Over in the chocolate/peanut butter post, MT said:
I keep thinking that there are challenges that were made by players (character background, character choices in-game), challenges built by GMs (modules and scenarios, world events), and challenges agreed to by the group as a whole (well, more results-oriented “group agrees that that’s the evolution/eventuality). (And maybe system challenges: random encounters?)
I’m going to challenge the term ‘challenge’ as it’s used in this paragraph. I think ‘conflicts’ or ‘potential conflicts’ might be clearer and speak more to what each participant is bringing to the table. Example: “I hate Corwin” is a potential conflict introduced by character background. So is “I love Deirdre.”
Now, in that example above, the best GM-conflict that I can quickly think of is this: “Dierdre wants you to help Corwin” — and I’m shameless — I would totally hit that sucker like a kid getting to ring the dinner bell. It’s not a module or scenario or a world event, but a crisis-point, packed with significance: no matter what the player chooses to do, including nothing, says something very significant about that character, and expands out like a pebble-ripple to color the tone of the whole game. I think that making up good Bangs is really all the prep you need to do for a lot of character-oriented games.2 They are of much less use in games like Capes, or they look very different.
Now, you can take this further — you might ask all the players to tie themselves into three NPCs from a pre-set list, giving them a relationship to them where something important is at risk; you might ask each player for a ‘super-bang’ of their own devising — something that happens at the beginning of play that takes ‘the way things are’ and makes it impossible to simple ‘continue as i have been’ — there’s lots of ways to get the players to give you more player-authored conflicts or potential conflicts. 3
I think that’s a different (if related by marriage) issue. You talk about rewards. I see you looking at how human intervention (GM/PC) connects to game structure (rule-set, etc.) and the resulting rewards. Are you looking mostly at in-game rewards, or does story=reward? (Or both? Or neither?)
Both. Definitely both, especially for these types of games that we’re discussing.1
I’m just going to make this whole initial post an exercise in ripping off Sorcerer ideas for Amber, aren’t I?
What you might do in Amber is require a player-authored Kicker and give that player a “spend” aftere they resolve that Kicker in play — usually, resolving it means the end to that character’s current ‘arc’, and that makes a good point to reassess and reevaluate (and spend points! Woo!) Then they write up a new Kicker for the next session, and play continues.4
The out of game reward requires a little meta-talk about what the theme is going to be in the game. “Family Loyalty” or “The Worth of a Promise” or “Paying Your Debts” or something. (I’d give you an example from one of my Amber games, but I really can’t — I don’t think we had one.) Once that’s done, and the GM is constructing Bangs that (a) hit those ‘flags’ the players built into their characters and (b) echo back into the agreed-on theme, you get that non-mechanical “dude, cool” moments out of play that equates to a non-game reward.
Footnotes below (so that I can pretend this post isn’t as long as it really is).
1 – I.e.: Narr games, in which the mechanical reward comes when you address theme in a conflict and the social reward comes from that ‘dude, cool’ moment when a scene really resonates. In a gamist-type game, the mechanical award comes from overcoming tactical challenge, and the social reward comes from that ‘dude, cool’ moment when you really put ‘your guy’ into some risk in order to step up and beat the challenge. The social reward in Sim games comes in the ‘dude, cool’ moment when you really evoke the setting in a way that makes it easy to immerse in, I think.
2 – In narr-jargon terms, that crisis point is a ‘bang’. It’s a decision point that the character can’t ignore (or where ignoring is a choice they can make that means something), where the decision says something about the character that maybe we didn’t know before. In prep for most of my games, I come up with about three Bangs for each character, and the resulting events/actions/conflicts that involve or stem from those Bangs will easily fill a game session — I don’t do any kind of prep beyond that, and reminding myself to have NO SOLUTION OR PREDICTIONS OF THEIR CHOICES IN MIND.
3 – Entirely stolen from the Sorcerer concept of Kickers. Kickers and Bangs are probably the most-cribbed parts of the Sorcerer RPG.
4 – Or they switch to a new guy or something. Whatever.