... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Rant: I Hate Simulation

I wouldn't have thought it would come to this, but it has.

I hate simulation.

Like my great hate for balance, my hate for simulation arose from the crazy vague way the term is used. If you had asked me a couple weeks ago if I hated simulation, I would have snorted derisively at you. Certainly, I don't hate the kind of simulation *I* do.

But annoying forum threads have made it clear that there are many different definitions of "simulation" going around. I don't agree with many. And some definitions flat out are the opposite of simulation... and yet, people are bandying the term about, as if they knew what it meant.

The trigger event was a discussion about balance vs. simulation. See, every time new schoolers and old schoolers fight, they start arguing about balance... and the new schoolers have come to the conclusion that the old schoolers prioritize simulation over balance. That might not be that far off, but the way I've seen this described and discussed, it's pretty clear that no one is clear on what that statement means.

For one, I saw a 4venger lump the Pathfinder people in with the "prioritizes simulation over balance". Isn't Pathfinder just 3e in disguise? From my viewpoint, the 3e crowd is just as concerned with balance as the 4e crowd, just maybe not the exact same kinds of balance. And maybe they're a little too fond of some loopholes.

Another thing soon became clear: some people were talking about the dreaded "realism", even though they used the term "simulation". And so, up popped the old cliche of "verisimilitude". Look, it's nice if some people like verisimilitude. And if you squint your eyes at it, it is a sort of simulation. But in most cases, that's certainly not what I mean by "simulation" I wish you people would go back to ranting about realism...

And a third thing... no, let's bitch about the first thing again, in a different way. One of the clever debaters tried to separate "simulation" from "balance" with an example of setting point costs based on difficulty of learning a talent vs. setting costs based on usefulness to the character. I'm sorry, but any time you talk about "point costs", you are talking about balance. There may be some emulation aspect going on, but definitely both examples deal with balance.

And then there's the whole "enforcing genre expectations". For reasons I won't go into until my follow-up post, I don't consider any kind of "enforcement" to be simulation. Genre expectations are (Ta ta-ta DA!) genre expectations. Surprisingly, they already have a name. They are part of a play group's ground rules, like "keep it clean" and "no player-vs.-player". Are either of those "simulating" something? NO.

So I've come to the conclusion that just about anything anyone else describes as "simulation" is stuff I don't like. Well, OK, I have no great abiding hate for genre emulation, but it's not a major or even secondary interest, for me. But although I use the real world as a guide for imagining stuff, I hate getting bogged down in the numeric details of the real world. I'm not about to do force calculations based on mass as part of my gaming, and "Realistic [falling damage | economics | weather patterns | environmental effects]" are going to turn me off when I see them.

And I've already told people where they can stick point-buy schemes. That applies no matter what you are basing your point costs on.


  1. I only play AD&D and I don't believe in balance. Characters are inherently unbalanced: in ability scores, in class skills, in racial abilities, in wealth and magic items, in spell selection, in hit points. My point of view is that you don't have to have character A be exactly balanced with character B to enjoy playing the game. I've never played any D&D other than basic and AD&D so I can't speak to anything after that, though.


    1. The phrase "be exactly balanced" only makes sense if you assume the accountant definition of balance that's infected the hobby since at least Roger E. Moore's Charting the Classes article, making the game increasingly bland. There's an older kind of game balance, though, that I think most old schoolers subscribe to whether they realize it or not. One based not on points, but variety. That kind of balance is why we have magic-users who aren't as good at combat as fighters, for example. Classes are made distinct from one another so which one you choose is actually an interesting choice

  2. In my quest to avoid wasting another single second of my life visiting "The Boards" I'm going to take a guess at what these folks are talking about; feel free to set me straight or not at your leisure.

    Can I assume that Newfanglers generally acknowledge that balanced characters/encounters/what-have-you are inherently less realistic than non-balanced ones and therefore it can be construed that non-balanced gaming seeks to simulate reality at the expense of balance?

    1. It's hard to say exactly what they are talking about, but they seem to be focusing on character creation; they bring up "linear fighter, quadratic wizard", for example.

      The thread in question actually started in response to a hypothetical "would Paizo do a better job with D&D than WotC?" Someone said no because "Paizo prioritizes simulation over balance," without explaining why, and the thread spun off from there.

    2. I'm down with Quadratic Wizards. If that makes me a simulationist then so be it.

    3. I am so sick of that whole linear/quadratic thing! It's a design choice, not a flaw. Gary even pointed it out in Men & Magic for Christ's sake! These people need to at least try playing the game right first, and if it's really not for them they can always play something else. Not like there aren't other games

  3. I like simulation insofar as it's used to inform game mechanics. For instance, if you want to differentiate weapons or armor in some way, you might look at how they work in either reality or whatever your fantasy sources are. Plate offers better protection than leather, so it gets a higher armor bonus. If that's as far as you want your game to go, then stop there. Making it more complex, not to make the game more fun, but simply more realistic, is perverse and can only ruin your game. If granting different bonuses based on the opponent's weapon would make the game more fun, though, then go for it

    If you haven't already, I recommend checking out Delta's post on Realism in Game Design

  4. Okay, I get that you are irritated/offended/enraged/insert-adjective-here about how other people define "simulation"...but what I didn't get was how YOU define simulation. Is that another post?

  5. I agree that one of the biggest problems with people talking about realism or simulation is that they have no idea what they mean...

    90% of people I've seen talk about realism or simulation are really talking about detail, and I wrote about how dumb that is here:


    Like you say - use the real world to inform your simulation, but we don't need to get bogged down in the detail of *exactly* how much force or whatnot is involved.