Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP


  • Coder

    Since several folks asked for this a while ago, and I keep getting periodic prods on this, here's the very beginnings of codifying DICE 2.0 in a simplified system. I thought I'd share a little of it for feedback. (Mostly, so far, 2.0 is functionally identical to 1.0 save with me slowly building it for Evennia in Python as part of a toolset, rather than PennMUSH in MUSHcode.)


    DICE 2.0

    Dynamic Interactive Character Events

    Overview

    DICE is a framework on which other systems can be built. At heart, it is simply a glorified flowchart made up of blocks; each block has inputs (time, money, and/or resources), a formula, and outputs (money, resources, or progression that fills a 'meter' towards a trigger).

    Players can thus assemble 'blocks' to be executed on a weekly basis, and things will flow through the system.

    Goals

    The basic purpose of the original DICE system was to allow some balance in an online gaming environment. It was meant to solve three specific problems:

    1. The players who can be around constantly (work from home, between jobs, etc.) should not have a material advantage—either in economic resources or skills—over those who have other obligations that keep them on the game more rarely.
    2. A player should not be able to do all the things at once. They should not be able to be the best gunfighter and the richest merchant and the person who is doing all the off-screen research into xenolinguistics and everything else. They need to pick a focus, and they cannot control all the plotlines.
    3. For the sake of staff's sanity, there needs to be a sort of tunable bottleneck on how quickly a plot can be advanced by the players.

    On Lost Stars, the game DICE was originally designed for, there were only two staffers; on a game with a rather larger staff, point 3 may be slightly less important. Still, having the option would be nice. (Examples in this document are still taken from Lost Stars, however, rather than made more general. In case you wonder why things list Xenolinguistics as a sample skill.)

    DICE 2.0 is meant to be an extension of the DICE ideals to a more generic system, while also doing away with the 'employment' mechanic which ended up unbalancing DICE 1.0 in various ways.

    Basic Components

    Time

    At the heart of DICE is the concept of Time. Every player has an allocation of 100 units of time, representing 100% of their available time for that week. Time is the currency you spend in DICE in order to do things.

    Resources

    The next major portion of DICE is the concept of 'resources', which can be generated by various methods, and spent for others. A player can have a given quantity of a resource; by default, there's always at least 'money', but there could be other types of resource as the game requires. Influence, for instance, might represent favors owed to a player.

    Blocks

    The central concept of DICE is 'blocks'. Players will have a 'library' of blocks available to them. Some are standardized ('practice a skill'), some are specific to their skills ('work as a technician'), some will be ones custom to them added by staff ('work on translating that alien tablet').

    A given block has three components.

    Inputs

    A block has one or more inputs; a handful of system blocks will have zero inputs (potentially such as income generation). Each Input has a defined type, and players can define how much of that type they will put in per action round. Almost all blocks take Time as an input, but some may also take Resources (Money, Influence, etc.). When DICE executes an action round, the quantities a player has put in will be taken from the player and passed into the formula.

    Outputs

    A block generally has one or more outputs; a handful of system blocks will have zero outputs (potentially such as resource drains). An output can be a resource such as money or influence, or it can fill a 'progress bar' which leads towards some other coded effect. Examples of progress bars might be the amount of work needed to complete a research project, or the amount of time/effort put towards learning a new skill.

    The progress bar output is a special case, given how it is potentially backed by things other than a player. For instance, it would be possible to create a 'plot' system, and have several progressions on a given plot; how far have you gotten in translating this tablet (Xenolinguistics), and meanwhile how far have you gotten in negotiating right of travel through alien territory (Diplomacy) to get to the place you need to take the ancient alien tablet? Every player on the plot could use a block to progress one or the other of those metrics, but the resulting progress bar would be shared by all.

    Formula

    A block has a single 'formula': something which, given the input values and a player, will generate the actual output values.

    A formula might be as straightforward as "given an input of X time, output X towards the progress bar" to practice a skill, where the amount needed to fill the bar is determined by the targeted level of the skill. (A progress bar value of 150 for level 1 of a skill, 300 for level 2, and so on.)

    A formula could be more complicated and draw on player stats, such as "given an input of X time, output an amount of money equal to X * the player's career skill" in order to have a 'do your job' block which generates baseline income.

    A formula could involve dice rolls, such as "given an input of X time, output an amount towards the progress bar equal to the result of a Mental + Xenolinguistics roll, multiplied by (X / 2)", in order to slowly progress towards completion of translating an alien language.

    Blocks for Plots

    Sharing Blocks

    Instances of some blocks can be shared between players. This allows for a plot to involve multiple people; if Bruce asks to translate some ancient alien writings, the staff can quickly create a block which tracks how close he is to completing it, with a formula that rolls his xenolinguistics each time.

    As Bruce puts time into the block, of course, the progress bar slowly fills. But maybe it's going too slow, or Bruce needs to do other things; he can run a command to share the block with other players, allowing them to join in as well. If they don't have xenolinguistics, that might be a problem, but those who do can put their time and dice towards filling the progress bar as well.

    Involving others in your plot is good!

    Linked Blocks

    Another useful concept is linked blocks, which share an output. For instance, for a larger plot, one might have a progress bar of "how prepared are we for this planetary siege?" You could define a couple buckets (progress bars) which represent defensive measures, offensive measures, and so on. You could then define multiple different blocks that pointed to these same buckets; one block might be rolling command+leadership to add to the buckets, and represent people trying to leadership things, while another might be intellect+war to add to the offensive bucket, and so on. These buckets would all add to the same shared buckets for a given plot, allowing you to share a single metric across many buckets.

    Similarly, if you had an opposed action, you could have a bucket with one block that added to the value and another subtracted from it, and in the end you could see who ends up with more influence over the result.


  • Creator

    Wow I think this might actually be perfect for the DBZ game I wanna make >_>. I could totally apply that stuff to training, science, magic, space travel, afterlife travel, hunting dragon balls, etc.

    Presumably, couldn't this system essentially be used with any sort of attribute or skill system 0_o? It seems like you can easily plug it into whatever you damned well please, even really exotic stuff.


  • Coder

    @HelloProject said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    Presumably, couldn't this system essentially be used with any sort of attribute or skill system 0_o? It seems like you can easily plug it into whatever you damned well please, even really exotic stuff.

    That was the idea, yeah. On Lost Stars it was built too heavily into the codebase to be extricated as a separate chunk; for 2.0, I'm building it as a more general toolset.


  • Creator

    @Sparks I'd love to have a fully fleshed out version of this in a PDF, I'm even willing to help make it more clear and concise. How can we bullet point each section of this?


  • Admin

    I like it, @Sparks. One remark only - the people who can play 24/7 shouldn't be dominating, I quite agree on that, but the flipside is not rewarding investment; the person who plays should still be ahead - with diminishing returns, staggered caps, whatever is preferable... but carrots are still important to have. Players do like chasing them.



  • @Arkandel said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    I like it, @Sparks. One remark only - the people who can play 24/7 shouldn't be dominating, I quite agree on that, but the flipside is not rewarding investment; the person who plays should still be ahead - with diminishing returns, staggered caps, whatever is preferable... but carrots are still important to have. Players do like chasing them.

    I disagree, to some extent. It is about the game that you (ambiguous) want to make, whether you want to reward investment or not. I've played on games where there is no XP, no resources, nothing. I was still invested in the game because I was invested in the roleplaying I was doing and the story I was playing.

    And that is a perfectly legitimate strategy to have. That you want people invested in the story for the sake of the story, not the rewards that they are getting from a system of code, without bringing in 'how much you RP' as part of the equation.

    I know Pax and I and others have talked about this to death. There were a number of other things that could be given for being active. But I also just don't think it is necessary.


  • Admin

    @Meg said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    I disagree, to some extent. It is about the game that you (ambiguous) want to make, whether you want to reward investment or not. I've played on games where there is no XP, no resources, nothing. I was still invested in the game because I was invested in the roleplaying I was doing and the story I was playing.

    Sure, and I agree, having both played and enjoyed such games before. But that's not the kind we seem to be discussing here.

    And that is a perfectly legitimate strategy to have. That you want people invested in the story for the sake of the story, not the rewards that they are getting from a system of code, without bringing in 'how much you RP' as part of the equation.

    In my experience it's not an either/or. Some really excellent roleplayers care about their XP and the cool things they can buy with them. I think there is a compromise between "I play on this MU* for six hours a day so I should dominate everything" and "there is no systemic goal to chase".

    I know Pax and I and others have talked about this to death. There were a number of other things that could be given for being active. But I also just don't think it is necessary.

    No, it's not necessary. I'd argue though that it's beneficial.



  • @Arkandel

    Certainly, there are some benefits to letting players who can play more get more of 'x'. Whatever x is (resources, XP, spotlight, etc etc). But there are also cons too. I know you and I have both been in scenes on Arx where people were chasing votes and newbie XP without a regard for /stories/ and, you know, roleplay.

    And there is always that unbalance for people who can't play as much to overcome, or people that will tax themselves trying to do too much to keep up. Keeping things fair across the board is beneficial, too, to other players. It just depends who you want to benefit from the system.


  • Coder

    I'm with Meg here.

    While I think games should allow character progression and such, I also think there's few things more discouraging than taking a week and doing a scene every single evening after work, sometimes twice, only to see that you don't even crack the bottom of the 'Most voted RPers' that week, and thus know your progression is still that far behind the folks who are on all day.

    I think the reward for being around a lot is more that you are aware of and potentially involved in a lot of things, you're a "familiar face" people will go to. I don't know that the reward should necessarily be "you advance faster than everyone else", even if 'faster' is somehow capped/bottlenecked.

    This isn't to say there's not a place for games like that, or that they're bad in any way. Just that it wasn't the particular problem I was trying to solve with DICE.


  • Admin

    @Meg said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    @Arkandel

    Certainly, there are some benefits to letting players who can play more get more of 'x'. Whatever x is (resources, XP, spotlight, etc etc). But there are also cons too. I know you and I have both been in scenes on Arx where people were chasing votes and newbie XP without a regard for /stories/ and, you know, roleplay.

    Sure, I hate that. But on the other hand that's not the only kind of absurdity I witnessed (which isn't a knock on Arx); for instance there were was at least the person who would only participate in plots about the war and nothing else because he considered everything else 'a waste of time'.

    My point is you can't fix people through systems or even their absence. In fact you probably don't need to - as long as they don't get in each other's way it should be fine for a game to cater to different playstyles. But the tools you get through carrots shouldn't be underestimated - you can offer incentives for behaviors you want to encourage and nudge your players in a direction you'd prefer them to go without forcing them to do it. If someone is doing exceptional things you can reward it, if there isn't enough of a demographic you can make it more attractive, and so on.

    I'm not saying there's no other way to do such things in say, a time/resource system like the one discussed here, but I think they're still worth having.

    And there is always that unbalance for people who can't play as much to overcome, or people that will tax themselves trying to do too much to keep up. Keeping things fair across the board is beneficial, too, to other players. It just depends who you want to benefit from the system.

    Let's be honest though - a player who's online a lot, someone who's active and involved will generally have advantages either way. Even on completely statless games the oldbies still have advantages not available to characters just rolling out of CGen; they have connections, name recognition, IC ranks, ties to the metaplot, a history to draw from, all that stuff. All you're doing through systematizing these factors a bit more is ensure the distribution of bonuses reaches everyone, not just the more prominent figureheads.


  • Politics

    I like the concept, @Sparks. I am developing something similar for my own system.

    One thing I'm not sure of is whether you ought to permit Blocks to be devoted towards what appears to me to be an important event: negotiating a treaty with an alien race. That sounds like something that ought to be handled as a RP Plot. Passing Blocks to other characters is an interesting concept, which I might adopt.


  • Coder

    @Ganymede said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    I like the concept, @Sparks. I am developing something similar for my own system.

    One thing I'm not sure of is whether you ought to permit Blocks to be devoted towards what appears to me to be an important event: negotiating a treaty with an alien race. That sounds like something that ought to be handled as a RP Plot. Passing Blocks to other characters is an interesting concept, which I might adopt.

    The idea is that a lot of things would be handled as plots; blocks are more the 'you have advanced to this point' part of a plot.

    Let's take that treaty. I say, "Okay, to write a treaty and make CERTAIN it's translated properly, you're going to need these prerequisites" and create blocks for them. They can RP about those prerequisites, but they also have to put in the time/effort to do the diplomacy and xenolinguistics.

    So let's say Meg chooses to work on drafting the treaty; she gets a block that has diplomacy rolls, and advances a progress bar. She can invite other people to help with that block, and so they sit down and RP about writing out the treaty, etc., and slowly that bar fills. When it's filled, hey, they've put in the time and diplomatic research efforts to write a good solid treaty; that block concludes.

    Now it passes on to the xenolinguistics crew to make sure they've translated it right. Another block is handed out, and they work to advance its progress bar. It's important, the clock is ticking, so you put 80% of your time into that task, and so do two others you find. You finish quickly.

    Now staff's automatically informed "these blocks have both finished", and we can schedule the actual treaty scene, where it's presented to the alien race, as a real GM'd scene with alien NPCs, etc.,and the plot continues from there.

    It gives players a way to advance a plot between 'beats', staff a way to track the progression ("Oh man they're almost done, we'd better be ready to run that thing"), without staff having to constantly oversee a bunch of rolls.


  • Politics

    @Sparks said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    Let's take that treaty. I say, "Okay, to write a treaty and make CERTAIN it's translated properly, you're going to need these prerequisites" and create blocks for them. They can RP about those prerequisites, but they also have to put in the time/effort to do the diplomacy and xenolinguistics.

    I get that, and I see what you're suggesting, but I'm a cynical cat and believe that people will devote their Time and Blocks, then TS with one another rather than RP through what sounds like really boring RP to me. I can honestly say I have no interest in RPing out learning xenolinguistics.

    On the other hand, having the players involved to put their PCs into a plot run by whomever and actually RP with alien NPCs sounds like more fun. The entire "DARNOK AND JALAD AT TANAGRA" bit is amusing and interesting because Sisko and his crew didn't spend the first half of the episode analyzing the aliens' language.



  • @Ganymede said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    @Sparks said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    Let's take that treaty. I say, "Okay, to write a treaty and make CERTAIN it's translated properly, you're going to need these prerequisites" and create blocks for them. They can RP about those prerequisites, but they also have to put in the time/effort to do the diplomacy and xenolinguistics.

    I get that, and I see what you're suggesting, but I'm a cynical cat and believe that people will devote their Time and Blocks, then TS with one another rather than RP through what sounds like really boring RP to me.

    Well, yes. I would even go so far as to say they /should/ do this. (Not the TS, maybe.) If something is boring RP, you can mention it in other scenes, refer to it, but you don't have to sit down and RP /exactly/ that thing. You can RP working on a treaty that gets swept aside momentarily for hot, hot TS on a desk, for example, and it should still count. Your time offscreen, you actually went and picked back up the treaty and quibbled over words.

    The scene with the aliens would still happen in the system that Pax is suggesting. But there'd be some background of what PCs are doing in their offscreen time (and maybe on-screen time if they /want/ to RP it) about what is leading up to that scene.


  • Politics

    @Meg said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    The scene with the aliens would still happen in the system that Pax is suggesting. But there'd be some background of what PCs are doing in their offscreen time (and maybe on-screen time if they /want/ to RP it) about what is leading up to that scene.

    Good. I said what I said less as an objection and more of a reminder or suggestion. I will get behind the use of the system to knock out mundane/routine tasks, and believe it can and should be used to knock out mundane/routine plots, even. But important, interesting stuff should be left for the players and staff to RP together through.


  • Coder

    Yeah, my example assumed the xenolinguists already knew the language and the actual treaty signing scene was the interesting part of the plot; it's like how you wouldn't want to necessarily play out five hours of "and then I translate it into this other language" over business contracts in a modern-day game, even if they had to be JUST RIGHT and not taking the time would cause some plot-derailing huge issue.

    Figuring out a language in the first place, with real aliens, in a first contact scenario? That'd 100% be a GM'd scene, no question.


  • Admin

    @Ganymede The way I interpreted that is that if you have something on your sheet (or you're working towards it) then it should be portrayed somewhere in your RP as well.

    So you wouldn't need to roleplay learning xenolinguistics which yes, is boring as fuck especially if you're only doing it to check a box because the rule says you need to do it to get the skill (which is the bane of my existence, doing scenes you don't want only as to cover some requirement for <X>), but you should make it part of your poses while it's happening - perhaps you used the wrong term for stuff, or grossly mispronounced an insult so that it sounds like the endearing term for someone's intended lair-mate, or you're asking if the language even has a concept for puns... that kinda thing.

    I think though that should be a thing in general, and not a given. I've met characters in WoD with 3s and 4s at Academics (because they're used for stuff like Theban) whose players portrayed them as uneducated street-level punks or whatever.


  • Politics

    @Arkandel said in Progression: Time/Resource rather than XP:

    The way I interpreted that is that if you have something on your sheet (or you're working towards it) then it should be portrayed somewhere in your RP as well.

    Yeah, that's not what I got at all, sorry.


  • Creator

    @Sparks Is it alright to take this system and edit it to suit our particular needs, and put it into a PDF if we're not selling it or anything? I'd like to use this for my design document for the game I'm making.


  • Pitcrew

    I love this! This is what I have been looking for in MU*s. It ties skill development to time rather than vague xp, and it creates projects for people to engage in while limiting them to how involved they can be. I think FutureMUD was going to have something like this but that project has gone quiet. It's also similar to Arx's investigations and tasks system, only all tied up into one streamlines system.

    As for giving players benefits for playing, I have always said that if you have to be incentivized to play a game, it's work not a game, so why are you playing it?

    The only bonus I consider giving players is something like "bennie points" or what Firan called CP. Turn in so many of them and you get a one to three scene GMed plot focused on one of your character's or a fancy item that doesn't give any stat boosts but looks nice and is unique, etc.



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