In my post yesterday, I said:
The fact that the DM doesn't roll for very much is a bit annoying for me, though. I'm not the sort of gamer that thinks, "Man, I wish I was rolling the dice more often!" So maybe I'm not the target audience. But after over three decades of games where the GM rolls to hit and saves for the monsters, this seems a bit meh to me. I mean, it allows for your ability scores to replace a separate AC number, but why not just let the DM roll?I probably should have worded that better and taken a bit more time to organize my thoughts.
Of course no one's playing RPGs thinking the main draw of play is rolling dice. Granted, I think I've read things from WotC before about wanting to give the players more chances to roll dice. That talk was related to their idea that every character should be a vital and integral part of combat in the game. Which is a whole different topic I've touched on before and I won't go into now. Suffice it to say, if rolling dice is your thing, pure dice games are what you should be playing. Craps. Yatzee. Race track board games.
No, the real reason someone would design a game where the game master rolls as little as possible is because there's a deep distrust of the game master to be a fair arbiter of the rules and even more so a failure of trust to be a fair arbiter of things that fall OUTSIDE the rules.
Again, I'm reminded of the stories of Dave Arneson's original Blackmoor campaign I read in Playing at the World. Coming from table-top war gaming, where a neutral referee would take spoken or written orders and then spend time consulting charts and rolling dice to find the results of the miniature battle taking place, Dave seemed to do most of the die rolling himself. Gary Gygax may have also done a lot more rolling for the players in the original Greyhawk campaign.
In a turn based war game, it's probably not a big problem to pause the game for however long it takes the ref to make all the moves and resolve all the attacks in a round. But in an RPG, it's a big burden to put on one person. Especially when it's not that hard to have the players make their own rolls. Add in several decades of play in which some people experience poor and/or arbitrary game mastering, it's not surprising that there is a push to put more of the onus on the players themselves to roll the dice and determine their own fates.
But it's a move that I reject. Maybe it's because I've mostly played under good game masters in my many years of gaming. I could have been lucky not to have had too many poor DMs. Or maybe it's that I don't have a problem dropping a game if I don't like the DM's style. People stuck with little or no choice of games to join have to put up with it, I guess.
Still, I find it odd that there's this push -- both at big companies like WotC (well, big being relative to the size of the hobby) and from the Indie crowd -- to try to neuter the game master. WotC does it by trying to spell out all the rules in lawyerly fashion so that players can litigate away a bad DM. Indie gamers seem to do it by trying to eliminate or divide the role of the referee to avoid concentration of power.
It's this second goal at play in The Black Hack. It's this idea that "to be fair" means the players must accept their own fates by rolling everything themselves. However, this very idea might lead to a deep distrust of the game master. And what good does that server? If you can't trust them to be fair at rolling the dice (and from personal experience, if I'm going to fudge die rolls, it's going to be in the players' favor), can you trust them to be fair at descriptions of the game world? Can you trust them to be fair with scenario/adventure/encounter design?
Yes, poor DMs may use things like quantum ogres or railroads or too much fudging of dice. And yes, it can suck for a player. But by taking away things like the ability to roll the dice from the referee, it won't help the problem ref to improve. Getting good at anything requires practice. It requires making mistakes. And if the game master is never directly testing the probabilities of the scenarios they run, they won't be getting as good a practice or making as many mistakes as they otherwise would. So their growth as a game master will be stunted. And I think that may be a bigger problem. Instead of a few spoiled sessions while the game master learns the ropes leading to fair to average sessions and eventually good sessions, you'll end up with a lifetime of mediocre sessions.