John Wick, the author of Play Dirty, just wrote up an interesting blog post where he attempts to draw the line between board games and RPGs.
I’ll try to sum up what he’s saying: If a game can be successfully played without roleplaying, it is not an RPG (e.g. Chess), if it can’t it is an RPG (e.g. Call of Cthulhu). Thus D&D editions 1 through 4 (5e does have a tiny mechanic to promote roleplaying) are not RPGs.
Moreover, rules are only in the way unless they facilitate one of two things:
- Reward choices which are consistent with the characters motivations.
- Further the story.
In conclusion: In a true RPG, game balance does not matter, only spotlight.
It’s certainly possible to quibble with Johns line of reasoning, but that doesn’t make it less insightful. I, for one, have endured endless hours of discussion trying to iron out the perceived imbalances introduced by a single spell, say Lead Blades. Imagine spending that time in the spotlight instead, advancing an intriguing plot? Regrettably, I can’t reclaim that time, but I can definitely try to avoid making these mistakes in the future. Avoiding half of them would be awesome, too!