Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Tale of Two Tweets - Elite Gamers, Play-Styles, and "Winning at D&D"

Very recently on Twitter I saw a tweet from a new player. This player was bubbling with excitement over an upcoming D&D session, the first one for them. The player in question had gone all out, the elaborate backstory, they purchased a cool notebook with fantasy flair, custom dice, a mini for their character, all the swag that a D&D player could want. 

And then they live tweeted updates as they were playing. Their enthusiasm was palpable. Obviously smitten with the gaming experience, this player was sharing their joy with the Twitter world. And this particular player was quite obviously of the “new school” of D&D players, narrative focused, character focused, and all in for the Critical Role style gaming experience.

The responses to their tweets were heartwarming, all round support, “you go girl”, “so happy for you”, “you are doing D&D right” sort of responses (I am approximating the wording here as I can’t find the original tweet now). 

Just to be clear, the kind of game I run is not the narrative focused, player centric kind of game that this player was in. One of the central features of early edition D&D (the kind I run) is that it is deadly. Showing up day one with an elaborate backstory, mini, custom dice and a journal for a 1st level PC would be a big risk. We don’t have frequent character deaths in my game, but they certainly happen. 

I wouldn’t, however, turn this player away. Every new player to my game is told the basics of how we play, and one part of that is the lethality of the game. I’m not giving you plot armor because you spent a lot of money and time on your new PC. That’s not how we roll. I would definitely give them a few breaks in the first session or two, as they don’t know the system well enough to avoid the standard pitfalls of a new PC. So they would get “plot armor” of a kind for a session or two, in that I would let them change certain decisions if they had deadly consequences. It isn’t cool to “aha!” someone who knows little about the game.

But once they had a few sessions under their belt it would be business as usual. If the dice say you are dead, you are dead. 

D&D can be played in a lot of different ways. Narrative focused, player-centric D&D can be a blast. When you invest significantly in your PC the immersion and emotional rewards of survival and success, even the very experience of moving through the game world, can be fantastic. For a brief period of time many years ago I played this way. I explored the lore of the game world between sessions, thought about what my PC was doing all the time. I developed aspects of their personality that had little tactical impact on the game, just because it was fun to flesh out the character. 

Narrative focused, character based D&D can be a hoot, it’s not what I like now, but I have zero issue with those who choose to play this way, and I warmly encourage people to play this way if it is to their liking.

Now, to be clear, over 35 years of gaming I’ve seen a lot of different player types, and honestly, any player can be a pain. I’ve played with narrative focused, character based players who were absolutely toxic. I’ve seen grown adults red-faced and screaming at the DM over the loss of a PC. I’ve watched players completely ignore other players in favor of their PC, I’ve seen games grind to a halt because one player insisted on pursuing one aspect of their character’s story to the exclusion of other player’s wants. I’ve seen campaigns derail and dissolve because one story focused, character based player wanted the game to be all about them.

Play style doesn’t determine if you are a good player to sit at the table with.

Surprisingly, there was a lack of crusty old grognards chastising this player for their enthusiasm. I expected one of the “old school” types like myself to respond to their tweet with derision, “this post is pure cringe”, “aren’t they precious”, “they wouldn’t last 10 seconds at my table”, “I’d take pleasure in killing their Mary Sue PC”, or “they wouldn’t be welcome at my table”. That sort of thing. I have gamed in the past with players who would say and do these sorts of things. I’ve also seen posters on Twitter who say these sorts of things about narrative focused, character based players like these. 

But that didn’t happen. To be fair, I haven’t checked back on the tweet thread to see if it happened later on, but the initial response at least was uniformly positive. 

In short, this player was invested and enthusiastic about the game, and everyone was on board for it.

That’s the first tweet, the rest of this tale is about the second one.

Several days ago a poster tweeted about “winning” at D&D. The post talked about establishing “winning conditions” and dominating the game. The poster suggested that a dominating player should lead the party even if the rest of the party didn’t really understand what they were doing. There were terms like “elite gamer” bandied about, and pictures of bodybuilders peppered throughout the post.

I’ve played with gamers like this as well. I played in a group in college that was like this, filled with type “A” win or die players, players who thought of D&D as a highly competitive game where the job of the DM was to do everything in their power to defeat the PCs, and the job of the PCs was to do everything in their power to survive and overcome the challenges and opponents in front of them.

When the whole group is on board with this style of play it can be electrifying. The risk of death is real and that alone creates a ton of excitement. Surviving is an accomplishment, mastering the challenges and beating your opponents is glorious, as you know the game world was stacked against you and you still survived, even thrived! Much like sports, competitive D&D can be a blast, and with the right group it can help you learn to work together, to solve problems together, and to thrive in a highly dangerous, oppositional environment.

Having said that, I’ve gamed with toxic “elite gamers” before as well. Self-absorbed jerks who were happy to make the game entirely about them, and freely walked over other players at the table. I watched an adult player lose their PC and then spend the rest of the session pacing around the room with a DMG in their hands, shouting out rules at the DM to try and get their fellow PCs killed because their “elite PC” died. I’ve watched elite players rules-lawyer the game to get advantages to the point where it ground to a halt. Elite players can be as toxic as you could imagine. 

As I said above, play style doesn’t determine if you are a good player to sit at the table with.

It was clear that this “elite gamer” was super-invested in the game, and very enthusiastic about how they played it. That kind of buy-in is pretty rare.

At no point in the thread did they say that “everyone else is playing it wrong”, or suggest that any group of players or players who play differently shouldn’t play D&D. Yes, they did state that an “elite gamer” should essentially take over the party and run it, but this is only a problem if the other players aren’t interested in that sort of game. I’ve played in many games where one player essentially steps up and starts running things because the rest of the players aren’t interested or capable of doing so. This often happens without any discussion beforehand, it can emerge organically from play.

However, the response to this tweet, as opposed to the first one, was night and day. Tons of people retweeted the original tweet and mocked the poster. It was a “cringefest”, this poster was “toxic”. Within hours I saw a bunch of retweets and comments suggesting this poster was a jerk, a gatekeeper, a toxic loser.

I even saw comparisons to Nazis and fascists. 


OK, I don’t follow either of the two tweeters that are the subject of this post, I saw their tweets because they were retweeted by people I do follow. So I don’t know what kind of stuff they normally tweet about. For all I know either one of them could be a card carrying Nazi or fascist, either one of them could eat babies and torch villages. And I understand that the “elite gamer” poster had pre-blocked a lot of people. So that suggests that they might have been a troublemaker beforehand. Or it might suggest that they knew that some people would react exactly as they did from other posts of theirs, and did pre-emptive blocking to deal with it.

But Twitter had decided, because this poster wanted to “win” at D&D, they must be an asshole.

That alone was surprising and disappointing. 

But what surprised me most was how fast the “elite powergamers are assholes” crew became a mob of gatekeeping bullies. The mockery was fast and furious. There is no surer sign of a bully than mockery. Suddenly instead of “you can play D&D any way you want” or “there is no wrong way to play”, it was all, “look at this toxic jerk”, “you can’t win at D&D”, and “this is not the way the game is played”. Even worse, there was a ton of macho posturing going on, “if this jerk showed up at my table I’d serve him his ass”, or “I wouldn’t let this guy within a mile of our game”. 

So no more kumbaya I guess. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a table style and knowing in advance that someone else’s style wouldn’t be a good match for your group. But the speed and derision with which this poster’s tweet was slammed was breathtaking.

As it happens, this was all very timely for me, as we had a new player added to our game this past week. This new player was super stoked about playing D&D, they were friends with two of my regular players and had heard about the game. This player was so excited about playing that they hopped up and down, paced the room and couldn’t sit still. I’m fairly sure they squealed when they first rolled the dice.

Total buy in.

But within about 2 minutes this happened, “OK, you flank the guy up front, then you cast a spell to neutralize the other two guys”, “the two thieves can go back to the other room and see if we missed something, the fighters follow me and we’ll see if there are any more guards around”, “we are going to stop going after this wizard now, and start back to find the road so we can get to the city”.

This new player had decided that they were going to lead the group and make all of the decisions without consultation or agreement beforehand. I had an “elite gamer” on my hands. Someone who wanted to win at D&D, and was willing to decide what the winning conditions would be and take charge of the group to achieve them.

As a rule I let this stuff play out a bit before I jump in. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that an enforced solution doesn’t last. My job as a DM isn’t to police player behaviour, it’s to let them work it out and then, only if there is a problematic dynamic, abuse, etc., do I jump in.

So I was waiting to see how my group would react to Bossypants, ready to say “We don’t order around each other’s characters at this table, everyone gets to control what their PC does”.

However, I need not have worried, the youngest player in my group, 9 years old, was having none of this player’s nonsense. 

“You don’t get to tell me what my character does”, was all they said. And that was that. Bossypants sighed and changed tack immediately. The rest of the session was great, and he was super excited when he left to come back and play again. Some “elite powergamers” know how to read a room, and this one realized it would be a constant fight to get the group to fall in line. In short, they weren’t a toxic asshole, they were just competitive and enthusiastic.

What’s important about this story is that I didn’t kick out the player, or try to “teach them a lesson” about play style. I let the group handle it, and if that didn’t work (e.g. bossypants continued to order around other players and they were bothered by it) I would have explained that we didn’t play that way. If pushback from the other players and repeated warnings from me didn’t do the trick, then I would have told them that this game wasn’t for them and asked them to leave.

The intolerance I see on display here is really quite shocking. I know that after reading the “elite player” tweet thread everyone THINKS they know this guy. They have a caricature in their head based on past experience, and that caricature has this guy jailing babies and voting for Trump. He’s a misogynist, fascist asshole and thus DESERVES to be mocked, told off, humiliated and sent packing. Because it’s obvious to them that he’s an abusive, toxic ass. 

But that’s just crazy. You don’t know people from their tweets.  

If this elite powergamer has a group that likes this style of play (and I gather that they do) then there is nothing to object to. I really do believe that the game is mutable, that it can be played in many ways. You can “win” at D&D if you want. The “winning” can be beating monsters, fulfilling a character’s RP goals, getting the treasure, completing the quest, reaching high levels of advancement, ending the campaign and retiring your characters, whatever you want. 

The elite powergamer was right, the group establishes the “winning conditions” for D&D, or decides that their game doesn’t have any “winning conditions” other than everyone having a good time. Just because D&D doesn’t HAVE to be a winnable game doesn’t mean it CAN’T be a winnable game. 

I saw one tweet that said that Gygax would be “rolling over in his grave” at Mr Elite Powergamer. No, my sweet summer child, Gygax would crack his knuckles, smile and say, “bring it on”, then proceed to give Mr Elite Powergamer the challenge of his life, and have a good laugh as his fully optimized PC died a horrible death. Early D&D was inherently adversarial, DM versus players, in the sense of the DM creating challenging environments for the players to try and overcome. It’s a game, and all games are supposed to have an element of challenge in them.

Playing D&D in this competitive sense isn’t inherently toxic, even if it can be, any more than sports are inherently toxic, knowing that sometimes they can be. Narrative focused, player based D&D can also be toxic. By all means remove toxic players from your game, and make sure no one is being bullied or harassed at the table, but condemnation, mockery and exclusion of people for playstyles is not the road I want to walk on.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Role Play, Incentivisation and Dungeons and Dragons

This post is a bit of a follow up to the last post on combat in D&D. The more time I spend on Twitter, the more I become convinced that many people haven’t really tried to play early edition D&D the way it’s written. It’s not that they don’t have any idea how it works, but there is a tendency to assume certain things, things that you would know aren’t the case if you played the game more or less by the rules.

In the case of first edition I get why, the AD&D DMG is a beast, long, meandering, dense, erudite and in need of an edit. I pushed myself through it the first time as I desperately wanted to play the game, but I can see some people walking away.

Where this gap comes up most often, in my experience, is in the understanding of role play in D&D. Now, brief terminological nuance here, everything you do with your character in D&D is “role play”, from talking to the mayor, to buying supplies, to swinging a sword, every action you direct for your character is role play. Unless you ARE a warlock, anything your warlock character does in game is role play.

So I would like to introduce a term: social role play - to designate the following sorts of things:
  • Talking to the innkeeper
  • Gathering information
  • Banter
  • Negotiation

That sort of thing. 

With that in mind, I want to go through a few examples, then address the formal argument.

I’ve been running D&D games for more than three decades. About 6 years ago, when my son wanted to start playing, I revisited the rules and put together a campaign that was pretty much BTB, with a few exceptions. What is most important is that I run XP, level progression, spells, monster and treasure distribution, encounter tables and resource management BTB. My house rules, such as they are, all relate to combat or campaign flavor. So for example, we have critical hits on a natural 20, I add some weapons to the weapons table, druids in my campaign pick an animal avatar, that sort of thing.

I’ve been running a home game by standard AD&D rules for a group of 8 players for the last 6 years. I have also started up two after school AD&D groups, 6 and 8 players respectively, that have been running for two years now. So I think I have a representative sample of game play using the rules as written. What I find most fascinating about this is that what I see at the table week after week is nothing like what people say early edition D&D is like. 

Particularly with respect to role play. There is a pervasive assumption floating around that older edition D&D, AD&D being a prime example, lacks significant role play elements, it’s all dungeon crawling, monster slaying and treasure hoarding. Given that the current edition and many current games stress narrative and role play, and extensive character backgrounds are popular, this is often presented as an indictment of early edition games. 

So I thought I would present a few observations about social role play in my AD&D game::

1. Our games run at approximately ⅓ combat, ⅓ social role play and ⅓ exploration/resource management. Some sessions are mostly combat, some sessions are mostly social role play or exploration/resource management. Most are a mix of all. We have played entire 2-3 hour sessions with no combat at all. 

2. Preferences vary by player, some of my players enjoy combat most, some social role play most, some exploration/resource management, some like a mix of all three the most. 

3. When my first after school group arrived in my city setting they made a B-line for the city market. Filled with brightly colored tents and vendors, they spent 2 hours shopping. They went tent to tent, haggling for good prices, asking the vendors about things in the city. They spent 20 min at one tent asking about giant lizard racing, one of the most popular pass times in the city. They spent a similar amount of time at another tent talking about the preponderance of flightless birds in the city (there was some lore around that). They REALLY enjoyed this, and felt it was a great start to the campaign.

4. I ran a four hour one shot adventure recently where there was zero combat, it was all exploration/social role play. There were a few instances where they party almost lost members to environmental hazards (extreme cold, slippery surfaces) and traps, but there was zero combat. They had a blast, and were disappointed when we wrapped up.

5. One of the players in my Thursday game decided that the group needed to have a “hideout” in the wilderness near the city where they were based. After their first big treasure haul he took a good chunk of his share of treasure and hired workers to dig out under a section of hills so he could construct a “hobbit hole” hideout for the group. It took a month of in game time for the project to be finished, his character checked in on it regularly, and when it was finished, he was elated. Another player in that group is a druid, and he planted a garden outside of the hideout that he could use to tend various plants. He makes sure to check in on this regularly.

6. Another player in my Thursday group likes to have his PC sing stuff in the game, so when we are in a fight, or sometimes even during parley, he bursts out into nonsense songs.

7. When my Friday group arrived in a mid-sized city the two thieves in the group asked to go to a “curio shop” to find “weird stuff”. I made it VERY clear that their odds of finding magical items was slim to nil, magic items aren’t just lying around to be found. So they spent an hour going around the shop asking, “what’s this”, “what do I find”, etc. One left with a cloak made of an unknown fur, another bought a set of bone candlesticks. Neither were magical, but both were treasured by the players who bought them.

8. When my home group set out on an adventure they spent about an hour of game time finding, haggling for, trying out and naming mounts. I was willing to hand wave this bit to get things going, you know, TO GET TO THE KILLING. But nope, they all wanted to try to get a better price by befriending the seller, and they absolutely insisted on naming their mounts before they rode them.

9. The party priest in our home campaign actively tries to recruit converts. He goes to public places and preaches about his god, he tries to convert henchmen and hirelings, and he pontificates about his god to NPCs all the time. He gets no direct XP rewards for this.

10. The ranger and the druid in my Friday game argue in character about animals on an almost every session basis. The druid believes that only he should have animal followers, as he’s a druid and animals follow him “naturally”, where the ranger believes that Druid’s shouldn’t make animals do things, as they are supposed to respect nature. They have been arguing this in character off and on for a year or so. 

I could easily do a hundred of these, all of them are examples of what I have called social role play. D&D is famously light on rules for social role play. Much of this stuff goes on without any dice hitting the table, or any formal guidelines. 

So I want to state this decisively as I have a solid chunk of empirical data here, between my three regular games we have logged approximately 700 hours of at the table game play over the last 6 years, and the breakdown of ⅓ for each pillar of game play has been consistent. I would add that this breakdown or something close to it describes many more or less BTB games I have played in, learned about or seen over the years. I’ve surveyed about this issue on AD&D messageboards multiple times and obtained similar breakdowns.

So it is a myth that BTB AD&D and other old edition games default to murderhobo monster slaying and forgo social role play. No matter what the rules of AD&D say, social role play is a significant component of what happens at the table.

It’s also a myth that D&D has NO rules for social role play. It has minimal rules for social role play: AD&D has alignment, class, race antipathies/sympathies, loyalty and encounter reaction rolls that shape social play. Some of these have teeth. Encounter reaction rolls have immediate impacts on play, class restrictions do as well (e.g. a paladin can lose their powers if they behave in an evil fashion), alignment can shift due to player actions which can produce effects in game as magic can interact with alignment. 

But for the most part D&D doesn’t have many rules for social role play and they are pretty loose. 

So that suggests a question, if there are minimal rules for social role play in D&D, and it is not directly incentivised in the XP rules (e.g. no XP for chatting up the barmaid) how does it end up taking up so much time at the table? 

Why do people spend time in game doing something that isn’t directly incentivised by the rules?

I think there are two main reasons.

First, people like to socialize, it is natural and normal to strike up conversations in character, to discuss your character’s motivations and beliefs, to investigate the minutiae of the game world (e.g. go shopping), all of these things come naturally to most people IRL, so they come naturally in the game as well. 

Second, in AD&D XP is rewarded in such a way to give the most reward for gold, then magic, then monster slaying. The random encounter tables are designed such that at any level of experience you can encounter things that you are very unlikely to be able to defeat in combat. The magic tables are designed in such a way as to give out more “temporary magic” than permanent magic. Randomized spell allocation and “to know” percentages mean that magic-users aren’t “optimized” in their spell selections. It is also designed such that you will often get no treasure whatsoever from monsters that you slay, and if you use the “number appearing” rules in the monster listings, the party will often be in trouble. 

In short, its an extremely deadly and challenging game, and if your party doesn’t gather information, marshal resources, form alliances (either with powerful NPCs/organizations or by hiring henchmen and such) they will often find themselves overwhelmed. All of these things involve social role play.

Groups that use combat for everything and don’t work to create alliances with individuals and factions in the game will not survive long in a BTB game of AD&D, or indeed in any early edition D&D game. Any DM who has run AD&D BTB for any length of time can confirm this. Yes, combat is fun, yes, it is effective in certain cases, but if that’s the default choice of action the game will slap you down hard.

As a result, groups that engage in social RP will do better at the game, they will gather more information they will form more alliances, they will avoid more combat.

So why not just design the game with a system for assigning XP for using stealth, social role play, combat avoidance, that sort of thing? Why not directly incentivise this behavior in the 
game, wouldn’t that be superior to creating a system where those who engage in a wider range of actions succeed but there is no direct XP reward for it? Wouldn’t it be superior to have formal rules for social role play?

Just to be clear, I have NO PROBLEM with a game that incentivises alternatives to combat, there is NOTHING WRONG with a game that says, for example, that you get XP every time your character does something that is “in character” for them. Or a system that gives you points for forming alliances, gathering information, etc, etc. 

And I also can see how this could very directly change the tone of your game. If you incentivise social role play you will likely see more of it in the game. And that’s just terrific, as social role play is a lot of fun! So to be 100% crystal clear, I think it’s a good design feature to directly incentivise social role play in your game, whatever system you use.


AD&D does this differently, and I think that the way it handles social role play has advantages as well. So I’m not arguing that AD&D’s method is objectively superior, but that AD&D’s system is one that produces fun games that involve a significant amount of social role play.

What are the advantages of doing things the way AD&D does them?

There are two primary advantages. 

First, there are things in TTRPGs that are foreign to most people’s experiences. Most people have not fought in sword and armor. Most people have not cast spells. Most people have not fought lions or disarmed a trap, etc. TTRPG’s have mechanics and rules for these sorts of things as guidelines for the DM so they can manage them in a systematic way at the table given that they are either entirely fictional or very unusual activities. 

However, most people have haggled, most people have discussed their favorite X or Y, most people have engaged others in conversation to extract information. The genius (IMO) of the game design in early edition D&D is that the designers understood this difference and used minimal rules for social role play, as we don’t really need them. 

Most people socialize naturally, and they will socialize with their characters naturally as well. Role play tends to bring out the social aspect of players. When you are playing Raskar the Ravager, 3rd level thief, you are likely to trash talk the party fighter, challenge a local in the pub to a fight, or taunt the city guards when you leave the city, even though you wouldn’t do this in real life. Not because you get an XP reward for it, but because its FUN! 

We have forgotten that role playing itself is fun; whether it is framed in terms of formal rules or not. When we were kids we played cops and robbers, superheroes and supervillans, we play at many different pretend roles for fun as it is something that comes naturally, without any elaborate quantitative system for organizing the process.

I think that Arneson, Gygax, et al were good game designers, and had a good grasp of gaming social dynamics at the table. They understood that people role played naturally, and were likely to do this sort of thing without formal prodding or structure. So one reason you don’t NEED extensive rules for social role play is that social role play comes naturally to most people. Why provide extensive formal rules for something we do naturally when you can have light rules for this sort of thing? 

The second advantage to designing the game this way is that it challenges the player more than the character. This is a core element of early edition D&D, and a core element of Gygax’s approach to AD&D. 

Providing direct incentives and extensive rules for social role play removes the need for the player to prioritize these things themselves, instead it becomes a response to the mechanisms of the game. In essence, the game’s structure shows you how to play effectively, you just have to understand the incentive structure and make sure to engage in the appropriate behavior.

It also makes players very pragmatic about the game. If you engage in information gathering as the rules reward you for it, when it doesn’t work it can produce frustration. “But I did what the rules suggested, why didn’t it work?”

If, however, you use AD&D’s XP system, the players have to figure out how best to get to the gold, so you are challenging the player, not the character. There is a real and fascinating learning curve to AD&D. When the players start they often want to bull their way through everything. Something gets in your way, hit it with a sword! What happens rather quickly is that they learn that combat is brutal and produces many challenges with intermittent rewards. 

The lethality of BTB AD&D leads creative players to marshall resources and avoid conflict as much as possible, and social role play is a great way to do this. So players learn to speak to locals and gather information. They learn that all is not as it seems, so asking questions and interacting with NPCs/monsters can be useful to avoid deadly mistakes. They learn that a conversation with an NPC can avoid conflict and sometimes (if the encounter reaction roll is good) produce an ally that makes the next step in the adventure easier. 

Let me give a quick example.

In a recent game the party was headed across an arctic wasteland, the snow reduced visibility, and the area was experiencing “polar night”, e.g. it was dark all day. They had a two day journey and were stopped for an overnight (within a Leomund’s Tiny Hut!). While camped down, a local tribesman appeared riding a giant snake and flanked by two ice toads, crossing the wasteland in their general direction. 

They hadn’t encountered anyone while in the wastes at this point, the sorcerer’s keep they were looking for was located in this remote area for a reason, to discourage anyone disturbing the sorcerer. Now, if AD&D was the hack and slash game everyone thinks it is my players would have headed out and attacked that tribesman before he attacked them to get his “stuff” or get the XP for slaying the monsters.

Instead, my players decided to approach and talk to the tribesman as they hadn’t seen any sort of settlements in the waste, so they figured he was probably a nomadic hunter type and that he would know the area pretty well. Indeed, the party magic-user suggested, he would probably know where the sorcerer’s keep was as he lives here and not that many people do. 

Now, here’s the interesting thing. If the game directly incentivised social role play one of the players might have decided to go talk to the tribesman to gain XP. And they might have learned what my players learned by doing so. However, in the case of AD&D, the player went to talk to the tribesman because they have had success in the past using social role play to gather information, and it seemed wise to do so in this case as well.

In short, my players make their decisions based on in-game experience, hard won lessons based on past successes and failures, not because the behavior is incentivised by the game.
I think there are huge payoffs to running a game this way. First and foremost there is a sense of achievement when the players do things without being directed to. There is little in the world as satisfying as doing something, failing, learning from it and doing it better the next time. 

And the open nature of XP in AD&D means that they can experiment, if they want to hack and slash sometimes they can. It may be challenging, but as long as they get the gold that’s just fine. If they want to play a primarily social game they can as well. It gives them a lot of freedom.

One last objection before I finish. Even if AD&D and older edition games end up having a lot of social role play in them, if that social role play isn’t directly incentivized or governed by a large number of explicit rules, does it still impact the game, or is it “outside” the game in some meaningful way?

Even without a large number of explicit rules governing social role play it still influences the game in a significant way. It does so as social role play leads to information gathering and alliance formation, it leads to different choices than would have been made without it. There may be minimal mechanics for it, but it has direct impacts on what happens in the game. 

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