Posted by : David Guyll January 19, 2009

This is another old post that also went up on Gleemax. I learned a lot during my 10-weeks in my Introduction to Game Design class. A LOT. As the weeks in the class pressed on and I set about designing my own original game, it has really shaped how I view games in general and helped refine my thoughts that I post here.

WARNING: This is an opinionated essay. Therefore, I will try to avoid saying "in my opinion" when at all possible. You have been warned.

In GNS Theory, D&D is largely considered a "gamist" game, which in a nutshell means that when you are confronted with a challenge, you generally consider whats the most effective action as opposed to whats the most realistic option. I think that D&D also meshes well however, with the simulationist category. For example, a character may go on an adventure for vengeance, because her higher-ups demand it, or because a friend (possibly another PC) requests it.

Stopping to question character motives and decisions all the time leads to a waste of time. If you are playing D&D, chances are that you are playing it because its a fantasy RPG that mostly involves exploring dungeons, killing monsters, and amassing treasure and experience rewards. This is, at its heart, the core concept of the game. It isnt hard to branch out and expand upon the primitive concepts (why are you exploring this dungeon), and I'm sure most players at least try to at least weave some sort of tattered plot to conceal these basic notions. Generally its not very hard at all, and I myself enjoy it a lot as it helps make sense of it and provide some player immersion, which ventures into simulationist territory.

As I said in another article, I tend not to stop and question everything my characters do. They fight evil because its what I want them to, and if I really wanted to I could give an actual reason why. I chalk this up to implied-roleplaying . Its not so much that the game my characters lack depth, its just that its often not really necessary to provide large amounts of character detail. I prefer to do that type of thing when the DM requests it: does my character have a family? Maybe. Is it directly pertinent to the game right now? Probably not, but if it does the DM can tell me say, a week in advance and I'll get back to him on it.
Of course, this doesnt stop me from inventing character quirks on the fly. Would my character really only drink herbal tea made from plants native to the arid wastes of Sarlona? Of course she does: cause thats what shes doing! Do I need to stop and question this motive or action? Nope. Its my character, and I can always say something like, "she just really likes it."

I often say that D&D is not a reality simulator, which isnt saying that D&D isnt a simulationist game. Its a simple mantra that is effective when people gripe about various D&D mechanics and elements: its not even trying to be a simulationist game, yet still has simulationist elements to it (which vary from group to group, and even by player to player in the same group). There are other games that do that better, because they were designed that way. D&D has never tried to be a reality simulator and for that I'm actually glad, but I dont think that games only adhere to one style of play: D&D fits mostly into gamist, but also fits really well into simulationist.

I want combat to proceed in an expedious manner without having to make rolls to determine how I hit, where I hit, and what that effect means for the guy whose going to die in a few rounds anyway. Maybe in a game where you duel another NPC one-on-one this would be a great system to use, but not in a D&D game. At least, not the D&D game that we've grown up on, anyhow.
This same form of efficiency translates into many rules mechanics: tracking hit points and skill checks are made much easier thanks to it. This leads to a form of abstraction that I also enjoy, as the results are entirely up to interpretation by the DM and/or the players involved. You probably wont get your eye cut out due to a bad succession of rolls (which while more simulationist, isnt fun). Of course, I'm also willing to argue that all the rolling typical simulationist games enforce actually serves to make the game seem less realistic because of all the die rolling. I think that by reducing many things to as few rolls as possible, leaving the exacting details open to interpretation helps to in fact "keep it real, dawg".

I play games to have fun, and I'm sure most people here do as well, even if "fun" means trying to come out on top in competitive games (like Magic: The Gathering). A simulationist game not only takes much longer to resolve scenarios, but you also run the chance of running into a lot of "unfun" results such as scarification, loss of body parts or items, character death, and other realistic variables that bog down play as you attempt to figure it out (or remember them all). I know that the chance of having your face eaten off by an alligator could happen in real-life, but that doesnt add to the challenge or anything, and it didnt really happen to me, so what? Am I supposed to feel bad about my character, or RP how upset I am that half my face is gone? Or speaking in terms of simulationism, just head on down to the local temple and have them grow it back for me (assuming I care at all about my pretend-character's face that no one is going to visually see).
If nothing else, people arent really condusive to the loss of limbs not only because it could be seen as ugly, but that it could also impose a permanent penalty or utterly ruin your character. A one-armed ranger that, until now, emphasized dual-wielding? My choices at low-level play would be to retire and just make a new ranger (with two arms), and jump back in the game, or to "tough it out", which in other words translates to, "suck at your class, but deal with it because it makes the game more real."

Micromanaging equipment doesnt really do it for me, as thats not what the game is about. I have no problem assuming that characters go do the bathroom, maintain their gear, and even buy stupid little trinkets (like halfling bone carvings) from time to time. I could have the players make sure they tell me these things, and punish them if they dont, but is that really going to suspend your disbelief anymore than in a movie where you dont notice the characters taking a dump from time to time? Now, if the character doesnt have rope, and they need it, well they'll have to go get it. Thats after all a pretty hefty piece of gear. If they have a spell component pouch, I'm just going to assume that they have enough spider legs and frog's butt to work their magic (I only really have them track the actually valuable things like 250 gp of diamond dust because I guess its a balancing mechanic).
Generally if there is no direct mechanical impact I'm fine, and I dont need a mechanic to allow it to feel more realistic or important, and more mechanics will more often than not simply bog down play with unecessary modifiers that are forgotten after the goblin who got a -2 to hit because of blood loss, had his speed reduced by 1 because of a leg injury, and a -5 to Perception checks due to head trauma is dead (not that the Perception penalty was actually important in the middle of combat anyway).

Especially when it comes to role-playing games, gamist gets a lot of flak from the narrative or simulationist because for some reason people think that a lot of depth makes you automatically superior. I remember back in the day when a "real role-player" was a guy who didnt play a powerful character. There were a lot of Rifts jokes about how real RPers played the vagabond, or the rogue scientist, while powergamers played classes like the headhunter that were for some reason seen as combat-only classes and therefore "inferior". I think there is something to be said about gamist games that makes them in fact superior: you get the most fun for your time. You dont have to memorize lots of small rules that have little-to-no impact, or come into play very rarely. You dont have to make a bunch of rolls that amount to one conclusion and can keep doing what you want to be doing the whole time: having fun. Whether exploring, slaying monsters, or saving the day, gamist games help keep you rolling towards your enjoyable destination.

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