I prefer mustard to ketchup, both as a condiment and as an analogy to RPGs.
There are, quite definitely, tastes in roleplaying. People on RPG forums wouldn’t argue about the exact same topics every 4 to 6 months and reach an impasse unless there are features of RPGs that people simply cannot agree on, not because of stubbornness, but because they have incompatible preferences.
So I do not agree with Ozymandias, who says, “where it comes to taste, there is no right answer. Where it comes to gaming, there is.” Even if we restrict the domain of “gaming” to just the Class and Level Exploration Fantasy (CLEF) genre that D&D dominates and ignore other RPGs and other kinds of games, it’s very clear that one size does not fit all. Perhaps in a very limited sense, you could say there is only one answer: for example, if a game says that characters advance a level when they earn 2,000 experience points, but there are no rules governing experience point awards, then very clearly the game designer has done something wrong. But within a single setting, experience points could be replaced with advancement rolls and it would work fine, so long as that matched the players’ tastes.
WotC clearly thinks that Class and Level Exploration Fantasy RPGs are more like ketchup than mustard. That is, they believe they cab fine-tune one product’s ingredients (mechanics) and get 70-80% of the market, rather than tuning two to four products to capture specific tastes, which would add up to less than 70%.
I, on the other hand, believe D&D/CLEF RPGs are more like mustard. By this, I mean that they capture about 50-60% of the CLEF RPG market by creating a single balanced product, but could capture more of the market if they had two or three products that split along the taste boundaries. I have some ideas about what the distinct tastes are, and which tastes could be catered to with a few tweaks to a base game, and which require a distinct system.
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