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

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The answer to the italicised, as far as Middle Earth is concerned, is a clear "no". The Hobbits live like they're at the centre of world production (ie 19th century England)
Not quite.

At best they live like they're on the periphery of the centre of world production - West Country farmers in 19th (or earlier) century England, to whom the industrial revolution hasn't really made much if any difference yet. Tolkein even plays with this at the end* by having Saruman in effect bring the industrial revolution with him into the Shire, and that doesn't go very well for anyone.

* - for those whose only LotR exposure is the movies, this bit was left out. You'll just have to read the books. :)
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
Why does 4e (as opposed to any other edition) have to have anything to do with this?

Realism vs dissociation (and-or its just-as-bad twin brother, gamism) is a debate that far predates 4e. The only thing the 4e era gave us is a term "dissociated mechanics" for something that had been bugging us all along ("gamism" was the 3e era's similar contribution). The debate itself is edition-agnostic.

Dragging 4e into it just makes the debate another front in the edition war as people start viewing the question only through the lens of how their favourite edition handles it, rather than what's better for the game regardless of specific edition or version.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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:





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
Indeed; and some of us have been wilfully ignoring those bits of advice for a great many years now - as in, pretty much since we first read them. :)
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Why does 4e (as opposed to any other edition) have to have anything to do with this?

Because people were discussing the term dissociated mechanics. That term grew out of a specific context. That's why.

Realism vs dissociation (and-or its just-as-bad twin brother, gamism) is a debate that far predates 4e. The only thing the 4e era gave us is a term "dissociated mechanics" for something that had been bugging us all along ("gamism" was the 3e era's similar contribution). The debate itself is edition-agnostic.

"Gamism" and "dissociated mechanics" is similar, but not the same.

Dragging 4e into it just makes the debate another front in the edition war as people start viewing the question only through the lens of how their favourite edition handles it, rather than what's better for the game regardless of specific edition or version.

The roundup essay at Alexandrian (the short, 2012 essay) tries to make the term edition- and game-agnostic; I don't think it entirely succeeds. The primary issue is the section What is a Roleplaying Game. That's where we see the usual, "I'm a neutral arbitrator, but if you don't play it my way, you're not really playing an RPG. I mean, sure, you can have your fun, but that's not real fun" maneuver.

I feel like someone else has done academic research on this ...

...{I}t picks up one of a few perennial debates: realism versus playability; task resolution; game design and play advice; gender, ethnicity, and sex; and finally, the subject matter of the post, player and system typologies – what people enjoy about playing RPGs, how different people may have different preferences or styles, and how game design may accommodate that. The post responds dismissively to one of the most influential typologies, the Threefold Model, trying to focus the discussion on what “really” matters – player emotion – while also trying to claim a middle ground: “The thing is, different people’s emotional responses to different gaming techniques differ.”

This move – third – can be found again and again: “Making different kinds of games to support different kinds of play and different kinds of people shouldn’t de-legitimize the kinds of play that already exist” “People can often enjoy many different types of games. And if someone starts playing these ‘wrong’ games, they probably are getting something they missed elsewhere” Each time, a new piece of theory wishes to end fruitless debate and provide a big ecumenical tent of tolerance, yet by contributing a new piece that disagrees with previous ones, it does the opposite: continue the debate. While Henley’s blog post overtly makes light of the self-seriousness of RPG theory, it also tries to make its own theory stick. We see here at work some motives for RPG theorizing we identified: the joy of intellectual argument (and connecting over it); the desire to help design and play ‘better’ (implying particular normative ideas about what ‘good’ means); and the jockeying for social status and recognition within one’s community.

Finally, fourth, we see the almost-eternal return of debates and points made previously (Henley’s appeals to affect theory are far from new), due to the ephemeral nature and fragmented structure of RPG theorizing. As Bourdieu put it: “To account for the infinite diversity of practices{, one has} to reconstruct the networks of interrelated relationship which are present in each”. In this respect, valiant attempts to capture its history can only scratch the surface. Cultural sociology may prove just as helpful. Future research on RPG theorizing will likely reveal just how rhizomatic our processes and means of thought and communication actually are.


Evan Torner (2018). Same as it ever was.


ETA- that said, I do think that the discussion of dissociated mechanics, at least in the 2012 essay, is a good and reasonably clear attempt to understand and explain the rules-grammar hangup that some people had.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Because people were discussing the term dissociated mechanics. That term grew out of a specific context. That's why.
That the term came from a specific context doesn't diminish its universal appliciability.

Keep the term. Drop the context of its origin.
"Gamism" and "dissociated mechanics" is similar, but not the same.
OK, so one is a symptom of the other. It's still the same issue, notwithstanding. :)
The roundup essay at Alexandrian (the short, 2012 essay) tries to make the term edition- and game-agnostic; I don't think it entirely succeeds. The primary issue is the section What is a Roleplaying Game. That's where we see the usual, "I'm a neutral arbitrator, but if you don't play it my way, you're not really playing an RPG. I mean, sure, you can have your fun, but that's not real fun" maneuver.

I feel like someone else has done academic research on this ...

...{I}t picks up one of a few perennial debates: realism versus playability; task resolution; game design and play advice; gender, ethnicity, and sex; and finally, the subject matter of the post, player and system typologies – what people enjoy about playing RPGs, how different people may have different preferences or styles, and how game design may accommodate that. The post responds dismissively to one of the most influential typologies, the Threefold Model, trying to focus the discussion on what “really” matters – player emotion – while also trying to claim a middle ground: “The thing is, different people’s emotional responses to different gaming techniques differ.”

This move – third – can be found again and again: “Making different kinds of games to support different kinds of play and different kinds of people shouldn’t de-legitimize the kinds of play that already exist” “People can often enjoy many different types of games. And if someone starts playing these ‘wrong’ games, they probably are getting something they missed elsewhere” Each time, a new piece of theory wishes to end fruitless debate and provide a big ecumenical tent of tolerance, yet by contributing a new piece that disagrees with previous ones, it does the opposite: continue the debate. While Henley’s blog post overtly makes light of the self-seriousness of RPG theory, it also tries to make its own theory stick. We see here at work some motives for RPG theorizing we identified: the joy of intellectual argument (and connecting over it); the desire to help design and play ‘better’ (implying particular normative ideas about what ‘good’ means); and the jockeying for social status and recognition within one’s community.

Finally, fourth, we see the almost-eternal return of debates and points made previously (Henley’s appeals to affect theory are far from new), due to the ephemeral nature and fragmented structure of RPG theorizing. As Bourdieu put it: “To account for the infinite diversity of practices{, one has} to reconstruct the networks of interrelated relationship which are present in each”. In this respect, valiant attempts to capture its history can only scratch the surface. Cultural sociology may prove just as helpful. Future research on RPG theorizing will likely reveal just how rhizomatic our processes and means of thought and communication actually are.


Evan Torner (2018). Same as it ever was.
This takes it all far too seriously for my tastes. :)

All I'm after is a game designed to support a sense of consistent in-setting reality. That such in-setting reality must in many ways be based on and mirror our own is due to sheer practicality, as without such the game designers would first have to reinvent the sciences from the ground up and then - the hard part! - explain them in ways people could understand.
 

It would be interesting to see someone ask Justin Alexander how he feels about the 2d20 system with it's very dissociated mechanics for momentum and threat, given that he worked on Infinity which uses that system.

(I like the 2d20 system overall, although it is very dependent on having players who are able to get into the right groove in regard to currency use).
 
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It would be interesting to see someone ask Justin Alexander how he feels about the 2d20 with it's very dissociated mechanics for momentum and threat, given that he worked on Infinity which uses that system.

(I like the 2d20 system overall, although it is very dependent on having players who are able to get into the right groove in regard to currency use).

2D20 is very much an Author oriented system in how its set up; not only Momentum but the way a lot (traits? Its been a little while since I looked at STA or Fallout so I can't remember the term) are set up.
 

2D20 is very much an Author oriented system in how its set up; not only Momentum but the way a lot (traits? Its been a little while since I looked at STA or Fallout so I can't remember the term) are set up.
It varies a lot depending on the particular game. Conan and Infiinity are more like a traditional game in respects other than the metacurrency whereas Dune borrows a lot from Fate.
 

It varies a lot depending on the particular game. Conan and Infiinity are more like a traditional game in respects other than the metacurrency whereas Dune borrows a lot from Fate.

Well, yeah, the Modiphus games do have a considerable variance in a number of ways, but as you note, they all use Momentum.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
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!
I don't agree that the conclusion necessarily follows. One problem I see is that the argument doesn't take into account immediacy. The ability of an unspecified off-page explanation to satisfy "realism" preferences in an RPG can (and in my opinion usually will) depend on the extent to which the player and/or the character are confronted with the subject of that explanation.

For instance, a player with a strong preference for "realism" might plausibly consider that preference satisfied by an as-yet-unpresented explanation of the economics of Middle Earth in a campaign that only incidentally involves the characters in that economic system, while simultaneously considering that preference unsatisfied by an as-yet-unpresented explanation for why their Battlemaster character can't try to Trip anyone else in a particular combat.
 

Aldarc

Legend
It would be interesting to see someone ask Justin Alexander how he feels about the 2d20 system with it's very dissociated mechanics for momentum and threat, given that he worked on Infinity which uses that system.

(I like the 2d20 system overall, although it is very dependent on having players who are able to get into the right groove in regard to currency use).
He would probably find a way to make an exception for it due to "reasons" while maintaining those same double-standards against 4e D&D. That's really the bottom line.
 

Why does 4e (as opposed to any other edition) have to have anything to do with this?
The original articulation of the concept was specifically--and explicitly--targeted at 4e. It was, specifically and explicitly, intended to show that by using mechanics of this (alleged) kind in play, 4e was less of an RPG. I already gave the quotes above, but I can dredge them up again if you like. Others have validly said that a concept can grow beyond the way it was originally articulated, but I have yet to see real evidence that it has done so--people still use the Alexandrian's formation uncritically.

Realism vs dissociation (and-or its just-as-bad twin brother, gamism) is a debate that far predates 4e. The only thing the 4e era gave us is a term "dissociated mechanics" for something that had been bugging us all along ("gamism" was the 3e era's similar contribution). The debate itself is edition-agnostic.
That's an interesting position to take. I would fundamentally disagree, if only because 4e was so specifically targeted on this one axis, when no other edition--neither before nor since--has had quite so much vitriol thrown at it for this very specific area. (Some criticism of 3e was vaguely similar, what with the comparisons to Diablo and such, but in general that arose from a "ew, filthy powergamers/Monty Haul players" position, rather than a "you literally cannot roleplay in this system," which, yes, is a position I personally saw people express more than once.)

It would be like saying that, I dunno, market deregulation is a wholly history-agnostic debate, when one has the examples of the Great Depression and the subprime mortgage crisis as examples to point to. The history of the concept matters. This comes across more like wanting to plug one's ears and pretend that history doesn't exist because it's not pleasant and has a tendency to make conversations messy--but that's the whole point, the topic isn't clean to begin with and it feels disingenuous to pretend that it is.

Dragging 4e into it just makes the debate another front in the edition war as people start viewing the question only through the lens of how their favourite edition handles it, rather than what's better for the game regardless of specific edition or version.
If people don't want 4e edition war stuff brought into it, they shouldn't be the ones bringing in "dissociated" mechanics. Or if they must do so, at least clearly state, "I know what the Alexandrian used this for, but I disagree with that. I just want to talk about these kinds of mechanics in general, and I reject the use of this kind of argument to dunk on any system, D&D or otherwise."

Because, again specifically and explicitly, that's what the concept was invented to do, to dunk on 4e for being less of an RPG than prior editions. To reify the "it's a boardgame" criticism--hence why he literally compared it to board games (Arkham Horror and Monopoly, specifically).
 
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Aldarc

Legend
That the term came from a specific context doesn't diminish its universal appliciability.
Except all the cases where that's clearly not true. Various fields in academia, for example, frequently have to fight against terms that have gained a "universal applicability" status (often carried on the biases of 19th-20th century Euro-American scholarship) because the terms fail to hold up as "universal" when scrutinized or applied with actual critical analysis. Such terms are frequently far more embedded in their original biases and specific contexts than people give them credit for being and not so easily disloged from them.

That the term came from a specific context doesn't diminish its universal appliciability.

Keep the term. Drop the context of its origin.
That said, this assertion assumes that "dissociated mechanics" has utility as a term of universal applicability, but that has yet to be demonstrated with any critical consistency in regards to even just D&D as a whole. People have certainly insisted that it is useful but without actually showing their work. As others in this thread have shown (or even the Alexandrian), the term "dissociated mechanics" falls apart as a useful term when its actually applied consistently to past and present editions of D&D and not just the editions of D&D that the Alexandrian dislikes.

Maybe people should drop the term until they can convincingly demonstrate its use in applying it fairly without using it to simply be synonymous with "mechanics in games I don't like"? Devising a new term that more accurately conveys the issue would likely be better than falling back on a problematic one that has proven itself inaccurate and misleading.
 

If people don't want 4e edition war stuff brought into it, they shouldn't be the ones bringing in "dissociated" mechanics. Or if they must do so, at least clearly state, "I know what the Alexandrian used this for, but I disagree with that. I just want to talk about these kinds of mechanics in general, and I reject the use of this kind of argument to dunk on any system, D&D or otherwise."
Why not just assume that?

I always consider taking the most charitable interpration possible until it's unavoidable not to a basic responsibility of discussion.

The edition wars were ten years ago. At what point do we have to stop treading on egg shells?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The original articulation of the concept was specifically--and explicitly--targeted at 4e. It was, specifically and explicitly, intended to show that by using mechanics of this (alleged) kind in play, 4e was less of an RPG. I already gave the quotes above, but I can dredge them up again if you like. Others have validly said that a concept can grow beyond the way it was originally articulated, but I have yet to see real evidence that it has done so--people still use the Alexandrian's formation uncritically.

That's an interesting position to take. I would fundamentally disagree, if only because 4e was so specifically targeted on this one axis, when no other edition--neither before nor since--has had quite so much vitriol thrown at it for this very specific area. (Some criticism of 3e was vaguely similar, what with the comparisons to Diablo and such, but in general that arose from a "ew, filthy powergamers/Monty Haul players" position, rather than a "you literally cannot roleplay in this system," which, yes, is a position I personally saw people express more than once.)

It would be like saying that, I dunno, market deregulation is a wholly history-agnostic debate, when one has the examples of the Great Depression and the subprime mortgage crisis as examples to point to. The history of the concept matters.
Exactly, and I can remember having debates over topics like this in the 80s and 90s. The only thing that's changed since is that some of the things we were talking about have acquired terms and slightly clearer definition.

We didn't call them "dissociated mechanics" back then but we still talked about rules and game mechanics that sometimes didn't have much to do with (or make sense with) the fiction; and realized we generally didn't like such mechanics and did what we could where we could to fix them.

We didn't call it "gamism" back then but we knew what it was and still tried to avoid it when there was a choice between that and realism (or "simulationism", as it later became called).

The debate/issue is the same. Only the terms have been changed.
This comes across more like wanting to plug one's ears and pretend that history doesn't exist because it's not pleasant and has a tendency to make conversations messy--but that's the whole point, the topic isn't clean to begin with and it feels disingenuous to pretend that it is.
Messy to you perhaps, but not to me.
If people don't want 4e edition war stuff brought into it, they shouldn't be the ones bringing in "dissociated" mechanics. Or if they must do so, at least clearly state, "I know what the Alexandrian used this for, but I disagree with that.
How about "I've never read the Alexandrian and really don't give a damn what it says, but it's given the community (and thus me) a fine term for something I already knew about and didn't like that didn't previously have a term"? 'Cause that's my position.
I just want to talk about these kinds of mechanics in general, and I reject the use of this kind of argument to dunk on any system, D&D or otherwise."

Because, again specifically and explicitly, that's what the concept was invented to do, to dunk on 4e for being less of an RPG than prior editions. To reify the "it's a boardgame" criticism--hence why he literally compared it to board games (Arkham Horror and Monopoly, specifically).
As far as I'm concerned, that's all utterly irrelevant to my attempts to discuss (and fight against) a poor type of mechanic that existed long before 4e and still exists today.

That said, there isn't a system out there that's immune to being dunked on.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That said, this assertion assumes that "dissociated mechanics" has utility as a term of universal applicability, but that has yet to be demonstrated with any critical consistency in regards to even just D&D as a whole. People have certainly insisted that it is useful but without actually showing their work. As others in this thread have shown (or even the Alexandrian), the term "dissociated mechanics" falls apart as a useful term when its actually applied consistently to past and present editions of D&D and not just the editions of D&D that the Alexandrian dislikes.

Maybe people should drop the term until they can convincingly demonstrate its use in applying it fairly without using it to simply be synonymous with "mechanics in games I don't like"? Devising a new term that more accurately conveys the issue would likely be better than falling back on a problematic one that has proven itself inaccurate and misleading.
Hell, it took 30+ years to come up with that term and now you want another instead? :)

Got any ideas?
 

pemerton

Legend
Hitpoints don't break my immersion
Hit points on their own break my immersion. In AD&D dungeon crawling that doesn't matter. In 4e, it is the effects that do the work of establishing fiction, and the hit points just come along for the ride - they show whether and the degree to which a character is being "set back" in the fight.

Because hit points on their own break my immersion - as in, there is no fiction, just a tally - I did not play very much serious D&D for 20 years (ie until 4e came along and solved the problem). I played systems that have "associated" combat rules, mostly RM and also a bit of RQ.
 

pemerton

Legend
West Country farmers in 19th (or earlier) century England, to whom the industrial revolution hasn't really made much if any difference yet.
Except that it generates vast amounts of stuff.

Look at what Ireland was like, particularly its remote parts, even in the early 20th century. Look at what Fiji or Meru was, and to some extent is, like. These are actual example of what life is like for peasant villagers on the periphery of the world economy.
 

pemerton

Legend
Tolkein even plays with this at the end* by having Saruman in effect bring the industrial revolution with him into the Shire
--- 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.
This is all just tropes. It's not an actual explanation for how the quantity of material goods being consumed is produced. Saruman's "industrial revolution" is described in terms of air and water and architectural pollution, but there is no attempt to engage with how things are made.
 

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