Is a 10-ft pole just a resolution mechanic in disguise?

From a comment on Robin Laws' blog:


D&D and other RPGs grew out of wargames that used to solve fighting with a single die roll on a CRT. If you had 3:2 odds, then you had 66% chance of winning a single die roll. Lose it, and you lost your unit. You only got one shot at it. Fortunately, a wargame was strategic -- you had other units to use if this one got killed.

Before games exploded with multiple mechanics for multiple die rolls, there were gamers who meticulously described every action they performed -- how they looked behind them, how they opened doors, how they held their swords, how they opened the chest with a ten-foot-pole -- because by describing what they were doing, they didn't have to roll any dice. When gamers fail a roll, they don't think that disorder can be forestalled -- they think about how, next time, they will prevent ANY dice from being rolled.


Even the first edition of D&D had the core conceit that the game-master should be the last word on everything, up to and over-riding randomness when it was inappropriate. That's because, in a role-playing game, arbitrary one-shot randomness is the enemy of good story-telling, good narrative, and good genre.




Given that Next seems to be hewing pretty close to that early edition playstyle referred to above, it's interesting to think that players might have adopted that approach not because it was fun or because it was right, but because it overcame an inherent problem with the d20 resolution mechanic.

It makes me wonder whether Next would be better served by looking at different resolution mechanics (perhaps roll 3d20, take the middle) to take away that inherent swingyness and emplower players by giving them more certainty as to what their characters can achieve.

WotC has moved in that direction with the rogue's skill mastery, but maybe they should be looking at the issue more widely?
Ding ding ding, we have a winner! Large numbers of "old school" rules were based on the assumption of PCs as disposable units, not characters.
Interesting observation.  But is 3d20 really a good alternative?  Wouldn't it be better to just use smaller dice?
The d20 is a big die, but chosen for a reason, and that's to make it so that there are very few "sure things" either for success or failure. The solution's to just give the character enough durability that a trap doesn't kill them in one shot.
I have always been a fan of 2d10 or 3d6 for a bell curve result that doesn't require too much adjustment of any d20 based system. 2d10 required no adjustment for the most part besides 2 being the new auto fail. 3d6 required some adjustment of threat ranges in 3.5, but that was about it.

Shane 
Help make Combat Mastery happen: If you like the idea of Combat Mastery, as outlined below, for fighters copy it onto your signature and add interesting combat maneuvers to the list. Two new examples could be throat punch or spit in eye. Combat Mastery: When a Fighter performs combat maneuvers such as bull rush, disarm, sunder, trip, hip toss, eye poke, ball kick, hair drag, blind with sand, slide down banister, swing on chandalier, walk on barrel, use enemy as shield, interpose self in front of arrow trying to kill wizard, intimidate, pick up kobold by the neck, etc, the minimum die result is 10. Fighter Combat Maneuvers: On a given round the fighter can bull rush, disarm, sunder, trip, hip toss, eye poke, ball kick, hair drag, blind with sand, slide down banister, swing on chandalier, walk on barrel, use enemy as shield, interpose self in front of arrow trying to kill wizard, intimidate, etc, in place of his/her move action. This is a nonattack action that might cause the fighter's opponent to be rendered prone, unarmed, blind for a round, etc, or otherwise grant the fighter advantage or his/her opponent disadvantage as the Fighter sees fit.
The problem is if you start putting the roll on a bell curve instead of a flat probability, bonuses end up not being all the same. As it is now, each +1 is a 5% higher chance of success. If you roll 3d20 and take the middle, or roll 3d6, then each extra +1 changes the percent chance of success by a different amount.
"So shall it be! Dear-bought those songs shall be be accounted, and yet shall be well-bought. For the price could be no other. Thus even as Eru spoke to us shall beauty not before conceived be brought into Eä, and evil yet be good to have been." - Manwë, High King of the Valar
This seems to be a common trope amongst those who hated the earlier editions.  I wonder if many of these critiques even played in those days.   I think what the early editions did inspire was player agency vs character agency.  A player could get a ten foot pole and check for traps.  That would eliminate the roll as mentioned above.  Eliminating rolls is eliminating risk.   It makes sense to me even in a more forgiving environment.

I realize that adventurers have skills that real world people do not.  Even so, it is fun to make decisions, to plan, and to execute for a lot of people.  The most memorable battles are those where the group had to retreat and come up with a plan on defeating a monster because it pounded them the first time.   I think it is perfectly reasonable for players to try and do things to limit their exposure to a trap (on a chest for example).  I also think it is perfectly reasonable to not assume such things if they don't mention it.   They can always make their roll of course and the roll assumes that implicitly.  But I have no issue with players doing things to improve their chances.  Players doing things is fun.

Except perhaps at 1st level, I didn't see the lethality that some of you speak of so often.  I suppose it happened more than once in a typical character's life and thus they had to be raised.  I did have a 1e player who got all the way to 15th level and bragged that he'd never died not even once.   So it was possible.   Other characters preferred to leap in where others fear to tread and had perhaps died three or four times over the course of 15 levels.   My groups though had a very high degree of player skill.  They were almost always well prepared.  They planned and they had good tactics.  Perhaps my DMing style developed these characteristics in them as I am not easy for sure.  I think I am fair and consistent though.  

I like a tough gritty game but I also like players who are capable and good and who succeed.  I would quickly get bored if my PCs were constantly dying due to stupidity.  So of course the DM has to design to his players.

 
Of course using a 10 foot pole means you don't have to roll.

Do you make the fighter roll to find that trap he just triggered? No, because he found it by setting it off, it went off. By using a 10 foot pole you are basically setting off the trap (if there is one) without checking for it, and hoping it isn't a fireball trap or something else with a large radius.

Heck I distinctly remember a module that had clues using a 18 inch sticks to not be instantly killed by a force fields in a maze, and they were everywhere.

I have been thinking back over my own gaming career, and I have noticed a shift from thinking "What would my character do" to "What does my character sheet say I can do." While I do agree there have been some improvements over the years, there seems to be a shift from imagination centric to rules centric.

That seems to be the direction they're trying to return the game to with D&DNext. I couldn't be happier about that fact. I miss those days as well.