An interesting post on Hack & Slash really drives home the differences between our gaming philosophies.
It is clear reading –C’s article that –C believes that the game stops when one considers the fiction in order to resolve things without rolling dice. There are others, of course, who view the fiction as the point of the game, and believe that the fiction is impeded by rolling dice unnecessarily. For those of us who view the game in this manner, dice are only rolled when the outcome is in doubt, or when the action cannot either be modelled at the table or sufficiently described as to remove doubt as to the outcome.
If rolling dice is the game for you, -C’s position here will surely resonate. I have never read clearer advocacy for roll-playing over role-playing.
-C attempts to use the attack roll as an example “of selecting a move without deciding the fiction first”….but here, “deciding the fiction first” is conflated with “deciding the outcome”, which are not the same thing. Where the outcome is in doubt, dice are rolled, but the fictive purpose of the die roll (“I attack the minotaur with my axe!”) is decided beforehand.
The die roll arises from the fictional context, and the result of the roll is tied into the fictional context immediately, allowing others to continue to make decisions from the context of that fiction.
Weirdly enough, -C makes a claim in that article that dissociated mechanics are a problem caused by considering the fiction first, which is ass-backwards (as following the link and reading the linked article will readily show).
An associated mechanic is one which has a connection to the game world. A dissociated mechanic is one which is disconnected from the game world.
The easiest way to perceive the difference is to look at the player’s decision-making process when using the mechanic: If the player’s decision can be directly equated to a decision made by the character, then the mechanic is associated. If it cannot be directly equated, then it is dissociated.
In other words, and more explicitly as the article goes on, a dissociated mechanic is one which does not consider the fiction first.
Finally, -C correctly notes that some people like non-fiction-based games. Some people even consider games where you are rolling dialogue like combat to be role-playing games. But it is incorrect to imagine that Pathfinder is not “fiction first” in its aspirations, and it is plainly bizarre to both use Dungeons & Dragons as an example to counter “fiction first” games when trying to discuss the relative sales values of games, while listing it as an example of where the “problem” of fiction-first is encoded in the rules.
In an honest discussion, it should also be noted that the Alexandrian article on dissociative mechanics discusses how the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons specifically and explicitly stepped away from “fiction first” in several of its mechanics…and no one following the industry or the D&D Next materials released by Wizards of the Coast will rationally conclude that the company found this to be a solid financial decision.
A game where the players control elements of the fiction that their characters could not – such as one where the outcome of combat is determined as whatever best meets the “story” or where the players can determine who the NPCs are – steps away from being a role-playing game by virtue of making the players make decisions outside of their roles. This is why dice (or other mechanics) are used in role-playing games to determine outcomes.
Conversely, a game where die rolls make decisions for characters is not a role-playing game either, simply because the dice, not the player, are making decisions for the character. Where the results of these decisions – or the nature of the decisions themselves – do not map to the fiction, the result is dissociative mechanics as described by Jason Alexander.