Sunday, January 6, 2013

Arcade Games

Recently, I've seen a number of posts that - as a game design - propose exchanging experience points for things, such as character prestige, stats, girlfriends, magic items and so on.  I understand the value of this; experience points are gainable with reasonable ease, thus trading them away is not too damaging to the player's character, and at any rate if I'm seventh and I drop a few thousand on something, its not as though I've gone down a level or anything.

I'm curious as to how this works out logically, however.  Not that I feel the game has to be 'logical,' but since experience points represent, well, experience, how exactly does one become LESS experienced in the process of gaining a better strength or a nice new gnoll knee knocker?  Um, sorry, that's a halfling club +2, gnoll slayer.

Is it required for one to take one's shoe off, or one's hard metal helmet, and beat oneself in the head long enough to gain the attention of the local lord, which one can trade for by piecing out a set amount of experience?  How stupid - or rather, suddenly forgetful - do you have to actually become if you want to be the 8th Lord of the Limbic Lands of Ladswashall?  Because this is all the experience really is ... memory.  I remember having wiped out those three orcs near the village of Gagsdoodle, which was when I learned to use the mace a lot better, which then I used later on in fighting the Seven Krights of Needing.  I know how to use this mace.  I remember swinging it just so to mash heads ... oh, wait, I've forgotten which is the fat end.

As I say, mechanically this experience exchange thing is a good idea.  I guess.  On the whole it reminds me of the way many people view their house equity ... as a sort of money storage pit which they pull from in order to go off on vacation or throw a nice wedding for their fourth daughter.  Now this is all fine and all for equity - I think people should be issued a credit card with their mortgage that has a picture of their house on it, for quicker ease of never paying the mortgage off - but its a little silly where it comes to something your character is supposed to have learned.  No?

The real reason why experience is reached for is that it just seems so darn convenient.  There are all those built up points, like tickets at a Chuck E. Cheese, not actually doing anything.  My, that seems like an awful waste.  We ought to put those tickets to use, so players can buy really neat stuff from the inventory kiosk we've conveniently located at the front.  And it is nice to trade things for things ... so here's a thing we can trade!  No matter what it's purpose was or what it means literally or even the lack of sense in how trading this for that actually works.

I urge game designers to think about the transmutation of experience as a "measure of effort" into a pecuniary value that can be traded for 'stuff.'  It is a somewhat exhausted game methodology; it cheapens the climb to level, which is very substantial to the game ... and on the whole it presses Dungeon Masters to award more experience to players in order to be traded for more stuff, rather than simply awarding players the stuff upon successfully completing a given task that logically could grant them whatever they'd trade for.

In short, it's a game short cut.  Rather that actually having to work for the item in the good old real world, its only another way for players to circumvent all the inconvience of adventuring and roleplaying and thinking and designing plans by jumping straight to the Kiosk of Happy Having.  Worse, its a way for DMs to circumvent all the bother of DESIGNING adventures and presenting a GAME in exchange for mollifying players with a lot of cheap, shiny objects.  What fun.

I'll step aside and let Chuck E. sing the song now.


Ozzie Pippenger said...

I see what you mean. The only thing in my games that requires experience, besides leveling up, is enchanting items. And in that case, characters really do lose their memories.

I think in some cases a system like this could work though. If the transferred experience represents time spent pursuing some other goal instead of training, for example. I also don't think experience for stat boosts is such a bad idea. A wizard in a dungeon shouldn't suddenly learn new spells that he's never heard of before, but it's completely logical that he could have been practicing his memory in his spare time, or just getting more used to casting spells in combat, thereby improving his intelligence.

In general though, systems like this create illogical situations and undermine the normal flow of the game. When I need players to exchange a collected resource for an in game benefit, I just use gold.

JD said...

The term "experience" leaves room for interpretation, though. If it is seen as some sort of individual subjectivity derived from perception, it might be open for revision, too.

To use your example, let's say the xp earned by using a mace is traded for some divine benefit, like an ability boost. In this case a character wouldn't state he forgot how to use a mace, but instead claim the power given by the gods helped him slay his foes (and in doing so (that is, slaying them) he gained new xp, validating the claim).

People "giving up their lifes" to join a cult or sect might be another example. Dismissing experience for something else isn't that unusal, it's also a process of learning. Or like writing a sentence and deleting it to write a new one instead.

That said, arguing in game terms (and now that I think about it) I'd only allow to use the number of xp available without loosing a level, so the xp a character earns are open to revision, as long as he didn't level up.

So finally it's about semantics and playstyle. In some D&D variants you need to find a teacher to level up, so you gain a level by giving up xp. It's the same process, given the perspective. The number of xp needed to achieve another level is derived from the number before that, but that doesn't mean those xp still "exist" after leveling up.

Chris Blauwkamp said...

I like the last paragraph, and agree with your point there. But I'm wondering if there's a way to think about experience points where it makes more sense to trade them away for 'stuff', at least for certain sorts of stuff. The function of experience points in the game is primarily to make you better at combat. Depending on the system and your class, it may also do other things, but this is the main benefit. And so it might make more sense out of a trading system if you thought of experience as not just memory but also attention. To the extent you're paying attention to gaining the favor of Lady Isilmere, or politicking for that fiefdom from Lord Pudgy, you're spending less attention on improving your combat skills, and so levelling more slowly.

Timothy Brannan said...

Pretty much every other game out there does this. In Unisystem, GURPS and World of Darkness for example you can exchange XP for qualities, skills, stat boosts and the like. The trick is finding a good translation matrix. Say 100 xp per point boost. So to go to 19 STR from 18 will cost 1900 xp. You can only move up 1 point per level.

Or something like that.

Alexis said...

It is cognitive dissonance to argue against "It is done too much" with "everyone does it."

Oddbit said...

First of all, the claim that everyone does it is entirely false. Not only does a Myriad of D20 systems and every DnD system not use individual XP purchasing, but also Savage Worlds and a handfull of others do not.

There are intricacies to each individual progression system that make them all very much different. Even comparing between two White Wolf systems reveals some extremely interesting relationships.

Without going in-depth each leveling system has to reflect the innate goals of the system. DnD reflects that certain traits are set in stone, this way getting magical items that enhance them are more valuable.

Games like GURPS have the intent of making an extremely customizable game that allows the player to advance and change with more of a gradient and in a myriad of ways.

Games like Scion or Rogue Trader reflect the de-emphasized wealth by placing them into unique traits as opposed to individual coins.

You shouldn't tamper with these systems without knowing the many effects that come from doing so.

For instance, say a party decides to keep purchasing things at level 1 before reaching level 2. If the GM doesn't increase all challenges to level 2 when the party SHOULD have reached that level, they will be much too powerful, but how easy would it be for the GM to track this? Would the adventurers be offended if they were crushed? Would it be a valid complaint?

Furthermore, as I alluded to before, but making these investments with XP, they devalue stats at creation, magic items that would boost them, magic items in general, gold, social skills and so on. As all of these things are gained with XP rather than the normal hard work.

Admittedly, one still has to work to GAIN XP, but now one doesn't have to work to gain anything else.

Dak Ultimak said...

Exchanging XP for "perks and luxuries" instead of skills, abilities and class features? Seems counter to the whole concept of Class Levels. Those things, like parties and girlfriends, should be benefits and earning levels, not a trade-off. In "skill based" games, it's different, and makes more sense. But class levels were intended (or designed) to be "abstract" representations of power, skill, prestige, chicks and parties. You get followers at 6th level, you become the Lord of a keep at 9th, etc.

Alexis said...

A very, very nicely made argument, Oddbit.