or ‘Realistic Fantasy’ is a Contradiction
John Holland claims to offer “complete realism (or as close to realistic as a game can get)” in his memorable role-playing game, The Realms of Atlantasia. Last week, we discussed the sexual mores of Atlantasian elves, but are those mores realistic? Not according to the woman in this article (also, this video – probably NSFW). Clearly, Holland doesn't have a clue about the sexual attitudes of real elves.
Holland says that The Realms of Atlantasia is “the most realistic fantasy based role-playing game...on the market.” Holland thinks that “fantasy” RPGs should be “realistic.” Holland is hardly the only designer with this viewpoint, but he allows me a convenient way to broach the topic. Why, in the name of The Great Svenny, do some designers feel the need to adulterate fantasy with realism? Fantasy and reality are – by definition – contrary. Fantasy RPGs are vehicles for escapism; realism defeats the purpose.
The goal of playing a fantasy RPG should not be to simulate reality (I have enough reality, thank you). The goal is entertainment. Rules (and whatever realism they encompass) are guidelines toward achieving that goal; they are the means, not the end.
The fictional setting of a fantasy RPG acts as a ‘consensus reality’ for the game master and players. It is convenient to model such consensus realities upon objective reality; however, this should only be done to the extent it facilitates a common understanding among the participants. The source material for fantasy RPGs is not objective reality, it is fiction. Designers shouldn’t add realism to fantasy RPGs, they should add unrealism. They should intentionally deviate from objective reality in an effort to inspire the wonder that the source material generates.
Assigning a numerical value to represent the durability of a character’s cotton breeches (The Realms of Atlantasia The Game Master's Bible, p. 47) does not contribute to a sense of fantasy and it is not something that I find entertaining. We can assume that the durability of clothing is finite and if such needs to be addressed, common sense and/or game master fiat will adequately meet our needs. Don’t focus on the mundane, focus on the fantasy.
To paraphrase Jack Kirby, why mirror reality when you can surpass it?