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OSR/older D&D and XP from gold - is there a "proper" alternative?

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
My point is I've found players are adept at "playing the system", and while GP/XP may be a reasonable general guide, in many instances,
IMO it should not be a set standard.

Agreed. Any system can be gamed by players, which is why the best strategy is to use a system where “gaming the system” results in the desired methods of play. What that looks like will vary from one campaign to the next.
 

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pemerton

Legend
Any system can be gamed by players, which is why the best strategy is to use a system where “gaming the system” results in the desired methods of play.
I agree with the inverted commas, which means I don't really agree that any system can be "gamed" by players. Playing a system as it is meant to be played isn't gaming, it's just playing.

It seems to me that the notion of players "gaming the system" is a result of years (decades) of groups using Gygax's AD&D resolution mechanics for games that don't have the same play goals as Gygaxian dungeoneering. (Which is why games like Dungeon World, or Fate, or even older systems like Runequest, don't really have a notion of "powergaming".)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I agree with the inverted commas, which means I don't really agree that any system can be "gamed" by players. Playing a system as it is meant to be played isn't gaming, it's just playing.

It seems to me that the notion of players "gaming the system" is a result of years (decades) of groups using Gygax's AD&D resolution mechanics for games that don't have the same play goals as Gygaxian dungeoneering. (Which is why games like Dungeon World, or Fate, or even older systems like Runequest, don't really have a notion of "powergaming".)
Sure, if you define “gaming the system” as playing in a way that is outside the intended modes of play. I don’t think that’s what most people use it to mean though. It’s not what I was using it to mean. I was using it to mean finding and taking advantage of the optimum strategy. XP is D&D’s reward systems. Players will generally do what ever gets them the most reward for the least effort. So “powergaming,” in a game where you get XP for killing stuff, looks like optimosimh your character to be as good at killing stuff as possible. In a game where you get XP for discovering new points of interest, “power gaming” looks like maxing out Perception and Investigation and maybe Survival, avoiding already beaten trails, and following up on every lead that might indicate an undiscovered location. If you understand your game’s incentives, you can use them to make power gaming work for you.
 

I agree with the inverted commas, which means I don't really agree that any system can be "gamed" by players. Playing a system as it is meant to be played isn't gaming, it's just playing.
But, really, what's the "intent" and what if the unintended way of playing the system turns out to work a lot bettter than the intended?

It seems to me that the notion of players "gaming the system" is a result of years (decades) of groups using Gygax's AD&D resolution mechanics for games that don't have the same play goals as Gygaxian dungeoneering.
'Gaming the system' is a very real thing, whether the system in question is not meant to be a game (the more typical usage of the idiom, really), or is an actual game just not designed to be robust when "played" in that way.
 

pemerton

Legend
XP is D&D’s reward systems.
This depends on edition. It's true for Gygax's AD&D. It may or may not be true in 2nd-ed era, Dragonlance-style play, depending on the conventions that apply at a given table. It's not true for all those 5e tables using "milestone" XP. In my own experience it's not true for 4e, where - especially once the full suite of XP rules from the DMG, DMG2 and Essentials is being used - XP is basically a pacing mechanism, basically a precursor to "milestone" levelling but less dictated by GM opinions as to when a milestone has been reached.

'Gaming the system' is a very real thing, whether the system in question is not meant to be a game (the more typical usage of the idiom, really), or is an actual game just not designed to be robust when "played" in that way.
"Gaming the system" can be a real thing in (say) electoral politics, or filing tax returns.

But what does it look like in chess? Monopoly? Backgammon? Forbidden Island?

Or, to focus on RPGs, what does "gaming the system" look like in Runequest? Dungeon World? Classic Traveller?

A game of Traveller in which all the PCs wear battle armour and fight with man-portable fusion guns is likely to be unsatisfactory for any sort of long term play, I would say, because the mechanics start to break down at that point. But that wouldn't be "gaming the system", because it's not like the participants get any benefit from having the mechanics break down - if they're all there for a fun time, then playing the game at the fun-reducing limits is self-defeating!

Players will generally do what ever gets them the most reward for the least effort. So “powergaming,” in a game where you get XP for killing stuff, looks like optimosimh your character to be as good at killing stuff as possible. In a game where you get XP for discovering new points of interest, “power gaming” looks like maxing out Perception and Investigation and maybe Survival, avoiding already beaten trails, and following up on every lead that might indicate an undiscovered location. If you understand your game’s incentives, you can use them to make power gaming work for you.
Classic D&D awards modest amounts of XP for defeating monsters, and significant amounts for recovering gold. These establish a type of "victory condition". So building a character, and playing, so as to increase the likelihood of defeating monsters and recovering gold, is good play. Gygax, in the concluding section of his PHB (under the heading "Successful Adventures", and coming just before the Appendices), gives advice on this. The character building parts of his advice take the form of choosing the right equipment, including magic items, the right spell load out, and the right mix of PCs (because in classic D&D different PCs bring different class abilities, different spell load outs, and different magic items). The skilled play parts of his advice pertain to setting objectives, mapping, making sensible decisions in relation to wandering monsters, and other aspects of dungeoneering.

It seems strange to me to call all the above "powergaming". Gygax clearly frames it simply as "playing well" - from his PHB, p 109:

If you believe that ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a game worth playing, you will certainly find it doubly so if you play well.​

The notion of "powergaming" seems to me to have two (I think related) origins:

(1) non-D&D players, of systems like RQ or C&S or RM, making fun of Monty Haul-type D&D play, characterised by extensive magic item load outs and ease of victory over opponents that, in the fiction, should be challenging (like balrogs, demon princes and the like) - for reasons to do with both system and play culture you don't find much of this in RQ or RM (you do find it in a system like Rifts, though, and hence players of RQ, RM and the like will also make fun of Rifts play as "powergaming") - this usage was later taken up by WW (and similar) players to mock a wider range of FRPG players, but essentially along the same lines;

(2) D&D players who play in the DL/2nd ed style, rather than classic skilled play, trying to manage the tension between the sort of RPGing they want, and the essentially Gygaxian rules system they are using, and in the process distinguishing themselves from the targets of usage (1).


The first of these uses of powergamer has become, I think, uninteresting. Those particular arguments about RPG culture, whatever their merits or demerits at the time, are done.

The second of these uses continues, however, among D&D players - you can see it on these boards - and I think the reasons are much the same now as they were 30 years ago. The mechanics of the game establish victory conditions, and so playing well means playing with those conditions in mind, but either (i) some of the game's systems break under pressure (and applying that pressure isn't any obvious sort of deviation from or corruption of the game's intended play), and/or (ii) pursuing those victory conditions does not generate the RP experience a significant part of the play community is interested in.

The mismatches and limitations of the 1980s were mostly due, I would say, to a lack of design experience and a conservative inclination not to change the system even when it was not fit for what it was being used for. These days the first of those reasons clearly doesn't apply, but the second appliles more strongly than ever!​
 

This depends on edition. It's true for Gygax's AD&D. It may or may not be true in 2nd-ed era, Dragonlance-style play, depending on the conventions that apply at a given table. It's not true for all those 5e tables using "milestone" XP. In my own experience it's not true for 4e. In traditional AD&D it could be a reward (especially for collecting treasure, but whatever, depending on how the DM gave out xp).
Starting in 3e, when exp was generally given to the party, and divided equally, it became a reward just for showing up.

"Gaming the system" can be a real thing in (say) electoral politics, or filing tax returns.
Or any other system, yes.

But what does it look like in chess? Monopoly? Backgammon?
It probably looks like two peole playing chess, Monopoly or Backgammon, and one of them winning more often than he should.

Or, to focus on RPGs, what does "gaming the system" look like in Runequest? Classic Traveller?
In RuneQuest, going into a fight swinging one weapon until you hit someone, then dropping it and pulling another, than high-tailing it once you'd gotten a check by all your weapons. For just one example that I still remember 30+ years later...

Traveller? Rolling a crap character and tossing him into the Scouts in the hope he'll die and you can try again.

Classic D&D awards modest amounts of XP for defeating monsters, and significant amounts for recovering gold. These establish a type of "victory condition". ...It seems strange to me to call all the above "powergaming".
I could call some of it 'gaming the system,' though, like when his playtesters famously were all using iron spikes because the only difference among weapons was how much they cost, and they were the cheapest.

The notion of "powergaming" seems to me to have two (I think related) origins:
Keep in mind that it doesn't even have an easily pinned-down meaning. I tend to use "power gamer" the way I would "power user" someone who really knows a system & how to get the most out of it, but doesn't actually administer (run) or create systems or take them appart and fix them. Some folks'll tell you that optimization is more specific than powergaming focusing just on maximizing something, others the opposite, that powergaming is just optimizing unsophisticatedly for raw power.

So not even synonymous with "gaming the system," necessarily.

(1) non-D&D players, of systems like RQ or C&S or RM, making fun of Monty Haul-type D&D play, ...- this usage was later taken up by WW (and similar) players to mock a wider range of FRPG players, but essentially along the same lines;
Different from gaming the system - maybe gaming the DM, depending on why he's running Monty Haul.
And, tangent: the tendency of one group of gamers to use a prejorative against a another group, or game or edition, only to have yet another come along and pick it up for use against them, is both common, and an object lesson folks might want to start to learning from at some point...

D&D players who play in the DL/2nd ed style, rather than classic skilled play, trying to manage the tension between the sort of RPGing they want, and the essentially Gygaxian rules system they are using, and in the process distinguishing themselves from the targets of usage (1).
More of the same, really. But I get the 'incoherence' idea in there and don't care for it - the idea that 'incoherence' is really a thing.

The mismatches and limitations of the 1980s were mostly due, I would say, to a lack of design experience and a conservative inclination not to change the system even when it was not fit for what it was being used for. These days the first of those reasons clearly doesn't apply, but the second appliles more strongly than ever!
Not entirely unfair, doesn't seem that relevant, either. Yeah D&D could be fixed up a lot better than it currently is (and has been, and was rejected for it), so it's clearly established that D&Ders not only like playing a system that's highly susceptible to being 'gamed' (in it's own metagame, I suppose you could say) or 'abused' (if 'gaming the system' sounds redundant when the system is meant to be a game), but will not accept one that has too many of the loopholes they like closed.

Maybe that does indicate that the gaming-the-system/system-mastery meta-game /is/ the game on some level?
::shrug::
 
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pemerton

Legend
It probably looks like two peole playing chess, Monopoly or Backgammon, and one of them winning more often than he should.
If you mean "cheating", just come out and say it. And then tell us what cheating looks like in D&D, or RQ, or . . .

Traveller? Rolling a crap character and tossing him into the Scouts in the hope he'll die and you can try again.
Given that the rules expressly suggest this, how can it count as "gaming the system"?

I tend to use "power gamer" the way I would "power user" someone who really knows a system & how to get the most out of it, but doesn't actually administer (run) or create systems or take them appart and fix them. Some folks'll tell you that optimization is more specific than powergaming focusing just on maximizing something, others the opposite, that powergaming is just optimizing unsophisticatedly for raw power.
And why don't we just call this playing well? As we would in chess, cricket, poker, or any other game?
 

If you mean "cheating", just come out and say it. And then tell us what cheating looks like in D&D, or RQ, or . . .
Definitely don't mean cheating, since that's breaking the rules, but the point of cheating, and morality of it are very closely comparable to gaming the system.

Come to think of it, it's the opposite of fudging/illusionism, that way.

Given that the rules expressly suggest this, how can it count as "gaming the system"?
Heh.

What about fighting & swapping weapons just to get a check in RQ?

And why don't we just call this playing well? As we would in chess, cricket, poker, or any other game?
I think that's a tough question, because its ultimately almost a moral rather than an ethical one. If you're all equally skilled and the ways you game the system are known to you all, you're just playing a somewhat different game, or a metagame. If your taking advantage of fellow players who don't know or won't avail themselves of the same tricks, maybe not so much...
 

pemerton

Legend
Definitely don't mean cheating, since that's breaking the rules, but the point of cheating, and morality of it are very closely comparable to gaming the system.

Come to think of it, it's the opposite of fudging/illusionism, that way.

Heh.

What about fighting & swapping weapons just to get a check in RQ?

I think that's a tough question, because its ultimately almost a moral rather than an ethical one. If you're all equally skilled and the ways you game the system are known to you all, you're just playing a somewhat different game, or a metagame. If your taking advantage of fellow players who don't know or won't avail themselves of the same tricks, maybe not so much...
If you're not talking about cheating, then what does it mean for a chess player to "game the system" and thereby "win more often than s/he should"? Do you mean not giving the other player an appropriate handicap? That's on the borderline between rules and courtesy.

In party-based D&D, though, what is it to take advantage of a fellow player? And what are the loopholes, unintended consequences etc that are being exploited? The biggest one I can think of, in classic D&D, is using recovery rules - a night's sleep to regain spells - that are intended to balance around dungeon delving but that make casters superpowered in wilderness scenarios. But that hardly ever gets classified as "gaming the system" - and on these boards, at least, thousands, maybel millions, of words have been devoted to explaining how it's good play that GMs and fighter players have to put up with and work around.

(As far as the RQ example is concerned - good luck to that player! It sounds like uninteresting play that doesn't achieve a whole lot, given that most of the time there's no real advantage to being ace in two weapons rather than just one.)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This depends on edition. It's true for Gygax's AD&D. It may or may not be true in 2nd-ed era, Dragonlance-style play, depending on the conventions that apply at a given table. It's not true for all those 5e tables using "milestone" XP.
If by "milestone XP" you mean "Ignoring XP and telling the players when to level up," then no, XP is not a reward system in those games. Those games just don't have a reward system. They're also not using milestone XP as it's actually described in the DMG.

In my own experience it's not true for 4e, where - especially once the full suite of XP rules from the DMG, DMG2 and Essentials is being used - XP is basically a pacing mechanism, basically a precursor to "milestone" levelling but less dictated by GM opinions as to when a milestone has been reached.
That's true, though 4e is a very different beast. 4e's reward system is magic items.

"Gaming the system" can be a real thing in (say) electoral politics, or filing tax returns.

But what does it look like in chess? Monopoly? Backgammon? Forbidden Island?
Again, we are operating under different definitions of "gaming the system" here. You're using it to mean "breaking the system" or "playing in a way that is outside the designers' intent." I'm using it to mean "finding and exploiting the optimal strategy." So, in Monopoly, gaming the system by your definition would probably look something like sneaking money out of the box when your opponents aren't looking, whereas in my definition it would look like this.

Or, to focus on RPGs, what does "gaming the system" look like in Runequest? Dungeon World? Classic Traveller?
Those are much more complex systems and don't have single predefined victory conditions, which makes it harder to devise a single optimal strategy. However, generally speaking, gaming these systems will look like determining the most efficient way to achieve the victory condition, and then doing that.

A game of Traveller in which all the PCs wear battle armour and fight with man-portable fusion guns is likely to be unsatisfactory for any sort of long term play, I would say, because the mechanics start to break down at that point. But that wouldn't be "gaming the system", because it's not like the participants get any benefit from having the mechanics break down - if they're all there for a fun time, then playing the game at the fun-reducing limits is self-defeating!
I'm not familiar with Traveller, is combat the primary mode of play? Is it how you advance your character?

Generally speaking, RPGs tend to have a heavy focus on character advancement, either through unlocking new abilities with levels/XP/etc., obtaining loot, or a combination of both. I would say that the "victory condition" for most such RPGs, in as much as there can be a single defined victory condition in such games, is such advancement. That's how you know you're "winning" at D&D: When you're winning, your character gets stronger. Ergo, when your character gets stronger, you know you're winning. The optimal strategy, then, is whatever makes it easiest to get XP and/or loot fastest. This makes the means of XP distribution a very powerful tool in the DM's toolbox, allowing them to reward the modes of play they want to encourage. If you want a game where players attempt diplomacy first and resort to violence only when all attempts at nonviolent resolution have failed, simply give more XP for resolving conflicts without engaging in combat than you give for monsters slain, captured, or routed.

Classic D&D awards modest amounts of XP for defeating monsters, and significant amounts for recovering gold. These establish a type of "victory condition". So building a character, and playing, so as to increase the likelihood of defeating monsters and recovering gold, is good play. Gygax, in the concluding section of his PHB (under the heading "Successful Adventures", and coming just before the Appendices), gives advice on this. The character building parts of his advice take the form of choosing the right equipment, including magic items, the right spell load out, and the right mix of PCs (because in classic D&D different PCs bring different class abilities, different spell load outs, and different magic items). The skilled play parts of his advice pertain to setting objectives, mapping, making sensible decisions in relation to wandering monsters, and other aspects of dungeoneering.

It seems strange to me to call all the above "powergaming". Gygax clearly frames it simply as "playing well" - from his PHB, p 109:

If you believe that ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a game worth playing, you will certainly find it doubly so if you play well.​
Why is it strange to you to call that "power gaming?" because it was in accordance with Gygax's intended mode of play? If play has to go against design intent for it to be considered "power gaming," then the term is only useful for shaming modes of play you don't like. I think it's more useful to define "power gaming" as... well... gaming for power. As doing everything you can to play as efficiently as possible. And I think it speaks to the strength of Gygax's design that power gaming lined up with his intended modes of play. It shows that he had a good understanding of player psychology and the power of incentives.

The notion of "powergaming" seems to me to have two (I think related) origins:

(1) non-D&D players, of systems like RQ or C&S or RM, making fun of Monty Haul-type D&D play, characterised by extensive magic item load outs and ease of victory over opponents that, in the fiction, should be challenging (like balrogs, demon princes and the like) - for reasons to do with both system and play culture you don't find much of this in RQ or RM (you do find it in a system like Rifts, though, and hence players of RQ, RM and the like will also make fun of Rifts play as "powergaming") - this usage was later taken up by WW (and similar) players to mock a wider range of FRPG players, but essentially along the same lines;

(2) D&D players who play in the DL/2nd ed style, rather than classic skilled play, trying to manage the tension between the sort of RPGing they want, and the essentially Gygaxian rules system they are using, and in the process distinguishing themselves from the targets of usage (1).


The first of these uses of powergamer has become, I think, uninteresting. Those particular arguments about RPG culture, whatever their merits or demerits at the time, are done.

The second of these uses continues, however, among D&D players - you can see it on these boards - and I think the reasons are much the same now as they were 30 years ago. The mechanics of the game establish victory conditions, and so playing well means playing with those conditions in mind, but either (i) some of the game's systems break under pressure (and applying that pressure isn't any obvious sort of deviation from or corruption of the game's intended play), and/or (ii) pursuing those victory conditions does not generate the RP experience a significant part of the play community is interested in.

The mismatches and limitations of the 1980s were mostly due, I would say, to a lack of design experience and a conservative inclination not to change the system even when it was not fit for what it was being used for. These days the first of those reasons clearly doesn't apply, but the second appliles more strongly than ever!​

It's clear that we're speaking very different languages here. This has next to nothing to do with the point I'm trying to make.​
 

If you're not talking about cheating, then what does it mean for a chess player to "game the system" and thereby "win more often than s/he should"? Do you mean not giving the other player an appropriate handicap?
Chess is a pretty structured game, in itself, you'd more likely game the rules of the tournament to eff with your opponent.
In party-based D&D, though, what is it to take advantage of a fellow player?
Dominating play, for a broad, obvious instance.
And what are the loopholes, unintended consequences etc that are being exploited? The biggest one I can think of, in classic D&D, is using recovery rules
The 5MWD, sure, prettymuch just choosing a Tier 1 class, its not like D&D makes it hard.

But that hardly ever gets classified as "gaming the system" - and on these boards, at least, thousands, maybel millions, of words have been devoted to explaining how it's good play that GMs and fighter players have to put up with and work around.
Part of gaming a system is keeping it susceptible to the strategies you're using. There are innumerable exampkes from politics, that I won't get into, because politics.

As far as the RQ example is concerned - good luck to that player! It sounds like uninteresting play
Gaming the system often involves making unintuitive choices, yes.
 

. 4e's reward system is magic items.
4es one of those games where the reward for good play is continuing to play. Magic items are on a wealth/level string with make/buy, just like 3e, so just a level-up build resource.

I'm not familiar with Traveller, is combat the primary mode of play? Is it how you advance your character?
.
There was no advancement in Traveller after chargen, you just got older and lost stats until you died.

So you'd have to pick something you cared about to advance, like building up your free trader business or discovering new worlds with your scout ship.

(Talk about 'realism,' it was almost as depressing as RL!)
 
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pemerton

Legend
4e's reward system is magic items.
I agree with [MENTION=996]Tony Vargas[/MENTION] in having a different view of this. In 4e, you get XP for playing and (via the parcel system) get treasure for earning XP, so magic items aren't a reward either.

The "rewards" in 4e (as in, stuff that isn't a guaranteed result of playing the game, and which is obtained, or not, based on player decisions) are either in the fiction ("story rewards"), or else the thrill of victory in some particular encounter or other circumstance.

I'm not familiar with Traveller, is combat the primary mode of play? Is it how you advance your character?

Generally speaking, RPGs tend to have a heavy focus on character advancement, either through unlocking new abilities with levels/XP/etc., obtaining loot, or a combination of both. I would say that the "victory condition" for most such RPGs, in as much as there can be a single defined victory condition in such games, is such advancement. That's how you know you're "winning" at D&D
Classic Traveller doesn't have very much PC advancement in the D&D sense (which can be an issue for some players, including mine!). "Advancement" is building up your position in the fiction (more contacts, more NPCs in your employ, better starships, etc).

At the moment, as well as Traveller and 4e, I'm GMing Cortex+ Heroic and Burning Wheel games. In the former, PC progression is completely separate from in-fiction success: XPs (which can be spent on PC build elements) are earned by hitting "milestones" - particular events or actions - that are distinct for each PC (eg the berserker in our game earns 3 XP each time one of his allies rebukes him for his use of violence). There's no particular overlap between milestone triggers and the PCs actually achieving their campaign goals; and generally a Cortex+ Heroic PC doesn't need to succeed at anything to earn XP (as per the example I just gave). In our campaign, the PCs are trying to find out the mystery of the northern lights, but so far have made only modest progress to that end despite earning plenty of XP.

Advancement in BW is a bit like RQ, but mostly doesn't require success on a check. And again, it's quite possible to be improving your PC yet "losing" in the sense of suffering story/campaign defeats.

I would say that classic/3E D&D is only one way to think about "rewards", and PC advancement, within a RPG.

When you're winning, your character gets stronger. Ergo, when your character gets stronger, you know you're winning. The optimal strategy, then, is whatever makes it easiest to get XP and/or loot fastest. This makes the means of XP distribution a very powerful tool in the DM's toolbox, allowing them to reward the modes of play they want to encourage. If you want a game where players attempt diplomacy first and resort to violence only when all attempts at nonviolent resolution have failed, simply give more XP for resolving conflicts without engaging in combat than you give for monsters slain, captured, or routed.
I prefer a different approach. I prefer for the mechanics to open up prospects of success in interesting ways, and then for the player/PC motivation to drive the choice of ways.

The interesting ways might be different in different systems - eg Traveller makes engaging with bureaucracy an important mode of success, but that isn't a bit part of most FRPGs.

Again, we are operating under different definitions of "gaming the system" here. You're using it to mean "breaking the system" or "playing in a way that is outside the designers' intent." I'm using it to mean "finding and exploiting the optimal strategy."

<snip>

Why is it strange to you to call that "power gaming?" because it was in accordance with Gygax's intended mode of play? If play has to go against design intent for it to be considered "power gaming," then the term is only useful for shaming modes of play you don't like.

<snip>

It's clear that we're speaking very different languages here. This has next to nothing to do with the point I'm trying to make.
I think that "power gaming" is a term that is generally used to describe (often, not always, pejoratively) an approach to play that the user of the term typically (not always) doesn't him-/herself adopt. I realise this is not your usage, but I personally just don't think it's worthwhile to try and rehabilitate the term.

Mostly this is because I personally don't find it a very useful term for analysis (but it's use can be interesting anthropological data, if one is trying to understand where another poster is coming from). I'm happy to distinguish between good and ordinary players. For instance, I'm not a good player of classic D&D (partly because I'm careless and partly because I'm impatient and probably for other reasons too that I'm not so good at diagnosing). Other people I know, and posters whose posts I read, are good at it - but I don't find it helpful to gloss their skill as "power gaming". It seems more informative just to say that they're good at classic D&D play.

As you noted, even the notion of "good" play can tend to dissolve under analysis for some RPGs: one of the players in my group has the mechanically strongest build in our 4e game; and is the best at advancing his PC in our BW play; but often doesn't have the biggest influence on the way the story unfolds. For instance, he failed to rescue his brother, in part because he made a series of choices aimed at giving him more checks to advance his PC even though they would make saving his brother harder.

We can then talk about players who are good at using mechanics (especially intricate ones, like 4e or BW), or who are good at playing the fiction and driving the story (not really a consideration in Gygaxian play, but significant in most of my games), or . . .
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I am thinking somehow "gaming the system" is a bit like playing the game RAW instead of RAI. So it doesnt happen in games like chess as there is no nebulous difference.

In the Runequest weapon caddy trick where you gain as much possible skill by behavior that is highly "unrealistic" and extreme - but the system was designed to encourage a much more subtle thing but never had mechanic limits engaged to prevent "wierdness"
 

I think that "power gaming" is a term that is generally used to describe (often, not always, pejoratively) an approach to play that the user of the term typically (not always) doesn't him-/herself adopt. I realise this is not your usage, but I personally just don't think it's worthwhile to try and rehabilitate the term.
My usage is also one I blythely self-identify as. Yeah, I know some systems pretty well and try to get the most out of them - that's 'powergaming' in my book.

Mostly this is because I personally don't find it a very useful term for analysis (but it's use can be interesting anthropological data, if one is trying to understand where another poster is coming from).
The terminology for discussing RPGs on the internet is mostly pretty useless, yes, and you're right that what use there is comes mainly in understanding the person using it, more than what they're trying to say with it.

I am thinking somehow "gaming the system" is a bit like playing the game RAW instead of RAI. So it doesnt happen in games like chess as there is no nebulous difference.
"Playing the Game in 'bad faith,' while adhering to the letter of the rules" might not be an entirely fair way to put it, but it's close.

(And, again, I'm liking the idea of contrasting that with fudging/illusionism/being-a-good-DM, as "playing the game in good faith, while breaking the rules into itty bitty pieces, and burrying them alive.")
;)

In the Runequest weapon caddy trick where you gain as much possible skill by behavior that is highly "unrealistic" and extreme - but the system was designed to encourage a much more subtle thing but never had mechanic limits engaged to prevent "wierdness"
That, and this:
As you noted, even the notion of "good" play can tend to dissolve under analysis for some RPGs: one of the players in my group has the mechanically strongest build in our 4e game; and is the best at advancing his PC in our BW play; but often doesn't have the biggest influence on the way the story unfolds. For instance, he failed to rescue his brother, in part because he made a series of choices aimed at giving him more checks to advance his PC even though they would make saving his brother harder.
...are both examples of 'gaming the system,' even if they're not necessarily examples of getting a good result for doing so. ;)
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Re: xp for g.p. and other delights:

Even though I've been DMing 1e (or close) for ages I've never given xp for g.p. Maybe I should, but even if I did it'd never represent all the xp, just a smallish portion.

To the OP I suggest mixing it up. Give some xp for treasure (including stolen, to those who did the stealing!), give some xp for combat, give some xp for intentionally avoiding combat, give some xp for good diplomacy, give some xp for mission completion, etc. In short, make it so that there isn't just one way to get xp, thus no matter what your players end up focusing on their PCs will be able to accrue xp and levels and so on.

Re: gaming the system:

I define gaming the system as doing things that, while not explicitly forbidden by the RAW, are clearly unsportsmanlike or intended to give an undeserved advantage. In chess, this would include intentional subtle fidgeting or coughing or similar, just enough to disrupt your opponent's concentration during his turn. I was subjected to a lot of this back when I played in M:tG tournaments - many players had little tricks which, while not against the rules, were designed to throw off the opponent's thought process and add to the stress.

In D&D I see most forms of metagaming in this same light - while it's not against the RAW, it is against the spirit of the game.

Lan-"I used to play a lot of chess but I never gained any levels at it - guess I didn't haul back enough treasure from the games"-efan
 

Aldarc

Legend
But, really, what's the "intent"
I would wager that the intent represents the sort of play that the game rules were designed to support and engender. Often nowadays, the writers will state their intent in the game book. Savage Worlds, for example, uses the slogan "Fast! Furious! Fun!" to describe its intended playstyle that harkens to its desire to simulate pulp action adventures through its gameplay. Ideally, the rules as written and the rules as intended overlap as much as possible, but that is not always the case. I would say that this would suggest bad game design, though I would not equate "bad game design" here with "designing a bad game." Just that the designer failed to appropriately design a game that harmonized well with their design goals.

and what if the unintended way of playing the system turns out to work a lot bettter than the intended?
Then new meta-strategies form. But if the unintended way proves more effective than the intended way, then that may be a symptom of game design incoherence. There may even be a sort of game design cognitive dissonance between what the designer claims was desired and what their rules actually seem to suggest is more desirable.

Here I am reminded of Monte Cook's Numenera. Since it was first released, a number of players voiced dissatisfaction with the game (among other things) because its mechanics and character customization options seemed more focused on D&D-style combat encounters than on supporting a playstyle more congruent with the game's premise: exploring and creating a future for humanity living in the shadow of an Arthur C. Clarke's 3rd Law alien world. The game was intended to focus more on exploration and discovery, and to that end, most XP came from discovering and recovering numenera devices. But one problem was that since most creatures carried numenera devices, combat became a more efficient means to "discover" numenera as part of the loot. Add onto this, most adventures seemed fairly focused on combat encounters as well. So when character options and encounter design seemed more focused combat, the game seemed to fallback on old d20 playstyle modes rather than engender the desired exploration and discovery playstyle that was stated. The game writers* said one thing while the rules seemed to say another. I think that one plausible reason for this design gap was simply the sheer familiarity and psychological design-comfort that Monte Cook had with D&D. (And I think we see similar issues even with other non-D&D systems, such as Green Ronin's Fantasy Age, where the writers seem to fallback into a D&D design mindset that handicaps the potential design space of the system.)

* Namely Monte Cook here at this point. Incidentally, most of MCG is now a pretty noteworthy assortment of who's who of the 3e era writers and staff: Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell, Sean Reynolds, and Charles Ryan.

Addressing this design gap was one of the explicit goals for the revised Numenera 2. When Numenera was launched, it had the conventional fantasy-adventure "classes/types": the warrior (Glaive), mage (Nano), and rogue (Jack). But now with Numenera 2, they added a socialite leader/face (Arkus), a scavenging explorer (Delve), and an inventor (Wright) along with rules about building up communities with the discovered numenera devices. I have not played out the new rules yet, so it remains to be seen whether they succeeded in fixing the design gap.
 

I would wager that the intent represents the sort of play that the game rules were designed to support and engender.
And, if the designer isn't infallible, the mechanics he comes up with may not support & engender the intended sort of play. Pemerton was saying that you can't game a system, because taking full advantage of all it's little imbalances & loopholes and such would just be playing it as the designer intended.

Whatever the designer intended to be the correct/popper/one-true-way/whatever, there'll be some optimal strategies you can use to 'game' it and what they engender may deviate quite a bit from that intent.

Often nowadays, the writers will state their intent in the game book.
Gutsy, because it'll let fans (who can be super-judgmental) judge how badly the failed to get there. ;)

I would not equate "bad game design" here with "designing a bad game."
An amusing distinction, but a valid one. A good game designer can do good job designing a bad game, if that's what the design goals require.

Then new meta-strategies form. But if the unintended way proves more effective than the intended way, then that may be a symptom of game design incoherence. There may even be a sort of game design cognitive dissonance between what the designer claims was desired and what their rules actually seem to suggest is more desirable.
The only question is one of degree, really, some games will fall much further from their design aims than others, they still might be great games (happy accidents) or terrible ones (botched), as might those who are closer to being on-target.

Here I am reminded of Monte Cook's Numenera. Since it was first released, a number of players voiced dissatisfaction with the game (among other things) because its mechanics and character customization options seemed more focused on D&D-style combat encounters than on supporting a playstyle more congruent with the game's premise: exploring and creating a future for humanity living in the shadow of an Arthur C. Clarke's 3rd Law alien world....The game writers* said one thing while the rules seemed to say another. I think that one plausible reason for this design gap was simply the sheer familiarity and psychological design-comfort that Monte Cook had with D&D.
That last sentence sounds decidedly plausible, yes. D&D has been that big/pervasive an influence, for good or ill.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
I'm kind of bothered by gold as the source of XP, because it too can distort the game! It encourages PCs stealing and hiding treasure from each other - if you palm that golf-ball-sized diamond and don't share it, you might have just gone up 2 levels...A group of hero that repels a week long zombie siege in an abandoned tower might gain nothing, while others who rob a fat merchant might bet 500 XP for a lazy heist. This isn't right.

Agreed that this can lead to problems. I was in a TBT game where the DM tried to revive gold = XP, but it blew up because of this kind of stuff. People pocketing gems etc and keeping them for themselves, and my PC was super Cha and was able to parley that into special deals with nobles etc to gain gp on the side which the DM awarded for as well. So I outpaced everyone because of my stats and RP.

That’s one of the main reasons I’ve abandoned XP and moved to milestone (coupled with PC participation). 1, it’s easier, I don’t have to calculate or track anything but who shows up to a session. 2, it allows me to run different scenarios (dungeon crawl with loot, zombie siege, etc) and not worry about how I’m reward XP for that section. 3, it lets me stretch the game time at levels for the PCs beyond X number of encounters or scenarios, and let’s my players explore their characters at each level for a while before they gain new powers/abilities.

Just because it’s milestone though, if a PC misses sessions, they aren’t going to be the same level as everyone else, hence the participation part.
 

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