The Slog

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?

2 thoughts on “The Slog

  1. connorbros

    All great points here! While I’ve not tried implementing something of the sort recently since we’re still playtesting DnDNext (and enjoying it), I similarly came to the conclusion that levels should be more frequent, or at the very least more consistently rewarding. I often see levels where the character has barely changed except for a slight bonus here or there, and this as a reward for what in the past has taken up to five sessions (a whole month of multi-hour play sessions)!

    In my own experimental RPG, rather than have experience leading to levels, I went for points earned by the players, and they could spend them to buy various options for their characters. I really tried to keep the focus on new capabilities for the players rather than slight statistical growth. Sure, they could ‘power up’, but even then I wanted it to feel like they were powering up a specific option in a qualitative way. Then, if I needed them to gain overall ‘strength’, I awarded it as a bonus for spending a certain number of points, so they didn’t have to choose between being ‘good’ and having shiny new things to play with.

    Recently, even though we’re using standard experience and leveling, it’s been going at a solid pace just because of some of the other things you mention, like cutting down on extraneous rolls and making sure the players are getting experience for pretty much everything they accomplish (and making sure that ‘everything’ is actually a non-trivial challenge). Maybe it’s just in comparison to past experiences where this hadn’t worked so well, but the players are finding it quick (in a good way) to gain a level every 3 sessions.

    I still feel like that’s a long time, so ideally I’d probably try and make sure the players get -something- qualitative every session or so. Interesting treasure-style rewards can be used here to bridge gaps, but also this might just come from splitting levels into smaller more meaningful chunks. Then again, I’ve heard some players express that they feel weird in a roleplaying sense when their characters get some new ability every in-game day or so, so I guess that needs to be handled a bit carefully. Still think players would net-net enjoy it more that way despite a little bit of abstraction.

    I’ve found that keeping the pace of the game quick has been reward enough for the players, so I’m not really keen to make it a mechanic, though I think it depends on the group. Mostly I just take it upon myself to push the players and keep track of time, and they know that when I’m pushing, it’s because I don’t want things to stagnate, for their own good, not because I’m just being pushy or getting bored myself. Having said all that, I’m not fundamentally against the idea, especially since it incentivises efficient gameplay, which the players will then in turn master.

    More than anything, I think I’m just chiming in and repeating what you’ve said, just from my own perspective. =)


    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      Thanks Dustin. I see two conflicting issues here: a) people enjoy planning and “solving” puzzles in front of them, and b) it’s fun to “do stuff”in a world where you really do have influence.

      I don’t want to ruin the fun of people who gravitate towards group (a) for the ones who gravitate to group (b), but it certainly takes some finesse to satisfy both.


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