December 24, 2010

Free-For-All Friday: Player Motivations

So, I was good, I wrote my post for today back on Wednesday. Felt it was current enough to be interesting, and was a good topic to muse about. Then, while reading my RSS this morning, I stumble upon an article by The Chatty DM.

He’s covering the idea of player motivations, which is quite different from character motivations that I covered in Hook, Line, and Sinker. I’m going to leave most of his article over there for you to read, but to summarize for this discussion:

The 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide lists a number of core player motivations:

  • Acting
  • Exploring
  • Instigating
  • Power Gaming
  • Slaying
  • Storytelling
  • Thinking
  • Watching

He goes on to make the claim that, regardless of what’s written on the tin, that 4th Edition caters to Power Gaming, Slaying, and Thinking to the expense of the rest.

Now, while I agree that it does cater to these three things in a number of ways (See the character optimization boards scrambling for even +1 damage in the system.), most of these motivations are in fact covered by the design and/or marketing of the product.

Acting: If any of the motivations aren’t given a solid set of rewards or encouragement in the system itself, it’s acting. There is no mechanical reward for it, and very little in the way of support for players who want this sort of thing in the way of advice.

Exploring: Exploring is given a mechanical kick in the rear through action points. The concept of ‘one more encounter, and you’ll earn an action point’ can be enough to keep some groups going. The fact that once it’s earned, you’ll lose it if you sleep makes the odd number encounters something worth running through.

Instigating: This one there isn’t a real mechanical reward, except as it relates to Power Gaming. Instigating players are as likely to cause trouble as they are to advance the in game narrative, and to them, that shaking up of the status quo IS the reward. In other words, this one doesn’t NEED a mechanical award.

Power Gaming: Optimization is rewarded.

Slaying: Like most versions of Dungeons and Dragons, most of the rules are how to kill things better and what happens when you kill those things.

Storytelling: This one is one of the better supported motivations below the key three Chatty DM called attention to. Via Skill Challenges, which admittedly needed work to become as good as they could be, and Quest rewards, the system actively encourages advancing the narrative in ways other versions of Dungeons and Dragons didn’t. It even produced support, not in mechanical aspects, but help for GMs in the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2.

Thinking: I actually feel this one could have been done better out of the box (Back in 2008), but think they’ve made some definite improvements with the new monster design and more cohesive classes that work even better as a team.

Watching: This is another one I think Wizards of the Coast did a wonderful job with. Watchers often just want to spend time with friends, and possibly make new ones, and between the character builder, Encounters, and an active push to make Dungeons and Dragons ‘mainstream’ to some degree has definitely made this a good time for casual players to get into the game.

To summarize, I think most player motivations that can be planned for were planned for well. Some in the core rules themselves, and some via the marketing efforts of the company. Does this mean some of them couldn’t be improved? Absolutely not, and I wish the Chatty DM the best of luck in his efforts. I’ve literally just discovered him, but even cursory examination of his blog is interesting, and if you like my thoughts on design, his aren’t far off. Definitely check it out.

FRE is going to be getting a one page Primer written soon to take advantage of KORPG’s One Page RPG challenge. And while the Primer is only going to be a page, expect a bit meatier version coming eventually after I’ve worked out how ‘fiddly’ I’d like it.

ExoSquad is on a back burner right now, the holidays sucking up most of my time.

Velocity is of course still awaiting its edit.

Last thing: Obviously, I've picked a new theme, what does everyone think? Better than white on black? Should I dig around for another good template? Or can anyone suggest a good (Cheap.) designer?


  1. I'm a much greater fan of the black on white of this design. It's nothing fancy, but white on black is - shall I say - a bit unprofessional.

  2. It really was, and I'm glad I'm at a stage that I can experiment with the design without alienating people.

  3. Great counter points. Which I don't wholly disagree with. There is a current imbalance in rewarding playing style, partly inherited by the game's history, partly by the specialization that 4e's design embraced.

    I think addressing the imbalance with new material is where value can be added to the game and is a great sub-niche for game designers who'd like a slice of the big one's freelance market...

    Thanks for taking the time to post this. It's much appreciated.

  4. Thanks for the read, I felt the topic deserved more than a few words in a comment.