Bart: Only geeks sit in the front seat. From now on you sit in the back row. And that's not just on the bus. It goes for school and church, too.
Martin Prince: Why?
Bart: So no one can see what you're doing.
Martin Prince: Oooh. I think I understand. The potential for mischief varies inversely to one's proximity to the authority figure. (He shows a note where he has written: MOC 1/PA)
Bart has something Martin does not. Social intelligence. Or what we might call, in this here D&Dish context, Charisma.
Bart intuitively grasps how to handle other human beings in such a way that he can accomplish his goal of fucking around on the bus.
Martin does not. Martin needs the rule written down.
People say "RPGing is a social activity" (by which they usually mean "Hey man, fuck you, I have a social life"). (And which is usually missing the point because they are arguing with someone who is not saying "you never talk to people" they're saying "you never meet new people".)(But that's a tangent.)
Yet, ironically, it is an often-overlooked fact that RPGing is a social activity as in, if you drew a big giant Venn Diagram circle called "social activities", pen-and-paper RPG GMing would be a circle entirely inside that circle (excluding maybe prep, but you get my point).
RPGing is a subset of social activities.
RPGing is a subset of social activities where people sit around talking to each other.
RPGing is a subset of social activities where people sit around talking to each other for like 2 hours or more.
Other activities in this category include: sitting at a big table at a wedding, going to a bar, having lunch with people, Thanksgiving dinner, Superbowl Sunday.
Which means: if you are with people who you wouldn't want to do any of these things with, there's no reason to assume it will be fun.
Counter example: Soccer.
I've played a lot of pickup soccer with a lot of people I don't know.
Me and 5 people pick up a ball. We go to a green field.
We meet total strangers, also five of them.
We play soccer together.
Soccer gets played. Easy.
There are few sources of potential conflict: if somebody fouls the other team, there could be trouble--we now have to start rolling charisma. If one team is more serious and competitive overall than the other, then we might have to resort to charisma rolls. But, in general, (19 times out of 20) the fun-ness of the game is not entirely dependent on how well we get on with the other team, since soccer isn't all about talking.
Usually it works fine.
An edge-case example:
It's just you and the electronic ghosts. You don't have to talk to them at all. Your fun is completely unrelated to how well you get on with people. However, as soon as you and the other person at the laundromat decide you are having a Pac Man Tournament and whoever gets furthest wins, part of your fun will depend on the chemistry between the two of you.
First point is: a huge part of what you do in an RPG is social interaction. If you get on with people and like them it can be a blast. If you don't, it can be ok, too--you can just concentrate on you versus the "ghosts"--but a part that could be fun is less so.
So alright, moving on:
A few days ago I have this conversation. This is with someone of a GameForgey/4e-fan bent who thinks D&D doesn't have enough rules:
(We are discussing the issue of Clever Plans That Fall Outside The Rules)
It's really great when my coin idea works and it warns us of the tree elf's approach, but that relies on the DM (1) noticing the flag we're sending and (2) responding to it properly. That's a skill that takes years and years to develop, and even for a DM who has those skills, they still have off nights. So that approach means that the experience is unreliable. With an experienced DM at his best, it's a great game. With an inexperienced DM, or even an experienced DM who's tired or off his game, it's an exercise in frustration...
SomeForgeygame is a good example of how you can do this, actually. You don't need years of experience to play the ___ well. Even if you're inexperienced or having an off-night, the game's rules make sure that the game is reliably fun
It seems again like you're trying to insulate from bad GMing. This always makes a more restrictive game that attracts dumber people.
Someone Else Forgey:
He's not talking about bad DMing, he's talking about a difference of expectation between two players of a game. Neither one is being unreasonable.
I'm asking for a reliably fun game experience. My experience with D&D prior to 4E was showing up each week hoping that this would be the week that it was good, and usually being disappointed. When it was good, it was so good I'd even put up with the 90% of the time that it was just frustrating. There are games that provide a reliably fun experience.
A good gm manages expectations. A good group thinks up adult ways to negotiate them
You said: a good gm manages expectations. a good group thinks up adult ways to negotiate them Why does it take so much skill to have fun playing this game that we need a good GM and a good group? Isn't that kind of the sign of a poorly designed game? Surely a good group and a good GM could turn even the worst game into a fun experience. The real test of a good game is whether or not it can deliver a fun experience, reliably, even with new players or poor players....
I'm saying that having to accept that a game might or might not be fun, depending on who shows up to play it, is an unnecessary evil.
Do the math. Take people out of the equation. It can be done. Soccer is soccer even if I have no possible brand of communication with the other team.
And yes, there are very focused indie games (and, arguably, versions of D&D) which reduce the RPG experience down to "This game is About (huge word in dissatisfied-with-D&D circles) you being yellow and eating dots while ghosts try in turn to eat you. The other players may not jostle you while you eat ghosts, they may not place their quarters on the rim of the screen to indicate their turn is next, they may not hum The Bear Went Over The Mountain in your ear while you play though they may hum Row Your Boat, they may not declare they are 'going for fruits and not boards'."
In other words, they carve the social element of the game down to a reasonable little chunk and tell everyone what it's About so that nobody who doesn't know exactly what they are in for shows up at this party.
Which is fine. Which makes sense. I guess. If you're Martin.
The rest of us can play a wide open game where nobody at the table is sure what it will be about and just follow the Don't Be A Dick rule until you all decide what you want it to be about.
Ron Edwards calls this "Ouija board play". And disdains it. (Or did when he wrote whatever essay I'm remembering) He claims (and I believe him) to know a lot of folks--in real life--who regularly play D&D and don't have fun. I don't know any.
His old theory that each kind of player has one of a number of Goals and these determine what kind of games they can play seems to fly in the face of everything anyone who isn't Martin has noticed about people. They change what they wanna do all the time.
Some players show up ready to hit things--this is their to-themself justification for why they play this socially crippling game. But any player, given the smack and wobble of human interaction, can decide s/he wants to just sit and listen to someone else do a funny voice--or suddenly become intrigued by a puzzle, or suddenly decide they want to build a castle, or become enamored of the sound of their own silly voice.
Porn star tip!
Did you know?: People in social situations often do things they didn't come in intending to do and like it.
People who throw parties all the time know this. They have to clean up after it every 2nd friday.
This is because there has never been an illusion in anyone's mind about whether parties are a social activity.
I think, essentially, this social dimension terrifies a lot of people.
So there are all these games designed to route around the social dimension.
People who actually have a decent social circuit between them don't need a focused ruleset to tell them what to do:
When Kimberly Kane has realized that the group's Exploration of Setting is maybe interfering with her Metagame Goal of Exploring Goblin Guts you go:
"Well left or right, KK?"
"Uh..."(vague hand wave, eye roll)
..and everyone knows where KK is at.
Whereas Craigie T, experiencing the same frustration, might say
"Hurry up with the Harry Potter business, McCormick, I wanna kill shit!"
And we laugh and the players Ouija the game around and it works fine and everybody plays whenever they're off work and have 2 spare hours forever and we are happy.
That is the key here: Successful DIY D&D requires that internal conflict be resolved--or avoided--by at least a few people at the table being able to organically divide their attention between What they wanna do right now and What their friends want. This may sound exhausting, but it is also the basis of almost all successful human social interactions up to and including all the most fun ones, like going to the zoo or bowling or banging mad crazy hot sluts.
So, Martin, yes, you can chop down an RPG until it is like a pick-up soccer game and nobody has anything they have to do but get the ball in the box and nobody has to deal with anybody not being exactly into their kind of fun because if they weren't they would not have showed up to play Bianco: The Game About Being A Llama Who Attempts To Nuzzle Mice Using An Innovative Social Combat Mechanic Based On Wicker in the first place.
And it will be as reliably fun as darts or checkers. You play with your eye on the board and not ever worry about what the other human being wants.
When it is over, it will have been about what you expected it was going to be about and everyone will have been creative in the direction they were expecting to be creative and the game will totally have been satisfyingly About the desired Theme.
Or you can open the game up a little into the realm of WTF Will Happen Tonight that people have been profitably enjoying for 40 years--but then--I'm warning you now--the game becomes more of a social activity.
Will it be fun?
If you are good with your peoples, yes.
Will it be fun with strangers?
Well would you engage in any social activity requiring 2 hours of sustained conversation with strangers and assume it'll be fun?
It's a crapshoot:
Like those tables full of weirdoes at weddings, the first day of school, the first day at work, the bar on the corner and like going outside in general. Scary, I know.
(OFFENDED INDIE GAMERS AND 4Eers PLEASE READ THIS HERE NOTE WHICH I HAVE ALREADY GOTTEN AN EMAIL INDICATING AN ANGRY INDIE GAMER DID NOT READ SO I AM ADDING THIS SPECIAL GIANT TYPE BRIGHT COLORED ALL-CAPS REMINDER TO READ HERE FOR YOUR SAKE).
Rereading this before posting it, it seems like I might be suggesting the only reason people play Forgey games is out of fear of social negotiation. Obviously that isn't true. A lot of people like just playing a different kind of game. All the stuff in this could be said of 4E as well--it is a focused design made to simplify the social interaction--but people who want to play it don't necessarily want to just because they are socially inept. I myself have played and enjoyed 4e on occasion, as I repeatedly remind very stupid people. (I see you linking to this page, dude, I see you pretending it says something it does not say.)
The point is just: any critique (from any party) of Old School games on the score that they don't have enough rules (for social combat, for DM adjudication of outside-the-box contingencies, for regular combat) is bullshit. They may not have enough rules for you. But you're you. We aren't.