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Worlds of Design: Human vs. Superhuman

The second season of The Mandalorian helped me realize that functional versus emotional modeling applies to both Star Wars and tabletop role-playing games.

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You can't relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.”—Timothy Dalton​

Functional vs. Emotional Modeling in RPGs​

When you want to model a particular character (in Dungeons & Dragons terms in this example) you can use the functional method or the emotional method.
  • The functional method observes what the character can do and chooses D&D character classes and powers that match. So when I wrote my Moria introductory adventure some 40 years ago I made Aragorn a seventh level Ranger and Gandalf an eighth level cleric with a ring of warmth who could use a magic sword. In the very low magic world of Middle-Earth they stood out very strongly at these levels. But I didn’t feel I could make Gandalf higher than eighth level because the ninth level cleric can raise dead (the coolest move in games), beyond Gandalf’s abilities.
  • The emotional method positioned Aragorn and Gandalf as near-mythical stature within Middle-Earth and so they needed to stand out in comparison with other D&D characters and monsters: in the upper teens in levels. Those levels don’t work for the functional method because characters that high can do more than anyone other than the Valar themselves can do in Middle-Earth.
Similarly, you can make a movie where the heroes stand out in comparison with typical characters (people) but are not superhuman. Or you can make heroes who do many things that a human could never do. That seems to be how Star Wars works sometimes—Jedi as superheroes rather than as merely human, which is more like a superhero comic book than a novel.

How This Applies to The Mandalorian

In my opinion, Star Wars has never been particularly realistic. But we’ve become accustomed to the fact that stormtroopers can never hit our heroes (even the very normal-human ones like Han Solo) with their (non-automatic!?) weapons—except when the target wears magic armor, er, Beskar steel, which is impervious to blaster bolts and other energy weapons. Beskar gets hit a lot! Nor does the (non-Beskar) stormtrooper armor ever protect the wearer from either energy bolts or physical attacks, at least not by Our Heroes. And so on.

Jedi do the physically impossible by blocking multiple simultaneous blaster shots. Yet even when they turn around to look elsewhere or say something to someone, they don’t get hit. Functionally, they’re superheroes. Some readers will remember the days of the Comics Code Authority, when virtually no one died in superhero comic books, and of course if a superhero appeared to die, somehow he or she would be back later.

How This Applies to RPGs​

In RPGs we also can consider these two forms in relation to the player characters. Are the player characters extraordinary humans (or whatever species they may be) or are they over-the-top superheroes who can do just about anything without suffering significant harm?

The answer to that question determines the type of game you play. Extraordinary people face tougher struggles and are therefore better modeled by simulationist games. For games where the player characters are truly superhuman, I think narrative and storytelling games do a better job of modeling gameplay.

Your Turn: Which point of view do you prefer as a player? And what do you prefer when you GM?
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

Minigiant

Legend
Heal wands were fine, "sorry I'm solf out of those" & "I've got one with 12 charges left "was an easy solution for gms if they wanted to put a limit on those

The problem is the time limit in Questing vs Delving.

Normal people cannot quest for multiple days straight. Their minds and bodies cannot handle it. If normal people have to be in questing mode for a week straight and cannot heal and recharge each day, they wouldn't be able to succeed without bringing a small army or using "careful coward" tactics. Normal people questing daily or even weekly is a quick part to death. This is why most stories of normal folk have weeks and months pass with nothing happening between plot points.

Superhumans can quest for days. Superhumans have a lot more internal resources, can recharge them fasterand have higher competency.

If you don't want your heroes to not bail after the second hostile room, you need to increase their resources and skill or make them superhuman (which increases their resources and skill). Adventurers aren't stupid. They'll only challenge the odds and go on suicidal missions a couple times. Thisis why protagonists who deal with several challenges in a row tend to be abnormal in their world. And why D&D pulls you to superhuman status at level 5.
 

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The problem is the time limit in Questing vs Delving.

Normal people cannot quest for multiple days straight. Their minds and bodies cannot handle it. If normal people have to be in questing mode for a week straight and cannot heal and recharge each day, they wouldn't be able to succeed without bringing a small army or using "careful coward" tactics. Normal people questing daily or even weekly is a quick part to death. This is why most stories of normal folk have weeks and months pass with nothing happening between plot points.

Superhumans can quest for days. Superhumans have a lot more internal resources, can recharge them fasterand have higher competency.

If you don't want your heroes to not bail after the second hostile room, you need to increase their resources and skill or make them superhuman (which increases their resources and skill). Adventurers aren't stupid. They'll only challenge the odds and go on suicidal missions a couple times. Thisis why protagonists who deal with several challenges in a row tend to be abnormal in their world. And why D&D pulls you to superhuman status at level 5.
I dont believe that I recall any mechanics to justify that and am not sure how it's at all related to using wands vrs a magical 8 hours of sleep.

I'm not sure I get your point
 

Minigiant

Legend
I dont believe that I recall any mechanics to justify that and am not sure how it's at all related to using wands vrs a magical 8 hours of sleep.

I'm not sure I get your point
Just saying that the game more or less relies on something to keep resources and skills up. Pockets of wands, magical sleep,or just being superhuman.

You can take it away sometimes. It's fun to do so. However the game's assumptions go away if this happens regularly or if they are removed competely.
 

Personally I normally lean toward the "wound avoidance" explanation for hit points, because it aligns better with the lack of penalties for injury in D&D prior to being dropped to 0.
I think this is the only way to go, especially when using 5e's rule.

I've thought about it a bit, and the only real way I've come up with to satisfy both camps (6e dreams that will never happen ;) ) would be to actually differentiate between the physical and "other" HPs.

An example might look like: endurance + luck + courage. This would represent your "other points." You lose these before your health points. Endurance could be calculated by class, luck could come from race and courage could come from background. Then health points would only and always be 3-5 depending on PC size. Small = 3, medium = 4, and large = 5. Once your "other points" drop to zero, the next time you are hit, the attacker rolls a 4 sided die. (Always a 4 sided die. Let's make that thing useful.)

Seems pretty dramatic to me. No death saves, because the other points are your warning. The "other points" heal every night. The health points take 1 a day. So being in a dungeon and dropping to 1 health might still be scary, even if you do heal your "other points" back.

This could also differentiate class spells. For example, that paladin might heal those courage points, the bard might give you a bit of luck, and the cleric or druid could heal endurance. This might make really large creatures like giants better to fight (maybe they have 10 health points), albeit a bit more random. (Imagine getting the giant down and rolling ten 1s in a row!)

Lastly, I think it might do two things for the game. Stop the argument over halflings and goliaths. (As a side bonus it would also let players play the mix and match game during character creation quite a bit). And help DMs with descriptions of combat. Losing those "other points" is a very different description than losing health.
 

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