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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 74 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Immediate vs delayed rewards  (Read 1287 times)
Filip Luszczyk
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« on: January 16, 2007, 09:45:34 AM »

I have a fanmail equivalent mechanic in the system I'm working on. Currently, whenever a specific unit of play is closed, everyone can give one "fanmail" award to some other player, with explicit reasons (the GM can give an award, but cannot receive one - instead "fanmail" spent by the other players is given to him at the end of an unit of play). In the playtests, completing an unit of play took from 30 minutes to an hour on the average. There is also an additional immediate reward mechanic that allows the GM to reward specific actions as often as he wants (this is currently limited to the GM, though, and I don't see any good way to include some similar option for players).

I'm considering making it possible to give more "fanmail" awards in certain circumstances.

The reason I limited everyone to one "fanmail" award per unit of play is because I wanted the game to maintain a specific resource balance - only so much currency can be pumped into the flow without breaking things. My other option was to give everyone a pool similar to TSoY's Gift Dice - but I didn't want to make amount of "fanmail" per session finite, rather relative to the number of units of play.

The reason I limited awarding "fanmail" to the end of the unit of play is because with a limited number of awards per unit of play, immediate awards would pose a risk that someone will regret giving an award too soon (e.g. someone could be awarded just before he or someone else does something more deserving of an award). Also, this creates a slight competition between the players - one needs to be as entertaining for the whole unit of play as he can, or the majority of awards will go to someone else during the later evaluation.

Now, I have some doubts about delayed rewards, as immediate rewards are probably much stronger reinforcement. Is there some "fanmail" mechanics trick that would allow me to maintain the resource balance I have, but with all the benefits of immediate rewards?

The only thing that comes to my mind currently would be open "marking" of the other players as current candidates for the award, but without giving it yet ("You have mine yay for this, keep the pace!"). I'm not sure if something like this was done before in some game - if so, what could I expect from this method?
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Simon C
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« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2007, 03:04:07 PM »

What if each player has one "token" that they can give out at any time, but it stays on the table, and the owner of that token can shift it around at any time, until the end of the unit, at which point whichever player currently has it would be the "winner" of that token.  So, for example, you could give your token to someone for an impressive move, but later move it onto someone else if they topped the last feat.  This would mechanically achieve what you want, but it feels a bit "meaner" taking a token off someone because someone did something cooler, and it also rewards cool actions at the end of the time unit more than earlier ones.

Ok, another option: What if each player has an unlimited number of "vote" tokens, and at the end of the time unit, whoever has the most votes from a player gets one point of fanmail.  So, say Andy had two votes from Jill, and Bill had only one vote from Jill, Andy would get one point.   Let's say that Andy also has three votes from Bill, while Jill only has one.  Andy would get another point.  Jill has one vote from Andy, and one vote from Bill, while Bill has no votes from anyone.  Jill gets one point.  Players can give any amount of votes to anyone at any time, but can't finish with a tie.  They must always have one player in the lead.  This system gives you instant acknowledgement of cool actions, but it keeps the reward to the end of the unit, and within the resource limits you've sugested.
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2007, 06:58:51 AM »

I've been ponering the "marking candidates" option a bit more yesterday, and I came to similar conclusions. I've been thinking about players giving signed cards to whoever is the current candidate for a reward ("Look, he got Bob's card for that, now I must do something more awesome than Bob in order to make him give it to me instead!"). Another option would be giving out small points, and at the end of the unit of play whoever would have more would get the "fanmail" reward (or the rewarding player would decide in the case of a tie).

Both methods would most probably make play more competitive, and maybe more than I'd like it to be. In both, there would be some visible losers ("Hey, I was so close, but he rewarded someone else in the end, damn!"), since attention would constantly be drawn to the process of earning the final award. At this point it wouldn't be only "I reward Bob because he did something cool.", but rather "I reward Bob because he was cooler than you, sorry, no bonus."

However I look at it, the first variant would be really mean, but it's pretty straightforward. Yeah, I could try it out, if I don't get any better idea. At worst I'll discard it.

There is one big problem with the second variant - there would be a lot of bookkeeping, and I already have quite a bit of it in my game. Also, a lot of time consuming fuss around voting would draw player's attention to something that isn't the sole point of play. And it's rather mean too, since in the end people lose accumulated tokens, regardless of getting instant acknowledgement later. Hmm...
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2007, 07:03:04 AM »

Hi Filip,

I'm not sure any of what you're describing is viable. I've seen various versions of "reward the player" devices throughout the years. Some of them have been based on voting, others on a central authority (GM), some have been open for all to see, and some have been blind (i.e. no one sees who gives what to whom). None of them get picked up and utilized in play. People reject them. What you're describing seems to me like a lot of annoying bookkeeping, at best. Furthermore, I predict that it isn't competition for the awards that would cause trouble, but lack of interest in them.

The most important feature of fanmail in PTA is that, although it looks like an individualized reward, it's actually an alteration in the entire group's economy of play. The numerical consequence for the given player is slight (and diluted because it can be used in others' conflicts and frequently is); what matters is that the card represented by that fanmail, when it's used by the player, has a chance to increase the Budget. That's the only way the Budget's ongoing decrease is slowed.

Second, and also important, is that awarding fanmail is not, in practice, comparative. When John gives Bob fanmail in PTA, he is not awarding Bob over Bill; he is awarding Bob for making his, John's, experience more enjoyable. In all the times I've seen this mechanic in action, which is quite a lot, there has never appeared any sign of choosing whom to give it to. Also, even when John has hit the limit of allowable award in a given scene, he can still say "oh my God! fanmail!" when Bob does something he likes, and Bill, next to him, agrees and gives fanmail to Bob.

So my recommendation is to abandon the idea of a candidate for a reward. If you want a fanmail-like system, then candidacy should be replaced by "gets the reward." Perhaps it can be limited in number, as fanmail is, but not limited in terms of who can get it at someone else's expense. Because that is losing, period. Loss conditions create Step On Up, and from there you have two choices: plain Gamism if there's enough strategy and guts in the resolution processes; or failed/uninteresting design if there isn't.

On a larger scale, I think you're facing a more fundamental problem - reward mechanics are quite weak when all they do is reward a person for playing in the first place. Weak reward mechanics aren't a bad thing, but as such, they need to be minor mechanics within some larger-scale emergent factor that matters later and more generally. Now I'm describing fanmail. Fundamentally, everyone should be "playing well" anyway. In the instant, immediate use, fanmail merely expresses recognition that we are doing so. But that is not all it does.

Let me explain why it works, using the negative example first. What if the only result of fanmail were that the player (let's make it worse, that player, for his character's conflicts alone)  gets to use an extra card? I'll tell you what - it would suck. It would suck really badly, and PTA would be no fun. Again, what makes fanmail work is its larger role, of adding a new layer of resource for adversity in the ongoing story in action. Its largest "cycle" benefits the group, not the person who initially received it.

Given that larger role, the relatively trivial role of saying "Bob! That was great!" becomes safer, not at all about everyone else not being great, because mechanically, everyone else is rewarded, in two ways. One level up, Bob could spend that fanmail on an extra card for anyone, not just himself, and at the highest level, the expenditure serves everyone or has a 50% chance of doing so, anyway. That chance is important too - if the return to the Budget were guaranteed, then there's no reason to increase the odds of doing so by keeping an eye out for fanmail opportunities. Since it's uncertain, that reason is real.

Does any of this make any sense? All questions or comments are welcome.

Best, Ron
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2007, 08:18:47 AM »

Ron,

First of all, I have no actual play experience with PTA. I know it only from other people's reports and from what I could find on the game's site. The resource economy I've seen in PTA's outline is similar to some games I had more contact with.

However, I think the main reason I'm including "fanmail" equivalent in my game is because I had good experiences with Exalted's stunts and 7th Sea's Drama. Specifically, I've seen players strongly motivated to add more color to the game, striving to grab the valuable resource reward. I want the game in question to be more collaborative, though, and although there is a GM-figure I don't want him to have central reward authority.

Also, I'm not creating the game with a specific Creative Agenda in mind. It certainly leans towards facilitating Gamism (as we've been getting rather coherent gamist play with the previous version of the rules, or at least so I think). The thing is, I'm not sure if I want overt competition on this particular arena.

The resource in question is extremely valuable in the game, on a purely gamey level, so it's not only about recognition. But it benefits only the person who has it at the moment in a direct way (the rest of the group is benefited only if the player spends resource to further common goals). Also, the GM needs it to provide adversity - so there is a strategic reason not to go all out with spending the resource.

Currently, I incorporated the "candidate marking" cards into the rules, and I want to see how it works out in playtesting. Well, at worst I'll discard the idea if it doesn't work well.

Also, I'm considering to actually allow players to give their cards to the GM, only at different terms - if at the end of the unit of play the GM has a player's card, the player will gain the resource itself, and the GM will gain a small amount of a different resource that is directly used in resolution (basically, the main budget).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2007, 09:16:35 AM »

Hi Filip,

You wrote,

Quote
I think the main reason I'm including "fanmail" equivalent in my game is because I had good experiences with Exalted's stunts and 7th Sea's Drama. Specifically, I've seen players strongly motivated to add more color to the game, striving to grab the valuable resource reward.

My game Sorcerer predates both of those games, and to my knowledge is the first published RPG to utilize informal bonus dice in the mechanics (Feng Shui does not, contrary to possible belief). I think I might be able to address this issue with some authority.

Yes, players do utilize them to add more color to the game. There's a negative version when they are trying to buy dice through elaborate, verbose description, but in general, people find the positive version. That positive version is, as you say, based on color - when someone says something which increases everyone's share in the Color, then it's worth a bonus of some kind.

What makes it work, rather than not work, is agreement on the standards and how it's integrated with the other mechanics. You demonstrated perfect understanding of this issue when you wrote,

Quote
The resource in question is extremely valuable in the game, on a purely gamey level, so it's not only about recognition. But it benefits only the person who has it at the moment in a direct way (the rest of the group is benefited only if the player spends resource to further common goals). Also, the GM needs it to provide adversity - so there is a strategic reason not to go all out with spending the resource.

Under these circumstances, I recommend that the central authority works better than a distributed one. The ultimate solution will of course be based on your own desires and on playtesting experiences.

Best, Ron.
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2007, 05:54:38 PM »

Ah yes. I forgot how old a game Sorcerer is Wink

Hmm, I wonder about the reasoning behind your recommendation. Is it due to it being easier for one person to keep an eye on the atmosphere's consistency or the like? Because it makes it easier for the GM to control the level of adversity? Or maybe because of the potential risk that tactical importance of the resource could actually make the players forget about the rewarding part? Something else?

It may be important to note that under the current rules, various elements that add to the color are distributed among the group, and consequently everyone has an authority over rewarding things that accentuate some specific "area" of the atmosphere. The distribution shifts from session to session, and it's possible to claim one of the "areas" permanently by spending xp equivalent (this doesn't "rob" the rest of the group from it, though, as one copy of the card remains public anyway). Also, the rules require that every "fanmail" award comes with an explicit explanation what is it for.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2007, 06:57:27 PM »

Hi Filip,

I wanted to preface this by saying that it's your game and your judgment will always be the most important thing about it, especially given playtesting experience. Nothing I'm saying should be considered powerful enough to challenge that, even just as a bit of conversation.

Regarding the centralization, here's my reasoning: the resource ultimately redounds to the GM, right? Well, then that's the person who has the most reason to get it out there, meaning this way, that resource enters play more often. Then the fun tension of deciding whether to spend it for immediate benefit and later adversity comes into play. (Bearing in mind that players often love to contribute to their own adversity, but it's good to have a choice about that.)

Conceivably, you could have an informal signal that people can use to say to the GM, "Hey, that guy deserves the point." He or she may not have to obey that signal, but I have found that interaction to be very common in games with a centralized point-reward system during play, so it might be quite nice and useful to formalize it.

Best, Ron

P.S. Also, an arrogance alert just flashed its lights in my head .... I consulted my memory and found that I could not recall the publication date for 7th Sea. Sorcerer was first made commercially available in late 1996. So which came first, I don't know. To readers, that is not the topic of the current thread so do not post about it here. PM me if you really care for some reason; I can look it up myself, so it's not like you have to.
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2007, 06:17:23 PM »

These are the mechanics I came up with a week ago:

Quote
During campaign prep, everyone defines a number of Motifs. These are written down on Inspiration Cards. At the start of every session, everyone picks a number of Motifs (usually two or so), takes their Inspiration Cards and signs them. Also, everyone gets one general Inspiration Card.

(It is possible to create a copy of a Motif card with xp equivalent as player's permanent Inspiration Card - the original card stays in the public pool in such a case, and is available for everyone in the initial distribution.)

Whenever another player or the GM does something entertaining, you can give him or her your general Inspiration Card to acknowledge it and show encouragement.

Whenever another player or the GM does something entertaining that strongly accentuates a Motif, you can give him or her an Inspiration Card of that Motif.

If the player you gave your card to does something deserving an award later, explicitly acknowledge it. However, if some other player overshadows him or her, take back your card and give it to your new favorite.

Always give explicit reasons why you award an Inspiration Card and never award it for the same thing twice.

You can veto awarding an Inspiration Card.

You can refuse accepting an Inspiration Card.

Whenever an Event (a kind of an extended conflict, main unit of play) is closed, exchange Inspiration Cards you received for an equal amount of Inspirations and give the cards back to their owners. The GM does not exchange received cards for Inspirations – when he gives back a card, its owner gains an Inspiration, and the GM gains [a number of tokens used directly in resolution]. (There are some special rules for the final Event of the session, but they don't really matter now.)

For every Inspiration gained, the player also gains one point of [xp equivalent]. (I'm not sure whether to include this rule, I've abandoned it once already - but it doesn't matter for now.)

[a list of mechanical uses of Inspirations available to players]

At the end of an Event, Inspirations spent by the players are given to the GM. (And again, some special rules for the final Event - spending Inspirations generates a resource that can be both helpful and hindering for the player.)

[a list of mechanical uses of Inspirations available to the GM]

Inspirations spent by the GM are always removed from the game.

In short, the right to reward specific things (mainly introducing desirable color in an entertaining way) is distributed among the group. Also, some players may feel encouraged to try to outdo the current favorites in order to receive the cards.

The more I thought about it, the less right it felt. Although the game in question has some tactical and strategic aspects of the clever resource management variety, I want it to be rather collaborative (the group vs the adversity controlled by the GM, rather than players vs players or the group vs the GM - basically the model both D&D and DitV share to some extent). These rules in particular were to be used to enhance collaborative atmosphere building and adding cool color, not to make players struggle for resources.

I identified the main problem here:

Quote
If the player you gave your card to does something deserving an award later, explicitly acknowledge it. However, if some other player overshadows him or her, take back your card and give it to your new favorite.

That's the "mean" part. However I try to imagine myself in such situation, it seems to me that the loss condition is not really created by not gaining the resource itself, but rather by the acknowledgement token being taken away. Now, I got an idea to exchange this part with:

Quote
You can give out received Inspiration Cards to the others, as above.

No "acknowledge it again" or "take your acknowledgement away" crap. Instead, the immediate reward is not the resource itself, but rather acknowledging stuff by forwarding a part of your right to acknowledge stuff. Later, if the player actually feels overshadowed, he can acknowledge it (or if he or she simply wants to reward something). There is a delayed resource reward tied to cards, but it's only needed to put the card in motion and someone will benefit from it.

Also, I came to a conclusion that this:

Quote
You can veto awarding an Inspiration Card.

Has no real place here, especially since I clearly state what the Inspiration Cards should be given for, an explicit explanation required makes it impossible to hide weak reasons, and the awarded player doesn't have to accept the card.

Unfortunately, I didn't manage to playtest the thing yet, so the rules have no basis in actual play. Maybe this week I'll get some playtesting done. I hope I provided enough information on the mechanic so that it could be analysed, though. Thoughts?
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