There is an OSR roundtable going on at the always excellent Beyond the Black Gate, featuring a bunch of OSR personalities; go and read all of it as it’s particularly stimulating. James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, writer and purveyor or many fine RPG products, answered the following to one of the many questions asked:
“You mean the entire point of the game is to roll dice?”
An answer that made me think about action resolution and how it interacts with dice rolling, and what good action resolution is.
I wanted to make a short post and it’s becoming a long unreadable mess, so I deleted the rest and rewrote it here in a fraction of the wordlenght. Let’s start with a real-life experience.
My (30th!) birthday party, 10 players at the table, half of them never played with me before. I was half drunk, full of pizza and unbearably caffeinated, with scarce prep. Starting from a prepared location I decided to run a fast-paced post-disaster investigation, with a dash of drama, followed by humanoid hunt. Everybody had a really good time, rolled dice when appropriate and partecipated. Why?
I knew what the game was about.
Good rules/rulings use dice (or not) in ways that guide a specific game in the direction that is enjoyed most and bad rule/rulings make for a “meh” game, the variability of rulings pushing far more the boundaries for both awesome and terrible experiences and reflecting appropriately on the “”social capital” the DM can command from players.
Obviously clumsy DMs with scarce experience might want to use rules as a crutch and come up with rulings at an appropriate rate, while more DMs more expert with the game allow themselves more room for rulings. Wilder games might want rules and rulings pushing for more random outcomes and settings than adventures in Middle Earth. We don’t just roll dice: we roll dice only when we don’t manage to prepare an automatic success through other action: for example blocking a door from being opened might require a strength roll, but nailing the door shut not only is automatic but also automatically succeeds at blocking the door.
The advice for you, master of any skill and orientation, is that before you pick a set of rules or start flailing rulings left right and centre you should understand first what the f**k your particular game is about, and plan your actions accordingly. Any campaign is potentially different. Heck, that might even change depending on adventure or on players’ moods, and surely it depends on yours!
Once again, know your game, your players, yourself.