Thursday 4 June 2009

How many rules do you need for non-combat roleplaying?

Today I'm featuring the first of what I hope will be an series of occasional Guest Posts from members of my gaming group, the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers. Peter has been playing D&D and other games as long as me and has run several successful campaigns. He is our current GM running his own campaign setting, The Sunless Citadels, using the 4th Edition rules.
Evolving from Wargaming, the earliest editions of D&D were heavily into combat capabilities first and everything else second. There were rules for picking locks etc, but initially at least they were a totally different mechanic and felt tacked on. Spells were the primary means of giving non-combat powers and abilities, but skills were [subsequently] greatly expanded and better graduated. But it still fell well short of all the other roleplaying systems based around a vast array of skills and capabilities - Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Dr Who, Traveller, and so on.

But does having a raft of skills and capabilities reduce or enhance roleplaying? In some games, particularly Sci-fi or Modern games, you need these skills. How good your PC is at piloting a spaceship or his skill at hacking government computers is critical to the story, so you will need structured rules for these situations. You also need a way to differentiate [for example] an expert pilot from a merely good one. But in a pseudo medieval world the challenges you are overcoming are [on the whole] physical ones requiring combat.

At its core I guess every game needs challenges to overcome and it's the nature of those challenges that dictate whether you use skills and abilities or combat rules to overcome them. In a game such as Call of Cthulhu where combat is definitely a last resort you need a raft of skills to give your players the ability to overcome obstacles. In the more combat orientated D&D world you utilise detailed combat rules to progress.

A good game is one where you are not [relying solely on] die rolls to determine your success. Similarly in a combat-based RPG you want a game that allows you to select tactics and weapons to enhance your success rather than a never ending series of to-hit and damage rolls.

All of which raises another, possibly more important question. Is it better to resolve social interactions with dice rolls or should they be role-played? Do you allow your players to use their social skills, or limit them according to the stats their characters possess?

1 comment:

  1. I think skills and abilities have thier place, but Im not sure D&D is the best place for them. Or rather that the current setup for them is the best. I play in an Original D&D game that has a few players that only know D&D from the 3.x series. And its been a long hard process to teach them that they dont need to look at the character sheet each encounter to figure out what they do. In many ways the players just found the concept of roleplaying without a dice roll foreign.

    I try to resolve social situations by letting roleplaying very heavily weight the die roll. Or I will let a player narrate how a roll succeeds if they get a success.


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