More on Experience

Nearly the precise opposite of what I said before

Short one this week, as several Real Life things are going on.

Both Anthony and Deimos commented on last week's post about Risk vs. Reward, in which I propose a method of using Clutch Situations to determine an Advancement Roll bonus. The system is largely a "YMMV" thing—it'll work for some, but it makes assumptions about a group's style of play, which makes it less-than-universal and therefore not-what-was-asked-of-me.

It falls short in the objectivity department—it still makes use of some GM fiat with respect to assigning challenge (and subsequent reward). I accept this as an almost unavoidable by-product of any experience system. Even in D&D, wherein monsters defeated provide a concrete experience value, there is latitude, as it's the GM who populates the setting with monsters to defeat and provides encounters against them and gifts them with treasure to be plundered. Taken to an extreme, the GM can always throttle experience (or, ultimately, advancement) through careful manipulation of encounters and their subsequent outcome.

But that doesn't mean there isn't opportunity to inject some objectivity in the experience-awarding process. Anthony had a question about Clutch Situations, and in my reply, I suggested that maybe additional Clutch Situations could be a reward in-and-of themselves. Which led me to consider an escalating scale of rewards:

Rewards for Heroic Actions Completed During an Adventure

  1. +1 Clutch Situation
  2. +1 bonus to Advancement Roll
  3. +1 Improvement Point (to be spent regardless of Advancement Roll result)

So put on your GM hat for a moment and pretend you're running a game session. A PC does something cool or heroic or worthy of note or so funny that the whole group is cracking up. Something that deserves a reward. As a GM, you can dole out one of the above, based on how deserving the thing was.

What Means, "Challenge"?

Let's say you wanted to figure out "how deserving the thing was" (aka how challenging is a given adventure?). The immediate question: How does one measure challenge?

Is it the number of encounters, the difficulty of encounters, the number of goals you have to meet, or the percent chance of not surviving the adventure? In D&D, this is a bit easier than in Chimera—your characters have a level and your monsters have a level, so as a GM, you create some artificial (read: workable, but not necessarily equivalent) balance.

Once you decouple experience from killing monsters and taking their stuff, it's harder to figure out challenge, because you've now opened the door for other ways to "win" besides fighting. Put another way, you have to account for non-combat ways to overcome challenges, and that makes it harder to measure. For example, the PCs might confront a defence robot. The fighters in the group can hit it via TN 12, but one guy is an expert hacker: If he can get close enough, he can deactivate the 'bot with a Tinker roll vs. TN 8. If the GM set this up as a combat encounter, he could say, "The challenge is based on TN 12." But since there are other ways to defeat the robot, it's not so easy—what's moderately challenging for the fighters is rather easy for the hacker.

Attempts at Objectivity

OK, I brought that up to lay down some other stuff. Let's say—hypothetically—that I decide an adventure's challenge is the number of encounters, modified by how difficult those encounters are. The first bit is objective; the second part is subjective, based on how the characters respond to and attempt to overcome each encounter. If I were an enterprising GM (and if I knew my players), I could do a little homework first and consider how the PCs might react to a given challenge: "Approach A would be hard, but Approach B would be easier."

Then I count the number of encounters and call the sum something like "Encounter Base." (I already don't like where this is going, but I'm thinking out loud and crave your indulgence.) If the majority of the encounters can be overcome with TNs less than 12, I halve the Encounter Base. If the majority are TN 12 to 16 or so, I leave the Encounter Base as-is. If the majority of the encounters require TNs greater than 16, I double the Encounter Base.

So, great. Now I have a number that represents some level of challenge. But that number has no meaning separate from the party of characters whose Ability ARs are known and whose actions I've anticipated. Does this have value? If it's not entirely objective, is it worth the effort of calculating?

Now, Foolishness

Ignoring such useful questions, consider this bit of lunacy:

What if the Encounter Base (or whatever other term is no doubt more descriptive and better) determined the reward? Let's go back to my Anthony-inspired Rewards for Heroic Actions Completed During an Adventure, above. Assume the following point values:

  1. Clutch Situation: 1 point
  2. Advancement Roll bonus: 2 points
  3. Improvement Point: 4 points

So (and I'm sure you can see this coming a mile away), let's say you have an adventure with an Encounter Base of 6. When the PCs finish it, they each get 6 points to spend on some combination of Clutch Situations, Advancement Roll bonus, or actual Improvement Points that add up to 6.

They still get to make an Advancement Roll at the end of the adventure, but now they get some extra goodies, either in the form of more Clutch Situations (equals more chances to get Advancement Roll bonuses, per last week's post), Advancement Roll bonuses (equals better chance of advancing, per two weeks ago post), or Improvement Points (equals direct improvement regardless of the Advancement Roll's outcome).

Final Words

OK, this is a significant departure from what I've been on about for the last two-and-a-half Earth weeks and my strong suspicion is that I'm lost in the weeds. So I leave it to you to let me wander or lead me out...

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