Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Modifying loot-based XP to encourage risk taking?

Yesterday I mentioned what I felt like was a logical fallacy / poor strategy when it came to earned XP in my games. That is, saving your points when you're close to a required loot threshold, so you can earn more XP on less found loot.

I allow people to do this - sit below a threshold and not spend their points. It's been done before, even by as long-lasting and successful of a delver as Vryce, who delved his last in the low-to-mid 500 point range.

Evileeyore suggested something that basically, I feel, means that this might be learned behavior. Enough delves have come back with little or no loot, so it's a logical reaction and seem like a useful stratgey.

I think it's a self-fulfilling prophecy - the idea being that we're not strong enough to delve in dangerous places for more loot, so let's keep our point low so we can max out XP even as we grub for missed loot in the picked over sections thanks to low loot thresholds. Repeat that over and over. It becomes repetive and self-reinforcing as no one gains confidence they can gain more loot, especially as they don't know of any, because they're not exploring deeper from need but staying as shallow and safe as possible. Why risk your life for $5000+ per person if you can eke out $200 per person and get 4 XP for loot, or $400 when you're a bit higher, etc. The delvers are thus gaining points but don't see things to do, feel like they're always stuck grubbing, and fear going deeper because if bad stuff happens while trying to scrape up whatever loot was left behind in the first (and second, and third, and more) passes over the area, then going deeper must be a TPK. Actual TPKs that occur just prove that deeper is too dangerous.

And thus caution and trying to eke out every coin before taking risks has been a regular feature of the game. It took a long time before anyone went below level 2, and mostly when people find new ways down (long a goal), they immediately back off and put it on the "do it later, when we're more points" list. That's happened with multiple levels. Instead of people trying to find a way to get deep quickly and with the least risk on the way, hoping for a big score and a first crack at puzzles, rare magic items, and strange monsters, it's a min-max game of cautiously trying to maximize XP from the minimum risk.

So I really see this idea of "we're going to barely get loot anyway so it's a good tactic to hold onto points to keep our thresholds lower" as people trying to see an in-game benefit to in-game caution. The thing is, the cautious games are fun despite the cautious play, and the risky games are fun because of the risky play. No one tells stories about the empty delves but the TPKs and crazy fights and weird discoveries come up all the time.

Some of this might be tied to the experience point system I use. It rewards loot and exploration, but loot more, so perhaps it encourages and rewards risk-minimal loot-sufficient delves instead of awesome risky and loot-rich delves. You know, better 100% of us live and 80% of us get 40-60% of maximum XP than 60% of us live and all of us get lots of loot and maximum XP.

There are a few potential ways around this.

You can make the loot thresholds based on escalating loot per delve, not per point. It's your how many points you are, but how many delves - so eventually you need to take risks, and you better have maximized your XP along the way.

You can scale loot thresholds by delve, not delver - either use the average points of the party to set a threshold for everyone, or just set it off of the highest point character. Oh, sure, you can bootstrap, but it's going to take a lot of loot to do it. More so with the second version. The "average" version could work - if your party is 250, 275, 300, 325, 350, 430, 470 = ~342 on average, you need 7 x 200 = $1400 total for the party for everyone to get loot (given Method 3.) Or just put your foot down and say it's $4K each for full loot because the big boys are coming out to delve.

You could also not allow uneven loot splits - XP is based on an even split, even if the money is split unevenly.

Me, I'm okay with the threshold-hovering, but I would like a way that encourages people to delve deeper. The lack of new "easy" areas and diminishing returns on looting picked-over areas (new monsters show up far more often than new loot does) could couple with one of the above to push delves deeper.

It's always tough, as lethal old-school play encourages caution, but only rewards risk. Perhaps I need to adjust those rewards in order to encourage a bit more risk taking.


  1. Another option is to make exploration worth more than loot. Right now, going deeper means certain danger for uncertain rewards -- even if they find loot there's no guarantee they'll be able to get their hands on it. But increase the XP for exploration and it's certain danger for certain reward -- even if they don't make a profit it can still be a successful delve.

    1. We've toyed with that, and you can see a flipped XP version - loot or exploration - in our "Forest Gate" sessions. A pure flip - where exploration is key and profit is just useful - is that it has two perverse incentives:

      - it's better to be cautious and find new areas with as little conflict as possible, so higher-point guys benefit the most from finding the least risky areas to explore (scaling up the number of areas needed just feeds this)

      - loot is a helpful addition, not a goal, so it's really of no consequence unless you're getting broke from exploration.

      And it means the following:

      - a small group has no advantage over a large group. Quite the opposite - unless your group is tiny and stealthy, and can explore more with less encounters, you're better off in large numbers. Loot is the reverse - a large group means you need to take more risks to get everyone money, and a small group feels like they don't really need an exceptional score to max out their XP.

      - it's hard for players to determine what is an "area explored" or what counts. Is a cave with four labeled sub-sections one or four? Or two or three? How many areas did you get to? Do you need one more room to get the threshold for exploration? These situations do lead to questions from players to the GM, in a very meta-way.

      Having it either-or has worked . . . sort of . . . but only when I pulled it out afterward when the PCs had no choice but to explore and loot was scarce.

      It might work better for another group, but I wasn't really pleased with our prior iterations of xp rules that more heavily weighted exploration. They didn't really end up with more exploration, just more player-to-GM queries about what counted.


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