Day 31 of #RPGaDAY 2020 — the finat! Today’s prompt is ‘Experience’.
The assumption in almost every RPG is that players want their characters to become better at what they do. The way to do this is to award experience points to the character (or maybe it’s fair to say they are awarded to the player!) and if you get enough XP, you can improve your character in some way — stats, skills, abilities, etc. The rules that govern how XP is awarded tell you what the game is about, because that’s the main feedback loop the game uses to steer the way the players play their characters.
Thinking about this, I wonder: why do we, as players, want our characters to become more capable? Yes, it’s a nice dopamine hit to increase some numbers on your sheet, but what does it do in terms of gameplay and the fiction that is produced? In games where tactical combat is the main source of XP, being more powerful means you can now tackle tougher enemies — it’s just another step on the power escalation treadmill. You’ll still have to kill enemies that are matched in toughness with you, and while the enemies will be different, the gameplay is the same. While an increase in abilities can be the result of an interesting narrative arc, the reverse is not necessarily true: an advancement in abilities will not automatically produce an interesting narrative.
I don’t think I’ve ever played (or even read) a game meant for long-term play that did not have advancement in this manner. I wonder what such a game would look and play like.
Thanks for following along! I hope you found these musings about my favourite pastime interesting.