Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rolling for XP

Lately I've heard a lot of talking about 'bennies' in RPGs.    Mostly this is in the context of how wonderful bennies are and how they enable the players, and also how they can be used to drive 'roleplay'.  I don't hate this mechanic but I don't like it either and I certainly don't think it's all that, like people are making it out to be.  I generally dislike luck points, bennies, fate points, or to a lesser degree, point spending in Gumshoe because I think that they often mix poorly with dice roll mechanics and they cause people to horde the points to use either for re-rolls or to buy victory.  Buying a victory or a reroll is not bad in itself, however usually the economies used to pay for these points are a bit borked.  Generally you get bennies for doing something interesting or funny and then you use them to take the edge off those situations where a poor dice roll would be very... well interesting or funny. I'm not saying that I'm right about this, it's just my perception of these mechanics that they let the player earn and buy security.  I can see why this is popular, everyone wants to control their destiny and having a good idea get blocked by poor rolls is a bit of a bummer.  I think that in a dice based game the best way to mitigate risk is to avoid rolling the dice in the first place.

As for XP, people seem to think that you should award XP for fighting (fine), treasure (ok if done right), and for roleplaying (good in theory).  The idea here is that the game play will be shaped by the reward mechanic and unless you want a game all about fighting and money you should reward roleplay.  However it's hard to reward roleplay because it does seem to be very subjective.  I would much rather award XP for goals completed than for staying in character or clever roleplay.  Also if you do award XP for goals be sure to indicate the kind of goals and the payoffs upfront in your campaign or it risks becoming capricious.

All the commentary I have heard discussing this subject seem to reinforce that rewarding roleplay works if you have a good GM but otherwise not so much.  I'd say it isn't the caliber of the GM as much as it is having a GM that wants to track all your RP and special snowflake moments.  Lots of good GMs are not interested in tracking all that stuff.  I've always been intrigued by the notion of awarding Experience for Damage as outlined by Alexis S. in  Experience Solved.  This system awards XP every time the PC takes or deals damage and it is a great idea.  I certainly like the objective way that the XP get handed out in that kind of system and the only reason I haven't tried this out myself is that I don't like the idea of tracking things so much.  Lots of work keeping track of things.

Anyway the long and the short of all this is that the other day I had the thought that you should just award XP every time the player rolls the dice.  This is an interesting idea for me because it covers the idea that player mitigate risk through managing to avoid rolling dice, so mitigating their risk mitigation by awarding XP when they do the roll dice is a cool response.  You are effectively saying - hey its all good to be clever and cautious because the world is dangerous and you were right to narrate how you check all the stairs with your 10' pole, but you are going to be rewarded for taking risks too, and I'll leave it up to you guys.  On the one hand you survive longer playing carefully, on the other you 'learn' more when you take a gamble.  You would not do this in a game where you roll dice to use rope or cross a bridge.  You would do this in a game where you are following the rule that you only roll dice when it matters that you fail.

This dovetails in with the idea using a mechanic to reinforce good game play by rewarding characters taking actual chances instead of pretending to take chances.  In this case however it isn't handing out bennies or fate points for players acting, but rewarding player action - having the players rolling dice instead of playing it safe and avoiding the dice roll.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to agree with you, especially on the RP reward thing. Leads to too much blabbing and not enough doing. But I’d be worried that rewarding rolling the die would just encourage mindless running into things with a sword and hoping for a good roll. Then you get those people (you know who you are!) claiming the game offers no strategy.

    Here’s a couple of ideas where the XPs become the bennies:

    How about you get a standard set of XP per session, lets say 5 for the sake of argument. If you want, you can spend those on a roll (it lets you reroll or adds to it or something). That means you get the option of “taking the edge off” as you say, but reducing the amount of experience you gain. Keep doing that and you’ll be stuck at level 1 (or whatever your advancement scheme is) for quite a while. Or don’t spend the points, take what’s coming to ya and get the experience. It would lead to some interesting characters – there’d be the ones that learned from their mistakes, and the ones that just luck out and don’t really learn anything.

    The other idea is that you get XP when the GM intervenes and hands you a complication. This one is stolen from Numenera (stop whining). On a fumble roll (or other situation that could prove very “interesting”), the DM says something like “turns out the Icthydroid has a back up power supply and heals itself - this is worth 2 XP”. The player either takes it and gets the 2XP or refuses it and pays 2XP. Players then look forward to complications, fumbles and other interesting situations, may even suggest them, to get the XP reward. Or they back out and end up in remedial hero school.

    What I like about these is they give a bennie-like option but it comes as a strategic cost rather than as a reward for snowflaking.