Experience Points and Plot

I have a thesis about one of the reasons that earned experience points are so persistent in roleplaying games.

Experience points provide an irreducible floor of plot.

As is traditional in RPG theory, I’m using an idiosyncratic and non-intuitive definition of “plot”. What I mean by “plot”, in this connection, is the occurrence of events which cause a lasting change of state in the characters or setting. Put more simply, plot is when something happens that matters.

Ideally, in every session of an RPG, there would be plot. PCs would advance toward short-term or long-term goals, gather information or assets necessary to advancing toward goals, move along a character arc, etc. However, we’ve all had sessions where nothing happened. Maybe there was some beating on orcs, but nothing really happened. Nothing changed, in the characters or the world they live in.

Experience systems, however, guarantee that the PCs will be changed by every session, regardless of that session’s content. Whatever else happens (or doesn’t), you get XP, and now maybe you can get that new ability you’ve been saving up for. They turn otherwise narratively vacant sessions into training montages.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Saturday night in the barrio

It’s been observed by folks who know the area that Jen and I basically live in the barrio. I think all our neighbors aside from the family in the other half of the duplex are Mexican or Central American, which is pretty typical of large swathes of Redwood City. As I’ve noted before, I think it’s kind of cool living in a town with ample opportunities to eat a taco with brains or tongue. (Not that I do, but I like having the option. As I think about it, I think that’s part of why I wanted to come back to the Bay Area; it’s an excellent part of the world to be in if you like having options that you have no particular desire to pursue.)

I think we’re the edge of something; on our side of the street and to the west, it’s mostly single-family homes. On the other side of our street, it’s mostly mid-grade apartment complexes (I was about to say low-grade, but then I realized they’re not really any more decrepit than the place I managed when we first moved to California. My standards have drifted upwards).

Ordinarily, there’s no special flavor to the neighborhood other than the flock of pushcart ice cream vendors and the guy who sells things resembling the love children of a Cheeto, a pork rind, and a pretzel off the front end of a bicycle. As the weather warms, however, a certain community feel emerges.

Tonight, while I was walking to the local 7-11 for some milk, I discovered that one of the local youngsters (I say this because I’m pretty sure he was younger than me; anywhere from 15 to 25 would have been possible) has converted his garage into a streetside pimp lounge. Mood lighting, frathouse-grade couch, warm colorful fabrics draped over everything — the whole nine yards. And it’s a garage that opens to the street. He and his friends were just lounging around, one of them freestyling to a beat they had running.

Across the street, some kids were doing doughnuts on a motorized Big Wheel; meanwhile, some of the grownups in the same complex were doing the same thing.

I like this neighborhood.

Originally published on LiveJournal