thread: 2006-10-05 : Reward systems

On 2006-10-09, ffilz wrote:

D&D reward cycle: as far as I know, all versions of D&D except perhaps the latest one have the reward be increased depth and control over the fiction. Your character accumulates a history, the game becomes more intricate and complex, you have more sway over the events as the game progresses, your character becomes a protagonist. This is the reward. Leveling up is merely one of the mechanics that clarify and enforce the reward, it makes you notice that you're making progress. (It seems to me that 3rd edition is often played differently, though; many people seem to appreciate character effectiveness as result of player skill at system manipulation as it's own reward.)

I've never really played D&D this way. For me, D&D play has always been about the leveling up. From day one about 29 years ago. But just because D&D has a reward mechanic that supports this particular gamist reward cycle doesn't mean everyone plays the game with the same reward cycle.

One thing to consider is that a reward cycle requires a payoff. Another thing to consider is that if you actually pay attention to your players, the reward cycle will often (always?) be quite visible. Look for those "Yes!" moments, the big ones. Not the cheering when a major bad guy goes down, but the big ones when a player achieves some major accomplisment. The biggest visible one in my last Arcana Evolved (basically D&D) game was when a player who earlier had lamented that he wasn't "The best scrapper" later exclaimed "Now I'm the best scrapper!" That came after demonstrating his new effectiveness after a level up. Raw, pure celebration of leveling up.

I'd like to propose an alternate definition of "reward" wrt RPGs. "Reward" is simply the satisfaction ("Fun" or otherwise) from playing the game. A reward system is a system in place specifically and solely for the purpose of noting and respecting moments of high reward. All functional games have a reward system, though it might be totally social-level.

Last paragraph. Strike "functional." Replace with "coherent."

Ben, my thought is that you were right the first time. I strongly suspect that in a functional but incoherent game or a functional game without a real agenda (participationist for example), that there is some other (strong) reward system in effect. It just happens to be a reward system/cycle that doesn't drive a creative agenda.



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