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).