Friday, May 28, 2010

Negative XP

The commentary at end of this panel from Darths & Droids web comic
Before slaughtering intermixed hordes of NPCs, some of whom are evil and worth experience points, and some of whom are innocent and count as a penalty against experience points
got me wondering about negative experience points.  I can't recall any game that uses them. That's potentially fairly damming evidence that they suck.  On the one hand it's fun to slay everything that moves, on the other hack & slash and the craven quest for xp tend to limit the choices players actually make and the types of games/campaigns/encounters that work. 

Lots of systems over the years have been created to address that problem.  Story rewards, xp mostly for treasure, xp for overcoming rather than just for killing opponents, gaining fixed xp or entire levels as characters reach key points in campaign arc (choo choo!) and games with no xp at all.

But, what about negative xp?

For the obvious innocents; town folk, farmer's cows, cleric of mercy.  For killing the non-combatant orcs?  What about failing to act?  Failing to save innocents? Say party went after treasure instead or fled in the night leaving villagers deal with the undead spirits they awoke.  [that assumes a very particular moral code, one I'm sure I'd be willing to foist onto players.]  Attacking and killing the
"bad monster" before it has chance to open it's mouth and characters discover it's an ally?

Like all reward systems, xp shapes behavior.  Negative xp would be no exception.  My current campaign is all about the killing things, Glory, and taking their stuff, Gold. It's also fairly hack and slashish (or at least I don't mind if players take it that way.  Adventure and fun before seriousness.)  So, most "bad" behaviors that neg xp might influence aren't issues.  But, in other campaigns these are sorts of things I'd like to discourage.
  • attacking things on sight
  • attacking everything
  • picking attack/kill everything over other options (cause it's more xp)
  • never capture, never show mercy
  • vigilantism
  • general running amok (slaying innocents, killing farmer Bob's chickens)
For several of them I've used various techniques.  But, to those who greedily accumulate xp over all else, nothing snaps them into attention as loosing xp.

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