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Character currency

Started by Jack Spencer Jr, July 02, 2001, 10:05:00 AM

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Jack Spencer Jr

I got this from the GO forum.  It's Hunter Logan quoting Ron Edwards
QuoteRon wrote,
>Effectiveness then becomes all the ROLLS (or Karma scores) that determine how well the character performs announced actions. This is what most people think of as "their guy" in traditional role-playing, although hit points (resource) is probably part of that too. It also includes spell lists, skill lists, etc - the breadth of effectiveness (good at what?) as well as depth
(how good?).

Resource is the "energy," the "motor" mechanic in play - like Endurance in many games, or Spell Points to use up by casting spells, or hit points, or even lives to spend (in games with
resurrection), and so on.

Just to keep going, then, there's metagame - how the player or GM can break the rules of any of the above at given instances of play. The famous "GM can ignore rolls" is a crude, early example of GM-metagame.

**So currency would be any points or whatever that are none of these three, but permit the character to be put together in ways that enforce a given relationship between these three.**

OK, I'm still fairly confused by this.  Would things like Warhammer's Fate Points be currency or is that just resources?

How about Orkworld Trouble?

Metagaming itself is more than vague since it's just breaking the rules.  Is it a specific way to break the rules?  For a specific purpose?  If the game actually had the rule "Ignore the roll if you need to" would it cease to be metagame?

So many questions.
Not enough question marks.

When you're picked last for kickball you're not going to be much of a team player.

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-07-02 10:05 ]

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-07-02 10:08 ]

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-07-02 11:17 ]

Ron Edwards

To Jack (pblock),

I am completely disinclined to deal with you at present.

How about, "Ron, I understand you have some notions about something called character currency. I'm interested in learning more about it."

That is called courtesy. It gives me the option of managing my time in the discussion.

Instead, I am confronted by a "challenge." You've quoted a quote, with no context. You've accused me of vagueness. You've demanded a response much like a gaping baby bird.

Start acting like an adult, Jack. When I see some effort in that direction, I'll be interested in discussing things with you.


Jack Spencer Jr

Instead, I am confronted by a "challenge." You've quoted a quote, with no context. You've accused me of vagueness.


I appologise if I have offended you, however, I am not directly asking you about the matter (although your thoughts do carry weight since it is your concept) but I am asking anyone here who does understand it to help clairify.  I believe there are others with a decent handle on this, probably mostly from talking with you but maybe some on their own making logical leaps from those conversations.

I don't necessarily accuse you of vagueness, but this quote is vague on at least one point and that's probably because it's taken from an (I assume) extended exchange and I am merely asking for clarity.

Had I contacted you directly via email or private message your reaction would be completely justified.  But I posted on a public forum and had not asked you specifically to address the matter.

But it is understandable, I suppose.  I have no idea how many half-baked messages about nuked apple carts and (horrors!) G/N/S you field daily.

And possibly since this is your concept maybe there is no one else to answer this.  There was that feeling on GO but that didn't stop a thread from forming anyway.

Again, I appologise if I have offended.  If you'd rather take this off the public forum I don't mind.  I'm not doing anything.

Ron Edwards

For everyone else,

My thoughts on "currency" are intended to dissect out the components of the mechanical entity called "my character." The idea is to form a basis for character creation that is integrated with the game's general design goals, whatever they may be.

As I see it, there are three very LARGE components to a character. I also think they ALWAYS apply; in other words, role-playing necessarily demands all of the three to exist. Design, on the other hand, sometimes leaves one or more unstated.

Any number which is used to determine success or extent of an action. To-hit, skill success, damage rolls, and anything like these, for Fortune-based systems. In Karma-based systems, it would be the basic values (e.g. Everway's Element scores); in Drama-based systems, Effectiveness is governed by rules of dialogue.

In looking over a PC's Effectiveness material, you get an idea of their "niche" or sphere of influence, what they're good at and what they aren't.

Effectiveness is often "layered." For instance, the attribute scores in Call of Cthulhu are literally meaningless during play; only their multiples matter. In discussing Effectiveness, we need to be careful to distinguish between the actual value and the means by which it is derived.

Any available usable pool upon which Effectiveness draws. The obvious ones are Endurance or Hit Points (or even "lives" in frequent-resurrection games), but this would also be breadth and depth of spell knowledge, for instance. It can also be social resources, like Contact with FBI or something similar; this overlaps a bit with metagame below.

In looking over a PC's Resource material, you get an idea of how tough, (un)stoppable, and flexible they are.

This is a broader category than the "metagame mechanics" we've discussed before. It includes them, like Trouble or Luck Points or what-have-you, but it also includes stuff like relationships ("Hunteds" in Champions) and limitations on behavior (Psychological Disadvantages, alignment). Clearly, material within metagame may AFFECT Effectiveness (like Trouble gives bonus dice in Orkworld).

This category is intimately related to Balance of Power. In looking over a PC's metagame material, you get an idea of the parameters within which the player is at least nominally committing to stay, and the "rights" to screw with the system via metagame mechanics.

Small Point #1
Looking across RPG designs, I see that many games permit "trading" among the categories, often with a rate of exchange.
- If you drop your Strength, you can buy up your Dexterity or if you drop your Strength, you have more points to buy skills. These examples remain within the general category of Effectiveness.
- If you drop your Strength, you can buy up your Endurance or Hit Points or whatever. This would be crossing categories, as would be increasing your Luck Points at the expense of points for other things.

I suggest that such trading (with or without a generalized "currency") is fraught with peril, because soybean trading is almost impossible to avoid.

Here's an example: effectiveness in Champions is largely based on division of scores, like 1/3 of your DEX or 11 + STR/5, or stuff like that. Therefore break points are crucial - everyone ends up with DEX of 20, 23, or 26, for instance; any other score is only minimally useful.

It is especially tempting when "derived attributes" are involved. The famous Champions trick is certainly familiar to many of us: buy up your STR (1:1) and END (1:0.5), which automatically raises your REC 1 point. Now buy down your REC, which gives 2 points back. Net gain: 0.5 points. Do this 10 times, and your gross is 10 points of STR, END, and 10 points of pure profit.

Small Point #2
Character creation varies wildly across role-playing games. We see tons of methods, distributed in tons of ways even within single games: random vs. point-allocation, layered vs. not-layered, explicit vs. implicit currency, fixed vs. flexible relationship among the three elements, and more.

I do not claim that there is any one best way. I do think that most PC-creation design has been imitative and tweak-oriented, rather than conceptually integrated with any general goal of the RPG's design. I also think that certain designs are fundamentally flawed - my attributes/skills argument, elsewhere on the Forge, is an example.

I suggest that the past 30+ years of role-playing design has not plumbed the full potential of how characters may be created and employed in the role-playing activity.

I'm willing to discuss tons of stuff about Currency. This post has just scratched the surface.


Ron Edwards

Oh, I just realized that although I described the three categories, I failed to define "currency" itself.

It refers to any RELATIONSHIP among the three categories, which may or may not be overt (e.g. a system of points to spend). We can look at two different RPGs and compare how the three categories are distributed, and under whose control. "Currency" refers to any exchange among or within the categories.

Some games are practically defined by the spendability of currency, e.g. GURPS. Others are fixed solid as rocks among and within the categories, e.g. D&D of whatever vintage. "Class," for instance, usually refers to a specific way to affix currency among the categories; having different classes means standardizing different "nodes" of currency combinations.

Vampire represents an interesting example of a GURPS-like point system for Effectiveness and Resource, yet an AD&D-like class system for most Metagame (and staying very light on "metagame mechanics" as we've discussed elsewhere). L5R is of course built very solidly on the Vampire model.

As I've said before, there are tons, tons, and more tons of variation across RPGs. I'll be happy to do some classifying for games I'm familiar with.




I think I may be a little in the dark as to Effectiveness vs. Resource.  Are you merely differentiating between pool-expenditure mechanics and die-roll (or whatever) mechanics (for example:  in D&D3, I roll to hit a target.  In Nobilis, I expend Aspect Miracle Points to hit a target)?

Or are you saying that fundamentally, there's always a resource and an effectiveness involved in any resolution, so, for example, in D&D my resource for hitting is my modified attack bonus (which might go up and down depending on which weapon I use, etc.), and in Nobilis I've got an effectiveness to hit, even if that effectiveness is entirely dependent on how I spend my resource?

Or is it something else entirely?

Ron Edwards

Hi Epoch,

I classify D&D to-hit mods as components of Effectiveness, as they aren't "used up." In this game, most Effectiveness does not RELY on Resources (which are more a matter of hit points, or of ammo, such as # of arrows or spells).

However, in Nobilis (as I understand it, which is limited), Effectiveness sounds like it relies on Resource to make it possible. This is perfectly OK - you have the Effectiveness itself (whether and why you hit) as reliant on Resource (your actual number of the points in question).

Paul and Gareth both know Nobilis better than I do, so their take on the matter is probably to be trusted more than mine.

My point is that some games really separate and divvy up the categories, minutely - so that in D&D, there are a million nuances to to-hit probabilities, and ne'er shall they be affected by (say) most of the range of hit point totals. Whereas others set up a single number, for instance, that is both a record of Resource spent and the value for Effectiveness itself (a really, really early version of this as a late-70s game called High Fantasy).

A game that I'm familiar with along these lines is Extreme Vengeance, in which you spend Schticks to use them. OK, your Effectiveness is your Guts (a score of roughly 5-8), and it is often modified by the expenditure of a Schtick. So your Effectiveness is raised, but you expended Resource to do it.

It gets more complicated, of course. In this same game, there is a Schtick which allows a re-roll, which is metagame. OK, same Resource - schticks - but a more indirect impact: it is Metagame which is kicked into gear, which ITSELF then improves Effectiveness.

All three categories are interactive, although in some games more than others.



Hmm. In Nobilis, you have a basic effectiveness (the level of your Attribute) which you can raise by spending a Resource (Miracle points). If I've got Aspect 3, I can always hit someone with an Aspect 3-level blow - that's my basic effectiveness. I can spend Aspect Miracle Points to boost my Aspect temporarily, just in case I want to take out that helicopter gunship with a well-aimed sneeze.

Similarly, Blood Pool in Vampire is a Resource which increases Effectiveness, right?

Ron Edwards

You got it, Gareth! Thanks for clarifying the Nobilis situation; I didn't know if there was any Effectiveness score beyond the spending of a Miracle Point.

Since there is, that makes Nobilis very similar to many games in this regard. One score = Effectiveness, another pool-type score = Resource which raises Effectiveness.

Here's another basic twist. Let's imagine a game in which one has something like a base Fight score, which is just there on the sheet and you can rely on it. Then you have a "I really mean it" (IRMI) score, which is used up when it's spent, that improves your Fight score. NOW, let's figure that you also have "Wounds" that you check off as the PC is hurt, and that Wounds penalize Fight!

See how it gets pretty tricky? You have two sorts of Resource to manage, IRMI and Wounds. Both affect your Fight Effectiveness. I bet anyone reading this post is nodding, because this sort of thinking is second-nature for most of us gamers. I'm not claiming it was a HARD point, but rather that such points are totally, completely necessary to consider during game design or in deciding what game you might like to play.



Okay, so my question on this is:  Why?

I think I've got a firm handle on Effectiveness and Resources, now, but I'm not understanding what the goal of the taxonomy is.  Is there some design decision that you see as being important that's affected by, say, whether I spend resources to gain effectiveness in my to-hit task (to continue the example)?

Ron Edwards

I have my own answer for the "Why" question, but I'm curious about what others make of it.

Does anyone see any utility in this method of talking about RPG characters?


Clinton R. Nixon

I totally see some utility here, although it might not be the same answer as Ron has:

Resources should be assigned to thematically important elements of the game, elements that can be lost by the characters and the designer feels are important to make the players think about and balance.

For example--I'll use Sorcerer--Humanity is a Resource. You can gain it or lose it (much easier to lose it) and you use it for many essential tasks. Sorcerer is not about demons as much as it is about Humanity. By making this a Resource, it forces players to think about it constantly, what it means to their character, and how to keep it while still trying to achieve power (or whatever the characters' goals are.)

On the other hand, Effectiveness should be used for defining characteristics of the character that need to be known, but the designer feels should not be changed throughout the game. While Stamina and Will from Sorcerer immediately jump to mind, the other piece of Effectiveness is your demons. (This is a somewhat related thought--I know I'm jumping around.) By making Humanity a Resource that probably will be lost to increase your Effectiveness (demons), you force the players into thinking about this quandary--what can I afford to sacrifice in order to increase my Effectiveness?

And now, I've basically just repeated Ron's definitions. Go figure.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Blake Hutchins

Assigning consequences or twists to the use of a Resource allows a lot of thematic granularity to a game. I'm thinking about what someone suggested about characters in a fantasy setting having a Fate pool, a finite, non-replenishable Resource that causes the character's death when depleted. This mechanic provides some awesome ways to establish a sense of doom and dark fate in the game. Likewise, in Vampire expenditure of Blood Points can lead to definite consequences (frenzy, Humanity loss, torpor).




With respect to Clinton's post:

I think you've got two big points here (fill me in if I'm missing one or more):

1.  If something "should" (on a thematic level) vary up and down a lot in play, then it should be a game mechanical Resource.

2.  Otherwise, anything important should be based on an Effectiveness that one can't directly affect with Resources (I'm restating slightly, since everything that has game mechanics is an Effectiveness).

So, if that's an accurate restatement of your point, then here are my responses:

1.  I don't necessarily agree that things which central to the game and vary up and down a lot should be reflected game-mechanically.  I can't respond to the Sorceror Humanity because I don't play Sorceror, but oftentimes, that kind of thing -- a moral/mental stat -- is too difficult to distil down to a few metrics, and attempting to do so ends up hampering play.  A good example of that is Changeling, which tries to distill way too much into Glamour/Banality.

Given a case in which it is appropriate to assign a metric to something which should vary up and down, well, sure, it should be a Resource.  But that's tautological, right?  A Resource is something which varies up and down and has a game mechanic representing that.  So I don't see how the defined term helps.

2.  I don't think that I agree with this at all.  I think there are plenty of reasons why you might cast an Effectiveness as one that's heavily affected by Resource expenditure, beyond the idea that such a thing varying up and down is central to the game.  To take some random examples:  a Resource-centric approach to task resolution is a good way to have a systems-medium to systems-heavy diceless game (again, Nobilis springs to mind).  Alternately, a Resource-based approach might just make sense within the context of the game world (for example, I think a lot of spell point systems find it easiest to use spell points to allow a mage flexibility and yet limits).  Finally, resources may make play balance or repeatability easier.  For example, I use various forms of Resource-based damage systems (for example, my D20 fencing system) when I want to add predictability to combat and make it more controllable by players, whereas I used effectiveness-along systems when I want to emphasize random and deadly combat.

Jack Spencer Jr

so, then Effectiveness is the fixed attributes of the character.  "Fixed" being a misleading term since in some (probably most) game these values may be raised or lowered.

Resources contrasts the way Effectiveness values change because the value is essentially spent by the player as the game is played.

Basically, as I understand it in the broad strokes not exactly true for every game, Effectiveness sets up a machine or is a cog in the machine of the game system.  Resources is the fuel that drives that cog or simply greases in a bit.

The machine metaphor is important otherwise many items under the Metagame banner could easily be classified as Resources or Effectiveness.  Effectiveness and Resources  work within the way the game works, Metagame allows you to go outside of this for a particular effect.  For example: Warhammer's Fate Points.  They could be considered simply a resource since a character has a certain number and it is spent and gained during the course of the game, but the way they work is your character dies, the roll on the Critical Hit Table states you were hewn in twain and your body lands in two spearate places.  You spend a Fate Point and no you didn't.

(Egad!  writing that just now I realised this is a form of the "Did Not!" "Did Too!" arguement from Let's Pretend games)

Fate Points lets you ignore the results the system machine gives you.  

Or at least that's how I understand all this.

It refers to any RELATIONSHIP among the three categories, which may or may not be overt (e.g. a system of points to spend). We can look at two different RPGs and compare how the three categories are distributed, and under whose control. "Currency" refers to any exchange among or within the categories.

This is where I got confused at first.  I thought Resources were Character Currency.  You do spend them, right?  Anyway...

Judging by the examples already mentioned in this thread the relationship can be even weirder than the term Currency implies.  For me at least, the term implies things like dropping your Strength a couple points to gain a few more Hit points or similar deals.

I mean you have games like Wyrd where the Effectiveness works directly off the Resource.

It seems to me that this relatiobnship will come into play during character creation than most other times, but we've already seem this isn't always so, right?