If you’ve ever watched an episode of Mythbusters, you’re aware that the world of story and the world of reality don’t always match. In films, cars explode when they crash, bullets can be dodged and the winner of an arm-wrestle is always the one with the bigger biceps.
A friend of mine told me about some roleplay a while ago where his character was taking shelter next to a diesel truck which exploded after someone threw a grenade at it. ‘Diesel doesn’t explode’, I said. In that setting, however, it turns out diesel does explode.
Pick half the action films or games out there and diesel explodes. It’s pretty much impossible to make it blow up in real life, but it’s like nitroglycerine when it’s in the flicks. Star Wars has some interesting reality-benders as well.
Lightsaber duels take a long time, when every form of real world swordfighting tends to be over pretty quickly - that one’s usually pinned to force-user precognition, but it happens with non-forcies too. Goons are usually disposable and ignored. It’s pretty rare in Star Wars to see an organization where the guy at the bottom even has a say about where his head ends up rolling.
Skill is almost always the deciding factor in any fight with Star Wars. Luck rarely has anything to do with it, and all fights are usually fair, with the better or more resourceful warrior winning.
These are all things common to a lot of settings. Star Wars’ specific mix of themes and tropes make up its general tone, and tone can differ between media, era, and even the character being followed. I’m sure any military realist novels set in Star Wars will have a different tonal setup. But we roleplay in SWTOR in which the villains are hammy, the heroes are plucky, and that level 70 Mynock will still give you trouble no matter how many rancors you’ve killed.
You can use this as a guideline for roleplay. Many do. Most pick and choose what they like. I can’t imagine many people stick with the killer mynocks. On the other hand, there’s another, less tonally sensitive guideline: the real world. In the real world, sword fights are abrupt, goons have opinions, and combat is largely unfair to a single, highly trained individual.
The real world is often a more simple guideline to follow. ‘What would happen if someone actually did this?’ can be applied to many situations. Even with Sci-Fi and Fantasy, most stories revolve around people and the real world is a great guideline for people. Whether you’re judging an individual’s response, how something will be organized, or the effect of a large scale action, science or history usually has the real world’s answer.
Star Wars' mythbusters would probably point out that Jinx Starblaster's ultron-grenades wouldn't actually break a Zakuulan shield wall.
But what’s the point of roleplaying in Star Wars if you’re prioritising the real world as a guideline? And are you crafting anything relatable if you’re using Star Wars tropes as your guideline?
Everyone’s answer is usually different and they come on a great big spectrum from ‘the real world is the only way to go. The setting just provides a new frame of reference for the characters’, to ‘if you’re going to roleplay in Star Wars, roleplay in Star Wars. If the real world was as exciting, we wouldn’t bother in the first place’.
Most folks end up somewhere in the middle, and you do see people shift from one position to another depending on the situation. After all, mundanity gives scale to heroism, and heroism gives satisfaction to mundanity. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to taste.
Which is probably why it’s a contentious issue.
I’m definitely no saint when it comes to being respectful of other people’s tonal decisions. I think after planning this article and thinking it all through, I’ll try to be more open.
Many of the arguments I’ve seen between different players and groups in this game have been about people’s take on the setting, and to what degree they base their decision on the real world guideline.
A group which is more realist is probably going to laugh at the pantomime operatics of Star-Warsy villains. A tonally Star-Warsy group will likely be bamboozled by the problems said realist group seems to constantly get stuck on. Somewhere in there lurks a dozen articles’ worth of stuff on ego, authority, and confirmation bias - not to mention the dangers of fiddling with someone else’s plots.
At the end of the day, find people with similar tonal preference, get together, work something out, and have some fun.