That conversation was spawned by John’s “Chess is not an RPG”. (I haven’t read that article at the time I’m watching the conversation.)
(Edit: I have now read the article...thoughts here.)
Note: These are just my thoughts. They are not necessarily absolute truths even if I seem to be stating them as such. As always on this blog, this is thinking out loud.
Role-playing—in the context of role-playing games—is making decisions in-character. Therefore you can role-play in any game that allows you to make decisions.
Since role-playing is making choices, the choices a game allows determines how much the game supports role-playing. By trading rules for rulings by a referee, you trade a finite number of responses to any choice for an infinite number. Sometimes called “tactical infinity”.
(There’s a point to be made that even with tactical infinity there may be limits on the choices. Infinity plus limits does not necessarily equal a finite set. But that’s probably a whole ’nother discussion.)
There is no denying that by the Moldvay edited Basic D&D booklet (pp. B2, B3, B60) and first edition AD&D DMG (pp. 7, 9, 230) DM rulings over rules is the explicit intent of D&D and AD&D.
I’d argue that it was there in the original game too, but the text is less clear. Also, descriptions of Chainmail games from before D&D indicate that Gygax and associates played that game very much in a “rulings over rules” fashion. For example, there was a story told of a Chainmail game where one side set fire to the woods where the other side had units holed up. (If anyone has a reference to a telling on that story, please post the link.)
It should be noted that even the original D&D had an example of play that does give some idea of how the game is meant to be played.
I laughed when John said that if you want to role-play don’t be a fighter. To me it is exactly the opposite. The fighter is the blank slate that only becomes interesting through role-playing. Although there has been some effort over the years to take that away from the class.
I like Zak’s analogy of a supermarket versus a set of ingredients and a recipe.
Although in a couple of editions of D&D a three minute combat might take three hours to play out, that hasn’t generally been the case.
Has there ever been an edition of D&D that explicitly says seducing a barmaid can be done in a minute with a single die roll? Even in editions with skills and even if it were a single roll, wouldn’t that typically be played out by doing a lot of things over time to accumulate bonuses to that roll?
Unless you just want to get it out-of-the-way fast because it isn’t something the group wants to spend time on. In which case this is a feature. And it still is a ruling instead of a rule.
There is something about the simplicity of the battle rules in Diplomacy that really seems to drive the negotiation aspect of the game.
The combat system in Moldvay’s Basic D&D really is simple and not the majority of the book. In my experience, this is essentially how people played combat most of the time in AD&D. Others have told me their experience is similar.
That simplicity, however, seems to allow real tactics to be applied effectively. Rules mastery is not required. Which, I think, makes it easier to make decision more in-character and less as-player.
What is the difference between a role-playing game and a conventional game?
When I am attempting to design a conventional game, I am trying to make a closed system. When I am attempting to design a role-playing game, I am trying to leave things open for player creativity and referee rulings. So the difference between a conventional game and a role-playing game isn’t that the rules tell you to role-play but that the rules leave space for role-playing.
Did the original D&D do this intentionally or accidentally? shrug Maybe both. The afterword seems to say that it was at least partially intentional.
While it may not be that people role-played in D&D because the rules were incomplete, I don’t think that can be counted out as a factor.
And, as always, I’m not sure that role-playing games even are games.
Another thought: “Role-playing” in the sense of “playing a role-playing game” is making decisions for the character. Those choices may not be made purely in-character. (Role-playing2 is not always purely role-playing1.) I’m OK with some amount of “metagaming”.