Learning all the time

This week we’re talking about methods of advancing your players.

I’m planning on being relatively quick this week and returning to this idea in depth later. Anyways, I’m going to start by explaining the two main forms of experience point distribution, story based and challenge based.

Challenge based experience is dolled out, fittingly enough, after every challenge. Every pie eating contest you win, every minotaur you kill, and every princess you save all give you some amount of experience. This is the traditional method used in Dungeons and Dragons, most MMORPGs, and notably (for the purposes of this article) the first Mass Effect. This is an effective method as it allows players to feel like there is a direct correlation between their actions and their rewards.In Mass Effect, every time you shot someone in the face, you were one step closer to being more effective at shooting people in the face. The problems this sort of system can run into is that story can take a back seat to experience acquisition. If not handled properly, it is very easy to find your players slaughtering their way through everything in their path because it is the optimum route to power. A game where the solution to not being able to beat a challenge of wits is to go shoot giant scorpions for an hour is not a game whose narrative is completely entwined with game-play (I’m looking at you, Fallout). By a similar token, if the criteria for defeating a challenge is loose enough, the players will simply find an easy challenge, such as sneaking past someone, and farm it until they have all the experience they can possibly want (now I’m looking at the Elder Scrolls games).

The opposite of this is setting progress based rewards. Whether time or story based, these are experience points (which I’m using as a catchall term for advancement, if that hadn’t been noticed) given to the player when they reach a certain point in the story. Perhaps after the quest to rescue the princess has been successfully completed, or the player is now pie eating champion of the local bar, but they have finished a leg of their quest and have thus gained experience. This system allows you to tailor more effectively the levels of advancement your party can reach, as well as timing them more accurately. The downside of a progress based rewards system is that your players can end up feeling unfulfilled. Maybe they were supposed to escape from the castle overrun by ghouls and instead they killed all of them, and yet they got the same measly rewards. Players like to believe they are getting better because they have been working at it, not because it was time for them to get better. Good examples of this type of experience system can be found in most White Wolf games, Mass Effect 2 (compare the two to see the differences), and most games where you get an unlock able at the end of every level.

That’s it for this week, I’ll be tying it together next week.

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