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Saturday, 21 March 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: On Realism

I have news for you Virginia: there is NO such thing as "realism" in an RPG. There's blatant and grotesque unrealism, at times, but there ain't no system out there that is really "realistic".

For much of RPGs history it has been misconstrued that realism means making very complicated and unwieldy rules. But this doesn't create realism, it just creates crappy systems.
In fact, not only is "realism" absent in any RPG, but its not even possible to define what realism SHOULD be. I've had self-defined "weapons experts" (usually grotesquely obese dudes who've watched a lot of Rambo films and may have gone to a gun show once) tell me that X weapons should be effective at no more than 20 yards, others say the same weapon could be effective at 200 yards. I've had one dude tell me that "realistically" a dagger should do just as much damage as any bullet, since he "knows how to stab a guy in a way that does WAY more damage than a gunshot".

I still hate to think about what THAT guy masturbates to at night.

Some people have told me that a well placed blow from a trained hand-to-hand fighter could drop a man instantly, other people tell me that "realistically" its almost impossible to actually knock someone out in one or even two or three punches.

So basically, all the so-called experts are full of shit.

What they define as "real" is just whatever suits their own deluded fantasies of how things work, and almost always an argument about realism from them is really an excuse to show off their "expertise" in "real" combat, firearms, technical training or physics. In other words, its a massive dick-waving contest that accomplishes nothing.

Hell, if you were to be really and truly "realistic", any time your PC was shot or stabbed you should fall to the ground and bleed. That's basically it. You shouldn't be able to keep fighting, score the critical and take down the bad guy. Forget that shit. You get hit, you are down. Or pissing yourself and running away, at the very best. And don't give me that Rambo bullshit about how "people" have been trained to fight when injured blah blah blah. The REAL cop, gangster, street fighter or soldier, when shot or stabbed, does NOT in fact go on to whoop ass; he goes on to drown in a pool of his own blood and urine.

THAT is realism.

And what that means is that in an RPG, "realism" isn't really a goal. You don't really want realism. No one does. You may want grittiness. You might want a complicated game that suits your own preference for complex rather than simple systems; you might want games that follow a genre or thematic you enjoy. But not realism.

All of you, Swine and otherwise, listen up because I'M ONLY GOING TO SAY THIS ONCE, FUCKERS: None of your pet RPGs are "realistic". D20 isn't realistic, GURPS isn't realistic, WoD is only realistic in the sense that bad adolescent poetry is "realistic", Warhammer isn't realistic, Call of Cthulhu isn't realistic (and while I'm at it, THERE IS NO FUCKING "REAL" NECRONOMICON.. the paperback you bought on Amazon will not let you speak with Nyarlathotep and Lovecraft was a smart but troubled writer, not the fucking "grand high wizard" of the secret society of assmasters or whatever, and that aging balding goth guy you met in the Vampire LARP who tells you he knows the "real" Elder Sign just wants to get in your pants), Star Wars is not realistic (and saying your religion is "jedi" is fucking retarded; try studying some of the real religious teachings of which the Jedi are a cheap-ripoff), and whatever other "favorite" game you might have is not realistic.


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Latakia

(originally posted July 5th 2005)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "The REAL cop, gangster, street fighter or soldier, when shot or stabbed, does NOT in fact go on to whoop ass; he goes on to drown in a pool of his own blood and urine. THAT is realism."

    -- But plenty of systems do simulate that, like BRP and GURPS. Sure, they also have magic and ultra tech, but if you use them to play in a historical setting, that's pretty much how a gun shot or sword blow to your guts will end for you.

    "And what that means is that in an RPG, "realism" isn't really a goal. You don't really want realism. No one does."

    -- I don't agree at all, plenty of people do. To play in a realistic world where combat is really dangerous is quite fun, as you'll have to find very different solutions to some of your problems. And this has nothing to do with complex systems and "realistic" weapon and armor stats, I couldn't care less about this part either. But a game world in which you think twice before going into a knife fight no matter who you are is more realistic than one in which after a certain point you can be certain that a lowly town guard won't be able to touch your 5th level body, am I right?

    (Note: I am *not* saying lethal realism is "better" in any way, though. I like both D&D and BRP, for instance -- and actually prefer D&D! I am not into hardcore weapon simulation. I don't like real weapons or real wars and my opinion of game store "katana experts" is the same as yours.)

    1. It's funny, I've played GURPS a few times, but I can't really recall any occasion where I saw a character piss themselves after being hit in combat. I don't remember any mechanic for that.

      In your second point, you're arguing for 'gritty', for high-risk play, but that's not an argument for 'realism'.

    2. The mechanic which is supposed to do that is the "fright check" (well, lose your lunch rather than piss yourself, also for freezing, fainting, panic, breaking down, etc). As usual with GURPS, the application is at the whim of the GM and should be campaign/setting dependent.

  3. The goal is genre-emulation rather than realism: you want the game to "feel" like the genre it tries to emulate. "Realistic" damage for heroes in a Wuxia or Star Wars game, for example, will break the genre expectations, as players playing in that genre expect their heroes to be able to cut through waves of mooks without going down. On the other hand in horror games high mortality is an important part of the genre and "heroic" damage would be inappropriate.

  4. Realism in RPGs works out about as well as realism in super hero comic books.