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D&D 5E Game theory, D&D, and infinite games

overgeeked

B/X Known World
In game theory there are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. Finite games are bound by specific rules about how players win and lose, how many players there are in the game, time limits, etc, and the goal is definite: to win. Infinite games, on the other hand, are not bound by specific rules about how players win and lose, there are no time limits, no limits on how many players, etc, and the goal is indefinite: to continue playing.

One example is the difference between a formal debate (finite game) and a conversation (infinite game). One interesting point is you can have finite games nested within an infinite game. So, for example, within a conversation you can have a mini informal debate, but once that's over, you can shift back to the conversation. This is also why having an unmoderated debate is such a waste of time. There's no external score keeper or timer, so informal debates can simply keep going ad nauseum. Another interesting point is that when you have a mismatch of expectations, one person thinks they're playing a finite game when they're really in an infinite game, the finite players will inevitably get frustrated by the actions of the infinite players...or two players focusing on different finite games nested within an infinite game butt heads. This stems from the fact that the finite player is trying to win, whereas the infinite player is trying to continue the game...or two players have defined mutually exclusive personal win conditions. You see this all the time in conversations. One person is trying to have a conversation while another is trying to have a debate. As posters on internet forums, I think we can all relate.

How this relates to D&D should be fairly obvious. But if not, here goes. The language used in most editions of D&D is quite explicit, but as it's the most recent and most popular edition, I'll quote 5E:

"Because the DM can improvise to react to anything the players attempt, D&D is infinitely flexible, and each adventure can be exciting and unexpected.

The game has no real end; when one story or quest wraps up, another one can begin, creating an ongoing story called a campaign. Many people who play the game keep their campaigns going for months or years, meeting with their friends every week or so to pick up the story where they left off. The adventurers grow in might as the campaign continues..."

"There's no winning and losing in the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game-at least, not the way those terms are usually understood. Together, the DM and the players create an exciting story of bold adventurers who confront deadly perils. Sometimes an adventurer might come to a grisly end, torn apart by ferocious monsters or done in by a nefarious villain. Even so, the other adventurers can search for powerful magic to revive their fallen comrade, or the player might choose to create a new character to carry on. The group might fail to complete an adventure successfully, but if everyone had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win."

So, without using game theory terms, D&D defines itself as an infinite game, not a finite game. Some people object to that statement, pointing out that there are win conditions in D&D. But, the crux of their argument relies on conflating the player with the character. There are indeed win conditions for the characters within the game but there are no win conditions for the players at the table. The player doesn't win but the character can. The player doesn't level up but the character can. The player doesn't gain XP but the character can. The player doesn't gain treasure but the character can. The player is meant to simply enjoys the game. Now, a fair few players choose to impose win conditions on the game themselves, but again, this is by conflating the player with the character. "I win as a player at the table when my character wins within the game." Which is a perfectly valid approach, but that is an explicitly self-imposed choice, not a function of the game itself. The game itself defines exactly one condition under which the players at the table win: "if everyone had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win." The character succeeds or fails, lives or dies based on the player's decisions and the dice, but the player can just keep on playing the game. The goal of D&D is the players asking the DM: "When can we play next?" The goal of D&D is to continue playing. Exactly like any other infinite game.

There are clearly finite games nested within the infinite game of D&D, such as combat, exploration, interaction, character creation, missions, quests, modules, adventure paths, etc. But those are not the whole game. They are mini games. Finite games nested within the infinite game. You the player create your character. Your character can win a combat. Your character can complete a quest. Your character can explore a dungeon. Your character can charm the duke. You the player have input, of course, because you're controlling your character in the game. But to think of the infinite game of D&D as a finite game creates a mismatch of expectations. Which leads to a lot of problems within the community. When some people focus exclusively on the finite mini games within the infinite game, it's frustrating to almost everyone involved. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with focusing on one of the mini games in D&D, but focusing on one or two mini games to the exclusion of the others and the infinite game as a whole misses the forest for the trees.

The mismatch of expectations becomes a problem because it leads to arguments and recriminations and endless threads debating the particulars or this or that stye of play, i.e. focusing on one of the finite games nested within the infinite game. We see it all the time when a power gamer (focused on "winning" the character creation mini game) and a deep-immersion roleplayer (focused on "winning" the immersion mini game) try to talk about character. Or a deeply tactical players (focused on "winning" the combat mini game) butts heads with a storygamer (focused on "winning" the mini game of emulating a story). None of these styles are right, or wrong, but knowing which mini games you like (and which you don't) are a great way to focus your play and find a group that will work well together. A beer & pretzels combat-focused game is just as valid as a deep-immersion game which is just as valid a hexcrawl.

And while it's clear that there are some incredibly good and quite targeted (limited scope) RPGs that would count as finite games, with explicit win and loss conditions for the players, it's also just as clear that most RPGs are not like those few. Most RPGs have a wider scope and can, at least in theory, cover any kind of story. They also don't have win conditions spelled out for the players. The characters in most RPGs can win or lose certain tasks, goals, missions, quests, modules, etc...but there are simply no rules about how a player wins or loses D&D. Quite the opposite. D&D and several other RPGs explicitly state there are no win conditions for the players...because D&D is an infinite game.

So...with all that said...how about we try something completely different for a change?

Why don't we try to have a conversation about all of this instead of a debate?
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
In game theory there are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. Finite games are bound by specific rules about how players win and lose, how many players there are in the game, time limits, etc, and the goal is definite: to win. Infinite games, on the other hand, are not bound by specific rules about how players win and lose, there are no time limits, no limits on how many players, etc, and the goal is indefinite: to continue playing.

One example is the difference between a formal debate (finite game) and a conversation (infinite game). One interesting point is you can have finite games nested within an infinite game. So, for example, within a conversation you can have a mini informal debate, but once that's over, you can shift back to the conversation. This is also why having an unmoderated debate is such a waste of time. There's no external score keeper or timer, so informal debates can simply keep going ad nauseum. Another interesting point is that when you have a mismatch of expectations, one person thinks they're playing a finite game when they're really in an infinite game, the finite players will inevitably get frustrated by the actions of the infinite players...or two players focusing on different finite games nested within an infinite game butt heads. This stems from the fact that the finite player is trying to win, whereas the infinite player is trying to continue the game...or two players have defined mutually exclusive personal win conditions. You see this all the time in conversations. One person is trying to have a conversation while another is trying to have a debate. As posters on internet forums, I think we can all relate.

How this relates to D&D should be fairly obvious. But if not, here goes. The language used in most editions of D&D is quite explicit, but as it's the most recent and most popular edition, I'll quote 5E:



So, without using game theory terms, D&D defines itself as an infinite game, not a finite game. Some people object to that statement, pointing out that there are win conditions in D&D. But, the crux of their argument relies on conflating the player with the character. There are indeed win conditions for the characters within the game but there are no win conditions for the players at the table. The player doesn't win but the character can. The player doesn't level up but the character can. The player doesn't gain XP but the character can. The player doesn't gain treasure but the character can. The player is meant to simply enjoys the game. Now, a fair few players choose to impose win conditions on the game themselves, but again, this is by conflating the player with the character. "I win as a player at the table when my character wins within the game." Which is a perfectly valid approach, but that is an explicitly self-imposed choice, not a function of the game itself. The game itself defines exactly one condition under which the players at the table win: "if everyone had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win." The character succeeds or fails, lives or dies based on the player's decisions and the dice, but the player can just keep on playing the game. The goal of D&D is the players asking the DM: "When can we play next?" The goal of D&D is to continue playing. Exactly like any other infinite game.

There are clearly finite games nested within the infinite game of D&D, such as combat, exploration, interaction, character creation, missions, quests, modules, adventure paths, etc. But those are not the whole game. They are mini games. Finite games nested within the infinite game. You the player create your character. Your character can win a combat. Your character can complete a quest. Your character can explore a dungeon. Your character can charm the duke. You the player have input, of course, because you're controlling your character in the game. But to think of the infinite game of D&D as a finite game creates a mismatch of expectations. Which leads to a lot of problems within the community. When some people focus exclusively on the finite mini games within the infinite game, it's frustrating to almost everyone involved. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with focusing on one of the mini games in D&D, but focusing on one or two mini games to the exclusion of the others and the infinite game as a whole misses the forest for the trees.

The mismatch of expectations becomes a problem because it leads to arguments and recriminations and endless threads debating the particulars or this or that stye of play, i.e. focusing on one of the finite games nested within the infinite game. We see it all the time when a power gamer (focused on "winning" the character creation mini game) and a deep-immersion roleplayer (focused on "winning" the immersion mini game) try to talk about character. Or a deeply tactical players (focused on "winning" the combat mini game) butts heads with a storygamer (focused on "winning" the mini game of emulating a story). None of these styles are right, or wrong, but knowing which mini games you like (and which you don't) are a great way to focus your play and find a group that will work well together. A beer & pretzels combat-focused game is just as valid as a deep-immersion game which is just as valid a hexcrawl.

And while it's clear that there are some incredibly good and quite targeted (limited scope) RPGs that would count as finite games, with explicit win and loss conditions for the players, it's also just as clear that most RPGs are not like those few. Most RPGs have a wider scope and can, at least in theory, cover any kind of story. They also don't have win conditions spelled out for the players. The characters in most RPGs can win or lose certain tasks, goals, missions, quests, modules, etc...but there are simply no rules about how a player wins or loses D&D. Quite the opposite. D&D and several other RPGs explicitly state there are no win conditions for the players...because D&D is an infinite game
So...with all that said...how about we try something completely different for a change?

Why don't we try to have a conversation about all of this instead of a debate?
I have looked for this game theory ypu reference and have been unable to locate it. I ask again, as I did in the other thread, for the reference. I'd like to read the source material.

The only thing I can find that discusses infinite versus finite games is here, and that analysis is somewhat different from what you present. And has been strongly challenged by critics for logical flaws. Personally, I find it a tad incoherent as it relies strongly on assuming the conclusion in the premise.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So if not debate this, what exactly would you like to discuss about it?
My guess is @overgeeked means the thread has no post limit or rules (beyond those of the forum in general) or other imposed limitations, hence what follows is intended to be infinite (a conversation) rather than finite (a debate) as defined in the OP.

Or something like that. :)

The term I tend to use for RPGs is open-ended rather than infinite, but that's just semantics. Early D&D was - or at least appeared to be - open-ended; there was no prescribed upper limit to, say, character levels provided your race-class gave a 'U' on the race-class level limit matrix. 3e put a soft-ish limit of 20th level on proceedings; 4e went to 30, 5e's gone back to 20, and IMO this puts limits where none need to exist.

Further, there's no prescribed limits in any edition as to how long a campaign can last, or how many years or sessions a group can play - those key elements are also open-ended. The only limits are self-imposed: choosing to play just a single AP as a campaign, for example; or choosing to play only for the 8-10 months of a school year and then disperse.
 

This is also why having an unmoderated debate is such a waste of time. There's no external score keeper or timer, so informal debates can simply keep going ad nauseum.

Why don't we try to have a conversation about all of this instead of a debate?
The difference between an unmoderated debate and a conversation is pretty minimal. If two people have a disagreement during a conversation, it immediately becomes an unmoderated debate, with both trying to convince the other of their point of view. This is going to continue until the eventual 'we'll just have to agree to disagree' occurs or someone "wins" the debate by convincing the other (very, very uncommon). On the internet, it can also conclude with someone simply leaving the conversation, which is sometimes considered a concession.

As for the actual situation about the game, the easiest way to look at it is to realize that each player has their own personal goal. This can be seen as "winning the mini-game," but really it's just their expectation on how to reach the "everyone having a good time" primary goal. It's when these personal goals conflict at the table you have issue, but this should largely be determined during session 0 of the first game of the group.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I have looked for this game theory ypu reference and have been unable to locate it. I ask again, as I did in the other thread, for the reference. I'd like to read the source material.

The only thing I can find that discusses infinite versus finite games is here, and that analysis is somewhat different from what you present. And has been strongly challenged by critics for logical flaws. Personally, I find it a tad incoherent as it relies strongly on assuming the conclusion in the premise.
Yeah, finite vs infinite games isn’t actually a concept in game theory. I believe the idea was indeed proposed by James P Carse in that book (which is not about game theory), and was incorrectly attributed to game theory by Simon Stinek in his 2019 book, The Infinite Game, which was heavily inspired by the Carse book.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
My guess is @overgeeked means the thread has no post limit or rules (beyond those of the forum in general) or other imposed limitations, hence what follows is intended to be infinite (a conversation) rather than finite (a debate) as defined in the OP.

Or something like that. :)
Mostly just tired of the silly attempts at point scoring and gotchas some people do.
The term I tend to use for RPGs is open-ended rather than infinite, but that's just semantics. Early D&D was - or at least appeared to be - open-ended; there was no prescribed upper limit to, say, character levels provided your race-class gave a 'U' on the race-class level limit matrix. 3e put a soft-ish limit of 20th level on proceedings; 4e went to 30, 5e's gone back to 20, and IMO this puts limits where none need to exist.
The longer I play the less I like the idea of levels. It seems like an okay mechanic to regulate gaining power, but it also limits the content the characters can work through. Unless the DM puts in a lot of work to make the content level appropriate. Like you'd really like to run through some module but it's either too high or too low a level.
Further, there's no prescribed limits in any edition as to how long a campaign can last, or how many years or sessions a group can play - those key elements are also open-ended. The only limits are self-imposed: choosing to play just a single AP as a campaign, for example; or choosing to play only for the 8-10 months of a school year and then disperse.
Level caps, for those editions that have them, are fairly limiting. Gearing the whole of the game around gaining level (power) then asking people to play without gaining any power after a certain point seems counter to the whole notion of level. Alternately, you could have characters simply stop gaining experience points and levels at some arbitrary point, say 5th level or 10th level. But again, most players want that power progression.
The difference between an unmoderated debate and a conversation is pretty minimal.
People generally try to win debates, they don't try to win conversations. Even if that's the only difference (I don't think it is), it's a rather substantial one.
 

payn

Legend
The longer I play the less I like the idea of levels. It seems like an okay mechanic to regulate gaining power, but it also limits the content the characters can work through. Unless the DM puts in a lot of work to make the content level appropriate. Like you'd really like to run through some module but it's either too high or too low a level.
You and me both. Traveller is one of my favorite RPGs and it has no levels. You can gear up, and get better at skills, but its nothing like D&D leveling.

I do really like bounded accuracy in a leveling system like D&D to help make sense of the setting. In some versions, high level PCs and monsters are pretty much invincible and could wipe out cities without breaking a sweat. It's just weird to picture those two levels of existence being in the same place at the same time.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The longer I play the less I like the idea of levels. It seems like an okay mechanic to regulate gaining power, but it also limits the content the characters can work through. Unless the DM puts in a lot of work to make the content level appropriate. Like you'd really like to run through some module but it's either too high or too low a level.

You have the issue, though, that the dynamic of leveling up is really attractive to people. When you level up, you get new toys, and that's a drive to play.

We should remember that what we think of as a "campaign" these days differs from how some thought of it back in the day. Today, a campaign is often pretty character-centric - it is the exploits of one particular group, plus or minus as some characters die, some players come and go, and such.

But, back in the day a campaign was, in essence, everything one GM ran, and it had a life of its own. Players were apt to have a troupe of several characters each they could call on to play. In this form, you could play that module, because you had lower level characters to play it with.

Level caps, for those editions that have them, are fairly limiting. Gearing the whole of the game around gaining level (power) then asking people to play without gaining any power after a certain point seems counter to the whole notion of level.

Again, back when the game had those limits, that character that topped out probably wasn't your only one - or when it did top out, you brought in a new character that wasn't capped.

People generally try to win debates, they don't try to win conversations. Even if that's the only difference (I don't think it is), it's a rather substantial one.

We have the problem that we act like we are in a debate, but we aren't - debates have rules, scoring, a framework of interchanges with time limitations, and an end. We lack those things. We are in an open-ended discussion, but acting like we are trying to win a debate. It often isn't a great combination.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yeah, finite vs infinite games isn’t actually a concept in game theory. I believe the idea was indeed proposed by James P Carse in that book (which is not about game theory), and was incorrectly attributed to game theory by Simon Stinek in his 2019 book, The Infinite Game, which was heavily inspired by the Carse book.
Ah, thanks. Following up on this, the concept of infinite vs finite games was written by a religious scholar as a work about life and finding meaning, but then adapted by Stinek into a business leadership book. There's no game theory actually here, just the trappings of talking about games to make points about different things.

The link to Stinek uncovered some languages from him that was used in the OP pretty much verbatim, so I wonder if this is indeed @overgeeked's source material?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
We should remember that what we think of as a "campaign" these days differs from how some thought of it back in the day. Today, a campaign is often pretty character-centric - it is the exploits of one particular group, plus or minus as some characters die, some players come and go, and such.

But, back in the day a campaign was, in essence, everything one GM ran, and it had a life of its own. Players were apt to have a troupe of several characters each they could call on to play. In this form, you could play that module, because you had lower level characters to play it with.
The second paragraph is how I still define "campaign" today. :)
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
The second paragraph is how I still define "campaign" today. :)
And the first one is how I’ve defined what a campaign is almost ever since I’ve started playing, although I’ve played the other way as well, in particular in clubs. :)
 

MarkB

Legend
WotC stats show that level limits are more often a theoretical limit than a practical one, as few campaigns actually hit that upper limit.

The division between player and character in the OP feels a little meaningless. In most games that aren't being played for money or other rewards, the player isn't getting anything tangible out of winning beyond satisfaction. So how is it different when the player, as a result of their good performance, wins tokens such as XP or level-ups that they can spend on improving their character? It's a prize the player earned through their success at the minigames, which will let them buy options to help them perform better in future minigames.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
In game theory there are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. Finite games are bound by specific rules about how players win and lose, how many players there are in the game, time limits, etc, and the goal is definite: to win. Infinite games, on the other hand, are not bound by specific rules about how players win and lose, there are no time limits, no limits on how many players, etc, and the goal is indefinite: to continue playing.

One example is the difference between a formal debate (finite game) and a conversation (infinite game). One interesting point is you can have finite games nested within an infinite game. So, for example, within a conversation you can have a mini informal debate, but once that's over, you can shift back to the conversation. This is also why having an unmoderated debate is such a waste of time. There's no external score keeper or timer, so informal debates can simply keep going ad nauseum. Another interesting point is that when you have a mismatch of expectations, one person thinks they're playing a finite game when they're really in an infinite game, the finite players will inevitably get frustrated by the actions of the infinite players...or two players focusing on different finite games nested within an infinite game butt heads. This stems from the fact that the finite player is trying to win, whereas the infinite player is trying to continue the game...or two players have defined mutually exclusive personal win conditions. You see this all the time in conversations. One person is trying to have a conversation while another is trying to have a debate. As posters on internet forums, I think we can all relate.

How this relates to D&D should be fairly obvious. But if not, here goes. The language used in most editions of D&D is quite explicit, but as it's the most recent and most popular edition, I'll quote 5E:



So, without using game theory terms, D&D defines itself as an infinite game, not a finite game. Some people object to that statement, pointing out that there are win conditions in D&D. But, the crux of their argument relies on conflating the player with the character. There are indeed win conditions for the characters within the game but there are no win conditions for the players at the table. The player doesn't win but the character can. The player doesn't level up but the character can. The player doesn't gain XP but the character can. The player doesn't gain treasure but the character can. The player is meant to simply enjoys the game. Now, a fair few players choose to impose win conditions on the game themselves, but again, this is by conflating the player with the character. "I win as a player at the table when my character wins within the game." Which is a perfectly valid approach, but that is an explicitly self-imposed choice, not a function of the game itself. The game itself defines exactly one condition under which the players at the table win: "if everyone had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win." The character succeeds or fails, lives or dies based on the player's decisions and the dice, but the player can just keep on playing the game. The goal of D&D is the players asking the DM: "When can we play next?" The goal of D&D is to continue playing. Exactly like any other infinite game.

There are clearly finite games nested within the infinite game of D&D, such as combat, exploration, interaction, character creation, missions, quests, modules, adventure paths, etc. But those are not the whole game. They are mini games. Finite games nested within the infinite game. You the player create your character. Your character can win a combat. Your character can complete a quest. Your character can explore a dungeon. Your character can charm the duke. You the player have input, of course, because you're controlling your character in the game. But to think of the infinite game of D&D as a finite game creates a mismatch of expectations. Which leads to a lot of problems within the community. When some people focus exclusively on the finite mini games within the infinite game, it's frustrating to almost everyone involved. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with focusing on one of the mini games in D&D, but focusing on one or two mini games to the exclusion of the others and the infinite game as a whole misses the forest for the trees.

The mismatch of expectations becomes a problem because it leads to arguments and recriminations and endless threads debating the particulars or this or that stye of play, i.e. focusing on one of the finite games nested within the infinite game. We see it all the time when a power gamer (focused on "winning" the character creation mini game) and a deep-immersion roleplayer (focused on "winning" the immersion mini game) try to talk about character. Or a deeply tactical players (focused on "winning" the combat mini game) butts heads with a storygamer (focused on "winning" the mini game of emulating a story). None of these styles are right, or wrong, but knowing which mini games you like (and which you don't) are a great way to focus your play and find a group that will work well together. A beer & pretzels combat-focused game is just as valid as a deep-immersion game which is just as valid a hexcrawl.

And while it's clear that there are some incredibly good and quite targeted (limited scope) RPGs that would count as finite games, with explicit win and loss conditions for the players, it's also just as clear that most RPGs are not like those few. Most RPGs have a wider scope and can, at least in theory, cover any kind of story. They also don't have win conditions spelled out for the players. The characters in most RPGs can win or lose certain tasks, goals, missions, quests, modules, etc...but there are simply no rules about how a player wins or loses D&D. Quite the opposite. D&D and several other RPGs explicitly state there are no win conditions for the players...because D&D is an infinite game.

So...with all that said...how about we try something completely different for a change?

Why don't we try to have a conversation about all of this instead of a debate?
Perhaps you addressed it and I missed it, but something I think you've overlooked is that the DM can easily impose win conditions for the campaign.

This might be established at the beginning of the campaign. "In this campaign, the dragon has been kidnapped by the evil princess. Your goal is to rescue the dragon. Once you complete the rescue, this campaign will conclude, and if you are successful your characters in the next campaign will all start with a magic item."

It could instead emerge organically from play. "You've made great strides in your attempt to overthrow the Garlean Empire. If you do so successfully, this campaign will conclude, and your characters in the next campaign can start one level higher."

Obviously, this isn't necessary to play the game, but in my experience it isn't all that uncommon. Typically, at least in my experience, the win condition emerges naturally from play and the players' goals, though the DM has a significant amount of influence in this. Most of the campaigns I've played in eventually established a win condition for the game, unless (for whatever reason) the campaign fizzled out before a condition could emerge from play. In at least a few campaigns we even had bonus win conditions assigned (such as defeating an extremely powerful enemy) that weren't required for a win, but would grant an extra starting bonus in the next campaign.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
I'm not sure how much game theory (ironically) applies to D&D at the party level, which is usually highly cooperative--the rules are designed so that no class is truly self-sufficient. Usually game theory (from what I've seen) is used to study the options and optimal strategies of actors in a situation that's at least potentially somewhat adversarial.

Game theory does make sense when evaluating, for example, whether monsters would wish to try to buy off the party or fight, or how the various factions in a large dungeon like Undermountain would interact. As such I think it would be a worthy topic of discussion. ;)
 

pemerton

Legend
Gygax is crystal-clear in his PHB and DMG that XP are earned by the player as a reward for playing the game well. He also advises the GM not to manipulate the outcome of combats, because that would be contrary to the major precepts of the game. It's very clear that he has a conception of what it means to play well and be rewarded for that.

This is further reflected in the scorn he shows (eg in the intro to ToH) towards players who have PCs with levels/stats/magic-items that exceed what their skill as players should entitle them to.

Whether or not one wishes to call this "win conditions" in the strictest sense, he has a clear conception that there is a real-world, not just in-game, sense of what it is to play well and merit reward and respect as a player. And levels, treasure and magic-items are important parts of that conception.
 


Blue Orange

Adventurer
Gygax is crystal-clear in his PHB and DMG that XP are earned by the player as a reward for playing the game well. He also advises the GM not to manipulate the outcome of combats, because that would be contrary to the major precepts of the game. It's very clear that he has a conception of what it means to play well and be rewarded for that.

This is further reflected in the scorn he shows (eg in the intro to ToH) towards players who have PCs with levels/stats/magic-items that exceed what their skill as players should entitle them to.

Whether or not one wishes to call this "win conditions" in the strictest sense, he has a clear conception that there is a real-world, not just in-game, sense of what it is to play well and merit reward and respect as a player. And levels, treasure and magic-items are important parts of that conception.

Indeed. I just wonder how much we have to be 'originalists' about Gygax's intention--IMHO you can play D&D any way you want. It's a game. In the early years there were tournaments with standardized dungeons and actual rankings, but it's not like chess where everyone has to play by the same rules.
 



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