Shame upon me, I’m late!
In spending an evening listening to remixes of the glorious compositions of the underestimated Ennio Morricone, I entirely forgot to put up a post last night. Which, really, isn’t that big a deal.
But principles matter.
And that’s why I adhere to realism in my roleplay.
No, not for its own sake, to accurately model fencing manuals of the late fifteenth century and paint a stark lithograph of a fight in armored harness. At the end of the day, it’s still a game, not training for a post-apocalyptic scenario in which your local SCA group must band together to defend the town against mutants and zombified football hooligans.
Realism is not there to punish players and limit what they can do, but enhance their abilities. Not to give them more raw power nor take it away, but to increase the depth, breadth, and meaning of their action.
As a basic example of combat, take how D&D handles a Fighter. In most scenarios, he is incentivized to simply smack a fool with his sharp metal stick until he dies, or else take hits like a sand-filled punching bag until the wizard can steal the glory. Furthermore, all weapons are considered equal, and all training is considered equal. A fighter is a fighter, whether or not he has an sword or a stick– with damage die so small for either, he may as well go with the stick, with which he can entertain dogs without causing them gastrointestinal discomfort.
But watch a few videos on the infamous YouTube on the subject of half-swording or armored fighting, and you’ll find that the art of hand-to-hand combat was much more than trading hits. Footwork, wrestling maneuvers, leverage, parry-counter-feint and counter-parry, full on tackles and leg sweeps— a fountain of detail which a storyteller can use to narrate a truly spectacular duel.
If a fight is really meaningful (and every fight should be, for a roleplaying game, as opposed to an adolescent aggression dissipator), then your actions in it should be equally meaningful.
Realism enhances a game, insofar as it causes players to think about how their character maneuvers in the world. A setting which has a comprehensive and competent police arm might encourage players to behave more civilly– or else be all the more craftier about their ill deeds, changing casual burglary into grand heists. If going for a traditionally medieval setting, why not add in the full feudal and noble system? An asymmetrical society of haves and have-nots doesn’t limit characters, but adds a new dimension to their choices: an armored fighter becomes a knight, a real somebody who must balance his valor in battle with grace in peace; a cocky rogue gains real foes in the landed rich from whom she takes her living.
Be careful that realism does not overtake storytelling. More important than any set of mechanics you can provide is the story that you tell, and the friends partaking in it. Think not of your feats and skill points, but of this very nearly real, living, breathing, human (maybe?) being that is your character.