How Difficulty Class and the D20 engine ruined roleplaying

It seemed revolutionary at the time. 3e came out and made a unified mechanic. Roll 1d20 against a target number to see if you succeed. In combat, AC is the target number. For everything else, it's a Difficulty Class [DC]. That's it. 

Some of those DCs are calculated as a function of level, opposing ability score etc. But what we also got from this system was a way of ad hoc determining the difficulty of something and then simply saying "roll against that target number to succeed". 

In its core form, this is wonderfully simple and intuitive. All you need to internalise is the size of the numbers on a d20 in relation to overall difficulty and then you can resolve basically anything with it.
The part about size of numbers has proven to be a bit of an achilles heel for d20 over the years, but that is a different point I will address further below.

No, the real point here is that there's an unintended side effect to DCs as a unified mechanic. There are other downsides to it as well that I will go into below too, but this first one is the big one. 

It turns everything in the whole gaming world into a mechanical widget. At first glance, one might think "marvellous, innit? It resolves everything." A quantum gravity theory of RPG in one simple equation. But, subtle as it may be, as it turns out this is actually something horribly insidious that tilts the game in a direction from being a roleplaying game to being a board game without the board. 

How Rolling Against DC ruined Roleplaying

Let me try to illustrate how DC turns the game from this

A world of fantasy and wonder restrained only by the imagination

into this:

Scanning for Difficulty Class
Scanning for Difficulty Class

In short - the d20 mechanic enables you to resolve everything. If everything you encounter becomes something you can interact with mechanically and assign a DC to, a widget, then you are no longer actually roleplaying in a fictious world. You are just interacting with the mechanics of a game with a thin veneer of fiction layered on top. 
Now, this fiction may be fun and appreciated by the players who may very well get their roleplaying needs satisfied by adding this on top. But it is also incidental to the game. You don't actually need it to interact with the game, even if it is always there to validate the mechanical interactions.


This is a problem when it comes to keeping our elfgames free of BadWrongFun. 
Now, the D20 player may argue that this is only true when taken to its logical extreme, most tables don't go to that far off to the end of the scale. And this is perhaps true. Let me argue for why they still go a lot further than they need or ought to:

Here is a radical proposition:

For the vast majority of cases, 
it is unnecessary to determine the difficulty of an attempt in order to resolve it.

One of the issues with DC is that it applies to stuff that it should not apply to. I submit as evidence a table from the 3.5 DMG.

If it's not obvious, let me say - this is terrible. Ridiculous even. Let's ignore the fact that according to this table a DEX10 commoner will fail 45% of the time when attempting to tie a firm knot. There should be no roll for it in the first place. 

I am using a silly (albeit RAW) example to exaggerate make my point, but the point holds true - When you have a mechanic that turns everything into a button and places that button right in front of you, the tendency becomes to push that button. 
Tying a knot is a trivial example, but where this becomes a real issue is when pushing the button placed in front of you starts replacing what should be the resolution approach for most things - Roleplaying. 
Let's imagine an example and game it out according to the old school and the D20 school. The party enters a tavern and the fighter wishes to make a good impression on the barkeep whose starting attitude as they enter is indifferent.

Old School: "I flash the barkeep my best smile, order a cup of ale and pay with a handsome tip and try to get him talking about the local rumours in a chatty friendly manner."
DM considers the scene and factors in the fighter's 14 charisma and decides that a good impression is made.
Note that this example is hardly expert roleplaying. It's just a short descriptive interaction. The player is not being asked to do 1st person improvised NLP to influence the outcome with roleplaying.

D20: "I flash the barkeep my best smile, order a cup of ale and pay with a handsome tip and try to get him talking about the local rumours in a chatty friendly manner. Actually a Persuasion roll. I roll 12, +2 from Charisma and +2 from Proficiency, so 16."
The DM gives another +2 for the handsome tip and decides 18 is good enough to make a good impression.

In the first draft of this article, I had the d20 player just roll at the start. I changed that on reflection because plenty of tables do after all do the roleplaying bit and I don't want to caricature too much here if I don't need to. And including the roleplaying bit actually illustrates the point even better - In the D20 example, the same dialogue happens but the roleplaying doesn't actually affect the outcome. 
The player end up interacting with a world of game mechanics instead of interacting with a world of fiction.

Now, some tables might demand that the player attempts to roleplay the dialogue before rolling, which is one way of keeping the roleplay alive in a world full of DC buttons to roll against, but this effectively turns it into a gatekeeping activity ("roleplay to be allowed to roll"). Others may argue they give bonuses or minuses dependent on the roleplaying (as seen above where the tip gave +2).
Both of which is still missing the fundamental point made above: 

Roleplaying is the basic resolution "mechanic" of roleplaying games. Dice rolls are there to to resolve outcomes not readily resolved through roleplaying.  

We don't actually need a game engine to determine the difficulty of most outcomes in the world. The needs are much more narrow than that. The game engine should fit those needs and get out of the way when it isn't needed. 

The D20 unified mechanic does the opposite. It's designed to resolve everything and as such inadvertently invites resolution opportunities for resolving everything (as demonstrated by the ridiculous table above). 

The net result is encouraging a push-button mentality where the players more and more begin to inhabit a world of game-mechanics with roleplaying on top, rather than a roleplaying world where mechanics briefly enter and leave in certain windows to resolve certain outcomes in the fiction. 

This is, in a nutshell, how D20 ruined roleplaying. 

Later, it would further compound this ruination by creating all kinds of mechanical widgets that are clearly designed to interact with its own world of mechanics rather than the world of fiction, but this is a topic for a follow-up rant.

Back to the topic of task resolution and how D20 seems really elegant but actually sucks massive balls. 

How to resolve tasks without ruining roleplaying

Here is another proposition:

For the cases where one does need to determine difficulty,
a resolution factor of 3-4 degrees will suffice.

Another issue with the D20 unified mechanic is the d20 itself. With a granularity ranging from 1 to 20, it doesn't really lend itself that well to gauging the numbers in relation to difficulty. Let's look at a table from the 5e DMG:

This is obviously much simplified from the 3.5 Dmg and for good reason. What is a 13 really and how much harder is it than 10 and how much easier is it than 15? Let's just round it. This also makes it tricky to work with modifiers in an intuitive way. How much weight does a +1 really have, or +3, in a system that habitually rounds to the nearest 5 anyway just because the smaller numbers don't say much for the roll anyway.

Below this table, we're even told "If the only DCs you ever use are 10, 15, and 20, your game will run just fine". 

Now, I actually very much agree with the KISS intent of this paragraph. My issue with it is that it demonstrates why d20 is a bad resolution for this kind of mechanic in the first place. If the game runs just fine with 3 increments of "Easy, Moderate and Hard", why are we rolling a die with a granularity of 20 increments?

The answer seems to be because the derived stats from ability scores and proficiency are scaled to a d20. Well, just derive some new ones from those numbers then. No, because we want a unified mechanic. Well, here's another argument for not having a unified mechanic then. It's clearly not the best tool for the job.

With all these things in mind, what's the better alternative then? Here's my radical proposition:

A "roll under" ability check + assorted other mechanics

Yes, the old school ability check.
"But Anders", the frustrated reader remonstrates, "That is still a d20 roll!"
Yes, but the d20 die here doesn't have the flaws it does in the D20 unified mechanic, since we are not working with increments on the die to establish difficulty. There is a fundamental difference in approach however, that gives us a baseline for a resolution mechanic that we actually want to have: 
  • With the D20 unified mechanic, you roll against the situation and apply ability modifiers
  • With the "Roll Under" Ability check, you roll against your own ability and apply situational modifiers
This avoids the inadvertent effect of DCs creating a world of mechanical widgets to interact with, because you aren't rolling against those. On the contrary, you are rolling against the one constant mechanic component always present in the game - Your own character sheet. 
This simply preserves the a priori state of affairs true of any roleplaying game from character creation - The character has stats already. The world doesn't. 

"Situational modifiers" can be resolved very simply, with three simple categories (much like the 5e DMG suggests the D20 mechanic should be pidgeon-holed into):
  • Challenging
  • Challenging but with favourable circumstances
  • Very Challenging
This baseline is different to what the 5e DMG suggests, since I hold that anything less than "challenging" shouldn't need rolls - This is where roleplaying should be able to determine the outcomes just fine (if it doesn't, let's treat it as the player making it challenging for himself with his roleplaying and end up rolling). And it is very easy to resolve mechanically, thanks to the most elegant of 5e mechanics: 
  • Challenging - a standard roll under ability check
  • Challenging but with favourable circumstances - same, but with advantage on the roll.
  • Very Challenging - same, but with disadvantage on the roll.
This I find to have a satisfactory level of granularity for just about any scenario. It avoids having to assign mechanic modifiers to each component influencing the scenario and assess it in a way very similar to how you would in the fiction: "Given all this, is this challenging or very challenging?"
One may consider adding a "nearly impossible" category for those rare occasions, to which I would give a -4 modifier on top of disadvantage.
Probabilitywise, this makes each step more or less an increment of 25% (incidentally, again, what the 5e DMG would like to pidgeonhole the D20 DCs into).

For more on the elegance of thebability check and why it actually charts really well with B/X' near-universal 2in6 roll and old-school ability score modifiers, see Using Ability Checks in B/X.

Of course, this creates problems for systems that employ Ability score increases, as D&D 3e+ does. For those, I would use some form of Action Throw mechanic, somewhat adjusted for the fact that ability scores will go higher than in TSR D&D. Or for 5e, maybe 8+proficiency+ability score modifier. Someone else will need to do the math on that.

Riding check DC 25 to appease a horse clearly fed up with it all

Assorted Mechanics

There are other issues with the D20 mechanic as a universal task resolution. This article is getting long, so I am just going to list them here and then briefly go through each before explaining why "assorted other mechanics" is the better choice over a unified mechanic.
  • Gradated vs binary outcomes
  • Linear vs bell curve distribution of outcomes
  • Turning situations that aren't really contests of skill into contests of skill
Gradated vs Binary outcomes
Another thing the d20 mechanic handles poorly is determining gradated outcomes. Rolling against a target number tends to encourage binary outcomes, best reflected of course by attacks and saves. And d20 rulesets don't seem to do much to discourage this mentality. In a unified mechanic, why should ability rolls behave differently. To its credit, the 5e DMG does discuss the option of Success at a Cost (the 3.5 DMG simply discusses degrees of failure). But it is all in all a tertiary aspect and one the mechanic does not suggest towards.

Linear vs bell curve distribution of outcomes
There are also times where you don't actually want a linear distribution of outcomes. Modifiers, as well as the advantage mechanic, can tilt that towards high or low results, but how do you resolve something that leans towards the middle and makes very high or very low results a lot less likely?

The OSR has come up with some excellent solutions for both issues. Adapting the reaction table to an all-purpose resolution track.

Alternatively, I would consider using a d8 with 1 being terrible, 2-3 poor, 4-5 qualified success, 6-7 unqualified success and 8 fantastic. 5 outcomes distributed over 8 increments are close enough to each other that any modifier applied should be easy to grog and we have a normal distribution of the three middle outcomes that make up 75% of outcomes and the two outliers taking up 25% of outcomes.

Turning situations that aren't contests of skill into contests of skill
Another issue with d20 is that it tends to turn events that aren't actually contests of skill into contests of skill. The most notorious example is social ones that somehow turn into "social combat" where the player is trying to "overcome" his targets will or some such, rather than swaying him. I've written before on why this is a bad idea and how such situations should be resolved.

A note in all this concerning unified vs assorted mechanics: As far as the player is concerned, they are not exposed to all these assorted other mechanics. With the suggestions given (and there are many other ways of doing this), their complexity level has only changed from "d20 unified mechanic" to "d20 roll high for combat/saves and d20 roll under for ability checks." Overall, I'd call that simpler, since they don't need to fidget with modifiers on those ability checks anymore.

If you really want that player-facing unified mechanic, you could always use Target20 instead of roll-under for ability checks, but I wouldn't like to, since it invites the question "why not target25 for this situation?" etc. and I'd really want the mechanic to emphasise that you are simply rolling against your own ability score and the situation only determines how you roll against it. 

Read Magic would reveal invisible glyphs on the archway spelling "Spot Check DC 15"


Over the course of this article, I've tried to show 
  • why the D20 mechanic ruins roleplaying by tilting play towards interacting with mechanics over fiction
  • why it is a poor fit for task resolution in general due to the increments of the d20
  • why using it as a universal mechanic is a poor fit for a lot of situations where you want non-binary or non-linear outcomes
  • and how it distorts situations that aren't really contests of skill into being so, in the name of unified mechanics.
And I think any sane person who has read to the end would now agree that the d20 mechanic should die in a fire. It was an interesting experiment. Maybe we are all better off for having tried it. But we are not better off for persisting with it.


  1. This made me think and made me laugh, too. However, I think it's important to factor in table-culture issues as well. Some of these problems do flow from the d20 system design, I think, but others instead reflect habits of play (which, arguably, may or may not be common). For example, take the example of the d20 player entering the tavern, RPing for a bit, and then moving straight to a Persuasion roll. At my table, at least, they'd better wait for the GM to confirm whether they need the roll and may proceed with it. (I remember once being asked by a player, "Can I use Stealth to climb down the well?" "No," I said, "No, you may not. You can use a rope to climb down the well."
    For the sake of argument, one could counter-propose that an OSR game with "bad" play culture could see a PC walk into a tavern, RP for a bit, and then have the player say "Ok, I'm rolling under my Charisma now to see whether they work with me." In other words, it's not ONLY system design getting in the way there.

    I do think that the sliding DC scale that is inherent to d20 design does cause some problems, though. I'm just finishing up running a PF2e campaign, and yoikes, I'm sick of thinking about setting DCs when there isn't already one set in ink in front of me.

    Cheers. :-)

    1. It's a give and take of course, though I think RabidHobbit below makes an excellent point about how the game nudges tables in certain directions.

      I'm glad you caught the humor in my elfgame analysis as well x-D

    2. Yeah, it's really DM-specific. The d20 system has an issue with using character sheets to overcome obstacles, but it's mainly because of DMs who allow their players to run roughshod over their games by declaring all the rolls they are trying to make. That's not how the game is supposed to work.

      D&D, regardless of edition, plays as such: The DM describes a situation > the players decide an action to take in the situation > the DM arbitrates that action (calling for a specific roll or just deciding an outcome if no roll is warranted) and communicates the new situation back to the players > the players choose a new action based on developments > DM arbitrates, etc.

      None of that process is system-dependent beyond what specific die to roll against which target number, which is really just semantics (is roll d20 and add something really that different from roll d6 and add something?).

      "Nudging the table" towards certain playstyles is similarly, again, entirely DM-dependent. A good DM can wrangle their players, can shape situations to be solved beyond a single dice roll, and can encourage the type of play they want to see in their game. Amateur DMs have a hard time doing this because they only know how to run the game straight from the book, and the books are famously bad at explaining how to "actually play" D&D.

  2. You had me until roll-under... I'm actually joking, because you can always substitute roll-under with another set of mechanics. It's true that I don't like roll-under for various reasons, but they aren't related to the core idea in your post, and I do wholeheartedly agree with the problems you raise with the unified d20 vs DC roll. Especially the fact that the granularity adds nothing to the game, but nobody seems to realize this until they play a different game for the first time. I feel that "simulating situations" and "realism" are possibly the reasons designers can't let go of the d20, but they're fools gold.

    It does make D&D port to video game engines really well, though!

    Reading through your post has me considering whether any game artifact that has players looking at a piece of paper, book or device instead of into each others' eyes (when that would be sufficient) is taking the game in the wrong direction. Like your example of the 3.5 DC modifiers table is an example, "Hold on, I remember the manual tells us what the DC is for avoiding being being tripped by a wolf, let me just find that table so we can resolve this." You can tell the 3E designers' headspace was very firmly in the "simulate everything to be rollable" mindset.

    Even knowing this, I can sometimes momentarily fall into this way of thinking when I play 5E, which is one of the reasons I stay away from modern D&D or any other d20 game as much as possible. It's really weird how much the system pushes in that direction, even though you can definitely avoid it (as Gundobad said).

    Maybe some of us with overly analytical minds need systems that just don't support this kind of thing at all. I agree that it's 50% the d20 mechanic and 50% the way it's used at the table, but it's much easier to fix or replace a mechanic than to use social means to influence how people use it. Or for myself, to not even have the temptation to turn an encounter into a pointless simulation.

    1. I like your point about direction - of course it is possible to steer a game in other directions, but it still matters which directions the game itself invites you to go in.

      I ran a short B/X session not long ago where a player sheepishly queried "... any chance of an Insight check here?" I didn't even need to say anything, he moved on himself because he knew full well that it's just not that kind of game.

      Conversely, I've also found myself doing the same in 5e games, even though it's not really how I would most like to play. Because it's presented clearly and obviously on the palette of solutions for the game. "Push the button" - I'd rather play a game that guides me in a better direction than one I need to exercise restraint in to make work.

      "any game artifact that has players looking at a piece of paper, book or device instead of into each others' eyes (when that would be sufficient) is taking the game in the wrong direction. "

      The topic of skills in RPGs is yet another topic for a future rant! :D

      On the flipside of this, I really am more and more appreciating how ability scores work as "narrative modifiers." Sure, they are on the sheet, but not so much as a "can I do this?" entry as much as a "What is more character like?"

  3. D&D is really needlessly complicated. Pathfinder has removed useless Ability Scores and ditched the restricting Schools of Magic and Alignment, and the remaster is going to be a better game for it! But for D&D it's part of their brand, so they'll continue the tradition.

    Also, it was fun reading about a d20 roll-under system that you only roll when necessary when I've been a big Mausritter fan for years now 🤣

    1. Who the fuck still uses alignment as a mechanic in their games ???

    2. I do and plenty others. I find the three-way alignment an excellent frame for the kind of fantasy D&D engages in.

    3. I went and took a look at mausritter this morning. What a delightful little game.

      I was immediately struck by the "save mechanic" - It really speaks into my own thoughts I wrote about in my latest post ( about baseline and how such a roll sits right next to the Saving Throw's dramatic space.

      It strikes me as a modern and conceptually very clear iteration of old-school D&D. But with mice.

  4. This is what I'd call mechanical illusionism. The matrix (all those bits of cascading code) is always there, you just have to try to see the virtual world, rather than the code.

    You're not supposed to focus on that magic "unified theory" button. It's only there, as an extremely useful mechanical tool, when the GM needs it. The players should be even less focused on it. Maintain the roleplaying, immersion, and have the GM roll the d20 himself if systems keep getting in the way.

    1. Those are fine precepts. And as discussed above, table culture can surely compensate for much of this.

      None of which I think detracts from the criticisms of the game structure as being one that invites itself to be used in this manner and ends up shaping table culture at a lot of tables.
      And that there are games that do not invite themselves to be used in such a manner and end up shaping table culture differently.

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks noisms. I'll take that as a feather in my cap.

  6. I like how one of the memes is quite literally one of the worst types of players imaginable but you use it to explain why die rolls stop roleplaying.

    No no no. Assholes stop good roleplaying, not dice.

    BTW do you know WHY we ask for die rolls in conversations ? Because if not, then who says if something works or doesn't ? It's the fucking DM. I do not want to be judge Dredd on every single action my players want to take, I want luck to be part of it too.

    If I remove die rolls, something or someone else has to be the one deciding if something fails and I don't want anyone to have that kind of power. I want it left to chance, with modifiers that the players input themselves into their sheet to represent how good or bad their character is at something.

    1. Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of using dice for many things that WoTC D&D has done away with. Reaction rolls, morale, random encounters, character generation. Rolling dice is a great way of exploring the world instead of simply determining it.

      I think you are arguing against something different than what I actually wrote though, not to mention missing the tongue-in-cheek of that meme.

      I am saying there is a lot of rolls that don't need to be made because a bit of roleplaying would ensure success. Hell, I am even suggested that if you can't do that, you can always roll to try and succeed anyway. All those situations where failure is meaningfully on the table (ie, something actually challenging), I still call for rolls on, unless the players can somehow roleplay their way past that as well (but that is not expected).

      It's about ensuring roleplay has a meaningful consequence in the world. And what kind of games point in that direction and which ones point away from that. I've seen plenty of good gamers fall into habits, good and bad, the game at hand encourages. Nothing to do with assholes vs dice.

    2. You dont want that much power? Too bad that deciding when to roll, the effects of success and failure, and the difficulty of the roll itself (which runs on an honor system unless you say it out loud anyway) is supreme power. I strongly dislike roll under skill checks, but that method is better, and payers need an idea of the consequences of success and failure.

      I run games with very minimal skill rolls and try to be transparent with what rolls are about. Making actions and their consequenses clear results in less power than deciding odds and consequences in secret and pretending to be neutral about it. Because setting odds is not neutral, you must make a judgement on how likely something is to succeed. Setting odds 5% in the way you want, the difference between dc 16 and 15, is worse than usual casino odds. Like a casino, the DM always wins in the long run. Its better not to pretend otherwise, so you at least have to be honest and accountable.

    3. The DM does not always win:
      -The only way to 'win' at dnd/ttrpgs is by having fun
      -The DM must have players in order for play to commence
      -Barring external circumstances (non-game related), if the DM runs a game that is not fun/fair he will lose his players
      -No players means no play, no play means there exists no opportunity for the DM to have fun, and the DM will summarily have lost the game.

      And, while fun may be very subjective, a game that is run fairly and honestly is certainly conducive to an enjoyable experience.

  7. I had a heated argument once about roll over and under. With DC's generally the DM doesn't state the number out loud, atleast in my experience. Which makes it easy to hand wave. With roll under the target is on your page. Great Post

    1. When my thoughts on all this were just starting to gestate, one of my initial impulses was that the old roll-under ability roll was too simplistic for the variety of scenarios one comes up again.

      Now I consider it to have just the right level of resolution once you have the baseline of "this is challenging, so roll".

      Fighting Fantasy is an excellent proof of the concept. I never considered a roll against "Skill" anything less than trepidatious, even though I almost always had 9+ on the sheet (and thus would succeed 83% of the time - equivalent of a ~17 score on a d20). The very fact that a Skill roll was called for told me this was a dangerous moment and I should be thankful if the dice fall my way. The baseline is baked in.

    2. Exactly. One thing I've heard is some DMS will have players roll under with 3d6 if it's hard or 2d6 if it's easier. Rather than a d20. Part of the problem with the mechanic of roll under in old school dnd is that a natural 20 is a failure. Which goes against everything in people's brains. Gawd I miss fighting fantasy.

  8. Entertaining read, but I didn't see anywhere in the article a discussion of "take 10" and "take 20" mechanics. Which I guess makes sense because as elegant as those make the d20 system, even most d20-running DMs aren't aware of them. TL;DR, "taking 10" what most people in the game are assumed to be doing most of the time...if they're unhurried and there's no real pressure, you can assume they get a 10 on their whatever-check. "Taking 20" is being meticulous and slowly searching, carefully crafting, steadily straining...if there are no time pressures and no negative consequences to failure, then you let the player take 20x the normal amount of time to perform the check and you assume it was a 20 on the die. Obviously, those ifs are pretty vital, and of course taking 20 imposes costs only if you properly follow EGG and carefully track time. Still, it removes most of the mechanical objections to the d20 system.

    Storygaming objections, of course, are subjective but completely valid if that's an issue for your tables.

    1. I am aware of take 10/20 and did consider it mentioning it for the purpose of this post.

      I decided against it because it was a strictly 3e artifact and doesn't actually change anything about my point. it's still a widget, just a "pre-rolled" one

  9. I realize your title, about "ruining roleplaying," is hyperbole, to make a point, and I even agree with much of what you wrote... but you surely know that there are hundreds of other roleplaying games out there that do things in different ways. Your discussion makes it seem that D&D is all there is or was.

    The problem you're describing began decades before 3e, with other games, and has been solved and re-solved in various ways already. And, as you say, "Dice rolls are there to to resolve outcomes not readily resolved through roleplaying." That can be applied even by people who use DCs. One solution, then, is for play-groups not to roll for so much stuff.

    Your argument is basically the old "role-playing not ROLL-playing" argument from the '80s, but you assign all the blame to the rule of DCs and d20s for resolution. Or am I missing something?

    1. D&D is in many ways a world unto itself within the wider world of RPG - That is at least how I largely treat it in my discussions on this blog, since the audience is mainly D&D gamers.

      So when I say it "ruined roleplaying" (I suppose at this point I should state, there is some tongue planted in the cheek throughout the post), I mean that it took the D&D game in that direction, compared to previous editions.

      And I should add, my meaning here is not "ruined roleplaying [games as a whole]", but a more direct "ruined [the] roleplaying [that could be happening at the table]".

      And I don't lay ALL the blame on the D20 engine for that.
      I consider the character build mini-game a far more egregious development (touched on here,, though in a different context). Incentivising players to plan out your PC's future mechanical development is definitely a deeper entrenchment into the world of mechanics over fiction than DC.
      Game widgets that exist primarily in reference to other game mechanics with little connection to the fiction is another one I will surely rant about at some point too.

      I also have rants pent up about B/X and AD&D waiting to be written - I am an equal opportunity critic. :-p

      When I point the finger at the DC mechanic, it's because it's perhaps a largely overlooked element of the fiction-vs-mechanics dynamic (or roll-vs-role-playing as you put it) within the D&D sphere.

      For sure, table culture can arrest the tendencies I describe. It is not written in stone. A more focused conceptualisation of DC/d20 could perhaps achieve something similar (though I still favour the old ability check for a more narrow baseline for rolling).
      I am more talking more about how the game invites tables to play in certain ways.

      I do appreciate, and also occasionally play, other games, though I rarely discuss them here. D&D, in some form or other, will nonetheless always be closest to my heart, warts and everything.

    2. Thanks for the thoughtful answer. No need to defend your preferences, and I did understand the humor. :) You'll be glad to know that your complaints are not alone, though. As I mentioned, the reliance on dice in place of "playing it out" was a bugbear for gamers and game-designers already in the '80s. Still, even for those gamers whose imaginations are filled especially by dungeons and dragons, and maybe especially for them, it's worthwhile to look at how other games solved the problems that peeve the players of D&D about their rules of choice.

      For what it's worth, I'm with you in the criticism of the early D&D ability scores. Except as a guide for role-playing (not negligible), they are basically useless. A roll-under d20 makes the most sense to me, if you aren't going to change it more.

      I look forward to more rants from you. Unleash the hounds!


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