Playing TTRPGs Is Not Like Being in a Play

There is a misconception out there that playing in TTRPGs is all about narrative story telling. That this is the most important aspect of the game and hobby. People are welcome to disagree with me, but I think that is false. The "narrative story telling is best" position is often one pushed by "new school" players, including myself at one point.

However, the goal of TTRPGs is simulation. At least that is how it started. Obviously things can evolve past what they started as. It happens all the time. But I wish to argue that this origin and focus on simulation is what originally caused this hobby to be appealing in the first place.

So to understand what I mean in regards to "simulation" you have to understand the origin of the hobby. The hobby grew as a set of rules to supplement wargaming. Wargames are games that attempt to simulate battlefield conflicts. And simulation really is the focus. Morale affects your troops. Leaders can change the battlefield landscape by their actions. Every rule present in a wargame is there to act as a simulation of real occurrences and possibilities on the battlefield. You have to understand this idea to understand what the original goal of a pen and paper roleplaying game is.

The TTRPG came into being by zooming in on individual soldiers (to put it plainly). And this means the same goal of simulation is present in early TTRPGs. This is why there are so many hold overs from wargaming in older versions of these games. Morale checks, and low hit points are a few of the things that show this.

The goal was, "In this world, what would happen if..."

Sometimes what happened wasn't always satisfying from a "narrative" stand point. Sometimes the hero dies before the final battle. Sometimes the hero is maimed. Sometimes the hero fails. In a way, it reflects history. In a modern 5e D&D game that focuses on "narrative storytelling" and "character," the ending of Spartacus' story would not be satisfying.

"Are you saying slavery continues and the hero dies!"

There are lots of instances through out history where the "hero" met a quick and often unsatisfying end before the story "finished." Early wargaming was always focused on historical armies and battles and simulating them. The fantasy setting didn't change that. Sure there are goblins and dragons now but the focus was still on, "what would happen with these fantasy entities interacted with each?" 

Where am I going with this? Well, despite the fact that history often breaks the "narrative rules," it is often still exciting and more interesting than any well constructed piece of fiction. Somehow, it breaks what is traditionally considered "a good structured story" and still becomes appealing, fascinating, and compelling. TTRPGs, I have discovered, are at their best when it simulates a world, full of the disappointments that world might include. By focusing on simulation rather than making sure the narrative is good, the narrative still ends up being good. I would encourage the new school players to discover this for themselves as I have. You may not like it like I have, but I think you can still learn something from it.


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