No form of entertainment is entirely realistic. Movies, video games, books, and pretty much any other form of media cut a lot of corners when portraying the world. If they didn’t, they would be bogged down with boring minutia and detail. However, a lot of gamers like the complexity and detail of  “realistic” gaming. Without the challenged presented by these small challenges a tabletop game might not feel any different from a video game, to some people.  Here are 5 places where gaming will never beat the reality test:

1. Inventory and Carrying
The amount of things your character carries is waaaaay out of proportion. The USMC ILBe carries up to 120 lbs. While a character could definitely carry that much weight anyone who has been in the military or packed for an extended hike can tell you that an efficient packing and weight distribution system is necessary. Let’s take a quick look at a basic adventurers equipment layout.

Backpack (empty)     2 lb.
Bedroll                         5 lb.
Lantern, bullseye      3 lb.
Pot, iron                      10 lb.
Rations, trail              1 lb. (1 week, 7 lbs.)
Rope, silk (50 ft.)      5 lb.
Torch                          1 lb.
Waterskin                  4 lb.
Traveler’s outfit         5 lb.

Total = 42 lbs

According to the D20 SRD, this would be within the light load limit for a character with a strength of 12.  This is a pretty sparse loadout for a person traversing the wilderness and dungeon for weeks on end.  Without the Iron Pot (10 lbs) cooking anything you found along the way would be somewhat hard. Leaving it out drops the load to 32 lbs, but we haven’t factored in armor or weapons, let alone loot, treasure, or the specialized equipment for any of the classes.

2. Damage and Healing
A character takes a slash across the chest and gets d8 +4 hit points worth of damage (to keep going with the D&D 3.5 examples). The character takes 9 hit points worth of damage total, they then proceed to make their attack and deal an amount of damage to the opponent. The opponent makes their attack, etc. until one of them dies. This is, quite frankly, a ridiculous scenario. When hit points represent the physical level of health for a character, then damage, if realistically taken, would be crippling. At lower levels it can be deadly, but the actual damage itself is abstract. If you were to take 9 hit points away from a 30 hit point character, the would would be fairly massive. When people take massive wounds in real life they tend to be put out of commission for a bit.

Aside from the unreality of taking damage, healing it back without magical means or care is a very unrealistic thing in games. According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act of 1997, there are standard healing times (with appropriate care) for the various types of injuries.

Soft tissue injures                 3 Months
(Cuts, Stabs, Non Muscle Compromising)
Fractures (Not Breaks)        3 – 6 Months (Depending on Location)
Nervous system injuries     3 – 12 months  
Tendon Repair                       3 Months
(With appropriate care)

Those times are with appropriate, modern healthcare, not something that is likely to be available in fantasy gaming worlds, and not something that is likely to be found in a dungeon or camp-side.

3. Adventuring is dirty
People in the middle ages faced some pretty serious diseases and were not ones for cleanliness. Even taking into account fantasy elements and pretending there is a semi-clean society, your adventurer isn’t part of it. Travelling from town to town, fighting in the woods, exploring dungeons, being in the vicinity of sqwicking and exploding orcs are all things your adventurer (in a standard fantasy world) will get be getting dirty from. This is a level of dirty beyond even the grimiest peasant, and the grimy peasants at least have constant access to some sort of water where they might be able to take a cold, unheated bath.

Fantasy gaming isn’t the only offender in the cleanliness category. Sci-fi and modern gaming often have the player characters facing a slew of grimy settings and disgusting creatures. Even when this isn’t the case, the activities that any self respecting group will come across are likely to get them quite grime covered or at least sweaty. Showers and bathing are more common in modern and sci-fi settings, but there is probably not a lot of access to them while breaking out of the enemy base or trudging in the sewers to find the monstrous creature that is hiding there.

4. Dungeons
Ever been inside an abandoned building? Ever walked in a catacombs or cave? Ever been in a non-tourist capacity and off the path? Ever tried to climb or spelunk and found you couldn’t get through that one crevasse, that your squeeze gets you stuck for 15 minutes as you try to wriggle back before the panic takes hold.  Ever think about methane buildup in an abandoned building and how that torch would actually work in the environment.

Try to think about traversing all these minor obstacles with just your sword or weapon tied to your back. Now your 42 lb. pack (pre looting). Now think about getting back out. In almost every common adventuring situation that I can think of, the terrain is going to work against you if it were realistic. Caves are awesome places, full of incredible scenery formed by the slow flow of water over unfathomable amounts of time. They are nothing like the linear cave maps with halls that are usually at least 5 ft width. Even when looking at dungeons that are created with clear intent and modern architectural design, reality has very little leeway. The layout and design of most gaming dungeons has nowhere near the number of support rooms and facilities to accommodate the inhabitants, nor is it built in a way that is even remotely useful to the residents.

Let’s not even get started on the ecology of a dungeon and what would be needed to sustain enough creatures to make challenging encounters.

5. Bathroom breaks
There is only one thing to mention on this subject. Adventures must shit in corners, near where they sleep, a lot. That wizard’s eight hour break to memorize spells isn’t going to be done out in the monster infested corridor, but likely in a closed off room or barricaded area. No one is going to go wandering alone outside to make use of the facilities, especially when keen-nosed creatures might pick up on the scent. For more modern scenarios, do you think the mech your character is tied into has a catheter?


Ok. I will fully admit that I am being incredibly harsh. I’ve been an utter git and played devil’s advocate for the sake of the theme.  Let me emphasize the point of this article: Gaming is incredibly fun because it doesn’t take into account realism. Gaming is an allegory and a chance for us to live out heroic archetypes that modern society, for the most part,  doesn’t afford us the opportunity to be.

It’s great to tramp through a complex dungeon as a heroic character without worrying too much about how much we are carrying. I love being able to play the barbarian who looks like a porcupine because of the number of arrows sticking out of him.  It’s fun to play out the story and build the interesting personality of  the sneaky thief who rides on the fringes of society and is a likeable ruffian. If I had to worry too much about the realism of any part of the game, I would become bored quickly. 

This isn’t too say that realism doesn’t have its place in a game. How much realism is present should be up to your group and play style, but no matter how deep into realism you take your game you will never get all the way. So how much realism do you like in your game? This was just a quick list of some of the things that don’t pass the reality test, what other gaming tropes can you think of that don’t pass the reality test? Does lack of realism bug you in some situations?