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« Reply #15 on: February 14, 2012, 10:09:08 PM »

I am of two minds about this, like I am about most things. As always, I think I need to do more experimentation with different methods before I know whether I have an overall general preference or not, and if so, what that preference is.

Out of Character

I think we have to admit at the start that there is seldom such a thing as truly even advancement.

Even if players are given exactly the same pool of basic resources to work with, in most systems, some of them are (by accident or on purpose) going to build characters that are generally more powerful/useful/better than average, and some players are (by accident or on purpose) going to build characters that are less so.

Even if that's somehow not possible or coincidentally not happening, players are going to build different characters, and those differences mean that some characters are going to end up more or less powerful in the context of a particular game scenario and its events. If we've got one political character and one combat character that we somehow agree are exactly equal in power (by what rubric, though, really?), and the game turns out to have been 55% political and 45% combat, somebody's got a "more powerful" character in context.

I think it's best to think about equality in terms of an equal capacity to make interesting and engaging choices, and it's instructive to consider those choices on two fronts. Players make one set of choices when they build a character, and they use that character to make a second set of choices during the course of play. Typically each set of choices informs the other.

It is worth considering whether your method of handing out advancement means that some players have a reduced capacity to make interesting choices.

There are ways to do this badly, and there are ways to do this less-badly. I think of things in terms of grading-- lesson plans, rubrics, grading point distributions-- and that perspective shows in my gaming. If you are going to give out variable amounts of "experience points" (or whatever, based on your system), you had better be goddamned certain that you are clear and consistent with your players. (Ideally, the points should also mean something, but that's kind of another issue.)

Here's one example.

Let's say I'm designing a post-apocalyptic world where the fallout of a nuclear meltdown has transformed the land into a barren wasteland, and players are all mutated to various degrees by the radioactivity, gaining various unique mutant superpowers. Let's further say that I split things up, so that there are two kinds of experience points for advancement: "regular" XP, which improves all your mundane abilities (education, fighting, computer hacking, whatever people do in this setting), and "radioactive" XP, which improves mutant superpowers only. I declare that you get five regular XP per game session, plus consistent extra for overcoming special obstacles, but everybody always has the same total of regular XP. I also make it known that characters get radioactive XP based on doing mutanty stuff. Surviving extreme radioactive wastes might be worth 1 RXP, defeating a powerful mutant rival might be worth 1 RXP, discovering lost nuclear technology thought to have been eradicated in the Great Boom might be worth 2 RXP. Players don't have the same RXP amounts, if they're doing different things.

I think this is probably an okay way to do things, because it incentivizes certain behaviors in order to reinforce a particular theme of the game that I want to showcase. A particular type of advancement is a direct result of in-game events (i.e., it's clear, both in the mechanics and in the fiction, that screwing around with radiation gives you more exaggerated mutant abilities). As long as I make clear which actions result in which rewards, players can make informed choices about which risks they want to pursue, and there's a clear cause/effect relationship driving advancement.

Oh hey, another example.

Take any game you like, set up a fixed rate of XP accumulation (say, 500 XP per game session), and give players optional homework which can earn more (say, 100 extra XP per game session, if you write an in-character journal entry or bit of poetry/art from your character's point of view).

This, I like less well, because although it still gives you a clear correlation between behavior and advancement (players know what they have to do to gain the extra 100 XP), there's no longer an in-fiction reason why some characters are stronger than others. If Rose's player does her homework every week and Dave's player never does, then in the fiction, Rose is going to be "stronger" than Dave, for no real reason.

Oh hey, another example.

The arbitrary XP award. You know the one. It's the end of the game session: "Alice, take 50 XP for good roleplaying. Bob, take 40. Charlie, you did great this week, take, uh, 75. Diane, you get 20."

I wouldn't do this, because I think the reasoning behind it is totally murky. You can claim that the advancement is proportional to the amount of "good roleplaying" that's being done, but the concept of "good roleplaying" is really subjective and can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Besides that, I think it's hard to argue that the specific numbers chosen are anything but arbitrarily chosen. When one player gets 30 XP for that one inspirational speech and another gets 40 XP for that scene with the duchess, how is that to be interpreted? Is the first player's performance 75% as good as the second player's? Are speeches inherently inferior to interactions with nobility? Who gives these things their relative weighted values, and how do players understand what those values are? I worry that at some level you are introducing an element of "we've got to take whatever the GM hands out and be happy with, because there's no rhyme or reason to it, and no arguing with the result."

I basically look at this sort of thing like a "participation grade" on a class syllabus. You remember, those things that were typically the vaguest and least-structured slices of the pie chart representing your grade? If the kid next to me gets 100% for his participation grade and I get a 70% (and I haven't been sleeping in class or flipping desks), I'm going to want to know why, and I'm going to be pissed at the teacher.
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« Reply #16 on: February 14, 2012, 11:02:43 PM »

On the "RP reward as fiat" this is why I've got the above mentioned quest system. There's a concrete thing I can point to and say "when this happens, you move forward." Also the players get to pick their quests.

On mechanical disparity, there are systems with variable tolerance for a multi-level party. The one I'm working on has more or less explicit safety valves so that player skill can keep characters relevant regardless. Preview info on 5e says they're hoping for a flatter level curve, which would be useful here. And again my system closes gaps over time assuming the party earns xp at roughly similar rates.
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« Reply #17 on: February 14, 2012, 11:30:45 PM »

Brilliant examples, Crayon.  I like the first example (radioactive wasteland) not only because it's very consistent and makes sense in-universe but because it's more about cause and effect than it is about reward and punishment, action and consequence rather than player-manipulation or encouraging certain behaviours (which strikes me as rather Pavlovian...).  Want to level up your mutant abilities?  Go mess with radioactive weirdness.  Presumably the amount of xp awarded would be determined by the risks involved rather than on some kind of abstract/subjective/murky evaluation of the "quality" of a player's interaction.  There's a very clear, direct, essentially inarguable, causal relationship between a character's actions and their reward.

Sparkletwist, I'm curious about something.  Asura, as a system, frequently alludes to the possibility of social combat, vs. physical combat.  Where do you stand on xp for social interactions vs xp for combat, given this feature of Asura?  Do you feel that mechanizing social interaction alleviates potential issues with xp and roleplaying (as opposed to rollplaying)?
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« Reply #18 on: February 14, 2012, 11:30:59 PM »

Steerpike

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But characterizing use of a positive reinforcer for pro-roleplay behavior as negative feedback or even a negative social experience is I think emphasizing the trees for the forest.
I can see some legitimacy to this.  I still feel that rewarding some over others will inevitably make those who got a smaller reward feel at best somewhat deficient ("that wasn't my best session, I must do better next time") and at worst cheated.  I can totally see giving xp for something like a skill challenge (scaling a cliff, disarming a trap) but as with other encounters (fights, etc) I would usually add that xp up at the end and divide it amongst the group.  I don't consider skill challenges of this sort to be "roleplaying" in the social sense of the word, however, i.e. I could consider them closer to combat than conversation.

My bigger or more metaphysical point is less about the positive/negative aspect as it is about the "point" of roleplaying.  Giving a mechanical reward for roleplaying seems to me to turn the experience on its head: the "point" of roleplaying becomes about accumulating xp, not about the roleplaying experience itself.  And once the GM's subjective judgment comes into play to decide who roleplayed better than the others, you open the door for disagreement, resentment, etc.

No more than any other arbitration from the GM perspective, Steerpike.  The GM's subjectivity is part of the whole experience, every interaction with every character; looking at the RP judgement as different from any other point that can be looked at as fair or unfair is picking and choosing.  Subjectivity and GM judgement is part of the game.  I have no issue being asked and have changed my mind on a few occasions, honestly.   My PCs work mainly as a team and rarely in my whole history have I gotten anything from the RP experience than people getting kudos at the end from other players.  
I will also say that I find it interesting that you are willing to reward the parts of the game that are sort of side-effects of the game combat, skills) but won;t reward what the a 'Roleplaying Game" is actually about.


 

Steerpike

Lord Vreeg

Mechanically rewarding the behavior you want and that makes the game more fun as a tandem is...more powerful than the latter by itself.
This is where I think we disagree philosophically speaking.  You're suggesting that part of the GM's job is to "reward behaviour you want" (and, consequently, and inevitably discourage behaviour you don't), which suggests that as GM you have a bigger say in how the game should be played, what proper or good player-character behaviour is.  This is where I differ as a GM.

I'm sure that as an uber-experienced GM playing with people you've known for years, you handle these situations with finesse, subtlety, and nuance, and avert the potential hazards.  As sparkle noted, I don't the idea that you're not having fun properly is absurd: clearly it works for you, and that's awesome

well, first off, that;s not correct, though flattering.  The SIG has been getting differing RP rewards forever, and I don't know all of them all that well, though we are getting closer because of the game.  Session 110, and still no one has bitched even once.  And many of us our very experienced as GMs and have creating many large, sprawling game-worlds that reflect this.
I am suggesting that improving the quality of the roleplaying experience by incentivizing is the same as keeping scores and stats in sports, bonuses in sales contests, grades in school, bonuses for good driving in insurance or good health in health insurance, potty-training, incentivizing team building in management, tipping a server, override bonuses in regional or district sales contracts, scores in video games, etc.  This is done in all of these and countless other areas...because it works.
I am a big proponent of servant management, but I've read enough books on it to know that the biggest pitfall is not benchmarking beforehand.  I do this everyday in my real life job, and I use the same philosphies from the countless books and seminars I've attended and given ( I am also paid to go on the road and teach management and motivation).  Of course the GM has a larger say of how their game is to be played.  There is no game without the players and without the GM, and that is why one must look at it as servant leadership.
Or, to translate...If the servant-manager does not benchmark what kind of a game and what proper player behavior is, the game will suffer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership
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« Reply #19 on: February 15, 2012, 03:20:18 AM »

Lord Vreeg

I will also say that I find it interesting that you are willing to reward the parts of the game that are sort of side-effects of the game combat, skills) but won;t reward what the a 'Roleplaying Game" is actually about.
I do give story/non-combat rewards - one might call them roleplaying or social rewards in a sense - but I don't give them to individual characters based on how I graded their roleplaying that session, just as I don't give characters xp for individual kills but divide xp amongst the group.  My earlier statement was perhaps misleading: I didn't mean that I didn't give any non-combat awards, just that I didn't see xp as the "point," the desired result, of socializing in-game, of roleplaying.

Maybe I'm a sort of "socialist GM" when it comes to xp.

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I am suggesting that improving the quality of the roleplaying experience by incentivizing is the same as keeping scores and stats in sports...
I think this is the crux of what I object to: the idea that the xp is the incentive, the cash, that mechanical character advancement is the goal, and roleplaying is the chore one does to obtain it.

The servant leadership thing is interesting, and I do see some commonalities between the idea of serving your players and managing from a servant position, though I'm not sure I fully agree with the manager/GM analogy or the economic analogy more generally.  I feel like my players don't need managing.  I don't think that they play in my games to get ahead or compete with one another (any of my players, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here!).  I feel that if that was their aim they'd be playing Diablo or something.
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« Reply #20 on: February 15, 2012, 09:07:29 AM »

Steerpike, obviously what you are doing is working.  Socialist GM sounds fine, and all the original D&D games were done with group rewards.  It certainly works well for cohesion and I agree with you that certain player types and GM types and even entire gaming types are better off (in terms of the Rule of Fun) that way.  It works for me for a few reasons, but one is that my games are very deadly and so the players had best be wprking in the same direction or else.

As to the second part, I think your socialist GM side is creating  a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid, in that you are saying there can be only one motivating factor/one goal/one incentive (the incentive, the cash, the goal, etc), when in fact the Roleplay experience is, as stated a number of times, one form of EXP and actually the smallest one.  It's a spice you are mistaking for the meal, a nudge you are characterizing as a bludgeon.
There are many rewarding features to gaming.  There is some pride of achievement, and there is certainly the social enjoyment of working in a team, of solving problems, of immersion, of finding a place in the game world, of thinking out of the box, or doing something cool.  Some of the reinforcers are longer term, some are very short term.  I have seen countless players that take pride in this character or that character. 
 
I try to set up a game situation that creates tension and creates a storyline by the players action.  I used the term, "literary quality game" for years, still do in some circles.  As such, much od the motivators are survival and creating the story; last night in SIG, the players did not roll one die.  Not one.  They did roleplay, however, and I like to reward that as well as compared to games that only give out exp for just killing gnolls.
And honestly, for whatever reason, and it might be just your earlier comments about playing so long, etc, but the only complaint I have gotten from my live groups in the past 5 years were when I started to minimize the roleplay rewards.  That s literally the ONLY major complaint I got from my PCs in my memory banks.
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Old, evil, twisted, damaged, and afflicted.  Orbis non sufficit.Thread Murderer Extraordinaire, and supposedly pragmatic...\"That is my interpretation. That the same rules designed to reduce the role of the GM and to empower the player also destroyed the autonomy to create a consistent setting. And more importantly, these rules reduce the Roleplaying component of what is supposed to be a \'Fantasy Roleplaying game\' to something else\"-Vreeg

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« Reply #21 on: February 15, 2012, 09:23:44 AM »

I would just like to say that from having played in both games, CE and SIG, that one of the major differences is the system used. Iron Heroes vs GS, and this probably affects how you you would dole out XP.

In GS you need a steady flow of bits of XP to add to skills so you can hit level breaks. There's no real "character advancement" aside from this, and in some sessions you might not use any skills (or only a few). So without this extra XP you'd almost never ever level up skills.

In Iron Heroes you only get anything when you hit that big break of "leveling up" so there's no real need to discretize XP rewards all over the place. A lump sum at milestone works out the same.
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« Reply #22 on: February 15, 2012, 11:38:55 AM »

Vreeg, in similar sessions I too would have awarded experience, though divided equally amongst the players.

Llum makes an excellent good point and reminds me of the importance of crunch.  From the limited way I understand GS, all experience is individual; it's like everyone is their own party, so when you swing your sword or cast a spell, you gain experience in that relevant skill, and you level up that skill in small increments.  I can see why such an approach would help to mitigate issues of xp disparity for roleplaying rewards, since everyone's xp is hyper-individualized already.

EDIT: I'm still very uncomfortable with the idea of competing for the GM's favour or the GM rewarding behaviours they like, but I can see how individualized rewards make more sense than group rewards in Guildschool, so if one does have roleplay rewards it would be odd not to individualize them in that system.
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« Reply #23 on: February 15, 2012, 02:06:33 PM »

LordVreeg

It means I reward players that play their role more and try to use the abilities of their characters in context of the game world.
I pretty much agree with Steerpike and Luminous Crayon. I particularly liked LC's example about "class participation" and the way it often seems arbitrary and subjective. To me, things like "playing your role more" don't seem like the kind of thing that would be easy to determine using number-crunching game mechanics. You can't plug it into a formula because there's really nothing to plug in. It is instead based on the overall game experience. So, it is extremely subjective as well. It doesn't necessarily mean you're doing anything "wrong" or "bad" or that players will feel slighted, mind you, but it does really seem like the number is arbitrarily rather than mathematically determined. Like I said, GM fiat.

LordVreeg

Since there are no 'Above Problems" that become evident, that whole statement cancels itself out.
What? The mathematical fact is that in any game that allows any meaningful amount of character advancement, situations that are enough of a challenge for a high level character will be immensely difficult if not impossible to a lower level character. As such, putting a party in such a situation will then make a power disparity very clear (at least without some numeric fudging on the GM's part) because lower leveled characters struggle and often fail to contribute in any useful way, and in fact may instead be a drain on the party's resources to keep them alive. The amount and the ways this phenomenon shows up can vary by system, of course, but it will always exist-- because without this solid sense of progression from "things I can't do" to "things I can do with a lot of difficulty" to "things I can do easily" there is no meaningful character advancement.

I'm not implying everyone needs to advance at precisely the same rate. However, you said that you "love having players advance at differing rates." You wanted to create "healthy competition." This means that I would expect a fairly wide disparity of power within the party to arise fairly often-- if I'm wrong, please explain how and why. Otherwise, it seems like you would always run into this problem, because it's caused by simple mathematical reality. Since you're claiming there are in fact no problems, I'm curious how you've avoided them.
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« Reply #24 on: February 15, 2012, 02:10:16 PM »

Sorry for the double post, I forgot to answer some questions.

Steerpike

Sparkletwist, I'm curious about something.  Asura, as a system, frequently alludes to the possibility of social combat, vs. physical combat.  Where do you stand on xp for social interactions vs xp for combat, given this feature of Asura?  Do you feel that mechanizing social interaction alleviates potential issues with xp and roleplaying (as opposed to role-playing)?
This is a good question, and one that I can't totally answer because I haven't really worked out how character creation and advancement works in Asura. However, generally speaking, I think giving an opportunity for advancement-- whether that's experience points, consideration in a GM fiat based advancement system, or whatever-- should be given for overcoming challenges, whether they're combat, social, or whatever else. Given that combat with a sword and a war of words can be adjudicated very similarly in Asura, I'd suspect the character advancement rewards could be parceled out similarly as well.

As an aside, I quite like beejazz's system of handing out experience for completing quests/goals/whatever, and I will probably shamelessly steal adapt some variation on this mechanic when I do try to come up with a system of advancement.

Steerpike

I don't think that they play in my games to get ahead or compete with one another (any of my players, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here!).
No competition needed. It's obvious that Sthena is just better than everyone at everything ever. laugh
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« Reply #25 on: February 15, 2012, 04:15:17 PM »

ST

LordVreeg

It means I reward players that play their role more and try to use the abilities of their characters in context of the game world.
I pretty much agree with Steerpike and Luminous Crayon. I particularly liked LC's example about "class participation" and the way it often seems arbitrary and subjective. To me, things like "playing your role more" don't seem like the kind of thing that would be easy to determine using number-crunching game mechanics. You can't plug it into a formula because there's really nothing to plug in. It is instead based on the overall game experience. So, it is extremely subjective as well. It doesn't necessarily mean you're doing anything "wrong" or "bad" or that players will feel slighted, mind you, but it does really seem like the number is arbitrarily rather than mathematically determined. Like I said, GM fiat.

I use this system adjudicating RP experience.  And remember, it is merely the least amount experience gotten, so it is the spice on the food, not the meal.  But I guess Sparkle would tell me that too much salt does spoil a meal, still.  Here are the benchmarks for getting RP exp.
+25 for showing up.  This amount can be higher if we are short of people, but it is always uniform among those who show up for a session.
+1 for an IC conversation, +5 for in-game logic deduction/pronouncement/action, +10 for in-game character development comments/events/clever skill use (making new connections, deducing a plot piece, etc).  I keep hashmarks with a list of the PCs names.   I think a little over 200 was the biggest RP haul in SIG, normally 70-120.
If anyone finds these excessively arbitrary, they are welcome to.  Anytime the player hits one of these, they get the appropriate hashmark.  I am not going to pretend to be perfect with these, but I am consistent session to session and group to group.  Fiat?  I don’t think that absolute a term fits.  Somewhat arbitrary and open to interpretation?  Guilty.
 

ST

LordVreeg

Since there are no 'Above Problems" that become evident, that whole statement cancels itself out.
What? The mathematical fact is that in any game that allows any meaningful amount of character advancement, situations that are enough of a challenge for a high level character will be immensely difficult if not impossible to a lower level character. As such, putting a party in such a situation will then make a power disparity very clear (at least without some numeric fudging on the GM's part) because lower leveled characters struggle and often fail to contribute in any useful way, and in fact may instead be a drain on the party's resources to keep them alive. The amount and the ways this phenomenon shows up can vary by system, of course, but it will always exist-- because without this solid sense of progression from "things I can't do" to "things I can do with a lot of difficulty" to "things I can do easily" there is no meaningful character advancement.

I'm not implying everyone needs to advance at precisely the same rate. However, you said that you "love having players advance at differing rates." You wanted to create "healthy competition." This means that I would expect a fairly wide disparity of power within the party to arise fairly often-- if I'm wrong, please explain how and why. Otherwise, it seems like you would always run into this problem, because it's caused by simple mathematical reality. Since you're claiming there are in fact no problems, I'm curious how you've avoided them.
Well, this is where developing a multi-dimensional system (in terms of focus and growth) comes in handy.  Sure, if power levels are absolute (this guy is level 6 and this guys is level 2), that’s an issue.  And if the power growth curve is such that you have comic book heroes who lift trucks fighting normal guys, you’d be right.
But those issues are a lot less in GS.  A LOT less.  It was part of the original design in terms of growth and advancement, and one of the reasons I left a pure class-based system behind, since it creates the math you are describing…the very math I planned avoiding.
I wanted a game that game lots of little advancements and constant improvement, but in small amounts and in very directed areas, along with a large amount of different foci, and with sub-skills under those foci.    Hamish Haldane, one of Llum’s best characters who was on his way to becoming one of the most powerful casters in the Steel Isle Region, still had less than twice the Hit points of a good starting warrior.  The Steel Isle group has added numerous basic characters and lower power characters into the game alongside much higher experience characters with little of the issues you describe, due to the wide focus and ability growth curve.  In addition, skills and growth are spread out far enough that there are almost always ways to shine for newer characters. 
So there is a ‘fairly wide disparity of’ experience points in the group. But your logical fallacy is in believing that in all systems this creates the same ratio of what you term, ’power’.   But a guy with 800 EXP in ‘basic hospitality’ has no more ‘power’, and will be the same drain on the party’s resources to keep alive, as you are describing it, than a person without it, despite the difference of experience. 
Your ’simple mathematical reality’ does actually apply, just to an incredibly lesser and more diffused amount.   I tried to be brief, but if it needs more explanation, I can try tonight.
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Old, evil, twisted, damaged, and afflicted.  Orbis non sufficit.Thread Murderer Extraordinaire, and supposedly pragmatic...\"That is my interpretation. That the same rules designed to reduce the role of the GM and to empower the player also destroyed the autonomy to create a consistent setting. And more importantly, these rules reduce the Roleplaying component of what is supposed to be a \'Fantasy Roleplaying game\' to something else\"-Vreeg

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« Reply #26 on: February 16, 2012, 04:43:35 PM »

LordVreeg

And remember, it is merely the least amount experience gotten, so it is the spice on the food, not the meal.

Llum

In GS you need a steady flow of bits of XP to add to skills so you can hit level breaks. There's no real "character advancement" aside from this, and in some sessions you might not use any skills (or only a few). So without this extra XP you'd almost never ever level up skills.
These two statements would seem to be contradictory.

Llum's version seems to align more with my thought about roleplay experience being a sort of "safety valve." It doesn't matter if the actual system mechanics and play balance are kind of wacky, because you do a lot of freeform RP and get experience points for doing it. Thus, quite a bit of the game centers on a fun activity with a mechanical reward entirely independent from any aspect of the system that may have problems. And that's fine! Like I said, I'm not trying to accuse anyone of badwrongfun. However, it doesn't mean the mechanical problems aren't still there.

LordVreeg

Sure, if power levels are absolute (this guy is level 6 and this guys is level 2), that’s an issue.
The nice thing about "absolute power levels" is that it makes it easier to be able to determine what the party is capable of so you can decide what to throw at them. You know that characters who are at level 6 are capable of doing certain things, and it's usually more than what characters at level 2 are capable of. In D&D, you have the CR which can correspond to the party's level, but even if you don't get this meticulous (I prefer not to, personally) you've got a general sense of the characters' place in the world and can select appropriate things to place in their path. If you have a party with members at both level 6 and level 2, it becomes more difficult to create an encounter that will appropriately challenge them. However, you've still got some indication of who is stronger and who is weaker, and their average level of capability.

On the other hand, if you have characters with skills who are all over the place, not only do you have to contend with varying skill levels due to them having different absolute amounts of experience, but you also have to contend with the issue of hyper-specialists vs. generalists, and the idea of some people having skills that are more useful than others-- basically, the problem is that now you have a greater risk of characters at the same level of experience diverging as well. A specialist may be able to win an encounter easily that the generalists would all have a very hard time with, and that throws off the balance when you decide what to throw at the group. If the specialist doesn't win quickly, but the rest of the group can't help much, the rest of the group will be bored, to boot. Having lots of skills with the option to either generalize or specialize can make the problem I cited worse.

LordVreeg

And if the power growth curve is such that you have comic book heroes who lift trucks fighting normal guys, you’d be right.
Reducing the amount of power growth doesn't actually fix anything because everyone follows the same curve. The guy who has worked his way up to a decent edge in combat, negotiation, stealth or whatever else is still going to be far over the guy who doesn't have those advantages, even if nobody can throw trucks or gain any ridiculous amount of power in absolute terms, because he's still going to have gained a ton of relative power. He has the same real and quantifiable advantages when it comes to rolling the dice.

The only ways to stop characters of different power levels from diverging are to either deprive them of a chance for meaningful advancement and basically say everyone is level 1 forever, or simply create a system that is so random it doesn't matter what's on your character sheet. Obviously, those are non-solutions.

LordVreeg

a guy with 800 EXP in ‘basic hospitality’ has no more ‘power’, and will be the same drain on the party’s resources to keep alive, as you are describing it, than a person without it, despite the difference of experience.
Are you saying that a character who dumps his experience points into a less useful skill will be no more capable, generally speaking, than someone who doesn't have that xp at all? Because, I agree, but... so what? If that character had put the 800 experience into "swinging big swords" or whatever he'd probably be winning combat encounters instead.
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« Reply #27 on: February 17, 2012, 07:44:52 AM »

You know, I ran a series of games for many of the same players over more than ten years. I often handed out XP in a way very similar to what LV describes, generally rewarding degree of participation. Modesty aside, these were usually popular and successful games, and the players often asked my advice on running their games, which was flattering. After about ten years of this, I was discussing the idea of advancement in a casual conversation with a player that had been there the whole time.

The idea of individual rewards came up, and he said something like "yeah, I never liked that." I asked him why, and he gave me many of the reasons I already stated earlier in this thread. And after consideration, I realized he was right. And that, because my players like my games, they never bothered to tell me they might not like the way I awarded XP. (For the record, the player in question almost always led the pack in XP rewards.)

Steerpike

I think this is the crux of what I object to: the idea that the xp is the incentive, the cash, that mechanical character advancement is the goal, and roleplaying is the chore one does to obtain it.
I'm kind of with Steerpike in feeling uncomfortable with the idea that it's the GM's job to reward or punish behaviors with XP. We're building a collective story. We're having fun. I don't need to use XP as a currency for measuring success. And LC's class participation analogy is disturbingly close.

That said, I kind of agree with LV's point that in a non-level-based game there is more room for varying characters. Echoes uses a skill-based system where skills advance with use, not too different from GS or TRoS. I fear roleplaying XP that can be spent on any skill might skew it (and don't allow that anyway), but by-and-large, the disparities Echoes creates between characters are small, and amount more to differences in character specializations than differences in power. For example, if all players are in the same fights, they're all using their skills. If one person fights with melee and one fights with spells, the spellcaster will eventually have higher skill in that discipline, and lower melee. If he started using melee, he could almost catch the other guy because of escalating costs.
(Note that I also have a kind of quest reward which is not related to skills, but trades for new powers or in-game influences.)

Sparkle

On the other hand, if you have characters with skills who are all over the place, not only do you have to contend with varying skill levels due to them having different absolute amounts of experience, but you also have to contend with the issue of hyper-specialists vs. generalists, and the idea of some people having skills that are more useful than others-- basically, the problem is that now you have a greater risk of characters at the same level of experience diverging as well. A specialist may be able to win an encounter easily that the generalists would all have a very hard time with, and that throws off the balance when you decide what to throw at the group. If the specialist doesn't win quickly, but the rest of the group can't help much, the rest of the group will be bored, to boot. Having lots of skills with the option to either generalize or specialize can make the problem I cited worse.
This is somewhat true. However, it just means there is more responsibility in the hands of a player to decide how to balance his character. I could play 3.X and build a bard 2/fighter 1/wizard 2/cleric 1/rogue 1/barbarian 2/psion 1. I'd probably be less powerful than the average 10th level character, though I'd have diverse options. I could do this, but I wouldn't.

Absolute levels are great as a guidepost for the GM. But it is possible to balance encounters without them, it's just more work. That said, it sounds like the RP XP in GS (how's that for abbreviations?) might make this more difficult--but still possible for an astute GM. At least in Echoes, I can say everyone has the same number of Echo Points (quest rewards) which determine powers, and will likely have the same total Skill Points in combat skills, even if one guy has more Melee, one guy more Ranged, and one guy more Pyromancy. The way the system works will actually reward the generalist, since you can only gain one Skill Point per scene, so using lots of different skills in the same scene gives more benefit the specialization.

LV

I will also say that I find it interesting that you are willing to reward the parts of the game that are sort of side-effects of the game combat, skills) but won;t reward what the a 'Roleplaying Game" is actually about.
Speaking for myself, I don't "reward" either, even if we consider XP the primary reward of the game (I'd say the experience itself is the reward, not the Experience Points).

Use of skills, in combat or out of combat, garners points for those skills. Completing stories earns 1 Echo Point for everyone involved. Or, when I run D&D, everyone levels up at the completion of major adventures. In either case, how they get there--through combat, diplomacy, stealth, or ingenuity--makes no difference to the mechanical award. The difference is the story we create.
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« Reply #28 on: February 17, 2012, 12:53:55 PM »

I do sometimes strive to be disturbing, Phoenix. Thanks for noticing! yum

Sparkletwist

Reducing the amount of power growth doesn't actually fix anything because everyone follows the same curve. The guy who has worked his way up to a decent edge in combat, negotiation, stealth or whatever else is still going to be far over the guy who doesn't have those advantages, even if nobody can throw trucks or gain any ridiculous amount of power in absolute terms, because he's still going to have gained a ton of relative power. He has the same real and quantifiable advantages when it comes to rolling the dice.
This is a bit of an aside, but perhaps others will find it as helpful as I have to consider power levels not objectively, but in relative terms, judged against the possible effects of chance. This can vary a lot from system to system, because different systems accommodate chance in different ways and to different extents.

Obviously there is a big difference between, to use a combat example, "these two characters are roughly evenly matched" and "Alice has a slight advantage over Bob (but he can still win with a little luck and strategy)" and "Alice has a large (but not totally insurmountable) advantage over Bob". Differences in ability have an effect here, but the effect can be eclipsed by the potential outcomes of a chance event (dice or whatever). But when we get to a disparity so large that Bob can never ever beat Alice even when it's his best day ever and it's her worst, they are no longer in the same league, because no amount of chance can overcome the skill differential; the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

More useful input later, potentially; right now I (like a flower in a journal) am pressed for time.
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« Reply #29 on: February 17, 2012, 03:24:11 PM »

Luminous Crayon

Differences in ability have an effect here, but the effect can be eclipsed by the potential outcomes of a chance event (dice or whatever). But when we get to a disparity so large that Bob can never ever beat Alice even when it's his best day ever and it's her worst, they are no longer in the same league, because no amount of chance can overcome the skill differential; the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
I should point out here that I was talking about Alice and Bob being in the same party on the same side and both fighting the same enemy, not directly fighting each other. I feel like most situational advantages are a lot less relevant when we're comparing two characters on the same side, because, generally speaking, any situational bonus, buff, or whatever that Bob can use to get up to Alice's level, Alice can also use to just be that much more up on Bob again. If she can't, it should be pondered whether Bob isn't actually more capable than the initial analysis would suggest, because this is some ability unique to him.

I agree with you with that small differences in capability can be eclipsed by the roll of the dice, but I was working from the perspective of two characters where one has a "meaningful" amount of advantage over the other. It'd probably be in the realm of a "large (but not totally insurmountable)" advantage, to use your terms. If this never happens, either the characters aren't really advancing at that differently of a rate after all-- which is the position I was advocating in the first place-- or the system just doesn't allow any significant amount of advancement at all.
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