The Alexandrian

Awhile back I wrote “Treasure Maps & The Unknown: Goals in the Megadungeon“. This post is just a simple streamlining of an idea that was running throughout that essay:

If an RPG rewards you for a specific tactical method, that method will be preferred and sought out. For example, if the game rewards you only for combat, that provides a strong motivation to seek out combat. There will still be some strategic thought employed (as one differentiates between “challenges that can be overcome” and “shit that’s too tough for us”), but the tactical method being rewarded will be strong pre-selected.

If you shift the game’s reward to a strategic goal, on the other hand, then players are free to pursue any tactical method for achieving that goal. As a result, you game will be more flexible and, in my opinion, more interesting.

Actually, as I write this, I realize this principle probably applies beyond RPGs. For example, Chess provides only one reward (winning the game) and it only awards it when a strategic goal has been achieved (achieving checkmate). Imagine if Chess instead rewarded points based on capturing pieces. The entire focus of the game would be narrowed. And what if the game preferentially rewarded capturing pieces with your Rook instead of your Bishop? The focus of the game would become even more limited.

In a similar fashion,victory in Twilight Imperium is achieved when a player reaches 10 victory points. Virtually every reward in the game is a strategic one (which can be achieved using a variety of tactics depending on the circumstances of the game). The exception? One of the strategy cards gives the player picking it 2 victory points. This specific reward for a tactical method (“pick the Imperial Strategy card”) warps the game by “forcing” everyone to pursue that tactical method. The problem was so significant that Fantasy Flight Games completely revised the strategy cards in order to eliminate it in the first expansion pack for the game.

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2 Responses to “Thought of the Day: Rewarding Strategic Goals vs. Tactical Methods”

  1. Hautamaki says:

    I agree completely with the thesis of this post. The best example I can give was my decision to award xp only for treasure obtained in my old school D&D game. There was some initial resistance to this idea, and the players themselves didn’t fully grasp the consequences of the decision immediately. For example, in one of the first sessions of the game I rolled up a random encounter with a powerful group of hobgoblins as they traveled down the road. I decided the hobgoblins were local highwaymen and demanded a toll of 50gp from the party. The party laughed and jumped into action, getting the drop on the hobgoblins. As this is old school d&d though, two of their characters were slain. That right there blew them away as character death in such a trivial random encounter is practically unthinkable in modern d&d. What was worse was that the hobgoblins had only their equipment and a few coins, so despite losing 2 out of 5 characters they had a miniscule XP haul from the whole experience.

    The next time they met a group of bandits, they role-played the encounter masterfully, offering to join the bandits, then killing them in their sleep that night at their secret hideout, looting the hideout, and making out with thousands of XP while taking only 1 or 2 damage points.

    This sort of thing has really gotten them thinking outside the box more, coming up with creative solutions to unique problems, and taken advantage of the strengths of table top RPGs vs CRPGs, which, lets be honest do combat much better what with doing all the math and bookkeeping for you.

  2. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    In my (3.5) game I’m awarding 50% of normal XP for “main” encounters and 25% for “sideline” encounters, where “main” means “part of the main keyed adventure” and “sideline” means random encounters or small adventures that’ aren’t part of the campaign’s main focus. Then I let the players spend (sacrifice/donate to their patron) gold for XP, but with a cap on the maximum amount they can buy per level (so in effect half of the XP comes from gold, and half from combat and other activities).

    I thought about “XP for gold only” but in 3.5 there’s already such a premium on acquiring gold I felt the gold had to be removed from the player economy to put a brake on this effect. This is having effects that I find desirable: the players are consistently poor, because they choose to buy as much XP as possible as soon as possible; and the players tend to use/keep whatever magical items they find rather than just selling them off to fund the purchase of their optimized ideal equipment loadout.

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