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

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Lyxen

Great Old One
Association and disassociate in regards to mechanics can be measured on a spectrum (regardless of how you feel about either). Whether or not something breaks your immersion is entirely subjective.

Although I agree in general, a spectrum implies some sort of continuity, whereas for me it's more black and white, does a feature break immersion or not.
 

Association and disassociate in regards to mechanics can be measured on a spectrum (regardless of how you feel about either). Whether or not something breaks your immersion is entirely subjective.
And I'm asserting it really can't. As alluded above, by myself and others. The point @pemerton made about "explanations just past the page," for example. If the standard requires that full-on everything be justified purely within the literal words of the text, an enormous swathe of fiction instantly ceases to be immersive solely because it doesn't go into a lot of unnecessary detail about grain imports and industrial capacities etc. Since you seem to be cool with the Rivendell example, it then behooves you to explain why those handwaves are acceptable, but game-related ones are not.

I don't see why character creation is relevant. I don't see how character creation can be dissociated or associated because there isn't even a character yet.
The original Alexandrian article makes an explicit discussion of how character creation is "dissociated" but not a problem for being so, because it's not part of at-the-table play. This is critical, since many people (IIRC including yourself? please correct me if I'm wrong) have emphasized how the Alexandrian article is (allegedly) not saying "dissociated = bad" specifically because this section is present. Given that part of the explanation of the concept very specifically calls out character creation as "dissociated," and AFAIK no one has said otherwise about character creation rules prior to your post here, I had assumed this was part of the package.

This, incidentally, just gives another demonstration of why I think the whole concept is just too much of a problem. Even the people who intend to use it seriously have major disagreements over what does or doesn't count, and which parts of the original article are relevant or important.

Nor do I see why whether one decision about character creation or advancement whether associated or not necessarily affects whether later mechanics are associated or not.

I also don't know what the generalisation is that I'm supposed to be asking for?
It is quite possible I am mistaken. But my understanding of your argument is as follows: Hit points do not meet the narrowest definition of "dissociated" mechanics, because (per the Alexandrian article where the term was articulated) "dissociated" mechanics are ones that must relate to choices the character and player make. Players do not make choices about what their hit points are, generally speaking. They may make choices about (say) consumable resources which can restore hit points, but in the way the article uses the term, hit points themselves are outside the scope.

Yet you have said that they they clearly are "dissociated" (and I, personally, agree with you). This implies generalizing beyond the narrow limit: permitting us to include choices informed by mechanics, not merely ones directly invoked by them. Characters do (presumably) have awareness of their overall state of fitness and ability to act, but they do not and realistically cannot know many of the things that hit points allow a player to know. I gave the example way upthread of a character (like, say, a level 8 Fighter with 14 Con) deciding whether to jump down a 100' cliff face. If that character has full HP, the player can know--for certain, purely from the mechanics--that falling damage cannot kill the character, as the fall can only do 10d6 damage (1d6 per 10') and the character has 68 HP, indeed the character is very likely to take no more than about 44 damage.

That is the generalization. Going from "this concept only applies to things that actually require player choices" to "this concept applies to any mechanics which inform player choices." But if we make that generalizing step, then everything that arises from character building--based on the original article explicitly calling character building "dissociated"--is necessarily informed by that character building, and thus necessarily "dissociated" for exactly the same reason that HP are.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
And I'm asserting it really can't. As alluded above, by myself and others. The point @pemerton made about "explanations just past the page," for example. If the standard requires that full-on everything be justified purely within the literal words of the text, an enormous swathe of fiction instantly ceases to be immersive solely because it doesn't go into a lot of unnecessary detail about grain imports and industrial capacities etc. Since you seem to be cool with the Rivendell example, it then behooves you to explain why those handwaves are acceptable, but game-related ones are not.


The original Alexandrian article makes an explicit discussion of how character creation is "dissociated" but not a problem for being so, because it's not part of at-the-table play. This is critical, since many people (IIRC including yourself? please correct me if I'm wrong) have emphasized how the Alexandrian article is (allegedly) not saying "dissociated = bad" specifically because this section is present. Given that part of the explanation of the concept very specifically calls out character creation as "dissociated," and AFAIK no one has said otherwise about character creation rules prior to your post here, I had assumed this was part of the package.

This, incidentally, just gives another demonstration of why I think the whole concept is just too much of a problem. Even the people who intend to use it seriously have major disagreements over what does or doesn't count, and which parts of the original article are relevant or important.


It is quite possible I am mistaken. But my understanding of your argument is as follows: Hit points do not meet the narrowest definition of "dissociated" mechanics, because (per the Alexandrian article where the term was articulated) "dissociated" mechanics are ones that must relate to choices the character and player make. Players do not make choices about what their hit points are, generally speaking. They may make choices about (say) consumable resources which can restore hit points, but in the way the article uses the term, hit points themselves are outside the scope.

Yet you have said that they they clearly are "dissociated" (and I, personally, agree with you). This implies generalizing beyond the narrow limit: permitting us to include choices informed by mechanics, not merely ones directly invoked by them. Characters do (presumably) have awareness of their overall state of fitness and ability to act, but they do not and realistically cannot know many of the things that hit points allow a player to know. I gave the example way upthread of a character (like, say, a level 8 Fighter with 14 Con) deciding whether to jump down a 100' cliff face. If that character has full HP, the player can know--for certain, purely from the mechanics--that falling damage cannot kill the character, as the fall can only do 10d6 damage (1d6 per 10') and the character has 68 HP, indeed the character is very likely to take no more than about 44 damage.

That is the generalization. Going from "this concept only applies to things that actually require player choices" to "this concept applies to any mechanics which inform player choices." But if we make that generalizing step, then everything that arises from character building--based on the original article explicitly calling character building "dissociated"--is necessarily informed by that character building, and thus necessarily "dissociated" for exactly the same reason that HP are.
So, just to stick my head in, hitpoints are used for decisions. Players make choices for actions based on how many hitpoints they have and what their well for replenishing these are all the time. They are a key input into many decisions. But there's no defined fiction for these inputs -- hitpoints are, at best, described in an ad hoc and/or arbitrary manner. So there's no character-side information going into these decisions; it's entirely at the metagame level. Sure, you can arbitrarily create an ad hoc description of current hp for a character, but this is that hallmark of dissociation -- you have to create fiction for the specific circumstance to explain the mechanic so that there's an in-character rational. Hitpoints are very much dissociated and also used for decisions. True, I don't decide hitpoints, but not all mechanics are the choice. Some are inputs into the choice.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And I'm asserting it really can't. As alluded above, by myself and others. The point @pemerton made about "explanations just past the page," for example. If the standard requires that full-on everything be justified purely within the literal words of the text, an enormous swathe of fiction instantly ceases to be immersive solely because it doesn't go into a lot of unnecessary detail about grain imports and industrial capacities etc. Since you seem to be cool with the Rivendell example, it then behooves you to explain why those handwaves are acceptable, but game-related ones are not.

Ugh. Okay, I guess I'll interject since, you know, I started this thread. Although really it's all the fault of @Swarmkeeper . HAPPY NOW? See what you did?

Look, people like what they like. That's always true from a subjective sense. It's also true that there are techniques used to make things more effective for most people. For example, films employ certain types of grammar that most of accept and process unconsciously. After a movie, people will often say, "I like it!" or, "I hated it!" without always knowing what, specifically, was done in the movie that made them have this reaction ... especially when the faults are non-obvious or occur in the grammar and rules of the film.

To make this more concrete, think about how a horror movie might be scary, or not scary. One way that this is done is through the use of jump scares. I'm going to embed a 12 minute youtube video that does a decent job of showing how some movies (The Conjuring) use the jump scare effectively, and other movies (Jason Takes Manhattan) .... don't. And it's because of the underlying film grammar and technique.


What does this have to do with anything? Well, the majority of people who saw those two movies would probably feel the difference, but might lack the vocabulary to express it. They would just say something like, "The Conjuring was a better movie than the Friday the 13th Movie," or, "I just didn't think that the Manhattan movie was very scary." Again, not everyone ... people are all different. But most people would know that there's a difference, even if they couldn't articulate it, and would have a preference.

Issues of realism, whether you're watching a game or enjoying narrative fiction, are almost always overblown. People who like the thing in question will suspend their disbelief- it's "realistic" (or true to genre) for them. Those who don't will immediately point out the ways in which it isn't realistic. Here's a concrete example-

Two people are arguing about Star Wars and Babylon 5. The Babylon 5 fan says that Star Wars is unrealistic, it's just fantasy with wizards and space ships. It's not "hard science fiction" like Babylon 5, that consulted with NASA's JPL, and has Earth's ships spinning to create gravity....

And the Star Wars fan replies, "Yeah yeah. But all the ships went pew pew pew in the vacuum of space, didn't they?"

What people accept as realistic, and what they don't ... that level of suspension of disbelief .... it depends on a lot of things. On a lot of cultural things, on a lot of genre conventions, and, of course, on subjective factors that are personal (the difference between what Neil deGrasse Tyson accepts, and what JJ Abrams accepts, may be different).

Moving this to the game discussion, it is clear that people have different preferences when it comes to rules for TTRPGs in general, and to D&D specifically. While 4e was, in many ways, an evolution from the very last stages of 3.5e, it also had a very different grammar and assumptions about the rules. For some people (including many on this thread), that was liberating and awesome. For others (including many on this thread), that was alienating and unenjoyable.

The arguments about disassociated mechanics and "realism" (ugh) are attempts by people that found 4e unenjoyable to analyze why they found it unenjoyable by looking at the grammar of the game. Now, they might not be correct, but it is unlikely that anyone who likes 4e would understand it ... because they disagree with the basic premise that 4e's grammar is unenjoyable.

To have a productive conversation about this ... which, based on what I have seen in these threads is impossible, you would have to start with the premise that the rules-grammar of 4e does not work for a contingent of people, and then try (in good faith) to really understand why, as opposed to assuming that arguments regarding 4e are made in bad faith. This doesn't mean that the rules-grammar of 4e is bad in anyway, but that it did not serve the purpose of some portion of people.

One way that might be productive, especially given that the thread topic is about 5e and realism, is to consider the ways in which 5e both used the grammar of 4e and broke with the grammar of 4e, and from there, determine what aspects of the rules grammar people really took issue with. Or not!
 


So..."dissociation" is just a different term for "immersion-breaking." What's the point of it, if it's literally just synonymous with that?

Well, it at least leads to a new terminological argument instead of the umpteenth one about "immersion".

(Honestly, I do think there's something to "this seems so disconnected it pulls me out" as long as you recognize that can't be but a subjective standard and different people will put it in different places. I know someone who can just elide most hero point mechanics, but the card play in Torg/Masterbook was just a bridge too far.)
 

"I have one fortune point remaining" is not associated because there is (probably) nothing that can be referred to in the fiction that links to the mechanic. The character does not make the decision to be lucky this time - or really any decision at all related to the mechanic.

Though I should note that sort of thing is almost certainly needed in some genres to produce an appropriate result. One can simply not want to deal with those genres, but if you do, you're going to have to make your peace with some sort of mechanic to handle it.

Some things come in complex packages which can be partly referred to in the fiction and partly not, like hit points in D&D. In these kinds of cases the distinction is not particularly useful.

Eh. I still say that the problem with hit points as expressed in D&D is that they've always been pretty incoherent. What they actually are, how they're supposed to apply, hasn't been consistent at all throughout the life of the game. That lets you do some massaging of their meaning at-need but it also can make them super, super jarring and hard to engage with what's happening.

(There's arguments that hit points aren't a great model in general, but as you noted in the paragraph prior to my quote, at least fixed hit points can usually be matched pretty directly to injury in some fashion.)
 

Importantly, going back to Ovinomancer's post, they mentioned that "dissociated" mechanics, as a concept, do not appear to do useful work outside of the value-judgment context. That implies that the value-judgment IS doing useful work! But if the useful work disappears when the value-judgment does, it seems reasonable to ask, "Why not just express the value judgment by itself? It seems possible to do so, and it does not seem that much is lost by doing so." And I would, personally, say that you accomplish

I'd argue that with most people using it, it expresses at least why it appears internally that they place the value judgment they do (as noted, the Alexandrian's position doesn't seem coherent, but terms take on a life independent of their creator). It may be where they draw the line is subjective but "This appears connected directly to character action" and "this doesn't" is a valid line to draw internally, even if other people don't draw the line in the same place or don't consider the line important.

Obviously this is similar to the statement I clipped out here, but people like having an abbreviated way to refer to a concept; that's the only reason a lot of terms exist.
 



And I'm asserting it really can't. As alluded above, by myself and others. The point @pemerton made about "explanations just past the page," for example. If the standard requires that full-on everything be justified purely within the literal words of the text, an enormous swathe of fiction instantly ceases to be immersive solely because it doesn't go into a lot of unnecessary detail about grain imports and industrial capacities etc. Since you seem to be cool with the Rivendell example, it then behooves you to explain why those handwaves are acceptable, but game-related ones are not.


The original Alexandrian article makes an explicit discussion of how character creation is "dissociated" but not a problem for being so, because it's not part of at-the-table play. This is critical, since many people (IIRC including yourself? please correct me if I'm wrong) have emphasized how the Alexandrian article is (allegedly) not saying "dissociated = bad" specifically because this section is present. Given that part of the explanation of the concept very specifically calls out character creation as "dissociated," and AFAIK no one has said otherwise about character creation rules prior to your post here, I had assumed this was part of the package.

This, incidentally, just gives another demonstration of why I think the whole concept is just too much of a problem. Even the people who intend to use it seriously have major disagreements over what does or doesn't count, and which parts of the original article are relevant or important.


It is quite possible I am mistaken. But my understanding of your argument is as follows: Hit points do not meet the narrowest definition of "dissociated" mechanics, because (per the Alexandrian article where the term was articulated) "dissociated" mechanics are ones that must relate to choices the character and player make. Players do not make choices about what their hit points are, generally speaking. They may make choices about (say) consumable resources which can restore hit points, but in the way the article uses the term, hit points themselves are outside the scope.

Yet you have said that they they clearly are "dissociated" (and I, personally, agree with you). This implies generalizing beyond the narrow limit: permitting us to include choices informed by mechanics, not merely ones directly invoked by them. Characters do (presumably) have awareness of their overall state of fitness and ability to act, but they do not and realistically cannot know many of the things that hit points allow a player to know. I gave the example way upthread of a character (like, say, a level 8 Fighter with 14 Con) deciding whether to jump down a 100' cliff face. If that character has full HP, the player can know--for certain, purely from the mechanics--that falling damage cannot kill the character, as the fall can only do 10d6 damage (1d6 per 10') and the character has 68 HP, indeed the character is very likely to take no more than about 44 damage.

That is the generalization. Going from "this concept only applies to things that actually require player choices" to "this concept applies to any mechanics which inform player choices." But if we make that generalizing step, then everything that arises from character building--based on the original article explicitly calling character building "dissociated"--is necessarily informed by that character building, and thus necessarily "dissociated" for exactly the same reason that HP are.
I don't believe I weighed in on the Tolkien sub-thread. For the record, I'm fine with those details being unimportant to the main thrust of the narrative in literature, but feel some of those blanks have to be filled in for a RPG.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Immersion is black and white (though subjective). Degree of association with regards to mechanics can vary.
Again, I don't think this is so because I don't think association can actually be broken out in any objective way. For instance, upthread, mechanics I see as clearly and strongly dissociated are, to others, associated. The only way this can be true is if it's immersion based on one side. Hitpoints don't break my immersion, but I see them as entirely dissociated. Second Wind doesn't break my immersion, but it's entirely dissociated. Extra Attack vs Sneak Attack doesn't break my immersion, but they are dissociated (they are entirely silo'd explanations for the same thing -- martial skill -- and not available based on action but rather dictate action based on mechanic). I don't think dissociation can do any useful work outside of preference, which makes calling something dissociated arbitrary.
 

Again, I don't think this is so because I don't think association can actually be broken out in any objective way. For instance, upthread, mechanics I see as clearly and strongly dissociated are, to others, associated. The only way this can be true is if it's immersion based on one side. Hitpoints don't break my immersion, but I see them as entirely dissociated. Second Wind doesn't break my immersion, but it's entirely dissociated. Extra Attack vs Sneak Attack doesn't break my immersion, but they are dissociated (they are entirely silo'd explanations for the same thing -- martial skill -- and not available based on action but rather dictate action based on mechanic). I don't think dissociation can do any useful work outside of preference, which makes calling something dissociated arbitrary.
I think we're talking past each other here. Immersion or lack thereof can have to do with association (or lack there of), but it doesn't have to. The concept of immersion is black and white, for each individual, subjectively. How associated a mechanic is with the character's actions at the table can vary significantly.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think we're talking past each other here. Immersion or lack thereof can have to do with association (or lack there of), but it doesn't have to. The concept of immersion is black and white, for each individual, subjectively. How associated a mechanic is with the character's actions at the table can vary significantly.
I haven't seen a case made for objective standards for association/dissociation, though. You're claiming it exists, but I haven't seen a good showing of it. My question above asking for a ranking on the scale for those mechanics wasn't in bad faith -- it was an ask to show how those things could be ranked on the claimed objective association scale. I'd like to see an example of the work done for non-preference based labeling of things on this association scale. To be clear, I don't think it can be done. I'm more than willing to see evidence otherwise, though.
 

I think we're talking past each other here. Immersion or lack thereof can have to do with association (or lack there of), but it doesn't have to. The concept of immersion is black and white, for each individual, subjectively. How associated a mechanic is with the character's actions at the table can vary significantly.

Eh, I'm not sure its always that black-and-white. When I'm playing immersively (which I don't always do because, honestly, the more sensory things that throw me out--voices, appearances, and so on--the harder it is anyway--my most immersive period was when I was MUSHing where everything was filtered through text) some things I can just firewall and continue on, other things I can't, and some don't matter at all.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Here's the link between "dissociated" mechanics and JRRT's economics:

If you think that there is a realistic explanation for the economics of The Shire and Bree and Rivendell and Lorien, sitting just outside the page; then there is an explanation for why the Battlemaster can't Trip anyone at the moment - again it's sitting just outside the page, waiting for you to work out what it is!
One of those - the Hobbit example - is close enough to the edge of the page to almost be peeking around the corner.

The other one - the Battlemaster example - is far enough outside the page that finding it requires a search party and a team of guides.

In reply somewhat to your earlier posts:

--- faux-English Hobbits eating faux-English cheese makes perfect sense as cheese has been made in England for ages
--- some of the finest china in the world comes from England and has for a long time thus the crockery also fits in just fine (note that in Bree they use wooden dishware, which also fits in)
--- the fancy tailoring isn't a stretch as long as we assume the material used is mostly wool or wool-derived
--- etc.

The one real anachronism, as someone already pointed out, is the clock on the mantel.

Tolkein doesn't tell us about the production of these things because for the purposes of his story he doesn't need to. BUT - he's also not trying to use that setting to run an RPG, with players running characters who can and will almost immdeiately go beyond the borders of his story; and who might at any moment ask these questions and (quite reasonably) expect coherent answers.
 

Kannik

Adventurer
Regarding the second part of the OP's title, "Is D&D supposed to be realistic", there are these quotes from the AD&D 1e rulebooks that give good indication of the game's intent at its inception:

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson said:
It is important to keep in mind that, after all is said and done, ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a game. Because it is a game, certain things which seem "unrealistic" or simply unnecessary are integral to the system. Classes have restrictions in order to give a varied and unique approach to each class when they play, as well as to provide play balance. Races are given advantages or limits mainly because the whole character of the game would be drastically altered if it were otherwise. Everything in the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS system has purpose; most of what is found herein is essential to the campaign, and those sections which are not — such as sub-classes of characters, psionics, and similar material — are clearly labeled as optional for inclusion.

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson said:
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.

Which still holds for me today, and as such I would answer the "Is D&D supposed to be realistic?" question... especially the "supposed" part of it, with a No. D&D is supposed to be D&D, full of adventure in a fantasy world. I have my preferences, and areas where I will bump*, but I keep in mind that intent.


* As a martial artist, how staffs and spears are handled (kinda literally) is a hook for me . :p
 

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