Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What if you don't like carrots?

One assumption that I've been toying with is that PC advancement is tied to accumulated, earned experience points. For most, this is a no-brainer.

I, however, lack a brain... so I had to question it. Once I did, I stopped and wondered... why, if D&D assumes an average rate of advancement of one level per 11 encounters, does it bother with experience points? Why don't we just count encounters?

Last night, I played in a game using the new WoD system (which I prefer to the old one). The GM is using the default xp system, which gives a variable number of xp. One xp is given for the 'learning curve' - you get an xp if you mention something your PC learned that session. This isn't a new idea, but it is sort of interesting... primarily (to me) because the effect is that there is this floating xp award out there that is yours to lose. That is, its effectively a default award that a player may (but rarely will) fail to claim.

Still questioning, I now wonder, what if all xp worked like that?

What if you didn't earn xp at all? What if it came to you at a default rate? What if you could collect some or all of that xp depending upon your PC's actions?

This isn't really any different than a GM laying out the potential xp awards in a session... and realizing that not every PC will earn all of them. It is, instead, a different way of conceptualizing that. It opens up some new design space.

How so?

Well, for one thing, each PC could have different criteria (I'll call them Traps here) which could cause them not to gain full xp. I'll take a character from last night's game as an example: Hector is a mechanical genius and technophile. He's also socially awkward. His Trap could be: Lose 1/2 xp in a session if you (a) pass up the chance to fix or improve something mechanical or (b) make a good social impression on someone. This provides a way of reinforcing character shticks without worrying about bookkeeping.

It also allows for some stranger advancement options.

One thing I've been toying with is a character advancement scheme based around the pursuit of eudaimonia. I have rather particular ideas about virtue theory. I didn't want a system that rewarded you for practicing discrete virtues. Instead, I wanted a system that would reward you when you acted from all virtues - without conflict between them. Ultimately, I want something that effectively penalizes your advancement when your virtues and goals are in conflict.... and to do this, it would be simplest to have a fixed advancement rate that could then be tuned down at need.

(I don't know that this would be a fun system, but its something I was contemplating...)


onefreeman said...

I'm currently running a homebrew superhero system created by the former DM of the ongoing game, so I'm still learning all of the ropes.

One thing that has caught my eye however is the experience analogue, Hero Points. Not used solely for beefing oneself up, they can be used to avoid death or pull off really cool stuff that stretches your powers beyond the norm (like a flight/lightning hero turning into a lightning bolt to teleport a civilian out of the way of almost certain death) and are earned for doing correspondingly cool stuff. Only a few tend to get handed out each session this way though as it's hard to go totally outside the box in such a loose genre. So no real XP per encounter, just if the encounter (social or combat) or a certain move was seriously flashy.

At the end of the game, though, they get doled out to all depending on what criteria each player has met. Everyone gets one hero point for turning up to a session, one for helping the group, one for coming up with a plan others followed, one for acting heroically at all times and then one per objective met (villain defeated/vanquished, hostage saved, plot uncovered, etc) Points are then spent to gain skills, beef powers or improve stats.

Of course this opens the door to villain points - every time a hero does something seriously bad (massive property destruction, theft, manslaughter, murder etc) they get villain points depending on the severity of the offence. Powerful baddies can then use these as hero points to ensure they always survive, or to pull off cool power stunts themselves.

It's quite far removed from standard exp but it's an engaging way of doing things and makes it interesting watching players decide whether to burn a point now to ensure their attack hits or to try and scrounge lots to beef themselves up.

thanuir said...

I'd prefer to give or get experience when virtues and goals conflict, because that tends to make interesting and unpredictable gaming.

szilard said...

onefreeman - In general, I like that method. You can trade off between immediate effectiveness and overal increases in competence. The one worry I have about it is that it might discourage players from doing cool/risky things because they want to hoard their points for advancement.

thanuir - That would, in general, be more fun, yes. I wasn't really clear, though. I was ruminating about the use of rpgs as moral teaching tools. One interesting option, though, would be for conflicts between virtues to give you points that you could use on related skills, while lack of such conflict would go toward increasing general power level (or enlightenment or something). This could be... interesting.


onefreeman said...

That can be a problem with some players - we've got one particularly annoying guy in our group who wants to hoard his points and plans loudly what he's going to do months down the line. The other players tend to keep him in line though when he gets too stupid - a debate about whether he was going to use two hero points to freeze the knee joints of a 600m-tall nazi robot climbing out of the ground underneath the eiffel tower (that was a fun sesion) took about five minutes whilst they persuaded him.

He got his just desserts when his delayed efforts weren't quite enough and so myself and another player had to assist by boosting our flight powers and shooting at its shoulders to stop it toppling. in the aftermath, not only was he denied a hero point as he wasn't acting heroically, but we got some instead. Lesson learned - if he had acted swiftly he would have gotten major kudos/points for saving pairs, instead he's down two hero points and we get the glory instead.

I suppose where I'm rambling to is that it's easy enough to put the players into a position where using hero points is either necessary or very advisable. When you spend enough of them to avoid death, and pull off enough cool stunts that earn you either hero points back for sheer awesomeness or Fame points for astounding the city with pyrotechnics, you begin to use them more freely. It's almost like Pavlovian conditioning :D

thanuir said...

I know little about pedagogy - maybe simply reinforcing a given behaviour helps teach it. Maybe having to be in nasty moral situations helps teach about it.

Conflicting mechanical pressures to support different ways of coping are certainly interesting.