There are a bunch of reasons to play RPGs, and these reasons will color both how we approach the game and what we find satisfying. I think it’s important to put down my own preferences, since that will color the problems I encounter and the solutions I choose to fix those problems.
I grew up on RPGs being all about story; I had a plot I wanted to run my players through, even if that plot was just “the players are heroes and the fight the bad guys and right wrongs.” I got burned out of that pretty quickly because it was a constant struggle for me to get the player’s do to “the right thing” and move the plot along. I recently discovered the OCR and read the Quick Primer to Old School Gaming, and though I agree with a number of the main points (Game Balance, Ming Vase, Moose Head) I eventually decided that I’m not “old school.” This is mostly because I don’t agree with the idea that the focus should be on Player Skill rather than Character Ability; that’s a perfectly valid way to play, but it’s not what interests me. It strikes me that the emphasis there is on Role-Playing Game, and I’m more interested is a Role-Playing Game. For me, the character (and, by extension, the world he inhabits) is more important.
Saying that I want the emphasis to be on role-playing, though, brings a lot of baggage with it. I don’t mean that I want to avoid rolling dice, that Combat is my enemy, that acting ability is key, or any thing else that’s attached to “role-players.” What’s important to me is that they player assumes an identity, is presented a situation, makes a decision based on who his character is, and experiences the consequences of his actions (leading to a new situation and further decisions). This is the heart of role-playing, and all the other bits (rules, dice, acting, etc) facilitate that activity.
With that basic core established, there are lots of ways to do it. You can have quality role-playing with pretty much any system, or no system at all. You can use dice, cards, numerical stats, descriptive words — most of us have engaged in this sort of activity since we were kids laying Cops and Robbers (or whatever variation was popular with your group; my childhood was spent playing TMNT on the monkey bars).
Personally, I’m a crunchy sort of guy; I want a system that is consistent and “realistic enough” that I feel like it can model situations close to what I would expect in the real world. My reasons for this are because I believe the rules should facilitate role-playing (making a decision based on your character), and so I want rules that help express the situation (and actions and consequences) in an understandable way. When the rules model the world, and that model resembles the reality we actually live in, it becomes easier to place ourselves in our character’s shoes. When the rules are ‘realistic enough’ we can reason about our character’s actions the way we reason about our own actions, and when they’re consistent we can base our decisions on past experiences.
I do think there’s a place for DM Fiat and Rulings (rather than Rules), but I think they should be used sparingly, and only to fill in the gaps where the rules don’t accurately model reality. If your target is a mortal, a dagger to the throat should kill him, regardless of what damage rolls and hit points say. That’s a gap in the rules and should be handled appropriately. The same can and should be said in other places where the rules present non-intuitive results. But if Rules are the result of consistent Rulings (which I believe they are), there is value in developing new rules to address these gaps when we can (to the extent that it makes sense).
Those “rules to address gaps” is what this blog is directed toward. Since I know 3.X and Pathfinder that’s where most of my effort is focused currently, but I’m interested in discussing other systems as well (especially as I broaden my horizons).