log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D 5E Simulation vs Game - Where should D&D 5e aim?

shadow

First Post
Lately, I've been thinking about the issue of D&D as a 'simulation' vs. D&D as a game. In other words, how much the rules should aim at 'simulating' a fantasy story versus how much the rules should aim at creating a balanced game, regardless of believability. Of course, I suppose the term 'simulation' is somewhat of a misnomer because no set of rules could simulate anything completely or even believably. However, on the other hand, I have noticed that D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder seem to have moved toward the idea of rules providing game balance without a huge regard toward the story.

For example, this 'gamist' thinking is seen in the Pathfinder alchemist who can only use extracts on himself and only create a limited number of bombs per day regardless of available materials. Also this is seen in the 4e encounter/daily powers, which, although designed for game balance, do seem very 'metagamey'. Sure, you could come up with in game explanations for the limitations, but the rules as written are very vague as to why such arbitrary limitations exist outside the scope of game balance.

So where should D&D 5e aim on the spectrum of simulation vs. metagame? Should the designers aim at providing rules to simulate fantasy legends and stories and allow players to emulate the heroes of such stories at the possible expense of game balance? Should game balance be an overriding priority even when certain limitations seem completely arbitrary? Are the two goals even mutually exclusive? (If they aren't, how can game balance and play options be balanced?)
 

log in or register to remove this ad

howandwhy99

Adventurer
With the Story vs. Game question we get right to the heart of the hobby and the roots of D&D. Is the goal of the rules to support "good" storytelling or to place players in a defined space where they are to achieve objectives?

The game can't support both without being two fundamentally different things.

First, D&D as a game includes scoring, achieving objectives, enacting strategies and tactics, and, yes, winning and losing. Characters live and die at the whims of the dice, but the odds of those die rolls are determined within the game rules. Avoiding unnecessary risks and taking actions which lead to goals tied to scoring D&D Players can succeed, which is a kind of winning.

Second, D&D as a storytelling venture removes cooperation and competition for collaboration. The players on the proverbial basketball court are there to collectively perform a narrative for the surrounding audience. Anything that inhibits what makes good narratives is contradictory to the game. Instead every one of the rules exists to promote players to create a fiction of their own desire to be "included" with the fictions of others. The basketball players look at each other and ask "What would be the coolest thing to do next?" And the game rules support an entertainment the Harlem Globetrotters might epitomize.

Game play is a fundamentally different act than storytelling. Knowing what the players around the table of D&D want is going to be difficult for a activity that is attempting to be at least both at the same time if not more.
 

am181d

Adventurer
With the Story vs. Game question we get right to the heart of the hobby and the roots of D&D. Is the goal of the rules to support "good" storytelling or to place players in a defined space where they are to achieve objectives?

The game can't support both without being two fundamentally different things.

First, D&D as a game includes scoring, achieving objectives, enacting strategies and tactics, and, yes, winning and losing. Characters live and die at the whims of the dice, but the odds of those die rolls are determined within the game rules. Avoiding unnecessary risks and taking actions which lead to goals tied to scoring D&D Players can succeed, which is a kind of winning.

Second, D&D as a storytelling venture removes cooperation and competition for collaboration. The players on the proverbial basketball court are there to collectively perform a narrative for the surrounding audience. Anything that inhibits what makes good narratives is contradictory to the game. Instead every one of the rules exists to promote players to create a fiction of their own desire to be "included" with the fictions of others. The basketball players look at each other and ask "What would be the coolest thing to do next?" And the game rules support an entertainment the Harlem Globetrotters might epitomize.

Game play is a fundamentally different act than storytelling. Knowing what the players around the table of D&D want is going to be difficult for a activity that is attempting to be at least both at the same time if not more.

I think the flaw in your logic is that role-playing is fundamentally a hybrid of game and storytelling. It's never strictly one or the other by design.
 

the Jester

Legend
With the Story vs. Game question we get right to the heart of the hobby and the roots of D&D. Is the goal of the rules to support "good" storytelling or to place players in a defined space where they are to achieve objectives?

The game can't support both without being two fundamentally different things.

I disagree wholeheartedly.

To me, the story emerges from game play. To others, the story trumps game play. The rules support both pretty well IMHO; most story-focused D&D players can manage to get the story they want, and others (like myself) can get the game we want.

Now, not all editions do all of the things involved in reaching these goals equally well, but I have yet to find a system that precludes my playstyle, nor one that seems to preclude more story-based games (based on published adventures and anecdotes here and elsewhere online).
 


Ahnehnois

First Post
am181d said:
I think the flaw in your logic is that role-playing is fundamentally a hybrid of game and storytelling. It's never strictly one or the other by design.
I think the problem with that line of thinking is that while D&D does have outcomes up to and including character death, none of those outcomes are given value judgments or treated as winning or losing. A character may defeat an enemy, but that does not indicate that the player "won" that round. Likewise, a character may die, but that does not indicate that the player "lost". Because of the open-ended nature of the game, circumstances completely to the contrary may arise (where winning a battle is a failure or getting killed is a success). Moreover, the player's participation in the game and standing within it don't change regardless of those outcomes occurring.

The fundamental aspect of the game is that the player is sharing the experiences of the character; if that is satisfied, you're doing it right, regardless of what qualities those experiences have.

shadow said:
Lately, I've been thinking about the issue of D&D as a 'simulation' vs. D&D as a game. In other words, how much the rules should aim at 'simulating' a fantasy story versus how much the rules should aim at creating a balanced game, regardless of believability.
I think the problem is that there are different definitions of "game". Any recreational activity could be considered a game, but there's also a narrower definition.

I would consider D&D a "game" in the sense of activities you do in improvisational theater classes or of children running around pretending to be superheroes. It is a shared activity for the purposes of recreation that involves an exertion of effort and skill.

It is not a game in the sense of chess or baseball, wherein there is a defined scope to the game, goals, and a competitive element. The purpose of rules in roleplaying is not to create boundaries for a competition, but to describe outcomes that occur in a fantasy world in a simplified way that allows the participants to communicate, and perhaps to introduce an element of objectivity or externality into those outcomes.

The oddity with D&D specifically is that it arose from wargames that do meet the narrower definition of "game" and are competitive and aren't open-ended. To me, D&D will finally have achieved its purpose when it moves completely beyond those hybrid roleplaying/wargame origins and becomes purely a roleplaying game (which, to answer the question, would mean that the rules would be 100% simulation engine). Of course, some will disagree.
 

Thaumaturge

thaumaturging
What I'm hoping for, and think I've seen from the playtest, is that they aim for the middle. Then they can provide me various means of edging my table one way or the other. Intense tactical rules allow me to put things in the "gamist" camp, but rules for domain management, backgrounds, flaws, and traits (or even subtracting out all "modules") all allow me to tilt things toward "story".

A theoretical "weapon vs armor type" table could fit in Next to provide a simulationist something he desires, and gamists can blithely ignore it.

Hopefully, people will be ok with optional rules they don't like coexisting with optional rules they do. History tells us, on the internet at least, this is unlikely.

Thaumaturge.
 

GX.Sigma

Adventurer
I don't think there is a scale of Simulation vs. Game. There's definitely a scale of Simulation vs. Abstraction (old-school exploration rules and 4e skill challenges are on opposite ends of that). I don't know if "Game" is one end of any scale. It's a game either way, right?
 

jrowland

First Post
I need to read slower. I though the thread was "Stimulate Us Game". I was intrigued. Then confused. Then disappointed. Then finally amused. Now I am bored.
 


Ahnehnois

First Post
I don't think there is a scale of Simulation vs. Game. There's definitely a scale of Simulation vs. Abstraction (old-school exploration rules and 4e skill challenges are on opposite ends of that). I don't know if "Game" is one end of any scale. It's a game either way, right?
Yes, but I don't think abstraction is really the issue either. A simulation can be detailed and specific, or it can be abstract. And that's what I would argue that D&D is: an abstract simulation game.

I think the actual conflicts are more along the lines of:
*Realism vs Fantasy (are the characters flesh and blood people who get broken bones, or are they made out of flubber and able to jump off of cliffs?)
and
*Game vs Metagame (do the rules enforce a strict separation of in-game and real-world constraints, or are those ends conflated?)
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I don't think there is a scale of Simulation vs. Game. There's definitely a scale of Simulation vs. Abstraction (old-school exploration rules and 4e skill challenges are on opposite ends of that). I don't know if "Game" is one end of any scale. It's a game either way, right?

In one sense, you are correct. But I think there is more than one continuum that can have simulation at one end. You can have the simulation--abstraction axis and you can have a simulation--game axis as well. In some cases, they work in parallel or at least closely together. Hit points are an abstraction of a character's ability to keep on keepin' on despite being battered in a fight, so they're an abstract representation of his health and fitness. But they serve a gamist purpose as well - determining when the character in the game needs to stop and recover or be removed from the field of play. The ability of a PF alchemist to throw only a fixed number of bombs per day despite the presence of materials for making them really doesn't sit on the simulation--abstract axis very well. What does x times/day mean? But it definitely sits on the simulation--game axis as a means of regulating the character's balance against other elements in the game at the sacrifice of a more accurate simulation of a fantasy reality.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Sounds like "good game design" vs "good world design"

The classic is "The average elf is just BETTER than the average human". It is fine to create a world or story that way but it break one of rules of good game design. Same with "archwizards are just better than everything else". Nothing wrong as a story, world, or certain type of game, but breaks the game design rules.

So 5e is best in the middle. Write the world and get it to work as a game. Elves and wizards have flaws. Alchemists cc an make dozens of bombs but it is expensive and it is hard to bring 1000 bombs in a dungeon.
 

1of3

Explorer
Yes, but I don't think abstraction is really the issue either. A simulation can be detailed and specific, or it can be abstract. And that's what I would argue that D&D is: an abstract simulation game.

I think the actual conflicts are more along the lines of:
*Realism vs Fantasy (are the characters flesh and blood people who get broken bones, or are they made out of flubber and able to jump off of cliffs?)
and
*Game vs Metagame (do the rules enforce a strict separation of in-game and real-world constraints, or are those ends conflated?)

Yes. Good points. There is also a question of rules control. Is the GM in control or are the rules public. The Alchemist in the OP is public: Anyone can know and determine how many potions are available. If it were dependent on certain ingredients, not so much.
 

Libramarian

Adventurer
I think there should be an inverse relationship between how simulationist and involved (process sim?) the rules are for something, and how often you use those rules. I like sim rules, but they wear out their welcome fast if it's something you do a lot. For example: I think the rules for fighting should be quick and abstract, because it happens a lot and I don't want to figure out hit locations every time etc., but then the rules for alchemy or crafting or diseases or whatever should be detailed and sim-y, because you only use those rules once in a while so when you do pull them out it's nice if they have some meat to them. When you're putting together a game from a theoretical perspective this doesn't make a lot of sense (why are we spending this many pages on marginal stuff?) but it actually works really well in practice and makes the game seem big and sort of "mysterious" while still playing quick and smooth most of the time.
 

Ahnehnois

First Post
For example: I think the rules for fighting should be quick and abstract, because it happens a lot and I don't want to figure out hit locations every time etc., but then the rules for alchemy or crafting or diseases or whatever should be detailed and sim-y, because you only use those rules once in a while so when you do pull them out it's nice if they have some meat to them. When you're putting together a game from a theoretical perspective this doesn't make a lot of sense (why are we spending this many pages on marginal stuff?) but it actually works really well in practice and makes the game seem big and sort of "mysterious" while still playing quick and smooth most of the time.
This is interesting, but sounds like the opposite of what we've seen from D&D. The D&D rules put an enormous (relatively) amount of detail into combat, often covering very minute details, while leaving other areas very vague.

For example, if you're fighting someone, you track positioning down to the nearest 5 ft. square during each 6-second period (though if you go back to older versions those numbers may vary). However, in negotiations, you're certainly not tracking who your character is making eye contact with in each 6-second period, even though that's probably at least as important.

I suppose there are also some aspects of the game that do meet your criteria, particularly in various specialized 3e supplements that give relatively detailed rules for environment or character psychology or other niche considerations.
 


Aenghus

Explorer
I've got increasingly distrustful of simple dichotomies for RPGs. While these can be of some value in some or even most games, they aren't universal, and their usefulness is a relative thing.

For instance in a game prioritising humour over everything neither simulation nor game are likely to be important.

The term "simulation" begs the question "simulation of what?" You can simulate anything, and the simulation can be super accurate, highly inaccurate or anywhere in between. "Simulation" IMO tends to be associated with closer-to-normal-life settings, which I think is conflating two separate issues. While it's easier to measure the fidelity of a simulation of events we are familiar with than the events of a fantastic reality, a simulation of the latter is still a simulation.

And people genuinely disagree about real world events and measurements all the time, despite far more hard data and bandwidth to work with than players have in a game.
 
Last edited:

shadow

First Post
Aenghus said:
The term "simulation" begs the question "simulation of what?" You can simulate anything, and the simulation can be super accurate, highly inaccurate or anywhere in between.

That's true. It is a little problematic to simply use the word simulation. (Hence my use of quotation marks around the word simulation.) I suppose it's a 'simulation' of the reality found in legends and fantasy fiction. Or perhaps a better way to put it would be an emphasis on telling a good story without too much emphasis on precise mechanical balance. For example, if the fantasy milieu calls for wizards to be powerful then it is okay to have them a little more powerful than other characters (perhaps balanced by the DM imposing plot based restraints). On the other hand, we would have balance achieved through mechanical balance whether or not it makes sense in terms of the setting or the story. (For example, 4e's encounter powers dictated that certain powers could only be used once per encounter but provided no rationale as to why that may be.) Yes, I realize that it is a rather simplistic dichotomy, but it does illustrate two different philosophies that are prevalent when it comes to gaming.

Anyway, as for me I prefer somewhere in the 'middle'. RPGs are not impromptu theater so rules and constraints are obviously needed. I obviously don't want one class or race to be completely super powered. However, when it comes to balance, I want the constraints to make sense within the confines of the story. One of the beefs I had with some of the rules of Pathfinder and D&D 4e (and also some elements of 3.5) was that some of the rules seemed very 'metagamey'. I mentioned the now famous example of the Pathfinder alchemist as an example because, rather than constrain the 'explosive' ability with time needed to make explosives, or the amount of bombs that could be realistically carried, there is the rather seemingly arbitrary restriction of 'explosives per day'.
 

Elf Witch

First Post
I want my cake and eat it too. I want a game that feels like a real living world with real characters so I am more of a simulationist style player and DM. But I recognize that it is a game and we need rules to simulate actions. So I accept we are going to have rules that are totally gamist in nature. I just don't want too many of them. I also don't want to spend weeks healing from an injury yet I don't want PCs no matter their level to fall off a building as high as the empire state building and walk away.
 

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top