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Character currency

Started by Jack Spencer Jr, July 02, 2001, 02:05:00 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hi all,

Jim wrote,
"... power pricing in games and campaigns may have an economic component in addition to an efficacy component."

I agree with this observation in full. Essentially, game designers price certain things higher if they want those things to be rarer during play. On the face of it, this is perfectly reasonable ... but it does have some pitfalls, which I hope I can articulate.

First of all, I see two types of economic pricing. (1) Purely at the metagame-level, based on what powers or abilities are considered appropriate (and in what proportions) for PLAYER-CHARACTERS. (2) Based on a within-game-world notion of DEMOGRAPHICS for those abilities. Either way has pitfalls.

For the first/protagonist method, Jim is perfectly right with his Trump example. My favorite example of a power/concept that could use a little of this thinking is the "speedster" character in Champions, which I think is well-conceived and priced in the context of efficacy in that game. However, speedsters are relatively rare in the comics (or were, before the 90s), if not vanishingly so. The speedsters-everywhere effect one finds in the usual Champions game is strictly a product of point-pricing and effectiveness.

But say we then make speedsters really expensive in the interest of staying "on-genre." Then we run into another problem: that playing a speedster AT ALL becomes a big pain in the butt. By pricing "speedsters in general" out of the picture (which Champions does not do, but Everway DOES with magic), the rare player who goes ahead and plays one gets hosed. There's no reason why playing any sort of character should automatically be less fun.

For the second/demographic method, we run into the common problem of game-world-modeling meeting the player-priorities-for-creation. The trouble arises from players' perfectly reasonable desire to play exotic characters, or those with unusual abilities.

Say that a population is designated to be 5% "skookie." There are some older systems that would militate against playing a skookie character, making the cost high, for instance, because they "should" be rare in terms of game-world logic. I remember the painful, convoluted text in The Fantasy Trip that attempted to explain, clearly against the author's own sense of internal logic, why it's OK to have a disproportionately high proportion of mages in your adventuring party, although they represent a very small portion of the population.

Lest the skookies are too abstract, or the TFT example is too archaic, I call attention to Armageddon, which suffers very badly from this problem; starting celestials pay so many points just to be celestials that they end up being pretty wimpy in terms of usable values (attributes and skills).

I suggest that NEITHER form of economic currency-design is especially effective for their goals. Such goals are better met by establishing solid boundaries for creativity rather than playing with the prices of things. Jim's points about Everway provide a good basis for my thinking about this issue.

"I believe Tweet priced Everway magic itself on this basis. He seems to have felt that he couldn't do a fantasy RPG without "magic," but he wanted magic to be safe, legal and rare. (The opposite happens in AM, where economically you'd be nuts to make a non-mage as your main character.)"

"What seems to have happened in the actual played life of the game is that GMs picked up on the metamessage (reduce the attractiveness of magic) and concluded, largely unconsciously, that there was still work to be done in this area. IOW, that they must continue to hammer down the effectiveness of magic during play."

Agreed. Totally agreed. What might surprise people is that I think the players' response is REASONABLE. I think that if one wants to make magic "safe, legal, and rare" in a setting, one needs to set the system-parameters of its use that yield these results. In other words, the desired result should be embedded in what magic can DO, not its price/effectiveness costs in relation to the other things a character can do. If you want magic to be safe & legal, then don't permit its possible effects to be unsafe and (by most standards) illegal, in terms of its capabilities.

The same principle applies, to my way of thinking, to all aspects of play. If there are creative parameters within which the designer wants gamers to be working, then design within them. Making features OUTSIDE those parameters possible but more expensive creates the pitfalls I've tried to describe.


[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-07-19 17:34 ]