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Started by Lance D. Allen, April 05, 2002, 07:49:56 AM

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Lance D. Allen

For the record, I looked for other threads on this topic within the past few months, as well as the essays. I found nothing there to answer my questions, so I bring it here.

 In a general sense, there are a few common ways to reward PCs for doing whatever behavior is conducive to what the game is about. The most common ways are:

1. Experience, or other mechanics for improving a character's abilities.
2. Stuff, whether it be magical items, money, weapons, new technical toys, or whatever.
3. Fame/Infamy, reputation, status etc.

 As someone pointed out, all of these are basically power-ups for your character (Fame or Imfamy could be used to coerce or convince, status can impart rank and the ability to command, etc.). If the game concept is based around getting more powerful, this is fine. If it is not, however, then you do not necessarily want these to be the primary rewards.

 Only, what alternatives exist?
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls


Certainly these examples all are about empowering your character...but why do most players want more powerful characters?  Often the character is the ONLY means that a player has to influence the story.  Many games provide story points, plot points, metagame rules, and authorial control(see the Pool), to allow the player more story input without necessarily needing to power up their character.



Look beyond rewarding player Characters, and take a look at rewarding Players.  After all characters are just scrawls on a slip of paper.  Its the player that does all of the hard work.

The most basic old school player reward is the "hero point" allowing players to protect their character's from death or "power-up" for a crucial roll.  This isn't a character reward (the character has no conception of what such points are) its a player reward, allowing him to protect their investment or choose for themselves what is and isn't a moment worthy of additional effort.

More recently player rewards have gone beyond this, giving the players the ability to build up the story as well as (or even instead of) building up the character.  The mission building idea was one direction to go.  Plot Points like in Theatrix, or even Star Power from HKAT 1ed are also player based rewards.



Every couple months we start this conversation up.  It's a big deal - in my opinion the failure of many games boils down to an inappropriate reward system.  There are some good threads around and about, if you got the time to search for them.

The whole thing about reward systems is that they establish up front what the game values, and thus what the players are going to value within the game.  D&D makes it explicitly clear through its text and examples that the game is about powering up, and thus you get the players valuing experience points and treasure, which directly translates into player behavior - in this case monster-bashing (the primary way in which experience and treasure are earned).  Vampire doesn't place a high value on anything in particular - "good" roleplaying, I guess, is what the game calls it - and that's why you find different groups playing it in a mashmash of ways.

When designing a game, I usually try to figure what it is I want the players to do, and then try to figure out what rewards will encourage those specific behaviors.  You're certainly not limited in the types of rewards you can establish - it doesn't have to be straight increases or decreases to character efficiency.   And rewards can be negative - the loss of hit points in D&D is a negative reward, which further encourages a certain type of behavior in conjunction with the primary stated goal of the game (monster-bashing).  

- Scott

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I went on a link hunt.

Rewarding players

Which itself contains a link to the earlier thread Reward systems

Reward systems are also presented as an issue in Chapter Four of the essay, but only as a topic for future discussion with the following prompter questions:
What is being rewarded? Attendance? Role-playing per se? Player actions? Outcomes of conflicts? In-game moments?
Who is being rewarded, the player or the character?
Are reward systems necessary? At what scopes or time-frames of play are they more or less important?
If we are talking about character improvement, how does it proceed? Linearly or exponentially? If exponentially, is the exponent positive or negative?
Do changes in the values and aspects of the character affect the exchange rate of Currency itself?

Finally, because at least one new Forge member has mentioned his concern with the issue, I'll repeat here that nothing is wrong, not a thing, with bringing up topics that have been discussed before. When someone responds by saying, in part, "We've discussed this before," they are not saying as well, "So piss off, you johnny-come-lately pinhead." They are probably hunting for the thread in order to link to it, and looking forward to new discussions of the material if a new perspective is being brought to the problem.


Lance D. Allen

I'm not so much concerned that people are saying "Piss off, you johnny-come-lately pinhead" as just pointing out that I did seek the answers. It annoys me when other simply ask for answers without looking first, in any situation. Perhaps it's just a matter of self-sufficiency.. At least make the effort on your own before asking for help... a pet-peeve if you will.

Anyhow, It seems I didn't search quite hard enough (or far enough back) so I'll just toodle along and read the linked threads before responding further in this one.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Mike Holmes

Other player rewards.

Spotlight time. This is a metagame reward, but it does not allow any non-traditional power to be used. Essentially, the player gets points or something that he can use to make the GM focus on his character's activities for a while.

Similarly, something like "Subplot Points" could force the GM to come up with a new sub-plot for your character.

"Place Points" could be cashed in to make the GM detail a part of the world that is of interest to the player.

Lots of games have personality mechanics that allow the player to change the nature of the character's personality, which may not make him more powerful or anything, but certainly more interesting to the player. There are lots of Dynamism mechanics that deal with rewarding players by allowing them to change their character in some way to keep him fresh. (D&D Alignment is an example of Negative reinforcement, here)

And again I proffer Cash and other RW goodies. While I think that most people think I'm kidding, this actually happens all the time. For example, convention tournaments. You wouldn't believe how focused Gamist play can become once there's actual cash on the line for the best player. Sometimes the best roleplayer advances, in which case the Cash reward makes for better role-playing (see RPGA tournaments; nothing as impressive as the play in a Cthulhu Masters game).

I'm not saying it's practical, but one could encourage this sort of behavior in a game design. Moreover, I present it in hopes of displaying that there are probably huge areas of reward that we haven't even touched on yet, as people are way too "in the box" about it yet.

We all know what the reward for playing Xenophile (or the realted RPG) is...Betcha hadn't thought of that.

Remember that most "Character" rewards are actually player rewards that also happen to reward the character. Only player rewards motivate players. As such, I'm certain that there are other Character Rewards that are undiscovered, as well.

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Lance D. Allen




 I had so many ideas hit me while reading those threads that I cannot even begin to formulate them all. I will, though.. And I'll add them to the game, when I decide to go ahead and revamp things with all of the new ideas I've had since coming here.

 However, I will post one idea which came to me, mainly because I don't think my game will support the idea. It's primarily an narrativist reward, and I don't even remember what inspired it.

 Here's how it goes.. We've all read fantasy novels, where the hero starts out as Joe-nobody, and then somehow becomes... so much more. You have the Belgariad, with Garion the farmboy becoming Belgarion, King of Riva, Child of Light, Godslayer, etc. You've also got the three heroes of the Wheel of Time, Rand al'Thor, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, three Two Rivers lads who becomes Ta'veren, and so much more... In narrativist fantasy games, where the group as a whole would like to see things go this far, I profer the Epic Transformation. Whatever their characters were, or were becoming suddenly... blossoms, and they become Epic characters. With the example of the WoT heroes, they were all learning how to fight, the ways of the world, etc. but it wasn't until their Epic Transformation (Rand realizing he could channel, up until he realized he was the Dragon Reborn, Mat dying and living again, gaining the memories of ancestors, his famed Luck, et al. and Perrin's transformation into Goldeneyes) that they truly came into their own right.
 How the Epic Transformation would be handled would vary by the rule system, but the common thread is that they would become more than ordinary heroes, and would in some ways transcend the rules.

 ::shrugs:: Take it or leave it. I don't think Mage Blade will support this sort of option (at least not without some serious tweaking) so I suggest it in case anyone likes the idea.

 Thanks for responses. I'll be checking back with this thread repeatedly as I get the ideas out and down in print.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Ron Edwards

Hi Lance,

Thanks for checking out the threads and I'm glad you found them useful. I'll look forward to your further thoughts about it.

Regarding the notion you describe, RuneQuest provided this very phenomenon in exquisite, perhaps squinty-eyed, detail back in the 70s. Not only did the characters begin with 25% skills and hay in their hair, they defined their spheres in life only through actual play, and they could achieve a quantum shift in their abilities, status, and role in the cosmos when and if they became Runelords of two possible sorts. I also think that old-school (which apparently is now new-school) D&D achieves something of the same effect through acquiring artifacts and (in the new version) the prestige class system.

Currently Hero Wars (soon to be HeroQuest) permits but does not dictate this same phenomenon in a very different fashion, philosophically speaking. I also recommend checking out Nephilim and The Chosen for games which involve similar shifts.

My final thought is that your examples all come from fantasy fiction which was heavily influenced by old-school D&D and RuneQuest role-playing, and their attendant fixation on power-improvement over time. Other, older fantasy fiction tends not to focus on power-improvement for a main character so much as on decisions, whether based on personal maturation or basic world-views. That's not to say that a power-improvement story can't be a good one, but I do think that to some extent we're seeing a historical tautology at work, at least if we use the references you mention.


Walt Freitag

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Other player rewards.

Spotlight time. This is a metagame reward, but it does not allow any non-traditional power to be used. Essentially, the player gets points or something that he can use to make the GM focus on his character's activities for a while.

Similarly, something like "Subplot Points" could force the GM to come up with a new sub-plot for your character.

"Place Points" could be cashed in to make the GM detail a part of the world that is of interest to the player.

I'd like to point out that spotlight time, involvement in subplots, and access to new places are rewards that a GM can bestow whether or not the reward is formalized in a metagame mechanism. In fact, I agree with what James West stated in a post on the older of the two threads Ron's post linked to, that spotlight time is the ultimate currency of reward for most players. Such rewards occur throughout play, constantly and often haphazardly, perhaps even counterproductively in cases of incoherency. (For example, a group may wish to solve fewer problems by fighting, and yet the characters who fight most get rewarded with the most spotlight time because the game system has more crunch for fighting than for other aspects of play.)

Metagame mechanisms are a powerful way of making those types of reward work more consistently to the advantage of the game's goals. But there should be ways to accomplish this in traditional GM-driven game styles as well. There could be system "rules" or at least rules of thumb directing the GM to devote, say, a certain minimum amount of description time based on the degree of success of the action. Additional time could be added to actions that address the game premise well. Some GMs already do this instinctively, of course, but others might benefit from explicit behind-the-scenes rules for more profitably allocating the most fundamental reward of all: the attention of the other participants, as mediated by the GM's spotlight.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere