Consequence and Reward in RPGs

I like to compare trends in the game industry as a whole with individual segments, such as RPGs. Often what’s happening “out there” will turn up in the individual segments, if it hasn’t already.


I like to compare trends in the game industry as a whole with individual segments, such as RPGs. Often what’s happening “out there” will turn up in the individual segments, if it hasn’t already.



The most striking trends in hobby games is the movement from games of consequence to games of reward. Players in hobby games in the past have been expected to earn what they received, but more and more in hobby games we’re seeing games that reward players for participation. This is a general trend in our society, where schoolkids expect rewards for participation rather than for achieving excellence, and in fact excellence is sometimes not allowed!

Reward-based games have always been with us via party games, and to a lesser extent family games. Virtually no one cares who wins a party game, and all of these games tend to be very simple and fully accessible to non-gamers. Mass-market games are much more reward-based then consequence-based. Hobby gamers might call them “not serious”.

A reward-based game is more like a playground than an organized competition, and the opposition in reward-based games tends to be weak/inconsequential/nonexistent.

Home video “save games” have always tended to make video games a “you can’t lose” proposition. We’re moving beyond that.

With free-to-play video games dominating the mobile market and a strong influence in other markets, designers reward players so that they’ll play the game long enough to decide to spend money in it. We see players who blame the game if they fail, who expect to be led around by the hand, even in games that people purchase.

Tabletop RPGs generally involve an unspoken pact between the players and the GM, so that the players can have fun and not have to worry too much about losing. But the game tends to be more enjoyable when there’s a possibility of failure - the triumphs are sweeter. The co-creator of D&D (Gary Gygax) put it this way in one of his last publications (Hall of Many Panes) "...a good campaign must have an element of danger and real risk or else it is meaningless - death walks at the shoulder of all adventurers, and that is the true appeal of the game."

Classic games involve conflict. Many so-called games nowadays do not involve conflict, and there are role-playing "games" that are storytelling exercises without much opposition.

Reflections of this trend in RPGs often involve abundant healing and ways to save characters from death, such as the ridiculous Revivify spell, usable by a mere fifth level cleric in D&D Fifth Edition, that brings back the dead on the field of battle.

35 years ago, a young player GMed his first game for our shared-characters campaign. He really wanted to ensure the players had a good time - so he gave out lots of magic items. We wanted players to earn what they received, so myself and the other lead GM waved our hands after the adventure and most of those items disappeared.

I’m a senior citizen, in my roots a wargamer, and I prefer games of consequence. But that's not where the world is headed.

contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
 

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Ratskinner

Adventurer
To me, what this shows is that what Gygax regarded as magic item profligacy and what some contemporary players/posters regard as magic item profligacy are quite different.
absolutely

Having played in OSR games recently, 'magic items are the only thing that mechanically differentiates two fighters of similar stats...even dissimilar stats often.

Sent from my LG-TP450 using EN World mobile app
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
As [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] mentions, XP isn't exactly the issue, it's the level. But, yeah, totally agree, 1e and 2e level drain were brutal. OTOH, System Survival rolls weren't exactly hard to make. Even a 9 Con gave you a 70% survival chance, so, it wasn't exactly a hard check.

It still got failed, though, and all it took was once. I lost several characters to that.

But, that is precisely my point. That's just random chance, not difficulty. The player has no control here. No decisions to make. Why did you get to bring your character back? You got a lucky die roll. That's not "earning" anything. It's simply arbitrary roadblocks that have no actual impact on how you play your character. Since there's nothing I can do to change my chances of coming back, if my character dies and is raised, that's entirely random chance. Where's the "earning" that is being characterized of earlier game play?
I disagree. While the die roll itself is not difficulty, the existence of that die roll over time makes reaching high levels a challenge, and there is the difficulty. 3e-5e where raises are a dime a dozen caused players to become more reckless with their PCs. The difficulty in 1e and 2e was planning things out and doing your best to make sure that survival roll and system shock never got rolled in the first place.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah, being limited to 10 magic items was such a strict limitation. :uhoh: And, exactly how much does it cost to construct a small castle? More than 5000 gp I'm thinking.
Er, there's a reason why I didn't mention the 10 item limit. It wasn't much of a limit. However, that gold for the castle didn't mean much. The paladin restriction was that you had to give away all but a small amount of money with the exception of coin towards very specific goals. So what if you had 50,000 to build that castle. You couldn't use it for anything but the castle, henchmen and the other few things. If you did, you were in violation of your tenets and lost your abilities. If you atoned and then kept doing it, most DMs would slap you with a major infraction and you'd cease being a paladin. You'd basically being telling your god to go do unspeakable things to himself.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It still got failed, though, and all it took was once. I lost several characters to that.
Yeah, as have I...but as I mentioned before, there's potential for adventure as well.

Very early in my gaming career, the second character I ever played managed to hang with the party long enough for its de-facto leader to fall in love with him. My guy then died, and failed his raise*. Career over, right?

Not so fast, says his lover; and so began an odyssey that's now spanned years of game time and decades (!) of real time, as she did everything she could to get him back including walking into the land of the dead and getting him out by force. It's a truly bizarre story that wouldn't have happened had he not failed that raise roll.

* - we were low level at the time, but as his death was while in effect acting on behalf of the party as their champion they threw a pile of party resources into getting him back...or trying to.

Lan-"it seems somehow fitting here that the character I brought in to replace this guy was Lanefan"-efan
 

Hussar

Legend
It still got failed, though, and all it took was once. I lost several characters to that.

I disagree. While the die roll itself is not difficulty, the existence of that die roll over time makes reaching high levels a challenge, and there is the difficulty. 3e-5e where raises are a dime a dozen caused players to become more reckless with their PCs. The difficulty in 1e and 2e was planning things out and doing your best to make sure that survival roll and system shock never got rolled in the first place.

That's not the point in the context of this thread though. The difficulty has nothing to do with how you played your character. You could be the greatest role player in existence or the worst, and your difficulty is identical.

If there has been a change from award to reward based play, which is the point of all this discussion, then shouldn't the player who is really good be awarded his or her raise dead? What did that terrible player do to earn the same benefits?

I'm not arguing about difficulty. That's not the point. The point of this discussion is the idea that in the past players somehow earned the things they got for their character, whereas in modern games, you are rewarded just for participating.

It's much, much more difficult to win at Roulette than Blackjack. Your odds of success are considerably lower (at least on a single number bet). Does that mean that I earn my money at Roulette and not at Blackjack? To me, the question is pointless. You aren't earning anything when it's simple luck of the draw (or dice or whatever). Slot machine mechanics have nothing to do with "earning an award".
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah, as have I...but as I mentioned before, there's potential for adventure as well.

Very early in my gaming career, the second character I ever played managed to hang with the party long enough for its de-facto leader to fall in love with him. My guy then died, and failed his raise*. Career over, right?

Not so fast, says his lover; and so began an odyssey that's now spanned years of game time and decades (!) of real time, as she did everything she could to get him back including walking into the land of the dead and getting him out by force. It's a truly bizarre story that wouldn't have happened had he not failed that raise roll.

* - we were low level at the time, but as his death was while in effect acting on behalf of the party as their champion they threw a pile of party resources into getting him back...or trying to.

Lan-"it seems somehow fitting here that the character I brought in to replace this guy was Lanefan"-efan

Yeah. That's really cool and a sign of a really good DM. I was just talking RAW in my posts. Going outside of RAW to create awesome stories, though, is part and parcel of the game in my opinion.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That's not the point in the context of this thread though. The difficulty has nothing to do with how you played your character. You could be the greatest role player in existence or the worst, and your difficulty is identical.

Who's talking about roleplaying. I'm talking about gameplay. If you were reckless, you died and the consequences caught up to you........unlike in 3e-5e. The difficulty I'm mentioning is about the game, not whether you play yourself as a cool prince, or a poor holy man.

If there has been a change from award to reward based play, which is the point of all this discussion, then shouldn't the player who is really good be awarded his or her raise dead? What did that terrible player do to earn the same benefits?

Award and reward are synonyms. There hasn't been a change other than to make the game easier over time.

I'm not arguing about difficulty. That's not the point. The point of this discussion is the idea that in the past players somehow earned the things they got for their character, whereas in modern games, you are rewarded just for participating.

Er, the past players earned them by overcoming a more difficult game than you find now days. Difficulty is a part of this discussion whether you want to argue about it or not. ;)

It's much, much more difficult to win at Roulette than Blackjack. Your odds of success are considerably lower (at least on a single number bet). Does that mean that I earn my money at Roulette and not at Blackjack? To me, the question is pointless. You aren't earning anything when it's simple luck of the draw (or dice or whatever). Slot machine mechanics have nothing to do with "earning an award".
False Equivalence. Increased random chance is not what this is about. At least not directly. This isn't about a direct comparison of the raise mechanics of 1e and 2e vs. 3e-5e. It's about those differences creating a more difficult play environment by forcing early players to approach game play differently or roll up a bunch of characters.

I had easily 10x more PCs die in 1e and 2e than 3e+ That's because the difficulty dropped tremendously.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
The most striking trends in hobby games is the movement from games of consequence to games of reward. Players in hobby games in the past have been expected to earn what they received, but more and more in hobby games we’re seeing games that reward players for participation.

I'm still hoping for an explanation. There's a lot of striking trends in hobby games, but this is a new idea to me. What makes something like Terra Mystica or Scythe a game of reward and something like Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 or Squad Leader a game of consequence?
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Who's talking about roleplaying. I'm talking about gameplay. If you were reckless, you died and the consequences caught up to you........unlike in 3e-5e.

The consequences may or may not catch up to you; that is the essence of greater randomness. And it's simply not true; in the Carrion Crown (PF) game I'm playing in, several characters died before hitting second, and the GM said we were doing better than a previous group he ran, where everyone had lost at least one character at that point. In the Zeitgeist (PF) game I'm running, we've lost several characters, and if I hadn't nerfed a couple things, we'd have lost several more. The GM has way more power over deadliness and consequences than the system.

Er, the past players earned them by overcoming a more difficult game than you find now days.

Does difficulty dictate having earned something? Does the person who copies out the Encyclopedia for £4 a week earn his money less than someone who correctly predicts a string of horse races for big winnings?
 

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