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Author Topic: Reward Systems, or Making Your Players Behave  (Read 6066 times)
hardcoremoose
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« on: July 20, 2001, 04:10:00 AM »

I've discussed this topic elsewhere and it came back to me full force while reading through the "silliness" thread in the GNS forum.  Basically I propose that the most important mechanic of any game is the one least discussed by gamers - the Reward System (of course, if this has been discussed elsewhere, feel free to ignore me).

A lot is said about players who just don't seem to be playing the game "right" (whatever that is).  It seems to me that the games that have the least problems with that are the ones that reward players for doing things "properly".  Dying Earth, with its taglines, is a perfect example.  Even D&D's experience point system serves as a good model - if you're killing things in that game, you're playing it right.

But then there are games that just don't back-up whatever style of play they claim to want to engender.  That goes for pretty much any game where the text reads "Give 1-3 experience points for good roleplaying"...or something to that effect.

Now, when I'm talking about Rewards, I'm not just talking about ways to increase your character's Effectiveness.  I mean any kind of Currency, or even in-game stuff (I kid you not, a GM once gave me a Tomahawk missile as a reward during a Vampire game...to this day, I don't know why).

I guess I need to make point here, huh?  Well, what I'm suggesting is that Reward Systems are a really underexplored facet of game design.  There must be better and more creative ways to reward players than to just give them some experience points at the end of a session (or Fate points, or Poker Chips, or whatever).  Furthermore, couldn't these systems be tailored to actually encourage players to play the game a certain way?  Dying Earth sure does.  What other games do it well, and how so?
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James V. West
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« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2001, 06:15:00 AM »

This is something I'd like to talk about. I've been racking my brain over it lately. I'm guilty of simply saying "award X for good role-playing" in the few games I've done. Thanks for pointing it out.

Ideally, I think that the real reward should be the overall experience. Players should simply WANT to evoke the game's real power. But, if it was that simple, we wouldn't need any rules at all, would we?

I think the rules themselves can and should be part of the game atmosphere, the experience. In that light, the reward system should be as integrated a part of that whole experience as anything else--overall premise, setting, funky dice mechanics, or whatever.

An example that I really dig comes from Jared's octaNe: the use of Plot Points to create, among other things, Special Effects. That's such a cool idea. I love it. And I think it would work very well in most groups. Players love to tell the details of their character's actions--something not encouraged in most games. Being given a liscence to do so is a great reward, and one that I want to explore in my game designs.

Metagame rewards (if I'm using the terminology correctly) are also an interesting idea. Giving a player a reward that has nothing at all to do with the character, or maybe nothing to do with the game even (although I'm not as sure about the latter part).

One type of reward that I believe is effective is giving players game currency (whatever it may be) for doing metagame "enhancements" such as drawing character portraits, drawing scenes from past sessions, writing the exploits of their character or of the whole group (didn't AMBER talk abou that?), bringin in food or cool music, or writing music for the group. Creative or thoughtful things that simply make the experience better. Those are things that deserve rewards.

I recall someone mentioning in a post (somewhere, sometime) that a character who acts the way he's *supposed* to act should not get any reward for doing so. It was suggested that only when a character is struggling (as in trying NOT to do those bad things he does, or trying to overcome some major disadvantage) should he be rewarded. What do you think of that idea? I'm still chewing on it. It seems that if you're playing IC, then you should get your reward. But that's so linear and expected, isn't it?

You know the old saying "Do something every day that scares you"? I'm thinking that that idea has a powerful place in rp. The discussion of Stakes and Gambles, for example. Isn't having game stakes the very essence of struggling or taking chances? When we, as humans, are not challenged, we don't grow. How does this translate into games? How should rewards for taking risks be handled?

In the game I'm working on now, I use the approach that even the best played session may not garner you any reward. There is always a chance that you will actually lose power due to unseen, unkowable forces (something intangilbe, abstract, and, I think, refelctive of reality).


James V. West
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James V. West
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« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2001, 06:56:00 AM »

As a matter of fact...I think that if a character is NOT taking a risk, there should be no reward. If a character is actually playing it safe, but the player knows in metagame terms that this action does not insure safety..that's taking a risk for sake of the game experience and should be rewarded.

If  player is playing it safe so that his character is not put into any risky situations, that deserves a negative reward.

At least, that's the direction I'm going currently.

James V. West (note: I'm NOT james_west for those who are wondering...)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2001, 07:19:00 AM »

Hello all,

This is one of those topics I have extensive notes about, including comparisons across many dozens of RPGs, and never get to explore because people kept having cows over GNS.

I kind of wish it had cropped up after GenCon, but what can ya do ... I'll try to make sense while being brief.

1) Reward systems generate value systems. [elaborate justification and many examples in my notes] Implication: consider GNS goals.

2) Reward systems may span all of Character Currency, and mix and match across categories - failing to recognize this creates a lot of problems in games like Champions and Vampire. It also means that the usual focus on Effectiveness (big "E") and the further focus on effectiveness (small "e," meaning combat/damage potential) is only a small part of the potential for such systems.

3) Reward systems scale non-linearly over time. The different versions of D&D alone provide a fascinating example of struggling with this issue.

4) Reward systems may be divided into "automatic," which any player may expect as time passes, and "specific," which relies on identified instances and thus may be withheld. Problem: are withholdable rewards an unnecessary source of GM-player conflict? Or conversely, are non-withholdable rewards really rewards?

5) They may also be divided into "continuous" (how many points did you do to that monster?) and "categorical" (did you or didn't you save the young prince?).

6) Reward systems are opposed, fundamentally, to punishment systems, which originally in role-playing are damage and death. How is this opposition manifested in more recent designs?

Tons more questions abound ... is it really a matter of the GM rewarding players in a tournament-judge scheme? Or a social scheme? Or is the GAME rewarding the players, with the GM less involved on a judgmental basis?

We should probably distinguish among categories ... the biggest, most inclusive term is "Reward system," and within that we see "Improvement," "Personality Development," and other things all mixed up. Dissecting them apart would seem like an appropriate goal for this thread.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2001, 07:24:00 AM »

One other thing: the humorous secondary title for this thread is definitely a point of contention.

Is it really the GM's place to "make players behave"? I consider the social function of role-playing to be its largest category-box (or as Jim Henley put it, "Dude mode" comes first). What role does the reward system really play in that function, if any? For instance, I do not think that withholding experience points is going to be effective in curbing specific behaviors, no matter how many RPG texts bleat/repeat this principle at us across the decades.

Again, my contention is that reward systems do generate value systems. The role of GM as arbiter of those rewards on a GROUP level works well, in my experience. However, doing so on a player A as opposed to player B level is highly questionable.

Best,
Ron
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2001, 07:34:00 AM »

Reward systems are indeed an underdeveloped field in RPG design.

Most of them are tied directly to character advancement.  Gain XP to either level up or to buy up abilities or buy off flaws.

Amazing Engine had an interesting concept with its character pool idea.  All of your characters for any game in AE yours your pool.  In play, you gain xp for advancement as usual, but you could choose to increase you pool as well.  The reward being the ability to create "better" characters in future games.

The best reward system I've seen to date is probably the one used in Everway.  The "boons" as they call it.  A boon could be anything from standard ability increase to wealth to a nifty magic item.

This is a very appealing system after playing D&D for so long and finding the +2 under the orc's mattress.  It makes the magic item special, magical.

(It's stuff like this that make me believe that everyone is actually narrativist or at least can appreciate narrativist gameplay.  That is, I think that most games attempt to tell stories in their games but the rules somethimes get in the way, and playing one good narrativist session will make them never look back.

But this is a topic for another discussion...)
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wyrdlyng
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« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2001, 08:15:00 AM »

I have always tried to use "game currency" rewards to encourage players to take a deeper interest in their characters and in the game in general. I find that this does tend to work well as a good number of players I have encountered will give only what is minimally required.

For example, my wife is running a 3rd Ed D&D game (her first such game ever). She has followed my practice of offering XP rewards for turning in well-developed background, character stories, journals, artwork, etc.

In our group of 4 players/1 GM this option was made known at the start and they/we have responded at various paces. I have turned in background stories and a bio (more because they needed to be written than to get points). Another player turned in a bio and a hand-drawn sketch (which surprised both me and my wife in its level of thought and detail). A third player (who is also new to role-playing games) is working on her character's bio. Whereas the last player is more than likely not going to turn anything and doesn't even have a background beyond "he has amnesia."

My wife also believes in rewarding good roleplaying with experience points. So far the one who has benefited from this the most has been the player who is new to rpgs. This player has taken to role-playing very quickly and is very good at expressing her character's personality and beliefs. The other two are on-again/off-again players with a couple of years experience each but who do little in the way of role-playing their characters' personalities. I walk the line of expected behavior because I keep the group alive tactically and ride herd when necessary.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that rewarding both good role-playing (acting in accordance with your character's personality and beliefs but not using them as shields in order to play it safe) and creating well-developed characters (putting together more than just a character sheet) does have a positive effect on role-players.

However, let me just add that just like in children and animals, using this reward system works best on players who have not yet developed bad role-playing habits. Like an old dog, some players have to unlearn poor role-playing before learning good role-playing.

I hope my ramblings made some sort of sense...



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Alex Hunter
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James V. West
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« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2001, 09:56:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-07-20 11:24, Ron Edwards wrote:
Again, my contention is that reward systems do generate value systems. The role of GM as arbiter of those rewards on a GROUP level works well, in my experience. However, doing so on a player A as opposed to player B level is highly questionable.


This is something I've been struggling with. I haven't felt comfortable with the idea of giving the whole group the same reward at the proper time. It always seemed like those players who weren't really putting into the game would have no incentive to do so since they still get the benefits of their fellows' efforts.

However, upon really looking at it, this might not be true. A manager where I work once told me that the fear of failing is a much more effective way to get people to do a good job than any sort of punishment or withholding of reward. That made sense. I have screwed up at work and, even though I was in no trouble whatsoever, and was not forced to do anything horrid to make up for it, I felt like a pile of crap. Why? Cause I dropped the ball.

That must translate into any social activity. I know its true in sports. Why not role-playing?

So now I'm re-thinking my approach to rewards. Sometimes intense rules are NOT needed to insure that people will "play right". I think that if there is a danger of *ruining* something for their peers, even the most lathargic player will pep up.

Therefore, I'm starting to buy into the idea that rewarding the whole group IS a good idea. One way to do this would be to keep tabs on what they do (mentally or otherwise) and figure into your decision the actions of all players involved. That way, if someone is knowingly pooping-out, it will affect the nature of the reward. Once they get a taste of how that feels, I think they'd step it up a bit.

James V. West
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wyrdlyng
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« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2001, 10:27:00 AM »

Quote

I have screwed up at work and, even though I was in no trouble whatsoever, and was not forced to do anything horrid to make up for it, I felt like a pile of crap. Why? Cause I dropped the ball.

That must translate into any social activity. I know its true in sports. Why not role-playing?


There's just one big flaw in your logic. You are assuming that others are as responsible (or guilty, depending on your view of it) as you are. There are many people in this world who screw up and just don't give a damn if it inconveniences others. These are the players who have fun trashing the game for everyone else. These are the same twits who cut you off because they attempt to get across 4 lanes rather than just make a U-turn further down the road. The same jerks who steal your newspaper from your doorstep. And the same jackasses who park their porsche across 3 handicapped  spots.

If your group actually care enough about each other to take the group's overall fun into consideration then keep those folks as long as you can.


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Alex Hunter
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James V. West
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« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2001, 11:15:00 AM »

I suppose dealing with jerk players is a topic for another post...

But good observation. I've indeed played with some of those players. They seem to have no understanding of the concept of group fun. As a designer, do you simply assume that the people playing the game are mature? Is that something a designer should worry about?

James Vernon West
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2001, 11:27:00 AM »

You can't design games for everyone, so you pick your audience.  Once you do that, you don't worry about anyone else.  

- Jared
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
hardcoremoose
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« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2001, 11:46:00 AM »

"I suppose dealing with jerk players is a topic for another post..."

Humor aside, one of the reasons for the subtitle of this thread is because I was interested in seeing if game mechanics, specifically the Reward system, could be used to deal with disruptive players.  Of course, there will always be players who just can't be dealt with, but those are the ones who have no interest in the game or in the social activity that is gaming (and are so rude, that they don't care that they're ruining it for their friends).

I'm working on a Reward system for WYRD that actively rewards or punishes players with different types of Currency.  Of course I haven't tested it yet, so I have no idea if it will do what it is supposed to do.

[ This Message was edited by: hardcoremoose on 2001-07-20 23:11 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2001, 12:23:00 PM »

Hello,

This is my horn: tooooooot!

By which I mean, there's thread on this forum called "Preventing Dysfunction" in which I hold forth on the levels and categories of screwed-up interactions among the real people in a role-playing situation.

In it, one of my main points is that you do not fix or correct for a fundamentally dysfunctional group. Reward systems or any other game mechanic cannot play this role.

They can channel, shape, and otherwise influence value systems within the context of FUNCTIONAL social interactions, which has been the focus on my points on this thread so far.

But now that we are talking about people who are absolutely committed to spoiling others' fun, well, we're out of the realm of what systems can do. These issues have to be dealt with in the real world.

Best,
Ron
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kwill
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« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2001, 01:37:00 PM »

getting back to rewards for in-game stuph...

firstly, to state that I prefer to reward (and hopefully reinforce) positive behaviour exclusively

ie, no punishment for negative behaviour, no "baseline" reward for "neutral" behaviour

nextly,

to target positive behaviour I've often thought that it's better to reward it *when it happens* -- rather than the typical "XP at the end of the session" model
("That was a brave stand Grunthar made there, Graham, here's 10XP!")

derailed train of thought,
player-empowerment in the rewards arena:

in a game where greed, wealth or a similar theme plays a role, the players themselves can be given the XP (or whatever) to distribute when & where *they* see fit
("Grunthar, you single-handedly fought off Wyrm of Depression while we ran to save our gold! (Here's 10XP!)")

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d@vid
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2001, 02:36:00 PM »

John hasn't responded so I will.  In OrkWorld, experience is meted out by the groups Tala (bard).  You don't do anything, you don't get XP.
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
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