In further attempts to wipe away my gaming malaise and to clarify some things in my head, I'll be posting more in the next few weeks...as the spirit moves me. Sorry for spamming some of you. Just trying to really nail down some concepts for me. If they help you, great. If they bother you, ignore them.
In a discussion the other night with one of my Old School gaming buddies, we hit several topics about gaming as well as about being "old guys" who still play this crazy game. (Get off our lawn, Storytellers!) One topic which has been rattling around in my brain since then was the idea of Player Skill vs. Character Skill. In my first D&D game way back in Nov of 1978, I asked the DM "What does my mage, Gandalph,(yeah, we didn't have a lot of imagination when it came to names) know about this thing?" I don't even remember what the actual discussion was about, but I still distinctly hear his answer, "Your character knows everything you know and maybe some other stuff about the gaming world." So, if I couldn't solve the puzzle, neither could my character...irrespective of his Int score of 16 or whatever I had rolled. But the flip side was, I could look up the ingredients for gunpowder or whatever and apply it in the game. I actually did try to sell gunpowder at one point....it ended badly when an enterprising thief tried to strike an candle in the lab where the powder was held. I survived but was banished from the town.
I also remember having to solve riddles and word puzzles and games to get past traps or through doors and into the next level. I tried to do something like that a couple of times in the 3.5 games I ran a few years ago. The players kept asking what they needed to roll and against what skill to solve it. I said "you solve it" and it caused consternation. However, the best puzzle was the campaign itself. I ran an urban game in which the players were new arrivals to the City State of the Invincible Overlord. I handed out a few clues and rumors. They tried to follow them all. Unfortunately for them, there were 4 possible roads in those original rumors for them to follow. They kept trying to make them all fit onto one railroad track. The deliberately ignored all hints and clues indicating that there was more than one plot line. It was hilarious from my point of view.
Sorry, digressed there. The point though is to show something I noticed. The folks who want more "realism" by having feats and skills don't want the game to be more realistic, only their characters (or avatars, to be more precise). Real life is complicated, so why shouldn't fantasy or sf life? There are no railroads in how your life (or my life) flows, so why should your characters always find only the hints and clues that follow one set of tracks? Of course, if the characters/avatars are "more realistic" then each encounter has to follow that same "realism" which is why it's so difficult to get "balanced" encounters and such. In the Old School, it's the Player that makes the decisions and solves the problems. So, as in real life, things don't need to be balanced which makes the game more interesting to me, as a player or a DM.
I think the next topic might be Character Death...don't know yet.