RPGing and imagination: a fundamental point

Then we must say that determinations made in respect of the fiction are not arbitrary.
Well, that's quite true when the game is properly designed and run! I'd put it this way, the sorts of things that are classed as 'world building', details of geography, architecture, etc. are to my mind pretty much arbitrary. They could be X, or Y, it's simply the whim of the person inventing them, and any restraints they have in respect of consistency or adherence to a particular style or theme is also fundamentally an arbitrary choice. So the determinations in fiction that are NOT arbitrary are the ones made for reasons, like pacing, plot, drama, or any of the various agendas such as the sorts identified by RE or others (noting that I would not consider any specific list of those to be complete or exclusive).
Claimed again with no evidence…
Seriously? This is not a potent argument! It isn't even a sensible one in that we just discussed above what is and is not arbitrary. Choices made in respect of mechanics, NOT ARBITRARY, choices made in respect of "I feel like it should go thus", arbitrary.
Skill checks do as well.
No, not in open resolution task-oriented play they DO NOT! That is the WHOLE PROBLEM. I mean, sure, you are correct, IF you are talking about a game like Dungeon World where the GM is highly constrained by the process of play and allocation of authority, and is strongly instructed to obey the principles of play (as in they are rules).
That solely depends on the implementation of the skill check vs skill challenges.

skill challenge type mechanics often leave the stakes on failure open, they usually do but don’t require the challenge structure being understood by players before hand.
If you follow the rules in the Rules Compendium it says thus:
Components of an SC:
1. Goal
2. Level and DCs
3. Complexity
4. Primary and Secondary Skills
5. Consequences
Number 5 consists of Success, Failure, XP, Stages of Success, and Stages of Failure.

ALL of the above is established BEFORE the challenge is run. 1, 4, and 5 are at least partly rooted in the fiction, and so there is judgment in terms of making thematically appropriate mappings onto the fiction which will be consistent with player expectations (or possibly violate them in specific surprising ways which will generally relate to 2 and 3). 2 is technically not even up for adjudication, there's no explicit consideration for an SC that is not equal to the party level, and DCs are mandated based on that. 3 is the only fully 'free' parameter in a 4e SC, but even here the GM is mostly constrained by gamist considerations. A low complexity SC standing alone is insufficient to be a challenge (being similar to 1 or 2 at-level monsters in a combat, a mere speed bump). Low complexity is thus relegated to special types of situation, usually where the SC is an element of a combat, or perhaps one that is set up to challenge a single lone character. High complexity challenges (4 and 5) are encounters in their own right. I honestly have had less uses for complexity 3, but it's there and can be useful in various ways that we need not delve into here.


These are all things that can be true if skill checks given a particular implementation.
I was contrasting SCs, as defined by the 4e rules which is the only game which uses them, with skill checks of the sort used in 3.x and 5e, and in some cases in AD&D. I think 5e's authors are well aware of my critique as they often give advice intended to mitigate it to a degree, and 5e's short skill list also is suggestive of better techniques, plus they gave us BIFTS, and Inspiration, as undeveloped as those are, clearly aimed at this general kind of problem. So, yes, some 'particular implementation' might answer my objections, but NO implementation in D&D (including non-SC 4e skill checks) does so.
The difference as far as 5e skill checks go is that the skill check details aren’t usually given to the players before they commit to act. But that isn’t the only implementation possible!
It is a huge reason to NOT call them what 4e SCs are. There is a world of difference between these systems.
 

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