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 Post subject: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 7:42 pm 
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Ok, guys, this is about mechanical rewards in role-playing, about going up in levels, or, in TRoS terms, about increasing Attributes, Skills and Proficiencies.

Two months ago or so, Ian wrote that he wouldn’t be too interested in playing a game where there was no mechanical reward of increasing his PC’s effectiveness. Believing to have an idea of his role-playing preferences, I didn’t quite understand this statement, and I have since given some thought to it and also talked about the topic with the members of my group. Unfortunately (in this case!), they all share my own tastes in role-playing and thus were not very helpful; like myself, they could hardly care less about their characters going up in power.

So I return back here to solicit people’s opinions on the issue.

I will not talk how a marked increase in capability of protagonists is usually not to be found in adventure fiction, the model of role-playing; I have already done so elsewhere. Instead, I would like to present how I perceive the impact of mechanical rewards of going up in capability:

If I manage to increase my Gallic warrior character’s ST, AG, TO and Wit by 1 or 2 each (and thus his Ref by 2) and his Proficiency by 6, he will look tougher on paper then he did in the beginning, but he will not perform any better.

Sure enough, once, he might have found facing a single Roman legionary challenging while he is now able to take on two of them – but that’s exactly it. Now that the PC is more capable, the referee will simply use twice the opposition he would have used previously. In a situation where the Gaul would once have faced a single legionary, the referee will now use two.

What I am saying is that the level of oppostion will keep up with the level of PC capability. And that’s all very well, as the game would otherwise not be challenging anymore. But the reward of the PC getting ever more capable is thereby reduced to a merely theoretical one – if the PC lived through his early adventures once again, he would now find them very easy. But of course he doesn’t relive them, and the adventures he is having now are again not easy. The reward of having gotten his PC more powerful mechanically has gained the player exactly nothing, the PC doesn't perform with greater success.

Mind that I do refer merely to mechanical rewards, not rewards the player might reap for his PC socially in the game world. A PC who braves many adventures might well become a hugely admired hero or a widely dreaded rogue, and such a development can indeed be seen as a reward as well – but I know no game where this kind of reward is handed out mechanically, like XPs ore SAs are. If societal rewards are reaped, they are a side effect of the adventures, and I fail to see any necessary connection between them and mechanical rewards. A PC might well achieve splendid things and earn reknown for them without ever needing to increase any Attribute, Skill or Proficiency.

So I am really at a loss. As the rise in opposition a PC with increased mechanical effectiveness faces does mean that the PC will not perform with greater success than previously, what tangible benefit do players get from having their PCs become more mechanically effective? What’s the kick others on this board get from this?

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 10:17 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
Ok, guys, this is about mechanical rewards in role-playing, about going up in levels, or, in TRoS terms, about increasing Attributes, Skills and Proficiencies.


Firstly, I just want to say how much I enjoyed this post -- it is a well reasoned, well considered exploration of the subject.

Made no sense to me of course. :lol:

Grettir wrote:
If I manage to increase my Gallic warrior character’s ST, AG, TO and Wit by 1 or 2 each (and thus his Ref by 2) and his Proficiency by 6, he will look tougher on paper then he did in the beginning, but he will not perform any better.

... (SNIP)

What I am saying is that the level of opposition will keep up with the level of PC capability. And that’s all very well, as the game would otherwise not be challenging anymore. But the reward of the PC getting ever more capable is thereby reduced to a merely theoretical one – if the PC lived through his early adventures once again, he would now find them very easy. But of course he doesn’t relive them, and the adventures he is having now are again not easy. The reward of having gotten his PC more powerful mechanically has gained the player exactly nothing, the PC doesn't perform with greater success.


If I may draw an analogy: I'm a fat couch potato. I'm starting to have blood pressure issues. I receive a gym membership for my birthday. I go along. I get assessed and the smiling fit person makes a program for me. I go three times a week every week for three months. Over that period I shed some fat but lose little weight as muscle mass increases. On all of the exercises I can push more weight and do more sets of reps -- but let's face it, it hurts just as much at the end of three months as it did on the first day. Should I bother continuing -- it's not getting any easier...

Of course I should! I feel better about myself. I am healthier, stronger, fitter. I am getting where I want to go and motivated to continue by the changes I see in myself and the praise I receive from my peers engaged in the same passtime, the same journey. Sure, the gym work doesn't get any easier. The weights increase as soon as I'm capable of pushing them -- but as the challenge increases, that's when I know the reward has been reaped.

In a strictly narrativist sense you could argue that you can have a rewarding game playing a crippled character that is physically capable of affecting little within the game world, with the player refusing to spend SAs on attribute development or proficiencies because doing so would break the character concept. I agree with this. Completely. But such a character suits a one-shot scenario not an ongoing campaign, IMO, because I would tire of playing the character but more importantly my fellow players would tire of the inherent restriction on their characters implied by my character being accommodated in the group.

This of course is an extreme of lack of development. Equally I could be playing the King's Champion of an entire realm whose character sheet never changes, should the game system allow me to do so. Cool, I can kill anyone in a duel -- but I didn't earn that capability, so what is the point?

I like seeing my character develop. It is rewarding to me, one of the reasons I like gaming. I like the fact my character can influence events more significantly through his personal presence as he develops -- and it is the whole package, social influence right through to bigger, badder character sheet.

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:11 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
Firstly, I just want to say how much I enjoyed this post -- it is a well reasoned, well considered exploration of the subject.

Thanks for the flowers, now I’m :oops:

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Made no sense to me of course. :lol:

Thought as much. :P ;)

Ian.Plumb wrote:
If I may draw an analogy: I'm a fat couch potato. (…) On all of the exercises I can push more weight and do more sets of reps -- but let's face it, it hurts just as much at the end of three months as it did on the first day. (…) Sure, the gym work doesn't get any easier. The weights increase as soon as I'm capable of pushing them -- but as the challenge increases, that's when I know the reward has been reaped.

Sorry, but I think that this analogy is quite flawed. If you increase your physical fitness, being able to bench-press twice as much as previously in the gym is only part of the reward and satisfaction, and the minor part. The real reward, as you point out rightly yourself, is reaped not while exercising, but outside the gym, and it is the praise of others for your determinations, increased health and a general increased fitness and stamina that come in handy time and again. But in role-playing, this “reward outside the gym” is completely lacking, to remain with the analogy. The PC looks tougher on paper (i.e. he can bench-press more), but he does in fact not perform better in the adventures, when it matters (i.e. outside the gym). The reward he has reaped for his toils is just an illusion.

An analogy that comes to my mind is that of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Now Scrooge is a very wealthy man, but he is a miser who lives very frugally. He is rich, but only in theory, in ways that do not matter, as his wealth does not have an impact on his life – Scrooge lives a poor man’s life and is therfore poor in all respects that matter. This reminds me a lot of the player who amasses mechanical capability for his PC, a capability that makes no difference.

I am also reminded of the old philosophical question wether a tree falling without witnesses makes any sound at all.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Cool, I can kill anyone in a duel -- but I didn't earn that capability, so what is the point?

I have many issues with this statement, but as long as the notion that a player has no right to a powerful character unless he has played a weak character for a long time (and thus developed him into a powerful one) does not become central to the entire reward discussion, I will not enter upon this field.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
(…) playing a crippled character (…) playing the King's Champion

You are talking about extremes, and while I have nothing whatsoever against both character concepts, I would like to ask you how you see these extremes relating to TRoS, where starting characters are already rather capable, so that them “being accommodated in the group” or having a reasonable impact isn’t a problem?

Ian.Plumb wrote:
I like seeing my character develop. It is rewarding to me, one of the reasons I like gaming. I like the fact my character can influence events more significantly through his personal presence as he develops -- and it is the whole package, social influence right through to bigger, badder character sheet.

I feel that you are conflating the “social influence” and the “bigger, badder character sheet” in a way that doesn’t quite reflect role-playing or fiction. If fictional protagonists undergo a change in the weight they pull, it is practically always of the former and never of the later type. Aragorn goes from the maligned ranger to king of Gondor, all without any perceptible change to his prowess; and almost the same holds true for Conan, who goes from burglar to king of Aquilonia, again without major changes in his personal capabilities.

For once, I view the changes in the weight a PC pulls with society, either for good or for bad, as the real rewards of longer campaigns. These things do really matter, and they enter play almost every single time the character interacts with society. Unlike the increase in stats, which doesn’t really matter much, these rewards yield a tangible benefit.

And then they are much closer to fiction, which is IMO the model we try to emulate with role-playing, or a least should try.

I don’t see how this kind of reward should be connected with a “bigger, badder character sheet”; if the two combine to form a “whole package”, aren’t they combined merely by whim? Is the desire to have your character look tougher on paper not merely a remnant of wargaming we accept as essential for role-playing because we are used to the idea and don’t question it anymore?

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:27 am 
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Grettir wrote:
I will not talk how a marked increase in capability of protagonists is usually not to be found in adventure fiction, the model of role-playing; I have already done so elsewhere.

Have you mentioned that before? I don't recall. I would like to disagree with you to some extent. In epic fantasy, the protagonist frequently undergoes radical increases in capability. Lowly farm boy goes on epic adventure, learns to fight, learns to wield magic, learns to lead, and becomes king. I have read several books (series, really) like that in the past year.

I like those stories (when done well). Stories like that are empowering. They touch on my sense of wonder, the idea that even though there's no magic in my life, I could still become much more than I currently am. I like increasing my PC's capabilities for the same reason. I'm imagining, to some extent or another, what it would be like to be that character. I like to imagine that I would be getting better at something.

Of course, it's hard to play out an epic story in roleplaying using the same timetable as an epic book. It would take too much game time. That's why XP-type rewards typically cause characters to improve faster than they would in real life. You need the reward more often in the game to keep you going.

As for the difference between social rewards and mechanical rewards . . . It's true that mechanical rewards often conflate into social ones. You want to get better at your combat skills in order to gain more social respect and influence in the game. But that doesn't mean that any increase in social influence can be considered the same. I want my character to be respected specifically because of my physical abilities, not because of anything else. Perhaps that says something about my psychology as a person more than anything else, but there it is.

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 7:35 am 
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Grettir wrote:
I will not talk how a marked increase in capability of protagonists is usually not to be found in adventure fiction, the model of role-playing; I have already done so elsewhere.

Daeruin wrote:
I would like to disagree with you to some extent. In epic fantasy, the protagonist frequently undergoes radical increases in capability. Lowly farm boy goes on epic adventure, learns to fight, learns to wield magic, learns to lead, and becomes king. I have read several books (series, really) like that in the past year.

Ok, this is sidetracking the thread, but I just feel to strongly about that to let it rest.

Have you noticed how many readers and even an increasing number of writers of fantasy have extensive role-playing experience? I feel that readers’ tastes in fantasy, derived from role-playing, have ruined large swathes of fantasy literature, but that’s really not the place to go into that.

I merely want to say that the gamut of fantasy novels published now are quite different from what they were thirty years ago. Nowadays, many people with a disposition towards fantasy drift into role-playing, and the role-playing experience shapes their expectations what fantasy stories should be like. To account for this newly emerged market, novels are written (at times by former role-players) that meet the customers’ expectations. We have now come full cicle – instead of role-playing emulating fantasy stories it is now fantasy stories emulating role-playing. Personally, that makes me quite sick and ties right in with my critique that many role-players are unable to recognize a proper story.

Look at the example of the lowly individual rising to fame. I can think of no better example than Frodo Baggins, the most unlikely of creatures, practically single-handedly saving the entire world in spite of practicaly unsurmountable opposition. That’s a pre-role-playing tale. Another pre-role-playing example of somebody coming to greatness from humble beginnings would be King Arthur. In none of these examples can I perceive any gradual increase in the protagonists’ personal prowess. Frodo doesn’t appear more skilled or proficient in Mordor than he did in Bree, and young Arthur isn’t less proficient right after pulling Excalibur from the stone than he he is later on.

Contrast this with “lowly farm boy goes on epic adventure, learns to fight, learns to wield magic, learns to lead, and becomes king”. That’s totally early D&D (or maybe still contemporary one, dunno), where you start out humble and level up until the rules allow you to take possession of land and become a lord. That’s a D&D campaign, with the edges smoothed and polished and then poured into a book, but this slow, gradual progression is a very recent, role-playing-influenced development of storytelling. It is neither the only one, nor the original one, nor indeed a good one.

If you look at classical tales that follow their protagonists over greater lengths of times – Iason, Heracles, Arthur, Aeneas, Percival or Sigurd, or even Tarzan, Conan or Elric – they might well contain major changes in the protagonists’ social position, but they do never contain a marked increase in personal capability. That’s the providence of role-playing and of contemporary fiction drawing upon its precepts.

Daeruin wrote:
Stories like that are empowering. They touch on my sense of wonder, the idea that even though there's no magic in my life, I could still become much more than I currently am.

Yes! Yes! That’s exactly it! That’s one of the reason why Tolkien had insignificant Frodo save Middle Earth and not grand Aragorn. Tolkien was deeply traumatized by the de-humanizing trench experience in France during WWI, where most of his friends died and where the individual counted for nothing. In response, he wrote a empowering idealized tale where the most lowly of common people amounts to everything.

But he needed no increase in Frodo’s abilities to pull this empowering tale off.

Daeruin wrote:
I like increasing my PC's capabilities for the same reason. I'm imagining, to some extent or another, what it would be like to be that character. I like to imagine that I would be getting better at something.

Do you really care about the character getting better (in ways that don’t really mean that he will actually perform better in the face of the constantly rising opposition) or do you care about the character achieving something?

Daeruin wrote:
I want my character to be respected specifically because of my physical abilities, not because of anything else.

Are you really meaning to say because of his physical abilities or do you want to say because of his achievements?

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 8:08 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
If I may draw an analogy: I'm a fat couch potato. (…) On all of the exercises I can push more weight and do more sets of reps -- but let's face it, it hurts just as much at the end of three months as it did on the first day. (…) Sure, the gym work doesn't get any easier. The weights increase as soon as I'm capable of pushing them -- but as the challenge increases, that's when I know the reward has been reaped.


Grettir wrote:
Sorry, but I think that this analogy is quite flawed. If you increase your physical fitness, being able to bench-press twice as much as previously in the gym is only part of the reward and satisfaction, and the minor part. The real reward, as you point out rightly yourself, is reaped not while exercising, but outside the gym, and it is the praise of others for your determinations, increased health and a general increased fitness and stamina that come in handy time and again.


No, no, no! The only one's who truly understand the gym junkie, what he or she has gone through to get that body, what it actually means to "drop the reps but up the weight, and throw in some matrix training" -- are other gym junkies. In the same way, the praise of your peers -- those at your the gaming table, those at other gaming tables -- is the praise we're looking for. "My last character generated 140 Insight Points by the time he gasped his last, trapped in a well choking on chlorine gas..." -- who else is going to understand the inherent kudos currency in that statement other than another player of TRoS?

Grettir wrote:
But in role-playing, this “reward outside the gym” is completely lacking, to remain with the analogy. The PC looks tougher on paper (i.e. he can bench-press more), but he does in fact not perform better in the adventures, when it matters (i.e. outside the gym). The reward he has reaped for his toils is just an illusion.


A fist full of dice is no illusion, baby! There in all its clattering splendour is the very essence of role-playing success!

Grettir wrote:
I don’t see how this kind of reward should be connected with a “bigger, badder character sheet”; if the two combine to form a “whole package”, aren’t they combined merely by whim? Is the desire to have your character look tougher on paper not merely a remnant of wargaming we accept as essential for role-playing because we are used to the idea and don’t question it anymore?


Role-playing is visceral. When I hold a fistful of dice, I have that many dice because I earned them. My TN is set according to how I developed the character. I have access to the vagaries and the proficiencies that I developed, over time, according to a strategy I developed for achieving the in-game goals that I set.

The experience that gives me is different to the one where I simply create that character one morning because I want to play that character in my next game.

By the way, loving this conversation. You've made your point well -- I think I'm about to be checkmated!

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 9:40 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
You've made your point well -- I think I'm about to be checkmated!

That’s because you’re totally and utterly wrong, that is! ;)

But seriously, I didn’t come here to piss on anybody’s parade but with the genuine wish to wrap my head around why people value mechanical proficiency rewards, as I have forgotten why I did once myself. And I am getting an idea; see below.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
A fist full of dice is no illusion, baby! There in all its clattering splendour is the very essence of role-playing success!

They are not an illusion for the player, but they very much are one for the character. The stats on the character sheet are merely a character’s theoretical, statistical potential, they don’t say anything about how well or poorly the character will actually perform in-game. I am reminded of Itzcoatl who had, despite impressive stats, a streak of early bad luck that made higgins comment that he has changed his mind about his character and was now not envisioning him anymore as the wily intriguer but rather as the ridiculous would-be.

So a fistful of dice means exactly nothing, in-game, if you either do constantly roll poorly or if the level of opposition you are facing rises together with your character’s dicepool. The character will not perform with greater success and he will effectively not have become more powerful, even though he appears to have done so.

But I see of course where you are heading:
Ian.Plumb wrote:
The only one's who truly understand the gym junkie, what he or she has gone through to get that body, what it actually means to "drop the reps but up the weight, and throw in some matrix training" -- are other gym junkies. In the same way, the praise of your peers -- those at your the gaming table, those at other gaming tables -- is the praise we're looking for.

(…)

When I hold a fistful of dice, I have that many dice because I earned them. My TN is set according to how I developed the character. I have access to the vagaries and the proficiencies that I developed, over time, according to a strategy I developed for achieving the in-game goals that I set.

So what you’re saying is that you treasure capability-rewards because they
1) are a benchmark of your achievements in playing the character
2) they make these achievements visible and communicable to others, whose recognition for said achievements you value.

I can totally understand that, even though I don’t share these sentiments (but then I am one of the most non-competitve persons one is likely to encounter and have an almost callous and rather anti-social disregard for other people’s opinions on myself). But I would still like to point out that these things, and thus the entire mechanical capability rewards, are extrinsical to the character. Increasing the character’s dicepools does not really make him more effective, it merely makes the player feel good (which is of course desireable in itself). An abstract experience point score that has no mechanical impact upon the game world but measures what the player has achieved with his character would serve exactly the same purpose. As would handing out glass beads. :mrgreen:

The way I see it, this is the chain of events:

Character faces opposition (scenario setup) – character overcomes opposition (scenario resolution) – the character’s achievements in overcoming the opposition gain him social recognition and increased stats. But while RPGs treat the latter as the real reward, it actually isn’t, at least not for the character, in-game. Here, the only reward is in how society interacts differently with the character because of his achievements, and the increased stats amount effectively to nothing. I feel that players would be better off being more acutely aware of this and stopping kidding themselves.

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 11:31 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
You've made your point well -- I think I'm about to be checkmated!


Grettir wrote:
That’s because you’re totally and utterly wrong, that is! ;)


:twisted:

Actually, I agree with you -- but that's not to say that I won't continue to respond to your points so that we do have a definitive thread that covers this topic from as wide a range of viewpoints as possible.

OK, I think we've kind of addressed this one from the point of view of the player with a strong though not overpowering Gamist tendency. For that player, something developing on the character sheet is handy because it gives a key indicator of what they view as success within the game. You've rightly pointed out that you could make this development some sort of measurable in-game social-context benefit. The player could then point to their humble beginnings and show what they've become, or demonstrate their ascendancy through the number of NPC contacts they've accumulated, or whatever.

A mature group can work this way. In fact you could perhaps expect a gaming group to over time ween themselves off "leveling up" and onto "game world development" in order to attract the kudos of others who get to experience what they have built, in-game.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
A fist full of dice is no illusion, baby! There in all its clattering splendour is the very essence of role-playing success!


Grettir wrote:
They are not an illusion for the player, but they very much are one for the character.


I agree completely -- but you're asking whether PC development is pointless, not whether PC development is pointless for the character.

Grettir wrote:
So what you’re saying is that you treasure capability-rewards because they
1) are a benchmark of your achievements in playing the character
2) they make these achievements visible and communicable to others, whose recognition for said achievements you value.


That's it, in a nutshell. It's all about the player, not about the character.

The reward mechanism -- tell me what you want to play, here are the scenes you said would interest you, you've engaged with the scenes I spent so much time devising for you so here are your extra SA points, you've spent those SA points in order to increase your character's in-game capability well done -- only works as a reward mechanism if the player wants the carrot and doesn't want the stick. What the character wants, how the character perceives themselves and the player -- well, that's the stuff of dreams.

OK, onto the next direction of thrust. In some games, the starting wizard is incredibly emasculated because later on they become all-powerful -- assuming they survive long enough to achieve that level of individual power. In this instance, the player that controls a decent mage because not only did it take them a long time to get that specific character to that state but also it is quite likely that the player had several other mage characters that didn't last that long. In a sense that mage stands atop the bone pile of previous mage characters.

Whatever resourcing system is used to create and develop characters you can easily create a "10th Level Thief" and look at it from the perspective of a seasoned player and say to yourself it's a "fake". Had the character been developed from scratch and played, survivability at the lower levels would have dictated particular development paths. As a result, from the perspective of "realism" (as the mechanics define it), a character sheet shows a natural or unnatural progression. It's been a long time since I cared about this aspect of things but I was passionate about it at one point.

Finally, in-game rewards for characters can be completely divorced from the skill of the player. It may suit the referee to reward a particular player for reasons that are completely un-game related. In-game rewards are great for this, because there is no mechanic to govern what is reasonable and what is not -- let anything more specific. In a mature group this won't matter -- the referee rewards sensibly, with story-driven motives and context. Where story development isn't at the heart of the group's gaming, then the in-game development issue could be problematic. For new referees and players, particularly coming from other systems, it could be inexplicable.

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 2:27 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
A fist full of dice is no illusion, baby! There in all its clattering splendour is the very essence of role-playing success!
Grettir wrote:
They are not an illusion for the player, but they very much are one for the character.
Ian.Plumb wrote:
I agree completely -- but you're asking whether PC development is pointless, not whether PC development is pointless for the character.

Fair enough; point taken. And points like this were exactly what I came here for; I have learned that the in-game reward of increased capability can be only apparently in-game while in reality being out-of-game. Thanks.

And that was only to be expected, really; any meaningful reward can only ever be aimed at the player, never at the non-existing character. Still, I think that role-players hould be more acutely aware that this is so and divest themselves of their cherished notion of “levelling up” their characters. There are more meaningful rewards and indicators of success than this (we’ve talked about the in-game social-context rewards and of using them as quantifiable indicator of success) – using character power as reward can be quite limiting:

Ian.Plumb wrote:
In some games, the starting wizard is incredibly emasculated because later on they become all-powerful -- assuming they survive long enough to achieve that level of individual power. In this instance, the player that controls a decent mage because not only did it take them a long time to get that specific character to that state but also it is quite likely that the player had several other mage characters that didn't last that long.

Ok, now we’re drawing near this statement:
Ian.Plumb wrote:
Cool, I can kill anyone in a duel -- but I didn't earn that capability, so what is the point?

The “point” is of course that, at least for me and the people I game with, power is not a reward. If I desire toplay a powerful character, it is not to ride roughshod over the setting – that would deprive me of meaningful opposition and thus enjoyment. No, it is because I want to play a powerful character for some other reason, probably because I have some appealing character concept in mind I want to explore. It’s like you wrote yourself about TRoS sorcery (I’m paraphrasing): The TRoS sorceror is powerful, but that only means that his stories will revolve around where he is powerless in spite of all his power.

Achilles is powerful – does that mean that his story is boring or lacking in problems and dilemmata for him? Hardly. So what if I’m interested in telling stories along these lines? What? You’re saying the rules tell me I can’t, that I have first to spend dozens and dozens of sessions “levelling up” my character until I can finally experience the stories I am interested in? Why so? Haven’t I been good? Don’t I deserve to play the character I want to play? Do I need to be punished or educated by being forced to play a character I’m not interested in?

If I want to play a powerful character, I want to be able to do so – right away, without having to wait for ages. And “what is the point” of it? The point is that I am interested not in exploring what this powerful character can do, but exploring exactly what he cannot do in spite of all his power; that’s an interesting tale to me.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Finally, in-game rewards for characters can be completely divorced from the skill of the player. It may suit the referee to reward a particular player for reasons that are completely un-game related. In-game rewards are great for this, because there is no mechanic to govern what is reasonable and what is not -- let anything more specific. In a mature group this won't matter -- the referee rewards sensibly, with story-driven motives and context. Where story development isn't at the heart of the group's gaming, then the in-game development issue could be problematic. For new referees and players, particularly coming from other systems, it could be inexplicable.

Indeed. But I find your use of the term “in-game reward” potentially dangerously misleading. Society-contextual rewards for characters are in-game rewards, as they matter for the character, but capability-rewards are not in-game rewards, as they don’t matter for the character (who, to repeat it, won’t perform with greater success because of them), but just for the player. I think that all of really need to get this down.

So, Daeruin and the rest of you – what are you thinking?

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 3:50 pm 
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Wow, I'm a bit late to chime in but...

Grettir wrote:
Sure enough, once, he might have found facing a single Roman legionary challenging while he is now able to take on two of them – but that’s exactly it. Now that the PC is more capable, the referee will simply use twice the opposition he would have used previously. In a situation where the Gaul would once have faced a single legionary, the referee will now use two.
Okay, you were the last person I expected to use "an increased ability means increased opposition in RPGs" as an example... well, at least in the quantity of opponents. :) Sure, if the stakes are higher then the situation gets hotter, but I must admit that as a referee (my first and only D&D game aside) I never really consider the character's ability when picking the challenges... If some NPCs who piss the PC off in a game that I run then it's up to PC to figure out how strong the opponents are and whether she could take one on or not... The number of guards in town don't rise when the character turns out to be a ruthless criminal... but a proficient investigator NPC is introduced if the ruffian brings enough attention on himself. That's how I deal with this anyhow.

As for where I stand on the character sheet development issue... Well... I form a mental image of my character and if of course has some ties to the character sheet meant to represent his capabilities. The only "easy" increases in Attributes and whatnot come for me if I've built the sheet a bit weaker than I envisioned the character to be (for the lack of points, for example) or when I'm able to build the sheet I'm happy with from the start, then it's easy for me to spend the XP if something has happened during the play that makes me feel that the sheet is no longer accurate... So, when I'm happy with the sheet, I usually end up with a lot of spare XP I can't think any use for... but still eventually spend somehow without breaking my character concept (like getting a novice level in untrained skills character has used during play).

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Equally I could be playing the King's Champion of an entire realm whose character sheet never changes, should the game system allow me to do so. Cool, I can kill anyone in a duel -- but I didn't earn that capability, so what is the point?
I'm just as confused as Michael here, I think. A TROS sorcerer with Growth 1 could basically make the head of his enemy fall off by just looking at him (divide by axis, no gestures or dialogue, line of sight, etc). Has this character "earned" the ability or not? Also, where are all those "failing despite of skill" stories you often bring examples of? :)

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Last edited by higgins on Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 5:08 pm 
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higgins wrote:
Okay, you were the last person I expected to use "an increased ability means increased opposition in RPGs" as an example...

Really? That surprises me, as I have often put forth my view that the PCS should not be visitors in the referee’s setting but that the setting should rather revolve around them, the way a story’s setting is only there to accommodate the story’s protagonists.

A little sidetrack into gamemastering styles:
When I was in my mid-teens, I occasionally played AD&D with a DM in his late teens who was quite well-known in the local gamer-community – because this loony had completely mapped out his entire world. And with “mapped out I mean that he had littered it with dungeons and fully developed all of these dungeons, layout, inhabitants, traps, treasure, magical items, riddles, everything. Travelling through this world, you might stumble upon anything, upon what happened to be in that specific locale – your 2nd lvl group might well run into a red dragon or a lich.

Now that’s of course absolutely realistic – but it’s no fun, exceedingly harsh and completely disregarding the role of the players. I consider this abysmal refereeing.

It is my firm conviction that the setting and the scenarios must not exist in spite of the characters but to accommodate them. And that includes appropriate, i.e. challenging, levels of opposition. By this I do of course not mean that everything the characters turn to has to be tailor-made for their capabilities, but rather that if a character pursues a certain goal, either player-set or provided by the referee, the referee has to come up with a level of opposition that ensures that the goal (provided it was realistic in the first place) can be attained, but not easily so. That’s the core of adventure fiction – facing and hopefully overcoming challenges.

So that’s why I say that I will use twice the opposition then previously if the character becomes twice as powerful. It’s not exactly realistic, but it is also not outright unrealistic or implausible, and it makes for a more interesting gaming experience.
(But I do of course only do this where it matters, not generally speaking. If the PCs feel like roughing up the local tavern on the sidelines of the main story arc, I don't crank up the capability or number of the other tavern-goers; the player/characters are just unwinding, not struggling to resolve their real issues.)

If you think that this topic needs to be discussed in greater depth, I suggest you start a thread about it.

higgins wrote:
As for where I stand on the character sheet development issue... (…)

I am not surprised to hear what you outline after these initial words. In fact, I would have been surprised if you treated the issue differently. However:
higgins wrote:
The only "easy" increases in Attributes and whatnot come for me if I've built the sheet a bit weaker than I envisioned the character to be (for the lack of points, for example) (…)

Lack of points – that ties in well with what I wrote above about playing powerful characters. You envision a cool character concept (a cool one, mind you, not just a powerful one) – only to find that the game does not allow you to play that character. :evil:

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 11:14 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
Equally I could be playing the King's Champion of an entire realm whose character sheet never changes, should the game system allow me to do so. Cool, I can kill anyone in a duel -- but I didn't earn that capability, so what is the point?


higgins wrote:
I'm just as confused as Michael here, I think. A TROS sorcerer with Growth 1 could basically make the head of his enemy fall off by just looking at him (divide by axis, no gestures or dialogue, line of sight, etc). Has this character "earned" the ability or not? Also, where are all those "failing despite of skill" stories you often bring examples of? :)


I think Michael is looking at this from an RPG-wide kind of view. "Does developing a character in terms of their character sheet actually represent a reward?"

TRoS' SA system is predicated on the notion that the player will be driven by a desire to see their character develop on their character sheet -- that the lure of increased capability in terms of more dice in the fist, lower TNS, more Gifts, and fewer or no Flaws will draw the player into actively engaging in scenes in which their character's SAs fire. I think this is true; I also think that this mechanic for character development is what sets TRoS apart from every other RPG I have tried.

Other games don't "close the loop" between the player's in-game goals, the referee's work in scenario development, and the mechanics governing player character development.

When a gaming system has a character development mechanic then all the players are aware at some level of the time and effort it takes to develop a character. As such, having a big, bad character sheet has meaning outside of the in-game capability of the character. In essence, kudos to the girl that managed to develop that kick-ass amazonian warrior.

In my quote above, I'm simply pointing out that if you are playing a game which has a character development mechanic and the referee hands you a pre-gen of the King's Champion -- then there's no kudos to the player for having that character. The right to having that awesome character sheet in front of you hasn't been earned.

In TRoS, you can create the King's Champion out of char gen. Spend a couple of hundred Insight Points and you've got it. As such, the character has been earned. The wizard in TRoS is and always will be the limitless anomaly. Will the player of the mage get great satisfaction running around shrinking heads? I don't know; it will largely depend upon the player and the gaming group. The thing is, if the player does get satisfaction from it, if it is what brings that player back game after game, then developing that character so it is capable of shrinking more and more heads will probably represent a reward to the player.

Cheers,

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 6:25 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
I think Michael is looking at this from an RPG-wide kind of view. "Does developing a character in terms of their character sheet actually represent a reward?"


Yes indeed. I want to find out for myself why it constitutes one for most people (and to remember why it once did for me), and also to inspire people to question wether this really is a necessary or indeed useful component of their role-playing habits.

And I really am reminded of how and why I liked mechanical capability-rewards:

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Will the player of the mage get great satisfaction running around shrinking heads? I don't know; it will largely depend upon the player and the gaming group. The thing is, if the player does get satisfaction from it, if it is what brings that player back game after game, then developing that character so it is capable of shrinking more and more heads will probably represent a reward to the player.


Playing Vampire some fifteen years ago, I was saving up XPs and looking forward to finally being able to buy and of course use some cool, higher-level Discipline power. Reviewing this, I guess that systems containing lists of many entirely new powers as development options in the course of the game are better at instilling a desire for mechanical advancement than those that haven’t. It’s one thing to be work towards being able to do something your character was not able to do before and another one to work towards him just becoming gradually better at what he is already doing anyhow.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
TRoS' SA system is predicated on the notion that the player will be driven by a desire to see their character develop on their character sheet -- that the lure of increased capability in terms of more dice in the fist, lower TNS, more Gifts, and fewer or no Flaws will draw the player into actively engaging in scenes in which their character's SAs fire. I think this is true; I also think that this mechanic for character development is what sets TRoS apart from every other RPG I have tried.

Other games don't "close the loop" between the player's in-game goals, the referee's work in scenario development, and the mechanics governing player character development.


Indeed – and this cannot be stressed enough. While most systems reward specific behaviour (“good” role-playing, problem-solving, treasure-gathering, enemy-slaying, etc.), TRoS brilliantly rewards the player for doing what he really feels like doing. In chosing his character’s SAs, the player himself delineates the activities for which he wants to be rewarded. Brilliant design.

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 12:04 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
By this I do of course not mean that everything the characters turn to has to be tailor-made for their capabilities, but rather that if a character pursues a certain goal, either player-set or provided by the referee, the referee has to come up with a level of opposition that ensures that the goal (provided it was realistic in the first place) can be attained, but not easily so.
Ah, yes, that clears it up. By your initial post, I got the impression of the usual D&D trend... 1st level characters enter a tavern to find it occupied by 3rd level characters, then they leave to "adventure" a bit and when they enter the same tavern being now 7th level characters, they discover that the previous crowd has suddenly obtained 9th level.

higgins wrote:
Lack of points – that ties in well with what I wrote above about playing powerful characters. You envision a cool character concept (a cool one, mind you, not just a powerful one) – only to find that the game does not allow you to play that character. :evil:
Oh, indeed! I totally agree with you on that matter. Why do I have to wait to play the character I want?

Grettir wrote:
Reviewing this, I guess that systems containing lists of many entirely new powers as development options in the course of the game are better at instilling a desire for mechanical advancement than those that haven’t.
Grettir wrote:
Playing Vampire some fifteen years ago, I was saving up XPs and looking forward to finally being able to buy and of course use some cool, higher-level Discipline power.
And to follow up the previous point... did your character ever get those powers? My experience with those kind of systems is that while they do indeed seem to instill the greater desire for the sheet development... unless you have an extremely stable group that is able play on for years and years or unless you use an advancement rate many times higher than suggested in the rulebooks, you never really get the awesome powers the system makes you yearn for... which is a paradox really. See? We have all these awesome powers available, but you can't get them, sorry. :roll:

Grettir wrote:
Will the player of the mage get great satisfaction running around shrinking heads?
A minor correction... I meant making the head fall off, not shrinking it. Growth -> Division 1: Divide on one axis -> Headless corpse. :)

Ian.Plumb wrote:
In my quote above, I'm simply pointing out that if you are playing a game which has a character development mechanic and the referee hands you a pre-gen of the King's Champion -- then there's no kudos to the player for having that character. The right to having that awesome character sheet in front of you hasn't been earned.

In TRoS, you can create the King's Champion out of char gen. Spend a couple of hundred Insight Points and you've got it. As such, the character has been earned.
Well, what confuses me the most is the "earning" part... and I still don't get it. In essence, I gather that it's totally impossible to "earn" a character in any other system than TROS as they don't have an Insight mechanic?

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 Post subject: Re: Reward of increasing PC capability: Pointless?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 12:27 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
In my quote above, I'm simply pointing out that if you are playing a game which has a character development mechanic and the referee hands you a pre-gen of the King's Champion -- then there's no kudos to the player for having that character. The right to having that awesome character sheet in front of you hasn't been earned.

In TRoS, you can create the King's Champion out of char gen. Spend a couple of hundred Insight Points and you've got it. As such, the character has been earned.


higgins wrote:
Well, what confuses me the most is the "earning" part... and I still don't get it. In essence, I gather that it's totally impossible to "earn" a character in any other system than TROS as they don't have an Insight mechanic?


Using D&D as an example: it would be nonsensical under that system to create a 1st level warrior and for that character to be the King's Champion. The character sheet doesn't reflect the capability required.

However, play that character every week for ten years and then maybe the character sheet would reflect a character capable of holding that title. An experienced player of D&D, newly introduced to the group, sees that character sheet -- instant kudos to the owner of that character. Because the new guy appreciates just how much time and effort it takes to build that character sheet.

Then the referee hands the new guy a character sheet with an equally powerful character. Does the new guy get the same instant cred? Of course not -- he hasn't built that character from 1st level, he hasn't earned all the Experience Points required to get to that amazing level. In fact, doing this cheapens the accomplishment of the existing player.

Regards,

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