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

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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

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
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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