Monday, February 14, 2011

To The Answering Herd

At the end of last week, amid some very fine dialogue about awarding experience, with arousing arguments and counterarguments, I was led to do some thinking about the reactions I'd received.  I felt that I could organize those replying into three categories:

1)  Those interested in trying the system who want more information about the particulars
2)  Those not interested in trying the system who nevertheless feel curious about the system's methodology in solving experience problems
3)  Those who feel the system is stupid

It would be nice if everyone answering a post would assign a number to the beginning of their comment.  In that case, I could be certain if my answering the individual's question was likely to change their mind, or only inspire a further series of purposeless bear-baiting or self-satisfied condescension.  But then, group 3 has nothing to gain in declaring themselves, and group 1 is very definitely clear in the way they describe their own interests.

So really its only a question of telling group 2 from group 3.

Let's take an example.  The last question (as of writing this) that I received on the experience question was offered by shlominus: "... any [sic] xp for a character that sneaks into a stronghold and grabs some loot, evading any guards/traps on the way?"  The full text can be found here (comment #20).

The question sounds legitimate.  But there's a certain tone to the way it's asked that says to me: "No matter how you answer this question, it is not going to make any difference in the commenter's head."  Now, that tone may be unintended.  Several commenter's in the past have argued that I've misconstrued their intent.  I don't wish to do that to shlominus.  And the grammatical structure of the question does make room for my misunderstanding him.

Still, I think shlominus is going to run his (her?) game however he flippin' pleases, whatever my experience system.  I feel deeply that if he were the sort of person who could change his mind about the one written in the book, or the thirty or forty other systems that are out there, he could pretty much answer his own question to his own satisfaction without my help.  No one else has rushed forward to answer him (as of yet), so I think the others who comment on my blog have already decided that shlominus is a done deal.

And yet ... that damn question is there, taunting me: "Answer me, Alexis.  You know you want to."

Such is the world of blogging.  There are those who don't find themselves in this position because they never publish anything the least bit controversial.  Or, alternately, the controversy that arises is about something that someone else did somewhere else, so none of those inventing the reason for the debate are actually present in the conversation.

I, on the other hand, appear to be struggling to tear down the established fabric of D&D one rule at a time - and there are those who stalwartly defend their sacredly held rules dogma to the last shred of rationale.  So arguments start here ... with the difference that the actual originator of the thought that is challenging everyone's perception IS here - and he's a spitting, nasty, inconsiderate, condescending bastard.  Except - and this is where a lot of people are really going to have trouble - I'm actually not.

Everyone has their best times, and their worst.  If your neighbor got up daily, exited his side door in his skivvies and peed on your door stoop before heading back inside for his breakfast, you'd be pissed too.  You'd be angry, you'd threaten, you'd cease listening to him and you'd misconstrue most of what he said.  There might be some logical reason why he was doing it ... but chances are you wouldn't jump to logic as your first conclusion.

I tackle these questions I should just leave alone because, to me, it is like someone pissing on my stoop.  It will dry, the rain or the hose will wash it clean, and I don't eat food off my stoop anyway.  But it angers me.  I'm not advancing someone else's ideas, which I have less stake in.  I am passionately arguing my own ideas, my personal thoughts.  This makes me much more volatile than a lot of others who really have no ideas to advance.  And I am particularly volatile to those who seem to think having ideas is a bad idea.  That, in fact, is a habit I picked up from before I began to play D&D ... when as a boy I demanded answers from my teachers, and not the word 'because.'

Ah, well.

Shlominus, the answer to your question is this:  it is only a 'risk' before the fact.  If, after the fact, nothing actually happened to you, then no risk occurred.  However, IF you had to roll dice in order to succeed, and if those dice indicated that you did succeed, then the rolling of the dice occurs produces the same circumstances as combat - and therefore, yes, you would get experience.

On the other hand, if you entered the house, and never actually had to roll a single die in order to achieve your purpose, then no, there was never any actual risk at all.  The risk, one might say, was all in your head - and sorry, we don't reward paranoia.

For those who don't feel that rolling dice to achieve success at a thieves' ability is a combat roll, I wonder what you think is the fundamental difference between a saving throw (where a die is rolled to determine achievement) and a thieving ability.  Really, when you get right down to it, "hide in shadows" is really nothing more than a saving throw against someone else's action - that is, seeing.  I realize that seeing is a lot less volatile, most of the time, than breathing fire, but substantially both acts are, well, "acts" ... just as are paralyzing, petrifying, frightening, hitting and so on.  They are all verbs in language.  You may personally feel that some verbs are more important than others, but since seeing a thief invade a house directly threatens the thief's life, it falls under the heading of combat.

I can't help it if you don't feel the same.  As far as I can tell, the philosophical treatises written about this amount to nix naught nothing, the university degrees offered on the subject are in the same abundance and I am quite as trained in the subject as anyone - and therefore I am just in making the call as I see it.


Tripper said...

(1) First off Alexis, thank you. I think this is a fascinating, inspirational system that is long overdue for some meaningful discussion.

Secondly, you beat me to categorizing the comments. Drat. I was just finishing it up when your blog refreshed. I read Shlominus the same way, fwiw. Dice = risk? Novel.

Lastly, you might be pleased to know your very name evokes a defensive reaction around my table these days. I will not give up on this XP system, however, I just need to broaden it to operate under a different philosophy/ruleset. Thanks again, and keep it up.

Oddbit said...

(2) I love systems. I love hearing about new and different ones, and if I had any plans for a relevant system, I would consider trying it. That said I don't.

Of coarse something I find interesting is that you have many times mentioned you don't want to guide players. I could say you are going back on that point, but I think it makes sense how.

This system, try and punch holes in it as you will, is asking adventurers and heroes to adventure and be heroic. Strange that. It's saying that the people who came to sit at your table with a piece of paper that they painstakingly filled with numbers, to take the dice they lovingly or not so lovingly purchased, mooched or stole to use their dice, refer to their numbers and play the damn game.

Interesting that.

Anonymous said...

As a user of the system, I'd like to note that in its elegance it also eliminates the subjective nature of awarding XP when lacking a definitive end to combat. Say the players fight a group of monsters to a draw or one side or the other retreats. There is still an objectively defined value for their experience. Did you sneak past the party of monsters? No such award... but that diamond you stole is another story. we love it.

Oddbit said...

Actually, a bonus to the retreat situation is the math is there for the combat too. If you look at it in it's entirety.

Zzarchov said...

1 and 2)

I am intrigued by the idea of damage being taken in a mechanical concept, but mostly because with the existing rules I already use that ties in with social conflict and stealth. A thief who fails a hiding roll accrues "suspicion" until caught. Hitpoint equivalents are spent to negate suspicion in the same manner as luck.

Ergo the system mechanically holds interest for me, mainly because it doesn't suffer from the same problems others have with it.

Thus I am not sure..Am I a 1 or a 2?

Anonymous said...

whoa! :)

well, first off, any bad grammar on my part is caused by being forded to post in a foreign language.

as for my intentions...

looking at those 2 quotes from you i was simply curious if the only "physical risk" you award xp for is fighting. you implied that "any" risk might yield xp, so i provided a simple example and asked. i just wanted to know how you do things. (why assume any other motive?)

i thought my question was really straightforward actually. ;)

if you include me in the crowd believing "having ideas is a bad idea"... well, in that case you are quite spectacularly wrong.

as for your answer, sorry to disappoint you, but that's exactly how would do it as well. when i said "physical risk... check" i meant actual risk. "awarding paranoia", as you put it, would obviously make no sense. i also assumed that skills would need to be used. sneaking, listening, finding and disarming traps and so forth.

but since seeing a thief invade a house directly threatens the thief's life, it falls under the heading of combat.

the most likely risk. being seen (with all implied consequences). that's exactly what i was talking about.

anyway, glad i could spark this post, even if you paint me in an unfavorable light. considering you made a whole post just to mock me in the past it's a step forward... i guess.

Anonymous said...

Hang in there shlominus. Alexis is prickly at times but there is a significant return on your investment. :)

The Jovial Priest said...

I fall under category 1) Those interested in trying the system who want more information about the particulars.

The system is intriguing, as are many of your others that have inspired me over the last six months. I am particularly attracted to the reward for risk and activity your XP system invokes. I am slightly concerned about my ability to track the XP in game, as even with your Excel program, I struggle to keep all the other rules I have in my head.

As for risk adverse mages and healers - your system doesn't have to be perfect (ie explain every situation) just better than the previous (rewards for minimal risk when high level multiple special ability monsters are killed or overcome easily). Additionally the system does not have to be balanced perfectly for every character class, just explicit in the rules so the players know what is expected and can best weigh in-game risks.

So yes, as James C says above, you can be prickly and don't take fools kindly, but I am finally signing up as a follower.

I have one question, sensei, on the XP system. How do you handle initiative with your players? Do they fight to strike first in order to gain the most XP by delivering the first and maybe the most damage?

Alexis said...


I play an unique combat system, described here. They very much fight to strike first because in the combat system I play, it's possible to kill someone with blow after blow, never giving them a chance to hit at all.

Arduin said...

I suppose I'm a 1.5 in your scale there, Alexis.

My question is: How does your system handle, for instance, ability score damage? Or level drains and diseases?

I'm fairly certain I saw somewhere in the dark depths of your blog that you'd changed Poisons to deal HP damage (that may be false), and if so, do you deal with ability score damage often, or at all?

It does look to be a very versatile system all around, much in keeping with your usual top-quality work.

Alexis said...


I have no idea what 'ability score damage' is. Sounds 4e to me. Whatever it is, I don't use it.

Level drains cause damage according to the total max. hp of the character divided by their level, ignoring fractions (a 4th level with 26 hit points would lose 6 hp = 120 x.p.)

My poisons, as you say, don't kill unless they cause more damage than the player has. I play 8 hp damage per hit die of the creature using poison, half if save. And damage is damage, no different.

Disease is an act of God. And like insurance companies, you don't get a thing from God.

Hope that helps.

Arduin said...

It does, it truly does.

Ability Score damage, incidentally, is not present in 4E (to my incomplete knowledge). It was used in 2/3rd editions. The idea being that a failed poison save would lower one's STR, CON, or whatever by a certain number of points for a certain period of time. A stat reduced to 0 in such a way incapacitated or killed the character.

Since you don't use it though, sorta moot point. C'est la vie!

Alexis said...

Clears up a lot on my end too, Arduin. There are monsters in AD&D which 'drain' ability stats, notably shadows and troglodytes. Never heard this called damage ... but I've never played either 2e or 3e.

I suppose you could award x.p. for it ... but since it tends to be temporary and self-fixing (particularly with troglodytes), I probably wouldn't myself. That would be a DM's call, however.