Reverb Gamers: Rewards

Question #17: What was the best reward you've ever gotten in a game? What made it so great? How much do you need tangible rewards (loot, leveling, etc.) to enjoy a game?

Once more, the reversal: some thinking about rewards in games from a GM point of view. There's a very simple formula to this: the more mechanical the game, the more the rewards of loot and levels matter. The more story-oriented the game is, the more outcomes matter. This is a pretty stark difference between my campaigns at the moment.

The 4E D&D game is all about the rewards. Particularly the XP, although the gold counts too. There's some attention paid to the story outcomes, alright, and I think the players have some investment in the outcomes of their side in the ongoing civil war in Ostaracho, but the biggest shouts come when someone gets enough XP to level, or enough gold to afford a particular new toy. Some of this, of course, is in how we play the game; we play a very mechanical, miniatures-and-battlegrids style, so of course mechanical rewards matter more. But the game lends itself so well to it that using it for other play styles would be like using a hammer to drive screws.

The Fate games, though, and even our older D&D games, from 2nd Ed through 3.0 and 3.5, have always emphasised story rewards. We stopped tracking gold coins in possession very early on - somewhere around 6th level in the original 2nd Ed game - and by this point, we only keep an eye on signature pieces of equipment. Levels, or their equivalents, come slowly, and we're still experimenting to find a rate of advancement that's comfortable - Legends of Anglerre's one skill point per session as in the rules isn't particularly balanced for a regular weekly session in a long-term campaign.

Indeed, material rewards tend to get in the way a bit in the Fate games. They're extra material to keep track of, and there's already plenty of information floating around. It's a natural thing, in a D&D game, to go digging through your character sheet's appendices and find that you actually do have a Staff of the Nine Winds or whatever; it's a lot less so in a Fate game where you're more used to considering how you can bend an aspect to what you want it to do.

Instead, we work a lot more with the story rewards. For characters in organisations, promotions work very well. For a lone artist, an offer for an exhibition is a very nice thing to have in there. New apprentices, family members turning up, a chance to talk to a very notable NPC, all of these work as rewards, and then there's the slightly more meta-game idea of material the player developed entering play.

This kind of thing can carry a lot of meaning even in the more equipment-and-points oriented games. Some years ago, an offshoot campaign, run under D&D 3.0, had a player character called Athel. Athel's player is a military history buff, so he took great pleasure in drawing up plans of the triangular fortress the group were building in a border marches area of the campaign world. Soon after the fortress was built, events conspired to take the group away on a long trip across the planes, and they didn't get back for more than year in-game. By the time they returned, the fortress had had a small town built around it, and it was becoming one of the regional capitals of the new province - and was called Athelstown. The player was floored when this appeared on the map, and he still talks about it now, the best end of ten years later.

Posted by Drew Shiel at February 1, 2012 10:43 AM

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