That being said, I’m going to be blunt here and, anyway, Luke’s a big boy.
All right, let’s get down to it.
Thursday night’s game had the usual cast of DCC miscreants at the table. I had missed last week (being in Montana), but I wasn’t the only one. As with the last two sessions that I attended we started in town. Luke (our GM) asked who wanted to “carouse” (a random roll that spends money and has the potential to earn you XP…though there’s a better than average chance of an interesting “mishap” occurring). This particular game mechanism is one Luke first adopted a couple weeks back. As I did previously, I chose to abstain from carousal; though this time I was doing so due to a lack of funds (in the earlier session, I spent my cash instead on a suit of chain mail…go figure).
A couple members of our party suffered misfortune due to their carousal checks, earning the enmity of a local cult. To atone for their sins, they were tasked with stomping out a slave ring at a rival temple. They in turn got the rest of the party involved; we invaded the place, and kicked everyone’s ass. A couple of PCs were knocked out in the process, but all ofthe character’s survived.
At the end of the session, the evil shrine had been all but cleaned out and our charming of the high priestess ensured we took every available scrap of treasure. Luke said he didn’t want to bother adding up all the treasure in the module and simply ruled we each received 100 gold pieces worth of treasure. He then awarded XP and informed us we each had earned 200xp for the evening.
This was not an unusual evening as far as rewards go. Luke always hands out XP at the end of a session, and the amount we have received has always been some flat, arbitrary number. This was the 2nd time I had used this particular character (since he became 1st level). In my prior session he had received 300xp.
Arbitrary, flat numbers. Regardless of character action.
Some of the PCs have a LOT more experience points (for those who don’t already know, in DCC you earn XP in order to go up in level, just like in D&D). The guy sitting next to me had 1300 by the end of the night…close to three times my character’s total. Part of this has to do with his character being present for an extra session or two compared to mine. Part of this has to do with him “hitting it big” on the carousal table and earning an extra couple-three hundred XP (or more).
Um…what exactly is our goal here?
Hmm…perhaps the question isn’t really specific enough. How about this:
What is our motivation for playing this game? What is the objective of play? In-game, what the hell are we trying to do?
Reward systems influence behavior. That’s not up for debate; if you don’t agree with it, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Systems of REWARD in a game INFLUENCE BEHAVIOR. Period. If your game provides “reward mechanics” it is going to have an influence on player behavior, i.e. the actions they take within a game.
For me, good game design includes system mechanics that reward behavior meeting the designer’s objectives of play (JB's Axiom #3 of good game design…remember those?). The reason why it’s “good” game design? Because the reward will influence behavior, and if that behavior enforces the game designer’s objectives, then you have designed a system that will get people to play the way you (the designer) want it to be played.
In Old School D&D, the reward players play for is increased effectiveness. Characters go up in level and gain the ability of having more dramatic impact on the imaginary game environment. While the acquisition of magical equipment often provides increased effectiveness, such acquisition is generally left at the (arbitrary) mercy of the DM’s generosity/stinginess. However, ALL players can count on LEVEL improving their characters’ effectiveness, and they know the way to gain level: by earning experience points through the accumulation of monetary treasure and the defeat of opponents. Gaining XP is a non-subjective means of earning reward: if I acquire 2000 gold pieces, then I acquire 2000 experience points, and if I am a fighter, that will mean I advance to second level.
So what does that compel me to do? Fight monsters and look for treasure of course!
Now if I simply receive X amount of experience for showing up and sitting down, what does that compel me to do? Show up and sit down, sure. What does it compel me to do in the GAME, though?
Not a goddamn thing.
Why bother formulating plans or carrying on elaborate manipulations of a charmed enemy if the GM is simply going to award you a set amount of gold? Why bother taking risks, or doing ANYthing interesting/courageous if the GM is going to award the same amount of XP to you as the guy who holds the torch and fires his crossbow every other round?
Right now, my character has absolutely ZERO motivation to take any kind of bold action, or attempt anything particularly clever. Hell, right now, the MAIN things I can choose to do (as a player) to increase my character’s effectiveness is A) make sure I show up (and survive) every single week, and B) spend as much money as possible on carousal rolls and hope I get lucky. These are the only two things that will bring my character the promised reward of increased in-game effectiveness.
Not that you really need “in-game effectiveness” when your main actions alternate between drinking/whoring and cowering in the back of the party.
[actually, I believe character level IS added to the carousal roll meaning you party better as you go up in level, and extra hit points DO mean extra survivability while cowering…still, that's not exactly what I call “adventure”]
What a bunch of horseshit.
Now, it may sound like I’m railing against good ol’ Luke’s style of reward allocation (and I am) but this is not the first time I’ve heard of this…only the first time I’ve experienced it. Many times I’ve read posted (both on my blog and elsewhere) with ideas of XP allocation for similar non-merit play. Ideas like:
- “I just level PCs up after a certain number of sessions,” or
- “I just hand out X number of experience points per hour,” or
- “I just reward PCs for the completion of missions (sometimes the same amount whether they succeed or fail!).”
Every time I read one of these suggestions, I cringed inwardly at the thought off what it would do to the game play experience. Now, though, I’ve actually had a chance to experience this style of reward system and I can tell you exactly how it makes me feel:
Not outright angered perhaps, but definitely annoyed. And it has nothing to do with an anti-commie agenda or anything…it doesn’t piss me off that everyone receives the same reward regardless of action and/or merit. That doesn’t irritate me…in fact, if you’re handing out arbitrary rewards, I think you’d BETTER do it consistently.
What does irritate me is this: my actions make no goddamn difference.
Regardless of whether I play smart or stupid or cautious or reckless or brilliant or bonehead. Regardless of whether I crit every roll or fumble every roll. Regardless of whether or not I play in alignment or whether or not I even play cooperatively with my fellow players…or instead try to stab them all in the back. Regardless of ANYthing…
Flat 200xp. Thanks for showing up.
Galling is what it is. The whole bonus-XP-for-random-carousal-die-roll is hardly worth mentioning in light of the main issue. At least with THAT you can make a statement about your character by whether or not you choose to participate.
I suppose for some people, the idea of hanging out with their buddies, rolling dice, laughing, and drinking beer is enough…that the fun of the game is NOT in any imaginary objective, but in imagining you are a big strong warrior, or a furtive thief, or a mutated sorcerer, or whatever. I suppose that there is enjoyment to be had in “playing pretend” with likeminded adults in a safe, non-judgmental environment, and that the game mechanics are present simply to provide some structure for what would otherwise certainly devolve into something sordid…or worse, “zany.”
Hell, what am I saying? “Suppose?” OF COURSE, there is enjoyment to be found in exactly these things…that’s why I still enjoy showing up to the game despite the overall pointlessness of the exercise! But even so, I find myself wanting more from my game (otherwise I wouldn’t bother venting my complaints across the blog-o-sphere!). I mean, if all I want to do is drink and blow off steam and shout obscenities and make off-color jokes, I could do that over a game of pool or darts or in a karaoke bar. If all I wanted to do was imagine myself as a strapping fighter, I could daydream or write short stories with myself as the hero.
Getting handed a couple hundred XP after a moment’s reflection from the GM makes me think, “why bother?” It feels condescending. To me, it’s pretty f’ing lame.
*sigh* I’m sure I’m going to catch flak for this post.
[by the way, one thing I didn’t point out is that the DCC RPG…at least in its Beta form…does NOT have any type of reward “system” built-in. It has levels, it has XP needed to earn levels, but it has no rules on how that XP is acquired. Luke’s decision to hand out flat amounts of XP per session is a perfectly valid choice…as I said at the beginning of this post, this is not meant to be an indictment of him. What I AM trying to indict is the whole “play for pay” idea and what an irritating concept it is. I say this having experienced it firsthand…I think it SUCKS and believe that any reward given without merit or deed is a pretty damn paltry reward]