Talking about XP in yesterday's post got me thinking about, well, experience points. It has always - at least since I got into design - interested me how different games handle it, and one of those key ways of handling things is by choosing how much XP is needed for anything. So, today lets continue to look at XP and see just what it has to do with pinball and scoring.
A Bit Of History
What is the Pinball Effect? Well, for the purposes of this discussion it is this. Years ago, like decades, pinball machines gave scores in the hundreds and thousands. Then, when releasing some new machines, the designers upped the scores into the tens of thousands and higher. This trend continued, until the scores got to the point where we think of them today. The games weren't really that different, it was just as hard to get a high score, and the high scores were even proportional to what they were on other machines - once you accounted for the inflation in points. However, it just seemed cooler to a lot of people to say they got "thirty million" points, rather than a measly "three thousand". Now, you don't see many pinball machines that don't casually break a million points, do you?
So, why am I talking about point inflation? Well, because you can see it in some games. Now, players can be rationally aware that 100 XP is the same as 1 XP if the costs to buy things is on a proportionally equal scale, but it still sounds cooler to get 100 xp. You can see this fairly clearly in Dark Heresy. If you remove the Contact system in Dark Heresy (which wasn't added until the Inquisitor Handbook), you can divide all XP costs by 50 and get a proportionally equal cost in XP, but on a smaller scale. A skill that costs 100 XP, suddenly costs 2 XP. Instead of having 5000 XP in your character, you have 100.
Which I haven't checked it thoroughly up through Deathwatch, I am fairly confident this scaling would work all the way through. Very few aspects of the game take advantage of the 100 point baseline scale, which ultimately makes it fairly superfluous. So why not have it be 2 XP instead of 100? Well, because everything in the 40k universe needs to be bigger. So why not reflect that in XP as well?
Is It Really A Problem?
The question remains on this, is it really a problem? Does it matter if in one game you get 10,000XP for four hours of play, and in another you get 5? I don't think so, not as much as it effects Pinball or other games. The reason for this is while XP is a reward mechanism in RPGs, it is not the ultimate reward mechanism. When telling your friends about the last session, you don't boast about how much XP you earned. Well, maybe you do, but I'd wager that most don't.
The reward for an RPG is the fun you have in playing it, the challenge of the monsters you face, and the story that is told in the process. "We fought four dragons!" is a lot more likely to be the tale you tell, and while that can vary from game to game, it isn't really the system that decides it. If I am running a system, any system at all, then odds are it will be a bit more epic in scale than if one of my housemates runs it. That isn't to say that my house mate is a bad GM, just that I tend to favor running more epic games, and they more gritty games. In his games, going against six dragons as level five characters is a death sentence. In mine...well, ok, maybe it's also a death sentence, but it is a lot more likely to come up as a story element.
So Why Talk About It?
Honestly, I'm not sure. Even if it isn't one of the big things to have, it does still seem to be important. There is a simplicity when dealing with smaller numbers. If I asked a random person what is 7-3, they probably won't hesitate long before telling me 4. If I ask the same person what is 7000 - 3000 there will very likely be a longer hesitation before I get the answer of 4000 from them. Why? Because the numbers are bigger, and that has to be processed at least on some level.
It seems to me that the big difference - if all else is equal - comes down to simplicity versus appearance. Neither is necessarily wrong here either. The appearance of large numbers can give players a better feeling of reward when they do things - it also frees up the GM for giving smaller rewards for various things. Simplicity on the other hand, helps with getting things done, and getting them done quickly. This can be invaluable when running a game.
So, which do you prefer? Do you see any other key differences between a game based around 100 XP and one based around 1 XP? Let me know in the comments below.