Monday, August 11, 2014

Social Academy: Reward structure for social-based GURPS campaigns

This post is part of a the GURPS Social Academy in support of my new campaigns The Empress of India and Tsukumogami.

The earlier posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll
  6. Reward structure in social-oriented campaigns.


On a small enough scale, advancement isn't the same as inflation

I think that we tend to think of character advancement as a fundamental component of a RPG. I'd like to suspend this assumption for a moment, and hopefully for a lot longer. One of the many gems that I found in FATE is the principle that characters change without necessarily becoming more super. A good player will foresee the trouble ahead and shift skills in the Pyramid, or add/remove stunts such that the character can face better the challenges ahead. A bad player will miss the boat and deal with the mismatch.

Of course, some campaigns need characters to inflate, and that's cool. I just can't imagine a context where Fast-Talk-22 is exciting.  Ok, everyone gets to put their pants down for a moment every time that the character snaps his/her fingers, which can be funny.

My take on character points

Let's consider character points as a quantity of narrative potency.

In a system like GURPS, traits that constrain play are counted as negative point. Conversely, assets that opens possibilities and solutions to problems are traits that are positively priced. A character with a large and positive CP tally has lots of potent options, which are often blunted by counterbalancing disadvantages. We play positively priced characters because we want to be play actors rather than drifting story elements. Having the ability to control the story is important: let's call it narrative potency.  This is the reason why D&D (or whatever one may call it these days) characters are levelling up. Unfortunately, in a class/level system, the wheel keeps on spinning just the same as monsters and challenges simply scale with the characters. 

Earning points

Earning point happens when a character does something, or goes through an event that will leave him/her more capable to steer his/her own story. You make a new contact, take on a new patron somehow, get a lot richer and move uptown.  You learn a skill, get better or get trained by a master. 

Losing points

Hey, this happens too and this is not such a big deal. You make an enemy that will keep on preventing a character from moving forward. The same can be said for duties. A character becoming alcoholic loses narrative potency as he/she is too busy being drunk. A kleptomaniac is compelled to the something else than the best possible action.

Character death

It doesn't begins when the heart stops beating. It begins when a character can no longer influence a story. Dying, yeah, is likely to do that. However, I had planned to let my players keep on acting on the story as wraith in the Palantir Commission (at least until the story left the frozen North). The death of a character is when its narrative potency falls under a threshold. An good example is how a character becoming a single mother/father gets a spanking -30 dependent (baby). It probably means that either the character gets rid of the dependent through adoption, or retire for the next 18 years. 

I think that it is up to a character to decide what is the death of a character in this story. And not take it too hard: it is a big world out there with lots more to play with.

How I do it in The Empress of India

Character points will be awarded to character contributing to the advancement of one or more story arcs. The size of the point package will depend on the scope of the contribution. The gold standard to evaluate the narrative is to imagine what the Wikipedia entry on the subject would look like in 2014.

cp value
Something done that would change the course of the arc and would be known to contemporary.
Something done that would change the course of the arc such that the Wikipedia entry later on would mention or imply it.
Appearance of the character’s name in the official records. Citation issued by a NPC of rank 5+
Key role in a central event. Or citation issued by a Queen Victoria or the Governor of India.

Achievement points are free to be allocated as the player sees fit. This includes allocating into skills that are capped. 

These are pure rewards, always positive but difficult to obtain. It inspires the players to do great things. Isn't this why we play heroic characters in stories anyway?

GURPS analog to FATE character advancement

Points.  They are fun to play with: I love them and I'm far from being a munchkin (ask my poor fellow player's in +Jason GURPS 's Mystara campaign).  I see points as the currency that can be shifted:

  • Upgrade the frequency, reliability of a contact by increasing the frequency of an enemy, duty.
  • Drop a contact, an enemy and buy a level of talent or an attribute. 
  • Acquire an advantage, buy of a disad, etc.

Of course, these should make sense lest the story suffer in the name of gaming.  However, shifting points around with some narrative explanation is the closest thing to advancement without equating it to inflation.

You want inflation? Sure, become bigger, do something that will make you more of a story driver: do something that will put your name into Wikipedia by the year 2014!


  1. narrative potency. I love that term. Can I borrow it?

    1. Sure. I think that it expresses well what cps are.