The Payoff? | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

The Payoff?

In most rpgs, both tabletop and video game, you are continually working towards a higher power. In most of these games, the difference between a new character and a top of the line character is vast. The question is "Which is the payoff?". Is having a completed character and the consequent play the reward, or is the reward in the play that leads up to the completed character?

The bulk of play is going to be at the in-between levels. Of those levels, the lower levels are the most commonly played. In fact, the least amount of play is generally done at a maximum level. This seems to suggest that high level play is less rewarding. At the least, high level play is only rewarding enough if you worked for it. My guess is that high level play gives too broad of a control to the player. Characters generally start out with a 2-d power (defined so because of it's limited capabilities). Mid levels allow 3-d powers (defined so because they can circumvent other rules or abilities). High level powers are often 4-d. Not only do they circumvent many rules or abilities, but they change the foundation of gameplay.

Orcs invading a castle?
2-d - Beat the orcs 1 by 1. Tactics may involve fighting the leader to make the grunts flee or bottlenecking the orcs to prevent being surrounded.
3-d - Defeat large portions of orcs at once. Tactics might involve buffing key roles and manipulating the situation into the one prepared for.
4-d - Teleport the castle to a new area, create a vacuum around them, or go back in time to prevent their rise.

Sometimes 4-d powers can make a conflict devoid of all... conflict. You're no longer playing the game, you're exploiting the poor design to manipulate the action. By contrast, 3-d powers can add a lot of depth to a game. Players are given the power to solve conflicts in more than one way, just by the nature of the powers, but the conflict remains a challenge. Still yet, a game is fine with nothing more than 2-d powers. They are the easiest to balance and can provide an even playing field for all characters. Rock-Paper-Scissors has 3 powers, all of them 2-d.

Then, does all of this mean that games should start with 2-d and move up to 3-d powers? Personally... I believe they should. Obviously this won't work for some designs (especially a handfull of settings), but for all traditional rpgs that have that sliding power scale... there is little reason to crank it all the way up. I don't think having access to 4-d powers is a reward at all.