This morning, I had the chance to read the excellent article over at the Gnome Stew called The Real Issues With Encounter Balance. One part really stuck me was the following.
There is also a more recent trend, and one that I will attribute to the influence of d20, which is in the absence of rules, players often don’t think they can perform certain actions.
This really got me to thinking. At first, I sort of tried to dismiss the it. After all, as gamers do we not try to think outside the box? Then It struck me as very true.
When I first started playing D&D back in the 80's, the rules were not that thick or complex. There were no skills or feats. Instead there were only a few rules for surprise, combat, magic, and a few other things. Want to jump and grab a rope? There were no rules to do that, instead it was pretty much left up to the Game Master to determine that. Want to swing on chandelier on top of table and attack a few enemies, not in the rules. Even systems that had skills like Traveller had pretty bare bone rules on what you could do with those skills. It was up to the player think of something and the Game Master to come up with way to handle it.
That of course lead people to want to codify things just a little bit more. They wanted more rules on how to handle things. And sometimes they just got way to complex, yes I'm looking at you AD&D Pummel and Grappling.
As thing started to get codified more and more, I think there was a trend to think that the Game Master shouldn't make any one off rules. Without these one off ruling, people started to think if there wasn't a consistent rule in a rulebook, then it just can't be done.
That said, I do think that people are starting to swing back the other way on things. A lot of the rule lite systems have help in this matter. I think people are once again thinking that it's ok to think outside the game rule box again. Personally I hope this trend to think outside the ruleset continues.