Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Voluntary Disadvantages: an Exercise in Game Theory

An system-neutral look at character disadvantages, their value and how they provide incentive for role-playing.

Disadvantages have a measurable affect on the character/player's decisions. They influence the complexity of their strategies and the difficulties of actions or tasks. In a game these obstacles become adventures by themselves, a rich source of drama, or the memorable moments that make up gaming.

Voluntary Disadvantages adds another dimension to RPGs and attempts to create an incentive for players to voluntarily bring up their disadvantages in appropriate situations to enhance the game's experience.

Disadvantages rely greatly on context. They should not also be a completely uncontrollable factor. Not every situation will highlight the range of limitations or challenges a character may posses. Players and GMs are should still be free to employ discressionin their strategies or style of play.

In the current system the variability of context, pricing and gauging disadvantages and their effect prior to a situation can be very arbitrary. Factoring individual styles that may emphasize on particular challenges adds another unknown variable to the GM's or Players evaluation.

Voluntary Disadvantages remove the incentive of taking a disadvantage for the sake of the points they grant. Ideally the incentive should make the player choose disadvantages based on where he feels he can take the challenge. A system where the reward is applied after the disadvantage is observed and its effects measured would be most optimal.

Game Theory Applied: A re-evaluation of the method used to emphasize value is needed to properly modify game behavior towards the ideal goal: more role-playing less meta-gaming.

Having Points too closely associated to the disadvantage is a conflict of interest for the player. It rewards the player for min/maxing strategy of selecting disadvanages the GM can least use against the PCs.

Shifting the value from a direct relationship to the disadvantage to the consequences should, hypothetically, be better.

Voluntary Disadvantages can be used in any game system. Particularly easier to employ on a game system that already has a disadvantage system because you can just remove all the point values of the disadvantages or use another perferred disadvantage system.

What is conclusive about this method is that since the context of the disadvantage can now be measured, and disadvantages have no point values only Role-playing values the only governing principle that changes is the how rewards are given.

Since many systems already have reward system for role-playing as optional rules, Voluntary Disadvantages gives a more objective methodology for its dispensation.

Here is a basic description based disadvantage system that can be handled by Voluntary Disadvantages: Note that these sound more like character describing devices that gives players or gms a check list of details to fill out.

  1. Humanity - Describes the character's value for life. This can be further defined into sentient or animal life.
  2. Social Bonds - It describes the social obligations, duties, and connections a character may have. Details include intensity of relationship, degree of priority, strength of the bond, if the bond goes both ways, who they are, and nature of relationships.
  3. Intolerance - Ideas, People, Perspectives, Cultures, Philosophies, Theologies etc... the character responds and feels strongly against.
  4. Belief System/ Perspective - Philosophy, Theology, Ideology... etc. the character adheres to. This describes how the character internalizes or thinks.
  5. Background - Origins of the Character has an indelible mark in the characters psychology or physical nature.
  6. Morality/Ethics - This is further refinement of Belief System, but sometimes there are instances they are compartmentalized (seperate). These usually affects the character's behavior, while perspective/belief system affects how the character thinks.
  7. Secrets.
  8. Physical and Mental disabilities.
Filling this out can be time consuming, that is why a game systems "legal" definition can speed up this process.

Notes for Use in GURPS: I plan to remove the disadvantage system and make it voluntary in my games. Players can quickly fill this up by answering these questions candidly about their character. Since the reward only comes up when the disadvantage aggravates the problem this should prevent 100pts of disads from being confusing for the GM or player.

1st instance of experimentation. When I did this for a Traveller game, players who naturally role-played themselves were able to visualize their character's behavior better. I could measure this because having interviewed each player candidly about their character they attempted to make their "priorities" consistent to what they described them to be.
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