One of the key factors with which many rpg players, gamemasters, and designers struggle is the degree of abstraction (DoA…I like that). How much abstraction, what type of abstraction, and where in the game it is.
One common goal that is mentioned by gamers is the concept of Realism. It should be noted that Realism is a loaded term in gaming that means many different things to different people. In fact, most people don’t want Realism at all. In a realistic world, the dragon eats the knight in shining armor…..just about every time and regardless of what the knight does. Most players don’t want that result.
What they do want is internal consistency. They want it to feel right. They way their abstractions in comfortable places and of the types they find agreeable. What they want is verisimilitude. I’ll talk more about that later, but for now…Let’s look at some abstractions.
For example, in D&D, armor makes a character harder to hit…at least superficially. And for this reason, many people look at the D&D implementation of Armor as “unrealistic”. When we look deeper at the decidedly abstract combat system used by D&D, we can see that Armor increases survival or, put another way, makes it more difficult to score a meaningful hit on a character. It (a better Armor Class, AC) is a non ablative barrier to character death. When we express it like that, many players feel a little bit better about it.
The same applies for hitpoints. A 5th-level D&D character has approximately 5 times the number of hitpoints as a 1st-level character of the same class. If hitpoints are viewed as discrete physical damage that a character can withstand, this would seem to imply that our 5th-level character can actually withstand 5x the physical damage that our 1st-level character can. Understandably, this has bothered many people over the years. However, this is not the intent of hitpoints. They are intended as an abstract concept that embodies character survivability. It is an ablative resource barrier to character death. When we express it like that, many players feel a little bit better about it.
Now individual players/GM’s/etc. may not like these particular abstractions any better, but they may better understand the nature of the abstractions. And that is key.
I have been exploring these concepts for some time now. I’ve come the full gambit from wanting the utmost of Realism or, rather thinking I did (hey, it was the early 80’s and I was 10!) to reluctantly accepting certain abstractions in play as a necessity, to embracing abstractions in play and seeking for “new” places to put them in my gaming.
In my next post on this topic, we’ll look at how ablative/non-ablative resources affect play.