Friday, October 12, 2012

Realism vs. Hyperrealism

Much has been made of joethelawyer's review of the session of Dwimmermount, run by Erik Tenkar, of Tenkar's Tavern fame, and I'm hardly the first to weigh in, but since when have such considerations ever stopped someone from blogging? 

There's a reason why nobody has published an rpg based on accountants who go to work every day to deal with their shitty bosses and crunch numbers in excel spreadheets.  With that being said, nobody has published an rpg where the GM asks the players what they want and then just gives it to them, either. Realism vs. Hyperrealism.

So most games fall somewhere on that axis, with the "sweet spot" being, like many things, in the eye of the beholder.   I noticed it for the first time when I was playing Grand Theft Auto IV.  I absolutely LOVED GTA2, 3 and all its iterations.  It was big, it was brash, it was gonzo.  It was a cartoonish version of the 80s and 90s that was close enough to reality that it could look over at the player and wink knowlingly, and if you were familiar enough with its in jokes, you got a good laugh.  If not, you still had a solid game playing experience.  With GTA4, Rockstar drank its own bathwater and suddenly we were in a real life simulation as a gangster.  There were occasional flashes of humor, but nothing comparable to the previous games.  It crystalized for me when I sat down on my couch and play a game on my television where my character sat down on a couch and watched a television.  At that point, the navelgazing created a singularity that pulled me right out of the game.  I put down the controller, and haven't played it since. 

I've been reading Grognardia for awhile, and anyone who does is probably familiar with Jim's turn of phrase, Gygaxian Naturalism.  Basically, the idea being that the monsters the PCs encounter existed before the combat, and will still exist afterwards (assuming they survive).  Based on the descriptions I've read of the session, it seems as though Dwimmermount is the architectural extension of this theory.  This is a dungeon that has been around for ages, has served multiple purposes, been inhabited by numerous creatures, etc.  It's a "naturalist" dungeon - it existed before the PCs arrived, and will be around long after they're gone.  Some of the stuff they find will make sense, perhaps because whatever they're interacting with is from a recent incarnation, perhaps because it's just obvious, but some of the other, more obscure stuff just might not make sense because the PCs lack the context to understand it. 

Is that a design flaw?  I don't think so.  Is that context required?  Again - I don't think so.  It just depends on where, on the axis described above, your "sweet spot" lies.  What, for you, constitutes a "good" dungeon?  If, as joethelawyer says, you're in it for the gold and glory, high adventure and praises from the serving wenches, then you probably lie closer to the "hyperrealism" side of things - titans riding tarrasques into battle would be the extreme end of it.  If you're looking to simulate the feeling of exploring ancient, long abandoned ruins, you're probably closer to the "realism" end of the spectrum, with 1st level adventures from 1978 D&D where you're being paid a few coppers to clean the stirges out of the bar's basement on that far end. 

Although I was a Dwimmermount backer, I have yet to download any of the previews, preferring instead to see the finished product before going back to see how the sausage was made.  I do feel pretty confident saying that Dwimmermount probably just didn't work for that group of players.  Hell, when I get it, it may not work for mine either - my group tends towards the more gonzo side of things, so they may react the same way.  Either way, though, I'm looking forward to holding the finished product in my hand.

So where does your group fall on the spectrum?

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