I forget… are we playing Saving Private Ryan, Doc Savage, or Dragonball Z today?

“I want to shoot him with my trusty .45, blowing him back through the door and into the room. In the chaos, I’m going to dive in the room after him, tumble behind the couch, and come up in a ready position.”

“I’m going to run up the bamboo, jump off at thirty feet, bounce off the building, and execute a charge on him from that height. His shield bonus shouldn’t apply, since I’m attacking from behind. Can I add my falling damage to my attack?”

“I know he’s beyond the effective range of my weapon, but if I fire it like artillery, I still have a chance of killing him, right? Natural 20s always hit, right?”

What do all of these have in common? They’re all impossible in the real world*, but they’re all plausible in a roleplaying game. The question is, “How plausible?” Some games may encourage the impossible, while others may try their damndest to imitate reality. Before you get the bizarre and ‘impossible’ actions out of left field, (or before the rest of the table erupts when you actually allow them to happen), it’s probably best if the table defines its collective reality.

Using popular media (books, comics, videogames, movies) to describe your game is a great way to maintain a consistent sense of reality. You wouldn’t be able to get away with any of the above maneuvers if your “Reality Level” is set to Saving Private Ryan, but at least one of them would work at Doc Savage, and all three are fine at Dragonball Z levels.

In addition, by defining the game in terms of popular media, you can set some collective expectations over such elements as lethality, expected level of humor, mood, etc.

Finally, this is also a great way to define and describe your own tastes. Personally, I prefer Conan and Lethal Weapon, and maybe a bit of Raiding the old Lost Ark, if you know what I mean (wink-wink, nudge-nudge). I’ve been known to enjoy a little Austin Powers on the weekends, but I can quit at any time, honest. And there is absolutely no truth to the rumors that I freebase Looney Tunes after a rough week.  Well, there was this one time back in college, but everybody experiments, right?

So, what’s in your reality?

* A .45 doesn’t knock its target down, running up bamboo is impossible, and “maximum effective range” is where the weapon ceases to have its intended effect on the target (i.e. the bullet doesn’t carry enough energy).

About  Kurt "Telas" Schneider

Kurt Schneider played D&D in 1979 at summer camp, and was hooked. He lives with his wife, daughters, and dog in Austin TX, where he writes stuff, and tries to stay get fit. Look for his rants under the nom de web Telas or TelasTX. Quote: “A game is only as balanced – or as good – as the GM."

8 Responses to What’s In Your Reality?

  1. My reality tends to be loose. I don’t want to simulate the real world. Even if we are playing a gritty and realistic game I’m going to stay on the liberal side of whatever doesn’t disrupt the suspension of disbelief for the group as a whole is allowed. That is how I like to play.

  2. Getting this arranged is important early on. In our recent PTA game, Paul showed us a bit of a movie showing his gun-fu in action. That dramatically increased the “Zness” of the series we were creating. (In particular, it meant that even when he lost a conflict he usually took bad guys with him, and when he won there were mooks scattered as far as you could see.)

  3. Using a video to show the level of reality is a great idea! I am so going to use that for when my 4e campaign begins. Thanks Scott!

  4. What I’m really hoping for is a game where I can say, “I’m holding a dagger in between my teeth, and a scimitar in each hand. I loop the halyard around my ankle*, then jump off the mast, slashing at enemies with both scimitars as I swing around.” But then I’d have to be a player.

    My problem is, I’m more of a swashbuckler than my players, and it’s no fun to have the NPCs pulling crazy stunts if the PCs aren’t. I think they would if they could, but most of them just don’t have an eye for the possibilities like I do. Now how do you solve that problem?

    *Assuming the sails are down for some reason, and I’m up in the crow’s nest or the rigging

  5. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    Swordgleam: Stand right at the edge of their comfort zone, showing them what’s possible. OTOH, remember the old saw about leading horses to water…

  6. I like a fairly realistic approach but with somef classic fantasy thrown in – e.g., running up bamboo is impossible for most, but a few with highly developed control of their ki can – the game goes outside of reality to begin with and I’m happy to play in that bigger possibility set, but still expect it to follow a sense of reason and consistent rational derived from the previously established non-realistic premises.

    BTW – .45′s DO knock their targets down – that is what they were originally intended to do! Granted, now there are further factors to consider regarding characteristics of specific ammo loads and penetration versus impact. The the old army service .45 was developed and issued to officers specifically to protect them from charging enemies – specifically in the Philippines. Filipino fighters would wrap themselves in layers of heavy hemp rope coiled tightly around their chests. This was a rather effective form of body armor which light rounds had difficulty penetrating, doing far less damage to the target when they did. As a result, officers being charged by someone so protected were often killed after shooting the approaching attacker repeatedly without stopping him. The army replaced the lighter sidearm (I think it was around a .32) with the .45 specifically for it’s knock-down power – the round still might not penetrate the layers of rope significantly but it *would* stop/drop the charging enemy preventing him from reaching and harming the officer. While a modern round might often go through the target it will have significant knock-back effect in doing so and someone in kevlar or similar body armor that will stop the round will suffer knock-down as described above.

  7. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    Sorry, but that’s an urban legend, although it is a popular and resilient one. According to Mr. Newton, if a gun could knock down the target, it would also knock down the shooter. The US Army’s experience with the Moros in the Philippines did lead to the demand for the .45, but it does not “knock back” its target. There’s a dashboard-camera video somewhere of a cop shooting a belligerent drunk twice in the chest with his .45, and the drunk just stands there and slurs, “Why’d you do that?” before dropping.

    FWIW, I am a fan of the .45, and have probably put over 25,000 rounds through my 1911A1. Firearms are my other hobby.

  8. I know nothing of urban firearm legends. As an army veteran I stand by my earlier statement (and as a side note, I checked as well – the predecessor was a .38 revolver) regarding the Colt .45 semi-automatic service pistol firing a .45 ACP. *Please note certain clarifications of terminology in the second paragraph below* – my statement is essentially that the target will normally end up on the ground moments after being shot if not immediately, and that historically the sidearm performed as desired extremely well – significantly reducing officer casualties by stopping the charging enemy before he could close with the officer and engage him in hand to hand combat. In discussing how this *really works,* we may to a large degree actually be in agreement. Yes, Newtons laws of equal and opposite force do apply – but that force is invariably applied to two very different sets of mechanical conditions – the shooter is braced and prepared to receive the force directly down a series of braces which can absorb and divert it in variety of manners- actually beginning within the firearm itself in many cases (although mechanical recoil buffering in a handgun is extremely limited by physical constraints upon design) subsequently transferred to the shooter’s arm and rotating shoulder – which redirects much of the force in rotation – usually upwards, with the remainder further absorbed or dispersed along various vectors depending upon shooting stance. The target is not so braced to absorb this force when it is applied suddenly and instantaneously and it is diffused almost solely through the displacement of kinetic force upon and immediately subsequent to impact in various ways largely determined by velocity and physical characteristics of the round itself.

    However, the actual effects of “stopping power,” “knockback” or “takedown power” are largely produced by a combination of other factors – I would certainly agree with you that it is *not* solely the result of “hydrostatic shock” (theoretic and arguable to begin with,)and transfer of kinetic energy upon impact – in and of itself insufficient to actually “bowl someone over” solely by virtue of applied kinetic force pushing against them. The .45 round still achieves penetration in most cases (again depending on various characteristics), *without overpenetration* which results in a variety of physiological results subject to the nature of the wound inflicted as well as further immediate psychological affects resulting from the experience. Various anesthetic effects (alcohol, drugs, extreme adrenalin and other chemicals produced by the body, etc.) can reduce this. In the simplest terms, less pain = less physical shock and trauma and therefore results further in reduced psychological reaction to being shot – possibly even absence or at least delay of the target’s awareness of having been shot. I realize that I am in many ways oversimplifying an extremely complex matter of inter-relating factors, some of which are debatable in terms of theory regarding to the actual “mechanics” involved (not merely ballistic and other kinetic force variables upon impact but variance in tissue damage, blood loss, etc.. . .). The upshot however being that actual field results have clearly shown the .45 and its standard round to have been the best weapon for actually “dropping a target in its tracks” for well over half a century, with only recent developments providing arguably better results.

    In terms of the initial gaming description, “blowing him back through the door” is unlikely to reflect in a narrative manner what would happen if the door were closed – he would appear to have been “blown back against the door” before falling. If the door where not fully closed however chances are he would stagger, if not fall, backwards through the door*way.* It would have to be an absurdly flimsy (possibly on old screen) door for the target to actually break through it. In this sense the description in game does not technically describe the effects correctly, but could readily be granted narrative accuracy – this is what appears to be happening (hence the frequent misuse of terms such as “stopping power,” etc. outside of the industry and professionals who rely upon it) and the basic result is as described – the target has moved back through the door as a result of being shot.

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