Gaming My Way

07 Jul

Mechanics, Roleplaying, Immersion, and Realism

Roleplaying games, in general, aren’t very realistic. From casting spells to taking multiple blows to the head without falling over, there’s just too much happening for them to be so. Some systems are better about various things than others, but they all have their quirks.

When it comes to a gaming system, what a lot of people are looking for is consistency. Are the mechanics consistent with each other, such that they don’t ruin the suspension of disbelief?

Most gaming systems I’ve played are pretty good about this. Not perfect, but the fun and immersion is there, assuming a decent game master and decent players. However, it never fails that people will complain about consistency issues, or that some powers or rules just don’t make sense the way they’re used or written. When this happens with a power, the first reaction some people have is to get rid of it, rather than figuring out how to make it work.

NO! DON’T DO IT! The mechanics are laid out. Come up with a plausible explanation. It’s a gaming system first, created to be fun. It will likely try to be consistent and relatively realistic, but sometimes, there will be inconsistencies and rules holes. Roleplay creatively and explain them away.

For instance, healing surges in 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons are sometimes viewed as “willing yourself to feel better.” Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this anyway, but some people do. If you happen to be one of them, think creatively. A trained soldier practiced battlefield first aid, and while still battered after healing to full, is in good enough shape to go back into a fight and fight just as hard as he did last battle. A cleric may in fact pray and be good as new afterward as his use of a healing surge. Perhaps the ranger uses medicinal herbs he has on him and finds himself in a postion similar to the soldier. These explanations aren’t always suitable, but they’re a good start.

The point of this is to encourage the idea that mechanics can be expanded on when no explanation of how they function is given. In this case, it becomes the responsibility of the GM and the players to come up with an explanation that suits the group. With the healing surges again, if everyone wanted to accept that people have an ability to regenerate damaged tissue to a certain degree everyday, so be it. However, most people will either want something more realistic or to just hand wave it. Use what works for the campaign you’re participating in. But don’t scrap things just because you can’t immediately see a good explanation. Instead, try to come up with one.

Of course, I’m very big on the idea that mechanics and roleplaying can coexist nicely with each other, and be used as tools to complement each other. They don’t always have to be opposed to each other. If used well, mechanics can provide ideas for roleplaying and add to the immersion rather than take away from it.

I’m not saying rules and mechanics should never be changed. However, fun and game balance should be kept in mind when changing rules. Perhaps changing a rule really does add something to a setting you want to run, or fix an issue the group as a whole wants fixed. By all means, change rules in these circumstances… the ability to do so is one of the fun things about roleplaying games. Just consider other options too, particularly in cases in which it’s the flavor of the ability, or lack thereof, that you object to.

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