byzantinex
 member, 148 posts
Wed 28 Mar 2018
at 13:14
Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
I get these Roleplaying Tips emails (Johnn Four) and today's was REALLY good!

I am ashamed to admit I always strive for realism in my games and it never even occurred to me to do some things which are completely unrealistic?!

The email said: Make Your World Unique (Realism Is Overrated) and some suggestions were just crazy (cool):

  • Most humanoid species in this world actually lose weight the more they eat. If everyone in the orc camp is on the chubby side, you know food's been scarce.
  • There's a type of intelligent predatory tree that drains the air and life from its surroundings, creating desert and wasteland areas where it's difficult to breathe.
  • Dragons age backwards...so you need to watch out for both the enormous young and the more intelligent and magically powerful, but much smaller, ancient dragons.
  • This world's sun is a glowy ball of ice. Days are brighter, but nights are warmer. It's a bit of an ice age world...however, it does snow tiny little fireballs in the winter months.


Some weird ideas these made me think of:

  • Instead of Quick Sand, have "anti-gravity" areas in the world people have to watch out for. Not paying attention and you could get launched into the air to come crashing back down and likely die.
  • This world is actually post apocalyptic of our current world, but no one knows it. Magic came into the world, radiation created all the "weird" species other than humans, and there are skyscrapers and technology buried in the earth undiscovered.
  • Everyone can fly? What if every race, every species, had the innate ability to fly? How much would that change the world?
  • A good aligned city with armies of undead. The citizens actually assist with the skeletal and undead soldiers to keep them smelling fresh and clean. Necromancers in the city are not evil, but instead the city was tired of their sons and daughters dying in battle. No one is buried when they die in this kingdom. Instead, they are made into soldiers to defend the land even in death. The PC's could freak out and attack a skeleton when they entered the city only to be chastised and yelled at by the population.


I have totally been caught up trying to make games realistic for THIS, the REAL world. But how stupid is that?! Ha! Really glad I read this and thought it might help some of you out as well.

Post some crazy ideas! :D
horus
 member, 451 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Wed 28 Mar 2018
at 13:41
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
byzantinex:
I get these Roleplaying Tips emails (Johnn Four) and today's was REALLY good!

  • This world is actually post apocalyptic of our current world, but no one knows it. Magic came into the world, radiation created all the "weird" species other than humans, and there are skyscrapers and technology buried in the earth undiscovered.


Post some crazy ideas! :D


Well, one of my first AD&D (2e) campaigns did exactly this, except that orcs, elves, and other demi-human races were mutations that bred true.  Magic came back into the world as humankind and demi-humans slid back from their technologies into barbarism and came out the other side of the dark age.

Incidentally, M.A.R. Barker's world of Tekumel is part of a five planet star system that got swept into a pocket universe by the interaction of a malfunctioning star drive with the fabric of local space.  Very similar in concept.
Carakav
 member, 641 posts
 Sure-footed paragon
 of forthright dude.
Wed 28 Mar 2018
at 14:49
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
To me, 'realism' should be used to describe a game's tone, rather than its world... unless you're playing in a contemporary setting.

One could look at Mass Effect, or even the recent Black Panther movie as settings that ask 'what if the future, or this society now, had access to a mysterious substance that granted them almost magical powers?' You end up with vibranium and element zero, which are vary unrealistic substances. From there though, their stories try to strike a tone of realism, unlike Star Wars (as an example), which is less interested in realism, and more interested in classical heroism, destiny, and moral clarity.

I'd argue that a lot of anime also tries to strike this tone: Fullmetal Alchemist is very much a fantastical setting, but it also strikes a tone of realism throughout much of its run.
swordchucks
 member, 1478 posts
Wed 28 Mar 2018
at 15:10
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
"Realism" isn't a great word for a the fantastic elements of a fantasy setting.  Many aspects of fantasy aren't realistic at their core, and claiming that they are is wrong.  Some sort of logic does need to apply, but you can change some of the fundamental assumptions that in turn changes the logic.

"Consistency", however, is a great word for a fantasy setting.  As long as everything you present is internally consistent and player characters have a world view that you share with their players (for instance, in a world where matchstick sized dragons are terrible predators and that is widely know, the players should know that well in advance of being burninated by one).
PCO.Spvnky
 member, 352 posts
Wed 28 Mar 2018
at 15:25
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
This post just (literally) changed how I view PF!  I am going to start working on a new world now, going to take it a step further though and it won't be humans that are the "norm" but all the other races.
Mr_Qwerty
 member, 51 posts
 Tagmar, D&D, oWoD
 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Wed 28 Mar 2018
at 15:38
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
Throwing away real world common sense was half the point of the old Spelljammer campaign setting for second edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Artificial gravity pull folks down on both sides of a plane, so flat worlds and hollow become logical; the worlds are within bubbles ("crystal spheres") surrounded by a magical liquid ("phlogiston") ships use to sail through space, etc.
icosahedron152
 member, 858 posts
Fri 30 Mar 2018
at 05:26
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
Much as I try, I just can’t let go of the realism. :(
I look at the examples above, and my mind immediately starts thinking:

* Mass is a form of energy. If orcs are increasing in mass, where did that mass-energy come from if not from food?
*Air is a fluid medium. If something is extracting air from a particular locale, why isn’t air replacing it from elsewhere?
*Which came first, the Dragon or the egg? How did those tiny adult dragons contain the huge eggs from which the big youngsters hatched?
*The sun is a glowy ball of ice that extracts energy from a world? Sorry, I couldn’t even imagine this one sufficiently to list its ‘errors’.

I won’t ‘debunk’ your own set of suggestions, since that wouldn’t be polite, and I always strive to be polite. :)

However, although my sense of logic doesn’t allow for ‘weird and wacky’ material (I’ve never been a fan of Discworld, for example, though I do admire and respect Pratchett’s vivid imagination) I’d argue that realistic logic doesn’t kill imagination. Even though I say so myself, I think that sticking to logic sometimes requires more imagination than wimping out of dilemmas with “It works because... er, because it’s magic!”

This is how I would present the above scenarios, without snapping the disbelief suspenders:

*Perhaps starving orcs change colour due to a chemical imbalance, rather than magically increasing mass.
*Perhaps those trees exude an invisible poisonous miasma that makes it difficult to breathe in their vicinity.
*Perhaps there are two species of dragon, and the adults of one type look like the young of the other.
*Perhaps you could have a ‘Pitch Black’ type of scenario where a world is eclipsed by a Brown Dwarf star that radiates predominantly in the infra-red, creating a warm night effect, and there could be annual fireball meteor showers as the world encounters a meteor swarm... This one is so weird I can’t really reproduce it with logic!

Realism and imagination combined, that’s my recipe. :)
baxtheslayer
 member, 7 posts
Fri 30 Mar 2018
at 20:03
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
I like realism - in the sense that I like things to make sense.  I also like fantastic people, places, and things because they're cool to look at and think about.  So, for me, realism is simply good justification.

If I said "Man can fly" you'd say "Fool!"  But, if I showed you a plane, and all the math and science that make it possible, you'd say "Incredible!  Now, how can we include this flying machine in an epic gunfight!?"

I like settings to be 'realistic' in that I like them to be 'consistent' and 'predictable.'

Just watching the first three episodes of Star Wars will show you some of the things the Force can do.  But the best part is you can make predictions based on what you've seen, so when Galen Marek pulls a Star Destroyer from the sky you don't think "That's impossible" because you know "Size Matters Not" and instead you giggle "Awesome" in a high-pitched voice.  Or... at least I did.  I'm sure everyone did.  Moving on.

I don't even mind frivolous weirdness, as long as it's awesome.  I'll have to agree that fat, starving orcs seems a bit silly if it's only to provide a visual cue (you could just as easily have thin, starving orcs and not have to add the explanation and I don't think it loses that much from the description).

On the other hand, the young dragons would obviously rise from the giant piles of bones in the dragon-graveyards...

I have no problem saying 'Magic did it' as long as the magic continues to do it in predictable ways (or there is some justification explaining why, such as null-magic zones or wild winds of mana).

But don't try and tell me your vampire can put on enough sunscreen to walk around in the daytime.  In my game, you'd spend the rest of the campaign roleplaying a piece of burnt toast.  Cause it's dumb.  IMO,YMMV

My random contributions:

  • Magic being compatible with technology.  If you can cast a spell from a scroll, why not a tablet?  If you need a circle of 5 for your ritual, why not teleconference?
  • In that same vein... Magical Space Travel.  Sure, it requires infinite energy to reach light speed, and time dilation ruins your life, and worm holes are hokey at best, but none of that matters when you use MAGIC!  Spaceships fly around local space like normal but can simply be teleported to other worlds or other galaxies.  Colleges train mages to aid in the exploration of alien worlds: Circle of Protection: Gravity prevents you from being crushed while diving into gas giants, Create Atmosphere allows you and your party to see and breath in otherwise toxic environments.
  • That being said, if magic were indeed this useful, then there probably wouldn't have been an industrial revolution - technology would be irrelevant in the face of the magical revolution.  Automation would start with dancing brooms and end with ubiquitous servitor golems that do all of mankind's work.  Why bother digging up and refining rocks when you can simply refine your Ironwood spell to Steelwood or Titanwood?  Cast a spell to grow a sapling to an enormous redwood in only an hour, let the servitors cut it down to build vast astro-ships, seal it with magic and away you go.  Homes don't need plumbing when you can buy a Decanter of Endless Water at the local Stop-And-Spell.  No need for public transportation when there's public teleportation.  There may still be lines, though, so having a flying carpet is preferably as long as its registered with the Feudal Aviation Administration.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:35, Fri 30 Mar.

DarkLightHitomi
 member, 1322 posts
Sat 31 Mar 2018
at 23:24
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
For me "realism" applied to rpgs just means plausible, consistent, and relatable within the narrative milieu.


Unrealistic is usually referring to dissociated mechanics, aka, mechanics that don't mesh with, or relate to, the narrative milieu. For example, a mechanic that says I can only cast one spell per day in a setting that has even novice casters freely casting spells all day long.
engine
 member, 586 posts
Wed 4 Apr 2018
at 15:40
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
baxtheslayer:
I don't even mind frivolous weirdness, as long as it's awesome.

That's what I call "buy-in." When something is cool, many of those who think it's cool will look for reasons for it to meet their personal level of "realism" or "consistency." Witness the copious amount of writing on the technology of Star Trek. Not a speck of it is even all that self-consistent, let alone realistic, if viewed objectively or critically, but the people who love the series find ways to justify it that work for them (if not for others).

Shows and series can have a tough time meeting the level of plausibility for their whole intended audience. Anything fictional will have some gap in it, if people poke far enough. The reason it's fiction and not reality is because it has holes in it. So, if a show garners enough attention and has enough people looking at it, eventually someone is going to find something that they can object to.

At our own game tables, we have an easier time of it. The audience is just the half-dozen or so people who are playing that particular game. The stuff we come up with doesn't have to meet the standard of realism for anyone else. Everyone there probably already things the concept for the game is pretty cool, so it already has an advantage in gaining their buy-in. As the game goes on, if the players are engaged and things are going in ways they enjoy, they're probably not poking to much at why things are the way they are. Why would they? Doing so would just disrupt their own game.

One of the key points at which realism gets questioned is when players are losing and they don't like the stakes they stand to lose. The classic one is character death. I think we've all seen (or been) players who, when their character is on the line, start questioning whether things would really play out the way they are. "We've shot this guy ten times! How is he still able to hurt me, I mean us?" "Would wolves really be smart enough to flank us?" "Look, this website says that's not how lava works!"
GreyGriffin
 member, 185 posts
 Portal Expat
 Game System Polyglot
Wed 4 Apr 2018
at 17:43
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
I think that there is a difference between "realism" and "verisimilitude."

I think realism is most important when developing interpersonal relationships and political intrigue. Peoples' motivations should stem from real emotional and practical concerns.

The fantastical elements of a setting should all carry a degree of verisimilitude.  It should either fit and feel consistent with the setting, or those things that aren't should seem and feel fantastical or even disturbing.

For instance, a relatively "normal" fantasy world where orcs burst into flame when they die can be won or lost to the players by how it gets sold.  Do a lot of orcs die in this setting?  Is this common knowledge?  Do people who kill orcs react in a way that's realistic to orcs bursting into flame if it happens all the time?

On the flip side, this "unrealistic" event can be cast in contrast.  Orcs don't normally do that, and people react with shock and surprise.  Their reaction, combined with the expectations you've set as a GM, sets the stage for them to explore this strange phenomenon.

And how strange it is in the context of your setting will determine how thorough and (heavy quote) "realistic" (heavy unquote) the explanation will have to be.  If your orcs are starting on fire in a fantasy-ish universe, then pacts with demons or elementals are explanation enough.  If your zombie space marines are spontaneously combusting in your semi-Newtonian hard science fiction game, you're going to have to make that explanation do a lot more work to fit the setting.

How realistic that work has to be to maintain verisimilitude depends entirely on on the tone and context of your narrative.
evileeyore
 member, 84 posts
 GURPS GM and Player
Wed 4 Apr 2018
at 19:49
Re: Realistic: what an imagination-killing word
swordchucks:
"Realism" isn't a great word for a the fantastic elements of a fantasy setting.  Many aspects of fantasy aren't realistic at their core, and claiming that they are is wrong.  Some sort of logic does need to apply, but you can change some of the fundamental assumptions that in turn changes the logic.

"Consistency", however, is a great word for a fantasy setting.  As long as everything you present is internally consistent and player characters have a world view that you share with their players (for instance, in a world where matchstick sized dragons are terrible predators and that is widely know, the players should know that well in advance of being burninated by one).

I'm not disagreeing with this track (Consistency and Predictability are more important than Realism) but...

I like to break things up.  I have a Fantasy/Post-Apoc/Gamma World game I dust off every so often where areas of the world (some small, some very large) are just outlandishly odd.  'Reality' is inconsistent there.  Magic may or may not work properly, science is 'wrong', the very fundamental facets of space and time may be fluid, etc.  And the 'oddity storms' may be mobile, or static, it might be tied tot he land, a thing, etc.


But I don't do this in all my games, just that one as it fits with the genre.  Otherwise I aim for verisimilitude ('realism' and 'consistency', whether or not it's a fantasy).