From the AD&D 2e Dungeon Master’s Guide:
Since this isn’t a combat game, the rules are not ultra-detailed, defining the exact effect of every blow, the subtle differences between obscure weapons, the location of every piece of armor on the body, or the horrifying results of an actual sword fight. Too many rules slow down play (taking away from the real adventure) and restrict imagination. How much fun is it when a character, ready to try an amazing and heroic deed, is told, “You can’t do that because it’s against the rules.”Cook, 51
“Players should be allowed to try whatever they want–especially if what they want will add to the spirit of adventure and excitement. Just remember that there is a difference between trying and succeeding.
“To have the most fun playing the AD&D game, don’t rely only on the rules . . .”
One of the most common refrains from modern players – especially from those who dislike D&D – is that the game is nothing more than a combat simulator, and a poor one at that. Yet here is Zeb Cook, the man who helped reshape the game during its second iteration telling us all, explicitly, that the game is not a combat game.
So why do so many people insist that it is?
In looking at the argument most often people say that the game focuses the majority of its energy on combat, which is certainly true. But in doing so they often forget that the game gives wide latitude to their players to change it and to experiment along the way. As Zeb wrote:
Players should be allowed to try whatever they want–especially if what they want will add to the spirit of adventure and excitement. Just remember that there is a difference between trying and succeeding.”Cook, 51
It’s that spirit of the game that is so often overlooked in the argument that the game is just a combat game.
Dungeons & Dragons has always been a game that encourages players to explore what’s possible. Early games had guns, lasers, tanks, and everything from hysterical inside jokes to deep explorations of serious topics. The games stretched the boundaries of what could be and in so doing people began making new games that helped push those boundaries further.
The rules are guidelines but they aren’t sacrosanct. Every rule can be changed, bent, and discarded. New rules can be created – and should be. The game can stand it because that’s what it’s always done.
Cook, David “Zeb.” Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Dungeon Master Guide. TSR, Inc. 1993. pg 51