So, this is the first time I've use this particular Technique. We're about 5 sessions into the campaign, and most players are taking me up on it. Results, so far, are positive.
Here's the deal: In an effort to really get my players thinking more about the game setting, I've decided to award them Development Points (DP for short) for reading books/comics that have a lot in common with the game world. My reasoning is that the more fluent the player is with the setting, the more I am comfortable with them having an accelerated character in the game.
So we're working off of a reading list I'd prepared. Also, I've left open the possibility that they can suggest new material to be added to the reading list, pending my evaluation as to how much it fits the overall genre of the game. Lastly, if someone had already read one of the items, they have to re-read it in order to get DP credit.
I plan on introducing this concept in a "to be published later" Ref's Guide for Factions.
To date, benefits include players becoming "veterans" of the game world faster and an active book exchange on game day (even for those that aren't related to the game).
Has anyone else tried this?
This sounds like a great idea.
The closest I've done to this in the past is using a series of reference material for in game actions.
A dozen or so movies may be chosen as genre staples, or a mix of movies and graphic novels may be available to set a world somewhere between the settings depicted.
If a player uses an action from one of these [movies/pieces of pop-culture], they get a free reroll or some similar advantage. Another player at a later time may not use the same specific action to get the bonus, but they can refer to another movie in the list where something similar happens. If a movie is used too many times (let's say a dozen), then it can be refreshed for new uses, or it can be removed and a new movie added to the list.
Keeping the list refreshing itself keeps the genre of the game intact, while replacing with new movies can have the game evolve in other directions.
This is similar to your concept because it gets players to become familiar with the movies and graphic novels.
It's kept specifically visual for quick reference (rather than novels where you have to wade through pages of text to find a specific action sequence...and those action sequences can take a few pages to narrate as well).
Does this not maybe penalize those who already know more about the setting, because they read those things years ago?
For example I'm playing in a game of Dark Heresy right now. The GM could, if he wished, award extra XP to players for going and reading WH40k fiction or sourcebooks, as they get more involved with the setting. However I've devoured all those books long ago, so I wouldn't be in line for that?
My solution to this issue (I've already read that one!) is to have the player read it again.
I know it sounds simple (and it is), but I think there's a good chunk of value in the exercise. The player may have read Novel "X" three years ago, and they've just gotten their head around the Game Setting Y. Going back and reading X means getting to re-evaluate what is going on in X, through the lens of seeing how it fits into the ideas of Y.
In other words, the player gets to try to guess which Special Ability (from Y) the protagonist is using in X, or which group/Subfaction they would belong to. It's kind of like going to a movie, and trying to pick out which WoD Clan a character belongs to (in Blade), or which advantages or disadvantages the main villain has in game terms.
The game Amber featured this technique. I have tried it myself using a variety of systems. It typically has not worked well for me.
I've found that development points, or whatever they might be called in a particular game, are very poor incentive for behaviors outside of the fiction itself. In Big Model terms, this is an example of trying to affect the larger, outer process of forming the SIS via within-System techniques. It's trying to jump-start a cause by providing some of the effects.
I'm thinking here of the discussion in Beating a dead horse? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25417.0) in which Nolan asks a key question about halfway down the first page. I talk there about an "arrow" which travels down/into the Big Model from Social Contract to Ephemera, and then back out again. I think your proposed idea, like so many others that try to "get the players to commit," is starting with the wrong arrow.
However, that is pretty theoretical, and I will try to put it into more concrete terms. Basically, in my experience, people don't like homework unless they can see that it will be worthwhile outside of the context of that material. That includes the relatively self-interested reward of scoring class points as well as the more liberal-artsy reward of providing context and perspective on their personal knowledge, identity, and that stuff. I'll focus on the former.
For real-life, academic homework, points to score may be an initial and perhaps adequate motivator, but the difference is that those points are consequential for something that the student does care about. In contrast, to have people study X so they can get points which are only useful in imagining a version of X is ... well, isolated from any consequence outside of X. At best it's busy-work.
I've also found that people are often inspired to pursue the source material on their own if the expression of that material in the game is itself exciting and intriguing. That has led me to the general habit of providing many examples and references to the players, sometimes as handouts, so that they may be just as informed about the influences on the upcoming game as I am. Again, though, my expectation is not that they read or view those influences first, but rather, they know where to go if they like what they see in the game.
Before going on, I'd like to double-check that I understand the problem you are trying to solve, especially in the context of this particular group of people. Am I correct in thinking that you are not currently satisfied with the degree to which people are engaging with the material?
Ah, Amber. A game I keep wanting to actually play, one day.
Although I wouldn't characterize it as a problem per see, I would like my players to be as engaged with the material as possible. By this, I wouldn't say the players "don't get" the material; I'd like them to get more of it. For example, if I were running a game set in the Civil War, I'd want to get the players as familiar with the period as possible. The more they'd know about the setting, the deeper they could imagine themselves in it.
Myself, I find the Civil War to be an interesting time period, and have a few books about on the subject. Still, I wouldn't feel comfortable in running a game with my limited knowledge... I'd want to bone up a bit and "study," and I'd want my players to do so, too. I'm pushing for a deeper Actor stance, where the player is more familiar with what their character might know about the setting.
Again, I'd like to stress that this outside reading is *not* being required of the players. Also, the readings are not dry tomes on Ritual Magic theory or the like, but are instead popular fictions which have a lot in common with the game setting (selected works by Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Charles DeLint, and a few others).
So, sure, it's homework, but I wouldn't call it busy work. I'm not doing this simply to keep the players busy... I want to get them thinking more about the setting.
I suppose I could reframe my first post this way:
"I like my players to have a lot of the same knowledge as their characters do regarding the setting, because I find heavy Actor/SIM play to be enjoyable. I'm currently using in-game rewards as an incentive to get my players to become more acquainted with the setting, by reading selected novels and comics. Has anyone else tried this, and what experience have you had? Do you have any other suggestions along these lines?"
I think that your players are willing to go out and seek information about your setting off-line is as much a testament to your GMing as it is your reward.
I currently play a World of Warcraft d20 game. I mostly get into it because my friends were doing it. I'm continuing to play because I'm engaged in the story, and I like the players and GM. But I have no desire to spend my non-gaming hours reading up on WoW information. If we're going to a new area, I'll generally try and find one of the players during non game time and ask general questions my character should reasonably know.
But some groups I've been in would rebuke any off-line 'homework' that is assigned. Especially the larger a given group gets, the more likely there are people playing with friends with little interest in the story. I think this is mechanic just servers to push those people further out of the spotlight.
Just my two cents.