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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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TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
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!
I'm always amused by boomers raising the specter of the "participation trophy" generation, as if it wasn't their collective parenting that would be responsible for that exact change in society at large.
 

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S'mon

Legend
Pretty sure I kill off about as many PCs in my 5e games as in my Classic and 1e AD&D games. You can choose not to have monsters finish off fallen PCs if you're a commie pinko liberal GM like CapnZapp :p, but the rules don't mandate it. Revivify has a costly material component and doesn't much help avoid TPK, it's little different in practice from 5th level Mentzer BECM PCs ca 1983 hauling their dead back to town for Raise Dead from the local high priest.
 

S'mon

Legend
I remember reading Lewis' articles in White Dwarf ca 1984 and he was pretty obstreperous back then too, so I don't think y'all special snowflake Millennials should get too het up about it, he was slagging off the kind of people who liked gonzo Arduin Grimoire style play long before you were born...

:p
 

Hussar

Legend
If I read it right, it's saying in brief that games in general and RPGs in particular are steadily becoming easier on their players as time goes on, in that fewer bad things (he calls these consequences) happen and more good things (rewards) happen either during or as a result of play. And it's correct in saying so.

I'm sorry, but, no. That's only true if you ignore all sorts of stuff that was in the game from pretty close to day 1. The funny thing is, this article in my feed sits side by side with an article mentioning Dragonlance. Hey, look at that. A series of modules, possibly the most popular series of modules in D&D, where you cannot die.

This is hardly a new idea.

/snip

The evidence is clear: negative events that may occur during the run of play* have steadily and dramatically decreased over time both in frequency and effect. For some this might make the game more enjoyable. For others, like me, it actually makes the game worse; as getting the reward without taking the risk just somehow doesn't feel as much like getting a reward. Hard to articulate; thus I just hope you can see what I'm getting at.

* - there's a whole other aspect to this regarding character creation and how the race-class-build options available have steadily opened up over the editions and thus become "easier"; here I'm just looking at run-of-play stuff once the characters hit tie field.

Again, this is just not true. Yup, Raise Dead was more expensive in earlier D&D. So what? Your characters were expected to be so swimming in gold by early levels that raise dead was easily affordable, not by the group, but by the individual, by about 4th or 5th level. In 3e, a raise dead was barely affordable by the entire group by those levels, and, even at higher levels, was a major chunk of change.

What's changed is the stupidly arbitrary ways in which you died. Which is simply confusing difficulty for random chance.

Looking at rewards gives a less clear picture, as while it's very debateable whether the rewards have increased there's no doubt they have greatly changed as the editions have come and gone.

Early editions saw treasure - be it gold, magic items, whatever - as their primary reward. Level advancement, however, wasn't really seen as much of a reward - it just happened, now and then. Another reward, of a sort, was the followers-stronghold goal one could achieve at or after name level. And 2e - and only 2e - also seemed to see the story itself as a reward, in an odd sort of way.

3e kind of tried to have both frequent level-ups and treasure as primary rewards - of all the editions it probably goes furthest toward a high-risk high-reward model. But the stronghold business went away, never to return.

4e-5e have really gone for level-ups as the primary reward while sharply cutting back on treasure of all kinds. In 5e, for example, by RAW you can't even sell your magic items (such as you might ever get) for cash.

Whether this shift in basic reward from treasure to level-ups is a feature or a bug is something we could argue about till the cows come home. But that the shift has happened is undeniable.

Lan-"this may or may not have been more well-written than the original article, but it was thought out and I hope it's informative"-efan

The trick is, for some of us, the rate of level ups hasn't dramatically changed. Gygax in the 1e DMG talks about 50 sessions to hit name level. Which, funnily enough, is EXACTLY the same pace I've played D&D in every edition. The more things change...
 

Uh, Hussar I don't no what D&D game you played, but swimming in gold at 4th or 5th level wasn't part of my experience as a player or DM. Neither was getting resurrected at low to mid level. I started in 1974 with the original game. I played / DM'd 1E and 2E with similar outcomes. Getting killed became more difficult with 3E and resurrection easier. That's my experience of course, ymmv. Now 4E I don't know because outside of buying the books, reading them, and giving them to a friend who was interested I don't know much about it. None of this makes any game better or worse of course.
 

Hussar

Legend
Uh, Hussar I don't no what D&D game you played, but swimming in gold at 4th or 5th level wasn't part of my experience as a player or DM. Neither was getting resurrected at low to mid level. I started in 1974 with the original game. I played / DM'd 1E and 2E with similar outcomes. Getting killed became more difficult with 3E and resurrection easier. That's my experience of course, ymmv. Now 4E I don't know because outside of buying the books, reading them, and giving them to a friend who was interested I don't know much about it. None of this makes any game better or worse of course.

I started playing in about 1980, so, I'm a bit younger than you. And, to be fair, I never played OD&D, so, I cannot comment on that.

But, all you have to do is look at the modules for AD&D. If you completed the GDQ series, as we did, you could potentially walk out with over a MILLION gp. Even modules like Keep on the Borderlands and whatnot were awash in gold. Good grief, the random treasure tables in AD&D gave treasure in THOUSANDS of gp. For a single monster (or group of monsters). Never minding that most treasure types included multiple magic items. That could be either kept or sold for more thousands of gp.

And, I killed far, far more PC's in 3e than in 2e. Mostly due to changing DMing styles, but, also the mechanics. AD&D monsters, after about 3rd or 4th level simply didn't do enough damage to kill PC's very often. Although, to be fair, the plethora of save or die effects did tend to keep lethality high. 3e monsters of an equivalent CR to the PC level can kill most PC's in a single round. I've never understood how 3e DM's weren't killing PC's left and right. I certainly was. Last 3e campaign I ran went 80 sessions with 30 PC deaths. And that was pretty par for the course.

Again, I don't understand how you couldn't be swimming in gold in AD&D. Not if you were actually using the rules.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I started playing in about 1980, so, I'm a bit younger than you. And, to be fair, I never played OD&D, so, I cannot comment on that.

But, all you have to do is look at the modules for AD&D. If you completed the GDQ series, as we did, you could potentially walk out with over a MILLION gp. Even modules like Keep on the Borderlands and whatnot were awash in gold. Good grief, the random treasure tables in AD&D gave treasure in THOUSANDS of gp. For a single monster (or group of monsters). Never minding that most treasure types included multiple magic items. That could be either kept or sold for more thousands of gp.

And, I killed far, far more PC's in 3e than in 2e. Mostly due to changing DMing styles, but, also the mechanics. AD&D monsters, after about 3rd or 4th level simply didn't do enough damage to kill PC's very often. Although, to be fair, the plethora of save or die effects did tend to keep lethality high. 3e monsters of an equivalent CR to the PC level can kill most PC's in a single round. I've never understood how 3e DM's weren't killing PC's left and right. I certainly was. Last 3e campaign I ran went 80 sessions with 30 PC deaths. And that was pretty par for the course.

Again, I don't understand how you couldn't be swimming in gold in AD&D. Not if you were actually using the rules.
Depends if your DM is/was also properly using and applying the rules that drained said wealth:

- training for level-up
- magic - and mundane, for that matter - items having to save every time their bearer got hit with anything big e.g. fireball (save vs. magic fire) or a giant's boulder (save vs. crushing blow) etc.
- living costs during downtime, including mundane gear replacement (small amounts but they can sure add up)
- for clerics and paladins, sacrifice (direct to deity) or donation (to one's temple) of a portion of wealth acquired (I think something similar may have also applied to Monks but I might be conflating with a houserule here)
- costs for services e.g. spellcasting (for example: to get an NPC to cast Raise Dead for you is, by RAW, mighty costly)
- for arcane casters, spell research and acquirement costs
- for thieves and assassins, guild dues and contributions
- payment of henches, followers, and similar

Further, as I mentioned a few posts back treasure of all kinds was the primary reward mechanism in 1e. Given that, seeing a lot of it only made sense...though (and this is another difference between 1e and the recent ones) there was much more of an easy-come-easy-go mentality kind of built in - lots of wealth and lots of things you had to spend it on.

Lan-"gimme some money"-efan

EDIT: p.s. something else to consider with 1e published modules is that while there's often boatloads of treasure in them to be found it was a rare party indeed that found all of it, or even a large portion of it.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm sorry, but, no. That's only true if you ignore all sorts of stuff that was in the game from pretty close to day 1. The funny thing is, this article in my feed sits side by side with an article mentioning Dragonlance. Hey, look at that. A series of modules, possibly the most popular series of modules in D&D, where you cannot die.
In fairness, I do tend to ignore Dragonlance modules as written - and have done so pretty much since they came out - largely because of both this can't-die aspect and the lead-'em-by-the-nose railroad they insist upon. That said, a few of those modules can make fine stand-alone adventures if one reskins the backstory.

The trick is, for some of us, the rate of level ups hasn't dramatically changed. Gygax in the 1e DMG talks about 50 sessions to hit name level.
Now I've got to look to see if I can find this...I'm reasonably familiar with the 1e DMG but don't recall seeing this bit.

Which, funnily enough, is EXACTLY the same pace I've played D&D in every edition. The more things change...
Not sure how you could have managed this in 2e without some rule-bending; though I can easily see it in 3-4-5e.

Lan-"the Dragonlance novels were very popular, but the modules?"-efan
 

I rarely played modules, and never DM'd them. We did our own stuff for the most part then (and I still do). Also, part of being a DM back then was the art of fleecing PCs out of their ill gotten gains. Lanefan pointed out some of the game mechanic methods and then there are taxes and thieves. Hmm, was I repeating myself there? :) Mostly people were busy saving to build their own stronghold / temple / wizards tower / thieves guild at higher levels. By then death was rarer and more epic and resurrection was possible. As long as you hadn't ticked off the gods or the priesthood...
 

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