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[FLFS] Reward System at last!

Started by Josh Roby, September 19, 2005, 05:53:42 PM

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Josh Roby

Thank you, Ben, for something you said two years ago.  I think I've got a reward system for Full Light, Full Steam.

Context: Full Light, Full Steam is a game in which the players take on roles of Victorian ethership officers and sailors protecting the Empire and its trade routes throughout the inner solar system.  Structurally, it is about strong characters in a fantastic setting, and how their strident character elements are challenged by and leave imprints on that setting.  Characters have Attibutes-and-Skills that provide a baseline competency, modified by Thematic Batteries, which are three player-created descriptors that give the characters advantages and disadvantages in play.  Thematic Batteries are what the character is "about" -- Gentleman, Fever Genius, Rake, Lady Officer and the like.  Attributes and Skills are bought with character points and upgraded with experience points, with about 100 points being an 'average' slightly cinematic steampunky starting character.  Players narrate a little more than a traditional game, and can hand direction over to another player rather than everyone waiting for cues from the GM on when to speak.  Players often play "cameo" roles, NPCs that the GM hands them when their primary character isn't in the scene.

Mechanic:  All players begin with a scrap of paper (a quarter page or so) called a Spoils Scrip.  The Scrip is labelled, but the rest of it is a blank space for making tally marks.  Whenever your narration addresses another player's Thematic Batteries, you earn a number of Experience Points equal to the Scrip's tally marks.  Mark these points on your character sheet, add one tally mark to the Scrip, and hand it to the player who is portraying the character whose Thematic Batteries you addressed.  They will then hand it off when they address another character's Thematic Batteries.

Campaign Prep: The playgroup should discuss the rate of experience point gain in the First Session, before play begins and characters are made.  If the playgroup wants slow experience point progression, Scrips begin with no tally marks.  If the playgroup wants faster experience point progression, Scrips begin with one to five tally marks.  Five tally marks should only be used if you intend to play the entire campaign in a handful of sessions.

Example: I'm playing Ensign Mary Wallace, with a Thematic Battery of Fever Genius; Laura is playing Captain Theodore Martin, with the Thematic Battery of Rake.  I am narrating Mary looking for the Captain while at port; she goes on a long monologue to the midshipmen with her that he's probably hip-deep in some opium den somewhere.  I take my XP for maligning the Captain, increase the value of the Scrip in my hand, and pass it over to Laura.  Later, after a heavy loss in naval combat, Laura is narrating the Captain giving out orders; he blithely assumes that Mary can fix whatever is wrong with the engines with few tools and no resources (which she probably can -- she's a Fever Genius, after all).  Laura takes her XP for playing up Mary's mad skills, increases the value of the Scrip, and hands it back to me.

(Hopefully) Emergent Properties: Characters are rewarded for bringing the important elements of other characters into play.  Such narration can be positive (in awe of his dazzling skills), negative (disgusted by his reputation), or neither (inquiring about his history as a pirate hunter) -- it doesn't matter, it focuses attention on the characterization.  The XP Reward grows as the Scrip changes hands, so Player A addressing Player B's character in fact advantages all the players.  Since NPCs have Thematic Batteries, the Scrip can even go to the GM or players portraying Cameos, and furthermore this encourages players to introduce NPC Thematic Batteries sooner, to make it more likely that the Battery can be addressed.

Questions: First off, I'm guessing that this mechanic will net most players about ten to fifteen XP over the course of one session; I may need to create a currency exchange (3xp = 1 character point) to prevent this from quickly overpowering the characters (but if you want that, it's scalable, just start with five tally marks).  I'd like to borrow your brains: given the default starting point of zero tally marks, three Thematic Batteries per character, and five players around the table, how many points would you expect to see people earning?

Secondly, I'm hoping that by handing over the Scrip this gives the players around the table a pretty physical cue of "the ball is in your court" or "there -- what are you going to do about it?"  Do y'all think it would accomplish that, and secondly, would this action interfere with narrative flow and the storytelling rhythm?

Thirdly, the Scrip could conceivably be handed over to punctuate dice checks using Thematic Batteries.  I could discharge my Rake Batteries by making a lewd comment about a Lady Officer character, roll dice, narrate my success (assuming the die check was a success), then hand the other player the Scrip because she has a Lady Officer Battery.  I'm thinking that may be a little too much at-the-table stuff happening at once, but I also may be being too conservative.  I can simply state that every time you hand over the Scrip you also hand over direction and the player gets to narrate next.  A alternate middle road may be to leave the possibility open without necessarily drawing attention to it in the rules -- so playgroups who can handle that much parallel thinking can go for it, but more straightforward playgroups can blithely disregard the possibility.

Thanks in advance for your feedback; this is the last big chunk of the ruleset, leaving the only big gaping holes in the setting chapters!
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog


First, I really, really like the basic idea.  Rewarding players for reinforcing others' characters, passing around the "responsibilty" to address themes?  Both really cool.

Two things sort of worry me, and the one's sort of a consequence of the other.

First, the consequential one: Starting with 0 (or 1) tall mark(s) on the Scrip and going up is cool, but it seems that the early earnings will pale in comparison to the late (say 15, 20, 30) earnings.  That may be cool, but it strikes me as a bit... unfair? (maybe not the right word)  It seems that people won't really be all that excited at the beginning as the experience system has to be balanced to handle the high-end earnings, and that could very easily make the low-end earnings less than useful.

Second, do you have any idea how many times the scrip might get passed?  If it's like fanmail in PtA I'd imagine it goes around a lot, but PtA also has a hard limit on how much fanmail can pass through a scene (one given by each player).  Without that limit I'd guess that you'd see quite a bit more, and it seems that you could easily see the scrip shoot back and forth ten or fifteen times in a scene.  This is especially true if you have complementary batteries like your above "rake" and "lady officer" example.

Oh, and a third thing, more an observation than a nescessary problem, but...  It seems that the player with the most compelling batteries is the one with the most control of the scrip.  If everyone is always pointing out what a rake your character is because it's really cool or really funny or whatever that he's a rake, then you will have the scrip very often.  That's cool, but it also seems that someone who has difficult to address batteries, or batteries that just aren't that interesting will have similarly little control of the scrip, and thus little oppurtunity to gain experience with it.  That dichotemy seems to put a lot of emphasis on careful character generation.  If you mess up and have weak batteries with regards to the interest of the players at the table then you'll be behind for the rest of the game.

Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible


As an addition to what Thomas said, it might not necessarily be the one with the coolest battery that gets used a lot, but the one whose battery is addressed the easiest.

Josh Roby

Thanks for the feedback, Thomas and Xenopulse.

Thomas --

The game as a whole has a slow-boil-to-escalation factor in it already, and so while I agree with you that the beginning earnings will pale before the later earnings, I'll call this a feature rather than a bug.  After all, I want to earn big XP in the climax of the story, not in the build-up.  Additionally, once the players catch on to how the Scrip works, they'll be passing it around in the beginning to charge it up for the end -- fostering more characterization to base that climax on.  So, not to be dismissive of your first comment, but yes, exactly!

I really don't know how many times the Scrips would go around; that's the big question right now.  I'm pretty certain that the only way to get a good answer will be playtest, but I'd like to get as accurate a guess as possible beforehand, if only to be prepared.  It could be that a single player passes a Scrip about five times in play (10 points) or they do it every single time they narrate (more than 100 points, perhaps).  If it's the latter, I may go with something like "Highest tally earns 10xp, next earns 9xp, next earns 8xp, and so on" with those spoils being determined in the First Session.  I'd like, however, to skip a mediating factor if at all possible.

Lastly, yes, you only get the chance to earn XP if your Thematic Batteries are accessible to the other players.  Character creation is at least partially collaborative, and the playgroup discusses what they want out of the game before putting any pen to paper, so I'm hoping the bulk of this will be avoided, but I will admit that it is the biggest looming potential problem.  I mean, on the one hand I'm tempted to respond "Yeah, the system kinda requires you to make an interesting character that the other players can interact with -- how terrible!" but I do see the drawbacks, too.  Thematic Batteries are kind of difficult to really 'get' in their entirety, especially the first time you're creating a character.  There are rules for swapping out Thematic Batteries in between sessions if you don't like or get tired of what you started with, and this should mitigate the problem, too.

Xenopulse --

Your Thematic Batteries also help determine character effectiveness; I've outlined the idea elsewhere but I've lost that thread, now.  In short form, you have to figure a way for the Battery to be a disadvantage, 'charging' it up, before you can later use it as an advantage, 'discharging' the battery.  So when selecting Thematic Batteries, it needs to be something that can be both disadvantage and advantage, and something accessible to the other players.  In the end, a lot of that will depend on the group you're playing with.  I can see "closet homosexual" to be incredible engaging with the right set of people, but it's not something I'd ever try in a Con game.

((tangent... On the other hand, it would be a simple thing to say that each Thematic Battery can only be addressed once per session.  That would put the onus on all players to think of ways to involve all three of everybody else's batteries.  The easiest ones would get tagged first, and the harder ones later.  I don't know if I like the additional bookkeeping (which Battery has been addressed?), but this would prevent runaway Scrips being passed at every opportunity, accruing their way up to 40 or 50.  It's a little less freewheeling, but more puissantly, the Thematic Batteries would be addressed less often.  If for only that reason, I don't think that would work out. ...end tangent))
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog



For your response to my first point, yes.  The only concern is that if the scrip gets passed (say) 50 times a session then the difference between starting with 5 marks and starting with 0 is negligible.  Further, earning those early marks doesn't do much for you.  Like you said, the scrip still gets passed so that it can accrue marks, and that might be cool enough in and of itself I guess...

For scrip-passing, I could easily see it getting passed every other time a player gets to narrate.  Every time might be a stretch, but it's probably also doable.  Now, since only the player with the scrip can pass it on during narration, and since we're assuming that a player passes it every other time its in their possession and they are narrating, we can assume that the scrip gets passed about once every two full "cycles".  That is, the scrip gets passed about once for every two times that each player has a chance to narrate.

Now, I'm not sure how even cycles are (that is, how many times player X may narrate before player Y gets to), and I'm not sure how long their narration will take/be allowed (15 seconds of narration is different from a minute, of course).  So, that part you've got to figure on your own.

Of interesting note: the scrip gets passed more if there's some reason for play to focus on the player who has it (i.e. provide more oppurtunities for them to narrate and thus pass the scrip).  I'm not sure if that's a positive thing or a negative thing for your purposes.

Current projects: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, The Suburban Crucible


While this may seem a bit contrived, what if you only added a mark to the Spoils Scrip once it had been passed to every player at least once?  Sort of hackey-sack rules.  It might be a little bit bookkeeping-intensive, or it might lead to situations where someone's Battery gets called on completely out of context.  Just an idea, anyway.

Shreyas Sampat

I worked with a lot of this "reinforcing others' characters" stuff when I built Torchbearer, as it happens.

Christian mentioned some concern about difficult Thematic Batteries; I'm inclined to agree with him. One solution you might want to explore is to have Batteries branch into more specific traits (Fever Genius: Manic, Tinkerer, Uses Tools In Unintended Ways, MacGuyver...) so that there are more tangible hooks for narration to grab onto.

John Harper

I love mutex's idea. Just put a little table on the spoils scrip, with the player names in the column headers. When you hit someone's battery, tick their column in row 1, and hand them the scrip. Once the row is full everyone gets (say) 5 XP. The next full row is worth 10, and so on.

Also: Shreyas is wise. He knows what he's talking about.

Also: This reward system is cool.
Agon: An ancient Greek RPG. Prove the glory of your name!

Josh Roby

Ah, Thomas, time, why didn't I think to measure it in time?  Thanks!  Assuming a three-hour game (180 minutes), with five players, giving each player a one-minute narration and assuming (a big assumption) that everybody narrates about evenly, and that you're passing a scrip every other time you narrate (every 10 minutes), on average that's 18 passes in a game.  Uh... 171 tally marks in your XP Box.  Yeah, going to need a mediating factor, on the order of 1:10.  And the starting tallies become meaningless.  Perhaps the scalable factor is the ratio at which tally marks become experience points.

Mutex, I like that idea in principle, but I do worry about the bookkeeping.  You'd basically need a little grid with the players' names across the top, and when you get the Scrip you mark off the next unmarked box below your name.  Or you could do it for the person that you're handing it to. (Look, I typed what John was typing!)  Or alternately you sign your name to the Scrip.  Once everyone has signed, you circle that collection of signatures and that counts as upgrading the scrip's worth.  When you pass it along, you count how many circles are on the Scrip and earn that many XP.  It shouldn't be too hard to look at the scrip in your hands and see who still needs to sign it next to upgrade it, and therefore who you could give it to.  In fact, you may be able to give it to anybody, but it won't upgrade its value until it's been all the way around.  Hm.  That might work.

Math: 180 minute game, five players, value upgrading every five passes... assuming it's going bang-bang-bang to each player in order (which it won't), I come up with 34 tally marks.  Lots more managable, but would still need a mediating factor.  Actually, I'll playtest this and see how it works in practice.  I've got it topping out at being worth four points, but it may not get there -- or more likely, the players will focus on boosting one Scrip instead of all of them, which would also end up turning out less XP (more points a pop, but earning them at a slower rate).

Shreyas, since the Thematic Batteries are player-defined, I don't see how I can branch them out as a game designer.  However, from my perspective all of those branches are implied in the Thematic Battery, anyway.  Fever Genius could get addressed by making allusions to manic obsession with technology, with references to past tinkered projects, by remembering creative uses of tools, or by expecting the character to MacGuyver you out of a situation.  The batteries should be defined about this broadly, which should make it work.
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog

Josh Roby

Addendum: my math for the second method was wrong.  It should come out to 27 assuming "ideal" scrip-passage to maximize XP gain per pass.  As I really doubt the players will only ever pass to who "needs to sign", I'm guessing the real number will be down about 20 or so, which is just about right, I figure.

Thanks, Mutex!
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog

Shreyas Sampat

Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on September 19, 2005, 08:26:36 PM
Shreyas, since the Thematic Batteries are player-defined, I don't see how I can branch them out as a game designer.  However, from my perspective all of those branches are implied in the Thematic Battery, anyway.  Fever Genius could get addressed by making allusions to manic obsession with technology, with references to past tinkered projects, by remembering creative uses of tools, or by expecting the character to MacGuyver you out of a situation.  The batteries should be defined about this broadly, which should make it work.
I see that I wasn't clear!

Yeah, I see what you're saying and I agree. The point of having the forks is to remind the players that these are things that they can do; it's just a matter of telling the players, "When you record your batteries, also provide some examples of how they might manifest." The branches are then player-defined, and they're also non-restrictive; they only serve to have a few canned ideas about how to use the Batteries if you're running dry.

Sydney Freedberg

Quote from: Shreyas Sampat on September 19, 2005, 08:53:27 PMit's just a matter of telling the players, "When you record your batteries, also provide some examples of how they might manifest." The branches are then player-defined...

Player-defined by all the players for each character, I'd suggest (this is already implicit in what Shreyas said, but perhaps too buried in the general geniusness). Maybe even grab each other's character sheets and write on them. So say, Joshua would start with something on his character sheet like "Raised by the Elves" and after a few sessions get something like

Raised by the Elves
- knows Elvish lore (added by Shreyas)
- starcrossed love with elf-princess (added by John)
- composes Elvish poetry (added by Sydney)
- doubts mere humans like himself can overcome their flawed nature (added by Thomas)

Which doesn't add anything mechanically, but shows more and more ways to express the same mechanic in the shared imagined space, which is both a spur to narration and a process of character development.

P.S.: Yes, the example character was Aragorn, whose other batteries would presumably be "Lost Heir of the Royal Line" and "Mysterious Ranger."  (Or, in the movie version, simply "Asskicker.")

Sydney Freedberg

Oh, and also

Quote from: Joshua BishopRoby on September 19, 2005, 07:04:06 PM
you have to figure a way for the Battery to be a disadvantage, 'charging' it up, before you can later use it as an advantage, 'discharging' the battery.

I presume it's possible to store up multiple charges in a row rather than simply go on-off-on-off? That would allow characters to swoop down into the depths and soar heroically up again, instead of imposing an even-keel approach on everyone. It might also be interesting to let characters "borrow" against themselves: e.g., my batteries are all out, but my back's to the wall and I really need (or just really want) to get the advantage from my battery rather than suffer the disadvantage, so I discharge it "on credit," but that will cost me not only my next charge but also a charge or two or three after that one as "interest."

Josh Roby

Sydney --

First off, on the charge/discharge front, you've got three batteries that go from 0-4.  You can charge a battery one level at a time or all four at once or anywhere in between, and discharge in incremenets or in toto. Not to mention there's nothing to say you have to save it all up for the climax, and can recharge them after you've used them in some glorious display of character. So there are (should be) lots and lots of options.

As to having all the players develop eachother's batteries and writing that stuff down, I certainly like the idea and its attendant possibilities, but I hesitate to shoehorn that step into the design at this stage.  Perhaps it can make a nice sidebar optional rule.  I only assume that this sort of thing will be happening in actual play constantly -- there's nothing to say that you can't find new ways to challenge somebody's battery, and in fact the Scrip mechanic rewards you for doing so.

Which brings me to Shreyas --

The 'few canned ideas' in my experience always turns into a definitive list by default.  Take the Nature/Demeanor/Legacy thing in White Wolf games; right there on the page it says that the list is examples and players should feel free to make up their own, but I don't think I've ever seen it in practice.  Now, what is printed in the book, with its air of authority and all that, will have this effect a little more than what the players write down on their sheets, admittedly.

I'd rather, however, the players were encouraged (mechanically) to think on their feet rather than rely on pre-packed ideas, even if they did that original pre-packing.  Especially if all the players at the table are throwing eachother bones (both positive and negative), I'm thinking there should be a lot of bones flying through the air without needing them written down.  (I will of course jot your thoughts down in case I'm wrong and playtest shows the players consistently getting stuck on activating their batteries!)

Thanks, both of you.  More meat to chew on.
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog



Hope this wasn't covered already. I'm a little foggyheaded, but...

How about this? Each player must charge another's Thematic Battery to sign their name to the scrip. They hand it to the player whose thematic battery has been charged. That player must now charge the battery of a player whose name is not on the scrip in order to sign their name and pass it, and so on. Once all players names are on the scrip, it is given to the GM and counts as one point of XP for each member at the table at the end of the night (or the story). No player can, unless they are forced to by limitation of choice (I.e. there is only one player's name not on the scrip and that player is the last person the acting player charged) chose the same player twice. Alternately,  no player can, unless they are forced to by limitation of choice charge a player until they have charged all players at the table.

-Less math in game, just count up the slips at the end of the night.
-Less tallied up, all earn for one, and passing is slower as players have to work harder to charge those that aren't easy. 1/5 of what you were mentioning...( I don't think the one minute thing is right, btw... I think that's too quick for how actual play will play out)
-Ensures all players work for the thematic enjoyment of all players at the table, not just the ones whose stories they like best or whose are easiest. Pushes communal interest and responsibility.
-Encourages all players to have accessible thematic batteries, or to author actively because everyone's XP depends on the ability to charge.


How is it decided that one has been successful at charging someone's thematic batteries? If I charge your batteries and you really don't like what I have done, or you consider it a lameass charge, can you say the charge didn't take? Can the GM? Can the other players at the table? Is it a group decision?

How do you make it so that people don't just have to hit your thematic button, they have to hit the thematic button in a way that's fun for you?