Mechanika Inwazja Note 160213 On Player Motivation

In general, people do what they are motivated to do by the system and the mechanics. Some people want something else and they get rewards which are not actually given by the game mechanically, but this is not something you can count on when you create a role-playing session or when you work on role-playing system.

Most of all playing sessions we have worked quite well. We have working mechanics, we do have exciting conflicts and we do have escalation mode in terms of shield. We are able to make some kind of longer-term projects and we have some more or less defined resource system, which doesn’t really work, but which shows where we want to go.

We do not have any motivation system nor we have any progression. Usually in role-playing games what motivates the players is the progression. You do something, because you will get something for it – if you kill a dragon you will get more experience than when you kill a goblin. If you want to kill a dragon, you need +1 million sword of Dragon slaying. To get this sword you need to complete a mission for an old shifty guy. And this is motivation.

Some role-playing games give as a motivation and ability for players to influence the story. This is the path we were using. That is, this is the only path we were using – we decided that the progression systems and mechanical motivation systems are less important than the story based rewards. However, looking back at the campaigns, those campaigns which actually were the most heated and the most exciting were those were something more was at stake. “Psinos”, “Bane the Immortal”, “Amiralis”, “Second Invasion”, “Eclipse”, “Blink” - those were those campaigns where we had the most fun; those we remember the most.

“Psinos” had a well-crafted, excellent story where a player doomed a small city and where an enemy actually threatened the place players cared about (because of properly made second-class NPCs). The fact that the players could decide to either get a lot of resources or save the city made it more exciting. Something similar happened with the “Blink” campaign, but over there the story was what driven the campaign. Story and the fact player characters were directly threatened by an unknown entity.

So those two campaigns worked so well, because players’ characters could have been harmed directly. But since then we have moved towards the “player character cannot die unless player wants”. Let us look at the different campaigns:

“Bane the immortal” had a situation where the players acquired a stealth battle cruiser. In short, wow. Players moved from being lowly mercenaries towards having a stake in both the government and the cult which wanted to destroy this government. In a way, not only they felt responsible for everyone around but also they were defending their assets. They had the battle cruiser they needed to repair and make operational. They could have bargained – they will do something but they will get some stuff done where it interest them. Also, they have managed to pick up some useful NPCs around and although player characters are immortal, those NPCs aren’t.
Something very similar happened in the “Second Invasion”. Players were moving the story forward very fast and they had a very intelligent opponent; neither they were visible to an opponent nor the opponent was visible to them. Both sides danced around each other and they had a base of operations which was potentially expandable and upgradable.

In this case players had some resources they could work with and even of those resources required even more resources to make operational it was theirs. They were kind of defined by those resources (no mercenaries had access to a stealth battle cruiser, ever) (as detectives they had a place with all the files in the defense systems and everything – a safe haven in the world going to hell). So they could have gained or lost, the overall story unfolding had impact not only on the NPCs but also on their possession and their abilities to manipulate the events. The battle cruiser, for example, was never even used. But the fact it was there gave them motivation to act.

Third set of campaigns: “Bane the immortal”, again, was a grand scale epic where an eternal cultist was trying to either bring back a force trying to destroy the planet or bury it forever. This story had a plague, had support NPCs everyone cared about, was connected to the past five years of role-playing sessions. And had lots of NPCs suffer and die. Including those players cared about – saving NPCs might not have been a bad result of a mission.
“Second Invasion” had a long, overarching story with NPCs also dying and being competent. So having competent, intelligent allies at constant risk and a grand scale story was what motivated the players here.
“Eclipse” - players have made a bond with characters and those characters were suffering and the world was about to change forever by the players decisions. And only the players were able to make those decisions.
“Amiralis” - players defined the future of the corporate system technically leading the world to the events from “Bane the immortal”.

So here we have players actually influencing the story and being able to either gain or lose meaningful assets in this particular story. Their decisions were final and those ripples cascaded everywhere and to all campaigns.

What would be a conclusion to all that?
Players need motivation. All three components needs to be used for the perfect campaign. I think one of the best campaigns ever done was actually “Bane the immortal” - I vividly remember players arguing with each other and players are really caring how to save that planet and really, really hating Bane for killing Saika. So an opponent with the personality is one important part of making this work. Second thing, the resources. The mechanics need to have resources as something to motivate the players – players need to see that they are actually inflicting harm to the opponent or they are making themselves more powerful and more influential. This is something we are lacking right now and this is something we need to work on. In Bane the resources was the battle cruiser, but not only. But the cruiser needed a crew and money; as the crew was inherently untrustworthy (because everyone wants to have their own battle cruiser) every trustworthy person became something special, a part of a family. Which means that if players really failed, game master was able to hurt this without killing their characters. Also, having a battle cruiser meant that geopolitical situation was more interesting; no matter which force gets the battle cruiser, they will tip the scale against the other forces. So the players were very influential but also very fragile.

There were many meaningful NPCs over there which the players felt connection with; they either liked them or really dislike them. Important secondary NPCs had their own characters and players were motivated by their own agenda.

This is what kind of needs to be done in the current Invasion. The fact we are jumping between campaigns, timelines means that the players cannot really connect with a particular point in time with particular motivation for the character. A side effect I did not really expect.

At this moment I’m quite tempted to simply proceed from second invasion forward and forget which happened earlier, treat it as historical events and learn from those failures. I only wonder if I should.

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