One of the most annoying forms the discourse around Dungeons & Dragons takes is the discussion as to whether or not there's a right way to play the game.
(I mean, there are some more annoying forms of discourse, but I would rather not engage with them.)
There are a few people, some of whom I played or conversed with who have a clear ideas of what constitutes the right way to play D&D. And they are connected to some guys who are very happy to harp on it ad nauseam at the top of their lungs. And the funny thing is they have great arguments that no one wants to hear because of how they are presented.
I've played D&D number of ways. In fact I've gone through phases that correspond to each of the six cultures of play recently identified by The Retired Adventurer, which is a compelling article. And here's the thing, they each yield radically different results, and have radically different experiences from one another.
None of these are the right or wrong way, but there are wrong ways to play if you are looking for a particular experiences. For example, if you want a campaign that lasts a very long time, do you need to consider having robust Dominion rules.
If you want a campaign where players treat combat as a dangerous last resort, using rules from morale and keeping combat lethal well offering XP for other ways of overcoming obstacles is critical. If, on the other hand, you want Dungeons & Dragons to work like a place of healing, you are a far better off using a more modern edition or combat is relatively easy and victories are designed as a form of catharsis.
I highly suggest that when we talk about D&D and other TTRPGs we keep it to a syllogistic model. That is to say, we need to point out that "If you want X-Play experience, then you need to use Y sorts of rules and foster Z at your table."
I am going to put some examples down here of various tools and the results they yield.
- If you want players not to kill everything in sight and have more strategy than combat, it is best to keep hit point totals low and use a combination of morale and NPC reactions so that not every monster is spoiling for a fight and many will surrender. And you need to reward experience for creatures that surrender, negotiate, or that players trick, outwit or navigate around stealthily.
- If you want player characters to become invested in the world, it pays to have henchmen and hiring rules, and use domain level play to give players a goal to aspire to.
- If you want players to feel like their actions have consequences, use the system like the fronts in Dungeon World or faction affiliation scores so that you have a clear idea of the larger ripples of the PCs actions on the campaign, and can express them clearly.
- If you want a story where players play a character based on their emotions and sentiment, use a system that includes personality traits for descriptions of a character's emotional needs that provide some kind of bonus or penalty for them.
- If you want a game that tells a specific sort of story, and pushes hard for genre emulation, building mechanics but they roll for final outcome like Reflections: the Game of Dueling Samurai, Fiasco, or (S)Lay with Me.
- If your goal is to have a narrative that is satisfying for all players, use a system that allows them to seize GM Fiat, such as inspiration in D&D5e, the face dice in Fate Core, or the intrusion system in The Cypher System.
- If you want a game that is relatively low on combat, and high on social interaction, it can also pay to have a social combat system of some sort.
- If you want a system that is heavy on back biting and sabotage where the players play against each other, use one where characters have some kind of extra lives, the ability to come back from the dead, for blindingly fast and simple character generation processes like PARANOIA or Knave. Or ones where characters have very little mechanical representation at all like Fiasco.
- If you are looking for a game that is heavy on sexuality or romance, consider a game that uses rules that empower the character for romantic contact be that Alpha Blue or Blue Rose.(How do you define"romance?)
- I you want a game where players do not feel constrained by character generation rules and are not heavily focused on character customization, use one where gear has more of an impact than statistics on character outcomes, such as Index Card RPG or Knave.
At the end of the day, I do believe some play experiences will be more exciting, more challenging, and more satisfying in the long term than others, and that is what I want from a game. Thus, I am going to get more enjoyment out of Gygax's style of AD&D than I will out of Fate CORE.
But there are days where I feel like an alien being. I hardly expect the unmutated humans to like what I do if we want to persuade people to try things like 1:1 time in D&D, we have to explain what we get out of the game