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Author Topic: Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)  (Read 10713 times)

BedrockBrendan

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AUTHOR: Mark Brantingham

Ever since the very first party survived their first adventure, GMs have been awarding XPs and otherwise assigning value to the things that player characters do. As GMs age and become more self-confident, they tinker with the system mechanics they use and this applies as much to XP awards as it does to combat modifiers or skill multipliers.
   
GMs are traditionally responsible for determining the value of character actions, and no two GMs are exactly alike.  Some don’t give XPs for gold.  Some refuse to give XPs for killing creatures.  Some hold post-adventure voting sessions and let the players determine to a lesser or greater degree who gets XPs and for what. There are a million different formulae and processes. But no matter how it is done, awarding XPs according to what characters do during the gaming session (eg: “incentivizing” character behavior) is always - yes always - a mistake.

And I can prove it.

However, this is a gaming discussion, and that almost demands some preamble full of legalistic qualifying remarks. So, here we go: For my purposes, roleplaying is a group-based game in which the primary focus is a social one, regardless of the particular setting and set of rules.  Gaming scenarios are there to create an environment in which the players use their imaginations to deal with situations through the eyes of their characters.  The behavior of and interaction between the player characters is the feature that sets a roleplaying game apart from other types of games and other forms of entertainment and ultimately defines what it is that I am talking about when I use the term “roleplaying” game. There are other types of games that are often lumped in under the general term of “roleplaying games” and I have played some of them and I enjoy some of them, but they are not what I am talking about here. I’m not talking about 40k battles or a LARP session where never a die is rolled. I’m not talking about a group of players who aren’t interested in loot or treasure.  I’m talking about normal meat-and-potatoes RPGs and RPGers.

Real people have normal behavioral drives, both as characters and as players.  The drives of any given character may be simple or complex, selfish or altruistic, logical or chaotic, even different characters that belong to the same player.  That’s what’s fun about roleplaying.  You get to be someone else.  You get to be a thief.  Or you can be a killer.  Or you can be a paladin.  It’s the behavior, the playing of a role, that makes roleplaying interesting.  It’s using your imagination to do things you would never normally do, and the most rewarding roleplaying is consistent with and true to your own motivations and ambitions.

The entire hobby of roleplaying is based upon this premise: roleplaying is its own reward.  That is why members of a roleplaying group choose to spend Friday night roleplaying in a dungeon instead of watching a movie or going to bars or doing all the other things there are to do. It is because they LIKE to roleplay. And no two roleplayers are going to do it exactly the same way.  There’s no reason they should.  Roleplaying is essentially individualistic.  People do it because they like to do it and the best roleplaying that can be done is roleplaying that adheres to one’s own standards.  “This is what my character would do” because he feels this, because he thinks this.  It’s something that is not well-suited to being judged by an outsider.

It is for precisely this reason that GM-generated XP awards meant to incentivize character behavior are directly opposed to the ideal of roleplaying, because the effect is always to pit the desires of the player against the desires of the character he plays. A player naturally wants to see his character improve.  He wants the character to gain new skills or spells to further express the character’s personality, to further that character’s goals and plans. The whole reason the player is there is to build and improve his character, so that by doing so, the character become better able to do whatever it is he thinks is important given the specifics of the setting, the campaign, and the psychology of the PC.  Therefore, when a player knows that only certain types of activities will be rewarded by the GM, or that some types of behaviors are preferred, the result is that players often find themselves torn between remaining true to behavior that is authentic, or engaging in behavior that is likely to result in more XPs.  This happens all the time.  It is completely unavoidable no matter what scheme the GM can dream up to reward behavior.

To demonstrate this, we can start with the simplest example from an old-school 1st edition AD&D campaign straight out of the DM’s Guide which awards XPs for gold pieces and XPs for slain monsters.  Don’t bother protesting that you award XPs for “defeating” monsters which includes accepting their surrender or sneaking around them or whatever.  It doesn’t make any difference, or to be more correct, it can make a difference, but there will never-the-less be a significant problem so long as a GM is awarding different amounts of XPs based on what characters do. If the GM offers awards for doing certain things, the players will always find themselves doing things that they would not normally do in order to get the awards that the GM offers.  This is inevitable.

On with the first example, the famous “baby goblins” scenario. The group kills the adult goblins and then finds a room with female goblins and/or infant goblins.  In the simplest version of the behavioral incentive dilemma, the GM awards XPs strictly per monster killed.  Period.  Well, it would be surprising to find an adventuring group which, under these conditions, did not have at least one character who ends up instigating a fight with the goblins women and children for those extra 20 XPs per goblin (or whatever the reward).  Even more surprising would be to find a group that did not collectively shrug and then join in the slaughter of the female and young goblins once the fight began, secure in the knowledge that it was that other player who caused the fight, not me.  Even if there is a player who resists the inclination to collect the extra XPs he knows he will miss out on, and instead decides to actively protect the helpless goblin civilians, he is still doing so with that dramatic irony lurking in the back of his mind – the knowledge that he is remaining true to the goals of his character only at the expense of the XPs that he still desires to have as a player even if he is willing to forego them in the interest of roleplaying integrity. This is a very unsatisfying and completely unnecessary situation which undermines the whole purpose of roleplaying and really serves no purpose other than to give the GM some easy metric with which to calculate character progress, arbitrary though it is.

But as any RPer knows, and as I’ve already admitted, the specific problem from the example above was long ago identified and corrected by almost every GM.  “Nobody still gives XPs per kill” you say, but it doesn’t really matter.  If a GM is assigning XPs based upon specific actions taken by specific characters, the same essential problem exists and I could spend hour after hour giving examples to illustrate that it all amounts to the same thing, but the intelligent reader doesn’t need them, he already realizes that I’m right.  Incentivizing behavior will always affect behavior.  What characters do in response to incentives is not the same as what they do in the absence of incentives.  This is an axiomatic truth, and the result is detrimental to the experience of roleplaying.

One of the easiest ways to prove that I am right is to consider the campaigns that you have participated in as a player and not a as a GM and to ask yourself if you ever ended up wanting to roleplay your character in a manner that would have resulted in less XPs or slower advancement for the entire group, or if you noticed situations where you felt your roleplaying was undervalued or misinterpreted by the GM, and not credited as it should have been towards your character’s advancement. Everyone who is honest is going to say yes. It happens and it happens fairly regularly.  Does it undermine your experience as a roleplayer?  Sure it does, and you vow to yourself that when you are a GM you will rectify the situation by never scoring XPs in that way.  YOU will solve that problem by giving XPs for X Y and Z and by noticing (insert thing your GM ignored) and by not doing (insert lousy thing).  Oddly enough, of every single GM that you have ever known, only YOU know how to accurately and fairly award XPs.

Everybody thinks that, even your players.  That’s because the process itself is inherently flawed.  There is no way to incentivize character behavior without undermining roleplaying, because roleplaying itself is incentive for character behavior and should be the ONLY incentive for character behavior. When it is not the only incentive, when XP awards are also an incentive, then there is an inevitable conflict between those two incentives. Any time there is a conflict between the way a player thinks he should roleplay his character and the way he decides he is going to roleplay his character, roleplaying suffers.

I’ll give you a much more subtle example.  What about a GM who awards character involvement?  That seems reasonable, even laudable.  A character who talks to NPCs and gets in there and gets involved in the details of the adventure gets more XPs than characters who sit back and don’t talk.  That seems to make lots of sense at first. But what about when a player intentionally crafts a character who lost his daughter and wife in the war and just stopped caring and has a death wish? He doesn’t want to talk to NPCs and he is perfectly happy to follow the group leader and is perfectly willing to die for the only friends he has left, his adventuring party.  This is a strong character concept and could make for a very compelling roleplaying experience.  The one thing that is sure to screw it up is a GM who is consistently awarding this character an average of 25% less XPs every session because he doesn’t understand that the player is roleplaying his character faithfully, or even if he does know it he refuses to properly value that roleplaying.  This type of thing happens all the time. It is an inevitable consequence of the very process of scoring character behavior numerically.

There are more problems with the above example than simply failing to appreciate the roleplaying of this one individual.  Consider the unintended effect it can have on the campaign if, in order to get an XP bonus, 3 of the players in a group begin to compete to be the most “involved” or “vocal” characters.  What a nightmare. This interferes with real roleplaying as much as anything else.  Players should be interacting because of the natural impulses arising from the scenario and the mindsets of their characters, not because of some social reward scheme concocted by a well-intentioned GM.  Never reward character behavior. Never ever ever. It is always always always a mistake.

The larger point is that there is no sense in trying to be the judge of what is “good” roleplaying and what is “inferior” roleplaying, because no GM can possibly see inside another player’s soul or mind and understand why a player is doing everything he is doing, and not all players are the “talky” type who constantly explain everything they are doing or why.  They shouldn’t need to.

Sometimes player behavior may have to be restricted or punished as too disruptive to the group, like when a player shows up to game sessions drunk or has a habit of talking over everyone else at the table. Often in-character behavior may have negative campaign consequences, such as a thief who is caught and hanged for stealing a horse.  These issues are completely distinct from XPs awarded to actively encourage or discourage a certain type of character behavior.

Another example is the common practice of rewarding groups or individuals for completing certain objectives. If the group figures out x or solves the mystery of y then they get (insert XP award). This type of reward is often given with the intention of motivating players to follow a certain story path or keep after “adventure goals.”  While expedient for the GM, who might simply desire to stick to the script of the module he is reading from or has designed, it is often quite frustrating for a player who takes an interest in a certain detail of the campaign which has nothing to do with the official script. Now a character’s interest in some element of the campaign is pitted against the player’s desire to improve that character. It can get worse if the rest of the players are convinced that what a certain character is interested in will only delay a story-related XP bonus.  They can become hostile to the actions of a character as a result, where they would otherwise have either had no objection or would have actually taken interest themselves had they not felt the need to pursue story goal awards.

A GM must recognize that, if left alone, roleplaying creates its own value. External reward systems only conflict with and subvert the organic roleplaying impulses of the player.

The same applies to every element of the game.  Gold pieces are their own reward, no need for XP rewards per GP.  No need for monster experience either.  No matter how clever the implementation, the characters should approach risks such as monsters based only on their instincts of risk versus reward.  If left to this consideration, behavior tends to be more authentic.  Players are more likely to go around a black bear if there is no arbitrary XP “payment” for attacking it, driving it off, befriending it, or whatever other clever parameters a GM can list on a sheet.  Just let the characters decide what to do based on what they want to accomplish along with the normal impulses of loot, boasting-rights, curiosity, and self-preservation. Not to mention…it’s a whole lot easier on a GM to play a bear to its fullest lethality if the group who attacked it didn’t feel that doing so was sort of necessary to advance.

There are often XP awards offered for bravery - another noble concept.  However, what the XP incentive really does is strip some of the nobility from a heroic gesture if other players interpret it to have been prompted by the expectation of an XP bonus at the end of the night. The roleplaying experience itself is the best incentive, and any other incentive can only cheapen it by casting it in another light.

So “okay” you say, how do I award XPs?  They have to be awarded after all.  Characters do need XPs to advance. That is a fundamental concern of players as you yourself already admitted.

Yes, obviously characters need XPs which must be awarded based upon some criteria and the criteria I recommend will at first strike most as being beneath consideration.  Award XPs based on session time. 10 XPs per hour. 100 XPs per hour. 1000 XPs per game session.  Whatever fits the advancement pace you prefer as a GM.  

You’re thinking that it’s too simple.  Well, what’s wrong with simple? It’s not just simple, it’s fair, and it’s predictable too. Every time you come up with something that seems clever to you, what you’re actually doing is coming up with something that is unfair or counterproductive in some way you cannot yet see and might never realize. In any case, awarding XPs based on the length of the session finally frees players to be true to their own characters. The moment that XP advancement is unhitched from character activity – the concerns of the player for his character’s advancement and the behavior of the character itself become two completely separate things. No conflict remains.

What is lost by implementing this very simple XP system? That clever XP/roleplaying manifesto that took you five hours to compose, you know, the one you hand out to new players that takes into consideration all the stuff all your former GMs didn’t understand about roleplaying awards…you lose that.  But the truth is, most players have seen at least a few of those in the past and yours may not strike them as being any more well-reasoned or logical than the one before it.  Try this one-sentence replacement manifesto: “Roleplaying is the province of the player and this GM does not attempt to judge roleplaying in terms of ability, effort, or authenticity.” You may be surprised at how well-received it is by players who are genuinely tired of presumptuous GMs and their overbearing, opinionated approaches to roleplaying theory.  Most players are going to recognize that the new way is a real attempt by the GM to be completely fair, and they will appreciate it.  Watch the change in attitude as it begins to dawn on them that finally they are roleplaying strictly for their own enjoyment, and they are answerable only to their own standards and pursuing their own personal goals, instead of working to satisfy a GM’s agenda or to avoid his “pet peeves” in order to net better awards.

What is gained?  Lots. Whatever amount of time and energy you spend at the end of a session calculating who gets what and why is now free for just kicking back and hanging out, trading stories with players about the game that just happened, players who are less likely to be miffed at you for some unknown slight over an XP penalty they suffered or the fact that Ken got the “rp V.I.P. award” for the 5th week in a row.  Who wants to do XP calculations at the end of a ten hour gaming session anyways? It’s mind-numbing and pointless. Let the players redirect all their annoyance at other characters.  Up your aura of neutrality. Free yourself.

There’s very little you will look back on and miss once you make the move to a per hour or per session XP flat rate, and there are unexpected benefits.  You know that player who always seems to drag in an hour or two after everybody else for no discernible reason?  Under this system, he would be docking himself 20% experience every week he did that.  You can choose not to rate XPs by the hour of course, if you dislike enforcing it, that’s up to you, but consider the possibility that other players might approve of such a rule.  THEY got there on time.  The absence of the straggler impacts them if there is a fight or if there’s something that needs to be decided on or figured out.  Not only that, but the disruption caused when the late guy arrives at 9:36 pm inconveniences them too.  It’s just plain annoying if nothing else.  They will secretly approve of the 20% XP penalty, believe me, and you cannot be accused of being a hard-ass.  It’s just math.  Look at your watch and note the time on your XP log.  Everyone else has been at the table for 2½ hours already.  They deserve more XPs.  There’s nothing controversial about it.

One less meta-gaming issue to compete with roleplaying issues. One less thing for players to complain about. One less thing for you to have to think about during game design.  You’ll resist introducing this XP system for fear of being thought a simpleton by your players, but once you’ve used it for a few weeks, once your players are used to the idea, they won’t be able to imagine going back to the old system, and neither will you.

Bren

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2016, 08:11:29 pm »
Yay! An article about roleplaying. What a delightful change.

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AUTHOR: Mark Brantingham
The entire hobby of roleplaying is based upon this premise: roleplaying is its own reward.
So roleplaying is (or should be) its own reward. Got it.
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The whole reason the player is there is to build and improve his character
So roleplaying is not its own reward? Now I’m confused.

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The larger point is that there is no sense in trying to be the judge of what is “good” roleplaying and what is “inferior” roleplaying, because no GM can possibly see inside another player’s soul or mind and understand why a player is doing everything he is doing, and not all players are the “talky” type who constantly explain everything they are doing or why. They shouldn’t need to.
As far as incentives go, I’m pretty neutral on the subject. But if I’m going to incentivize then I’m going to incentivize based what I value as a GM. Which is me having fun while the the other players at the table are having fun. So if your behavior promotes both of those things, I might incentivize it. And if your behavior inhibits both of those things, I might de-incentivize it.

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This happens all the time.  It is completely unavoidable no matter what scheme the GM can dream up to reward behavior.
If the problem really is “completely unavoidable,” then there is no point in worrying about it. So I'm guessing you didn't really mean what you said.

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It doesn’t make any difference, or to be more correct, it can make a difference, but there will never-the-less be a significant problem so long as a GM is awarding different amounts of XPs based on what characters do. If the GM offers awards for doing certain things, the players will always find themselves doing things that they would not normally do in order to get the awards that the GM offers.  This is inevitable.
The same sort of conflict will also arise if there is any risk of danger to the PCs or to their toys. I don’t find that conflict to be a bug. I find it to be a feature.

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Incentivizing behavior will always affect behavior.
Obviously that is the point of incentives in the first place. So incentives often (but not always) will affect behavior. How the incentive affects behavior is seldom the simple cause and effect that you posit.

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Oddly enough, of every single GM that you have ever known, only YOU know how to accurately and fairly award XPs.
Gotta disagree here. Most GMs I know do a decent job of awarding experience. It does sound like you have some issues with how some of your GMs handed out XP though.

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There is no way to incentivize character behavior without undermining roleplaying, because roleplaying itself is incentive for character behavior and should be the ONLY incentive for character behavior.
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When it is not the only incentive, when XP awards are also an incentive, then there is an inevitable conflict between those two incentives. Any time there is a conflict between the way a player thinks he should roleplay his character and the way he decides he is going to roleplay his character, roleplaying suffers.
So we should eliminate character improvement altogether, so it isn’t a conflicting incentive?

OK. I can work with that. I’ve played in and run a game like that. Of course we are still left with character survival as an incentive for character action and it is equally axiomatic that survival will sometimes be at odds with roleplaying. So roleplaying is still not the sole incentive for character behavior. So I guess we need no character improvement and nobody dies (or get’s crippled, or loses their fancy gear, or an NPC friend, lover, spouse, child, etc.) You know now this game that is only about roleplaying is starting to sound uninteresting to me.

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Sometimes player behavior may have to be restricted or punished as too disruptive to the group, like when a player shows up to game sessions drunk or has a habit of talking over everyone else at the table.
Those are not in-game problems so one should not use in-game attempts at solution. Much better to say, “Hey Sue, when you show up half an hour late because you are drunk out of your gourd, then you spend the rest of the session talking loudly over everyone else, until you either pass out on the sofa or end up blowing chunks in the bathroom…well that really makes the session a lot less fun for me. So either you can stop showing up drunk or you can stop playing. Your choice, Sue. (If gender concerns you feel free to substitute Stu for Sue.)

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So “okay” you say, how do I award XPs?  They have to be awarded after all.
No. No Mark they don’t have to be awarded after all. In fact, as I pointed out if you really want to only focus on roleplaying you are better off not awarding experience. At all.
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Characters do need XPs to advance. That is a fundamental concern of players as you yourself already admitted.
No. No I didn’t admit that. Quite the opposite in fact. But even if one wanted to include character improvement or advancement, one could use a system like BRP/Runequest where improvement is a result of character actions. You used your Tie Knots skill so you get a chance to improve it. You didn’t use your Crossbow skill so you don’t get a chance to improve it. You spent a game week training in horseback riding so you get a chance to improve that. Incentive is now aligned with character action. Problem solved.
 
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Award XPs based on session time. 10 XPs per hour. 100 XPs per hour. 1000 XPs per game session.  Whatever fits the advancement pace you prefer as a GM.  

You’re thinking that it’s too simple.
It’s ok. It’s not a fundamentally bad idea. I’ve used that too. But it is not without it’s own problems. Now you are incentivizing attendance. So you still have the potential for an incentive problem. It’s just a different problem. And it’s a problem that is counterproductive to roleplaying. Now your players will show up to grind out the experience per sessopm even when they should have stayed home because they were too tired, drunk, or in too bad a mood to productively and entertainingly engage with the other people at the table. Why would you want to incentivize that?

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You know that player who always seems to drag in an hour or two after everybody else for no discernible reason?  Under this system, he would be docking himself 20% experience every week he did that.
So now my players are punching a time card for their experience points? That sounds great. And when I say great I mean sucks terribly. How many people do you know who really and truly enjoy having to punch a time clock?
« Last Edit: November 09, 2016, 08:13:52 pm by Bren »
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CRKrueger

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2016, 04:50:47 pm »
Quote from: Bren;929679
No I didn’t admit that. Quite the opposite in fact. But even if one wanted to include character improvement or advancement, one could use a system like BRP/Runequest where improvement is a result of character actions. You used your Tie Knots skill so you get a chance to improve it. You didn’t use your Crossbow skill so you don’t get a chance to improve it. You spent a game week training in horseback riding so you get a chance to improve that. Incentive is now aligned with character action. Problem solved.
Now you're incentivising skill spamming and "me too" skill conga-lines where if one person is spending time to get a skill check in, they all are.
 
Quote from: Bren;929679
Now your players will show up to grind out the experience per sessopm even when they should have stayed home because they were too tired, drunk, or in too bad a mood to productively and entertainingly engage with the other people at the table. Why would you want to incentivize that?
Every other method of experience does that as well.  If players are going to push themselves when they know they shouldn't play because they want to "level" or attain some mark of advancement, then they will do that no matter what that mark is, whether it's roleplay, skill spam, mission turn in, get 12,000 more gold, kill 15 more ogres, or play one more hour.

Quote from: Bren;929679
So now my players are punching a time card for their experience points? That sounds great. And when I say great I mean sucks terribly. How many people do you know who really and truly enjoy having to punch a time clock?
That's just silly. Unless you specifically give them a break, every other form of advancement means someone coming late will get less.  Someone misses half a gaming session, they miss half the skill checks, half the kills, half the quest goals, etc...  That's really no different.

The only metagame concern with X advancement per session or Y advancement per hour is how often you play and how long you play.  The more you play that character, the better you get.  There's no system to game unless you want to try to sell the bullshit that actually playing vs. not playing is a system to game.

I'm not entirely convinced that 4 hours pubcrawling is worth 4 hours saving the Princess or killing the BBEG, but...if roleplaying is the primary concern...why not?

Mythras has Improvement Points per session, and I've been trying it.  We'll see how it goes.  No problems so far.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2016, 04:54:31 pm by CRKrueger »
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daniel_ream

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2016, 06:08:55 pm »
Quote from: CRKrueger;929833
I'm not entirely convinced that 4 hours pubcrawling is worth 4 hours saving the Princess or killing the BBEG, but...if roleplaying is the primary concern...why not?

I once saw a Champions session where two female players spent two hours roleplaying shopping in [real multi-storey shopping center in nearby major metropolis].

When players start RPing pub crawling or shopping, I'm reminded of Seanbaby's review of Pictionary for the NES: "Motherfucker, I have a board game.  I don't have a fighter jet."
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Bren

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2016, 07:18:08 pm »
Quote from: CRKrueger;929833
Now you're incentivising skill spamming and "me too" skill conga-lines where if one person is spending time to get a skill check in, they all are.
You might be. Depends a bit on what is required to get a skill check. And sometimes there are counter incentives. For example, yes you could stop in the middle of melee, switch from the 1H spear and shield you are good with to the 2H axe you have strapped on your back that you are just learning to use, so you get a chance for a skill check. But there might just be some reason other than metagaming that would prevent that from being a really popular option.
 
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Every other method of experience does that as well.
Other methods are often less incentivized than a pure show up and get the experience to just show up to get the experience. That's one of the reasons people use them. Of course they do require some method of giving different experience based on what the player does. Which is what the OP objects to so vehemently.

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That's just silly.
Well its kind of a silly solution. And you could just level people the same whether or not they attend. That way there is no exerience incentive to attend or disincentive not to attend. If it were really true that roleplaying is its own reward sufficient unto itself no one should care that experience is unrelated to anything that you the player or your character do.

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Someone misses half a gaming session, they miss half the skill checks, half the kills, half the quest goals, etc...  That's really no different.
Yeah it is. Skill checks, reward for accomplishing goals, good roleplay, XP for gold, or for killing monsters, or what have you are not equally metered per hour of real world time on the clock. Part of a session may be Monty Python jokes or other OOC chatting about the kids, weather, life events, it might be IC roleplaying unrelated to accomplishing anything except shooting the breeze with other PCs or NPCs in character. So no, it isn't no different.

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The only metagame concern with X advancement per session or Y advancement per hour is how often you play and how long you play.
The rate of improvement in game is also a concern that may be unrelated to pace of play out of game or length of play in or out of game.  If a session represents a few hours in game I'm going to have different concerns when PCs improve based on that session than when a session represents a week, month, or year of game time.

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I'm not entirely convinced that 4 hours pubcrawling is worth 4 hours saving the Princess or killing the BBEG, but...if roleplaying is the primary concern...why not?
Not only am I not convinced, I lean towards the point of view that just shooting the shit in character for a session isn't especially deserving of improvement of the character. And if roleplaying is the primary concern there is no reason why it should be deserving of improvement. Typically, when a session goes like that, we just enjoy it for what it is and are satisfied with minimal or no improvement from that session.

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Mythras has Improvement Points per session, and I've been trying it.  We'll see how it goes.  No problems so far.
As I said. I've done that. It's OK, but it has its own issues such as the question of whether an essentially aimless 4 hours of in game pub crawling and in character yacking should net the same, character improvement as 4 weeks in game of risky, action packed, skill under pressure adventuring, that accomplishes something important to the characters and their world. It's not that the simple 1 hour in the real world equals 10 XP is a bad method, but it isn't an issue free method of managing character improvement. Nor is it intrinsically better, from the perspective purely of roleplaying, than no character improvement at all.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2016, 07:20:38 pm by Bren »
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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2016, 07:25:19 pm »
Quote from: daniel_ream;929847
I once saw a Champions session where two female players spent two hours roleplaying shopping in [real multi-storey shopping center in nearby major metropolis].

When players start RPing pub crawling or shopping, I'm reminded of Seanbaby's review of Pictionary for the NES: "Motherfucker, I have a board game.  I don't have a fighter jet."
As long as nobody minds a shopping session or a pubcrawl there's no problem. The problem is when some of the players enjoy that and some of the players are bored silly by that. Of course that's not so different a problem than a session with a long and intricate combat experience where half the players are engaged and interested and the other half just want a simpler, faster resolution for the encounter with 6 Trollkin so they can get on to something they enjoy more.
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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2016, 08:43:17 pm »
Quote from: Bren;929857
As long as nobody minds a shopping session or a pubcrawl there's no problem. The problem is when some of the players enjoy that and some of the players are bored silly by that.

No, I mean if you want to go shopping, then just go shopping.  The mall's 45 minutes away.
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CRKrueger

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2016, 08:58:55 pm »
Well I didn't say shopping, I said pubcrawling, which could always lead to plenty of interesting things that are worthy of raising adventuring skills.  I have had entire nights of tavern and city crawling in D&D where it was mostly fun roleplaying, not much XP was handed out and no one really minded.  So in a session or hour based system you could...just do the exact same thing.

I'm not really seeing a downside that even comes close to balancing out the upside of not having any metagame thought involved in XP and advancement, which seems like a feature, not a bug.
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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2016, 12:45:21 am »
"It seems to me, Wormwood, that you take a great many words to tell a very simple story."
You should go to GaryCon.  Period.

The rules can't cure stupid, and the rules can't cure asshole.

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2016, 05:17:01 pm »
Quote from: BedrockBrendan;929642

However, this is a gaming discussion, and that almost demands some preamble full of legalistic qualifying remarks.

:D
OK, that was a good one;).

As for the rest of it, I disagree.

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For my purposes, roleplaying is a group-based game in which the primary focus is a social one, regardless of the particular setting and set of rules.  Gaming scenarios are there to create an environment in which the players use their imaginations to deal with situations through the eyes of their characters.  The behavior of and interaction between the player characters is the feature that sets a roleplaying game apart from other types of games and other forms of entertainment and ultimately defines what it is that I am talking about when I use the term “roleplaying” game. There are other types of games that are often lumped in under the general term of “roleplaying games” and I have played some of them and I enjoy some of them, but they are not what I am talking about here. I’m not talking about 40k battles or a LARP session where never a die is rolled. I’m not talking about a group of players who aren’t interested in loot or treasure.  I’m talking about normal meat-and-potatoes RPGs and RPGers.

I think you put too much and yet at the same time, not enough value on that "meat-and-potatoes" qualifier.
First, you seem to assume the players will always chase the XP.
Second, you also seem to assume that players will believe "the most rewarding roleplaying is consistent with and true to your own motivations and ambitions".
IME, one of these isn't going to be true, however:).

If the first case is false, you can give XP for whatever and it doesn't matter. It will even out, and nobody would even notice.
If the second is false, it doesn't matter whether the players are chasing the XP, that's what they're going to do anyway.

Besides, let's accept both would be true.
The idea that "GM-generated XP awards meant to incentivize character behavior are directly opposed to the ideal of roleplaying, because the effect is always to pit the desires of the player against the desires of the character he plays" is still untrue in more than one case.

The player might be playing a character whose goals naturally coincide with the ones the system rewards, like playing a Chivalrous knight in Pendragon. So, no "always" contradiction.
The GM might not be rewarding specific behaviour, but "staying true to the character, as interpreted so far". Since that's what you're trying to do anyway, according to your definition, the GM is just giving you "performance feedback".
The GM might not be rewarding specific behaviour, but behaviour that improved everybody's enjoyment. I mean, people have to watch you roleplaying your character. It is only fitting with the definition of "a social activity" that you should be rewarded for making it more fun for them:p!

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A player naturally wants to see his character improve.  He wants the character to gain new skills or spells to further express the character’s personality, to further that character’s goals and plans.

Actually no, I can do this by gaining favours, money and influence. New skills and spells are kinda secondary to that.
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On with the first example, the famous “baby goblins” scenario. The group kills the adult goblins and then finds a room with female goblins and/or infant goblins.  In the simplest version of the behavioral incentive dilemma, the GM awards XPs strictly per monster killed.  Period.  Well, it would be surprising to find an adventuring group which, under these conditions, did not have at least one character who ends up instigating a fight with the goblins women and children for those extra 20 XPs per goblin (or whatever the reward).  Even more surprising would be to find a group that did not collectively shrug and then join in the slaughter of the female and young goblins once the fight began, secure in the knowledge that it was that other player who caused the fight, not me.

...I'm pretty sure most groups I've played in wouldn't have THAT player. Or if we had, he'd be reined in.

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Even if there is a player who resists the inclination to collect the extra XPs he knows he will miss out on, and instead decides to actively protect the helpless goblin civilians, he is still doing so with that dramatic irony lurking in the back of his mind – the knowledge that he is remaining true to the goals of his character only at the expense of the XPs that he still desires to have as a player even if he is willing to forego them in the interest of roleplaying integrity.

No. By doing this, he shows he can be trusted to rein in his associates, and gains a debt from the goblin tribe.
And he can now recruit goblin spearmen for his expedition. See above example.

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One of the easiest ways to prove that I am right is to consider the campaigns that you have participated in as a player and not a as a GM and to ask yourself if you ever ended up wanting to roleplay your character in a manner that would have resulted in less XPs or slower advancement for the entire group, or if you noticed situations where you felt your roleplaying was undervalued or misinterpreted by the GM, and not credited as it should have been towards your character’s advancement.

No on the first point, but maybe I was lucky or didn't notice I'd get more XP if my Toreador had been diablerizing enemies instead of organizing a Vamp Dance-Off in the club another PC owned...:D
Yes on the latter.
So? You know, except in some cases, I assume the Referee might be right. And anyway, I might get less XP tonight, but in another situation I'd get more XP than I'd have credited myself with. It evens out, IME. So no, it doesn't "undermine my experience as a roleplayer".

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Sure it does, and you vow to yourself that when you are a GM you will rectify the situation by never scoring XPs in that way.  YOU will solve that problem by giving XPs for X Y and Z and by noticing (insert thing your GM ignored) and by not doing (insert lousy thing).  Oddly enough, of every single GM that you have ever known, only YOU know how to accurately and fairly award XPs.

Again, no. There are GMs that I admit are better than me at awarding the XP. I've played with those.
I'm also trying to learn from them. Humility, a word you don't hear much lately, is still as important today as it was back when it was in vogue:D!

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Everybody thinks that, even your players.

I doubt it.
And even if they did, so what? They might be right.

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I’ll give you a much more subtle example.  What about a GM who awards character involvement?  That seems reasonable, even laudable.  A character who talks to NPCs and gets in there and gets involved in the details of the adventure gets more XPs than characters who sit back and don’t talk.  That seems to make lots of sense at first. But what about when a player intentionally crafts a character who lost his daughter and wife in the war and just stopped caring and has a death wish? He doesn’t want to talk to NPCs and he is perfectly happy to follow the group leader and is perfectly willing to die for the only friends he has left, his adventuring party.

You reward him for following his character and staying all alone and having the back of the other PCs.
And you reward the other guy for being nosy, because it's what his character would do, too.
The difference? One of them gets favours and information. The other one gets a reputation for a grim slayer who'd rather kill you than smile at you. Both are happy.

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The larger point is that there is no sense in trying to be the judge of what is “good” roleplaying and what is “inferior” roleplaying, because no GM can possibly see inside another player’s soul or mind

I use the advanced communication technique of asking them after the session "why did you do that?"
The explanation is fun.

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Sometimes player behavior may have to be restricted or punished as too disruptive to the group, like when a player shows up to game sessions drunk or has a habit of talking over everyone else at the table. Often in-character behavior may have negative campaign consequences, such as a thief who is caught and hanged for stealing a horse.  These issues are completely distinct from XPs awarded to actively encourage or discourage a certain type of character behavior.

Your thief is hanged. You lose all XP gained until now for following his thieving tendences.
How is that not incentivising a given behaviour?

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Another example is the common practice of rewarding groups or individuals for completing certain objectives. If the group figures out x or solves the mystery of y then they get (insert XP award). This type of reward is often given with the intention of motivating players to follow a certain story path or keep after “adventure goals.”  While expedient for the GM, who might simply desire to stick to the script of the module he is reading from or has designed, it is often quite frustrating for a player who takes an interest in a certain detail of the campaign which has nothing to do with the official script. Now a character’s interest in some element of the campaign is pitted against the player’s desire to improve that character.

And that's a problem why? If I want to explore it, I probably believe there's something in it for my PC.

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It can get worse if the rest of the players are convinced that what a certain character is interested in will only delay a story-related XP bonus.  They can become hostile to the actions of a character as a result, where they would otherwise have either had no objection or would have actually taken interest themselves had they not felt the need to pursue story goal awards.

And that's a group problem. With a group I'd gladly leave behind, frankly;). If people are chasing against the clock to level up before the next fight...then I can safely assume it's a fight that expected us to have a certain XP amounts in order to win? So, I need to follow the string of encounters, carefully calibrated so we could win them - which is something I dislike on principle basis. And it's a much worse turn-off than my contribution to the session being overlooked at the XP hour.

So yeah, different strikes for different folks.
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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2016, 06:51:00 am »
I disagree strongly with the OP. The GM certainly should be incentivising behaviour that contributes to the enjoyment of the group as a whole, himself included. Typically this means behaviour in accord with the agreed premise of the game. The player may want to play a surly basketweaver who has to be dragged into every adventure, can't fight and never contributes to discussions, but I see nothing wrong in discouraging this concept and encouraging more desirable ones. Even lone wolf type characters, a common concept in fiction, are generally best restricted to solo campaigns. You may think your brooding loner PC is cool and awesome but IME they are generally not much fun for the other players.
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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2016, 09:57:14 am »
Quote from: S'mon;933033
I disagree strongly with the OP. The GM certainly should be incentivising behaviour that contributes to the enjoyment of the group as a whole, himself included. Typically this means behaviour in accord with the agreed premise of the game. The player may want to play a surly basketweaver who has to be dragged into every adventure, can't fight and never contributes to discussions, but I see nothing wrong in discouraging this concept and encouraging more desirable ones. Even lone wolf type characters, a common concept in fiction, are generally best restricted to solo campaigns. You may think your brooding loner PC is cool and awesome but IME they are generally not much fun for the other players.

So fixing social issues at the table through mechanics?  Bad idea.  

You may as well go back to the Forge idea of training the filthy Gamist plebs how to properly "roleplay" like their Narrativist betters (ie. from the OOC 3rd person authorial stance) through reward mechanics.  Even better, you want the GM be sole judge of such things so we can have a helping of "Play the GM, not the game" nonsense going on.

Jesus Wept.  A well-played setting with well-roleplayed characters will provide all the carrots and sticks that are needed, in setting, where they belong.

You may think your attempts at behavior engineering is cool and awesome but IME they are generally not much fun for anyone except the useless shitbag who attempts them. ;)
« Last Edit: November 29, 2016, 10:10:40 am by CRKrueger »
Even the the "cutting edge" storygamers for all their talk of narrative, plot, and drama are fucking obsessed with the god damned rules they use. - Estar

Yes, Sean Connery's thumb does indeed do megadamage. - Spinachcat

Isuldur is a badass because he stopped Sauron with a broken sword, but Iluvatar is the badass because he stopped Sauron with a hobbit. -Malleus Arianorum

"Tangency Edition" D&D would have no classes or races, but 17 genders to choose from. -TristramEvans

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2016, 10:35:25 am »
Quote from: CRKrueger;933046
So fixing social issues at the table through mechanics?  Bad idea.  

"XP for gold" or "XP for killing monsters" or "XP for overcoming challenges" is not "fixing social issues at the table through mechanics" or "behavior engineering" by "useless shitbag". That's really dumb. XP as a reward mechanism works great IME and I see no reason to change it.
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BedrockBrendan

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2016, 08:08:33 am »
XP as a reward mechanism for what the game focuses on is fine by me. As long as it also kind of makes some sense and isn't totally divorced from the reality of the world you are in. So XP for gold, or XP for killing monsters, that is fine IMO. Lately I tend to prefer more general approaches that emphasize the passage of time and doing important things. But most XP systems, except ones that based on actually using the skill that improves or something, seem to fall apart under scrutiny. XP for killing monsters makes sense, if your XP is making you better at killing monsters. But if you getting better at using computers or weaving a basket as a result, it makes considerably less sense. Even then though, things like training rules to level or gain Xp are enough of a handwave for me.

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Incentivizing Roleplaying Behavior: A Bad Idea (Mark Brantingham)
« Reply #14 on: December 01, 2016, 08:54:53 pm »
True Brendan, they all have a downside, even a pure time system has its issues if The Caves of Chaos deliver the same experience as Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

A time one though, seems to have the least OOC incentive, and arguably the least amount of handwavium to rationalize, which always seems to be a good idea.
Even the the "cutting edge" storygamers for all their talk of narrative, plot, and drama are fucking obsessed with the god damned rules they use. - Estar

Yes, Sean Connery's thumb does indeed do megadamage. - Spinachcat

Isuldur is a badass because he stopped Sauron with a broken sword, but Iluvatar is the badass because he stopped Sauron with a hobbit. -Malleus Arianorum

"Tangency Edition" D&D would have no classes or races, but 17 genders to choose from. -TristramEvans