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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Motivates Your Players?

Sounds like a simple question really, and one that would seem easy to answer.  What kind of rubbish is this?  Players are motivated by killing things and taking their stuff.  And yes ultimately no matter what kind of game you play in, that is at least one of the end goals, but it is often not enough to motivate your players, especially in a sandbox game.

I often hear the question raised, "how can I get new school players into older style or 'old school' gaming?"  I think the key really boils down to one thing; how experience awards are handled.  This one feature sets the tone for a particular style of play.  You see, back in the day, when players sat down around the table, and began to seek adventure, they did so on their own, and the DM facilitated the world for them.  This was because the players had a goal (kill things and take their shit and advance and become more powerful) and the goal was rooted in the process by which they attained it.  Going up in level via experience points.

The older iterations of the game made it quite clear.  You advanced in level and gained experience points primarily in two ways; killing monsters that were challenging to your level and by collecting treasure.  Even up into the 1e DMG, Gygax held this to be true.  In that guide he references the exchange of treasure, or gold pieces, into a converted ratio for experience and specifically pointed out that the treasure must be somehow carried out of the dungeon, not just found.

The change began in 2e, in which the game began to take a shift overall as a whole.  It became less about gaining treasure and fighting monsters and more about that dreaded two-word-phrase "the story."  In the 2e DMG the notion of awarding XP for treasure is resolved to a small blurb, highlighted in light blue, and annotated as an "optional rule for experience."  

"As an option, the DM can award XP for the cash value of non-magical treasures.  One XP can be given per gold piece, or equivalent, found."

As an option?!  Seriously?  So, the new school player (or those whose roots lie in ONLY 2e or editions that followed) have a clear reference on how the game should be.  This is why the new school player will sit around, waiting for the DM's guiding hand to lead him to "the story."  And when the DM doesn't do this (i.e. the old school DM), the game becomes lost in translation and can become a bit awkward.  An example of how a typical adventure may start with an old school DM with new school players:

DM: Okay, you're at the Blazing Drunk Tavern enjoying drinks with your mates.  A minstrel plays a lively  tune in the common room.  Patrons move to and fro eating and enjoying the evening.  What are you doing?
New school player:  Uhh....I have an ale.
DM: Okay, 1 copper.  The keep brings you the ale.  What else are you doing?
New school player: Uhh....*waits for DM to spoon-feed him "the story."*

A very similar exchange with old school DM and players:

DM: Okay, you're at the Blazing Drunk Tavern enjoying drinks with your mates.  A minstrel plays a lively  tune in the common room.  Patrons move to and fro eating and enjoying the evening.  What are you doing?
Old school player: I order an ale, slap the serving wench on the arse, and ask the keep if there are any rumors of this place.
DM: Okay, 1 copper.  The keep brings you the ale.  The serving wench slaps you in the face.  The keep then tells you of some ruins just outside of town which are said to hold a golden jeweled crown worth a fortune.
Old school player: We head out tonight.

You see, the old school player doesn't need any other motivation than the notion of the possibility of fighting some shit and getting a treasure, because the treasure paves the way for the advancement.  It is THE motivation to play.  There is no need for them to sit around and wait for the DM to serve up the one ring to take to Mount Doom.

The key, when starting a new campaign, is to find  the players who fit the style of game you want to run.  There is nothing wrong with storylines in games.  I use them myself.  But make it clear from the on-set on how experience is gained and how level progression works.  So, if you're running an old school style game, make it clear to the players, "hey, you level up by killing shit and taking treasure because each gold piece worth of treasure taken also equals that much in xp."  If they are new school players, they might not get it at first, because it might not come natural to them.  If you have someone more familiar with this style of play at the table it helps because they can guide the new school player, and really, it's so bloody simple they'll feel foolish for not catching on in the beginning once they see how it's done.  The difference is being able to recognize what motivates the new school player vs the old school player.

To put it in a simple analogy, the new school player is all about the destination (the story) while the old school player is all about the journey.