Very recently I heard someone describe Fallout 1/2 as “as close as developers can get to making a spiritually faithful adaptation of a pen and paper tabletop RGP.” They went on to list various details that support that point of view and I found myself mostly agreeing with them. And I absolutely love both games mostly for the reasons the individual was listing as being the most in common with ttrpgs. Which is fine in and of itself.
The problem with this is that should mean I would like ttrpgs, right? On paper, I should love ttrpgs. In fact, I love the idea of ttrpgs. But every time I’ve dipped my toe into this genre, things don’t seem to go very well.
When I was a young teen, I was invited to join an existing D&D campaign with a group of friends. They had all played for a year or more and I was new to it. So, I rolled a character, read up on how the game should work, and, perhaps, took the RP in ttrpg a bit too literally. My character was a human and a down on their luck and out-of-work bounty hunter who encounters the rest of the party in an inn waiting for job prospects.
Little other prospects available, I joined the party and ostensibly set out for riches and glory. We fought goblins and traversed wagon roads teeming with highwaymen. A couple of the group were more evil-aligned and talked the group into robbing the castle of a wealthy but cruel Baron. I traipsed along and after the weary and wounded party fled the castle with loot in tow, I rolled to cut the rope bridge they were crossing and watched them all fall to their deaths.
They had just committed a crime against a wealthy individual. It was only a matter of time before a bounty would be put upon their heads. I took their heads, traveled back to town and traded them in for the reward, while keeping the loot they took as well.
Ostensibly, I kept with my character’s backstory and motivations, I was lawful evil after all. Ostensibly, they had casually recruited a bounty hunter into their group before going on a rampage of adventure and crime; what did they expect? Ostensibly, it was just a game and my actions in the game would typically be restricted to the game.
I’m sure many of you with more emotional intelligence than 14-year-old pinkunz at the time have already figured out that all of those things didn’t matter. After that, sessions were either cancelled or rescheduled until I found out that they had continued on without me, basically retconning the events at the rope bridge. My character had tripped and fallen to their death. The end.
Fast forward several years and I’m in college. A little wiser, a little more wary. I get invited to D&D session, but it turns out the invite was only from one of the players and my arrival surprises the others and the DM. I offer to go, they fall over themselves saying nonsense, sit down, and join in. I hadn’t played since that time many years ago, and this group was very proficient and technical. They feigned patience with constant references to my character sheet and my questions, but I could tell I was aggravating the DM in particular. I again offered to step out and bone up to come back later, but that was rebuffed.
Anyway, they come across this enormous ceremonial porcelain jar with a giant metal screw lid that is stuck into place. Has some massive troll organ or something (the session was riffing on the whole mummification process and finding the jarred organs to bring someone back from the dead; The Mummy 3 had recently hit theaters and it was in the public consciousness) in it, I think a heart. Anyway, they couldn’t figure out how to open the jar without breaking the glass. Unbeknownst to me, there was a whole plot thread planned to address this and the DM was invested in having this play out.
I didn’t have a proficiency in D&D, but I did have proficiency in plain old physics, so I saw an opportunity to apply that skill. I wanted to use Heat Metal on the metal jar lid. He first said I couldn’t do that, and then, when relenting, I rolled a 17, and he said the jar lid got very hot but was still tightly snug. I confirmed that the lid was metal and the jar was porcelain, the DM confirmed as much. I then asked what kind of metal and whether or not the spell would heat the porcelain as well. I also asked how hot the metal got. After he answered steel and no and hot enough to melt lead, I did the math to show that the melting point of lead is over 300 degrees Celsius above room temperature and steel expands roughly 24 micrometers per meter per degree celcius, which meant that a meter of steel would expand over 7mm. This lid was nearly a half meter across, so the expansion should make the lid turn freely from the porcelain. At this point, the DM backtracked and said, wait, no, the porcelain was also heated to the melting point of lead and expanded as well, so the lid was still stuck. I pointed out that porcelain had a very low thermal expansion rate, and about the time I had found the rate (like 0.1 micrometers per meter per degree Celsius or something like that) a couple of the other players were starting to openly laugh and the DM lost their temper and told me to fucking drop it.
I muttered an apology and dropped it and the session continued with me taking minimum action and saying very little. A couple of days later, my friend came up to me and apologized and said that his friends didn’t want me back because they didn’t think I was a good fit for the group.
Jump forward a decade and a half, and some coworkers wanted to start a new D&D group and invite me to join. I was hesitant, but they wore me down, pointing out it was a new group and they were all fairly inexperienced. So, it came to pass that I found myself, again, making a character sheet for Smurg, the half-orc.
We came upon a traveling merchant fighting off Goblins in his carriage, standing on the roof and swinging a longsword. We fought the Goblins and tried to save him, but, while we defeated the Goblins, we were unable to save the merchant. Two of our party were ready to move on immediately, while myself and one other person wanted to search the merchant and his carriage to find out who he was and what was going on. On retrospect, I suspect the DM (a first time DM) didn’t anticipate this angle and had nothing prepared for generic NPC and wagon. Emphasized the man had nothing of value and carriage was empty. I pointed out that made him more suspicious as how is he a merchant if he was driving an empty carriage through dangerous roads infested with Goblins? Was he just a particularly stupid merchant?
Anyway, I then asked about the horses. Huh? The horses, where are the horses? What horses?
Well, he wasn’t dragging the carriage himself, was he?
Oh… uh… they’re both dead.
And how much time has passed since the battle?
Okay, I’d like to roll to start a fire and then roll again to skin and butcher the horses, so I could use the fire to tan the hide and smoke the meat.
Uh… you can’t do that.
Well, you don’t have any fuel to keep the fire going.
Don’t we have an entire wooden carriage sitting here? We can’t take it with us, right?
At that point, one of the players, the one who also wanted to investigate the merchant, wanted to join in and thought it was a great idea, mentioning it would provide food and leather to either eat or sell, which seemed prudent because we were broke.
The other two started complaining loudly that they hadn’t agreed to play a taxidermy simulator and that they wanted to go and murder more Goblins.
My willingness to investigate and try weird stuff seemed to embolden the one other player and the other two became more obstinate over time. Within 5-6 sessions, the DM boxed us into a no-escape scenario with insanely OP enemies and killed off the entire party.
The DM and the other two players expressed no interest in rerolling new characters and starting again.
So, three groups of people in three diverse demographics over a 20+ year span. The only common denominator is me. I like the idea of ttrpgs, but I don’t think I have the emotional and social intelligence to play them in a way that doesn’t drive the entire thing directly off of a social cliff.
Would these interactions be unwelcome at your D&D table? Does anyone else actually play like this, assuming a real fully-fleshed world with specifics if one were to look and consistent logic and physics in it’s world? Or am I simply breaking the game and I need to learn to knock it off or to simply not play?