Thursday, January 16, 2014

Upping incentives for a one-shot or con adventure

In preparing for this year's upcoming Con of the North, at which I'll be running a Rad Astra-themed X-plorers game, I was thinking about things I'd wanted to improve on since last year.

Yes, yes, I'd like to play less fast-and-loose with the rules. And yes, yes, I'd like charge to go more smoothly. (Read a play report on that game here.)

But it occurred to me that there was maybe another more subtle issue I hadn't picked up on. If one of the main incentives during roleplay games (other than, ya know, playing the game!) is to gain XP to level up--and you've got no chance of continuing said session later on (especially if it's at a con)--then what are the players playing for?
Top image: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

Now mind you, I'm fully aware this is nitpicking. But that doesn't mean it's without some basis. I think I was extraordinarily lucky last time to have a group of highly motivated individuals at my table. Rather, I had a table that included some highly-motivated RPGers. There were, perhaps, one or two folks who sort of didn't go whole-hog, if you get my meaning.

Now they could be the kind of player who's just MUCH more casual about their style of gaming. Or maybe they didn't get what was going on--or even held back because they weren't super experienced at gaming (my default postition for learning new rules BTW, is to hang back before jumping in, so I get this P.O.V.).

That said, I tried to come up with some solutions for what's likely, not a huge problem. But I think I also wanted to dangle a little extra some'n-some'n in front of players that would encourage them to be more engrossed in the game.

Idea 1: Use XP to Fuel Next Encounter

Call it: insta-leveling! Or not. We all agree that there's no incentive to hold on to XP in a one-off game to build their character, right? So players might as well try and acquire XP to do more in the current game. Since no one's leveling up let's award XP after each encounter. Players are rewarded for roleplaying (highest value), achieving game goals (medium value), dispatching foes (lowest value).
  • Step 1: Make the XP awards nice and round, so everyone gets 40 each for helping to slay the space dragon and 60 each removing the eggs from her lair. Total = 100
  • Step 2: If they choose to now, players can divide their XP total by 10 (In this example, 100 /10 - 10 points.
  • Step 3: Players can elect to use those points to add to future rolls, spells, impossible feats, or just add to damage. They get to parse it out as they choose in the next encounter, be it combat, checking for traps, fixing the warp drive, etc.
  • Step 3: Repeat through next encounter.

Right away, I think I'd have to be making each encounter more difficult/crazy. that really a bad thing?

XP earned = XP used!

One concession I'd be willing to make is to let the players know ahead of time how many encounters to expect in the game. I wouldn't go into detail, preferring to keep what will be a skirmish, puzzle, trap, or big battle to myself. But at least it gives them a sense of what might lie ahead that they can spend these points on.

I also wouldn't tell them that while they may get a fair amount of XP in the first encounter, the next one could be really light on XP. So, they need to think strategically about how they want to spend their XP bonus. They can spend and save, splurge, or save it all up for the end.

A variation of XP for in-game encounters might be to award for solely for roleplaying, so as not to highlight combat as much and really drive them to get into the setting more. The more engaged they are, the more they're rewarded for the next encounter.

Idea 2: Roleplay For Your Rolls

So this is more abstract, and would take some explaining at the table. It's feeling right now like this might be more geared toward newbies specifically.

Basically, anytime a roll is required, the players need to give a deeper explanation of what they're doing. This might seem dangerous almost--but I'd drop XP all together for this one. Make it as simple as possible:

Scenario: During a cantina encounter a PC finds himself in a gunslinging showdown. His dexterity is the same as or lower than his opponent, so he'll need to roll to see if he can pull off a shot before the other dude.

"Hey Bobby, take off that helmet and show him how ugly you are!"
There's not so much, steps, as a scoring system:
  • Roleplay to Roll: Provide details about how you'll pull of feat = +1 to hit 
    • "I lift my head ever so slightly to throw him off, reach for my , but I'm sweating up a storm!"
    • GM confirms this is enough detail to allow the PC to fire his weapon 
  • Signal Your Wingman: Include another PC in your attempt = +2 to hit
    • "I wink at Hoss in hopes that he'll get my cue to throw a drink and distract my enemy."
    • Hoss complies by tossing a shot onto the floor. (Note: Hoss can only roleplay a solution, he can't really perform a separate action like shoot the badguy himself.)
  • Call the Calvalry: Get your whole team involved = +1 to hit for each team member
    • "I whoop and hollar at my crew to shout alien obscenities the moment his hand reaches for his weapon."
    • Team members each roleplay something to help the PC gain an edge in distracting foe.
    • He earns a +1 from each of them to add to his roll
Obviously the idea here is for the PC to gain some sort of advantage in the situation. It's essentially everyone understands that the modifiers only apply to whatever action the PC is currently attempting in this round. GM's perogative: add in extra +1s or give a damage bonus if the PC's compadres really go for it with the roleplaying antics.

My off-the-bat fear on this one is that not every situation will lend itself to this kind of co-operative roleplay. The other party members might choose to comply, choose not to, or choose to do something so off-the-wall that it garners more points on their pal's behalf. I think it's worth experimenting with to see how players get their teammates involved.

There's also the side benefit of getting power-gamers to be as uber focused on their buddies' attempts as they would be in crunching numbers for their own at bats. It's always a bit irksome when a player arrives with every intention of playing solo in what's essentially a team sport. This could help the situation by prodding them to think about the team since that's the only way they themselves will earn bonuses.

These are all spitball ideas. I'm sure some variation fo these has been tried in the past, yes? Anyone try anything different with XP in finite game sessions at cons and such? 
Insults, derisions, mocking, and general banter welcome in the comments!


  1. Jay my friend, this is why the 'Hero Point' was invented.


    In all seriousness, I completely agree with the concept here, reward good playing right away since we may never see each other again. At the same time, the standard OSR xp system is really, really bad for that. I will say I like your tweaks, but since the default XP system isn't really in use here, why make the numbers so high? You could make it 4 and 6 instead of 40 and 60 and keep your numbers lower and easier to manage.

    Another cool instant use of xp is that seen in Marvel Heroic. There, certain events and especially characters are 'unlocked' like in a video game by spending xp and/or doing some key action.

    So for example, if the players can get to the Detention Zone aboard the Imperium's Doom Sun Battle Station, they can spend xp to release the Space Princess and have her join the team. You could even say it costs a single player 10 points to release her or only 9 points if three PCs will spend 3 points each (a discount for teamwork).

    Just some ideas. I like where you are going with this. Keep us updated and let us know how it goes.

  2. "You could make it 4 and 6 instead of 40 and 60 and keep your numbers lower and easier to manage."

    That's definitely easier. I think I was still thinking high numbers would help experienced players not feel short-changed. But I freely admit I'm likely over-thinking that!

    The Marvel Heroic unlocking method sounds VERY intriguing. I'll have to track down a copy and investigate. I can see that also being a way of letting players influence the story path a bit (as long as the GM (myself, really) has done the necessary prep work!

    Excellent comments as always Adam. Thank you!!

  3. Just circling back, but there's more XP ideas here that are pretty cool: