Realism Vs. Fun

I’ve been thinking about writing about this for a long time, but didn’t because I didn’t have any particular thoughts, but at some point, I just have to write it. The reason that the conflict of realism and fun has been bothering me, is that I care a lot about realism. You can’t very well enjoy these kinds of games without being in search of the fun.

But at the same time, I find kindred spirits in Lindybeige and Shad, and so I end up putting a lot of effort into historical accuracy in my worlds. I end up introducing NPCs with motivations so reasonable that the players doubt whether they should fight them and we end up in negotiations. This happened in a big way when the Haven players (teenagers!) arrived at a castle full of Kobolds worshiping a dragon and questioned if they really wanted to cross the Dragon Empire. And this because the Dragon Empire, planned to be a permanent foe of the Vale, had sent a diplomat, because of course they would, they’re an empire of competent humanoids. This level of reason and realism interfering with the fun is something I’m hoping to remedy with radical factions.

I’m not saying there can’t be fun together with the realism, but man does realism sometimes stomp on the fun! I spend way too much time considering travel distances and mountain heights and weather and cloud cover and phase of the moon and how far sound carries. I’m an engineer, that stuff is fun for me, but lately I’m learning to let it go when I get to the table and I haven’t gotten it done. I find fun in doing the math for the verisimilitude, but at the table, the fun seems to come out the most when I’m having to wing it and embrace the ridiculous.

Here’s an example that I hope is illustrative. In the adventurer where the players encountered Sherman, the dwarf with a powerful attraction drug, they threw me for a loop by bringing Matthias with them to Kite as soon as they had encountered the problem. Did it make sense that Matthias fell right into Sherman’s trap? Or that he fell prey to the magics without noticing? Of course not, Matthias has levels in Will, he should have been the last to succumb, and he should have been just as suspicious as the players, but it would have been a major fun killer! Matthias solving all the puzzles wouldn’t have allowed them any of the opportunities they had to solve them on their own. It ended up being a super fun session as a result of ignoring this fact.

My advice, then, is when you assess what could happen next, sure, start from realism, but then ask “is this providing the fun we are after?” If the answer is no, ask yourself what the next most likely outcome is, or toss realism completely and just make it something fun. No one is going to remember that your world was astonishingly realistic, but they will remember the fun!

You should check out Sentient Skies. One of the big premises is ditching the physics of astronomy we know for an out space invaders can come from to attack your fantasy world.

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2 Responses to Realism Vs. Fun

  1. sopantooth says:

    I’ve been playing RPGs for a long time now and it’s interesting to me how often people have this debate. Must be something inherent in the nature of RPGs.

    • jameseck says:

      I suspect it is the sheer responsiveness of the game. With a Game Master there to make judgement calls on everything, the interpersonal reaches heights of realism not seen in other games, and that expectation rubs off on the physics.

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