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.



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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pemerton

Legend
Could you play RPG's the way you are talking about? Sure, of course. No one is denying that. What's being denied is that somehow this was the only way RPG's were ever played
I think this is really the key point. If classic, "gamist" dungeon-crawling was ever the main way of playing D&D, it seems to have lost that status some time in the early 1980s.

The idea that a cultural development that is over 30 years old, in a hobby barely more than 40 years old, is somehow a "new" thing is not tenable.

There is also a lot of projection going on in the characterisations of "true" or "original" D&D. Eg [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] excludes DL from being "truly" 1st ed AD&D, and likewise treats elements of Gygax's approach as purely idiosyncratic and not essential to "true" 1st ed AD&D either. Is "true" 1st ed AD&D, then, just whatever it is that Lanefan plays? Or played, back in the day? That's obviously not tenable.

A final comment: in some domains of activity, relative "toughness" or "hardcoreness" is fairly easy to identify. Running a half-marathon is, in some objective sense, more gruelling than jogging 500 m. Climbing a mountain is, in some objective sense, more gruelling that climbing over the fence at the local park.

But in what way is playing classic dungeon-crawling D&D supposed to be more gruelling than, say, playing DL back in the day, or playing the final encounter of some WotC AP, or (to turn to a non-D&D game) playing a session of DitV? There is a tone in some of the posts in this thread - with references to lethality, difficulty, etc - that clearly imply this is the case. But they don't explain what the nature of the gruelling-ness is supposed to be.
 

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S

Sunseeker

Guest
I hope I'm not the only one discomfited by this ageism. It's not right to dismiss someone's opinion just because they're old or sounds like they're old.

I hope I'm not the only one who can recognize the hypocrisy in berating "young folks" for playing the game wrong and then berating them again for not being willing to be berated.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I hope I'm not the only one discomfited by this ageism. It's not right to dismiss someone's opinion just because they're old or sounds like they're old.

No, I'll dismiss them when they mostly amount to a "back in MY day story, we had it tough, not soft like the kids today" rehash. Which this was.
 

Coreyartus

Explorer
Ya know, I started playing D&D in 1980, and I stopped playing it for years in part because of the attitude espoused in this article. "You're not playing it right!! You're ruining my fun because you don't play it the way I like to play it! Everyone should want what I want! I don't care if you're having fun, you're not having fun in the right way!"

Get over yourself.

Perhaps the type of player who plays RPGs has changed in 40 years. Perhaps games don't need to be the same. Perhaps our definition of a good time has changed, too. The nature of a quality gaming experience has shifted.

Any article that nostalgically laments how RPG players aren't "earning" their fun in the right way just comes across as pretentious privileged elitism and slips into the blather of File 13 way too quickly to be taken seriously. I can understand romanticizing the past, but blaming contemporary players for not playing their own games correctly suggests more about the writer of the piece than the audience of readers. Get off my lawn indeed. I can have fun lighting a fire with flint and steel, but I'd rather have fun with the developments that have come along since the invention of fire... Older is not always better. I'll take the new version over the old version any day, especially if it means not having to play with judgemental participants like this writer...

And frankly, ENWorld should know better than to publish this...
 

Hussar

Legend
And frankly, ENWorld should know better than to publish this...

Now, that I don't agree with. It's an opinion and it's one that should be dragged out into the light and examined. I've see far too many discussions with gamers over the years espouse something pretty close to this to think that it's something that will go away if we just ignore it.

Look, if you feel that hardcore gamism is a better way to play, then prove it to me. Show me how I can have a better time doing it that way than I can the way I prefer to play. But, like this article, if the only way you can make your play style look attractive is to denigrate how others play, then, well, like you say, that says more about the poster than anything.
 

pogre

Legend
I've played and enjoyed every edition of D&D during their respective times. (Yeah, I'm old). Our experience was that lower level D&D "back in the day" was far more dangerous and higher level play was actually less dangerous than the current edition. YMMV. It was just that for us, the pain of losing a high level character stung more because it took so long to get there.

I still enjoy some dungeon delving using some of the retro-clones from time-to-time. I also enjoy the story-driven 5th edition campaign I'm currently playing.

It's OK to play D&D more than one way. :)
 

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 have no idea what you're talking about. Looking at top rated games on the biggest board game site, I see a lot of vicious games, where there will be one winner and many losers. Are you complaining about the fact that these games are more "realistic", in the sense that you have to build something yourself instead of simply attacking your enemy, which is rarely a solution in real life? Or that some of these games are cooperative, and the consequence for losing is that you failed the world and let civilization fall to epidemics, instead of simply losing to another player?

Mass-market games are much more reward-based then consequence-based. Hobby gamers might call them “not serious”.

Checkers, chess, backgammon, Monopoly, Clue, Uno, Scrabble etc., are all mass-market games that have clear winners and losers that are kept track of.

Home video “save games” have always tended to make video games a “you can’t lose” proposition.

Save games were created because without a method to save the game, a game was limited to how long you could play in one stretch. Super Mario Brothers is completable in 5 minutes, 20 minutes if you don't use the warps. That was all they could pack on the cartridge, so it wasn't a big deal. Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes over 3 hours for a quick run, and over nine hours to grab all 242 stars. With enough patience most people can get through either of them, but I suspect that SMB1, without the save game, will be quicker.

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.

To quote the esteemed Arlo Guthrie back in 1972, "Dealing card games with the old man in the Club Car / Penny a point - ain't no one keeping score". I've played a thousand hands of spades with nobody really caring about who won and who lost. If you're talking about direct conflict, Snakes and Ladders, and Life, and Operation, to name a few, are older games that don't involve direct conflict. If you're not talking about direct conflict, I have no idea what you mean by "Many so-called games nowadays do not involve conflict". Are we talking about the likes of the Ungame... which came out in 1973, a year before D&D?

There are roleplaying games that are storytelling exercises without much opposition. I understand the theatrical tradition and ad libbing played a big part in their ancestry. They're sort of marginal, and while I might agree that they aren't games, I don't see the relevance of that to anything; that some people enjoy engaging in group storytelling is nothing new, and is a pleasurable intellectual exercise.

Around to D&D, ever heard of "stand behind the pile of dead bards!"? That's a fairly modern rendition of an old joke in some form or other about the endless string of indistinguishable characters some players play, where the instant a DM kills off one, another one pops up. Doesn't seem like your consequences had much an effect there, beyond negating any attempt at playing a role. My one time playing the DCC RPG and having my character die because he looked through something and got attacked by a grub and died is not high on my RPG memories. It's interesting you don't mention that one actual pattern in modern boardgames is the mitigation of randomness; it's not fun, or a particular indication of skill, or a real challenge, to win or lose based on a die roll. So randomness may choose how the board is laid out, or what resources are coming out this turn, but not "this person wins because he rolled 6s all game and the other person rolled 1s". Which is a style choice, but it seems weird to praise a certain style of RPG as "games of consequence" when what the consequences are of is the fact that you rolled poorly.
 

lewpuls

Hero
It's a common reaction of younger people to claim that any suggestion that changes in life have occurred in ways that "don't sound good" is simply an old person reacting to/hating on the young. I've even encountered people who believe there are no generational differences, despite all the research and other evidence to the contrary. The possibility that changes in attitudes really have happened - and anyone who knows history knows that attitudes DO change strongly over time - is ignored. This becomes an ad hominem argument: "it came from an old person so it doesn't count and we can just make fun of it". That's a logical fallacy, folks. Something like "Hitler liked it so it must be bad", which is of course nonsense. What matters is whether something is true, not who's identifying or describing it.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem "Ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is now usually understood as a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself."


In other words, when you try to interpret/divine what "I want" (usually incorrectly), when you blame me or "old geezers" for what I've described, you've *LOST ALL CREDIBILITY.*




Once again, I am editorially constrained to 500 words, which doesn't leave room for many examples. If I had had a thousand words, I'd have provided more examples. Btw, SMHWorlds, Coreyartus, I'm talking about ALL games, not just RPGs and certainly not just D&D. Nor do I see where I've failed to recognize that much of it comes from the GM, not the rules, in RPGs.


Than you, RevTurkey, Lanefan (yes, you explain very well in your initial post, but also ran well over my word limit!), JeffB, Derren, J.L.Duncan, Over-the-Hill, Pemerton, Libramarian, and others. Nice shot, AmerigoV! Yes, S'mon, that's true, I was around 30 then, not an "old geezer". Then as now I tried to say what I meant without worrying about whether others would agree, and I despise political correctness and rampant egalitarianism as much now as then.






My point in the OP is about what people expect to do and achieve when playing the game, not about what kind of thing they're looking to get from the game. Two people can expect the same "reward" (better, award), in the latter sense, yet want the game to play very differently. Diablo III gives lots of loot, just as many other games, but it's fully a reward-based game in the sense that you are going to easily get loads of loot, you don't have to earn it in any significant way, while in some other loot games (tabletop RPGs as run by a minority of GMs) you have to earn what you get.


In a way we could say reward-based games are like Monty Haul adventures, but that still focuses on the amount of the reward more than on what you have to do to get it.


You could take a party game such as Apples to Apples or any of its reward-based progeny (such as Cards Against Humanity), add big-money stakes (money from the players) to it, and it would become (as much as is possible within the hardly-competitive rules) a game of consequence rather than one of reward.




Yes, D&D grew out of wargaming. Out of Dave Arneson's miniatures battle campaign, while Gary Gygax was an officer in the International Federation of Wargamers (national game clubs were a thing in the late 60s). Naturally, with players initially coming from wargaming, there was a greater emphasis on challenge. But the attitude change is not unique to RPGs. The consequence-reward change is often discussed and glaringly obvious in video games. One of the topics discussed is how much easier it is to play video games successfully these days.


People are now taught that they should never be uncomfortable, and that notion extends into games, at times. Video players of adventure/action/RP games have come to expect a "loot drop" from every monster, no matter how innocuous. Quite apart from how you can use your save games to keep doing the same thing (such as open a chest) again and again until you get a result you really like. (The guys I know personally who do this are over 60; it's not generational in and of itself.)


One of the advantages of single-player video games is that game developers can let players who are only interested in story go through the story without having to work at it. I've advocated an "autopilot" mode in video games for many years, and a few games have contained some form of same, so that when it gets too much like work or too tough, the player can let the computer play through the difficult part while the player watches, then continues with the story thereafter. However, many hard-core video gamers still react pretty negatively to the notion, even though it wouldn't affect how they play in any way. I guess they're worried that they'll succumb to temptation and use the autopilot, or they're worried about polluting the pseudo-competition of comparing times taken to "beat a game."




I did not use the old training cost rules of AD&D, because it turned PCs into money-grubbers rather than adventurers. On the other hand, players never swam in gold because I drastically reduced monetary rewards. I used my own experience method based on how well the players accomplished their mission; gold didn't come into it. Again, as someone said, it's the GM, not the rules, that most strongly determines the balance and style of cost/reward.




Saelorn, the consequence of going down to 1 HP is felt during the adventure, even though it's all healed up later. During the adventure it changes tactics and even strategy. Still, the point I tried to make is about how choices of the players make a significant difference to the *outcome*, or do not.




Saracenus, you have failed just as much as most people to figure out what I want. I abhor horror of any kind. I do NOT want complicated combat. I don't want complicated anything, because you can make a game with lots of gameplay depth without being complicated (in fact, that's superior to complicated games). I despise legacy games, which stink to me of planned obsolescence. And so forth. Trying to figure out what an author wants based on a 500 word piece is a fool's errand.




Hussar seems to be particularly out of touch with logic:
"No, but it is right to dismiss someone's opinion when it carries no weight, isn't supported by the actual facts, and has been repeated ad nauseam over the past thirty years."


The comments above have suggested many "actual facts" that I could not possibly include in 500 words. That something has been repeated a lot for a long time neither makes it true nor untrue, logically. And if you want an opinion to carry "weight," what are your criteria? By any reasonable criteria I've ever seen, mine carries far more weight than any random commenter's does. But that weight is not and should not be a criteria for establishing whether something is true or untrue. Your notion that it should is a subtle form of the ad hominem fallacy. More bad logic.




I have no idea how what I've said can come to be interpreted as "a certain style of RPG as 'games of consequence' when what the consequences are of is the fact that you rolled poorly." A player who wants to stay alive in most RPGs wants to limit the number of times he must make a good roll to avoid dying. And GMs who like rot grubs and other methods of killing someone out of nowhere, are turning the game into a button-pushing exercise, push some buttons and hope you don't get unlucky. (Of course, you've probably seen this explicitly, though more often it's levers than buttons.)


ENWorld can always be relied on for a very wide spectrum of comments. Heaven help me if I ever deliberately try to stir up comments.
 

CydKnight

Explorer
Society has come to expect rewards in general. The trend is that those expectations will demand more for less over time. What is not realized is that we are looking for fulfillment. The more we look for it in things (concepts are things too), the less fulfilled we become. So what do we do? We keep doing the same thing for that quick fix because it's all we know. It's a vicious cycle where our own egos tell us what we need to be fulfilled but it will only serve to satisfy the ego and egos are never satisfied for long.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
It's a common reaction of younger people to claim that any suggestion that changes in life have occurred in ways that "don't sound good" is simply an old person reacting to/hating on the young. I've even encountered people who believe there are no generational differences, despite all the research and other evidence to the contrary. The possibility that changes in attitudes really have happened - and anyone who knows history knows that attitudes DO change strongly over time - is ignored. This becomes an ad hominem argument: "it came from an old person so it doesn't count and we can just make fun of it". That's a logical fallacy, folks. Something like "Hitler liked it so it must be bad", which is of course nonsense. What matters is whether something is true, not who's identifying or describing it.

Some attitudes do change over time, but you know what else is true? An older generation will look down at younger generations and complain that things were more difficult, more challenging, or their achievements were more worthy in their day and they way they did things. Your elders did it to your Baby Boom generation and you're doing it to the GenXers, Millennials, and what-have-you afterwards. Same old story - same old song and dance.

As far as I'm concerned, the important point is that people are enjoying the games they play. If you prefer a particular style of play, go ahead. But if you throw shade at someone else's style (and let's face it, you did), you're going to get pushback at the attitude.
 

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