In almost all RPG systems combat, and exspecially weapon damage and PC constitution, is highly unrealistic. Those three times your character was stabbed with a sword? Just scratches. And that shotgun blast to your head was nothing but a graze. Okay, so your character got a beating, and maybe lost some HP/LP/whatever, but he can walk away from combat just fine, even though he almost died from the wounds. And in a few days he will be just fine again.
I am looking at this from the perspective of game-play: if you do not have to worry all that much about your character actually coming out with some form of permanent damage (from being crippled to being killed) you need not be scared from fights, can be brave, and get into plenty of brawls, allowing you to play out all those combat-related feats/skills you bought. And having to deal with month-long recuperation periods from that one fight that went awry can be plain annoying: after all you want to be out in full capacity again.
I personally could see some benefits in a highly realistic system, too, though: since you have to worry about your character being injured, crippled or killed in combat, you will be more inclined to try to avoid fights to the best of your ability (as i personally would assume most of us do in real life as well). I'd claim that the vast majority of storytellers ("GMs") would in general prefer that, since quite often the players willingness to become violent and just risk the fight can make it a lot harder for them. Also, i personally would be inclined to believe that if less focus was put on fights that would likely make many females far more inclined to join an RPG group, since the situations that players elsewhise often like to solve with a fight - a mob of bandits demanding money for letting the players pass over "their" road, some drunkard spewing out obscenities at one of the players romantic interest, conflict sweltering between two neighbouring groups - would preferably call for a different solution than "Kill 'em ALL!!!", like possibly diplomacy, humor, wit or other social skills to limit the fights to the unavoidable ones.
I strongly wonder whether such an approach would be accepted by the players, though. There certainly are some who actually play RPGs mainly because they want the opportunity to ram their blades down the throats of anyone cocky enough to dare incite their wrath. Slashing an opponent to ribbons can be quite fun (well, maybe not much fun in the D20 system, but some fun even there ; - P ). Eliminating the element of combat from an RPG-system entirely would strongly reduce its appeal to the vast majority of players, would seem to me - but how far do you think one can go?
I know how far you can go in the other direction (i have the GURPS supplement detailing the "Silly Combat Rules") but how much realism in a combat system would players be willing to accept in your opinion?
How lethal may combat become?
How realistic recovering periods, or the chance of a crippling or killing injury (which was rather disquietingly high during early medieval times, when a broken bone would lead to permanent damage, and sepsis had a darn high chance of getting you even after the fight was already over)?
And do you think that taking emphasis from combat through making the combat system more lethal and thus disinclining players to seek out fights but rather encourage them to search for other solutions would draw in female players?
Thank you for responding. I would greatly appreciate it if you could also leave me a note on what your opinion is based on: how many groups you played in and for how long, which different game systems you know/have experienced in use and how their different approaches to this impacted the groups, or whether you already designed your own game system that actually implemented an extremely realistic approach and got a surprising response... I look forward to the discussion. : - ]