I would like to explore this further. In talking with my very gamist friend, I feel he would fall strongly in the first category of Compete with mechanics. I feel I fall into Explore the mechanics but also Sensate the mechanics… so I’d like to get further understanding of what you are implying with both.
For example, I do love simulating combat, like gunfights, in an RPG. Yes, there is a great deal of other role playing going on around the combat, but when bad things start to happen and guns are drawn, I personally want it to play out so I feel “sensate” that I’m in the midst of a gunfight and bullets are whizzing past and muzzle blast is ringing in my ears, cordite up my nose, blood and bullets and the quick and the dead. To me, mechanics that simulate things like range modifiers, pistol fire vs. rifle fire, large and small caliber rounds, body armor, the odds that a bullet strikes the armor or unarmored locations, hit location on the body (head or chest or hands or feet) and how the damage a hit does changes based on where it hits, along with how big it is and how much force, etc. I want mechanics that simulate the effects of damage, pain, stunning, staggering, wounding, loss of mobility, incapacitation, bleeding out, death, etc. I want rules that reflect position and cover, advantage or disadvantage, blow through on cover, scaling of damage to size of attack.
All this is very immersive for me. The mechanics steer the battle as much as player decisions or PC skills and abilities. They all interact to “play to see what happens” and who comes out the other end of the battle, what condition are they in, what happened to the enemy… all of which then informs the direction the story takes.
All that is very sensate to me… but the Explore part is where you objectively look at the rules and determine where they work to evoke the sensate and where they don’t. Actual play should show that characters with long guns, the high ground and tactical cover should have a significant advantage over enemies with only pistols and lack of cover. If the rules don’t reflect this, then you have to go deep into the rules to figure out why and how to change them in order to reflect that.
I can give another example completely differently… using Blades in the Dark (which has none of the above). Blades promises, and every play experience I’ve had, the GM also promised this… that the system is designed for players to be expert criminals who have tons of experience and can pull of amazing scores, etc.
Except every time I’ve played, the mechanics have not supported this. Because the Action Roll of Blades pushes the similar Success, Partial success with challenge, or fail outcomes of its PbtA influences… and because the statistical outcome of the small dice pools are very much in the middle range with one complication piling on another… the actual play experience is not one of Ocean’s 11 sophisticated “we’ve got every base covered” cool cats… it is instead a series of misadventures that tend to result in a game that would better be a version of Fiasco. This is because the mechanics tend to push more towards “challenge or fail” rather than success.
So, I’d take this as a chance to explore and try to figure out… what do we do to nudge average Action Roll results a bit higher… give players more chances to succeed cleanly… because this will provide more of the promised experience, that of being a highly skilled professional criminal who covers all her bases and has clever contingencies, etc. (Like, to me, the Flashback mechanic is poorly designed, because it still demands a low success chance Action Roll, whereas something better might be a limited resource of “automatic success” based on “I planned for that” or whatever.)
Essentially… I’m just interested in more understanding of actual play examples of all the pieces of your theory. From minimal mechanic examples to heavy crunch examples.