Somewhere recently (probably the Knife Fight) I came across the idea that reward systems are two pronged: they specify both WHAT you reward and HOW you reward it. Someone also made the intelligent point that the how should match the what, in the sense that the rewards ought to actually facilitate doing the thing being rewarded.
I’ve been thinking about that, particularly in the context of d20 games, since that what I’ve been playing recently. Experience is awarded for defeating monsters or completing an adventure, which allows a character to reach the next level. This in turn improves their stats, skills, feats, and attack bonus. There are specific rules for awarding combat experience, but no other type, which tends to reward combat instead of talking. If talking were rewarded instead of combat, it could mean that negotiating makes me better at fighting via increased attack bonus. Since everything increases at once, the rewards make me better at many more things than I actually did! There’s a mismatch between what is rewarded and how it’s rewarded. This makes me wonder, what would d20 look like if advancement of the various stats was decoupled from the others? A “point buy” approach would still allow mismatched advancement, but experience tied to individual stats would be unwieldy. I haven’t come up with any solution to that yet.
It also occurs to me that there are a few different kinds of behaviors that may be worth rewarding. There are things the players do outside the game that add to the game, like writing background and so forth. There are the things that the characters do in game, like use skills and overcome challenges. Then there are the things that the players do in the game that are really meta-actions, like initiate a scene, involve other characters, and so forth. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily true that for each the reward should help you perform the same action in the future. For character actions, this seems to be the case. The others are not as clear to me. I’ll think on it.