I think that Wick's conception of an RPG is too narrow.
He is correct to compare a module like Tomb of Horrors or White Plume Mountain to a boardgame: like a boardgame, the goal of play in those classic adventures is to win, to "beat the dungeon".
But in my view he is wrong to identify
that sort of D&D play with boardgaming. Resolution in ToH or WPM is very different from resolution in a game like Talisman. In D&D, unlike in a boardgame, there is a shared fiction
, and it is relevant to action resolution.
It is relevant to action resolution in two ways: it opens up the possibility of players making novel moves (eg "I stick my 10' pole through the mist"); and the GM is meant to have reference to it in adjudicating those moves (eg the reason the ziggurate room floods in WPM if the walls are shattered is not because the game rules say so, but because the ziggurate tiers are full of water, and when you shatter a container's sides the watter in it will fall down and form a pool).
I think it is this role of shared fiction in action resolution that makes a game an RPG. D&D has this; WoW and similar computer games don't.
Whether or not a group wants to use the shared fiction of an RPG to tell a story
is a further issue - that's a subdivision of tastes within the space of RPGing.
The real issue with 4e, that Wick only gets at obliquely, is that for many RPGers it is not clear how the shared fiction matters to action resolution. That is why they see 4e as just an intricate boardgame. (Those of us who love 4e as an RPG, conversely, do
see how the shared fiction matters to resolution in that system.)
Also, for those who want to read an essay along similar lines to Wick, but thought out in more detail, and a bit less prescriptive, here is a link to Christopher Kubasik's interactive toolkit
In the first of the 4 essays he makes a point that relates to Wick's examples of thumbs and tea-cups:
The narrative of most roleplaying games is tactical simulation fiction. This style of story revolves around weapons and split second decisions made during combat. Such stories discourage flamboyant behavior though flamboyant behavior is often a vital part of the fiction that the games try to model - because better combat modifiers are gained with conservative tactics.
One obvious feature of 4e was its atempt to encourage rather than discourage flamboyant behaviour. In part it did this by substituting "player fiat" mechanics (eg the notorious Come and Get It) for mechanics basesd on simulating the processes taking place within the fiction. Whether 4e's mechanics preserve an important place, in action resolution, for the shared fiction, or whether they replace RPG-style action resolution with boardgame resolution, has been debated in endless threads about prone oozes. While I think that Wick's conception of RPGing is too narrow, and also think that 4e is
an RPG, I think that Wick (and Kubasik) touch on matters that are relevant to understanding the reception of 4e in the RPGing community.
Agreed. If I'm pretending to be someone I'm not, thinking through imaginary situations under circumstances I will never experience, how am I not playing a role
Unless the imagined situation matters to resolving your action declarations for your PC (which are your "moves" in the game), then you are not RPGing. When I play Talisman I'm pretending to be someone I'm not, and I think through an imaginary situation, but it's not an RPG because the shared fiction doesn't affect action resolution, which is resolved simpy by reference to the game mechanics.
Ah, it's the ol' "The GM's job is to ensure that everyone gets spotlight time, so balance isn't important" fallacy, in extended blog-rant form! With a big helping of implied "You're having badwrongfun" thrown in for good measure!
I'm not sure that Wick has in mind, by "balance", exactly what you do.
For instance, should having a blind PC be something that you pay for at character creation? Or something that earns you bonus points? In Burning Wheel if you want to be blind, or have a nemesis, you have to pay
, because those features of your PC will tend to make you a bigger focus of events at the table.
I think in denigrating game balance Wick is meaning something like "effectiveness when it comes to typical events of action resolution" is not the main thing. In some games, though, where spotlight is determined primarily via effectivenes in action resolution", then mechanical balance might be the best way to manage spotlight sharing. I'm not sure that Wick is meaning to deny that. (Though such games might not fit within his overly-narrow concpeption of what is an RPG.)