I picked up a link off Reddit this morning titled How a Blind Player Improved Our Game. It makes some rather good points about how to describe things and its importance to the art of roleplaying. But it does so from the perspective of 4e D&D, and I wanted to talk about that for a moment.
The poster talks about bringing a blind player into the group, and how they suddenly need to describe… Well, everything, including their characters, previously rresented only by the relevant mini on the table.
Suddenly we realize that the lame mini Joe was using to depict his placement on the map looks nothing like the character he’s actually playing. But until he was asked to describe his character for the blind player he didn’t feel it necessary to add these details.
This represents a problem I had with 4e when it first came out, and in a greater sense RPG-minis as a whole: the moment you take the game out of my head/imagination and put in onto the game table is the moment that I cease to “be” my character. My character is that little pewter dude on the table. He is my avatar within the game space, and I control him, but he is not me.
Speaking only for myself, I have found this layer of separation between me and my character—and by extension the game-world as a whole—to be an intolerable burden to my role playing. The “video game” feel has never had anything to do with the rules of the game per se, so much as the fact that I am controlling a little man on a screen (board, whatever).
Think of it like translating a book to a film. The moment, say, The Fellowship of the Ring came out, Aragorn ceased to be the person I imagined in me head, and forever became Viggo Mortensen. The way I always imagined the characters and places of Middle Earth were replaced with those actors and special effects. While they were good movies, I’ve long felt somewhat robbed of the Middle Earth that existed in my mind.
As much as having a grid or hex map to play on clarifies combat, there is a part of me that hopes to resist their use forever because any game that takes place outside of my head will never be “real role playing” to me. I somewhat prefer the images in my head to a piece of plastic surrounded by glass beads and spare dice on a dry-erase board.