I know I resolved not to do this, but I went back and visited Mike Mearls’ site to read his follow up to last week’s article. Suffice it to say that it seems to me that he just went even further off the deep-end on this one. My opinion at this point is that from an Old School vantage, he basically misses the point.
It seems to me that what these questions really show is a very player-biased view. I guess this isn’t surprising from a commercial vantage. If you want more sales, then of course you’d focus on players rather than DMs. Players out-number DMs anywhere from 4:1 to 10:1, depending on the DM. The problem is that by focusing on the player, you’ve got to assume that only that which is codified will be present in a game. For a cohesive player experience, all games must play the same, thus the DM must not be allowed to improvise.
Of course, this is utterly contrary to my preferences in D&D. I want the DM to have ultimate power to improvise, whether I’m DMing or playing. Mearls asks his audience if the lack of feats, skills, powers, etc. would make a player feel “bored doing the same thing over and over again.” But the only real reason to do the same thing over and over again is because you can’t do anything outside the rules and expect the DM to improvise the outcome.
Rather than dwell on the direction Mearls goes and how much I disagree with it, let’s spin this another way. Let’s assume that like me, you agree that repetitive action is countered by player creativity in doing things outside the rules. Given this assumption, then any DM worth his salt had better be prepared to improvise outcomes in a way that is enjoyable for the players. How do we do that? Well, we can’t really answer the question from the DM’s perspective, that’s pretty contrary to the nature of improvisation. How about from the players’ perspective? What is most enjoyable for the players?
Do they want a DM to completely encapsulate what he’s doing, quickly coming up with chances, rolling the dice, and narrating an outcome? This is certainly the fastest and most narrative appearing system, allowing the game to take on a more story-telling like feel. The flow of the game would glide effortlessly from a player’s description of his actions to the DM’s description of the outcome.
On the other hand, this method could also give the appearance of an arbitrary DM, especially if the player and DM have different opinions on the probability of success. If a player thinks his action warrants a 75% success rate and the DM rates it at just 10%, then the player might get upset when everything he tries keeps failing. In that case, perhaps it’s better that after the player describes his action the DM states the probability and the likely result from failure. Then the player can weigh the ruling and decide if it’s really worth going through with his plan. This perhaps breaks the flow of the game a bit, but gives the player a bit more power of his own fate.
What do you think? Let’s take Mearls’ own methods and end this with a poll: