As per always, I do not always put what I am trying to say in the clearest of terms. Occasionally anger does that to me. Thanks to the responses, I've had some more stuff to chew on. I'll try to work it out a bit better this time. First acknowledgements-
@Matt: Excellent points, enjoyed the blog, thought I'd stick around. Your bit about the beddernaut is the exact type of thing that I love. That's what I want to see in every campaign, if not every session.
@Mark: The thing is the swimming example is both excellent and terrible. I might know how to swim (freestyle, backstroke, doggystyle, missionary...wait a second...), and my character does not. The point is that my character should at least be able to TRY to swim. There may be a massive penalty, but the character should be able to try it.
The point I was trying to make, and I did so rather poorly is that there is a difference between the rules and the background. Hell with it, I'm just going full out wargamer here, Crunch and Fluff.
Crunch is hard rules. I love me some hard rules. The thing is though, hard rules are not the be-all end-all in a RPG. The thing is that you cannot be married to the rules in a RPG.
Fluff is background, and story, and character stuff. This is far more important then hard rules in an RPG. In a wargame, the only reason you need to kill something is that it belongs to the other guy. Fluff is extra, its superfluous. An RPG without fluff is nothing more then a small scale combat system that doesn't really work out.
The problem is where do you divide the two? That's where I have the problem most of the time. In a wargame, I want rules that are hard and fast with no wiggle room. In a RPG, I want lots of wiggle room. The thing is that I put the emphasis in both as GAME. They are both doing the same thing (beat the bad guys!) but in very different ways.
A wargame is a tactical experience, with very broad strokes that are (supposed to be) very clear cut.
An RPG is a romantic experience, painted in loving detail with rules that are designed to allow the most freedom.
They are different, but I have a massive background in both. Love me the RPG, love me the wargame. There's a bleed over from one to another, though. That's where I draw the line. I play RPGs like wargames, and wargames like RPGs.
The thing that will always be a problem is the metagame. The metagame in wargame is straight forward, know your rules, know your opponent, seek the loopholes, spam effective units, use the math to your advantage, and knowledge is power. In an RPG it is much more evasive, character knowledge vs. player knowledge, rules vs. story, player's play style vs. GM's play style.
That's where I get into trouble. I will always use the straight forward wargame metagame, every time. That's what gets me into trouble, and creates needlessly long responses that require much clarification. Allow me to elaborate for my RPG playing friends, then counter point with an explanation for my wargaming buddies (huzzah for synonyms).
The Wargamer's Metagame:
Know Your Rules- This is an absolute must. If you don't know the rules, you will not have a great play experience. Granted your friend teaching you the game will not take advantage of your lack of rules knowledge, but most people are not going to point out that you are not including your all your advantages. Its not in their best interest for them to do so. It's an oppositional system, they all are.
Know Your Opponent- If you know someone's playing style, then you are one step closer to winning. If you know they tend to press an advantage too far, you can trick them into making an error. This can win you games.
Seek the Loopholes: A loophole in the rules is an advantage. It might be something as simple as an equipment choice that no one else takes, to a specific odd build that normally isn't allowed, but is under certain conditions. Your opponent will not expect these, and that is an advantage to be pressed. Oddly enough, I learned this lesson in an RPG from another character's paladin (Jean-Luc Stormslayer, I'm looking squarely at you!).
Spam Effective Units- If one thing beats down your opponent, then two is better. Six is bestest. Why take something that dies easily? More killing for better points.
Use Math to your Advantage- This is key. Crunch the numbers before you sit down to play a game. Figure out what is cheapest and most effective for the game you are playing. It might be some simple mathhammering, or it might be as complex as figuring out the dollar cost to buy the unit compared to how many points you get for it to how many points it kills on average.
Knowledge is Power- Durrrr. Seriously, if I know everything about the rules for my army, the rules for your army, and I can figure out what units you always leave in reserve, then I can make better choices which means that I win more games.
The RPG Metagame:
Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge- To be honest, this one is one that I've always struggled with. Without sitting down and RPing out ever waking second of character's life there is no way to know what that character knows. I generally assume if its in a rulebook, your character knows it. Of course, that might be wrong. I've had numerous PCs try to work out the secret of gunpowder (or in one notable game where there was gunpowder-nitroglycerin.)
Rules vs. Story- How far do you let the rules go? Do you forbid actions due to the rules, or allow them due to the story? Personally, I like the Rule of Cool, if it is awesome, I'll allow it.
Player's Play Style vs. GM's Play Style- This is another loaded issue. In each game I play, I take my player's styles into account. If I am a player, I have to adjust my way of playing to the GM that I am playing with. Everyone is a bit different. My buddy Po is a take no prisoners type of DM with a nasty streak, whereas my friend Warlock is a story telling sandbox DM, my oldest friend Doug is a start where you will lets see where it ends up type of DM, my other buddy Zack is a very philospohical GM for story teller. Each type of game I play with them I play very differently. When I am being the DM/GM/ST what have you, I know that in my normal game groups that Tom will ineptly play a glass cannon who can barely remember the rules-but loves making things go boom, Megan will play an odd character with lots of personality, and Po will find every loop hole in the game to make a killing machine (if I let him). So I have to play a very different type of game that allows each one of them to enjoy the game.
Now, I probably muddied up the waters a bit with this explanation. Let me highlight some of the problems that result from my particular stances when it comes to RPGs.
1. Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge- I fucking hate this one. Seriously, the most frustrated I ever was in an RPG was because of this. I was playing with a new DM in a pre-made dungeon. The way to open a door was to light some torches for the eight schools of magic in a certain order. Due to playing for years, I knew exactly what we had to do. I knew the schools of magic. I told the rest of the gang the key to it, and the DM told me that my character (a thief) would not have that information. Since I had said it, but no one could act on it, we got stuck. No further. Never went back to that game. I don't want to be stopped from sharing. If you want to give another character credit for it, fine, but I figured it out, even if my character didn't. That's one thing that Mark had mentioned. If I am playing a dumbass with a Int score of 3, it shouldn't effect our ability to work the game. I've had DM's that have wanted me to roll to see if my character could figure out what I did. That's a game breaker.
2.Rules vs Story- The last sentence leads to this one. Stats are only part of a character, part of the story. My character's lack of knowledge should not penalize me. Like I said, if you want to give credit to the wizard instead of the barbarian, fine. However, the rules are a framework to give an outline to the story. I never want to be told that I cannot do something unless it is physically impossible for my character to do it. I might not succeed, but I should be able to try.
3. Know Your Rules- Damn straight. I expect people to have a grasp of the rules. I expect them to have some basic working knowledge of what they can do. I give leeway to the neophytes, but vets I expect more. Use those rules to build the character you want to play. Even Bognar Bloodaxe, the most carefully constructed killing machine I ever had the pleasure of killing was built and crafted from rules to help create a character.
4. Knowledge is Power- At the end of the night, when I come home my wife says; 'Did you have a good timing playing your game tonight?'. She doesn't say; 'Did you have a rewarding collaborative storytelling experience?'. Roleplaying Games are games. There are no winners and losers. Bullshit. There is a loser, The DM. The DM should lose. That's the thing. The DM provides a framework and a reason to go out and do something, but it's a bit of a newspeak double-talk. This is the real power knowledge that some people forget. Do I like building out that story? Hells yes. The point is that it is a game. If someone leaves me a way to get more knowledge, I will use that. It might be as simple as reading the campaign guide, or reading the novels associated with the world. There are times though when shear buffonary leads me to more knowledge. You leave a map sitting IN PLAIN SIGHT. I'm going to use that knowledge. If you didn't want me to know that, then you wouldn't have left it out. I'm not going to go digging through your bag, but if you leave it out on the table, well, that's your problem.
5. Know Your Opponent- This is one that I take I abuse all the time. It's the whole Player Style vs. DM style thing, but worse. I can do it, I just can't do it on the fly. For instance, Warlock, my old HS DM ran something recently, and I updated a character and went to town. We ended up defeating something that we really weren't supposed to. Whoops. I wasn't thinking about his story telling sandbox and building an alliance or getting information, I was thinking about his tendency to make things up on the fly and short changing his villains. I knew that if we pressed on, we'd kill it, easily. We probably ended up loosing some valuable information from that encounter, but eh, we killed it dead.
The thing is that I like to do things that are fun, for me. I work that into every game I play. In a RPG the crunch is built to support the fluff, and in a wargame, the fluff is built to support the crunch. Its a dichotomy of games. The thing is in the RPG I want to do stuff that isn't explicitly covered in the crunch. That's why I'm playing an RPG rather then a wargame. Well, I think I've elaborated enough, and I got some new spray paint to check out. Terrain on Monday!