I remember when we first tested Rune Quest pen & paper RPG. The game had different hit locations (arms, torso, head, legs), and hitting certain locations might make the limb useless. Also, the game provided a “realistic” system where your skills improve based on which skills you use. This was totally different after Dungeons & Dragons RPG.
There was just couple of issues with Rune Quest’s system, perhaps biggest (to us) being:
The hit locations didn’t make the game “more realistic” experience or more fun. Okay, perhaps the fighting was slightly more realistic for the characters in-game, but it also mean that tracking hits and locations and shit just took more time, and made the combat “less realistic” experience for the players. In D&D you could blast fireballs, calculate damage quickly and continue killing more orcs. Okay, there was dice rolling involved but it was fast & quick.
In some sense, this was more realistic. If you think of “experiencing the fight”. I could immerse in the world and imagine myself throwing those fireballs while my fellow combatants would help killing the damn dragon, with everybody’s hands sweating (like in a real fight against any dragon). Rules didn’t get in the way of the experience, and “realism” happened in the mind of the players.
In Rune Quest, the fights took longer and there was more planning involved (should I hit that guy in the arm… or maybe go for the head for double damage?) and this made the experience less realistic for the players. Now you were more of thinking “what my character should do” instead of “what should I do?”
In a way, the more complex system becomes (in a game where computer cannot do the calculations) the less fun it becomes (unless of course you happen to like calculating combat results, I know there’s people who like that a lot). The fights will take longer: tracking of hits, movements and whatnot is more realistic for the game characters (since you take into account fatigue and everything)… but for the players, the experience is less realistic.
In pen & paper RPGs the so called “more realistic” (complex) systems are less realistic for players, while in more simpler games where combat is fast paced, the players can get better immersed in the world and experience a more realistic (or more fun) combat experience.
I’d follow Einstein’s advice on this:
Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.
Works a long way.