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Realism in Roleplaying Games

Realism is a subject that regularly crops up in online and offline discussions about roleplaying games. Especially people who prefer a simulationist approach to roleplaying games tend to talk about this a lot. How realistic are the rules? Is it realistic that may character would do this or know that? In my opinion there’s no realism in roleplaying game and it’s actually a good thing.

At first let’s look at reality from a philosophical standpoint. Is reality objective? Or is it subjective? Is reality something you can measure or is it merely something we – as humans – have agreed on. I am no philosopher, but in my opinion, there are different kinds of realities. There’s the physical reality which we can measure and which is pretty objective, but the reality which we perceive is a totally different beast. Everything we perceive is ultimately distorted by our limited senses. We only see a small part of the visual spectrum, we can’t hear every frequency, and compared with a dog our sense of smell is basically non-existent. And if we move away from our senses into the realm of other “truths”, reality is basically just the major consensus narrative we can agree on.

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NaGaDeMon: WR&M Pocket Edition

Over the last few days I have continued working on the project I dubbed WR&M Pocket Edition. Initially I wanted to create something which is to WR&M what Chris McDowall’s Into The Odd is to D&D. Alas my first draft didn’t turn out that great. In some places the rules actually felt more clunky than the old ones. And that’s something I wanted to avoid at all costs.

So I started again from scratch. In the meantime I had an interesting conversation with Chris about diceless games. I’d stumbled upon the core mechanic of the Amber RPG and thought it might also work well in other games. That was the moment when I decided to turn the “Pocket Edition” into a diceless system.

I am currently working on the second draft of WR&M Pocket Edition and it now has six “abilities”: Warrior, Rogue, Mage, as well as Fate, Mana and Health. There are no skills and talents anymore, but at least skills might creep back in at a later date. The rules as they are now in place are even lighter than the original WR&M. The magic system is now completely freeform. Players can create spells on the fly if they wish to do so. At the moment the core rules are less than 3 DIN A4 pages.

So, what is left to do? The task resolution mechanic is still a bit clunky and I have to think about how I want to handle NPCs. I like the way Numenera does it, but I might just follow a more traditional stat block format. I guess, I’ll have to have a good night’s sleep over this.

I also decided that the game needs a setting. Generic rules are nice and all that, but I want this to be something special. At the moment I think about a magipunk, swashbuckling, airships setting. This could be fun and would probably fit the new rules better than a standard fantasy world. But time will tell.

So, will I able to finish the game in time? I highly doubt it. I wasn’t really able to work in it for at least two weeks and there’s still too much time. But I don’t mind. NaGaDeMon is all about the fun you have while designing games. Getting everything done in a month is great, but I don’t count it as a failure if it takes way longer than that.

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Am I getting old or just lazy? – 2014 Edition

In 2009 I already wrote about my aversion of rules-heavy games. In these last 5 years I noticed that I have become even more picky when it comes to rules systems. The trend that I preferred rules light games has continued. Since I am not getting younger, things which were pretty easy to me five or ten years ago are now getting more difficult.

Back in the day, learning new rules wasn’t that big a deal. Nowadays it’s much more difficult. One reason is that certain ways to do things are almost hardwired into my brain, so that it takes me longer to understand new concepts. You might remember my long struggle with Fate.

I also don’t have that much time anymore. The same goes for my players. Learning new rules and then teaching them to my players just takes too much of our precious time. That’s why I try to stick to games which are simple to pick up and play.

Back in 2009 rules-medium games like Savage Worlds were still in my comfort zone, but today I’ve moved further towards lighter rule systems. Savage Worlds in particular has a couple of quirks I just can’t stand anymore. I really liked the card-based initiative back in the day, but nowadays it feels uneccessarily gimmicky. I also don’t need all the tactical option its combat system offers. I prefer quick and mostly narrative combats.

One of my favorite systems is Monte Cook’s Cypher System (which has been used in Numenera and The Strange). It’s very easy to learn, but still offers players a lot of intersting options. What I like in particular is that the system is 100% player-facing and that monsters are basically described by their level. It’s extremely easy to come up with NPCs on the fly. And since I don’t have to roll dice as a GM, I am not tempted to fudge with roll results.

Recently I have often thought about Robin D. Laws’ Gumshoe System. It’s even easier than the Cypher System and works perfect for anything investigation-related. I am pretty sure you could even run a fantasy game with it, or anything else really – as long as the player characters are competent professionals and there’s at least some investigation involved. Gumshoe is mostly player-facing but not to 100%. But that’s easily houseruled.

While I love some of the ideas of Fate, I am slowly moving away from it. In theory everthing sounds perfectly reasonable and simple but on the game table I notice that I just don’t use it correctly – especially in the heat of the moment. I guess my brain is stuck in more traditional thought processes and Fate just works too differently. Fate is definitely a very good game BUT it takes me too much effort to get into the mindset needed to run this game. On the other hand, you could probably wake me at 3 am and I would be able to run Numenera.

As a GM I am pretty good at improvising. I don’t like to prepare a lot beforehand and usually I can come up with a good plot on the fly. What I need are rules systems that support this kind of GMing. The Cypher System does that and I think it might work in Gumshoe, too. I faintly remember that either Robin Laws or Kenneth Hite actually wrote a post about improvisation and the Gumshoe System. A special case is the new D&D 5th Edition. It definitely feels a bit more crunchy than both the Cypher System and Numera, but I’ve played D&D for about twenty to twenty-five years now and so a lot of the D&Disms are probably etched deeply into my brain, so it doesn’t feel as complex as other games.

Overall I still like checking out new rules systems, but I definitely prefer rules-light games which are not too far away from traditional gaming. There are many great indie games out there, but even though a lot of them use pretty easy rules, it often takes a lot of effort to get into the right mindset… and I guess I am getting too old for that. Zwinkerndes Smiley

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