Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Realism vs Realism

There are a great deal of views as to what realism is in an RPG. It is this great variety that causes confusion and conflict when discussing realism in a game. People end up talking about two different things or have two perceptions of the same thing.

I'd like to look a two "realisms". One, does the item work like it should in real life. Two, does the succession of events unfold as it should in real life.

The first, although important, is of little concern to me in this article. Does the weapon really work that way? Does the bow shoot as it should? I'm expert on a few subjects, but for each there's a multitude of subjects I'm totally ignorant about. "Good enough realism", is good enough because I wouldn't know any better, just as many players wouldn't know any better either. Adding more realism that adds complexity to the mechanics and does not convey a more realistic bow to someone who has seldom if ever shot a bow is a total waste of resources.

The second type of realism does concern this post. It's regarding the succession of events and how players interact with the setting, characters and creatures in the adventure. How actions are sequenced, task resolution done and encounters resolved. These thoughts stem not only from my initial thoughts on game design a year ago, but also the recent conversation about action thrillers and their presence (or lack of) in RPGs. Simply put, detailed mechanics do not promote the fast action play required for action thrillers. But wait, not only detailed mechanics, mechanics in general are "flow stoppers" for fast action thrillers regardless of detail. Forget weapon damage, armor detail, wounds, hit location charts, and all that fancy stuff. There are two things that are real flow stoppers in games: initiative and movement.


Initiative is the main thrill killer in most games I play. I'll roll with it, have done so for years, but it isn't something I will put in new games. Imagine if Jason Bourne is fighting his way out of trouble, kicking ass left and right, round ends, he fails the next initiative roll and gets beaten to death.

I'm moving away from initiative rolls every round. I see initiative as the power to decide, not the power to go first. Sometimes waiting for the other's response is a good thing. So for me initiative is being able respond quickly to battlefield challenges, not necessarily act first.


Movement is another thrill killer. In many games it is bound to a few options and surrounded by a set of rather complex rules that limit, rather than empower the character to take action. There are fixed movement phases mixed with fixed action/attack phases and this limits the actions a player can take and the places a character can be in when an attack is done. It's very similar to chess, move, attack, etc. There's no attack as you move.

I'm moving away from these chess like rules. I want the bishop to attack as he dashes through the chessboard, I want the knight to strike as he jumps over friendly pawns. Thus I'm seeing movement not as an action taken during the turn, but as a modifier to actions. Movement affects your aim. Movement fatigues you, the more you do the more difficult it will be to do other things. Simply put, your character is running out of breath.

I expect to see new possibilities when making changes to these two elements. Already the rework on initiative and movement has open up new possibilities to me. Particularly in modern warfare games. Modern warfare was something I felt uncomfortable tackling due to the limits of the aforementioned game dynamics. A more fluid succession of events opens up the possibility of a fast paced, more interesting modern warfare RPG.

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