“We Didn’t Touch Dice the Whole Session!”

Role-playing games are games which involve role-playing, and that would only be a tautology if the category was consistently named. As it is, plenty of games termed RPGs can run just fine without any role-play to speak of, and plenty of role-play described in so-called RPGs lacks the structure which would allow it to fit the loosest definition of a game. Whether not an RPG is a game or involves role-play, it is certainly a product, and perceived experience sells a product as well as if not better than the actual experience that the product delivers. There is no other medium where the audience exclaims, quite positively, that they did not in any way engage with the experience as delivered to them.

When gamers state, often with happiness, that they went through a whole session without touching their dice, this is a tacit declaration that they did not engage with the game they were playing as intended; if the game did not intend for the players to roll many dice, or had no dice at all, such a declaration wouldn’t typically be made. This is not debatable, the experience of not engaging with the rules is special only insofar as the rules are there to be engaged. As much as it’s clear that the game isn’t being played as intended, what we cannot do in a blanket way is state this is a bad thing. RPGs are designed to deliver specific experiences and many of them, especially more rules-intensive games, deliver multiple specific experiences depending on the fraction of the game you’re engaging with. Looking at what players are or aren’t doing with a specific game requires which mechanics they are or are not engaging with, as well as what they’re doing in their game which isn’t in the rules and is done without touching any dice at all.

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