Monday, March 29, 2010

"Adventure" Games and Ass-Kickers

This is going to be the subject for the week, so I'll keep this short right now.

In creating my B/X Space Opera game, I got to thinking about advancement and reward. Because, despite a build-off of B/X it certainly isn't going to have the same method of point acquisition as B/X (Luke wasn't delving for treasure in the swamps of Dagobah, after all). So, since I DO want "levels" (they increase the adventuring effectiveness of the characters), what is the mechanism for advancement in the game?

After all, reward mechanisms drive behavior more often than not. Now, of course, I could go the D20 route and reward ONLY defeating of opponents...and then the game becomes combat oriented. And NOT ONLY combat-oriented, but geared towards "ass-kicking" characters, as opposed to "adventuring" characters.

I know, I know I'm not elaborating as much as I should (I will! I promise!) 'cause my time is limited, but consider this:

- while most every character in Star Wars was "fight capable" not all of 'em were "ass-kickers" (see Leia, Lando, Padme, the Droids). Yes, they could handle blasters but that's wasn't there only "thang"
- despite not being "ass-kickers" they still took part in numerous adventures, accomplishing goals and having an impact

That's it can you measure successful adventures when you take treasure out of the equation? I mean, TREASURE is what allows B/X to be as cool as it don't HAVE to kill everything to have a successful "adventure" (finding novel ways to acquire the goods will net you more XP by far than any of the monsters, so use your noggin!).

I personally have a great dislike for GM fiat reward systems (see Palladium games for what I mean) and hate, hate, hate stupid "XP for role-playing" reward mechanics (what is "good role-playing," anyway? Talking with an accent? Wearing a funny hat to the table? Shit.).

This is my new stopping point...any input/insight is certainly welcome!


  1. How about participation points?

    Basically, a character gets a point per adventure or play session if their character contributes in some meaningful manner.
    To advance to the next level you need the number of points that level is. i.e. You need 2 points to get from first to second level. 3 more point to get to third, 4 more for 4th etc.

    Or you could square the level ( 4 to get to second, 9 total for 3rd level, 16 for 4th level etc.)

    So a character is rewarded for helping the group achieve or attempt to achieve their goals. how they get there doesn't matter. You don't have to get the treasure necessarily ( and shouldn't treasure be it's own reward?) or kill the baddies. Just get the job done: or not, as failure usually provides a better learning experience.

  2. I have two possibilities:
    1) A system that rewards XP for achieving mission goals. That is, for a given adventure, the GM needs to have established plot points and the PCs get XP as they check them off. Of course, that lends itself to more of an Adventure Path style than old-school sandbox.
    2) Have you seen the "Roll to Advance" system on Lord Kilgore's blog? It may be just what you want. (

  3. For an old-school sandbox feeling, I think credits might remain a valid option. (This is very much the Star Wars played as Traveller route, which is a nice way to go IMO, but I am not sure how you are intending this game to go.)

    Off-the-cuff, another option might go something like this: the players decide, as a group or individually, what their "next major goal" is going to be. Once that goal is reached, they get 1/6 of the way towards the next level. The DM can veto the scope of the goal as needed ("Going out for spare parts as the next major goal? Nnnnot quite.") Not sure how closely this falls towards the GM fiat style that you're trying to avoid though.

  4. Your creatures & NPCs will still have Hit Dice. Determine their XP value and the treasure they would have using the B/X guidelines, and then total that up to use as the XP gained for the session in which the creatures/NPCs and their associated challenges were overcome.

    Basically, XP for treasure can be considered an abstraction that handwaved the general difficulty of finding, meeting and overcoming the various challenges around an individual or location in the first place. So just coming up with that number and attaching it to an NPC or location centered "challenge cluster" might give you an objective yet abstract XP system.

  5. I've always liked how the much-maligned Dragonlance: The Fifth Age did it. Each character had a "Quests" stat which was a literal measure of how many, er, quests from which they'd returned. You complete a scenario, you get +1 to your Quests rating. Since it was AD&D2 under the hood, this emulated both experience points and levels, because the more Quests you had, the better (potentially) your character was at task resolution.

    I've always liked that because it rewards everyone who took part, not necessarily everyone who got into fights, or who picked locks, and so on. Furthermore, because it was a measure of completed scenarios, it meant that success was optional, and that survival was key. Even if your party fails to clear out the dungeon, save the princess, or nab the treasure, they still learned from the experience.

    The only flaw is that it's a flat system. There's no real way to add an extra reward for extraordinary actions; everyone involved gets a +1. To get around this, you'd have to come up with a different kind of reward system, so they character who risks it all to rescue the princess gets the same +1 Quests as the guys who held back, but perhaps he gets a gift of an item, or the princess takes a shine to him, or the grateful king grants him a special boon, something not numeric. I'd consider that a minor flaw, if a flaw it is.

    On a similar note, perhaps, I'm running a Rogue Trader game at the moment, and while it have a fiddly experience system, it does also have the decency to offer a simpler alternative, which is to just award 500xp (the standard amount for a session) to everyone involved. In that way, it resembles the Dragonlance method, and I've had no complaints from my players so far.

  6. Of course, such a system would be a departure from the B/X base, and I don't know how close you want to be. From what you say above though, I'd guess you don't mind drifting away from the core rules a bit.

  7. Why not create a simple system of rewards that match up with each player's archetype.

    I though through some of this here:

    But for Star Wars you could give small rewards for Hindering an Empire plot, furthering Rebel aims, rescuing/protecting the innocent etc.

  8. Are the player characters meant to be going on missions for a larger organisation or cause (like Star Wars or Star Trek), or for their own advancement (like Firefly)?

    If the former, maybe XP for completing missions, or if the latter maybe XP for money.

  9. All of these things shall be discussed to various degrees...
    ; )