Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Comments On Simulation Rules We Could Actually Do Today

 In this day and age we don't leverage the tools we have on hand. Computers offer an excellent way to track, verify, and manipulate data but we use surprisingly little of that in traditional table-top roleplaying.  One area that is interesting is with that with these added capabilities we are also ignoring having rules in our game that would be a nightmare without computer management but trivial with it.

Equipment Condition: yeah your game might have rules for it and they are ignored 90% of the time.

Encumbrance: mostly ignored.

Lighting: mostly ignored or workarounds are made so ridiculously easy that it becomes a non-issue outside of special situations.

Fighting Stance: mostly ignored, some games approach this a bit but most really ignore it.

Footing: yeah this sounds picky but the course of entire nations and all the history that followed for hundreds of years was tied to who had better shoes (or took them off) at a particular battleground.

Food and Drink: this is usually just an encumbrance tax and as such gets ignored about as much as encumbrance does.

Fear and Courage: some games express this really well, but many don't remotely come close. Player agency... blah blah blah. History and fiction is full of people discovering they are much braver or far less brave than they imagined they were, why not roleplaying games?

Weather: unless the scenario is trying to freeze you or possibly fry you it's always relatively pleasant weather....boring.

Alchemy: is it really hard to catalog and track magical substances and how they react to each other? No, but we generally just don't.

History: you don't need a boring document drop to establish a campaigns history but shouldn't it be possible to answer things like "Who's the King's Heir?" and "Who was the King when you were young Grandpa?"? This is just keeping records, records we mostly ignore.

Campaign Calendars: almost nothing on this ever gets done, really easy to track with computer assistance. "Oh it's the 5th of Dragon Nock that means the folks in Menlo Valley will be preparing for the feast of Saint Dobbie"...that's the sort of throw away line that calendar keeping allows a GM to use that will add so much to campaign verisimilitude and setting development that again doesn't require a huge document drop.  

Clothing: yes characters in a campaign are often wearing clothing and outside of buying them on the equipment lost this is ignored most of the time.  Would you really go to the library in July wearing your flak-jacket, underwear and riding boots?  Clothing has been used to define people as long as we have had people in fiction and real life... what people wear has a lot to do with who they are in pseudo-historical societies, and we ignore it way too often.

Different Coins: I hate generic coins , I understand why a rule set may have to be generic but it's an area of world-building and simulation that gets ignored an awful lot. Yes it may be a tad cumbersome to keep track of the value 30 Minosaxian Gildenmarks compared to 22 Pineland Royales... unless you had ready access to a machine that keeps track of data and does speedy calculations.

Do all these ideas have a place in every fantasy roleplaying campaign? NO. But is every fantasy roleplaying game identical? NO.

We have computers in our pockets, hands, or at arms reach most of the day and yet our games seldom take advantage of these devices.  Old School or New School the advantages computers and their cousins offer for record keeping and game play are often ignored. We should step up our game and really leverage these tools.


  1. I also generally advocate for the use of computers by the DM (even when I'm moving away from it at the moment mostly due to preference) but I think the players should not in any circumstance be encouraged to use anything with an internet connection at the table.

  2. Using VTTs, many of these things can be automated. A game of D&D 5e in Foundry with pretty standard modules loaded can track encumbrance, lighting, visibility, and I think stances; I expect several of the others could be easily added by a patient Python programmer. (*Encumbrance* of food & drink, but not passage of time & forcing the players to consume it - I think the standard "long rest" implementation doesn't check for food.)

    My players say "it's like playing a bad computer game", in part because you have to manage all that stuff explicitly, with no room for nuance; we've recently started playing face-to-face again, and I would lose 1/2 to 2/3 of them if we went back to complicated online tools.

    A spreadsheet or two does OK for tracking calendar + weather, particularly when there are websites like

    When I can afford the time to run two games, I might start up a second online. The problem then is that any customisation away from the standard rules takes a *lot* of programming & data entry work; it really suppresses homebrewing.

    1. Oddly enough I'm not a fan of most VTTs. The less the VTT seems to do the happier I am. I think we really haven't tapped what computers can do to improve the whole play experience.

    2. I agree that the less the VTT does, the happier I am. But I'm not sure how most of your proposals are relevant if we aren't using a complicated VTT?

      Any virtual tabletop mediates between the GM, the players, and some of the truth of the game. For complicated VTTs like Foundry that encode the game rules, their state - the data they have - has to be most of the truth.

      If I'm running a game face-to-face, then the truth of the game exists between me and the players, in scribbled notes, in the sketch on the dry-erase board or the position of tokens on a battle map. I might look up files on a computer, but the computer doesn't have a computer-manipulable representation of true facts about the world.

      To track encumbrance using the computer, I'd have to make sure the PC's character sheets were recorded on the computer, and updated during play ... And also, an implementation of whatever rules we're using to track weight - pounds, stones, slots, all their variants - and player capacity - fixed, strength, race - and current spells that effect those.

      To track lighting, I'd have to have the locations of everything in the computer, and a complete map, and details about light sources - those are painstaking bits of preparation when you use Foundry.

      What am I missing?

  3. I've only recently begun discovering these tools, but ever since I started automating NPC creation and designing spreadsheet-based semi-automated character sheets for my players, I have been really enjoying the crunchier side of gaming.