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Rewarding Players

Started by erithromycin, November 11, 2001, 12:46:00 AM

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Experience points.

Do players deserve them?

Is it better to reward someone for a successful negotiation with a reputation as a rainmaker or an enhancement to his mechanical character? [1]

What are we actually rewarding?

I try to avoid using rules, even ones as fine as Ron's or Jared's or anyone elses. I've LARPed for days without using system whatsoever. So does it make sense for me to get experience points, when the rewards I generate come from my roleplaying? Should this difference be forced? Codified? Used?

If I were to run a game where the players were newly created vampires, and their powers manifested not as they earned experience but as time passed, would that be grounds for complaint, or would it give them the chance to focus on the meat of the issue, "role-playing not roll-playing" [heh].

If a successful use of a skill was rewarded, not with experience points that would raise the level, but with some advantage connected to the means in which success was generated. To go back to the rainmaker, reputation means that some things wouldn't go to negotiation, or that different tactics would be used at the table.

What if learning new skills took 'character time', not experience points? Or is this becoming an issue of currency? Should points gathered in the heat of battle by slaying dragons count as time spent in a classroom?

What if, after character generation, changes in the character could *only* be made if your GM agreed that it was appropriate, because you had done something that was best reflected by a change in numbers, rather than a change in circumstance?

I'll admit that there's a big interpretation issue involved, but I think it could be made workable.

Any thoughts?


[1] There are two characters, IMO, mechanical and social. One is the numbers, the model through which one interacts with the game world, a body, if you will, constrained and defined by the physics of system. Social is the metaphysical part, what other people talk to. Course, that's just what I think.
my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A

Ron Edwards

Hey Drew,

I hope we can pick up this discussion from some of the points made on the">Reward Systems thread earlier.



Reward mechanics in roleplaying games are really just a lot of smoke and mirrors.  

It's not a matter of whether the player deserves them.  It's a matter of what will motivate the player to play the game the way it is meant to be played.  

If the player is interested in improving his character, then rewards that boost his effectiveness or resources are what are needed.  If the player is only interested in having a good time, making sure the game is fun is all that is required (and that's not entirely the GM's job - but that's a different thread).  If you're part of my group, which currently is focused on closed story-arcs of four to five sessions, long term improvement means nothing; I want to see something I do have an impact on the game right now.

The game is supposed to be fun.  Figure out what your players want, and then play a game that accomplishes that (not just any game will do - system does matter, afterall).

A while back I posted a thread in which I asserted that reward mechanics were the most important mechanics in a game.  Because it was close to GenCon, Ron never had a chance to properly answer that thread.  Is now a better time?

Take care,

[Edited Moments Later:  Heh, Ron beat me to it.  Yup, that's the thread I was referring to].

[ This Message was edited by: hardcoremoose on 2001-11-10 20:19 ]


Right, having found that [thank you for the reference, I'd looked for something on this topic and missed it], I'll start with your classifications:

For those of you who haven't read the discussion Ron refers to, please do, as this is directly based upon Ron's first post there, with more to follow.

1: Reward systems do generate value systems. I think this comes down to the currency issue, but there are other ones too. Where I am equally rewarded for killing the bad guy myself or ensuring that he is successfully prosecuted and incarcerated prior to state-sanctioned execution that says more to me about the value systems that lie behind a GMs game than almost anything else. Or, indeed, about my character, the system, my roleplaying ability, or anything else connected to 'experience'. I'm not sure about the GNS effects, I think it has strong simulationist vibes, but could serve as a carrot for both narrative flow [or, indeed, a stick, depending (1)], and is one of the bits of cake gamists like to eat.

2: That reward can span all of character currency, is, in retrospect, one of the main angles of my question. I think I'm arguing for a change in that currency, or at least an attempt to instantiate a rate of exchange. The Tomohawk missile that moose recieved could have done anything for his character. Used 'properly' it could have toppled a clan, if not the Camarilla, but that all falls down to character goals.

3: Linear scale over time - Is it harder for a grandparent to learn how to drive than a toddler? Why? If used, it seems inconsistent with how things actually work. Logarithmic, quasi-logarithmic, and other such nonlinear shenanigans fail, in many cases, to accurately reflect the learning process. Though challenge ratings may finally put paid to the legend of the high level butcher. [2]

4/5: Automatic, specific,  continuous, and categorical are all parts of the same thing, namely what are the rewards of experience? To rephrase - What do you gain by experiencing them? [3]

6: Applied properly, rewards and punishment can be made the same thing. What do I 'gain' by sacrificing my arm to slay a dragon [I just don't like 'em, the scaly hoarders]. A dead dragon for  a start. What's that worth?

I'll get onto Improvement, Personality Development, and
the "other things" in a bit.

Just to address the game currency issue, what rewards are is as much my question as what rewards are for.

As Damocles pointed out, a good reward system is:

Not vague.

This is an interesting, one, but it does lead to the discussion as to whether "good roleplaying" deserves those 1-3 points.

Of significant value.

Things are what you make them. Moose's tomahawk could have been some $K in scrap, some $m to the chinese, or, maybe, a shot at running the show. A +2 sword of peasantslaying might make a nice mantel decoration.

A reflection of the goals of the game.

When I first wrote this, I said 'values', thus signalling my argument. The rewards players get for playing, and why they get what they get, say more about a system than almost anything else. Don't they?

"Rewards should not lead to more rewards"

Moose said that a sword of killing stuff means a fighter can kill more stuff, but I'll stick with whoever said that it's only if something is challenging that there should be reward. Kennedy? "We do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard".

Reward systems come from the GM.

Character development is a) more, or better numbers, b) more, or better stories [4], and c) more, or better things.

I think I've lost my own train of thought, so I'll write the footnotes and stop.

[1] Rewards can be punishments, of a kind. "Well done kid, now you're the fastest gun in the West..."

[2] It all really depends what your meat animals are.

[3] This is perhaps what this is all about. What are the rewards of experience?

[4] I'm pandering to the narrativists [heh] largely because I've no idea how they tie in with this yet. Unless it's in more toys to tell stories with.

In an effort to marshal all this together,

What is experience?

What does it buy?


my name is drew

"I wouldn't be satisfied with a roleplaying  session if I wasn't turned into a turkey or something" - A


There's a lot of posts I just read--but I didn't see anything to the effect of what we've come up with. We've got a point-based, multi-genre, RPG (think GURPS or Hero in general philosophy). When it comes to XP, we've been thinking about a lot of different things:

1. Even in the same game with similar GNS-style players, some *characters* advance in Effectiveness differently (Luke changes a hell of a lot, Han Solo doesn't).

2. In some cases (a particular effect of point-based games but can happen in others) the player wants to get his or her character to some level of expertise and doesn't need to get them much further (fiction where for the first book the guy's a novice and then is a pro from then on).

3. Superheroes don't change their powers all that much--but if they do so, it's usually a serious change.

NONE of this has to do with rewarding certain player behaviors or character actions (considering that it's said 'we learn more when we fail' then failing to rescue the prince might well generate more XP than succeeding).

Some of our ideas are shaping up like this:

1. The player determines a 'growth arc' for his character. It can be slow-but-steady, novice-to-pro, or 'stepped' (which would indicate starting with more points and increasing slowly, starting with fewere but increasing much faster, and starting with fewer but suddenly changing *a lot*).  We don't have a whole lot of concrete ideas (and in-game rewards might well factor in too--something I'm thinking about as I type).

2. You get points for playing in the game (rate possibly determined by the above). Usually all players get the same basic alotment (if the group likes the idea of rewards for great ideas or whatever, fine--but the default is everyone with the same growth-arc gets the same basic XP).

3. As I think about it, a pre-defined "character growth arc" could be a really cool narrativist tool (something you don't see in GURPS or Hero too often). It might just detail XP gain--but at least giving the GM ideas of how the character's supposed to end up 10-playsessions down the line XP or not seems like a good idea.

JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
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Just Released: JAGS Wonderland



You say you don't see anything like what you've been working on, but I do.  The old-school level-based development systems seem to bear some resemblance to what you describe...what were those levels if they weren't a character arc for you to follow.

Furthermore, I'm not sure you're describing a reward system.  If the system eventually makes use of variable rewards that actually reward player behavior of some sort, then yeah, it is a reward system.  If advancement along the character arc happens automatically, then I'm not so sure (I guess the reward is for playing, eh?).

Either way, the idea of a customizable character arc is interesting.  I'm not sure it would work so well for narrativism, where the emphasis is on the emergence of story during play, but who knows.  I'm interested in seeing what you do with it, though.

- Scott  


  On the note of customizable learning arcs, I have seen  the one in Mekton Zeta work well.  It's based on anime, so you are either a novice, who grows at a high rate, or an old veteran with a lot more skills, but grows at a slower rate.  It fits in perfectly with the Luke Skywalker/Han Solo example.
 One of the issues concerning reward systems that has been sitting on my mind, is that even in many systems that claim to be designed to tell good stories, the primary use of reward points is to improve one's character.

 If we look at it as the ONLY way one can affect the story is through one's character, then the reward of improving the character allows you to affect more story.  If, instead, we look at the points as allowing you to directly manipulate the story(plot points), then the goal becomes acquiring them solely for having more control of the story(a level of competition between who gets to tell the story).  Since the GM is not limited by points(excepting Rune) or mechanics in telling the story, as determining scenarios and plots, the players, are competiting for plot control, but not necessarily in a fair arena.

 On a related note, what is "good roleplaying" to be rewarded?  As far as most rpg's are concerned, that means good story and actual portrayal of the character, although we could easily say if you helped everyone have fun, that was good playing(although perhaps not a role).

 Finally, why must there be a reward system at all?  Other types of games hold no carryover rewards(such as chess, you win, you lose, next game is a whole new game).  Your character can grow, or change without necessarily becoming more powerful, or weaker, and if they do, who is to say that everyone has to grow at a fixed rate?  Are these rules simply there to prevent powergaming?  Or to make your earnings "official"?

A random firing of synapses to consider,



Hi Scott,

I *wasn't* trying to claim a unique idea--I'm *sure* it's been done somewhere (and maybe old-style leveling systems is it ... if you could customize them somewhat)--I just meant I didn't see my thoughts about reward systems in these *threads*. :smile:


I think the reward *is* for playing. Any system that rewards something specifically (say, slaying monsters) is either driving gamist behavior or forcing a player (say a pacificsit character in AD&D) to do something he might not want to in order to achieve an effectiveness-oriented goal (being powerful enough to stand up to his nemesis later on, say). That's not a bad thing--but I wouldn't build it into a generic system.

[in case anyone is interested, JAGS is at: ]

JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland

Jack Spencer Jr

Actually, reward systems seem to used more as an incentive to play the game at all, let alone as intended.

I once spoke with someone who couldn't get his players to try TSR's Bullwinkle and Rocky RPG not because it was so different from a typical RPG, but because the characters didn't advance any.

Personally, I can see the advantage to this incentive.  I just favor change over a linear advancement of progressively increased abilities.  But that's me.

For example, I've been toying with a super hero RPG where instead of the typical improvement advancement the only real advancement is to find new ways to use your powers, which mirrors comic books a little more closely than improved abilities anyway. (Unless a character starts off inexperienced)

Never did figure out how to use this, but it's the way I'm leaning over no reward system aside from just play or the typical linear progression.

Ron Edwards


I thought I'd lay out some categories to make some sense of this issue, which ain't simple.

First of all, there's a reason I call them REWARD systems, because we are talking about the real people, the role-playing humans. This is a pretty general category. People feel rewarded by many things, including achievement, improvement, reputation or admiration, privileges, continuation of the activity, and more.

One of the categories within role-playing reward systems is "character development." I am quite certain there are many others at this category-level which are very, very covert. (To be blunt, for many years in my case, it was the access to romantic opportunities among other players, often mediated through events in play.)

But to stick with Character Development, the next step is to consider all aspects of Currency as described in my essay. I think most of us agree that the traditional and most common version is "character improvement," using a Currency-item called "experience points" (regardless of its name in a particular game, most people keep the traditional term in conversation). Again, I suggest that there are may be other forms of Character Development that are not "character improvement," and again, that they are often tacit.

Regarding character improvment, most of us would agree, I think, that games vary a lot in what aspects of Effectiveness, Resource, and Metagame can be improved and at what rates.

Comparing (1) many dozens / few hundreds of role-playing games, and (2) many instances of play over the years, I can see that people really like to "have something to shoot for" during play. Faithfulness to the source material doesn't seem to be the issue; superheroes in comics do change over time (gradually or drastically), whereas pulp heroes do not.

I suggest that the "something to shoot for" itch can be shifted to Metagame rather than Effectiveness/Resource, and that some games have done a very good job of that (Sorcerer tries; its efficacy is not for me to say).

Let's talk about this "something to shoot for." What games provide it, and in what way? We can see the ongoing trickle of points to be spent on small and various aspects of the character in GURPS; we can see the "light at the end of the tunnel" represented by Prestige Classes in D&D3E or Rune status in RuneQuest; what else is there?


Mike Holmes

On 2001-11-11 12:04, pblock wrote:
For example, I've been toying with a super hero RPG where instead of the typical improvement advancement the only real advancement is to find new ways to use your powers, which mirrors comic books a little more closely than improved abilities anyway. (Unless a character starts off inexperienced)

Never did figure out how to use this, but it's the way I'm leaning over no reward system aside from just play or the typical linear progression.
Play either Marvel Supers or Champions. In Marvel you use your reward points (Karma?) to create "Power Stunts" which are new applications of their old powers. In Hero, you can break a power out into a Multipower or an Elemental Control and add stunts as you get enough points to pay for them. A very cool use for saved up points.

Been there, done that.


[ This Message was edited by: Mike Holmes on 2001-11-12 11:17 ]
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Ron Edwards


Ditto. After a while of play, I found that one of the best uses of Champions' experience point system was to design a Variable Power Pool for one's related powers. If it was designed properly (which most players had to be scruffed to do), it was mighty expensive. So we kept an eye on the difference between the actual powers' cost on the sheet (say, a Multipower with slots being added as we went) and the cost of the desired VPP. When the former finally equalled the latter, we changed it all over into the VPP.

It worked really, really well for the Green-Lantern-sort of character.

I first considered the Metagame element of character development in Champions as well. It struck me as annoying that the thing one did with experience points was to REMOVE Metagame elements ("buying off disads") and generally did not permit it unless (a) another disadvantage was simply replacing the old one and happened to be cheaper, or (b) the old disadvantage was not being interesting or useful anyway.

The notion of (say) DNPCs being a POSITIVE motivator or Effectiveness-increaser of a superhero character was, needless to say, not considered by any of us during the 80s.


Mike Holmes

On 2001-11-12 10:17, Ron Edwards wrote:
Let's talk about this "something to shoot for." What games provide it, and in what way? We can see the ongoing trickle of points to be spent on small and various aspects of the character in GURPS; we can see the "light at the end of the tunnel" represented by Prestige Classes in D&D3E or Rune status in RuneQuest; what else is there?
Well, I think that this applies very strongly to GNS.

Traditionally, the Gamist reward gives the character more power to accomplish things in game. The idea is to reward success with the ability to be more successful or effective. For some players this is the very yardstick that they measure themselves against. Lately, though, some Gamist games have had some very interesting goals that are unrelated to increasing character power. In Primeval, for example, the rewards given out are for good storytelling only, and result in what are essentially points (listed feats) which are the score for determining the game's winner. In Rune the reward is for a well-designed adventure, and, again, counts towards winning. In other words character advencement is just one of many methods that work as rewards in a Gamist system.

Most Simulationist games actually have Gamist reward systems. They may be applied in more "realistic" fashions in some cases, but the result is usually a character who is more powerful in terms of being able to solve problems in-game. Some few simulationist games have systems for character improvement that are unlinked to player success. For example, you have some systems that require that the character be enrolled in classes, or do other things to improve themselves that make sense in the context of the game world (Traveller, forex). The sign of an "experience system" that is purely Simulationist is one that has no limitations on its use other than setting restrictions. If you can choose for your character to go to school and boost his chemistry score over a period of time, and there were no gamey limitations on this, only setting ones (like having enough money to pay for it or being able to get loans), then this is a simulation of learning, and truely simulationist. Note, that if the setting is, say, a Hong Kong Action style game, then it may be an inappropriate simulation to have it possible for characters to spend enough time in school to learn anything. In such a setting it may make more sense for characters to learn things only from old masters or from experience in fights. The point is that the learning does not come from player success, but from what happens to the character.

Truely Simulationist charater improvement, therefore, is not a reward system of itself. The Simulationist player seeks no reward from external sources. The reward sought by the simulationist player is the accurate simulation itself, and any immersion that they might attain (thus immersed it is possible to see that such improvement might be rewarding to the player as he identifies with his character who is being successful). Other rewards would not be sought by players who were solely Simulationist. Here one can see that most Sumulationist players also have Gamist and/or Narrativist tendencies as well. They still like their "unrealistic" advancement as a yardstick quite often. This example practically defines the common Sim/Gam player that I encounter all the time.

Thus GURPS, which says that players should get Experience Points for good roleplaying is rewarding the player, and allowing the player to increase the abilities of the character in a fashion that is not simulated in the game other than possibly retroactively. That is that often after spending such points the player is told that they are supposed to rationalize where the character learned what new things they have learned and how. But this is trying to reimpose the simulation back onto the Gamist mechanic. This design caters to that aforementioned Sim/Gam player.

Narrativists aren't interested in mechanics that improve characters other than it is good for the story for such improvement to occur. Most Narrativists would rather be rewarded for good play, in my limited experience, with more narrative power. This is the idea behind The Pool. The better you play, the more dice you get from the GM and the more likely it is that you can get MoVs which represent Narrative power. Hero Wars give you Hero Points that potentially represent nararative power.

Does that help, or was that all obvious?

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Jared A. Sorensen

The whole Luke/Han thing.

In Marvel (described above), not only can you develop power stunts, you can also spend Karma to increase die rolls during the game.

So while Luke is all about adding stunts to his Force power (deflect blaster, saber throw, TK, super jumping, etc.), Han is all about saving his Karma for when he needs to, say, escape detection by Imperial bounty hunters.


Also, Karma could be channeled into a "team pool" that everyone could use, which is a nice touch AND a cool mechanic for enforcing the concept of the superhero team (bonus that your team pool is harshly penalized for individual character actions, which is why having Wolvie be a part of the X-Men is a bit of a double-edged sword).

Also, see: InSpectres. No character advancement. It's all franchise advancement.
jared a. sorensen /


Ahhh, but InSpectres does allow for the growth of individual characters through the use of Confessionals.  In this case, it's the other players who specify new traits for your character...and that's way cool.  

I kind of screwed that mechanic up when I wrote NightWatch.  I hope to fix that when I rewrite it.

- Moose