August 31st, 2020

RPGaDay2020 in August - August 31st: Experience

And we wrap up this year's #RPGaDay2020 in August.

Day 31 - Experience

One of the things I dislike in roleplaying games is Experience Points or any mechanic that simulates it.

My dislike of Experience Points (henceforth as "EPs") stems from the days of D&D back in my early rpg days as well as with systems that I ran in the 1980s. (Yes, I even disliked EPs in the classic DragonQuest RPG that I ran back then.) I understand the need to have some way for player characters in rpgs to develop their skills, abilities, whatever, but the mechanics are just irritating. Players tend to gain 1 EP for showing up to game, X EPs for killing beasties, Y EPs for preventing the wizard from accomplishing their goal, and so forth. And then there are the game systems that give player characters EPs for things in the down time between adventures! Why? Why does it have to be about rewarding players for adventuring? What ever happened to the joy of gaming at the table for the fun of it, without having to deal with Experience Points and then the costs for raising abilities?

This is not to say that I'm against some means of having players learn new skills, progress in learning of skills they already have, and so forth. And to do that, I've come to appreciate how some of the indie systems out there (and even a few of the non-indie systems) handle this. For lack of a better term, it's a system called the (Experience) Arc. The example I'll use for this is the Zorro: The Roleplaying Game mechanics.

In Zorro: The Roleplaying Game, it's called the Character Improvement Arc. The arc is an individual story your character attempts to fulfill. When the player chooses an arc, the player works with the GM and the other players to ensure that all the arcs work together narratively, but are not identical. Each arc is a series of narrative steps and goals the character must fulfill, but at the end of the arc they gain an increase to an Attribute or a Skill. The steps and the arc must tie logically into the Attribute or Skill that is being improved by the arc. And thus, an example will suffice.

Don Diego (aka Zorro) wants to improve his Melee Skill, which is currently a 4D rating. He will need to create a 5-step arc focused around his sword skills. It might look something like this:

Step 1: Don Diego must acquire a new sword from the Master Blacksmith Juan Lopez.
Step 2: Don Diego must travel to San Juan to purchase a rare book on fencing techniques from the Spanish Master of Fencing, Gabriel de Alatriste.
Step 3: Don Diego must return home, and practice in secret.
Step 4: Don Diego must defeat three or more enemies at once with his new blade.
Step 5: Don Diego must defeat a more talented swordsman in single combat.

After all of these events have unfolded, Don Diego would then increase his Melee Skill from 4D to 5D.

As the reader can see, this is an elegant method of increasing abilities in a roleplaying game, and doesn't require Experience Points. The majority of Character Development Arcs shouldn't be side stories, but having a piece or two happen off-screen can work well. In the example above, if Don Diego's player cannot be present for one game session, perhaps the character heads off to San Juan off-screen, thereby advancing the arc and moving his personal story and quest forward.

I can see myself using this method of character advancement in other game systems as well. To be honest, it's a lovely way to get past the number crunching mechanics of typical roleplaying games' Experience Point systems. And who knows, perhaps this will be something that catches on in rpgs...

And there you have this thirty-first, and last, post for this #RPGaDay for August, 2020. Hope folks have enjoyed this month's worth of thoughts about various aspects of roleplaying games and gaming. Comments, thoughts, questions, etc. are all welcome, of course.

Sunday Afternoon Game Report - Zorro: The Roleplaying Game, Session 0

As noted in Sunday's blog entry, the Sunday afternoon gaming group began gaming again for the first time in six+ months, and started their Zorro: The Roleplaying Game campaign. Here goes.

The Sunday afternoon gamers have started to play the Zorro: The Roleplaying Game RPG, based on the seminal work created by Johnston McCulley of a dashing and heroic figure fighting Spanish oppression of the Native Indians and for justice in old California of the early 1800s.

Both SteveR and Tammy came out to play the game, and given the coronavirus pandemic still going on, we took the precautions of sitting apart and wearing masks. In the case of the masks, you try wearing a mask and talking for almost 4 hours non-stop; after about an hour of that, the masks came off literally, though we still social distanced.

Once the Sunday gamers showed up at my place around 12:45pm or so, we talked for a bit and just relaxed and caught up on stuff, and then got down to it. I started off by talking to the players about Zorro and *who* and *what* the character is and what he represents. They both found this interesting, and it gave them a good idea of what the game's themes and focus are. Next up, I showed them the maps of Alta California, the El Camino Real, and a couple o others (there are no maps in the Zorro: The Roleplaying Game RPG, but some fan maps sufficed, though they aren't very clear, either), and talked with the players about the game world of Alta California, and answered their questions to the best of my ability for about 40 minutes or so. This covered everything from basic game mechanics, the use of the D6 dice, Hero Points, the Suspicion mechanics, and a few other things that they asked about. From that starting point, we moved on to character generation. I managed to create the player characters with SteveR and Tammy relatively quickly after that, over the course of maybe 20 minutes.

Character generation in the Zorro: The Roleplaying Game RPG is a relatively straightforward process. You basically create a character by picking a Template and adding 7D worth of Skills, or Customize the character from scratch with 12D in Attributes, 7D in Skills, and a few other things that complete the character. The process is certainly made easier if you have an idea of what you want to play, but does require some thought when it comes to the questions about how one feels about the Spanish oppression, what one is doing about it, and so forth. (You can get an idea of how character generation for the game system works with the detailed example, Lorena Batanero, that I posted up to the blog a couple of days ago.) The Templates for the game offer a good variety of character types that seem typical of the Zorro books and the feel the game is trying to create, so that helps a lot as well.

The characters that the Sunday afternoon players created for the Zorro: The Roleplaying Game RPG turned out quite interesting and had some interesting basics to their backgrounds. Here's what the Sunday afternoon players created.

SteveR - He really didn't seem to have an idea of what he wanted to play, so started based on one of the Templates, using the Clever Horse Trainer as his base. He created Miguel Lopez Hernández, a horse trainer who is out to seek justice for the Native Indians (he's a half-breed himself) but works within his means to do so.

Tammy - Tammy went over the Templates, but didn't find one that she liked. She eventually created Catilina Rosa Torres, the daughter of a vintner who died under mysterious/accidental circumstances, her brother now running the business. She fights the Spanish injustice by helping smuggle the oppressed out of bad situations, and crafts wines as a side venture for the de la Vegas.

GM NPC-PC - Since neither SteveR nor Tammy's characters are combat oriented, I've created Pablo Esteban for them. He's a former bandit whose heart of gold led him to be thrown out of the bandit group, and he now acts as a mercenary fighting on the side of the oppressed peoples of Alta California.

All in all, an interesting group of characters with a lot of potential, I think, and the players not only had a good deal of fun with the process and really did a good job of coming up with ideas on how their characters would interact, but they were pretty content with their choices.

After we finished character creation, I managed to go through the game mechanics with the players, and had them do some sample rolls to illustrate the basic Attribute + Skill versus Difficulty Number mechanic, and then ran a few quick one-on-one combats. Overall, the players told me they quite like the Zorro: The Roleplaying Game system and rather enjoyed character generation, and are now looking forward to starting their game this coming Sunday afternoon (all factors of life, willing).

Note: This post was edited on September 3rd to add in the name of SteveR's character for the game.