I’ve probably written about this on Google+ a few times, but I wanted to document it in full.
Apparently, M.A.R. Barker, creator of the early RPG Empire of the Petal Throne, after decades of role-playing settled on a very simple system:
The GM takes the PCs’ character description into account when describing NPC reactions, so if you’re very strong, you don’t need to roll to push open a stuck door. However, if a situation is in doubt, the GM rolls d100, where a lower roll is better. The GM still keeps the PCs’ character description in mind here; a low roll for a high-speed character will work out differently than one with low speed.
You’re not trying to roll over or under a number. You’re just…rolling the dice. Combat operates at a higher level than typical blow-by-blow D&D encounters; you roll to see who gets injured, knocked out, etc. It can be just as cinematic as you want; you just have to be more clear about what you’re doing.
Now, this puts a lot more pressure on the GM to build and run a fair, interesting session. But I feel like we have many of those tools already. Anyvay, it’s something to think about.