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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S

Sunseeker

Guest
I'm going to posit: dice to not add challenge. They simply add randomness. Luck and randomness are not elements of challenge. Two identical characters facing identical challenges have equal chance of rolling any given number on a d20. That's not challenge. Difficulty may be added via DCs, but the dice still present the same issue, they have not changed, regardless of your level, your HP, your modifiers or anything else. You stand the same chance of rolling 1-20 at 1st level as you do at 20th level. A high-stat character may be more likely to overcome a challenge of high difficulty relevant to that stat, but the dice play no part in it.

Dice are simply a vector. Much in the same way that a pencil does not write an essay, a die does not present a challenge.
 

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Hussar

Legend
I'm going to posit: dice to not add challenge. They simply add randomness. Luck and randomness are not elements of challenge. Two identical characters facing identical challenges have equal chance of rolling any given number on a d20. That's not challenge. Difficulty may be added via DCs, but the dice still present the same issue, they have not changed, regardless of your level, your HP, your modifiers or anything else. You stand the same chance of rolling 1-20 at 1st level as you do at 20th level. A high-stat character may be more likely to overcome a challenge of high difficulty relevant to that stat, but the dice play no part in it.

Dice are simply a vector. Much in the same way that a pencil does not write an essay, a die does not present a challenge.

Thank you. This is what I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to say.
 

pemerton

Legend
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?
Gygax did have a couple of things in his DMG that touch on this:

(1) The option, when a player has played with skill and dies to an unlucky roll, for the GM to adjudicate it as something other than death (p 110):

Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonably severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done. It is very demoralizing to the players to lose a cared-for-player character when they have played well. When they have done something stupid or have not taken precautions, then let the dice fall where they may! Again, if you have available ample means of raising characters from
the dead, even death is not too severe; remember, however, the constitution-based limit to resurrections. Yet one die roll that you should NEVER tamper with is the SYSTEM SHOCK ROLL to be raised from the dead. If a character fails that roll, which he or she should make him or herself, he or she is FOREVER DEAD. There MUST be some final death or immortality will take over and again the game will become boring because the player characters will have 9+ lives each!​

(2) The optional rule that a character who dies and is then raised gains 1,000 XP (p 86). Having introduced the rule, he goes on:

As only you can bestow this award, you may also feel free to decline to give it to player characters who were particularly
foolish or stupid in their actions which immediately preceded death, particularly if such characters are not "sadder but wiser" for the happening.​

I know these bits of the book don't fully respond to your points, [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] - but they show that Gygax was clearly aware of issues in the neighbourhood and trying to jury-rig together (within the scope of the system that he had invented) rules to deal with some of them.
 

pemerton

Legend
Did you not get bonuses from your stats until 15+, or did you started getting pluses at 12?
This isn't relevant at all. Stats in Rolemaster go up to 100 (woo-hoo), with bonuses of +25 or more (double woo-hoo), but a 12th level RM PC is more likely to be one-shot killed than nearly any 12th level D&D PC.

The numbers on the PC sheet are just elements in the complex series of calculations that make up the mechanical resolution of action declarations. The size of those numbers might tell us something about how complex the calculations are, but it tells us nothing about how easy or hard it is to succeed at an action declaration.

Here's a more relevant comparison: in AD&D a 1st level fighter rolls a bigger die for hp than an orc does for damage. And the fighter might get a CON bonus, whereas the orc doesn't get a damage bonus. In 3E, though, the orc's damage die might be bigger than the fighter's hit die (d12 vs d10), and the orc gets bonuses to damage on exactly the same scale as the fighter gets bonues to the hit die roll.

If the 3E fighter gets automatic max hp that will make a difference, but that's a separate rule that could easily be used in AD&D as well, and has nothing to do with whether or not the numbers are bigger.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm going to posit: dice to not add challenge. They simply add randomness. Luck and randomness are not elements of challenge.
The contention is that classic D&D play of the Pulsipherian/Gygaxian sort involved avoiding dice rolls by, instead, making your own luck - mostly through clever exploitation of fictional positioning.

Other than the OP, [MENTION=6688858]Libramarian[/MENTION] is the main proponent of this approach to play in the current thread. Luke Crane describes the phenomenon with clarity and a high degree of anaylitical rigour here. Here are some choice extracts:

I've learned that it's a hard game to run. Not because of prep or rules mastery, but because of the role of the GM as impartial conveyer of really bad news. Since the exploration side of the game is cross between Telephone and Pictionary, I must sit impassive as the players make bad decisions. I want them to win. I want them to solve the puzzles, but if I interfere, I render the whole exercise pointless. . . .

The players' sense of accomplishment is enormous. They went through hell and death to survive long enough to level. They have their own stories about how certain scenarios played out. They developed their own clever strategems to solve the puzzles and defeat the opposition. . . .

This game . . . is built to explore dungeons. As soon it moves away from puzzle-solving and exploration, the experience starts to fray. . . .

This game is hard. It demands focus and discipline beyond even what Burning Wheel asks of you. It is unflinchingly deadly. Between six players, we lost 13 characters in 12 sessions. And that doesn't include archers, men-at-arms and torch-bearers. Such a death toll is unheard of in contemporary games. My girlfriend plays 4e. In 12 months, not a single character has died. These are two different games. And this game does not cater to our modern sensibilities. And that is why we bowed our heads to it. It seemed deceptively simple, and almost friendly. But truly it is a harsh master, laying the lash across our backs as we map, call, fail our saves and get swarmed and killed by kobolds.​

And here is how a player in Luke Crane's Moldvay Basic game describes it, in the same thread:

I just accepted the world for what it is, and accepted that if I want to live, I have to play according to those terms. I had to not be the person who just plows right ahead into any fight that comes at me (okay, maybe I still do that sometimes) and so learning how to work within the constraints of the game itself has become the real pleasure.

Picking up a +2 spear from a dead companion, and learning how to attack with it from a distance without endangering myself. Watching our group strategically burn and firebomb the living hell out of anything that moves before they can get close to us. Chugging invisibility potions to safely scout out caves thick with Bugbears. Setting traps for zombie hordes. Taking out bosses with nary a scratch to any of us. I can feel myself learning a skill set. I can watch our little ragtag band of would-be heroes (or gold-hungry mercenaries, rather) getting better and better at what we do.​

I believe that this playstyle existed, and continues to exist, as a real thing. And I also think that some early versions of the game (with Moldvay Basic probably the high point) were especially adept at supporting it.

But I also think that, of all those people who bought and played original D&D, Moldvay Basic and AD&D, only some fraction (and, over the years from - say - the mid-70s to the mid-80s, a declining fraction) actually used those games to play in this style.

EDIT to add: just for the sake of clarity, the sort of RPGing that Luke Crane and his player are describing is something that I'm not very good at, mostly because - both as player and GM - I lack the patience.

My interest in this thread isn't to defend my favoured style. Nor to defend any claim about the moral failings of younger generations. It's to agree that (i) there are different approaches to RPGing, and (ii) different systems suit different approaches, and (iii) some of these different systems have flourished at different times in the history of RPG publishing.
 
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Hussar

Legend
No one is denying that it existed though. We know that it existed. What's being denied is that this was the only way that games were played back in the day and that now we only game to participate, rather than be challenged.

That's the rather point I've been arguing against.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
No one is denying that it existed though. We know that it existed.
It still exists. Every weekend, round here. :)

What's being denied is that this was the only way that games were played back in the day
Maybe not the only way, but I'd say certainly the primary way. There have always been outliers.

and that now we only game to participate, rather than be challenged.
Not quite. People still game to...well, just game. The changes I'm noticing have come from the other end, at the design level. Possibly said changes have been driven by external societal influences (which is what the OP seems to want to say without really saying it) but I more suspect they've been driven internally, by designers listening to player complaints about bad events - death, level loss, item loss, etc. - happening and then removing or mitigating said bad events from the game without looking far enough to realize that it's the bad events that make good events stand out as anything special.

Lanefan
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Maybe not the only way, but I'd say certainly the primary way. There have always been outliers.

On what evidence? Even if I were designing a survey, it would be hard to find questions that accurately measured the matter, and to find a representative sample to give the survey to. At this point in time, since there were no such contemporary surveys done, I regard any degree of certainty on this matter to be excessive.

by designers listening to player complaints about bad events - death, level loss, item loss, etc. - happening and then removing or mitigating said bad events from the game without looking far enough to realize that it's the bad events that make good events stand out as anything special.

I'm sure all the people who play and run D&D 3, 3.5, 4, 5, or Pathfinder over OSR games, as well as the people who designed them, are simply delusional about what's fun. Or maybe they actually find playing one character through a whole campaign fun and find excessive character churn unfun.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This isn't relevant at all. Stats in Rolemaster go up to 100 (woo-hoo), with bonuses of +25 or more (double woo-hoo), but a 12th level RM PC is more likely to be one-shot killed than nearly any 12th level D&D PC.

We are discussing D&D here, not a completely different games. You're bringing in oranges to a discussion about apples. The stat differences I mentioned affect game difficulty in D&D. It's entirely irrelevant if a completely different game is more or less difficult.

Here's a more relevant comparison: in AD&D a 1st level fighter rolls a bigger die for hp than an orc does for damage. And the fighter might get a CON bonus, whereas the orc doesn't get a damage bonus. In 3E, though, the orc's damage die might be bigger than the fighter's hit die (d12 vs d10), and the orc gets bonuses to damage on exactly the same scale as the fighter gets bonues to the hit die roll.

In first edition your typical fighter probably didn't have a 15+ in Con, so didn't even get a bonus to hit points. A 14 Con gave no bonus and the average roll of 5 at first level gave you 5 hit points. Orcs did 1-8 damage, giving it a decent chance to put the fighter down in 1 hit. That same fighter in 3e had 12 hit points(10 + a 2 bonus for 14 Con) and had to max out damage to even get that fighter to 0, barring a crit. On the other side of things the 1e orc had 1-8 hit points, averaging 4. The 1e fighter probably didn't do extra damage(a 15 being +0), but at 1d8 had a greater than 50% chance to kill any orc hit. The 3e fighter probably had +2 damage due to strength of 15, +1 for using a great sword two handed for +2d6+3 damage. The 3e orc had 5 hit points giving a 100% chance to kill any orc hit.

Pretty easy to see which one was more difficult.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No one is denying that it existed though. We know that it existed. What's being denied is that this was the only way that games were played back in the day and that now we only game to participate, rather than be challenged.

That's the rather point I've been arguing against.

I don't think people here are generally arguing that the game was played only one way. Rather we are discussing how the rules affected game play. I know that I've certainly noticed how the game has become much easier over time. Human nature plays into this as well. Give a system that is harder and tweak it to become easier, and the people in general will appreciate the help you are giving them. Give an easy system and tweak it to become harder, and people in general will be upset that you are punishing them. It's better to go the first route.
 

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