Systems That Model The World Rather Than The Story

Reynard

Legend
This is why I like to play TTRPGs with people who have relevant real-life experience. That's not available for overt magic or super-powers, but I was just discussing damning a river to create a flood with a DM who's a civil engineer. The occult WWII campaign has two people who been in armies (one British, one Swedish), and several people who've dug into real-world occultism a fair way. We have a retired partner in a Big Four accountancy firm doing the administration for the Kingmaker campaign.

Modelling the world is a lot harder than dealing only with a story, but I find it far more satisfying.
Besides, the degree to which things are realistic or accurate is just an agreement between the people at the table. Some groups will happily stop play to do some googling to find the air speed of an unladen swallow, while others are perfectly content to let the GM throw out a (probably wrong) number and move on. The point is that the system is taking into account the "physics" of the fictional world, not the needs of the genre or the structure of a narrative.
 

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Thomas Shey

Legend
I'm not sure we are talking about the same thing here. I am not talking about realism. I am talking about game rules that don't concern themselves with genre tropes or narrative beats, just things in the world.

You used a phrase something to the effect of "let the rules see how things play out", and I was simply noting that in something like a supers setting without genre conventions, most of that question is not going to be revealed by the rules. Honestly, in a lot of supers games, some of the biggest conventions aren't baked into rules anyway (some are, like the relatively non-lethality of attacks that can blow through walls, but how society and the legal system are going to react to supers aren't).

No system, not even the crunchy and granular GURPS, is going to do do everything. That's what GMs are for. But what I am explicitly excluding are rules like "Because Bob is a Super Hero, he can take twice as many hits as a normal person." Rather, "Bob can take twice as many hits as a normal person because Bob's Toughness score is double that of a normal person." I know that seems like a distinction without a difference in that particular example, and it may be, but I am applying that ideal to the entirety of the thing.

Yes, but all that's going to tell you--at best--is the physical realities of supers in the setting (and that "at best" is not a coincidence there; a theoretically simulationist rules set is still going to only be expressing the physical realities of how you've decided powers work, and in the end, those only exist in terms of some kind of convention anyway; there's no neutral ground to start with here). A lot of what goes on in deconstructionist supers is about the reactions of society to supers, and that could vary even if your physical mechanics are still otherwise following common supers conventions. It'd make some difference, but there's at least two big moving parts here, and you're only addressing one of them.

I really wanted to avoid talking about "simulationist" because I am not interested in that theory. Little-s "sim" was just less clunky than repeating "models the world not the story" all the time.

That's fine, but my point is that at least some of this is inseparable from that in the case of many fantastic elements. As I said, is the fact supers attack powers are less lethal than they should be given other things anything but just another decision? At the level of deciding how those work, I'm not sure there's anything that can't be called "a decision based on story" broadly. You can say "in reality something that blows through a wall isn't going to pulp a human", but in reality something that does that is not going to be something a quasi-human is generating in his body, either. Its not harder to come up with a rationale for one than the other.

Now, you can make an argument that that sort of self-aware design is such that people in the setting will (or at least can) be aware of it, and that'll change things, and I think you'd be right. But that's not really an issue of how the process works mechanically. I could make that distinction with most representative superhero games, because that's not baked into the mechanics anyway.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
This is why I like to play TTRPGs with people who have relevant real-life experience. That's not available for overt magic or super-powers, but I was just discussing damning a river to create a flood with a DM who's a civil engineer. The occult WWII campaign has two people who been in armies (one British, one Swedish), and several people who've dug into real-world occultism a fair way. We have a retired partner in a Big Four accountancy firm doing the administration for the Kingmaker campaign.

Modelling the world is a lot harder than dealing only with a story, but I find it far more satisfying.

Yeah, but how many people are going to have someone who has that experience with everything liable to come up? By the time you do, you've probably got an adventuring party among the players, not just the characters. :)
 

Reynard

Legend
Yes, but all that's going to tell you--at best--is the physical realities of supers in the setting (and that "at best" is not a coincidence there; a theoretically simulationist rules set is still going to only be expressing the physical realities of how you've decided powers work, and in the end, those only exist in terms of some kind of convention anyway; there's no neutral ground to start with here). A lot of what goes on in deconstructionist supers is about the reactions of society to supers, and that could vary even if your physical mechanics are still otherwise following common supers conventions. It'd make some difference, but there's at least two big moving parts here, and you're only addressing one of them.
To be clear, I am explicitly and intentionally positing a system that only concerns itself with the "physics" of the situation (whether that is DC comics superman can punch a crook physics, or The Boys Homelander punches through a crook physics). How society reacts or what laws emerge to control supers or any of that stuff is not informed by the system in any way. it is informed by play: what the PCs choose to do, and what happens as a result, and how the GM determines the NPCs of the world react to that, and so on.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
To be clear, I am explicitly and intentionally positing a system that only concerns itself with the "physics" of the situation (whether that is DC comics superman can punch a crook physics, or The Boys Homelander punches through a crook physics). How society reacts or what laws emerge to control supers or any of that stuff is not informed by the system in any way. it is informed by play: what the PCs choose to do, and what happens as a result, and how the GM determines the NPCs of the world react to that, and so on.

That's fine, but I was just noting--and this is particularly important for that specific kind of genre--that the physical conventions are the least of it. Even many superhero games (Champions comes to mind, but its fundamentally true of V&V3e/Mighty Protectors) only have those physical realities baked into the rules. You can argue they're already just expressing the "physics" of supers (this is actually a critique I've seen directed at both of them).
 

Reynard

Legend
That's fine, but I was just noting--and this is particularly important for that specific kind of genre--that the physical conventions are the least of it. Even many superhero games (Champions comes to mind, but its fundamentally true of V&V3e/Mighty Protectors) only have those physical realities baked into the rules. You can argue they're already just expressing the "physics" of supers (this is actually a critique I've seen directed at both of them).
I understand. i just ant it to be clear that the specific example of a The Boys style supers universe is not particularly illuminating to the discussion at large. Every genre, subgenre and tone are going to demand different things from even a "physics" system. it would be tougher to do The Boys with Mutants and Masterminds than GURPS Supers, but both systems are similarly interested in the "physics engine" approach to design (as opposed to Masks or ICONS, say).
 

pemerton

Legend
I think the point of using a "sim" system is that you set the peramters and then play and see what happens. Ideally, you would present the backstory of The Boys using, say, GURPS Supers, and then just run the campaign from there.
I am not talking about realism. I am talking about game rules that don't concern themselves with genre tropes or narrative beats, just things in the world. No system, not even the crunchy and granular GURPS, is going to do do everything. That's what GMs are for. But what I am explicitly excluding are rules like "Because Bob is a Super Hero, he can take twice as many hits as a normal person." Rather, "Bob can take twice as many hits as a normal person because Bob's Toughness score is double that of a normal person."
To be clear, I am explicitly and intentionally positing a system that only concerns itself with the "physics" of the situation (whether that is DC comics superman can punch a crook physics, or The Boys Homelander punches through a crook physics). How society reacts or what laws emerge to control supers or any of that stuff is not informed by the system in any way. it is informed by play: what the PCs choose to do, and what happens as a result, and how the GM determines the NPCs of the world react to that, and so on.
I think there is a degree of tension between the first and last of these posts.

If all the significant consequences (who feels what emotions, how they respond, what social processes unfold, who decides to rob a bank next week, etc) are being decided by the GM, then it's not really a case of setting the parameters and then playing to see what happens. Because most of what happens isn't determined by the operation of the system, and the input parameters, at all!

This isn't just a theoretical problem either. My views on this probably are not exactly the same as @Thomas Shey's, but the things he is saying about super hero RPGing are entirely consistent with my experiences of FRPGing with RM. The interplay of highly "simulationist" resolution in some contexts, with "GM decides" resolution in other contexts, can be a pretty unstable mixture, that causes practical issues in play.
 

innerdude

Legend
True.

I've said this before, but I find the idea of "simulationistic superheroes" rather appealing. What would really happen if people had such powers and how would they really function when we do away with genre conventions and plot contrivances and model the physics and the society realistically?

10 minutes of playing GURPS in a superhero setting would end the appeal instantly, trust me.

Modeling super powers through a numeric input/output structure like the GURPS engine will give you the least superhero like gameplay possible.

It will not resemble anything remotely like an actual comic book even if you want it to.
 

Reynard

Legend
I think there is a degree of tension between the first and last of these posts.

If all the significant consequences (who feels what emotions, how they respond, what social processes unfold, who decides to rob a bank next week, etc) are being decided by the GM, then it's not really a case of setting the parameters and then playing to see what happens. Because most of what happens isn't determined by the operation of the system, and the input parameters, at all!

This isn't just a theoretical problem either. My views on this probably are not exactly the same as @Thomas Shey's, but the things he is saying about super hero RPGing are entirely consistent with my experiences of FRPGing with RM. The interplay of highly "simulationist" resolution in some contexts, with "GM decides" resolution in other contexts, can be a pretty unstable mixture, that causes practical issues in play.
Systems that determine emotional states of NPCs are not any better than the GM looking at the motivations and circumstances of those NPCs and deciding what happens next in that context. Not that some variable outcomes can't be informative, but I have never seen a system that takes enough inputs that in the end the GM isn't interpreting the results anyway.

What practical issues in play are caused here?
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
TBH, I don't think many systems are designed as physics engines, they're designed as games, successfully or not, to be balanced, playable, and fun.

They get used that way, tho, because, whatever the intent, the rules of the game are de-facto laws of physics.
It can just end up, yknow, very Terry-Pratchet-esque physics.
 

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