Saturday, 16 May 2015

Experience: crunchy vs smoothy

In the last few years I have shifted ground on the following argument: do you get experience in a role playing game for the time and effort you put into the game and your character, ie how many mobs did I kill. OR. Do I get experience because we want to progress the story and we need to get strong as a group to do so.

So the original argument I had with one of my players some time back was that if he didn't show up for a session why doesn't he get experience.  He didn't feel it was fair that just because he was sick he should be punished (as a player I agree, as a GM at the time I didn't, the hypocrisy runs strong in my veins).  Back then I disagreed with him, I said it was reward for attending, to encourage him to attend. He replied, fine I will show up and give you all the flu I have...

For a long time I had held to the classic D&D style reward system, you kill things and they earn you reward. I even remember playing Petal Throne where to get experience you had to do the killing blow... which lead to some interesting scenes as magic users dived in with daggers...

Then I moved to group based rewards for kills. Then group based rewards for achievements. Then group based rewards for success... etc etc.  And in amongst all that there were variations aplenty.

Recently (last year or so) I had moved completely away from experience models and numbers and factors unless it was an intrinsic element of the game. I played a Pathfinder game were the GM moved to simply deciding when everyone leveled up based on where we were in the story, and we all did it together.  I adopted this for my latest D&D5e game, where I decide when we level up based on the story and how much I feel we have explored the level we are on, and how much keenness there is amongst my players to move to the next level.

So what has happened? Well I suppose I have moved from very crunchy to soft and smoothy.  In my old age I now see the social aspect of role playing as far more important that the crunchy bit, which is not to say I don't enjoy the crunchy bits because I really do, but in some areas of the game where social enjoyment with your friends is the most important thing, then who the hell cares about rules.

Who the hell wants to sit there for 10 minutes looking through poorly laid out rule books without an index trying to find some rule that only matters once every 6 months.  Yes I can look at my rules lawyer player, but the easier solution is to smoothy it over and move along.  Is everyone smiling... good ruling!

This has slowly been reflected also in the games I am attracted to. Although I love D&D and Savage Worlds because of their nice crunchy feel, I now also long for more narrative style games (Feng Shui2, Hero Quest Glorantha). And I don't mean full narrative style games, or diceless games, I just mean games that have crunch and smoothy all built into the one system. As a GM it frees you up to think more broadly. As a GM I don't have to look at challenge ratings, or estimate difficulty levels to exactness, I can just wing it based on how things seem to be going. And when one of my (crunchy) players actually tries to do something a little smoothy, I can just say, ok done!

And this view of social role playing, as opposed to crunch role playing, which has come to be my preferred model, extends into other areas of the role playing system, challenging some long held beliefs I have had about what is important (in rpg)... and another blog.

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