Thursday, February 10, 2005

[RPG] Reward systems

NB: I want to post this to The Forge, so if anyone has any ideas on how to clarify the following, please comment…


I finally think I understand how a role-playing game’s reward system works.

A character has an Ability.
The player enters that Ability into a Mechanic.
The Mechanic is used to resolve a situation.

As a result of the situation being resolved, a player gets a Reward.
The player can use that Reward to improve their Ability – which improves their chances of resolving a situation in their favour.

So the three components of a Reward System cycle are: Ability, Mechanic, Reward.

Those are the three components of a Reward System that has a Goal of ‘character improvement’. What other Goals are out there? Jared Sorenson has proposed ‘development’ and ‘investment’. Are there more?
Does a different Goal need a different Cycle?
Are there others ways of running a Character Improvement cycle?

Here's some threads to review ...

Rewarding Players.

Reward Systems, or Making Your Players Behave.

This thread has expanded my thinking on reward systems.
It points out an opposite cycle to the one I've highlighted. A negative loop versus a positive loop.

Rewards for setting up.

Advancement Systems and D&D.

Non game system reward.

Character goal based reward systems.


The Gamester At Large said...

I think that you are making the mistake of thinking "pretty much every game does this so that is how it is".

Rewards in roleplaying require only that there's a reward. I've played a few games where every player got a set number of reward points per session (almost always experience points, of course).

Also, a lot of games allow character improvement to be unrelated to how the reward was gained.

What are you trying to get out of the analysis? I seems like you are looking for some kind of categorisation of different game rewards systems but I'm not sure what for...

hix said...

Hi Mike,
To answer your last question first: "What am I trying to get out of the analysis?"

I've been designing RPGs for about 2 years now and they've always felt incomplete to me. I've begun to suspect it has something to do with not integrating a reward system into the game.

So my goal is to understand different types of reward systems and how (and whether) they affect subsequent gameplay. Rather than a complete categorisation, I'd say I'm looking to expand my options.

I'm not convinced that I'm "making the mistake of thinking 'pretty much every game does this so that is how it is'," but I'm prepared to admit I may have got a blind spot here, so if you think that's what's going on I welcome you clarifying it.

The reason I posted that 'Character Improvement' cycle was simply because that's the first time I've clearly seen a Reward System could work.

One part of your comment I didn't quite understand:
"Rewards in roleplaying require only that there's a reward." That seems circular to me. What is the consequence of getting the reward? Why is it a reward?

The Gamester At Large said...

Okay, I think I can see what you are after now.

I suspect that you need to think hard about *what* you want to reward. Rewards pretty much say "this is the thing you should be doing in this game".

The cycle that you suggested rewards using abilities on the character sheet to resolve situations.

I suspect that thinking hard about what people should be doing in play should provide you with good hint about what sort of reward system is required.

As a deeply different example to yours, consider Dead Inside in which the reward mechanic is tied into the soul cultivation and loss mechanics... if your character does good deeds, they can improve abilities (including mundane skills and so on). This emphasizes the game's focus on issues of morality and agency.

However, I think most games just use an inherited reward system from D&D... that is, do stuff, get rewards, improve character. I think this survives more because it's neat than just because it's done that way, but it doesn't really tie in to the game that is being played in any way.

hix said...

Dead Inside: That's interesting. In terms of the reward system, what happens if a character performs a 'bad deed'?

Svend said...

Does classic black-book Traveller have a Reward System? I guess you could make some sort of argument along the lines of "Characters do things, get credits, and are able to buy new, nifty things", but it feels like a bit of a stretch.

I certainly also seen systems that it seems like the *player's* ability seemed to be the thing that's used to resolve the situation - if you reward actions not mediated by the game system, then that seems inevitable. (For example, if you have no "social mechanics" (or chose not to use them), but you reward the group for defeating the enemy through well-reasoned argument (or terrible puns) that have been roleplayed out.)

(Sidenote: When parentheses attack!! :)

I've contemplated having purely *player* rewards - simple recognition that they've put something extra toward the game. This seems to me to be the reasoning behind, for example, BESM recommending that any player that comes up with a picture and backstory for their character be rewarded with a few extra character points.

Yeah, I should go read the threads you're pointing at. Actually, I should go back to working. :)

The Gamester At Large said...

Yeah, Dead Inside is interesting.

In answer to your question, if a character does bad things, their soul withers and withers and eventually they turn into a qlippoth, a malevolent vampiric spirit that eats the souls of others. The player doesn't get to control the character any more, either.