Long ago I found a long and in-depth discussion of katanas and in which realistic and logical ways they're severely overrated.This was by a man named Lindybeige, a rather opinionated man whose Youtube channel is mostly full of rants about things I'm crazy about: the sorts of nonsense that we take for granted in the fantasy genre as a whole. I loudly agree with a lot of his stuff and vehemently disagree with other bits, but something that caught my eye today was a topic that was explicitly relevant to what I do.
For those of you too lazy to watch a six-minute video, Mr. Beige posits that die rolls in D&D (and other tabletop games) represent not what a character is capable of, but whether or not the obstacle they're coming up against is one that they're simply capable of doing. The example used, climbing a wall, makes tons of sense. A character wouldn't have a perilous time climbing most walls, fraught with uncertainty and chance. When you look at a wall, you generally have a pretty good idea of whether or not you can climb it. The roll, then, might not represent what your character can do, but instead whether or not the obstacle was within their capabilities to begin with. A critical failure in such a theoretical system would be an overestimation of one's abilities leading to a catastrophe.
This is a decent way to look at things, and an interesting take on what I've (and I assume most other players, too) mostly assumed to be a test of skill each time. I like that. That was insightful.
Then he had to go and bring up combat.
Combat in D&D, specifically, is wildly abstracted. It always has been. Armor class represents a huge myriad of things, from the armor and shield that you're wearing to how good you are at avoiding attacks to inherent agility to parrying and magic and on and on. Hit points aren't just how easily your meaty body holds up to damage, but instead your ability to turn a hit that would have connected into something nonlethal. Maybe you rolled with the blow, maybe it was just a glancing cut because you ducked to the side just a smidgen too late, or maybe your armor caught the brunt but you still got smacked pretty hard by concussive force. In general, tabletop combat isn't an exact science. It's not even an exact drama. The dice and systems are there to create tension for the players, and there's nothing less dramatic than defeat being an inescapable foregone conclusion.
Mr. Beige posits that a bonus should be given to someone attempting a task they've already succeeded at, which is kinda iffy even on the outset. I don't think there's a person here who hasn't tried to do something a second time only to screw up due to overconfidence, nerves, or just bad luck. This bonus would extend, theoretically, even to people who have fought each other before, under the justification that "something in their fighting style just didn't mesh with yours." Totally understandable as a justification for losing, but not acceptable to doom someone to losing over and over again.
In League of Legends, which is about as close to "real combat" as I'll probably ever get, it's a game of seconds. Heartbeats. A mistake you make that seems minor at the time can turn out to be catastrophic as your entire team dies around you and you lose the game. Likewise, sometimes you just luck out and your enemy makes a mistake. They're not likely to repeat that mistake a second time...and certainly not a third or a fourth. While it's possible to win a game entirely from enemies misplaying, it's much more likely that a single mistake costs you one game, and then the next game goes much differently.
In this theoretical bonus situation, a single loss measurably tips the scales towards one character in a permanent manner, when in real life it was very honestly just bad luck. It removes the drama of the situation to give one side an overwhelming and permanent advantage after a single loss/failure/bad roll, and since the entire reason we're rolling dice at all is to inject drama into a situation which is inherently devoid of it, I think that's a pretty critical misstep.
But the idea that the roll of the dice determines not the character's abilities but their surroundings and whether or not the obstacle in question is one which they're fundamentally capable of solving? That's a really cool concept. I like that a lot, and I think I might talk to my own DMs about it in the future. Just...not in combat. Social interactions, physical challenges, battles of wits, sure. But not in the chaotic mess that is the (fictional, nerdy) battlefield.