Don't reward your players for role-playing.

In old RPG's, there's no reason to role-play. It doesn't give you any kind of in-game advantage or mechanical bonus. Many new-school RPG's have tried to fix this by giving out Checks,* Action Points, or - in 5th edition - Inspiration Points as a mechanical reward for role-playing. I think this is a bad idea, because extrinsic rewards destroy the intrinsic fun of role-playing.


Mario's jump is Intrinsically fun. This means you don't need to be rewarded for it: the activity is rewarding in itself. You could put Mario in an empty room, and leaping three times his body height with a "Broing!" would still be fun.  It's so great that we ended up putting it into almost every video game ever made. Whether you're playing a robot or a detective or a badger, if you can't press a button to leap at least half their height it feels like you've lost a limb.

This is just like Role-playing. There's no reason why you can't play original D&D as an abstract tactics game without ever pretending to be your character. Role-playing is still so intrinsically fun that everybody did it and we named the whole genre after it.

Now, imagine if Mario's jump was shitty. He just floats up and down with a sad "Bworp". To compensate, we give you a gold coin every time you jump. We've just made it Extrinsically fun. The fun now comes from the reward you get for performing the activity, not the inherent fun of the activity itself. You no longer jump just for the joy of it: you are jumping for the reward. When you give people points for role-playing, you're hoping to motivate them with an extrinsic reward.


I have an intrinsic dislike of extrinsic rewards. The game should be inherently fun: you shouldn't have to convince me to keep playing by giving me in-game lollies. I don't need to play games to get the experience of completing a boring activity for the reward, I get enough of that in real life. If you play video games, though, I'm sure you can think of plenty of games where you do just that. External rewards are so powerful that they've even made deliberately bad games like Cow Clicker successful.

Of course you may be thinking - what if we keep Mario's jump as the fun and exciting mechanic it is, but ALSO give you a gold coin every time you do it? This is the reasoning behind giving players points when they role-play. Intrinsic fun AND extrinsic fun, that must combine to make the game more fun than ever, right? 

Well, research has found that's not quite true. In the words of this literature review: "...expected tangible rewards made contingent upon doing, completing, or excelling at an interesting activity undermine intrinsic motivation for that activity." Giving out an extrinsic reward destroys the intrinsic fun. When you're rewarded for performing an activity you enjoy, you lose interest in performing it for it's own sake. You stop jumping for joy and start jumping only for the reward.

Also, check out this summation of the effect of extrinsic motivations on children. If you take an activity that children enjoy, reward them for it, then take that reward away, they may stop doing it altogether. External rewards are so powerful that they lead kids to lose track of what they enjoyed about the activity in the first place. Parents take note.

Now, I don't believe external rewards are evil. Most of us give out XP for going on adventures, and even Mario gives you points for jumping on Goombas. The difference is that these mechanics are there to give a sense of progression, while rewarding people for roleplaying is intended as a way to change player behavior.


In D&D, you start as a scrawny guy killing rats, and playing that way makes you into a king killing dragons. In Call of Cthulhu, you start as a rich, sane and well-adjusted guy and play until you become homeless and insane. They move in opposite directions, but both mechanics aren't so much there to reward you as they are to make sure that the game you play tomorrow is different from the game you played today. Neither exists to make the players do anything they weren't already going to do. You could still undermine the intrinsic fun of adventuring if you overdo it with constant rewards and treasure, but I don't think it's an inherent problem with XP.


In comparison, I always see role-playing reward mechanics recommended as a way to change how people play. You do it to make them role-play more. It's a type of behavioral conditioning, a skinner box made to get your friends to behave the way you want. You shouldn't need this. If you have a player who's shy and doesn't role-play much, why use a passive-aggressive rewards system to punish them for playing that way? If you dislike the way someone plays, why not just talk to them about it? Extrinsic rewards are just going to make them enjoy role-playing even less than they did in the first place.


An interesting part of that first literature review is that verbal rewards actually enhanced intrinsic motivation. Do you laugh at your players jokes? Do you say "Well done," when they carry out a clever plan? Do you say "That was awesome," when they perform some dramatic role-playing? Then congratulations, you're already externally rewarding their behavior in the best way possible.** You don't need to give them imaginary points to try and control how they act at the table.

Role-playing is one of the most intrinsically fun things you can do at a table. If your players don't want to do it for whatever reason, I think the last thing you should do about that is layer an extrinsic rewards system over it.

*This used to say "awesome points" instead of "checks". I edited it because I realized that I don't have a problem with the awesome point mechanic from Old School Hack. It's a mechanic that lets anyone give a player XP for any reason, rather than an attempt to encourage role-playing. The Check mechanic from Torchbearer - where you need to role-play your character's flaws in order to make camp - is more like what I'm talking about.

**The paper seemed to suggest that controlling verbal feedback still diminished intrinsic motivation. That is, saying things that attempted to control their behavior (eg, "You should keep up the good work,") - were worse than things that just gave information on how well they were doing (eg, "Nice one."). What I've taken from all this is that you should just chill out and avoid trying to control your players.

The research I've done is of course haphazard. If anyone has an issue with the conclusions I've drawn, bring it up.

Negadungeons

Uzumaki Chapter 19 Page 1
If you play in my games, don't read this.

Well, my old post about The Negadungeon blew up for no reason this weekend. There's praise, criticism and some charming folks who came to appreciate the concept even though they'd never run one. People are talking about the post in polish and german. Who knows what they're saying? Not google translate, that's for sure. The concept has grown bigger than me, and ancient. I see people who assume they've missed the long history of the term, and speak like it crawled out of the primordial soup in the 80's as a leech on D&D's back.

A few people seem to read the thing as a glowing review of James Raggi's LOTFP adventures. That's not quite accurate: This is what I believe these adventures aspire to, the reason why James Raggi does things like curse the PC's as soon as they look at the dungeon. It's an ideal, not a documentary, in the same way that the Old School Primer isn't a literal description of how people played in the 80's. The adventures themselves often fall short of the mark for me.

The most obvious problem with the concept: the DM prepares a Negadungeon, and the players sensibly take one look at the thing and decide to run for the hills. As in this review of Death Frost Doom, where the DM forces an unwilling set of players to complete the module, or this session report where the players flee Tower of the Stargazer and the DM has to improv the rest of the session.

                              Uzumaki Chapter 19 Page 13

The interesting thing is that I haven't heard this complaint of horror modules for Call of Cthulhu et. al. Any sensible PC would take one look at any horror adventure, call the police, and fly out of the country. They don't do it because they know what they're here for. The DM has made a horrorshow, they've made PC's for it, everybody's gathered around the table with the understanding that the PC's will fling themselves into the terrible situation at hand like the characters in a horror movie.

I think this is the greatest problem with Negadungeons, but also the greatest source of potential. The obvious thing to do in making this killer dungeon would be to force the players to do it, right? Lock the door behind them, or put it on the table and say "We're running Death Frost Doom tonight, everybody get ready to die." - the approach that makes Call of Cthulhu work. But the approach Raggi takes - where the players have to actively seek out the place, often in the middle of a campaign, and push past the people trying to stop them - has the potential to make the players responsible for their own doom. They weren't forced into it.

I'll give an example. Spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line.


The Line is a video game that pretends to be a Call-of-Duty power fantasy. It's a trap. As the game goes on, it slowly turns into a Negadungeon. The turning point is a scene half-way where the player commits an atrocity. After that, you start dying, going insane, flying down the slippery slope to the point where you find out it was all for nothing. The player is meant to feel horrified and guilty for all this. Loading screen tips start saying "This is all your fault."

The problem with this guilt-trip is that it isn't the players fault: If you want to play the game, you need to commit the atrocity. (The game's writers claim your choice here is to turn off the game and walk away: this is the good ending.) This is analogous to playing a horror module: You force yourself to make the bad decision because you've paid for this game/your DM has paid for this module. You're making a meta-game decision that leaves you immune to shame and horror. Of course this isn't your fault: You just wanted to play the game you paid for.

The potential with allowing the players to walk away is that it is their fault if they commit the atrocity. Having a genuine choice means the PC's can feel genuine guilt, knowing that they were sent down this spiral because of their own greed and doomed obsessions - not because you wrote "You have a doomed obsession" on their character sheet. You haven't shot them in the head: You've just given them the gun and allowed them to shoot themselves.

Of course, pulling that off is going to be difficult. In practice, Death Frost Doom relies on a cheap trick to get the players to orchestrate their own doom. It should be their greed that bought them down here - but it's more likely that they just felt like they had to play the adventure their DM prepped. They'll fall for the trick either way, and they probably won't feel like it was their fault.


If I made a Negadungeon, I would make the one discussed in this thread. The trick: it's a normal dungeon that can become a Negadungeon if the players make the wrong choices. If they don't take the bait, you still have a fun adventure to run through for the evening. Because you have that fallback, the players don't feel forced to make decisions for meta-game reasons, and you haven't wasted your time prepping a dungeon they'll never play.

The Finder haunts/ These twisting hallways/ His sightless eyes/ Can see you always

I've realized not everyone can read the thread I linked. Here it is.

Cédric Plante originally shared:
 
I have sketched a Demon Horse Tower. Now I am looking for stuff to put inside to post it on my blog. 
Arnold K.
26 May 2014
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I want to write up rooms and monsters for it.  You only have to make eye contact once to realize how fucked up horses are.
Arnold K.
26 May 2014
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I would fill it with horses.

Slaughterhouse architecture: gently curving hallways, so the cows in the back can't see what's in front.

Railings that keep a gentle pressure on the side of the animals, so they remain calm.  Soothed.

Good drainage in every room.

Stairs for the animals to walk up, so they enter the process at the top of the building.  After their deaths, their body weight makes it easier for the meat to slide down/onwards.

You wouldn't even need to make the dungeon a slaughterhouse.  Just use the slaughterhouse as a unifying theme.  Put drains and rails and chains in every room, and eventually players will realize exactly what they are going to find at the bottom.
Cédric Plante
26 May 2014
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I am taking notes, I will post some rooms soon. 
Jack Mack
26 May 2014
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+Arnold K.  I agree that you don't want to go crazy with pig guts on all the walls and the like. Use the slaughterhouse stuff as a subtle omen, like the movie Chinatown.

Maybe people call the place The Slaughterhouse or Meat City - then you go there, and there's no meat, no reference to it. As you go up the tower all this stuff creeps in around the edges. People start making vague references to it, places are only described as "The Brain", "The Heart".

Also have an NPC who says "This world is a Machine. A Machine for Pigs. Fit only for the slaughtering of Pigs."
Arnold K.
26 May 2014
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+Jack Mack You just referenced, like, two of my favorite things, and one thing that I intend to play.

NPCs should just refer to it as The Machine.

The bottom floor needs to be meat, though.  Like Death Frost Doom, except the final act needs to be fountains of gore and swinging meat hooks, etc.  And purple worms rising from the vats of ground beef.

Can you imagine being trapped in a small room with some pigs, and then the doors open and the pigs are running from ambulatory pig grinder machines?  You better run, too.

Maybe the trick to the dungeon is figuring out how to avoid turning it on.  Like, if you can get through the whole thing without activating it, it's pretty mild.  But once the Machine is on, every room becomes a death trap.  Every floor drain begins vomiting up blood and indian burial grounds.

And the further down you are when the machine activates, the more fucked you are, because you need to go all the way back out.  Unless you think you can make it out of the Meat Exit at the bottom.
Trent B
26 May 2014
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NO FUCK YOU.
Jack Mack
27 May 2014
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+Arnold K. yes, yesss.

I like the Death Frost Doom "no-one's getting out of here unscarred" thing, but you definitely need the doom be triggered by the player's decisions, and the central DFD trick is a little cheap.

I guess the whole place is ruined, and the more you turn on the machine the more you summon the old ghosts and bring back the gory days. The bottom floor has a few settings, from easy to horrific. Pulling levers on the way down opens up the place and disgorges ultra-valuable parts from long-extinct animals, but makes the meat god at the bottom worse and worse.

Maybe if you get too greedy, at the highest setting when the machine is coming fully to life with apocalyptic consequences, all those valuable animal bits start coming alive in your packs and joining together.

Endless hatred of the Uttermost South



As the earth cooled, the continents died. They shrunk, solidified, and choked on their own dirt. The last one left alive is the Uttermost South. In its old age, it has become bitter, senile, and insane. It feels every step you take upon it like a pin-prick. It hates you for it.

Use the table below to determine how the continent is reacting to the PC's. Start in the middle. Every day your players spend in the Uttermost South, judge how the continent is feeling towards them. If they've pissed it off, roll a d8 and bring them up that many spaces. If they've laid low and avoided its notice, roll a d8 and bring them down by that many spaces.

Things that draw its notice:

  • Looking up at the sky
  • Staying out in wide open spaces
  • Travelling towards the center of the continent, where its massive dark heart still thumps the old slow rhythm under the inland sea
  • Killing dolphins, albatross, or gulls
  • Saying one of the continent's names - better to call it something vague like "The land"
  • Any misfortune you predict will be sure to happen. For this reason, you need to adopt a "She'll be right" attitude of permanent optimism, or die. 
  • Starting a journey on a Friday
  • Digging, cutting down trees, starting fires
  • Civilization. Speaking, writing, making laws and systems of government, organizing the wild places.

Things that soothe its broken mind:

  • Nailing a stolen piece of wood or a silver piece to the keel.
  • Pouring out rum: 
    • On the boat, cart or horse that you're going to travel on, 
    • A little on the floor whenever you open a bottle
    • On the dirt you're about to dig up for a grave
  • Lending your clothes to someone else: the continent may confuse them for you, and concentrate on them instead.
  • Starting a journey with your right foot.
  • Staying in the shadowy places, never speaking or writing, communicating only through drawings. Most inhabitants of the country do this. They leave behind the signs from this random generator. (Or are these signs left by the land itself?)

The idea here is to encourage and reward superstition and fear. I suggest you think up a bunch of other superstitions yourself, make anything the players say at the table into instant fact, and inflict any terrible and capricious judgement you can think up on the spot whenever the players do something that seems like bad juju. The PC's can learn the ways to divert the omens in this table by asking the locals.

  1. You are forgotten. People find it hard to notice you or concentrate on you, even when you're talking to them. Most forget you as soon as you leave. Everyone gets a bonus on stealth checks.
  2. Dark clouds overhead. Everything's in half shadow. This is a good omen: The continent's gaze is obscured. Snakes will turn away without biting, dogs will not attack, diseases will clear up.
  3.  The wind is at your back. The party can travel twice as fast as normal.
  4. You find a spider in your clothes. You will find an oasis when you need it most. Killing the spider will divert this omen. 
  5. A bee lands on your head without stinging you. Animals will be friendly today.
  6. Juicy fruit hangs invitingly from all the trees the party goes past. It's delicious.
  7. A strange dog follows the party. They will be given some money soon. Chasing off the dog gets rid of this omen.
  8. Drizzling rain covers the party's tracks.
  9. It finally rains! Torrentially. Any river-beds flash-flood.
  10. Start here. Nothing happens. The continent is barely aware that the party exists. Weather is dry, water is scarce.
  11. The flies are omnipresent. 
  12. Westerlies. Shrieking winds will tear things out of your hands, fling arrows astray, send your tend flying across the countryside, etc.
  13. Chattering birds steal the party's food. They'll swoop in and take it straight out of your hand if they can.
  14. A lone magpie follows the group. Their food will go rotten today. You can avert this omen by saluting the magpie and asking after his children.
  15. Juicy fruit hangs invitingly from all the trees the party goes past. It's all poisonous. 
  16. Cold nights. Water will freeze, which may crack open canteens. Anyone who can't keep warm using clothing, etc, will become exhausted.

    I'll just use the rules D&D next uses for fatigue. Whenever you do something exhausting, roll a con save or go up a level of exhaustion.

    Level 1:
     You roll two d20 and take the lowest for physical rolls.
    Level 2: Half speed. Make a constitution check to cast spells.
    Level 3: Half hit points.
    Level 4: Quarter hit points, you can only crawl.
    Level 5: Unconscious
    Level 6: Dead
  17. Heat wave. Traveling outside is exhausting. They can avoid this by drinking water. I assume you're just hand-waving the amount of water they're carrying, right? If they're carrying a normal amount of water, they'll need to drink it all over the day. If they've prepared with a cart full of the stuff, make a judgement.
  18.        |
  19. These three are the heat wave, as above.
  20.        |
  21. The sunrise is red. The group will be unable to find water today. 
  22. You hear the laughter of kookaburras. Some piece of equipment will go faulty with rust, damp and dirt, and break at a crucial moment. The birds will laugh.
  23. Even hotter heat wave. Doing any kind of hard task is exhausting. 
  24. Wild bushfire rages through the area.
          1. You feel the glare of the continents gaze like an invisible spotlight. Every person and animal turns to look at you as you go by. You can't hide. 
          2. I-Is the sky getting bigger, or what? You become more and more agoraphobic. 
          3. Snakes everywhere.
          4. Tiny rats and insects cluster in the footprints you leave. One of you will gain a terrible disease.
          5. You find a dead snake in your home or campsite. It tried to eat a mouse that was too big for it, and choked. The things you have built will begin to crumble and decay.
          6. Even inside, you can see the sun as a ghost-image imprinted on your eyes. It's gotten bigger. You know it's an eye, watching you. You can't stop sweating. Everything is exhausting.
          7. A dead owl lies in the group's path. One of them will die today. It is possible to divert this omen onto an animal by having it step over the bird.

            (If you can manage it, have one of the party accidentally kill an owl. Then have groups of owls watch the party whenever something terrible is about to happen.)
          8. Insects crawl for miles to cluster in your warmth. Try using some of the tables from Insect Hell in Dangertopia.
          9. You feel like you're suspended in-between two suns. There's an overwhelming pressure building inside your head. When bad things happen you'll need to save or snap - panic, lash out in anger, break things, collapse, etc.
          10. The sky clears, and you can see that giant sun eye looking down on you even at night.  Everyone and everything on the continent knows exactly who you are and how to hurt you.
          11. The magic in this place is wrong. All spells will warp and twist away from you into something bizarre.  
          12. You start to sprout. Small tendrils grow from the dirt in your fingernails. If the continent pays more attention to you, your eyes will bloom, your mouth will vomit wattles, your feet will root to the ground.
          13. The environment will crack and change in any way it can to destroy you.
          14. You get more and more real, while the people and things around you become foggy and vague, slightly changing each time you look at them. This is the Continent's hyper-focused attention: it will shift from PC to PC, throwing one into high-definition and leaving the others crumbling and melting. The PC in focus must save or become exhausted, and will eventually begin to smoulder and burn if nothing distracts the continent.
          Functionally, this table is here to serve as rules for weather, food rot, equipment breakage, etc. Rather than the bean-counting approach that has you marking off squares and trying to keep all of this stuff in your head at once, this gives you a single threat to think about each day and personifies the wilderness as a character the PC's can curse for all their woes.

          Just like how Chinatown is the last boss of the movie Chinatown, and Colonel Kurtz is Africa and the Vietnam War, the final goal of any campaign in the Uttermost South is to hunt down and kill the continent itself.

          STARVING. HOPELESS. MEAT. MEAT. I CAN NEVER BE HEALED.

          City Streets


          When I was running a city adventure, one question constantly frustrated me: "What does this street look like?" Vornheim will generate the buildings on each side of the street, the layout, and an encounter every so often. That's all great, but it won't help me to figure out that crucial question. What kind of neighborhood is it? How many people are around? What are they doing? Can I steal from them?

          All this comes into hyperfocus when a chase scene starts. Can I get onto the roof? Is anything blocking the PC's way? Is there anything they can throw in front of their pursuers? Is anyone in front going to try and stop them? Is there any way to escape from this alleyway?

          When I try to think up this stuff on the fly, it just ends up bland and vague. It has the same problem as the D&D wilderness. The PC's spend most of their time groping through an amorphous cityscape with no detail or orientation. Every now and then they hit a sudden point of precise detail, like an encounter or dungeon. Outside of these pre-made bits the city has little personality.