Reality & Authenticity

Essay to create more authentic Tabletop Terrain.

creator: x14km2d | build: 2021-10-08 | update: 2021-12-30


In this article we will talk about reality and authenticity in tabletop gaming. This is especially important for beginners who want to take a deep dive into their hobby by building their own terrain. This is super fun and takes game rounds to a whole new level. There’s a difference between playing a mass-produced model from an online catalog and playing with your own models. Reality and authenticity are two very important factors in tabletop, and once you understand the basic principle behind it, you can apply it to many other areas, for example when you are writing a story for your group as a game master. I will also describe it in very simple pictures so that as many readers as possible will understand it.


What is reality? We don’t ask a philsosophist now, because then we won’t get this article finished in the next six weeks. We just think about it. Reality is something that really exists. You exist, your computer exists and so does your terrain for your tabletop game. At the top of the photo we see a small wooden staircase that I glued together very quickly. This is also real, it exists in reality, because it is on my desk. This staircase looks like any other we know from school or university. This staircase is real and useless for tabletop gaming. Why?

There are various game figures, so-called Minis and some of them (rarely) have no base. The base is a small plastic construction on which the mini is glued, so that it can stand better on the gaming table. In the last few years it has developed in this way. Unfortunately, this small base prevents our Figure from standing well on the realistic stairs. Unlike a real human being, who has no base placed under his feet. If we now play a tabletop game, this of course looks stupid. Also just imagine that in reality you have a base under your feet and then you have to stand on your stairs in the house. That would look the same and would not work. So we learn that we should not copy reality 1:1 into our tabletop game. We ignore the fact that we shouldn’t anyway because it’s mostly a fantasy setting.


In this photo we see an authentic staircase. It looks like a staircase, but has small changes in detail. We’ll come to that in a moment. First we have to define what authenticity is. As above, we do not focus on the philosophical aspect, but apply the definition to our tabletop setting. Nevertheless, let’s take a concrete example from everyday life. Who is authentic?

An influencer is authentic when the person being influenced manages to convince the audience that what the person is doing is authentic, even though it does not correspond to the influencers own reality.

This is a pretty complicated sentence and I’m going to separate this into small parts so you can understand it better. In your youth group, there are certain trends that make you authentic. Let’s take cat socks as an example. Any person who wears cat socks is authentic to your group. Okay? All other people who don’t wear cat socks are inauthentic, lamer and fake. Got it? Now there is a group of working people who take advantage of that to sell products. I worked in this group for a long time. The advertising industry. Trend setters, Locators and other underpaid people watch your social media activity and realize that cat socks are super hot right now. They tell their influencer to define cat socks as the latest trend in his next TikToks, videos and Instas. This makes him look authentic to you (and others) who should buy these products.

But this only works as long as the trend exists. After that, the influencer is no longer authentic and the game starts all over again. What does this have to do with tabletop gaming? Authenticity is something realistic that has been adapted to work better with it. Good computer games are authentic. We know that monsters don’t exist in reality, wizards can’t cast magic, and landscapes are made of ones and zeros. But it looks like it could be real, so it is authentic. It’s fake and we know it, but for the next few hours of gameplay we just ignore that. We compromise between fake and reality and create authenticity. It allows us to put ourselves into stories, settings or tabletop adventures much better.

The staircase we see above has the basic functions of a real staircase, but has modifications to make it more usable by tabletop figures. A game figure stands neatly and does not wobble. It looks more authentic and thus we get around the small problem of the bases. Also, you can now place larger groups on the stairs, which is important for a tabletop game, because most of the time you play with several people in an adventurer group of wizards, elves, ogres, orcs and dwarves or other minis. For the games it now looks more authentic and realistic. Also, the game master can bring better drama into the setting, e.g. if a group wants to enter a house and suddenly two drunken villagers block the stairs, you can create an interesting little fight out of it. For example, it might be difficult for the last person standing at the bottom of the stairs to see exactly what is happening upstairs, which might make an intervention (as healer or paladin) more difficult. However, this is decided by the game master in the round and he has to find a good balance between authenticity and reality.


We learned what the difference between reality and authenticity is and how to apply it to a staircase. Especially when building terrain material, this is important so that the game group can play undisturbed and get into the setting. Nobody wants to have to put his character back on a staircase every few seconds because it fell down again. That would disrupt the game and prevent players from concentrating on the adventure. If you keep this in mind when building your terrain model, you will have taken a very big step forward and that will help you and your group. For example, if you look at pictures of real stairs, don’t build them 1:1, but bring in your own ideas. This way they don’t seem quite as realistic, because realism is also always a certain degree of boredom. A tabletop setting should not be realistic and boring, because then we wouldn’t play it.

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