This week we’re covering the benefits and drawbacks of a challenge based advancement system.
Challenge based experience systems are a staple of most any game with “RPG Elements” and many table top RPGs. This is mainly because they are remarkably easy to use. If every monster, trap, angry mob, and belligerent mechanical chicken are worth a set amount of experience for defeating, then the Game Master doesn’t actually need to do a whole lot of work determining the rewards the player gets from them. Dungeons and Dragons is a terrific example of this, where every monster and trap has a “Challenge Rating” that determines it’s worth in experience points and a convenient table detailing the amount of treasure it ought to be carrying at time of death. This sort of system is very good at forestalling arguments among the players and the game master over rewards, as it’s very clear what rewards a player should gain after every challenge is surmounted. All in all, it is a very clean way to handle advancement. Shoot X number of monster Y until they fall down, receive Z experience and A fancy new hat.
There are, however, a number of drawbacks to that system. The main problem with a challenge based experience system is that it has a tendency to encourage bloodthirstiness among it’s players. When players have spent their entire gaming career becoming more powerful by slaughtering droves of enemies and laughing at their widows (role-playing is always good), they often develop a Pavlovian response to challenges. Many an interesting and pace changing social encounter has been ground beneath the boot of a kick in the door party because they had no idea the concept of dialogue with foes existed. Worse than that are the games and game masters who penalize their players for attempting a creative solution to a problem. As the Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 books state, the player should get the same experience for sneaking past a sleeping minotaur that they should for fighting it, as either way the challenge of the minotaur is defeated. One can make a decent argument for the players only really learning through combat, but only a fool treads this path. As soon as you do this, the players can simply hire local adventurers to duke it out with them until they level up. It becomes even harder to compensate for this sort of thing on the video game front. In games such as Fallout, one often has the option of negotiating with an enemy or attacking them. This is a trick, however! The most experience, and therefore the most power, can always be had by negotiating with an enemy and THEN killing all of them! The flip side is that every creature not brutally murdered becomes a chunk of experience they will never see again. The same can apply back to tabletop games in the more extreme cases, where not brutally murdering the kobolds and their children becomes the difference between being able to throw fireballs and being able to turn air itself into fire.And no one wants to have to look into the teary eyes of a baby kobold and make that choice.
So that’s killing stuff for advancement, next week we’ll do telling a good story for advancement. And then I’ll talk about a good mix.