Abstraction Is The New Realistic

I’ve decided that abstract systems – like Fate Core – have more potential to be more realistic (at least to me) than more complex systems that give more detailed results. The reason is that the “realism” in roleplaying games is an illusion, and is dependent on the players around the table to play the game “realistically”. The system simply constrains the results, and the more constraint the more likely that a given system will produce an unrealistic result. I’ve talked about this before,  but not with respect to how the system constrains results.

Roleplaying games can be simple or complex. They can be detailed, consistent, constraining, “crunchy”, abstract, you name it. But for realism, they have a ceiling that can’t be breached – and those are the limitations of trying to resolve events with a couple of die rolls and maybe a table lookup. The heavy lifting with regards to realism comes from the players, not the system. This is because the graph of “realism” in roleplaying games is pretty much a flat line with a few bumps and dips here or there.

Plus, there are some things that should never be realistic

Now, I’m sure I will get at least one response of, “But [insert system here] is obviously very realistic because it [includes such and such].” My contention is that the system is just constraining the possible results to a subjective measure that the game designer deemed realistic, and isn’t actually intrinsically realistic. It’s just a level of abstraction. And my experience has been that the more constrained that abstraction is, the more likely it is the system will produce unrealistic results. So for the trouble of having to learn a system – like, say, GURPS – I’d rather just go with a more abstract rules set and draw upon the people playing the game set the level of realism that they want.

Realizing this has completely changed my view of game systems, away from whether or not they handle this or that realistically and toward how they support the level of abstraction and style of game that I want to play. It’s caused me to reevaluate – and in some cases, reaffirm – this level of abstraction as being fairly high. An example is for many years I’ve favored general wound systems, such as found in Dream Pod 9’s Silhouette or Blue Planet’s Synergy systems, over hit location systems. Fate’s Consequences are just the next step of abstraction by going from ever-increasing negative modifiers to having descriptors attached. To me, I’m better able at handling the severity and nature of injuries than a random die roll. The same goes for adjudicating the exact nature of actions – I’d moved to subjective measures of success rather than a chart of success levels (for example, critical hit charts) quite a number of years ago. There’s just too many variables, and too much going on, to distill important things down to a single die roll.

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