There was quite a hubbub over at Grognardia yesterday about Descending AC vs. Ascending AC. I find it fascinating that such a small thing can result in such an explosion of emotion and words. The reason for this, I believe, is that underlying this debate is the much greater issue of the universal mechanic, of which AAC is a part and which DAC flies in the face of.
If I am really honest with myself, I have to admit that the universal d20 mechanic of 3rd Edition is awfully attractive. In concept, it is elegant, it appeals to my love of patterns and it is so darn pretty. This beauty, however, does come with consequences.
By implication, a universal mechanic should be able to handle any and all situations that come up during play — whether or not the use of the mechanic is appropriate or even necessary. A natural assumption that arises out of this ability to handle every thing in play, is the belief that the mechanic should handle every thing in play. In fact, if your goal is to run tournaments that are fair — that reduce the human element to a minimum so that the system practically runs itself — this is even desirable. The die roll is left to handle everything.
I believe those of us who prefer DAC (which I do, for a variety of geeky reasons, including weapon vs. AC tables), tend to read more into AAC than a math equation. It reminds me vb of the universal mechanic that has not only successfully reduced the human element of the game, but has also reduced the amount of freedom and creativity in the game. Using the universal mechanic reduces the freedom of the DM to arbitrarily make a ruling based on a d8 or a d12. Using the universal mechanic reduces the freedom of players to role play, to try to solve problems creatively, and to act and think outside the box — because to go outside the box means to go outside the mechanic, which is designed to handle everything.
As a Christian, one of the the things I value most is human freedom. It is one of the foundations upon which the whole Christian world-view is built. Without it, my faith means nothing. As such, I prefer the older versions of the game, because they better express human freedom in their game play. It also means that I value the ability for everyone to choose their own path; however, I also encourage everyone to understand the consequences of their choice. Have I played 3rd edition? Yes. Do I enjoy it as much as I enjoy playing older editions of the game? No. I find the free-flowing creativity that results from a deliciously non-universal mechanic to be a lot more enjoyable — in many ways because I'm making it up as I go along.
At the end of the day, the choice to use AAC or DAC is loaded with far more than a simple math equation. To choose DAC clearly states that one rejects a universal mechanic and embraces the freedom that comes from the older styles of play. And, as we saw yesterday, those who make that choice can be quite emotional and vocal about it.