Monday, March 28, 2016

On Modes of Play in Tabletop RPGs

I was browsing theRPGSite just now and ran across an interesting comment regarding modes of play for RPGs.  The point was made that originally the GM rolled all the dice and the players were kept out of the mechanics and the point of this was to enhance immersion (or the chance thereof).  I thought I'd pipe up and offer my own experience with the two modes of play and so here it is...

1: 5e D&D actually has one optional suggestion of the DM rolling everything. Its been suggested as a method as far back as AD&D in Dragon.

2: The OP was asking about the extreme end of the immersion spectrum and that can get very close to removing the game part or even removing the DM. Depending on how far at the extreme you wanted to get. If its merely "The DM handles everything and the players interact with the mechanics as close to nil as possible." then its still a game.
On the first point, this idea goes all the way back to Original D&D and is strongly implied in Men & Magic on page 10:

"The Referee rolls 3d6 for each requisite of the Character"


Note: That the player does not roll their own requisites is very interesting and suggests that the Referee always rolls the dice, never the players. I mean after all, at the point of creating their Character one would think this is the most logical place for the player to roll dice, if there is any place at all.

As to the second point...

When I first started GMing in 1978 I didn't let the players even know my homebrew rules at all.  My play mode was completely 'Behind The Screen'.  I rolled everything and they role played their characters. I didn't use miniatures, nor did I show them the maps. They had to map on their own from my descriptions of the terrain or dungeon, and quite often they got it wrong, which was part of the fun of the game.

The reason I, and my fellow GMs in my town during this period, chose to write own own homebrew rules and not show the rules to the players was to cut down on rules lawyering, and to allow the players to immerse completely in the world, rather than focus on the mechanics.

Over time however, I evolved the other way and began not only to share the rules, but also began to use tactical maps with counters representing characters. I changed the mode of play because it became increasingly clear that there could be a lot of fun had by the players if they could get involved with the mechanics. The problem with doing it the other way was that they never could quite visualize accurately the scene, or know with precision what their characters could do or were up against (tactically speaking). Everything was left a little fuzzy and while immersive from a narrative perspective, also resulted in tactical errors that their characters might not have made were they actually on the scene. Tactical planning was not a part of my game originally, and it had its pros and cons. Later, when I changed the mode, sharing the rules and maps, tactics could then become a much stronger part of the game. I found that my players enjoyed that a lot as well, and it solved some of the problems with tactics being "realistic" to what the Characters would actually have done were they on the scene.

No matter how you do it, there's pros and cons, and the more you lean to one side, the more you get the benefits and deficits of that mode.

So now I play a kind of fused-hybrid mode. Sometimes I get down and gritty with maps and tokens, and it's very specifically about tactics of combat. Other times it is fuzzy and narrative. The choice largely depends on the circumstances and how perceive the mood of the room. Sometimes we simply want to romp through the story and tactical considerations, being such as they are, burden us with details that slow the story down. Other times the players seem rather intent on "getting it right" with a specific combat situation, and don't want to take any chances. In these cases they get very detailed with the ranges and positions and order of actions in order to maximize their changes of success.

As for me, I genuinely enjoy both modes, and so I play it either way and it suits me fine.
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