Analyzing System

Ron talks with Levi about his new system, The Exchange (which sounds cool, though maybe not as cool as The Cog War, a diceless thing that sounds very very cool and is apparently almost ready for distribution.
I particularly like this bit of history on reward systems in games.

Quick conceptual point: reward and resolution
In most games before the mid-1990s, character improvement was the main perceived reward. It occurred in units of one or more sessions (often more), and only between rather than during sessions. A number of house-rules, starting ‘way back when, used the points of character-improvement as dice-modifiers, usually re-rolls or take-backs, although this didn’t show up in official game texts for a long time.
In other words, a reward mechanic limited to character improvement and only taking place between sessions (sometimes many sessions) wasn’t enough to satisfy the needs of a reward system, in a lot of cases. People sometimes wanted a reward mechanic that affected how play itself was conducted. Later, interestingly, character improvement became an important part of play as well (I don’t know what game was first; one mid-1990s example is Morpheus, and a later one is Obsidian). At this late date, it seems to me that mechanics like Luck/Unluck in Champions or Good Stuff/Bad Stuff in Amber were kind of transitional between a D&D model and a (for example) Shadow of Yesterday one, where reward/improvement is continuous and ongoing.
To put all this into a nutshell, one trend about reward mechanics is that they moved from fixed-effect, between-play, relatively rare events into constant, during-play, manipulable-effect events, and as such, highly integrated with specific moments of resolution, not just reward. I’m not saying this trend started with bad and ended up with good. I’m saying that now, the whole spectrum of reward-to-resolution is available to be tailored for a particular game.

I think one of the reasons that TSoY actually jolts folks is because of that ‘in game’ reward system, ticking away — it’s really not something folks are used to. By comparison, TSoY runs this different than any other ‘indie’ narr game:
* Sorcerer’s system of stat-improvement is very much ‘over multiple sessions’ in the traditional vein
* PTA has no means of character improvement, and Fan Mail, which IS the main reward in the game, feels more like an ergonomic ‘dice sharing’ system than “XP”.
* Dogs in the Vineyard comes closest to that middle-of-the-game model, with Fallout Experience (very probably) accruing after every conflict, but that’s a bit different than TSoY as well — DitV has dice rolls that tell you ‘okay, you can have XP now,’ thus absolving the player of the ‘guilt’ of enjoying it when they get rewarded — the dice told them to, after all. In TSoY, you have to actively reach out and claim the points you earn for the things you’re doing, and people shy away from that, conditioned for years by the gamer attitude that wanting XP and improvement is somehow juvenile. TSoY vets call it “Key Guilt.”
Eh. Tangent — at any rate, it’s shaping up to be another interesting conversation between Ron and Levi, and less Socratic than the first one.


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