thread: 2006-10-05 : Reward systems

On 2006-10-10, Eero Tuovinen wrote:

ffilz: Perhaps here's some source of confusion. What you write sounds to me exactly like "increased depth and control over the fiction". Or are you telling us that you're really, really excited about getting to change that little "Fighter 6" to "Fighter 7" on the character sheet? I'm pretty sure that insofar as leveling up feels rewarding, it's because it signifies character advancement in one of those manners I listed: the game becomes deeper or more complex, the challenges get bigger, the character grows in detail. Instead of dying, the character becomes more resistant to dying, his value as a conquering hero increases. Or perhaps it's a sign of having "won", as it sometimes tends to be in modern D&D. Leveling up is just the symbol for the actual reward. It's a very central and powerful symbol, but unless a person has been totally abused of any actual play content, it's not the actual reward. If it were, you could just skip the actual process of play and make high-level characters directly. (Which some people seem to do with the current D&D, interestingly enough; the system encourages pre-planning your character to such a degree that actually gaining the experience becomes a kind of a formality.)

You see people, the "reward" in "reward system" is never, as far as I see, the concrete mechanical bonus or resource the system might give you. Those little numbers, extra dice and poker chips do not mean anything by themselves. The meaning is all in the agenda we bring to the table. Reward system only serves to deliver the real reward, which might be closure (like MLwM and Sorcerer), increased control (like D&D and Dust Devils), permanent change (like TSOY and DiV) or any number of other things. The agenda defines the reward system, it's not some part of the rules with a particularly separate form that could be found without reference to player motivation. You can't have this predefined idea of D&D experience points in your head and go analyze another game, trying to decide which feature of that game might be the xp-analogue. Even if you find one, there's no guarantee that it has anything to do with the reward system. As an example, the Runequest experience system breaks down horribly if it's utilized as an explicit reward system; it was only ever meant to be used as a long-term pseudo-realistic "behind-the-scenes" system the players just let do it's job without fiddling with it consciously.


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