Achievements in Campaigning

With a great deal of dismay, I learned last week that our local Smoothie King is discontinuing their customer loyalty program and replacing it with something to be determined at a later date. It was a simple and standard program – buy a certain number of smoothies and you get one free. But this comes on the heels of them eliminating their $1.00-off coupon attached to each receipt from a purchased smoothie. Suddenly our friendly, local, neighborhood Smoothie King seemed to give in to corporate pressures. As I reluctantly enjoyed my Mangosteen Madness (Make It Skinny) smoothie, I pondered what their next customer loyalty program would entail. Giving myself periodic brain freeze, I wondered why more businesses did not try an achievement-based customer loyalty program.

Achievement Unlocked – Read 1 Post by Iddy the Lich

For those of you who do not play video games on a regular basis, Achievements are a predefined goal a player must reach. A game such as Mass Effect 3 will come with a list of achievements a player can earn throughout the course of one or multiple playthroughs of the game. Some of the achievements are earned during the normal course of playing the game; a player will earn multiple achievements simply by playing through the standard single-player campaign mode. But many achievements are meant to entice players to continue playing the game to earn more rewards – even if those rewards are primarily a means for self-gratification and impressing other gamers. I fell into the “I need to increase my Gamer Score trap” for a time and played games that no longer interested me for the sake of earning achievements; thankfully, those days are behind me.

Below, I present thoughts on how achievements can be constructed to be more enticing, meaningful and tangibly rewarding for customers of a business – even if that business is a D&D campaign and the customers are players attending gaming sessions. I conclude with how achievements could possibly be used with players in a D&D campaign to increase loyalty and overall participation in the campaign.

Improving Achievements

An achievement-based reward system would be more interesting if the rewards were tangible, structured to fit the specific customer and did not encourage behavior the customer was going to engage in already. Returning to Smoothie King, I imagined a loyalty program based on a list of achievements and tangible rewards. Potential achievements that came to mind were:

  • Early Riser - Purchase a smoothie before 9AM
  • Late Bloomer - Purchase a smoothie after 8PM
  • Working for the Weekend - Purchase a smoothie on any Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
  • Go Big or Go Home - Purchase three 40 oz. smoothies

I go to Smoothie King when I feel like it, usually on the weekend for a late breakfast/early lunch. The achievements above would encourage me to go outside of my normal purchasing pattern; they might entice me to increase my buying behavior if the rewards for earning achievements were tangible and worthwhile to me. Perhaps each achievement was worth a certain number of reward points, which could be “cashed in” for other merchandise. I am not a marketing and sales expert, but it has been posited that loyalty begins with the desire for a relationship with a specific location, brand or community.

When my local Smoothie King discontinued the $1.00-off coupon attached to each receipt, it was a let down. It was not the end of the world that my next smoothie would be $1.00 more, but the coupon was a form of communication from the store owner to increase customer loyalty. It was the store’s way of saying, “Hey, thank you for supporting the store. We appreciate it. Please come back again.” Even though the teenagers and college-aged workers in the store never said such a thing, I interpreted the coupon in that fashion. When it was taken away, the message was, “We do not need to increase loyalty anymore. We just assume you’ll come back.” It felt like the local Smoothie King broke up with me!

Achievement & Rewards in Roleplaying Games

I am not the first to conceptualize video game achievements for a D&D setting; in fact, many others have done the same. It seems like a solid foundation for increasing player motivation if done properly, but some people already believe 4th Edition plays like a videogame – for better or worse. Adding achievements to a campaign may turn players off or distract them from the roleplaying experience. It would seem the most effective outcome for using achievements would be if they increase player loyalty, motivation and interest in the campaign – not to mention the nebulous concept of fun!

I have detailed previously how I pass out +1 tokens to players for great roleplaying or “cool” combat moments. Other ideas abound for how to reward player actions during gameplay. Achievements could be another form of encouraging specific player behaviors if the rewards are tangible and meaningful to the players. I enjoy when players “go for the moment” or try to do something “over the top” and I reward the behavior accordingly. However, +1 tokens may not be the most exciting reward to receive, especially since the party is now in the mid-Paragon Tier and already have juiced attack-role bonuses. Other ideas for rewards earned through achievements include:

  • Gain 1 permanent healing surge
  • Recover 1 Encounter power after it has been used per day
  • Gain advantage for duration of combat encounter
  • Gain 5,000 gp
  • Gain DR 5/10/15 (by Tier) for 1 encounter
  • Automatic success on any 1 skill check
  • Teleport within 10 squares of current location 1 time
  • Gain an audience with a god for 5 minutes
  • Read a NPC’s mind for 5 minutes

The DM could create an achievement point economy to determine how many achievements are needed to earn specific rewards. Players could earn achievements at their own pace and “cash in” those points for the rewards most suitable to his or her character and play styel.

As for the list of achievements, a DM could ask his or her players for assistance with generating the list. This could be done before a campaign begins or after it has already started. As an exercise, I sent the following question to my players this week, “What are two or three Achievements you/your character would be motivated to complete in the Cydonia campaign?” I did not receive many responses, which is a clear indication that most players are not interested in such a system (noted, guys). One player generated a short list of campaign-specific goals. Overall, the idea did not appear to be a good fit for my current group, but I do not believe it is a bad idea for all campaigns.

Outsource Creation

One way a list of achievements can be helpful – even if the DM and players do not use them during the campaign – is to generate content for plot hooks and quests. Asking players before or during the campaign, “What would be fun achievements for your characters to attain in the future?” may spark them to produce ideas for future adventures. It will likely help to give them a few achievement options to get them started:

  • Look The Other Way - Bribe a NPC to ignore your actions
  • It Burns Us - Suffer 4 consecutive rounds of ongoing fire damage
  • From Behind - Reduce 5 enemies in 1 encounter to 0 hit points with Sneak Attack
  • Headhunter - Decapitate 30 enemies
  • Won’t Back Down - Recover from 0 hit points 3 times in 1 encounter
  • We’ll Take The Job - Accept a quest from a known smuggler
  • May The Gods Help Us - Cleanse a defiled shrine
  • Play For Four Quarters - Attend 4 consecutive gaming sessions
  • Prop Master - Bring a campaign-related prop to a gaming session

The worst-case scenario is players remains silent and do not give you any feedback to the question and the campaign continues as normal. The best-case scenario (regardless of whether or not the achievements are implemented) is the DM gains a window into the motivations and goals of a player and her or his character. A DM can certainly do this by simply asking, “What are your character’s goals?” But I think framing the questions through achievement alters the question a bit and may produce more creative results – especially if the players consume video games, which is highly probable given the crossover between tabletop and video games.

Conclusion

Implementing a full-fledged achievement system in a campaign may not be for many gaming groups. To be effective, the achievements must be interesting and meaningful to the players and the DM must be willing to track progress toward the goals. The rewards for completing achievements must also be enticing for players to be motivated to reach those goals. An achievement system could be used to increase player loyalty to the overall campaign, the other members of the party and his or her character. 

Consider how achievements might encourage players to engage in tasks they do not normally complete during sessions. For example, if a DM believes players are not roleplaying enough then a list of roleplaying achievements associated with interesting rewards ($5 gift certificate to DriveThruRPG?) may get players to expand their roleplaying behavior.

At the very least, a DM can explore achievements with their group to learn of the players’ motivations for attending session and their characters’ motivations in the campaign world. That alone could assist a DM in creating future plot hooks, quests and world building ideas.

Of special note is the fantastic pixelated Iddy the Lich artwork that appears in the column above. The graphic was created by Bex Veverka (aka The Feminine Miss Geek) through her Pixel By Request Tumblr, which I learned of through her Twitter feed. It is wonderful to see Iddy as he’d appear in a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video game!

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About The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.
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11 Responses to Achievements in Campaigning

  1. Tom says:

    I’ve used this with my campaign to entice players to add character information to the game’s site. I mostly play with relatively inexperienced players, so it’s been a good way to get them interested in fleshing out their characters beyond their stats. Just gave them modest XP bonuses for doing it, but maybe I could offer another round of bonuses like what you’ve outlined for some additional information.

    • The Id DM says:

      It seems that something tangible that can be used in the game world can help to motivate new behaviors. Using XP bonuses is one option, but there are also many others that you can experiment with. Good luck!

  2. XP is the best motivator in gaming. It motivates a players to fight, to negotiate, to show up, to RP, to be creative. It does it all.

    • The Id DM says:

      I wonder how the game would play differently if players never leveled up. For example, mid-Heroic Tier is a great sweet spot for combat in 4th Edition. Why not stay there?

  3. alphastream says:

    The RPGA had played with motivation and achievement often. Currently, each Encounters season has a specific list of things that earn points. Enough points land you a reward, such as a promotional Fortune Card. The cards can be used in game, providing a benefit, but can also be sold online as a monetary benefit for the player. Lair Assault has a combination of secret and learn-at-the-first-game achievements which yield a prestige badge on your DDI account.

    Previously there were various ways that playing gained you benefits (RPGA reward cards were a fairly effective/popular one before Fortune Cards), though they could be very destabilizing. The 4E Rewards Cards were very strong and a frequent point of discussion online. Even with 3E rewards (such as one that canceled surprise or granted a reroll) the cards could be seen as elitist, unfair, and encouraging solving problems with money (the good cards could fetch more than $50!).

    I’ve seen a variety of non-RPGA rewards such as the ones you describe, but in general I find them a bit artificial. They can drive behavior in a distorting way. You should attend because you want to play, not because 3 points will get you the next benefit. You should negotiate with a smuggle because you want to do so, not because you want points. That said, i think these can be fun, especially in some smaller/periodic capacity.

    My personal preference is to try to find similar ways but without an actual system. For example, in Ashes of Athas Chapter One we made it fairy clear that PCs should try to keep people alive while trying to prove their innocence. Then we also threw some really mean/dastardly NPCs at the party. Those who could keep their cool and not slay them end up being recognized as sort of heroes (something that barely exists on Athas). In home campaigns I try to find ways to turn accomplishments into things that feel like titles or “unlocks”. For example, negotiating with the elven tribe means their village now is better supported. Sparing the bad guys and convincing them to guard the village means the raiders that came the next month were repelled. It creates a sense of actions having consequences – with some of those being rewarding/achievements. Hopefully that encourages more play and greater care for the plot, setting, and NPCs.

    • The Id DM says:

      Great comments. When you were talking about the Reward Cards, it reminded me of attempting to understand Magic: The Gathering when I asked, “So, couldn’t one person just buy better cards and always win?” I realize there are multiple ways to play MtG to prevent that from happening, but the motivations for players can become *too* tied to rewards. You are correct, the game should be intrinsically pleasing first and foremost. If we’re playing to get rewards all the time, then we’re playing the wrong game! I learned that after chasing XBOX 360 Achievements on a few games. I finally asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”

  4. Wayne says:

    Giving DR?
    Heehee, So thoughtful of you to have both 3.x and 4e rewards in your list. :D

  5. Pingback: Friday Knight News - Bane Edition: 20-JUL-2012 | Game Knight Reviews

  6. Rowan says:

    I like the idea of achievements very much as a vehicle to flesh out a character. Possibly building these into the lore the the campaign itself would be a good way to encourage players. If the local bard piped up with a song about exploits of the group when they walk into a tavern based on how many orcs someone had decapitated that would be pretty awesome.

    • The Id DM says:

      Hah, I like that. It makes the world a living place. Perhaps rumors have spread of the party’s exploits and the bards are singing their praises (or their failures like Brave Sir Robin) while they are out adventuring. A related idea is for the adventures to have fans, although that might be a bit too Fable-like. It would be an interesting idea to play around with.

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