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

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
Yeah, IMO this isn't one of EGG's better takes.

I've always seen xp, as much as possible, as being a reward for what the character (under direction of the player, of course) does in the fiction, rather than for anything the player does at the table.

This is why when I hear of DMs giving xp for bringing snacks to the game or for writing up the game log, I think "nope, not my cup o' tea".
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Agreed, but perception matters; and 3e-4e-5e carry a much greater perception of being closed-ended than did 0e-1e-2e.

Maybe YOU have a much greater perception of it being closed-ended.

Do we have to note how shabby rhetoric that assertion is without support?
 

Maybe YOU have a much greater perception of it being closed-ended.

Do we have to note how shabby rhetoric that assertion is without support?
I don't think it's a completely unreasonable claim...in fact, isn't this what you are saying in your previous comment?

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.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't think it's a completely unreasonable claim...in fact, isn't this what you are saying in your previous comment?

I am pretty sure I can find quotes from, say, the DMGs of various editions that support my assertion, as well as writings of players at the time, if anyone wants to question it.

I am pretty sure no such support exists for the "perception of closed-endedness" in current times as opposed to the past..
 

MarkB

Legend
Yeah, IMO this isn't one of EGG's better takes.

I've always seen xp, as much as possible, as being a reward for what the character (under direction of the player, of course) does in the fiction, rather than for anything the player does at the table.

This is why when I hear of DMs giving xp for bringing snacks to the game or for writing up the game log, I think "nope, not my cup o' tea".
Well, yeah, but that's true in any game. You don't get spotted an extra knight in Chess for bringing a snack for the referee.

But experience points are given to the player, not the character. They don't exist within the character's world - no PC or NPC knows what an XP is, or what to do with it.
 

jgsugden

Legend
1.) Finite and infinite games are not the coomon diction used in game theory, but they do differentiate between games that end and games that repeat or cycle. Prisoner's dilemna, for example, has different expected results if you assume the game will be repeated than if you play it only once.

2.) Game theory, in general, is about optimization of results. While some gamers focus on optimization of damage, control, etc... for their PCs, the core of the game is a story telling game and there isn't really one optimal path in good storytelling. Often, it is when a PC does something despite not being great at it that creates a fond memory.
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
Thought-provoking OP. Thank you @overgeeked
I’d only really studied game theory in relation to Global Politics, and never really thought about it in relation to D&D, in any of its iterations that I’ve played. I’m not sure how well it applies if I’m honest but I’ll run with it a bit.

I think it can apply within a given campaign, particularly if that campaign has an end goal (defeat Tiamat’s plan to destroy the Kingdom of Calanthiara) with players engaging in finite games through the campaign according to their priorities as players. I don’t think the division is finite v infinite though, just the type of finite or infinite goal that floats their boat (create an optimised character, skilfully defeat the half-dragon bandit leader or rescue the missing child and return them to their grateful mother; all finite goals but appealing in slightly different ways)
Similar finite goals apply as the campaign develops. And is the final defeat/ banishment of the evil Tiamat a finite or infinite goal? Or is the goal really to reminisce with friends two years down the line about that awesome battle with the great black dragon, Xargrixx, progeny of Tiamat, in the sunken ziggurat of the Fell Mere?

Or are all campaigns finite goals, within an infinite of just enjoying D&D and maintaining a fun group to game with in a busy world.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
Those aren't win conditions for the game, though. They are win conditions for the PCs, with an addition of a reward for the players' next characters.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well, yeah, but that's true in any game. You don't get spotted an extra knight in Chess for bringing a snack for the referee.

But experience points are given to the player, not the character. They don't exist within the character's world - no PC or NPC knows what an XP is, or what to do with it.
And yet I the player have never gone up a level due to experience points being given to me(none ever have been given to me). My character on the other hand, despite being unaware of what experience points are, has received them in every edition I have ever played, plus BECMI, and he has gone up levels due to receiving them.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
I agree there can be a lot of variation. For instance, I've played a lot of AD&D, but very little of it in Gygax's style.

I just think we need to keep that full range of approaches in mind before asserting that RPGing as such does not or cannot include win conditions.
 

MarkB

Legend
And yet I the player have never gone up a level due to experience points being given to me(none ever have been given to me). My character on the other hand, despite being unaware of what experience points are, has received them in every edition I have ever played, plus BECMI, and he has gone up levels due to receiving them.
And every time that's happened it's increased the effectiveness with which you, the player, can play the game (or at least the game-mechanical minigames within that game). Your character never feels the benefit of those levels, because your character doesn't exist. You do.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
And every time that's happened it's increased the effectiveness with which you, the player, can play the game (or at least the game-mechanical minigames within that game). Your character never feels the benefit of those levels, because your character doesn't exist. You do.
It still doesn't go to me. It goes to the game piece. I may be able to play more effectively, but that's only because the piece, not me, improved.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
And yet I the player have never gone up a level due to experience points being given to me(none ever have been given to me). My character on the other hand, despite being unaware of what experience points are, has received them in every edition I have ever played, plus BECMI, and he has gone up levels due to receiving them.
This is a weird hill to take a stand on.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This is a weird hill to take a stand on.
It's just the way I see it. If I had gotten the experience points, my player level would be much higher than it is(and I'm pretty good). Instead, the game piece(character) gets the experience and improves, which gives me more options as a player.
 


MarkB

Legend
It still doesn't go to me. It goes to the game piece. I may be able to play more effectively, but that's only because the piece, not me, improved.
That feels like a distinction without a difference. Your reward was the ability to play more effectively. That's something that benefits you directly, and your fellow players indirectly. Nothing and nobody else is receiving that benefit.
 

But experience points are given to the player, not the character. They don't exist within the character's world - no PC or NPC knows what an XP is, or what to do with it.
That's true of basically everything numerical on a character sheet? Your character probably can't walk up to an npc and say, "I have a 13 wisdom, what's yours?" or anything to that effect.

Anyway, I don't mind giving out of character XP rewards if I think they are useful. For example, for writing the recap in a shared google doc.

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.
Do you create narration for level ups? Does the character know they've gotten better in some way, or do they even train during downtime as a way of narrating leveling up?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That feels like a distinction without a difference. Your reward was the ability to play more effectively. That's something that benefits you directly, and your fellow players indirectly. Nothing and nobody else is receiving that benefit.
I used "with more options," rather than "more effectively" for a reason. The monsters, traps and other NPCs are also getting stronger along side you and gaining more options, so I'm not sure you are really being more effective. More fun for sure, but not really more effective.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No, the "more effectively" was your phrasing. I merely repeated it.
You're correct and that was a misspeak. I used more options in the response to Morrus. They are not more effective. They just have more options which they need to use to overcome the improved abilities, traps and options on the DM side of things.
 

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