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

Status
Not open for further replies.

Lyxen

Great Old One
I don't do this as a means to make D&D simulationist, but I often do have a semi-cohesive structure to magic and science in my worlds. Look too close and it, of course, breaks down, but I'm only making sufficient explanations such that someone researching magic isn't as nonsensical as someone predicting whether a fair coin will read heads-or-tails.

There's many ways I've fit magical models into my games. From them being an extension of divine beings, with Arcane magic being their power converted into a more generalized form. To magic being within a different spacial dimension that gets projected onto our third dimension through oscillation.

I obviously don't write entire proofs or theses of the magical energies of every given universe, but knowing how magic works to a certain degree does help me with consistency.

That is quite different from trying to define the physics of the world based on real-world physics and incorporating magic. Yes, there are power sources, and how they relate together is important, in particular often in terms of story. Or to adjudicate what gods are, how they can (or cannot) be affected by mortal magic, how psionics (if you use them) relate to the rest, etc.

Of course, we also have these kind of elements, mostly from the history of our games. But they are mostly important at high levels, and players in these adventures have all the necessary time to understand how this works, usually as part of experimenting in game.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Oofta

Legend
That is quite different from trying to define the physics of the world based on real-world physics and incorporating magic. Yes, there are power sources, and how they relate together is important, in particular often in terms of story. Or to adjudicate what gods are, how they can (or cannot) be affected by mortal magic, how psionics (if you use them) relate to the rest, etc.

Of course, we also have these kind of elements, mostly from the history of our games. But they are mostly important at high levels, and players in these adventures have all the necessary time to understand how this works, usually as part of experimenting in game.
I assume that at a macro level, the world still works the same unless there is magic involved. Not sure how else you would run things, we need a frame of reference.

Of course a lot of things are magic in D&D land. Giants, dragons, fast healing and so on.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I don't think its ever been particularly realistic, old focus on some kinds of minutia notwithstanding.

What's more important is that I don't think it does a particularly authentic feeling in any incarnation in the sense of the simulationist usage Snarf uses in the first post. Because its trying to serve too many masters as it were.
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
I will, however, note that "in the old days" (that is, 1e), there was an explicit rule on p.19 of the PHB (third footnote on "Character Classes Table II: Armor and Weapons Permitted") that said:

"Characters under 5' height cannot employ the longbow or any weapon over 12' in length. Those under 100 pounds of body weight cannot use the heavy crossbow or pole arms in excess of 200 gold piece weight equivalent, including two-handed swords."

So even a halfling with a belt of storm giant strength in 1e couldn't use what in 5e would be called "heavy" weapons.
 

Azzy

ᚳᚣᚾᛖᚹᚢᛚᚠ
I will, however, note that "in the old days" (that is, 1e), there was an explicit rule on p.19 of the PHB (third footnote on "Character Classes Table II: Armor and Weapons Permitted") that said:

"Characters under 5' height cannot employ the longbow or any weapon over 12' in length. Those under 100 pounds of body weight cannot use the heavy crossbow or pole arms in excess of 200 gold piece weight equivalent, including two-handed swords."

So oddly worded. The use of "including" seems to suggest (grammatically, at least) that two-handed swords are pole-arms.
 

Smackpixi

Adventurer
You weird wall of text people are silly. Not reading. D&D is not realistic, it’s not supposed to be realistic. It never was, and it was never intended to be. Period.

FFS, is a game. People often take it too seriously, and argue game minutia as if life or death were at stake, they are not. It’s a game, a game using dice and tables and other ideas to gameify make believe. It’s great, but it’s not real or a simulation of reality.
 

This debate puzzles me, hence my jokes earlier.

Surely there is simply no way to reasonably think about it except in regards to more or less realistic in respect to particular areas.

It's inherently comparative not binary. It's also inherently selective being more realistic in some areas and utterly indifferent to reality in others.

Sure D&D's not particularly realistic, but it's not an unrealistic as it could be either. It's rooted in all kinds of assumptions related to how the real world works, some of them intentional, some of them unexamined, and some of the based on Gygaxes assumptions from the 70s that have somehow become deeply ingrained (such as the existence of studded leather armour).

For example, the recurrent debates about what martials should be able to do tend to run into the issue that the game tends to assume that certain things such as unmagically assisted jump distances are broadly based on real world capabilities and not on say, the portrayal of lightness Kung Fu in Wuxia films.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
All of which is fine, but are you going to be the one who sits down and writes this all up in detail* such that players can have a reasonable expectation of how everything works in the setting? Further, are you then going to expect-insist your players to not just read these books but to internalize and normalize them to the same extent they have for real-world physics? Yeah, didn't think so. :)

Yet without that, or using real-world physics as a stand-in, the players have no clue how physics in the setting differ from real-world physics for even the simplest of things; which if nothing else would act as a pretty large barrier to immersion as it becomes difficult if not impossible to form a coherent picture in one's mind of the PC and its surroundings.

* - I mean, you could write entire chapters on detailing how and why in-setting gravity allows falls that don't do much damage but doesn't allow a commoner to do moon-jumps and in which things still weigh what they do...or you could just fix falling damage to better reflect reality and have done with it.
What do you think falling damage should be?

I always thought it should be something like 1d10 for 10 feet, and doubled for every additional 10 feet. 20 = 2d10, 30 = 4d10, 40 = 8d10, etc. After 80-90 feet even higher level characters are all but guaranteed to die.
 

Voadam

Legend
What do you think falling damage should be?

I always thought it should be something like 1d10 for 10 feet, and doubled for every additional 10 feet. 20 = 2d10, 30 = 4d10, 40 = 8d10, etc. After 80-90 feet even higher level characters are all but guaranteed to die.
I house ruled falling to be 1d6 per 10 feet cumulative. So the first 10 feet is 1d6. The second 10 feet is 2d6 added to the first 10 feet 1d6 for 3d6 total. The third 10 feet falling would accelerate to add another 3d6 for 6d6 total. And so on. I did this partially because I am afraid of heights and find them really scary so I wanted my world to reflect that. I rarely used significant height falls in games so it was more a fun way to say scary things to me are scarier threats in my game.

I came up with that on my own, but I later read that Gygax had intended for falls to work like that, but that from poor drafting and editing it ended up published as just 1d6 lineally per 10 feet and so it stuck.

Serious distance falls where someone just dropped and took damage is not something I generally wanted happening even with my house rules, unlike getting hurt in combat which I wanted to regularly happen in my action genre preferred game styles. Serious falls to drop and take damage are generally verisimilitude breaking for me.

John Wick and Black Widow both had scenes of this that jarred me out of the action genre for the characters. Thor falling 200 feet and being stunned a bit is not verisimilitude breaking given his supernatural toughness. Hawkeye finding a way to not crash when falling (such as with trick arrows) is not verisimilitude breaking. Hawkeye just falling multiple stories onto concrete and being bruised and winded but otherwise OK is very jarring.

For D&D monks falling 100 feet with no damage because of their monk power is not verisimilitude breaking. Same for someone being safely caught by a feather fall spell. Someone dropping 40 feet and just taking a little damage (4d6 or 10d6 doesn't really matter) is more verisimilitude breaking for me. So as a DM I try and avoid that as a likely situation. Most pits I use are 10-20 feet deep to force a situation of the PC trying to figure out how to get out of a pit, not deep enough ones where the main point would be how much damage they take with a calculation of pit depth compared to expected PC hps.
 


For D&D monks falling 100 feet with no damage because of their monk power is not verisimilitude breaking. Same for someone being safely caught by a feather fall spell. Someone dropping 40 feet and just taking a little damage (4d6 or 10d6 doesn't really matter) is more verisimilitude breaking for me. So as a DM I try and avoid that as a likely situation. Most pits I use are 10-20 feet deep to force a situation of the PC trying to figure out how to get out of a pit, not deep enough ones where the main point would be how much damage they take with a calculation of pit depth compared to expected PC hps.
There's this weird thing that happens when people want to say the fighter can do magical things but that those things are actually mundane.

I'm all for giving the fighter some kind of magical physical abilities, but if the fighter can just jump onto the roofs of buildings I want some explanation as to how*. The wizard can cast fireballs because he has explicitly magical training. The wizard is not a precedent for complete detachment for reality, he's a precedent for a systematic and selective detachment from reality according to an explanatory framework.

*I think that some people seem to think that this is how it works in Wuxia, but if you actually read the novels that have inspired Wuxia films like Legend of the Condor Heroes there's specfic descriptions of Qinggong, "lightness Kung Fu" as a specific form of training which makes this possible. It doesn't need to be explained in media because it's culturally recognisable. It also has genre implications (it's a form of training not a genetic gift, for example, so like wizards in D&D it implies some kind of training and a system of teachers and lineages which feeds into plots in this sort of genre.)
 
Last edited:

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
What do you think falling damage should be?
I was giving that some thought earlier today, in fact, due to this thread.

I still use the standard d6 per 10' out of tradition and being too lazy to change it, but it's way too little damage for anything more than 10'. That said...
I always thought it should be something like 1d10 for 10 feet, and doubled for every additional 10 feet. 20 = 2d10, 30 = 4d10, 40 = 8d10, etc. After 80-90 feet even higher level characters are all but guaranteed to die.
...I woldn't want to go to anything nearly this nasty. d6 (or maybe 2d4) is fine for the first 10 feet. After that I want it somewhat swingy so as to always give some small chance of survival; but I want that chance to become less as distance fallen increases.

So my thought went to d6 for the first 10' then d12 for each subsequent 10'; with ANY fall of more than 40' requiring a death save even if the damage wouldn't otherwise kill the faller; this to stop the high-h.p.-guy-jumps-off-a-cliff shenanigans. The save's difficulty would be eased a bit by landing on a forgiving surface or having something slow or break your fall e.g. tree branches, but made harder for each 10' fallen over 50' and probably going to a d% for added granularity after about 150' fallen. By the time you get to terminal velocity (about 200' fallen, if memory serves) you'd need to both survive 1d6 + 19d12 damage AND roll 00 on d% in order to survive landing on a hard surface.

Side note: a few weeks back I told a story in here about once having to generate a huge amount of damage as DM and doing so by just tipping my entire dice box onto the table and adding 'em all up, but I couldn't at the time remember why I did this. Now, thanks to this discussion, I do - it was to determine the damage from a 10000 foot free-fall on to an Egyptian-style pyramid.

The other PCs needed scrapers to gather enough remains to allow Resurrection. :)
 

I think we also need to be careful with the argument that because something is conventional and doesn't break verisimiltude due to convention we should be willing to ignore reality breaking in other contexts.

Eg. It's completely ridiculous that a human sized fighter can fight a giant, but that's somewhat waved away in the abstract convention of D&D combat. In a musical it's also ridiculous that people can randomly break out in song and people around them don't stop and point and think that it's weird, but that doesn't mean that if a person suddenly reveals they can teleport with no explanation in a musical it wouldn't be jarring and weird.

In other words realism is selective because of how wound up in conventions it is. Sure we can question these conventions, but really the onus has to be on the questioner to make the case for the alternative.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Another way to do falling damage would be to steal a trick from Delta Green. For heavy weapons they have a thing called lethality rating. It's a percent based on weapon type. You roll 1d100, if you roll equal to or under that percent, the target simply dies. If you roll over that, the target takes that same roll as if it were a 2d10 roll for damage. So an artillery piece has say a 50% lethality rating, you roll 1d100...get a 49...the target simply dies...roll a 51 and the target takes 6 damage. Representing you're either killed outright or incredibly lucky. Could do the same for falling. Say a percent equal to the feet you fall after 10 feet. If you fall 99 feet, there's a 1% chance you'll only take 20 damage...but a 99% chance you're simply dead.
 
Last edited:

Lyxen

Great Old One
I assume that at a macro level, the world still works the same unless there is magic involved. Not sure how else you would run things, we need a frame of reference.

Of course a lot of things are magic in D&D land. Giants, dragons, fast healing and so on.

Exactly, which is why it's best not to ask too many questions and just play the game, you will never be able to create a proper physical reference that takes into account all the magical phenomenons and still looks even remotely solid.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I house ruled falling to be 1d6 per 10 feet cumulative. So the first 10 feet is 1d6. The second 10 feet is 2d6 added to the first 10 feet 1d6 for 3d6 total. The third 10 feet falling would accelerate to add another 3d6 for 6d6 total. And so on. I did this partially because I am afraid of heights and find them really scary so I wanted my world to reflect that. I rarely used significant height falls in games so it was more a fun way to say scary things to me are scarier threats in my game.

And that's fine if you like it, but it does not change the fact that commoners always die from a 30 foot fall and heroes never do. Physics just don't work that way. :)

I came up with that on my own, but I later read that Gygax had intended for falls to work like that, but that from poor drafting and editing it ended up published as just 1d6 lineally per 10 feet and so it stuck.

It's always been a more or less official option in many books anyway, but it's too complicated and not that interesting, since there are few actual falls if players play without metagaming in mind.

For D&D monks falling 100 feet with no damage because of their monk power is not verisimilitude breaking.

Note that, for the monks, it used to be if they were falling next to a surface and sort of slowing down, which looked cool.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
I agree that the elves-therefore-no-encumbrance argument is silly.

But I don't think that "realism" takes us very far with lamp oil. What about the chance of lamp oil spilling while the lamp is being lit? Or the lamp oil being contaminated by dust? Etc.

I think with a lot of those features that are associated with "realism" and that are inheritances from early D&D, it's more about inserting decision-points and constraints into play. Of course once you decide that equipment load-out is going to be a decision-point, its reasonable enough to use (some approximation to) weight/bulk/carrying capacity as the form in which you present it. But that is "realism", or "verisimilitude", as a downstream consideration in designing a system, not as a reason to incorporate that system in the first place.
 

pemerton

Legend
D&D still has gravity
Does it?

We know that, in D&D, things dropped or otherwise unsupported fall to earth. But is that due to the same force that explains (among other things) why moons orbit planets and planets orbit suns? Do moons in D&D even orbit planets in the way they do in our (real) world? Not in Gygax's example in his DMG, which has a PC flying to the moon on a pegasus!

How do birds fly, in the world of D&D? In the real world this is due to biomechanical facts about the birds (eg their mass, their wing flapping muscles, etc) and fluid mechanics stuff (to do with splitting the air, differential pressure, thrust and vortices, etc). I don't really understand either of these fields of science; but I'm pretty sure that a bird the size of a D&D dragon would not be able to fly.

In the world of D&D, birds and dragons fly, and as best I can tell in the same manner. This suggests to me that biomechanics and fluid mechanics don't work in D&D like they do in real life.

I think that any claim about what is true in the worlds of D&D, beyond the basics of observed phenomena and pre- or non-scientific "common sense", is dubious.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One

Yes, ti does. It certainly is not the same as the real-world one, but as a "force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass", it is definitely there. Spelljammer has gravity centers and gravity planes, but it's still gravity.

I agree, it obviously does not obey Newton's law of universal gravitation, but it's absolutely indistinguishable for most common occurrences, just like you usually don't notice that gravity also affects light as per Einstein's theories in the real world.

People and things fall just like they would in the real world, but then some have some sort of story protection, for example. And it also affects water very bizarrely, since there is no increase in water pressure when diving, etc.

We know that, in D&D, things dropped or otherwise unsupported fall to earth. But is that due to the same force that explains (among other things) why moons orbit planets and planets orbit suns? Do moons in D&D even orbit planets in the way they do in our (real) world? Not in Gygax's example in his DMG, which has a PC flying to the moon on a pegasus!

It's not the same force, but it's still the same principle and the same name.

How do birds fly, in the world of D&D? In the real world this is due to biomechanical facts about the birds (eg their mass, their wing flapping muscles, etc) and fluid mechanics stuff (to do with splitting the air, differential pressure, thrust and vortices, etc). I don't really understand either of these fields of science; but I'm pretty sure that a bird the size of a D&D dragon would not be able to fly.

You're right, dragon flight has always been considered somewhat magical in D&D, but not the kind of magic that you can dispel ("In D&D, the first type of magic is part of nature. It is no more dispellable than the wind. A monster like a dragon exists because of that magic-enhanced nature.")

In the world of D&D, birds and dragons fly, and as best I can tell in the same manner. This suggests to me that biomechanics and fluid mechanics don't work in D&D like they do in real life.

It's very possible, but my point in all this discussion is that it should not matter for the immense majority of the games and of the game's situations.

I think that any claim about what is true in the worlds of D&D, beyond the basics of observed phenomena and pre- or non-scientific "common sense", is dubious.

Indeed, which is why we don't make any hypothesis in our games about atoms and how matter behaves, the prime is made of from stuff of the four elements, and that can be manipulated by magic, but the rest is beyond what most games and characters would be able to use.

And it's also why gunpowder in general does not work. Some alchemy does work, but there is no chemical reason for sulphur + guano + charcoal to explode. Alchemist fire does explode and burn because of an alchemical reaction, not a chemical one.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
In a word? No.

...but I doubt anyone finds that satisfying.

Firstly, "realism" is a garbage term, deeply misleading. "Realism" usually means groundedness, or if you prefer pop-philosophy terms, "truthiness." It's not truth, it's not even an approximation of truth, it's something that sounds truth-like, regardless of its relation (or lack thereof) to any truths. And the big problem is, "sounds truth-like" is dependent heavily on each individual's beliefs. There are real, actual, physical phenomena that a significant number of people genuinely don't believe can happen, and there are many things people believe to be true about the physical world which are simply false. (Consider, most students who take a freshman-level physics course tend to believe more-or-less Aristotelian physics, even though the vast majority of his physical theory has been disproven for centuries, and even the parts where he was correct mostly superseded. People are bad at subjects they haven't been taught: news at 11.) So, from this bit alone, the rules are not "realistic" in any edition of D&D ever, because "realistic" doesn't mean what people think it means based on the shape of the word.

But there are more layers (should we call them levels?) Second layer of this abyss: "Realism," "simulationism," "verisimilitude," all these things are instantiated unfairly. That is, I posit that even the most ardent champion of these things willingly (albeit often unknowingly) excuses rampant and flagrant violations of these principles in order to permit a playable experience. The whole "meat vs meta" HP debate is the primary area where this is made visible, but you see it all over the place. The Alexandrian's critique of "dissociated mechanics" completely ignores the fact that attack rolls are dissociated. Experience and levels emphatically do not "simulate" how people learn anything, with levels being bizarrely discrete and interchangeable, and experience coming not from use or practice but from "you survived a fight" (or, in some older editions, "you acquired wealth," which is even worse!) So, when most folks are defending an argument about "realism," it goes even deeper than Snarf's point about genre preferences: people will actively ignore certain select game mechanics because they're old-hat, deeply familiar, or nearly universal in gaming (e.g. hit points are incredibly heavily represented in the RPG scene, be it tabletop or computer) even though those mechanics fail to uphold the stated commitment. Meaning, "realism" etc. are very, very frequently just rational-sounding covers for "this mechanic is new (to me) and I don't care for it so IT'S INHERENTLY WRONG AND MUST GO." (Usually the "to me" is implicit or even unneeded, but I'm leaving it in for comprehensiveness.)

The third layer, which is the last I'll consider in this post though I'm certain there are more, was already covered a little by Snarf. Even if we accept that "realism" really means "grounded expectations relative to some genre or style," and even if we've made sure we aren't using completely capricious and unfair standards to oppose stuff simply because it's disliked (often due to unfamiliarity) rather than because it has the objective quality of being "unrealistic," there's the simple fact that D&D is appealing to very diverse groups who all expect their vision to be Top Dog and everyone else's to either be completely excluded or (if the speaker is feeling magnanimous) permitted only in supplemental material (be it the DMG or a separate options book a la Xanathar's or SGAG.) I saw this come up a LOT during both the playtest/prerelease period for 5e and in the two or three years after its release. There were a LOT of old-school folks openly pissed about the fact that dragonborn got included in the PHB at all, for instance. A huge number of the people who can get past the first two layers completely run aground on this one.

And, again, I am not saying I'm immune to these problems. I've largely made peace with the first layer, but I still trip up on the second every now and then, and I haven't found any perfect solutions to the third layer that aren't heavily theoretical in the "why couldn't they just design better" (which is a very easy thing to say when you aren't in the metaphorical trenches yourself.) But as a consequence of the above things? No, 5e is not "realistic." D&D is not realistic, and never has been. People that argue that it is, or was, have gotten tangled up in at least one of the layers of this problem, though not necessarily any of the three I've listed here. (In very, very rare cases they might get past all three, but I find that pretty unlikely since the above covers everyone I've ever met or spoken with about the issue--again, including myself).
 

Status
Not open for further replies.

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top