Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meditating on Realism

So I noticed a couple of sorties in what Talysman has dubbed The Realism War. It began with Noism trying to make the claim that it is absurd to try and be realistic in a fantasy game:
Fantasy gaming rests on a fiction: that you could have a society like England in 1200 AD which also has supernatural beings, magic, and active deities. That fiction, in turn, rests on the understanding that nobody thinks about it too hard.
Talysman countered:
it's not the attempt to inject realism into a game that is absurd, but the fetishism of realism and application of a scientific world-view to a fantasy game.
To a certain extent, both are correct. Fantasy worlds are just fantasy and applying our scientific world view upon a world where magic exists can be absurd. I would argue, however, that they both miss a greater point and a magnificent opportunity.

To me the fun of it all isn’t trying to explain how radically different AD 1200 England would look if dragons went around eating cattle by adjusting historic cattle/people ratios or cultural norms. For me, the fun is trying to explain how AD 1200 England and dragons can coexist without having to do all that obsessive number crunching.

Herein, our scientific world view can actually be a boon rather than a bane. What if, for example, dragons were an silicon based alien life form trapped here on earth when an ancient space ship crash landed? Their diet would not consist of carbon based life forms. They would rather be interested in crystals, minerals, gems and precious metals (thus the need for giant treasure hordes). It would also explain the whole breath weapon thing. The byproduct of breathing oxygen would be silicon dioxide — a solid. In order to easily expunge this byproduct, the dragon simply heats it up and expels it in liquid form as a breath weapon.

There, now you have an entirely plausible, entertaining and geektastic explanation for how dragons could exist in context of an otherwise historically accurate AD 1200 England without having to crunch one number. All you have to do is dash on a little science to get your fantasy even farther out of the box.


  1. That's:

    (the fetishism of (realism) and (application of a scientific world-view to a fantasy game))

    Rather than:

    ((the fetishism of realism) and (application of a scientific world-view to a fantasy game))

  2. For me, I don't like to think of dragons as some silicon based life form instead I see dragons as coming from some sort of other realm like the faery realm which is sort of a repositiry for mythical creatures. There could be many different faery realms too for all of the different mythical cosmologies. Trollheimr for trolls, alfheimr for elves,etc. The dragons could be from the mythical faery realm corresponding to the the myth is what derived from and when they come to the dungeon delvers world they must have access to magical energies to keep them alive. I view the faery realm as sort of a realm of peoples dreams, myths and legends that occasionally allow the monsters in them to enter into the mundane realm of dungeon delvers.

    1. Sure, that is an entirely satisfactory answer, and one I might very well use in my version of Averoign (which has a very strong northern european mythical faerie feel about it); however, my default position when it comes to FRPGs is science fantasy because (as some one once pointed out in the comments of this blog ) our cultureal subconscious has replaced the faerie with the space alien. Thus, I tend to find the blatant genre mixing a lot more fun (not to mention keeping in tune with tropes found in the source material.

    2. I will say that in my gameworld there are aliens and Elder Things but stuff that is from human myths and legends are faery. The faery are sort of created by the beliefs, faith and dreams of man while the Lovecraftian horrors are alien to mankind and they exist without input from humanity. Alien races also exist and they may even have their own faery monsters created from their beliefs.