Luck point economies: Encouraging liquidity, part II

We’ve discussed random and semi-random ways of awarding luck points. We’ve also discussed luck point sources such as Aspects, Attributes or Traits to keep the flow steady. What other methods are there?

Players in control

How about if the players are in charge of generating their own luck points? In Blade & Crown, for example, you as a player are wholly in charge of deciding whether or not you’ll use your character’s Traits to make their life more adventurous (read: dangerous). The GM and other players can offer you enticements, and suggest ways of approaching situations, but it’s ultimately up to you to get those Traits back.

This can work well. In my experience with this system, I’ve seen players thinking through the roleplaying possibilities, trying to devise ways their character can get into trouble, and it’s great fun. When they ask “Can I get tokens back by using my Trait of Gregarious to talk with those guards, even though I should be sneaking past them?” — well, that’s exactly how Traits are supposed to work.

This system, too, has problems. I’ve seen players forget that they can get tokens back through Trait use (despite frequent reminders!). And it can be tricky when the GM and player disagree about how adventurous a Trait use is. “Telling the truth about how awesome I am is totally a good use of my Honest Trait!” — that kind of thing.

A major solution for luck point liquidity, seized on by lots of GMs, is to allow players to award luck points to each other. Put a bowl of tokens in the middle of the table, remind players that they can award each other and get back to other GM duties. In theory, this can work great; it’s handing off narrative control to the players, after all, and players often have much less to remember than the GM.

As is becoming rapidly apparent, however, no solution is perfect. What if the players can’t remember everyone else’s luck point sources? (After all, if the GM can’t remember 50 luck point sources, how can anyone else?) What if one person is really good at remembering to hand out luck point awards and no one else is? That person can begin to feel like their generosity is being met with silence.

One method I’d like to try, but haven’t had the opportunity: give each player a small number of luck points that they must distribute to their fellow players before the end of the session. (Perhaps using color-coded tokens, so players can remember who a given luck point comes from.) This could help make sure that everyone is on the lookout for nifty things each other is doing, and handing out rewards accordingly. But I can foresee problems with this method, too: players giving out tokens when another character needs rescuing, rather than when they’ve done something neat; giving out all your tokens in the first hour, then feeling like you can’t reward your fellow players for the remainder of the session; disagreements about just what constitutes “awesome” behavior. So while it’s an experiment I’d like to try, I’ll go into the experiment cognizant that it is no cure-all.

The social contract

There’s one major way of increasing luck point liquidity that I haven’t examined yet, though I’ve hinted at it. It’s the social contract.

In Blade & Crown, one thing I’ve noticed that helps the players ask for their Trait tokens back is having a formal way to do so. If we first formally establish the phrase “I’d like to get tokens for doing X because it’s a negative use of my Y Trait” as the way to ask for tokens back, the players know they can make it clear to the GM what they’re asking for, and that the GM needs to give a clear response.

This can all be for nought, however, if it’s unclear to the players that a) they’re allowed to make these requests or b) the phrasing itself is unclear. If someone says “That was awesome!” but there’s no group agreement that “awesome!” deserves a luck point, it may be unclear if they were just making an observation or actually requesting a luck point. If there’s no agreement on just how amazing something has to be before it deserves a luck point, the award system may seem capricious or imbalanced.

It’s also difficult when there are wider social sanctions against asking for what you want. Here in the Midwest of the US, people like to say that they are direct, but to actually say “I did something cool, and I deserve a luck point!” is seen as self-aggrandizing and greedy. It’s also thorny when combined with social sanctions against women (and other groups) saying what we want in direct, explicit ways. Some groups can overcome these wider social expectation, but (at least in my experience) it’s difficult and rare. More often, a player who declares their own awesomeness will slowly build up a reputation as a selfish jerk, even if they’re enriching the game by doing amazing things.

These are all aspects of the social contract, a topic that I think we gamers don’t talk about enough (and about which I’ll certainly say more later). Another aspect of the social contract is making it clear what out-of-game behaviors deserve luck points and what don’t. If a player makes cookies for the group one session and gets no luck points for it, but someone else brings chips and gets a luck point, then it’s likely become unclear to all concerned what behaviors are sanctioned for, what are sanctioned against. If a player keeps working witty Monty Python references into the conversation, is that something to be reinforced, or something to be chastised? It helps all of us have better gaming if we can address these kinds of questions in forthright, reasoned discussion.

In sum

What has all this taught me? What seems to encourage a liquid luck point economy?

  1. A manageable number of luck point sources
  2. Empowering players to distribute luck points
  3. Rigorous mechanical requirements that luck points be distributed
  4. Formal ways for players to ask for luck points
  5. Making the social contract clear to all concerned

As I said before, none of these methods is perfect, but together, and well-executed, they can create a pretty good flow of luck points.

Are there methods or combinations I’ve missed? (Must be.) What have you seen work even better? Let me know in the comments.

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