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Author Topic: Can an advancement system change an entire game?  (Read 2632 times)
Clinton R. Nixon
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« on: January 22, 2003, 12:19:40 PM »

All this Heartbreaker talk has got me thinking about game design in a furious way. In sketching out my own, I've gotten inspired about a game that I don't know what to think about.

I took the bones of my Heartbreaker and planned out a game (note: this game probably will never see the light of day), which has three basic character components: your ubiquitious attributes and skills, and then a concept called Secrets, which work kind of like D&D3E Feats, but in a more powerful fashion. Resolution is a simple 2d10 + skill vs. target number task resolution, and attributes work as pools of dice that can be spent to roll bonus dice in resolution or power Secrets.

Now, from just this, I look at the game, and don't understand why I get so excited thinking about it. It doesn't really fit in GNS - it's not narrativist, simulates just about nothing, and might be a little game-oriented. I have the belief that advancement systems are the motor of a game's focus, though: without the unique Spiritual Attribute system of TROS, for example, it'd be just a damn good fighting simulation game. With SA's, it's an incredible narrativist motor.

In my unnamed fantasy game, I could go with a game-oriented advancement system where you gain experience for meeting the GM's goals and overcoming obstacles and showing up for the game. However, I could institute an advancement system where the player defines a couple of characteristics for his character up-front, much like TROS's Spiritual Attributes, and gains experience for fulfilling those characteristics. (Example: a character with Faith would gain XP for defending his faith.)

My question: can just this portion of the game placed up against a fun and light resolution engine change the entire nature of the game? I tend to think so - which makes me more excited - but I think it's a valid question for discussion, even outside of the context of this specific game.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2003, 01:02:25 PM »

I would say 200% absolutely.  I fully believe that the game's reward system (which most often involves character advancement to some degree) will heavily influence how the game gets played.

I have also heard people vehemently oppose this idea.  Usually their arguement centers around the idea that as players they rise above mere mechanics and that they'll play the game however they want regardless of such things.  IMO while there may be a small slice of individual gamers who can play a game completely independently of what the game mechanics reward that this is not true of the vast majority of gamers (nor I suspect is it true of the majority of gamers who make such a claim).

However I would emphasise that the reward system for a game goes far beyond simple character advancement rules.  If you're asking whether or not you can control the GNS aspect of the game JUST by swapping out different advancement rules, I'd say probably not.  I think the rest of the games rules have to also reward the same type of activity that the advancement system rewards...I suspect that is at the very root of coherence/incoherence.
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Matt Wilson
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2003, 01:10:43 PM »

Quote
My question: can just this portion of the game placed up against a fun and light resolution engine change the entire nature of the game? I tend to think so - which makes me more excited - but I think it's a valid question for discussion, even outside of the context of this specific game.


Big yes to that. I think the advancement system may be at the core of most games' natures.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2003, 08:32:41 PM »

There's a degree to which the answer is of course; but this may be oversimplifying it. It makes it sound like you could completely alter the nature of the game "merely" by changing the reward system. My impression is that for it to work, the reward system really has to be integrated into the game.

Somewhere there's a thread on which I surprised myself by pointing out that good reward systems had two aspects: the player was given a reward for doing that which the game wanted to promote, but also the nature of the reward was such that it in itself encouraged what the game wants to promote. The D&D system is actually a good example of this: killing monsters and gaining treasures give you what you need to get better at killing monsters and gaining treasures. Most D&D modifications designed to "encourage good role playing" amount to half a fix: if you create good story, you'll get what you need to get better at killing monsters and gaining treasure. That's not sensible. It needs to be fixed on both sides: if you create good story, you'll get what you need to create better stories.

The ultimate reward for the gamist is winning; for the simulationist is discovering; for the narrativist is expressing. The "rewards system" you incorporate isn't really the reward; it's a way to provide the reward through game mechanics.

--M. J. Young
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2003, 01:32:43 AM »

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon
My question: can just this portion of the game placed up against a fun and light resolution engine change the entire nature of the game? I tend to think so - which makes me more excited - but I think it's a valid question for discussion, even outside of the context of this specific game.


Well last week I showed my copy of Trollbabe to some friends to see what they thought, as we discussed it their points of view gave me lots to think about. When playing a narrativist game we (the various folks I rp with) load up our starting characters with all kinds of angsty conflicts and problems and npcs to provide "adventure hooks" for the GM and also material for us to explore. I guess we grab a lot of Director stance for ourselves at the start and I've always considered that essential for the type of narrativist game I'd enjoy.

With trollbabe the characters start with a blank slate, but the reward mechanic allows the player to buy relationships (and employ them with director stance) with the npcs encountered. So the character becomes more and more complicated as play progresses, and the player earns more and more director stance as play progresses. This is completely the opposite from any narrativist game I've played in, and it avoids the kind of uncertainty that can happen at the start of a campaign where nobody is sure how the character sheets and gm's world are going to gel. (An interesting note - I was really confused when first reading TB that questions like What is a Trollbabe? where pretty much left unanswered. It wasn't untill after this discussion with friends that I saw how this fits in with the reward mechanic allowing me to define my character through play.)
 
So yeah I think in that example the reward mechanic completely changes the nature of the game and the approach that the players bring to it.

Tony
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Typos caught after posting Thurs 23/01
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