would see in fantasy novels. Why is it so bad to call it simulation? It's not a judgement call, it's not justification of anything being "better". It's just a word that people understand ... to simulate something is to do something like it, that evokes the same imagery and feeling. That's all. I really don't understand what the hangup is.
I'm sorry, didn't you tell everyone that no one can tell you what simulationist means, and yet here you are asking why you can't call something simulationist? This is exactly why I'm rejecting the term, or any term, and looking to explore what is actually happening in the play.

What do you think about a game system that has some things modeled on real life human capability in one moment and then in another takes that same character and has them perform superhuman feats of derring do? Maybe, let's imagine a system where fights are brutal, and real world physics based such that a guy with a spear is in a world of hurt against a polar bear (like, no chance) but who can jump 100' chasms with ease. Does this align well with what you want from a game? Or is the other way around more attractive, where the guy with a spear considers a fully-grown polar bear to be a light workout, but can only jump like 16-20 feet with a good run up depending on what his strength is? Which does a better job getting to the kind of play you want to have and why?
 

Well, really, it's kinda a knock on effect of the level system. If we start doing animal stats that reflected their real world lethality, then the monsters would get just such a massive boost. So, if we bump a crocodile to 40 HP, for example, how much should we bump a wyvern? After all, they're about the same size (ish) but, typically a wyvern is seen as MUCH more dangerous than a crocodile.

Well, I don't feel it needs to be so. I'm fine with some normal animals being as dangerous than "monsters." Wyvern is a giant flying lizard with a a poison tail, I don't feel it needs to be physically massively tougher than a giant river lizard.*

(*Yes, I know that crocodilians are not actually lizards. Not sure about wyverns.)
 

Hussar

Legend
Well, I don't feel it needs to be so. I'm fine with some normal animals being as dangerous than "monsters." Wyvern is a giant flying lizard with a a poison tail, I don't feel it needs to be physically massively tougher than a giant river lizard.*

(*Yes, I know that crocodilians are not actually lizards. Not sure about wyverns.)
Well, that's fair enough, but, it doesn't really change anything. the reason that a wyvern is massively tougher than a crocodile is because of the level system. There really isn't any other reason here. I mean, to put it in perspective, a crocodile is Large, and has 19 hp. A wyvern is Large and has 110 hp, while an elephant is Huge and only has 76 hp.

Let's be honest here, there's absolutely no simulation going on here at all. Anything that even remotely resembles a simulation is largely accidental. And don't even get me started on AC. An elephant and a crocodile have the same AC? Seriously? Hey, I admit crocodiles have a pretty tough hide, but, an elephant is pretty famous for being thick skinned. Never minding that both have the same AC as leather armor. :erm: Whereas our Wyvern even has a better AC than both. Because... reasons?

Look, I know I'm banging this drum pretty hard, but, that's because this has been a pernicious thing for a long, long time. Any time we start to discuss anything like introducing new mechanics, or changing existing mechanics, it seems like the "but simulation" argument comes up again and again.

So either we start doing a LOT of rewriting of the game, or we just accept that game rules as world physics engine really doesn't work too well. The game rules are mostly there so we can play a game, not try to use those mechanics to inform the narrative. D&D just isn't that kind of game.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Well, that's fair enough, but, it doesn't really change anything. the reason that a wyvern is massively tougher than a crocodile is because of the level system. There really isn't any other reason here. I mean, to put it in perspective, a crocodile is Large, and has 19 hp. A wyvern is Large and has 110 hp, while an elephant is Huge and only has 76 hp.

Let's be honest here, there's absolutely no simulation going on here at all. Anything that even remotely resembles a simulation is largely accidental. And don't even get me started on AC. An elephant and a crocodile have the same AC? Seriously? Hey, I admit crocodiles have a pretty tough hide, but, an elephant is pretty famous for being thick skinned. Never minding that both have the same AC as leather armor. :erm: Whereas our Wyvern even has a better AC than both. Because... reasons?

Look, I know I'm banging this drum pretty hard, but, that's because this has been a pernicious thing for a long, long time. Any time we start to discuss anything like introducing new mechanics, or changing existing mechanics, it seems like the "but simulation" argument comes up again and again.

So either we start doing a LOT of rewriting of the game, or we just accept that game rules as world physics engine really doesn't work too well. The game rules are mostly there so we can play a game, not try to use those mechanics to inform the narrative. D&D just isn't that kind of game.
I vote for a lot of rewriting of the game.
 



I fully recognise that how D&D assigns rules to fluff is rather haphazard. I don't think there isn't any simulationist intent at all, there clearly is. Frost giant has way higher strength score than a drow priestess of Lolth even though they're same challenge rating. That is simulating giants being big and strong and the drow not.

But when I say that I wish D&D was a tad more simulationist., I merely mean that I wish that the consistency of how the numbers and rules correspond to the concepts they're supposed to be representing was given a higher priority. I don't mean creating seven thousand needlessly detailed charts to cover myriad interactions. Basically, clearly decide what the fiction you're representing is (for example is a 15 level fighter a Navy Seal or a Mythic Hero with superhuman prowess) and then assign the rules that represent these concept consistently across the whole game. If a bear has Str 19, then it also means that a person with Str 20 is stronger than a bear in the fiction! If you don't want that fiction, then change the numbers!
 

This is why I find 4e the most immersive and visceral form of D&D combat. It makes me imagine and engage with what is actually happening between the foes!
Yeah, I never reliably saw things happen like the way in 4e my friend's husband played a halfling rogue that would SWING INTO COMBAT. That was how he always explained his powers. I forget the total suite of powers he had, but he colored all the effects and forced movement and whatnot such that his character's entire shtick was flinging grapples at things and then swinging around and flying through the air, etc. It was, of course, quite preposterous from any sort of 'realism' angle, but the fact that all the powers had all this detail you could use, how they moved you/the enemy around and knocked people over, etc. I mean, this guy played it to the hilt, he was great! It always amused me, because he claimed he didn't like 4e, but he sure got really into it! The rest of that group kinda had to play catch up, but they are really all super experienced and fun players, so it just turned into a complete crazy action movie-like fest of PCs bouncing off the walls and doing crazy stuff. I don't think I ever had to introduce any house rule or unusual interpretation of any of the mechanics either. It 'just worked'.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top