Here is a quote from Andrew D. posted here on a very interesting thread:
To look at it another way, there’s two different kinds of D&D:
Old school: a game where we use characters to solve problems we imagine, and if we fail at a problem, it takes just moments to create a new character and try again, approaching the problem from a different direction. The most fun is found in solving dilemmas presented by the adventure/rules.
New school: a game where we take the time to create the character that exactly fits what we imagine, then use it to solve a problem. We don’t really ever fail to solve a problem, because the problem is designed in such a way as to make sure our characters succeed. The most fun is found in creating a character with exactly the strengths and weaknesses we want him/her to have.
Contrary to what both sides of the edition wars say, these are both good ways to play D&D – they’re just different.
I think he’s got a really solid point–but I would suggest there is a continuum here, not two different and alien play styles.
For my superpowered game, my players can build characters that can do amazing things, at generation. They can choose their power sets, and really narrow in or be generalists, creating a character that will be fun to play. Then I come up for stuff for them to do.
The reason I suggest this is a spectrum is because those characters DO sometimes fail. If there is no risk of failure, then they can’t really be heroic, and much of the spice of victory becomes stale. If a trained monkey would succeed, then why should you get all worked up about your success? Easy conquest is boring.
I think the main point made here is that the focus is either on the problem to be solved using characters as tools, or on the characters to be developed using the problems in the game as tools.
One of the main draws of an RPG to me is that you don’t make such clear-cut either/or determinations. If I want to develop characters, show off my twisty plot skills, and control the outcome, I write a novel. I use RPGs to draw the best from my players so they can add flavor and excitement to the setting and the story (and because I want them to think I’m cool, and I want to entertain them.)
Therefore, I think the three tools that Telecanter refers to earlier in the post are spot-on for describing the interconnection that makes RPGs so great for me.
Let’s hear from Telecanter himself, from his post:
Now, we’re all familiar with random encounters and certainly with static location based encounters, but I stumbled into that third, when-I-thought-it-best-to-happen mechanic on my own. And I like what it allows me to do…It seems to me that a DM will want to use all three of these tools for determining what players experience– the static, the random, and the DM orchestrated– at the same time. The first makes locations and choices about exploration real, the second is what story emerges from– surprising even me and making the world seem alive, the third allows me to do something a computer game could never do– make things happen based on what I’m observing players are feeling. I think a good DMing “how to” would talk about how to get these three methods working together.