Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two More Obscure Ideas Worth Stealing

Lines of Experience
So, the recent Marvel Superheroes RPG, the one with the stones system, was really interesting, but as I understand it, died because it was published by a comic book publisher. Good numbers for an RPG are bad numbers for a comic, or so I am led to understand.

Anyway, even if you never get to play it, it's worth nowing about its advancement mechanics, "Lines of Experience". Characters were medium-grained in detail, and when you gt advancement, it was given as "lines of experience". Now, mechanically, each waas basically a point which you assigned to the thing you wanted to improve. if your kung Fu was a 7, you assigned lines to it, and after you accumulated 7 of them, it became an 8. Easy peasy.

But where it got interesting was that for each line you actually wrote a brief description of what you had done with that skill durng the adventure, like "Fought the Sinister Frogmen of Yslar in their underwater lair" and if on a subsequent adventure you are in a similar situation (fightign underwater, say) you could use that line of experience to temporarily boost your skill from a 7 to an 8.

I love this idea, and Fred Hicks ended up riffing on it nicely in Don't Rest Your Head, but I think there's a lot more to be mined out of it.

Player Contributions
I sometimes need to actively remind myself that the Amber Diceless RPG is a small, niche game. This is hard because it's SO big and SO influential on me that I sometimes forget that not everyone else has is burned into their heart. And that means not everyone has been as exposed to the ADRPGs player contributions.

So Amber had a simple point-buy system, with 100 points to spend, but plyers could get extra points, usually in 10 point blocks, for maing contributions ot the game. Contributions included drawing pictures of the characters, keeping a character journal, writing stories about your character and so on. Over time different groups expanded what qualified as a contribution to include things like hosting or buying food.

Now, bear in mind, this was the time before Livejournal and fanfic communities, so the fact that the game provided a legitimate outlet for other types of creativity was a huge win in terms of creating player investment. What's more, by granting players the leeway to author a lot of "offscreen" materials, it proved one of the few ways to really get player investment in setting that's on par with killing Elminster[1].

Now, not every game necessarily calls for fiction or the like, but every game calls for _something_. If there's some sort of behavior or investment you want to encourage or acknowledge, then consider formalizing in-game rewards for player contributions. It's not fair in the traditional sense, but that tends to make it more motivating: you recognize your contributing members and provide others the opportunity (and clear direction on how) to do the same.

1 - This gets its name from a tale told on the Sons of Kryos podcast, of a D&D game where the opening even is the murder of Elminster, the iconic NPC of the Forgotten Realms. This sort of actionis a clear dramatic statement that the game is not going to be dictated by the official canon of the setting, and that the table owns the game.


  1. I'm really enjoying this series, Rob. I read many of these games when I was a kid. But since I was a little bit too young when they came out, and since my friends were into RPGs enough that I could coerce them to play, but not enough that they would get fired up about it independently, it was only in my head that these games got to stretch their legs at all. And some of the games you're discussing I never even saw.

    Marvel and Amber were both awesome, and nobody but me cared. Yet even I didn't really grok at the time why the experience system or point systems were unusual or awesome.

    I encourage you to continue this line of exploration!

  2. Fairly recently this kind of effort-based contribution system has gotten a lot of flack. The arguments I tend to see are, um, one-and-a-half-fold:
    1) It rewards people disproportionately.
    1a) It rewards people who have more time to devote to the game.

    The second part may be harder to argue against - indeed, people with more investment generally get better things out of the play (and sometimes, as noted, the system). There is nothing wrong with this in general - some places reward even quips and great roleplay immediately with feedback points.

    The first part, however, is where the problem is - when you start NEEDING the points to maintain a balanced experience (not necessarily character) and you have children or a job that keep you from writing that minimum for whatever length of time the contribution is required (arguments go from "unlimited" to "whatever pays off 10 points in regular game sessions") you're losing ground in a game ruled significantly by GM favor. (I should mean fiat, but I've been an Amber GM for more than 15 years. As unbiased as I try to be, I think there's issues there.)

  3. There's absolutely a potential balance issue, but it's very much a function of the game: in amber for example a lot hinges on points vs. Ranks

    That said, this is a reason I dig currencies like fate points as rewards. The benefit is real, but limited to a given session.

    -Rob D

  4. A year ago you found 10 things worth stealing. Has the downturn hit the gamming industry as well? This year you only have five things... so far.

  5. The ASGARD ADVENTURES game I worked on with Thaddeus Rice had the experience progression be characterized as a council of gods (played by the players, distributed randomly or by choice) who would ask the claimant what they had done to earn progression.

    Thus, the player had to boastfully proclaim his worthiness to the gods for advancement in a particular skill or ability. If I remember correctly, we also allowed for sacrifices (in game) and proper obeisance to the gods to influence the decision.

    I really, really need to finish writing that game and get it published.

  6. @biff -- thanks for pointing that out. I hadn't seen the older post, and it was delicious.

  7. *laughs*

    Blame it on my attempt to write more concisely these days.

  8. @jason Any game where boasting is an essential part of play already has sold me!

  9. @jason Any game where boasting is an essential part of play already has sold me!

  10. I did the seriously silly experiment of trying to RP on WoW. (On RP servers, but apparently this is shocking to the sorts of people who play on "RP" servers.) What made it so sticky was I found a community that had a culture of doing these "player contributions" habitually: journal entries, diaries, song mixes, etc. It really enriches the experience when, after a night's session, you can read 3-4 diary entries of wildly different takes on the evening. (Unreliable narrators are wonderful.)

    I think the rewards should be token at best (note that we were doing it for the pleasure of the act itself, with absolutely no mechanical rewards) but if there is some way to encourage your players to contribute in this way, it really deepens the game experience.

    Ultimately I found RPing in WoW to be more frustrating than rewarding because it's so discouraged by the general player population, but the habit of keeping journals and writing stories and IC letters is one that I will take with me to future games.


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