Rules Dictating Play Style?

In this week’s Legends and Lore column┬áby Mike Mearls he writes about Player versus Character. Haven’t read the article yet? Go on. I will wait while you go read it…..

Back? Onwards then!

He starts with describing a familiar scene to D&D players, a statue of a lizard man at the end of a corridor. He then goes into how one might have approached this scenario from a pre D&D 3.x day with more focus on the player investigating things with questions about the object, requests for more detail and such that the DM responds to. Then he provides an example of a post 3.x group doing the same and simply having them roll their search or perception checks to learn more about what secrets the statue might contain.

The theory he puts forth is that in early editions of D&D it was the player being challenged and in post 3.x editions it was the character being challenged. He theorized this is a result of a more rules based game for each situation and breaks some of the immersion of the game that the early days had.

While he makes several good points the picture he paints is one of mutual exclusivity. I do not believe the picture is as clear cut as that. I think it is more of a play style choice and post 3.x rulesets can fully support an immersive environment.

In groups I play with most often we would have approached the statue and started asking questions about it. We would not have fallen to rolling dice right away. We would have asked if there appeared to be any parts that moved, was there anything unusual about the base of the statue and so on. Once these questions were asked the DM might have called for a search or perception check, but now he had much more information to go on as to exactly what we doing. In some cases if we were creative with our searching or detailed enough we would simply be told what we found without need for a dice roll.

In other cases our group has tackled riddles and puzzles that we encounter during an adventure. The post 3.x rules would have provided an option for us to simply make Intelligence checks and move on. But our group wanted the challenge and the experience of working through the puzzle ourselves as players. There is nothing in the post 3.x rules that prevented us from doing that.

On the other side there are times being able to simply make a roll is a good thing. This is what lets us play super intelligent wizards, charming bards and extraordinary dexterous rogues. We aren’t these things in real life and in some situations it makes sense that our character might know more or be better able to accomplish something than the player. The player can still say what they want to do and describe it, but then rely on the roll to determine success. Success their character has a better chance of than the player.

I have not found the rules in post 3.x systems hampering immersion. The DM has the tools at hand to adjudicate situations as needed. The rules provide a framework, but they do not take away player thought unless the gaming group *wants* them to.

What do you think?