We’ve continued our Worlds Without Number game, sometimes with 3 players (including me, the GM), most of the time with 2. The characters are now level 5, which is halfway up the ladder.
Since the last post, they have traveled around local and semi-local areas a bit and become, through following up on rumors regarding a lost pistol, and delving into a dungeon to find it, henchmen of Uth, the strongman/king of their area. This comes with some quite severe magical drawbacks for not following orders, which has been hinted at in the fiction, but so far the players are happy to follow orders and haven’t tested it.
I’m finding, as we continue, that I have all this inspired material for the world and the factions that I came up with prior to the start of the campaign, but play mostly ends up being slotting in dungeons and the like from my shelf — which we’ve been enjoying — but it really feels like we could be playing almost any game derived from holmes/moldvay/mentzer. Perhaps I should be prepping more, or diving into some of the optional systems in the book, like the Faction Turn system, where, as far as I understand, the GM takes the input of what the PCs have done lately and goes through a process to generate change in the circumstances and motives of the local factions (I’ve only skimmed it). But I don’t really feel like doing that. I am happy to present the latest dungeon or situation cribbed from some adventure book and throw the players into it and see how they respond, then move onto the next thing. I am trying to make each situation affect the larger picture and thus start to affect other situations, but there hasn’t been much call for that yet with the players mostly moving from one place to another. When they leave the current megadungeon for a breath of fresh air, I may be able to do that.
As I detailed in a previous post, part of the typical XP earned in a session (about 1/3 of it) is tied to player-defined character ambitions; but in reality this hasn’t seemed to impact the direction of play much, nor has XP for specific goals as opposed to XP for “just showing up”. Let me clarify that last clause:
Verbatim from the book, regarding how and at what rate to “reward” XP:
In general, you can assume that one “successful” gaming session should usually earn you about 3 XP.
So the default is that a PC earns 3XP regardless of what they do, pursue, or what happens in a session. The book mentions offhand that you could also do gold-for-xp, or xp for personal goals, etc. I really hated the idea, and still do, that those 3XP just flow to the characters no matter what. Shouldn’t a game’s reward system have something to say regarding what it’s about? So we play where any given goal the group creates or direction they decide to go in gets assigned an XP value (usually 1-3, or more if it will take multiple sessions), and then each PC can get 1XP every session for pursuing their personal ambition.
But for all practical purposes, I have to conclude that doing this hasn’t meant much; the players are going to go after what they want to go after regardless of XP (let me be clear: I am not lamenting some lack of control I was hoping the XP system to give me). Tying goals and ambitions to XP doesn’t seem to be a significant incentive. Especially when any reasonably challenging goal has roughly the same amount of XP attached. One lesson to learn from this is probably that whatever carrots are offered in terms of XP means a lot less to play than what options actually seem feasible, i.e., what I’ve prepped. I was hoping by doing some gentle massaging of the design here that I would create space for the game to be very open and for the players to feel empowered to choose the direction of the game. I think they mostly have felt this, based on observing play, and I don’t think XP has a whit to do with it.
I have had times at the table where I wish there was more engagement when it comes to color + setting (they got sent to a city in a distant part of the world that is built around a kind of anomaly where spaceships blip in and out of existence, and the locals detain the confused aliens that come out and make all manner of unguents and delicacies out of them, and I of course thought that my idea was really cool and wanted to see it more in play), but I am not really providing opportunities for that sort of stuff to take center stage. It’s more like I say “here’s this cool thing on the way to your mission”. No surprise that when it is framed like that, that they are focusing on the mission.