Why bother having prep procedures?

Or, “why bother writing an article like my A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX?”.

In response to the article linked above, /u/deejax313 said:

“Alot of work to go through for a game.

Cant DMs just give treasure, get a sense of how fast the players are advancing, and then give more or less treasure based on how fast they like the players to advance?

You may as well just not play with XP and just say characters advance a level every three adventures.

You’re crunching numbers and working backwards to create a system to make a totally subjective choice happen.”

A good question. I have answers.

First, doing this is leisure for me – it’s as much part of my hobby as designing adventures or running games. I like working with data, and I like figuring out game mechanics to meet some specified end. It’s not “work” in the sense of “I do it for the end result”; I do it, in large part, for itself. But, as with so much else that I do, having a benefit at the ends “unlocks” the pleasure I get from the activity itself. I.e. because there are people in the OSR community who may want the fruits of this work, I can enjoy the intrinsic pleasures of solving this puzzle.

(The “puzzle” here is how to take control of average progression rate while retaining the incentivizing power of xp-for-treasure. I’ll come back to that below, because the quote above misses something there.)

But, beyond that, this work is useful because better prep methods help us have better games. If I can use a treasure-placing method to place treasure well right off the bat, I can have a good advancement rate from the very first session. Put another way – everything I have to tune in play is something that’s not as good as it could be at first.

Put yet another way – we could prep by handwaving every monster stat, every item description, every trap mechanism. But by starting from a set of rules, or at least guidelines, we can draw on the collected wisdom of the community to have a better time.

(I don’t promise, of course, that using my methods will give you ideal treasure-to-xp experiences. But it’s a principled attempt, which has the potential to be good.)

Related to that, explicit prep methods make it easier to teach good prep. If every new GM (or new-to-BX GM) has to feel their way to good treasure placement, then that’s a lot of learning work. If they can use a method to do it, at least initially while they’re finding their feet, they can spare their learning effort for something we can’t mechanise (e.g. making good rulings in a BX context).

(related to both of the above, it’s worth reflecting on the closely related issue of why we have rules at all)

In my case, I’m writing for publication, so I need some way to calibrate my treasure placement against other GM’s expectations and desires. Published adventures are much more useful if the GM can trust most of the details are close to familiar norms, and concentrate on learning the module rather than fixing and tuning it.

Turning to the suggestion to use milestone levelling, this has two problems – milestone levelling (a) ignores BX’s different rates of advance for different classes and (b) removes the incentives to be clever, to avoid combat, to use trickery and cunning that are provided by xp-for-treasure rules. My propose method maintains those. That’s the “puzzle” I was referring to above – how to maintain those incentives while creating an easy way to tune advancement rate.

In summary, this work is game design – I have a “shape” of experience I want to get, and I’m building guidelines to support that. Guidelines that go some way to making it that experience repeatable, from session to session, dungeon to dungeon, campaign to campaign. Ideally, I’d like to write guidelines that make it repeatable for others, including novices.

Finally, I can’t know where doing some given work is going to take me, or indeed anyone else. It might be that that post is the only thing I ever write on this topic. Or, because I wrote it, I may have a dozen new ideas for similar tuning exercises, which taken together are excellent guides to running a BX game. And others might take this work, or some of those things it led to, and build excellent things with it. There’s no way to tell. So all I can do is make the things that interest me, and see where they lead.

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