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Realistic Fantasy

Doesn’t the title sound like an oxymoron?  Well, it is and it isn’t, at least in my opinion.  However, that’s neither here nor there really.  Instead, what really matters is the concept.  It’s not as silly as it may sound, and while it may not be the staple of role playing games, it’s still something that you should take a moment and think about.

First, understand that there’s only so much realism possible within the context of any RPG.  It’s true…sorry to be the one to disappoint here, but if you didn’t realize that your 35th level paladin wasn’t a real person, then you are truly a sad, sad person.

So…now that we’re done talking about me, let’s get on with the rest of the post.

IMHO, the trick in any RPG is to balance realism with fantasy.  No matter where or when your campaign is set, fantasy is involved.  I’m not talking about the genre of fantasy, merely your mind taking over.  This is difficult at times, maintaining this balance.  However, I think it’s worth it.  It makes it easier to maintain the suspension of disbelief necessary for a game.

Now, maintaining this balance isn’t all-important though.  What the Chatty DM calls The Rule of Cool is just as important.  You want the character to do cool things, and the Rule of Cool is all about that.  However, it makes it easier for your characters to accept the cool things as realistic when the balance has been maintained well over the course of the campaign.  Granted, this is mostly up to the DM, but every player can help it along.

Give it a try. 😉

August 5, 2008 - Posted by | RPG | ,


  1. I think one of the big failings of 4e is that it has created an unrealistic framework for fantasy roleplaying. I’ve had trouble explaining to people what I mean, but it seems really important to me to maintain the illusion that our characters exist in what is *their* real world. I can’t buy a real world with so many metagame considerations going on in character’s capabilities.


    Comment by Propagandroid | August 6, 2008 | Reply

  2. Very true, though it’s far from unique to 4e in that regard. The difference is 4e actually allows this within the mechanics, while other systems require the DM to permit this.

    Comment by Tom | August 6, 2008 | Reply

  3. I was impressed that the new DMG takes this bull by the horns and points out that you want consistency [like the realism you call for above] and cool scenes, and that the two can be in conflict. There’s even a little pro/con debate about each of the two influences.

    Comment by ScottM | August 6, 2008 | Reply

  4. Agreed. I actually like the 4e DMG a great deal. IMHO, it’s the best DMG I’ve seen so far, as it’s more than a collection of tables, but actually helps a DM create a story rather than just dole out treasure based on a table.

    Of course, the realism/cool scene debate will always depend on the group. I’ve been in groups where I’m the only one hoping for some level of realism, while others in the group expect awesome scenes, regardless of realism. However, the best sessions always came, IMO, when the DM tried to balance the two.

    Tricky as hell, but worth it 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 6, 2008 | Reply

  5. For me, it’s not so much realism-realism as just keeping internal consistency going. If it’s a world in which Those Sorts of Cool Things work, then there shouldn’t be a problem, right? From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out which cool things work and which are getting a little ridiculous.

    Comment by Ravyn | August 6, 2008 | Reply

  6. Internal consistency and verisimilitude are good words, realism a confusing world.

    Some players will require a greater deal of internal consistency in the fictional world to be able to enjoy play. Game mastering is also easier in some ways, but harder in others, given a consistent setting.

    Find a comfort level and stick with it, say I.

    Comment by Tommi | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  7. @Ravyn: You’re right. 100% realism kills the fantasy element of any RPG from the get-go. However, there has to be some sort of balance or else things get silly IMHO.

    @Tommi: Internal consistency is more of a confusing word, IMO, though verisimilitude is fairly accurate in my line of thinking. While internal consistency is important (as I use the term, making things work the same way repeatedly), I use realism only in the context that gravity should work in a way that make sense, the bad guys can’t always be the worst shots on earth, the villain knows better than to mouth off his plans, etc.

    Basically, all the stupid stuff you see in movies and roll your eyes at when you see it. THAT is the realism I’m talking about 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 7, 2008 | Reply

    • Wow! Great thngniki! JK

      Comment by Butterfly | January 8, 2015 | Reply

  8. Not sure if you’re still blogging, but found your post while searching for people interested in realistic fantasy. I’ve been playing using a homebrew system called World’s Edge, that tries to take a more realistic approach to fantasy gaming than D&D. Some of the big things are:

    -Quick, but gritty combat.
    -Powerful, but not nation-shaping, and dangerous to attempt magic.
    -Flexibility in skills characters can acquire, rather than forcing them along the path of an archetype.

    Still following the Rule of Cool you mentioned, of course. 🙂 Are there other things you think would be more pleasing to a realist fantasy gamer?

    Comment by World's Edge Role Player | October 1, 2009 | Reply

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