traits, motivations & rewards

edited May 2011 in Story Games
Primarily, Motivations (like beliefs from Burning Wheel) in my game are used to drive goal setting or complicate things in interesting ways for the character.

But Im having a hard time backing that mechanically, particularly for the 'complicating' aspect.

The way I see it, having a mechanic that rewards acting on a motivation means people will hammer the button to get the food. But one of the interesting things about roleplaying is deciding under what circumstances your character will act on or break with their motivations. So rewarding only 'acting on' defeats that somewhat.

What Ive done is to reward either option - simply narrating considering the motivation during a decision is enough to get a reward. Which is explicitly what Id like the players to do, but the rule itself is kinda wishy-washy. It doesnt have a solid edge to it if you know what I mean. And its hard to get that edge because I dont want the player to make the decisions tactically based on a mechanical trade-off, I want them to make the decision according to the fiction that seem right to them.

Can you give something like this solid mechanical backing without destroying the waht you are trying to back up in the first place?

If so , how?

Comments

  • "Oh! Right. Mostly it's just about creating two beneficial but mechanically distinct options. They're both good, but one can't replace the other. If you were getting, say, "Roll +1" tokens for acting both for and against the trait, they'd be mechanically interchangable, and the distinction would be meaningless. Having them distinct makes it matter which one you're doing. You don't know how to use the rules without judging the fiction."

    Taken from OMT thread. This is an example of what Im talking about. By making the decision based on two mechanically distinct options, the danger is that the player is considering the mechanic rather than the fiction. As in, rather than asking "Would my character jump left or right in this specific situation?" the game is encouraging them to ask "Would reward A be more beneficial for me right now or reward B?" Its even worse if the reward is only applied for jumping one way -- then there isnt a choice, the game is encouraging you to "jump left" every time.
  • edited May 2011
    No "reward" mechanic in the world is gonna make people enjoy doing something that they didn't want to do in the first place. At least, not in roleplaying games. If players aren't interested in playing to their motivations, just giving them a cookie every time they do won't make them like it.

    What reward mechanics do is make us notice those moments in play - they require us to look at those parts of the fiction and make judgements about them.

    On Mighty Thews handles this by giving the player two different beneficial but not interchangable rewards based on whether they acted towards or against a particular trait. It works because it:
    a) is based on concrete behaviours, not just the way something is described
    b) requires judgement of the fiction, moment-to-moment
    c) responds to the kind of fiction the players are already invested in creating, i.e. sword and sorcery heroes in perilous situations

    I basically stole the idea for this from Clinton Nixon's "Keys" mechanic. That dude has farted better games than I'll ever write.

    People often make the mistake with Keys of thinking they're a way to "encourage good roleplaying" or to "force people to play their character right". They're not. They're a way of recognising significant moments of play - of focusing attention.

    EDIT: Added link to OMT site because I am an imperfect human, and I want your cash.
  • edited May 2011
    OK, thats the 'why' of it, but the 'how' is the part I am having trouble with. Addressing my question specifically, its like quantum physics - by observing the situation, you are changing it. by giving the player asymmetrical rewards (thats a good term for it), you are focusing their attention on the rewards over the fiction. aren't you? this isnt criticism of OMT by any means, its just the OMT thread discussing that aspect prompted me about what I see as a problem.
  • Posted By: stefoidBy making the decision based on two mechanically distinct options, the danger is that the player is considering the mechanic rather than the fiction. As in, rather than asking "Would my character jump left or right in this specific situation?" the game is encouraging them to ask "Would reward A be more beneficial for me right now or reward B?"
    If it isn't obvious which choice is mechanically "better", then it's more likely that players will be able to let fictional considerations guide their actions. In Simon's case, it sounds like a tradeoff between effectiveness right now or a resource which can be used for effectiveness later. Since neither one of those is universally preferable (as opposed to the "reward" vs. "no reward" in your jump left example), there's less incentive to spam one particular choice. In this Forge thread, I talk about how I've tried to design around the related problem of trait spamming and trait grubbing in my game.

    It sounds like you're trying to make "act according to motivation", "act in a way that's irrelevant to motivation", and "act against motivation" all seem like valid choices to the player at each instant. To do that, I'd suggest having different mixes of pros and cons associated with each choice, and don't let them be easily subject to cost-benefit analysis. What your player wants is to be able to make a gut-level fictional choice that can be easily rationalized so they can feel confident they've made a good choice (in my opinion, of course).
  • Dan is right. In OMT, the mechanical choice is "how much do I want to succeed right now?", which compliments rather than contradicts the choice about whether you act for or against your trait. In one playtest a character had the trait "Atheist". Choosing not to act against the trait, even though it would have been beneficial to do so, became an important part of the player's characterization.
  • Guys, I think Simons way of approaching it is better than 100% asymmetrical, but it is still asymmetrical. Im still asking "Do I want to succeed at this task right now, more than I want to succeed latter?" Its still a consideration of the mechanics over the fictional situation.
    Posted By: Dan Maruschak
    If it isn't obvious which choice is mechanically "better", then it's more likely that players will be able to let fictional considerations guide their actions.
    Yep, but how to do that? any examples of games that nail it?
    Posted By: Dan Maruschak

    It sounds like you're trying to make "act according to motivation", "act in a way that's irrelevant to motivation", and "act against motivation" all seem like valid choices to the player at each instant. To do that, I'd suggest having different mixes of pros and cons associated with each choice, and don't let them be easily subject to cost-benefit analysis. What your player wants is to be able to make a gut-level fictional choice that can be easily rationalized so they can feel confident they've made a good choice (in my opinion, of course).
    Well, all valid in the sense that the player decision is not tainted by mechanical concerns. Act like this and get a chocolate cookie,act like that and get a vanilla cookie... hmm, which flavour do I want right now? chocolate! So Ill act like this...
  • Steve,

    Can you give an example of this happening in an actual game you've played?
  • I looked at TSOY about Keys. here is what it says (its in the public domain so its alright to quote it)

    "Example

    Key of Conscience: Your character has a soft spot for those weaker than their opponents. Gain 1 XP every time your character helps someone who cannot help themselves. Gain 2 XP every time your character defends someone with might who is in danger and cannot save themselves. Gain 5 XP every time your character takes someone in an unfortunate situation and changes their life to where they can help themselves.

    Buyoff: Ignore a request for help.

    The Buyoff shown above is a special bit about Keys. Whenever a player has a character perform the action shown in one of the Buyoffs, the player can (this is not mandatory) erase the Key and gain 10 XP.

    Unlike abilities and Secrets, the number of Keys a character can have is limited. A character can have no more than five Keys at one time.
    "

    Now that is interesting because the reward is still asymmetrical, but the mechanical benefit is not based on the current situation. You are still being encouraged to consider mechanical tradeoffs, but in a vague, forward-looking "do I get a couple of eggs now, or do I sell the golden goose?" type of way. Im a bit surprised that the buy-off is not mandatory though, because otherwise the game is simply encouraging you to spam "act contrary to key" to maximize rewards.
  • edited May 2011
    Posted By: Simon CSteve,

    Can you give an example of this happening in an actual game you've played?
    No, I could be jumping at shadows (of yesterday). My experience with these type of games is limited. I have played a lot of HeroWars where traits were spammed and abused endlessly, but not in this specific way Im talking about. Those type of traits were more about effectiveness than motivation - "strong, fast, tough", etc...

    But there is no doubt that the mechanics intrinsically encourage the type of behavior I'm talking about. Whether player succumb to that encouragement in practice? I cant say.
  • I think you just need to play more games, brother.

    Matt
  • Reign had a system for disadvantages where you'd get an extra experience point if the disadvantage actually came up in play, and only at the end of the session. So you can also do it for positive traits or drives, you act on them, or it comes into play somehow, you get the point (of whatever type) at the end of the session.
  • Smallville requires you to identify your motivation every time you roll dice, in the form of Values and Relationships. And it also has a special mechanic for challenging/changing those. Pretty cool stuff.
  • Smallville's challenge mechanic is just that - a mechanic, but it's proven to be interesting in play because it has a concrete effect on your character. You have statements on your sheet for each of the six Values (Duty, Glory, Justice, Love, Power, Truth) and your Relationships (numbers of these vary). Your statement informs how you normally exert these traits in the fiction, i.e. "Nobody should conceal the truth" as a Truth statement means that if you're doing something for which this is an appropriate statement, you can roll that trait in. However, you can also challenge the statement and roll 3x the dice, but the trait steps back by one die size until the end of the episode. My Truth d10 thus gives me 3d10 if I act in opposition to my statement (for instance, if I'm covering up the truth) but my d10 steps back to a d8.

    At the end of the episode you can step the trait back up again if you also rewrite your statement, or you can leave it stepped back and step another trait up by one (if it's a Value) without rewriting the statement. This choice, again, asks you to decide if your character has changed what they believe, or if in response to challenging their beliefs they're no longer as invested in them (the reduced die).

    Cheers,
    Cam
  • edited May 2011
    Its a fine line isnt it? Most of the time, you want your character to follow their motivations. If they never do, then its not a motivation, its something you have scrawled on your char sheet and ignored. but if they always follow their motivation, then its railroading yourself. The most significant time is when they break with a motivation.

    I think mechanics that affect the current situation, taint the decision. You get an extra dice or whatever RIGHT NOW, is the observer changing the experiment. But the 'you get something that you maybe can use later', doesnt taint as much.

    What about... Each motivation gets an empty reservoir for reward point storage. It has a capacity though. it doesn't keep filling up forever. Lets say 5 points. Every time you go with that motivation, it fills by one point. Once it reaches capacity, it resets to 0, and you get to reap 1 reward point.

    If you go against it, you get to reap ALL the points that were in it, and it resets, but its capacity diminishes by 1 point.
    Or something like that. too complex? Overthinking it?
  • Posted By: stefoidI think mechanics that affect the current situation, taint the decision. You get an extra dice or whatever RIGHT NOW, is the observer changing the experiment. But the 'you get something that you maybe can use later', doesnt taint as much.
    That's why I like Smallville better. It's not extra - it is the roll. You have 6 Values (Duty, Justice, etc.), and a set of Relationships, and every roll requires you to pick one of each.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPosted By: stefoidI think mechanics that affect the current situation, taint the decision. You get an extra dice or whatever RIGHT NOW, is the observer changing the experiment. But the 'you get something that you maybe can use later', doesnt taint as much.
    That's why I like Smallville better. It's not extra - itis the roll. You have 6 Values (Duty, Justice, etc.), and a set of Relationships, and every roll requires you to pick one of each.

    So you only ever roll about things you care about? So is it possible to have a conflict that you dont roll for then, that doesnt relate to one of the values? How does that resolve?
  • edited May 2011
    The book suggests you don't start a contest unless it involved your Values or Relationships. Which I love. Contests are a way to zoom into moments that matter. And in Smallville, those moments are conflicts dealing with your Values or Relationships. Great design!

    The game also breaks down into scenes like a TV show or movie. Scenes are framed tightly. You cut out moments that don't involve the focus of the show. So you generally don't roll for mundane activities.
  • In addition to what John just said, I would add that by explicitly listing 6 Values, it pushes players to think about their character's motivation for doing things in terms of those 6 Values (which naturally are ideal for superheroic soap operatics - if you want different sorts of soap operatics, you can change the Value list at campaign design.) Not knowing why your character is doing what you're announcing they're doing is a BIG problem, story-wise and continuity-wise. Smallville makes you stop doing that.
  • +1 for Smallville. It has the reward tradeoff between going with your Value and changing it that I think you're looking for. I think changing the value statement is key here. When you act against one of your values as written, it's a big moment, not just "Bob's brash guy decided to be careful. Again." Now you get to see the contour of why, in this case, it was ok. Or maybe the character has realized how much brashness costs him and is now trying to reign it in. I'm curious to see how often Values get challenged in Smallville play. I could easily imagine one getting challenged in most conflicts.

    Personally, I think the mechanics should generally reward, or at least encourage, acting on motivations. The fictional choice usually already has an asymmetrical reward already (risk your life vs look on safely, keep your oath vs huge profits.) I usually see motivations (I'm thinking specifically of Fate aspects) as tilting the table back towards "do the thing that will clearly end badly for you, but is in-character."
  • I think the issue is mechanical boons for acting a certain way are incentives, right? Incentives can always be abused and broken due to human nature.

    Here's the thing though - why do we need incentives in RPGs? What if we're playing with a group of like-minded people who are all in it for the same thing? We all want to address the same premise, we all want to have character motivations and choose to break them at dramatic moments in order to create awesome, memorable play. The incentive then is great fiction.

    This may be unreliable, but it seems like the only choice we have is unreliable play that will not be satisfying if the group wants different things OR incentivized play that can be abused if the players choose to go that route. I'm not sure either is better and no matter how you alter your incentive scheme Steve it will always have a point at which it can be abused.
  • Thanks everyone
  • edited May 2011
    Charles,
    I think you nailed it right there.

    In my experience, those rewards (XP in TSOY/FATE Points) have several effects:
    1) They lure the trad gamers to play the way you want.
    2) They explicitly state what is expected behaviour.
    3) They force players to stick to a character concept.
    4) They give the GM flags to work with.
    5) They enable heroics.

    If you already have super-creative, premise-focused, drama-loving players that don't mind losing conflicts once in a while, you don't need much of the reward stuff. (You can do with minimal System, then. But the job of System is to drive play in a certain direction. Always assume the players NEED direction.)

    My experience is that trad gamers tend to play defensively. If the system says "This is dangerous", they won't do it. If the system says "This might be suicide for a normal guy, but I'll give you a FATE point so you might just make it" or "You will most likely fail, but this FATE point will enable you to make a heroic comeback later" then they will do it.
    In order to make an interesting story happen, you need somebody to do something brash/stupid/foolhardy. Just look at Greek Tragedies or just any Opera.

    The only point that stays a valid reason for rewards is #5. It's like "With Great Power..." that you might to get hosed early in the game, but the promise is you WILL get a comeback.
    It's not quite genre emulation yet, but the way you do your reward system has a definitive impact on the resulting story. FATE Points increase drama, XPs give the game a "growth story" spin.

    PS: Does anybody remember the "sausage machine"-discussion? This might also be relevant here.
  • I've been thinking about this kind of thing too, but I'm concerned with not creating a reward cycle. We've played a number of different implementations of FATE as well as Burning Wheel, all of which have a similar reward cycle. The game I liked the least amongst these was Dresden Files because there was basically a FATE point treadmill requiring characters to constantly engage with the same themes to generate the FPs necessary to power their skills, especially when approaching a big fight. This happened less in other FATE games such as Swashbucklers, Diaspora and LoA because characters had more FPs anyway, or their skills were less dependant on them for use. The reason I don't like this is because the FP treadmill is a constraint too far (for me, YMMV) on character behaviour making development of the narrative less interesting.

    The Burning Wheel belief system is more interesting to me because the reward is relatively minor (I've got 8FPs after two sessions which I haven't had an opportunity to use because I haven't been injured or only once rolled any 6s which needed rerolling) and so players feel far less constrained to go after these goals meaning their characters' behaviour is less narrow.

    My favourite implementation of this kind of system is in Mortal Coil. Each character has 1 to 5 passions which can be used to boost a character's total score in a conflict by 1-5 (more usually 1-3) points. It's a minor difference in the scale of things but in the many games I've played, the passions become a strong driver of character behaviour. They are implemented in a slightly different way because they are about how a character feels about something rather than a goal (as in BW), this allows for a larger range of behaviours and hence outcomes.
  • edited May 2011
    Burning Wheel is interesting because you don't have to play by your Beliefs. In fact, you get a stronger reward for breaking your Beliefs and you are free to change your Beliefs as your character changes (with some minor limitations). In effect, the Artha reward cycle isn't about "roleplay this way" but more "tell us what you want out of the game... and keep us updated as that changes." This cycle also doesn't feel too in your face because you earn rewards at the end of the session, not for every action you take like in The Shadow of Yesterday, which I love, but sometimes I feel some games devolve into XP begging in a way that feels cheesy.

    Burning Wheel adds another level by rewarding you for losing tests and helping other players. Your skills advance as you use them but you need to try different levels of difficulty to advance, including levels so difficult that you will most likely fail. But in the end, failing now means advancing later. And what's difficult is relative to your current condition. The more hurt you are... the easier it is to get those challenging tests. The system encourages you to take crazy risks, especially when you are wounded.

    Experienced BW players yearn for challenging tests! To the point where they will push the GM to make the game harder!
  • Posted By: GB SteveThe game I liked the least amongst these was Dresden Files because there was basically a FATE point treadmill requiring characters to constantly engage with the same themes to generate the FPs necessary to power their skills, especially when approaching a big fight.
    I think the most important missed rule in Dresden is that you can change one Aspect per session. That way you're not constantly playing to the same thing.
  • edited May 2011
    We did know about that rule but it didn't help much, possibly because our game of DF was more conflict heavy than our game of BW.
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