End of Session Rewards

Starting a thread because I think it's a rich topic (and I am interested in the current direction of the Princess Play thread and don't want to derail).
Maybe it's a different topic, but I am thirsty of info on the effect of these awards on roleplay. I read the game and dug through lots of AP videos (not my kind of fun) and I still don't see them different from, say, White Wolf XP awards (if you made them each end of session). What I am missing ?
In my experience, the effect is huge. I've never played a White Wolf game, so I have no grounds for comparison.

The magic comes from the GM saying as little as possible (outside of explaining procedures).

Imagine you're playing Torchbearer at a con, figuring out layers of rules and game mechanics stuff, in addition to having a somewhat intense social experience with strangers. At the end, instead of just leaving, you get a moment where you get to tell the other players: "Yeah, you definitely acted on your belief because you did X." or, "You totally earned MVP because of this exciting moment." Players get to validate that they heard and saw cool stuff from the people at the table. I think this reinforces that part of the gameplay is the opportunity for players to engage and entertain each other.

I think the GM can model this process (especially if players haven't read the text) but if they run it like a checklist, the group misses out on a great moment.

In a long game, these can be an equally interesting check-in for character development. If a character's not hitting their belief, other players help them workshop it, so what the player finds interesting about the character stays in the spotlight. Or sometimes, a player thinks they played their belief as they usual, but the other players saw a way they acted against it or suggested a new layer of nuance. The get an even better reward and update their belief.

The one that used to excite me least was embodiment. It can get stale having an award for playing your character when everyone is bringing their best. We've improved this (for us, at least) by shifting the focus of Embodiment onto the most memorable moment of character development. If there's a shift in dynamic between two player characters, or differing beliefs come to the fore of the action, that's ripe material for Embodiment.

I think these rewards, at least in Torchbearer, work best when they are a statement about what the player wants to bring to the game (rather than what they want to find there). Especially when beliefs and goals are directed toward other players (to entertain and engage) rather than at the game or GM. The belief "loot is important" and the goal "I will get loot" work, and will get you some rewards without being satisfying. Further, having to review them for everyone at the end of the game might be annoying, because the target of this belief is the game (benefiting from an unavoidable activity). On the other hand. have seen a few instances where a player wrote a goal and hoped the GM would spin that thing into the dungeon: "I will get vengeance on my enemy!" but there enemy just isn't there unless the PC goes looking for them. They don't hit their goal, and they don't work towards it, so no rewards. It can feel like the playing getting a penalty for something the GM didn't do.

I think these rewards work best as a system to support acting as audience to / participant in character roleplay (in a Princess play sense). One of my player's belief is "Finfargle's Marauders are a household name". His halfling is named Finfargle, and his belief promises the other players all kinds of airs of pretensions and attempts at claiming leadership of the party. It's funny and it gives the other players plenty of material to riff on, without drawing them away from the core initiatives of the game.

Comments

  • I haven't (really; aside from a one-shot) played any of the Burning Wheel family of games, so I can't comment on this directly. I've generally had few positive experiences with "end-of-session" rewards. However, it seems like the design of these games really shines a positive light on these, based on how they interact with the rest of the game.

    Here is Dan Maruschak on Mouse Guard - a thorough review which includes a lengthy section of "end-of-session rewards" towards end (you can find the heading easily if you scroll through):

    https://steemit.com/gaming/@danmaruschak/an-in-depth-review-of-the-mouse-guard-tabletop-rpg-first-edition

    His experience seems to be similar to the OP's.
  • edited January 17
    I agree with @moconnor! EoSRs are great structures for doing 'debriefing' after play. But you generally need players who already play with a performer stance and who recognizes and values others doing that.

    Otherwise you have to train them. However I have bad experiences about that. For most of the players I know it does not work as intended. I based this opinion on dozen of gamers and dozen of games.

    If EoSR feels like a chore, and you have to force it as a checklist, even after the 6th session, than it is a clear sign that the players are not playing the game you want them to.

    EoSR is basically a 'stick and carrot' type of reward. Most hardcore players enjoy RPGs for itself and doesnt need an outward motivation.

    I started to value design where motivation is more subtle, and is an organic part of the playing process.

    FREX instead of rewarding players at the end who expressed or showed their character feelings you could use rules like in The Veil where the stats are emotional states. So you cannot act meaningful rules-wise without expressing your character feelings.
  • Could you precise what you're talking about a little bit more?

    1. Who is giving out the award?
    2. What are the rewards about?

    I kinda get what you're talking about, but I would like some more meat on this topic.
  • At the end of the session, the GM asks what as been accomplished regarding : personal character achievment, player acting, character drama, etc. the table discusses some and a handful of points are handed out.

    1. In White Wolf, the players get to make arguments, but it's clear the GM has final say. The rewards are XP.
    2. In Torchbearer, various sort of points are also attributed by the GM (I think ?), granting simple rerolls, or juicy bonuses.

    Taking the time to hang around and talk about is the main effect in my eyes.
  • edited January 18
    For Torchbearer:
    "Rewards are distributed at the end of a session. When play
    has ended, go around the table. In turn, read aloud your
    Belief, Goal and Instinct. If the group agrees the criteria
    below are met
    , then you earn the applicable reward."
    (From the text, emphasis mine.)

    It's based on table consensus, not GM ruling.

    Each player is eligible for a reward for:
    - Acting on their Belief
    -Playing against a Belief
    - Working toward a Goal
    -Accomplishing a Goal
    -Benefiting from an Instinct

    Other rewards are decided on by the Table:
    -One player earns MVP (addressing the crucial problem or making the big roll).
    -One player earns Teamworker (keeping the group together, helping on rolls, making sacrifices)
    -One or more (but not all) earn Embodiment ("roleplay in a believable and entertaining way throughout the session")

    The rewards allow players to modify their rolls to their benefit. Spending rewards is what allows characters to level.
  • @Paul_T thanks for sharing the review. It's an interesting perspective. The Embodiment award as written leaves me a little lukewarm. This reviewer's reaction was much stronger.
    Lastly, you need to award the Embodiment, which is more or less a “good roleplaying award”. Sometimes this is really easy, such as when someone busts out a fun accent or vivid characterization. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, such as when the same person’s vivid characterization has been outshining quieter players session after session. Personally I hate this award, I hate feeling judgmental about other people’s “performance”, and I’m so prickly about others judging me that unless people exactly thread the needle I’ll frequently feel either overpraised or underappreciated. I’d much rather not end a session on this weird note of social discomfort.
    I think this is why shifting Embodiment award from a player to a moment or scene works. You don't want to be voting on best roleplayer, since presumably everyone is doing their best. Identifying a stand out scene feels much better. And if one player has a boisterous character with a big personality, those scenes start to stand out less over time. Maybe it's a quieter character interaction that stands out, for its contrast.
  • If EoSR feels like a chore, and you have to force it as a checklist, even after the 6th session, than it is a clear sign that the players are not playing the game you want them to.
    Yep, I've been there. If players are not interested in the performer stance, as you call it, these might never feel satisfying.
    EoSR is basically a 'stick and carrot' type of reward. Most hardcore players enjoy RPGs for itself and doesnt need an outward motivation.
    Interesting. I think I disagree with you here. If they come from the GM, EoSRs can be a 'carrot' for meeting the GM's standards for character roleplay or playing the game as the GM wants. I don't think there's a 'stick' here, unless its the other players calling you out for not playing your character, which hopefully doesn't happen.

    My potential disagreement comes from the fact that I like being a player in games with EoSR, and not because I lack intrinsic motivation to do character roleplay.

    As a player, I think having EoSR helps me do things I might not do otherwise.

    - I can be somewhat bashful in person. I'm much more likely to celebrate a great moment of play if the game prompts me to do that. This is the big one. I care about my rewards, but I care more about the opportunity to grant other players rewards. These moment happen with greater detail and regularity than if we're just unwinding and taking informally.

    - When entering an ongoing campaign, hearing the character beliefs that were already in play let me insert myself into a character dynamic. I know that players will have beliefs they care about (not just placeholders they haven't thought about in a while) because they come up every session during rewards. I entered a campaign where a bunch of dwarves had been trapped underground for weeks and were running out of supplies. Their beliefs were intense and survival-focused. I showed up with a halfling who believed "Revelry makes a candle a hearth" and it knew I could play meaningfully off the other characters.

    - I like creating Beliefs that feel like they might be a challenge to live up to. To me, creating a belief is like daring myself to play a character in a new way. Then, reviewing beliefs is asking the other players if I succeeded at my goal, which is much more satisfying than self-assessing. I made a Dwarf with the belief "Cut out a liar's tongue, lop off a thief's hand. The world is rotten but it's worst parts can be severed." I intentionally chose an intense stance to find out if it would be tenable to bring into play consistently. I got to look forward to hearing from the other players if I hit that note, and enjoyed when they held me to a high standard.

    - In games without these EoSR rewards, committing airtime to my beliefs feels selfish. When I played 5E Curse of Strahd, I reviewed my beliefs a lot but they clearly had nothing to do with the situation at hand. Bringing them up felt like slowing our adventure progress without any benefit, so I stopped doing it. "Hey gang, I know we're trying to wrap up this long haunted house exploration, but do you want to hear about my complicated relationship with organized religion?"

    - Other players are sometimes better than you at seeing when your character has changed. EoSR help you confront this. When the aforementioned dwarf taught Armorer skills to some folks in a once-hostile town, the other players pushed me on his belief. "Wait, did Bazine acknowledge that people can change?" I had to shift his belief accordingly.
  • Pondering...
    Now I see what I want and don't want from these rewards. I am all for judging a player's performance, but I'd rather qualify it than rank it.
    Outright changing a belief or a trait attached to another player's character seems like the best option for me. It says : "This is the message that got through" and leaves the player pondering if that's what they aimed for and if that suits them.
  • @DeReel I'd prefer that, too!

    Someone should write a game that works that way, preferably about Goblins. :P
  • edited January 17

    EoSR is basically a 'stick and carrot' type of reward. Most hardcore players enjoy RPGs for itself and doesnt need an outward motivation.
    I made a logical jump, a false conclusion between my two sentences so yeah, I think you are right with your criticism, @moconnor!
  • edited January 17
    @hamnacb You gave me a lot to think about! I think if I were to give someone advice on this topic, the theme would be: How to make end of session rewards something more than the GM’s carrot.
  • My instinct is that end of session rewards are pretty similar to metagame rewards in general. In general, I take a pretty dim view towards "player rewards" for a lot of the reasons mentioned here. Including a "please your friends" mechanic seems redundant with healthy human social activity.

    The end of the session can be a time for mutual reflection on the game and how the priorities of the players/characters have changed and developed. Instead of "rewards", some games have character attributes that are regularly changed. Players can cross off relationships with dead friends, and write in new ones. Attributes may be changed or developed in the same way. "My character certainly overcame his fear of bats when he charged into melee with a Vampire to protect his friend." When players change their attributes and relationships, maybe they can earn some XP or something.

    End of session may provide a window to spend some of those rewards. Purchasing new abilities encourages players to think about the next session, and how they'd like their character to participate.
  • Some brief personal thoughts:

    I'd prefer to think of end of session rewards as a procedure for *creating dialogue and discussion* between the players. This is a useful function to me!

    As such, I would judge the success or failure of such mechanics by how much they foster or fail to foster the kind of discussion I would like to have.

    Second, give the rewards a clear direction: rather than being backward-looking, make then generate material and direction for the *next* session.

    If we have to talk about your character's Belief and I can prompt you to challenge it or change it, which gives you something interesting to think about for the next session... that sounds fruitful to me, for example.
  • edited January 18
    Great ideas. And they say group intellect is overhyped...
  • edited January 18
    Second, give the rewards a clear direction: rather than being backward-looking, make then generate material and direction for the *next* session.
    Yeah, I think that's a great criterion: do end of session procedures meaningfully inform future play? And I kind of think this matters even if a next session never really happens. If I run a convention game, I want players to leave with a sense that if their character's story continued, it would go somewhere interesting.
  • I thought the Pool rpg had something about this. In fact it doesn't go this far. A "take that" variant could be : End of session. All of the other players tag each player character with a new trait.
  • I've been doing a princess play campaign using Dungeon World which we had converted over from 5e. One end of session reward mechanic that game uses is "bonds", which are basically statements that players write that in some way define their character's relationship with another player's character. Everyone checks in on there Bonds at the end of the session and if things have changed and one of the bonds no longer seems to apply they talk with the group about why that is, cross out the bond, and write a new one in its place.

    At first it seemed too vague to be a useful mechanic to me. The book goes into more detail about what makes a good bond, but I still felt something like beliefs from the burning wheel games made more sense and would lead to more material for the game.

    The way the players in the group have reacted to the bonds mechanic has been really cool to see though. At first I think they were mostly interested in the extra XP but now they really seem to relish having a specified time to talk about their characters' relationships and be a little more introspective. I think the fact that it gets resolved solely amongst players is the mechanics strongest point for me.

    I'd prefer to think of end of session rewards as a procedure for *creating dialogue and discussion* between the players. This is a useful function to me!
    I would always say I agree with this statement, but I often get so focused on fostering interaction between players and the game's world that I forget how important mechanics that get players to interact with one another can be. This has been a good reminder.
  • edited January 18
    @ebear : I like these trusts mechanics where you can help or (kindly) stab a character with the trust they give yours. Reconsidering a relation also becomes a tactical choice.

    Hence my incomprehension : what more do you get by decoupling the discussion from mechanics ?
  • @ebear : I like these trusts mechanics where you can help or (kindly) stab a character with the trust they give yours. Reconsidering a relation also becomes a tactical choice.

    Hence my incomprehension : what more do you get by decoupling the discussion from mechanics ?
    I can totally understand where you are coming from there. The Hx stat from Apocalypse World behaves that way, where having a lot of history with someone means your better at helping them but also better at hurting them. I think that's really beautiful and says a lot.

    However I don't really think it would serve what the players in my group are trying to achieve/experience with the game we are playing, which is honestly a pretty specific thing. It's just an observation that this mechanic (the bonds mechanic) made a space in our game for something that wasn't there before, and did so without limiting anything else in our play.

    So my short answer to your question "what more do you get by decoupling the discussion from mechanics ?" is: flexibility. Basically in my mind mechanics are meant to bring everyones shared understanding of whats going on in the fiction more closely in line. So you decouple the mechanics from the discussion when you want players to each have their own perspective on something without stepping on each others toes.

    After many sessions with them playing in this particular campaign I see they are after two things:
    1. Having their characters do very cool high fantasy things
    2. Act as a team and help another achieve these things

    So say one player wants to the steal a frost giant's pet bird, none of the other players are going to stop them because this is a chance for that player to do something cool. That means there is no real need for a mechanic that allows one player to "(kindly) stab" another here. At the end of the session though there's this chance for players' characters to express how they feel about that character stealing the bird, even though it has no real effect on the action. It is literally just a place to say "this is what my character thinks about this thing that just happened, don't you think that's interesting" without getting in anyones way.

    Honestly the game I'm describing is not really the game I would want to be in ideally, but they absolutely love to play it, so I will keep running it for them. I'd really like something with big drama between main characters, I think I'm just going to need to ease them into that.

    Also I'm sorry if this got a bit off topic.
  • Thank you, specially for distilling 1 & 2. I think this is very important on the subject : tight fitting rules aren't a panacea. For reassurance and creativity you also need seeds and open space.
    2097's Allowance markers come to mind : a kind of reward that is not numerically decisive, but that communicate a direction to players : you can also do this, it's in the game.
  • Personally I hate this award, I hate feeling judgmental about other people’s “performance”, and I’m so prickly about others judging me that unless people exactly thread the needle I’ll frequently feel either overpraised or underappreciated. I’d much rather not end a session on this weird note of social discomfort.

    This so much. I haaate that feeling of underappreciated but all the other sour note the reviewer brings up are almost as bad.

    In games without these EoSR rewards, committing airtime to my beliefs feels selfish. When I played 5E Curse of Strahd, I reviewed my beliefs a lot but they clearly had nothing to do with the situation at hand. Bringing them up felt like slowing our adventure progress without any benefit, so I stopped doing it. “Hey gang, I know we’re trying to wrap up this long haunted house exploration, but do you want to hear about my complicated relationship with organized religion?”

    Yes, this is why we need some reward for this. This is exactly what I mean by “affordance” or “conveyance” mechanic. Like, “you gain 1/10th of an HP if you…” OK, that’s a crappy reward but it means that the game does reward me for this; it does see it as an allowed option.

    I think the beliefs / traits work well but what I would think would be even better is when it’s about the other character’s beliefs. That’s what I was going for when I introduced the Hillfolk stuff, and I also had that in mind when I phrased the “dive” insp (you need to fail at something the other people want you to succeed at). Everyone can write a single character, that’s nothing special. What happens when characters collide?

    2097’s Allowance markers come to mind : a kind of reward that is not numerically decisive, but that communicate a direction to players : you can also do this, it’s in the game.

    ♥♥♥♥ That’s it exactly, yeah.

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