Most Intellectual RPG I own

(This is in response to the #rpgaday list of questions)

I’m not entirely sure what “most intellectual” RPG I own even means. Clearly *Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth* is the most pretentious RPG ever published in English, but do I own that or was it Rob Barrett’s copy?

I think, though, that I’m going to go with a different take on “intellectual”, and make an argument that good old D&D white box is the most intellectual of the RPGs I own. I mean, besides the fact that even understanding how to play requires a bunch of analysis of cryptic text. Unlike most of the games that came after it, OD&D engages the GM and the players on a purely intellectual level. Not that you have to be smart to play it, but that there’s nothing to do, no way to resolve situations or move ahead in the game except by thinking, trying to understand the fictional world, and making decisions based on that. Any puzzles that are encountered have to be solved by the player. Anything the players attempt to do outside of a sparse set of tasks has to be adjudicated by the GM based on what seems reasonable: there isn’t even a hint of a mechanism along the lines of pick a difficulty and roll a die, or rules to mold outcomes according to aesthetic considerations or play that emphasizes non-thinky things like performance, empathy (especially empathic understanding of your own character), and so on. You could use OD&D as the basis for such play, and it wouldn’t get in the way…but that’s because it said nothing about it. Everything that’s actually on the page is about play as an intellectual task. OD&D doesn’t even use the term “role-playing” anywhere in its text: the only uses of the word role are in reference to the character’s *function*, e.g. “roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role.” (in context fighting man, magic user, or cleric).