Q. It seems like everybody can qualify for this bonus, so why not get rid of it? Or make it mandatory?
A. Declarations exist for a specific reason, one tied into the core philosophy of the game. I think that RPG’s come alive when the player’s and GM buy into the world, when they become immersed in the fictional reality that playing the game represents. Fostering immersion is one of the goals of the game.
Fact is, good rules can’t do much to foster immersion, while bad rules can easily disrupt it. Fostering immersion requires that the rules are, to the maximum extent possible, transparent and unobtrusive. Simple and easily used rules get out of the way of the action.
Immersion happens when players and GM’s forget about the mechanics and focus on the characters and situations happening in the game, right now. (There are varying degrees of this, obviously.) GM’s aid this by vividly describing the world around the characters, players by getting into the skin of their characters and describing what they do based not on external concerns, but on who the character is.
The Declaration mechanic is, in effect, a bribe to encourage this kind of thinking. It rewards players for describing things in-character, describing what their character thinks, says, or does in personal terms, not game mechanical terms. It makes the players allies of the GM.
I want this to happen, which is why it’s easy to achieve. Making it hard to gain the +1 bonus would undermine the entire reason the mechanic exists.
Declarations aren’t mandatory, because requiring them would break immersion. Players who don’t like describing character actions this way would chafe at the requirement, and players angry at mechanics are not invested in the game.
None of the above means that Declarations are a perfect mechanic. I have reasons for implementing them; that doesn’t mean I’m right to do so. If it seems that Declarations are burdensome rather than colorful, I’m more than amenable to removing them.
Looking over the playtest transcript, however, I think they worked well. At the very least, they illustrated what players thought was happening in the fight, what they thought their character was doing. This makes it easy for the GM to notice and correct misimpressions, making it easier for everyone to be on the same page (as regards what’s going on).
That one benefit probably makes the mechanic worthwhile. Fostering in-character description and thinking (to the extent that happens) would be gravy.
[Note: One last FAQ to go.]