D&D 5E Realism and Simulationism in 5e: Is D&D Supposed to be Realistic?

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Well, like Beetlejuice, I will appear when I am summoned. In a different thread, @Swarmkeeper requested that I create a thread on the "topic on realism and verisimilitude in 5e..."

The second worst thing in life is not getting what you want. The worst thing in life is getting it.

I've touched on this particular topic numerous times, so this is going to be an overview of my thoughts to allow other people to continue the discussion. I'm not planning on joining in, because my thoughts will (a) primarily be in the OP, (b) are relatively nuanced and conflicting, and (c) aren't very interesting. Nevertheless, I hope this post provides a useful starting point for your own discussion!

A. A Brief Dive into History of Wargames.
You are not just customers to us, but nameless strangers with money as well. -Hasbro, honestly.

C'mon ... you knew this was coming. A Snarf post without RPG history is like a Ken Burns documentary without old-timey photos of people with outrageous facial hair and a soothing voiceover. To understand a lot of the issues people have with realism/simulationism today, it really helps to go back to the original schism.

That's right- yet another Kriegspiel and Free Kriegspiel lecture. The full history isn't that important, but in a nutshell, Kriegspiel was a 19th century Prussian wargame used to help teach the officers how to, you know, wage war. It's often considered the first "real" wargame (in fact, it's German for "wargame") and because it was used to teach military officers ... you needed it to be very, very realistic. Eventually, the game adopted the use of an referee- another officer who was impartial and would resolve the commands of the players using the rules, dice, and would also "rule" on any situations that the rules did not cover.

Trouble is- Kriegsspiel get complicated. Really, really complicated. The rules, in order to make the battles more realistic, became more and more voluminous, requiring referees to spend more time understanding rules. The calculations to make the battles more realistic became incredibly complex and time-consuming. And worst of all, the supposedly realistic rules weren't realistic in all possible situations, which meant that the experienced referee had to mechanistically apply a rule that the referee knew wouldn't apply in a real battle.

And from these problems, we saw the birth of Free Kriegspiel. The central insight (or flaw, depending on your P.O.V., I guess) in Free Kriegspiel is that if you already have a referee with knowledge of how the world works and how the war would go, then ... you don't need the rules. The referee's knowledge is the rules. The most realistic simulation would be the referee adjudicating the decisions of the players without rules, and it would go faster.

The reason for this interplay is simple- the tension between the two extremes (ALL THE RULEZ v. NO RULEZ) lies at the core of a lot of debates regarding realism- for some people, the most realistic games are those that have more and more intricate rules that attempt to model reality (or ... as I detail later ... a reality). For others, the most realistic games are those that have no rules, and rely upon the judgment of a person to provide responses that simulate what reality would. These are completely diametrically opposed views, yet they are both attempting to accomplish the same goal (realism).


B. A Detour into the Subtle Distinction Between Realism and Simulationism.
I love it when a belt buckle reflects what someone's hobbies are. -Ted Bezos, baldly.

Up at the top, Swarmkeeper asked about "realism and verisimilitude{.}" And, of course, I keep also injecting the term "simulationism." Now, the reason I do that is not to start, invoke, or provoke anything related to theoretical matters (please, no), but instead to make sure that people understand that there can be some fine-line distinctions that are worth understanding.

Most of the time, when people discuss "realism," in terms of D&D and 5e, they are discussing ideas about the application or "real world" principles, physics, psychology, etc. to the game world. An example most people remember from way back in the OD&D and 1e days was the old, "If you're wearing plate armor, can you swim?" Or even, "Are you wearing the plate armor at night? For when that group ambushes you?" Or, "Really, how are you carrying all those torches for the dungeon- you have a sword and shield?"

In other words, groups would determine whether or not some things were "realistic," often by thinking about how things would work "in the real world" in the absence of a specific rule. To the extent you thought about it, plate armor was heavy, and probably prevented you from achieving Phelps-like swimming speeds; more likely you'd achieve something resembling an anchor.

...but ... real-world realism isn't always what you are looking for, which is why people also use the term "simulationism." For example, if you are playing a superhero game, or a game based on anime, or a game based on John Wick, or a game based on some other genre ... then you will likely want to simulate something that isn't the same as the real world. The realism you are looking for is not "real-world" realism, but, instead, "genre" realism.

So if you're playing a RPG based on early Bond, then (of course) the bullets don't kill you, and if the hero is defeated, the villain will "capture you" (and maybe explain his plan) instead of kill you. Is that realistic in the real world? No. But it's genre realistic.

In order to avoid using the jargon moving forward, and since I'm primarily discussing D&D, I will use the term realism. Just know that "realism" doesn't always mean realistic- so much as "true to the genre it is portraying."


C. The Evolution of D&D- Or, How We got to 5e
I don't need wi-fi, because my neighbors have sex all the time and I can see them. -Tom Hanks, creepily.

So most people are familiar with the origins of D&D- that it sprang from the wargaming culture. What they are less familiar with is that the tension between the rules-heavy and rules-lite versions of the wargaming ethos (or even the wargaming/roleplaying ethos) existed from the beginning as well. Again, I wrote previously about this (and will recommend, again, The Elusive Shift by Jon Peterson), but the conception that there was a tension between adding more and more rules to capture realism and simply having a DM adjudicate to make the game realistic was present.

That said, D&D was always first, and foremost, a game. In the AD&D (1e) DMG, Gygax stated something that I think still resonates to this day-

A few brief words are necessary to insure that the reader has actually obtained a game form which he or she desires. Of the two approaches to hobby games today, one is best defined as the realism-simulation school and the other as the game school. AD&D is assuredly an adherent of the latter school. It does not stress any realism (in the author’s opinion an absurd effort at best considering the topic!). It does little to attempt to simulate anything either. ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is first and foremost a game for the fun and enjoyment of those who seek to use imagination and creativity. This is not to say that where it does not interfere with the flow of the game that the highest degree of realism hasn‘t been attempted, but neither is a serious approach to play discouraged. In all cases, however, the reader should understand that AD&D is designed to be an amusing and diverting pastime, something which can fill a few hours or consume endless days, as the participants desire, but in no case something to be taken too seriously. For fun, excitement, and captivating fantasy, AD&D is unsurpassed. As a realistic simulation of things from the realm of make-believe, or even as a reflection of medieval or ancient warfare or culture or society, it can be deemed only a dismal failure. Readers who seek the latter must search elsewhere. Those who desire to create and populate imaginary worlds with larger-than-life heroes and villains, who seek relaxation with a fascinating game, and who generally believe games should be fun, not work, will hopefully find this system to their taste.

In his muddled and meandering prose, I think Gygax makes the key point; that the main goal is to have a fun game, and while realism isn't a bad thing, it's not the primary goal. Nevertheless, the complexity of 1e (and later, aspects of 2e) certainly make the games feel, for some, realistic.

And this is also part of the overall trend of the hobby at the time. The 1970s was likely the apex of complexity in wargaming (the infamous Campaign for North Africa was released in 1978) while the '80s was the apex for complexity in the TTRPG hobby; if you haven't had a chance to enjoy the ballistics in Phoenix Command and its progeny ... well, you're not missing out. These games were part of the 80s effort (echoes of Kriegspiel) to make RPGs more and more realistic through application of more and more rules. You would see this in D&D as well, through the 3PP as well as TSR products (such as the WSG and DSG). It's realism via complexity.

Which brings us to 3e. In brief, 3e's use of rules was orthogonal to the issue of realism. Which is a strange thing to say- I know many people view 3e as a "realistic" version of D&D. But it's more helpful, IMO, to view 3e as an attempt to bind the decision-maker (the DM, the referee) to the rules; the complexity of the rules was not about the need to model realism, so much as it was a necessary requirement for making a D&D game with a goal of constraining the DM. That doesn't mean that 3e wasn't realistic in many aspects, but it meant that 3e also prized the rules above realism. (I am going to pass over 4e only because that tends to generate more light than heat, but IMO 4e was an outgrowth of late-period 3e ... yep.)


D. And then came 5e. Realism and the "Big Tent."
The S.A.T.s are culturally biased. That's why I got high and rode a snowmobile through a mall instead of taking them. -Bill Gates, proudly.

So, what is 5e? Is 5e realistic? And why do these debates keep re-occurring? Fundamentally, the problem 5e has is the problem D&D has in general- it's successful. As the 800lb gorilla of the TTRPG market, D&D is everything, to everyone. It's the game played by the grognards re-living their dungeon-crawling youth. It's the game played by the college kids wanting to re-create The Witcher. It's Tolkien, and it's Anime, and it's Sword & Sorcery, and it's Harry Potter, and it's Wuxia, and it's Critical Role, and it's a million other things. It's Strixhaven AND it's Tales from the Yawning Portal.

In a certain sense, then, debates about "realism" in 5e are usually debates about something else. Realism, in terms of 5e, usually goes to two factors only-

1. What is the genre that the table has agreed upon? For example, if the table is playing a 5e game that is heavily wuxia- or anime- influenced, the relative sizes of weapons to races is not going to bother them too much. After all, how many times has someone in an anime pulled out a sword that was 3 times bigger than their body? On the other hand, if the table is more ren faire/Tolkien/Leiber, the idea that a 3' tall halfling is using a greatsword with a 6' blade will probably bug the heck out of them. Different tables will have different expectations.

2. What is threshold for the suspension of disbelief? This is that tricky "immersion" issue, and it ties into (1) above. Thing is ... everyone is different. Pace Gygax, above, this is a game we are playing. Hit points, saves, there are a lot of "game" mechanics. But it's also true that people have breaking points when it comes to imagining their characters within the world. And that point is different for different people. One person made a comment in the other thread that, given the narrow range of ability scores (1-20), it simply doesn't matter if small races are banned from using long weapons. Which is true- if you're thinking about it in terms of the game mechanics. But, again, for some people this will destroy their sense of the game world being "real." And that point is different for different people.

To me, these two points are both obvious and banal enough that I don't think they really warrant much discussion. It's kind of like, "Duh, different tables play differently" analysis. And yet ... the reason I think so many debates end up about realism is because ... they aren't actually about realism.


E. It's Not about the Money (Give me More Money).
I don't post comments about everything. I comment about magic, and sometimes Don Henley. -Me, confusingly.

People often argue about realism in D&D, but the underlying issue is rarely the realism. To be clear- I don't think people are lying, or disingenuous. The realism does bug them, but it's usually the easier thing to discuss than the underlying issue. Kind of the D&D version of the old sport canard, "It's about respect" (when it's really about the money).

Let me explain using the "small race" example.

Back in the old days (1e), you could have a halfling. The halfling would be race-limited in strength. This would match most people's conceptions of how halflings were smaller and weaker, in general, than other races - of course, some smaller races could be strong (dwarves ...). And yet, a halfling could put on gauntlets of ogre power, or a girdle of giant strength, and be the strongest person in the party, or, perhaps, the strongest person the party would ever meet. It was unlikely (the items didn't grow on trees, and there were probably people that would want those items in the party before the halfling), but it could happen. The main constraint usually wasn't the rules, but the shared conception.

This is just as true if you're playing some type of FKR or rules-lite game. Imagine playing a game that didn't have any rules about weapon length, or strength, but just had you playing in the "Tolkien genre." Well, you (and the people you were playing with) would, if you were playing hobbits, choose small weapons and not play them as super-strong, right?

Next, if this same group is playing 5e, are you going to build a halfling with a 20 strength and a greatsword? No. Is anyone at your table? Probably not. If that's your shared sense of realism, then it's not a problem.

....so what is the problem? Fundamentally, and IMO, the debates about realism are usually debates about the direction of the game. Here, debates about the "realism" of races in 5e, and the relaxation of rules regarding them (in Tasha's and onward) is often about taking away meaningful choice-points when it comes to the "chargen game." That's ... that's a real thing for many people. "Realism" is another way of saying that "race/ancestry" should allow for meaningful choices at character generation. It's not really about the realism, per se.


Okay, this is long enough-

Topic for discussion:

How do you feel 5e handles realism and verisimilitude?



As always, I accept any and all flattery. And negative comments will be sent to /dev/null .... um, Swarmkeeper.
 

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Voadam

Legend
5e handles realism and versimilitude like it handles a lot of issues, by offloading a bunch of decisions on them to be determined in a way that can vary group to group.

A DM can adjudicate any skill attempt in a kriegspiel fashion using realism or genre simulation as their guide. They can go with mechanical checks and apply some of the suggested guidelines for resolution. Both are RAW.

5e D&D has its own quirks like the high magic nature of a lot of classes and class options, but individuals can play a non-magic fighter or rogue and a DM can limit class options for campaign reasons.
 

payn

Legend
I think 5E handles it fine. I do believe a certain amount of tailoring has to happen at any table. If you want hyper realistic, you play something else. If you want super hero/God like power, you play something else. I think the fact that both old schooler fantasy Vietnam types, and modern fantasy power gamers, are not entirely happy with 5E means its probably just right.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
B. A Detour into the Subtle Distinction Between Realism and Simulationism.

Very important detour, see below.

How do you feel 5e handles realism and verisimilitude?

Thanks for the long and detailed post, here are my thoughts:
  • First, I see no difference between any edition of D&D in terms of realism, simulationism and verisimilitude. Every edition offloads most of these concepts to the DM and the setting anyway. Even your (good) example of a small race potentially having a huge strength was not avoided in previous editions, the reason for it being done that way in particular in 3e was because it was an edition that wanted to be balanced, and it was a way to prolong verisimilitude into balance, and hence giving smaller races a disadvantage on strength was one way to compensate for other powerful features. But if you look at races like redcaps, they were small but incredibly strong.
  • Second, D&D is certainly not realistic in the sense that it does not simulate the real world properly at all. The simplest example is gravity, with its linear damage and a cap at 20d6 for a fallen distance that is way smaller than any chance to actual attain terminal velocity in the real world. And I'm not even mentioning Spelljammer-type gravity planes (which are official in 5e). But even things which apply all the time like AC, HP, damage are certainly not realistic by any stretch.
  • Some people, usually physics buff in the real world, try to make it like their world obeys the rules of physics with magic somehow being explained on top of it, but seeing that not only does magic violates every single basic physics principle (in particular those about conservation of energy), but also seeing that the physics of the D&D rules and settings (see above about gravity) have nothing to do about those of the real world, my take is that it's mostly a collective illusion being weaved at tables with people avoiding discussing these points to closely. I've never read any explanation that made any sense compared to the real world physics theory.
But despite all the above, it does not prevent any DM to maintain a certain level of verisimilitude as long as he accepts that D&D is not a simulation of the real world, but a simulation of a fantasy world, such as adventures described in books, movies and shows of the genre, where injuries are almost always very temporary (otherwise it's boring anyway), whether it's from combat of from falling, which, anyway, never kills anyone but mooks.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
5e handles realism and versimilitude like it handles a lot of issues, by offloading a bunch of decisions on them to be determined in a way that can vary group to group.

What they said.

My typical annoyance in this debate is when someone says something along the lines of "Why do you care how much lamp oil the party is carrying in a game about elves! Elves aren't real!" Which makes zero sense as an argument.

The more important consideration is: Do we care enough about the possibility of running out of fuel to deal with the potentially annoying bookkeeping? Elves or other fantastic elements are beside the point. The existence of some fantasy element in a game or setting does not automatically negate any real world consideration you might find important to the enjoyment of the game.

For example, I don't make players keep detailed track of rations, but I do want to know they have their characters buy or gather rations when in town (and how much) so that two weeks down the line in game time, when I narrate how their food supplies are running low on their wilderness crawl it feels about right.
 

Some people, usually physics buff in the real world, try to make it like their world obeys the rules of physics with magic somehow being explained on top of it, but seeing that not only does magic violates every single basic physics principle (in particular those about conservation of energy), but also seeing that the physics of the D&D rules and settings (see above about gravity) have nothing to do about those of the real world, my take is that it's mostly a collective illusion being weaved at tables with people avoiding discussing these points to closely. I've never read any explanation that made any sense compared to the real world physics theory.
Wouldn't this be like saying that the rules of chess violate the rules of checkers? I get what you're saying, but I think strictly speaking you're making a category mistake.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Wouldn't this be like saying that the rules of chess violate the rules of checkers? I get what you're saying, but I think strictly speaking you're making a category mistake.

If you are looking holistically at the way your world works, it's not a question of category, energy should be energy whether it comes from "real world" physics or "magical" sources. The real world makes no distinction for example, a stone falling is converting potential energy into cinetic energy, and the two are really different category of energy. Or look at E=mc2, it's exactly the same thing, energy just converts from one "category" to another. There should not be any reason for magic to be different, for a given consistent setting.
 

If you are looking holistically at the way your world works, it's not a question of category, energy should be energy whether it comes from "real world" physics or "magical" sources. The real world makes no distinction for example, a stone falling is converting potential energy into cinetic energy, and the two are really different category of energy. Or look at E=mc2, it's exactly the same thing, energy just converts from one "category" to another. There should not be any reason for magic to be different, for a given consistent setting.
This is a very physicalist/materialist take on the subject. The existence of magic, souls, etc would suggest that the D&D world is not a materialist one. That was my point.

The fact that magic violates the rules of physics is fine because magic doesn't opperate via the rules of physics, it opperates under the rules of magic whatever they might be. You're just assuming that anything that does exist must conform to the known laws of physics which is absurd even in our real lives. Physics makes no room for qualia, subjectivity, or intentionality yet I'm pretty sure they exist at least for me.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Realism is a spectrum with chaos at one end and trying to accurately simulate all of reality at the other. 5e like all other editions falls on different points of the spectrum depending on what aspect you are looking at. Swords are primarily made out of steel, have edges and cut, do damage when hit something with it, etc. That's realism. It makes an attempt to model reality, even if that attempt isn't trying to be perfect.
 

Oofta

Legend
D&D isn't particularly realistic. I think it can simulate action movie + magic reasonably well given how much simplification they need to do to keep it relatively fluid and easy to grasp. Yes, there are many stupid things. I see no reason to cap damage from falling the the degree it is for example.

But in general? I can visualize much of what happens occurring in a fantasy novel or movie so it's close enough.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Well, like Beetlejuice, I will appear when I am summoned. In a different thread, @Swarmkeeper requested that I create a thread on the "topic on realism and verisimilitude in 5e..."

The second worst thing in life is not getting what you want. The worst thing in life is getting it.

...........

Topic for discussion:

How do you feel 5e handles realism and verisimilitude?



As always, I accept any and all flattery. And negative comments will be sent to /dev/null .... um, Swarmkeeper.
About as well as any version of D&D has handled realism and verisimilitude.

Well I am a wargaming grognard as well as a D&D grognard and once upon a time I left D&D for other RPG in search of "Realism". My moment of enlightenment was watching 2 friends playing a modern micros game. NATO vs Soviets in Fulda Gap or some place like that.
After 3 hours of faffing about with measuring tapes and the odd die roll they had resolved the initial spotting an first fire in a meeting engagement between the lead company of a Soviet tank regiment and some elements of a US armoured cavalry regiment. About 3 minutes of in game time and I realised why I preferred Squad Leader to Advance Squad Leader.

Squad Leader convey the essence of WWII squad tactics but ASL adds weapon porn, takes more time to resolve but does not, in my opinion add anything. Though all the extra rules give the illusion of more realism.
Now I am not interested in debating this as squad tactics is not my favourite flavour of wargame and I have not really wargamed in years due to lack of opposition.

So when third edition rolled around I went back to playing D&D and simply accept the bits that used to bug me. I really like 5e I think it accommodates a range of playstyles, without being too complex.
I think it could do with some additional non combat task resolution system beside the simple pass/fail of roll vs DC. I am not sure what this would look like but i am looking around.

P.S I am not sure that seventies was the pinnacle of wargaming complexity. I seem to recall some Victory Games games that had turn sequences that took up a whole side of an A4 page.
 

payn

Legend
About as well as any version of D&D has handled realism and verisimilitude.

Well I am a wargaming grognard as well as a D&D grognard and once upon a time I left D&D for other RPG in search of "Realism". My moment of enlightenment was watching 2 friends playing a modern micros game. NATO vs Soviets in Fulda Gap or some place like that.
After 3 hours of faffing about with measuring tapes and the odd die roll they had resolved the initial spotting an first fire in a meeting engagement between the lead company of a Soviet tank regiment and some elements of a US armoured cavalry regiment. About 3 minutes of in game time and I realised why I preferred Squad Leader to Advance Squad Leader.

Squad Leader convey the essence of WWII squad tactics but ASL adds weapon porn, takes more time to resolve but does not, in my opinion add anything. Though all the extra rules give the illusion of more realism.
Now I am not interested in debating this as squad tactics is not my favourite flavour of wargame and I have not really wargamed in years due to lack of opposition.

So when third edition rolled around I went back to playing D&D and simply accept the bits that used to bug me. I really like 5e I think it accommodates a range of playstyles, without being too complex.
I think it could do with some additional non combat task resolution system beside the simple pass/fail of roll vs DC. I am not sure what this would look like but i am looking around.

P.S I am not sure that seventies was the pinnacle of wargaming complexity. I seem to recall some Victory Games games that had turn sequences that took up a whole side of an A4 page.
This is a great post that demonstrates that realism and sim are a journey people make with gaming in general. You are likely to go back on forth on what you want as you learn about how you like it.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
This is a very physicalist/materialist take on the subject.

Which is the point of view that the people bent on "realism" take. It's not mine, btw, just trying to explain it.

The existence of magic, souls, etc would suggest that the D&D world is not a materialist one. That was my point.

It's not that simple. For example the aligned planes are part of the core 5e rules, these are planes of souls and concepts, and yet you can still travel materially to them in your physical body and experience it. There is no hardcore barrier in the rules between a material world and "magical, metaphysical" one.

The fact that magic violates the rules of physics is fine because magic doesn't opperate via the rules of physics, it opperates under the rules of magic whatever they might be. You're just assuming that anything that does exist must conform to the known laws of physics which is absurd even in our real lives. Physics makes no room for qualia, subjectivity, or intentionality yet I'm pretty sure they exist at least for me.

And yet, when you look at books like The Emperor's New Mind by Nobel Laureate Roger Penrose, physics is really used to breach the limits there, and (at least from my perspective) rightly so. A real physicist in one of D&D's settings would not be baffled by magic violating normal physical rules as he understands it. Just like people like Maxwell, Einstein or Planck found that light and magnetism violated the newtonian rules of physics, they created more advanced theories, but it's still physics and still obeys general laws, in particular those of conservation of energy.

The problem is not that some people want to imagine a world in which physics are way more complicated because of magic, the problem is that they want to fit magic into the currently understood laws of physics, and it simply is incompatible, just as the black body problem was totally incompatible with newtonian physics until quanta were thought of.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
This is a great post that demonstrates that realism and sim are a journey people make with gaming in general. You are likely to go back on forth on what you want as you learn about how you like it.
Interaction with people in places like this has also given me insights and new approaches to things.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
5e handles realism and versimilitude like it handles a lot of issues, by offloading a bunch of decisions on them to be determined in a way that can vary group to group.

A DM can adjudicate any skill attempt in a kriegspiel fashion using realism or genre simulation as their guide. They can go with mechanical checks and apply some of the suggested guidelines for resolution. Both are RAW.

5e D&D has its own quirks like the high magic nature of a lot of classes and class options, but individuals can play a non-magic fighter or rogue and a DM can limit class options for campaign reasons.
What they said.

My typical annoyance in this debate is when someone says something along the lines of "Why do you care how much lamp oil the party is carrying in a game about elves! Elves aren't real!" Which makes zero sense as an argument.

The more important consideration is: Do we care enough about the possibility of running out of fuel to deal with the potentially annoying bookkeeping? Elves or other fantastic elements are beside the point. The existence of some fantasy element in a game or setting does not automatically negate any real world consideration you might find important to the enjoyment of the game.

For example, I don't make players keep detailed track of rations, but I do want to know they have their characters buy or gather rations when in town (and how much) so that two weeks down the line in game time, when I narrate how their food supplies are running low on their wilderness crawl it feels about right.
This is a lot of it for me right here.

I get that it's a fantasy game. Magic, elves, dragons, etc. That's cool. I'm here for that. But I also need the game to feel at least somewhat grounded. Not realistic, that's really not D&D's jam. Not simulationist, again, not D&D's jam. But I need at least a passing attempt at verisimilitude. To me, for the fantastic to feel fantastic, it needs to be contrasted with the mundane. If it's all fantastic all the time, that quickly becomes absurd and surreal. As much as I love the absurd and surreal, it is, almost be definition, immersion breaking. I can't invest in the absurd and surreal, only laugh and grunt out a puzzled "huh?"

Light is only a cool spell because the alternative is carrying lanterns, oil, and torches. A bag of holding is only a cool item because the alternative is tracking the weight on all that stuff and having to decide what to keep and what to leave behind. Goodberry and create food & water are only cool spells because the alternative is carrying rations and foraging for food and water. That they alleviate a mundane chore makes them magical. The transition between them being leveled spells or rare exceptions to them being the assumed default killed that grounding. Same goes for the Mos Eisley cantina effect of all the outlandish races. Same with 2/3 of the races having darkvision. Same with spellcasting as the default and martials as the rare exception.

People talk about and complain about power creep. I have way more of a problem with magic creep.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
....so what is the problem? Fundamentally, and IMO, the debates about realism are usually debates about the direction of the game. Here, debates about the "realism" of races in 5e, and the relaxation of rules regarding them (in Tasha's and onward) is often about taking away meaningful choice-points when it comes to the "chargen game." That's ... that's a real thing for many people. "Realism" is another way of saying that "race/ancestry" should allow for meaningful choices at character generation. It's not really about the realism, per se.
I agree with your conclusion that the realism arguments aren’t really about realism but about the direction of the game. However, I don’t agree that the desire for “realism” in races is necessarily, or even usually, about wanting race to allow for meaningful choices at character generation. In my experience, the people most invested in retaining character creation restrictions are the people least invested in the character building mini-game. Folks who get very invested in the character generation mini-game typically want their characters to be highly customizable, and choice of race hampering certain class options gets in the way of that customizability. I think the argument is less about whether or not D&D should move away from race being a meaningful build choice, and more about whether or not D&D should move towards being able to make whatever character you want, as you imagine it.

There’s also a culture war element to the argument. I don’t think we need to rehash it here, but I think it bears acknowledging.
 

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