Over at Turn Based Living, there’s a post that discusses what I call “the slog” of some online RPGs. The slog is that time where the game designers decided that achieving some advancement shouldn’t be made too easy, and so they force not your character to suffer, but you the player to suffer through the grind, in order to get to it.
I’m going to take a moment to bask in that – if only every several-hour-long-grind of mindlessness to get to the next task could be replaced by a single interesting and challenging encounter (obviously it’s more complicated than that, but it’s a lovely dream). Moreover, when I spent plenty of time on the side getting in the good graces of the numerous NPCs, I didn’t end up so over-powered that the game became a meaningless coast to the finish line (thanks to small fry enemies just leaving you alone when you’re strong enough and there being challenges for all levels, not just at discrete jumps).
Again, I don’t want Lost Worlds to feel like a chore. While I want advancements to feel “earned,” I don’t want them to require suffering on the part of the players. I want interesting and meaningful encounters, exploration, mystery, and alliances. I want players to feel connected to the world, want revenge, care about NPCs, fall victim to greed, etc. At the same time, I want the world to be a dangerous place for adventuring heroes, so that a character isn’t so connected to the game that they’re required for the advancement of the story taking place. I want it to feel more like a George R. R. Martin story where the players feel connected, but still know that their character could still die at any time.
So how do we avoid the slog? I think the first way is to give advancement as a reward for a multitude of goals. Next, I want to have more frequent, smaller, advancements. This way characters don’t feel stagnant from game to game. Finally, I want to cut out extraneous rolls, and mechanics that cause the game to slow down – which prevents characters from gaining experience. The quicker, in real time, we make it through encounters, the quicker characters are able to gain experience and power. This means that moving quickly at the game table really has two benefits – helping to ensure you avoid the slog in a micro-sense (that is, slogging through a long combat), and in a macro-sense (that is, you’re advancing levels more quickly).
Last, I wonder whether it’s worth investigating a mechanic that encourages players to keep the pace of the game brisk, and how you’d envision it working. Maybe when it’s the players turn, if they have their action ready, they gain a “ready” bonus to their action. I’m really just brainstorming at this point. Any other thoughts on how to avoid “the slog” in Lost Worlds?