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As a storyteller, are merits acquired only through experience after character creation, or do you reward your players with them for accomplishing their goals? Suppose a situation like the following unfolds:

The reckless, young monster-hunter Edwin Malmonte has tasked himself with ridding the nearby town of a shapeshifter that has been terrorizing and murdering the citizens. Since the shapeshifter is a werewolf, he has brought a sword coated with silver. When he tracks the monster down to its lair, he engages it in tooth-and-nail combat, and emerges victorious, with the creature's head his trophy. Malmonte is proud of his kill, but has been operating out of his car ever since his estate was burned down by vengeful vampires. He decides to set up shop in the werewolf's old lair of tunnels and caverns outside the city, since it is quite expansive, and the werewolf had driven off the other supernatural threats in the vicinity.

Suppose Edwin's player would like to attain several dots of Lair (Size/Security) for his actions. If he succeeds his combat checks and kills the werewolf, is he still required to spend experience points to gain the mechanical advantages for having such a lair? Similarly, if Edwin's player purchases the dots for the lair, but does not roll for combat against the werewolf, should I, as the storyteller, allow the scenario to play out as narrated, since it is color.

Or third still, should I do both? Do I require that Edwin's player engage in combat AND spend his experience points to acquire the merit?

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Some games do explicitly work like this, and others don't, so this is a fair question! –  SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 23:15
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8 Answers 8

up vote 12 down vote accepted

This is all very specific to the GM, group, and game.

Personally, I would trust the game and its mechanics until it proves to be incapable of generating the kind of story and gameplay I want.

  • Eliminating the werewolf is necessary for making the space available. Hopefully, the player's actions are the cause of this to happen, directly or indirectly.

  • Making the space available doesn't automatically make it into a lair. There's PC time and effort required to make it a safe and useful place, and this is modeled by the experience expenditure. This could even be done piecemeal over the course of several sessions and chapters, as the lair gets more dots as experience is spent on it.

  • Aside: If the player's earlier estate had points/experience sunk into it and then it got obliterated, I would be happy to reduce the experience cost to convert the werewolf's caves into a lair.

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+1 for mentioning that a player character should be able to benefit from the experience they have spent on things, in most cases. –  GMJoe Sep 5 '12 at 4:27
    
I agree that the expenditure of experience is what makes a house a home, so to speak. –  Joshua Shane Liberman Sep 6 '12 at 22:20
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As O'Keefe said, this is a group by group thing and you should go by what feels right for you and your group as for me, here is my philosophy when GMing:

  • You can earn all kinds of things through roleplaying without paying for them with money or experience, but to do that you really have to earn them. If you are paying for them with money and experience then a reasonable in game reason is enough.

The way this would apply to the situation at hand is that if he fully plays out the whole hunt the werewolf thing with you, takes all the risks that entails, and succeeds then he gets all the rewards of that. He gets experience from it, he might get reputation, he might get spoils of war if the werewolf had something interesting or valuable, but he does not get several dots in lair. He hasn't earned several dots in lair. He has earned one dot in lair for now squatting in a very large, very insecure compound. This compound has been furnished and secured for that werewolf, not him. If it had traps, he probably either destroyed them on his way in, or may still not know about them so they are still dangerous to him. If it has locks, he might not have the keys, same with any combinations. Secret passages are likely still secret to him. He may have broken down some of the doors himself and possibly damaged the structure in the fight. If it had alarms or a recording system, he may not have the codes or controls so they may not do any good for him and might need to be replaced.

Worse, part of the security might have been the werewolf's reputation itself. Now that werewolf is gone. The werewolf's heirs might be coming looking to inherit their father's/mate's/brother's lair. The werewolf's rivals might be coming to steal it for themselves or at least loot it. On the mundane side, if this is private land, there is a legal owner out there somewhere that might be sending the sheriff. (For that matter, if the werewolf maintained a legal, human identity then the character just comitted murder and he is considering living at the scene of the crime....) The county wants the property taxes. If this is public land the warden/ranger might not even notice a werewolf living there, but won't take kindly to a human squatting there long term.

Once he has dealt with all of that, then he has earned several dots in lair.

I would give him a choice: He can either spend XP and cash to represent dealing with all that and buy the rest of the dots that lair is worth (afte he got the first one for killing the werewolf). Or he can earn them through roleplaying, over time, by repairing the damage, gaining control over the security measures, dealing with the supernatural forces trying to take the lair from him, and dealing with the government entities (whether that means working through beauracracy and gaining title or bribing some officials and staying concealed form others is up to him...)

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This is excellent. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 5 '12 at 20:48
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A fair balance between having the player earn the merit through experience (paying) and having the player earn the merit through play would be to have the play's experience count towards the merit itself. The player in question forfeits the experience he would've gained for the hunt and kill of the werewolf, instead converting it into the merit itself (Discounted as applicable from the previous experience spent). If the entire hunt and kill of the werewolf took only one session, the session was likely worth only a few experience points, so keep that in mind as well, and this establishes what the player gains immediately.

Later on, as he intends to secure and clear the lair in it's entirely, have the user spend his "downtime" performing a series of extended actions, with risks built in for failure. This means the player cannot use his "downtime" doing other actions (Like justifying experience expenditures on other merits or general actions other players in the game may be able to take). This downtime should "earn" experience based on the usual rules you use, as it should involve a risk of failure or at the least a risk of sinking quite a lot of the character's time into this while other events occur in your game. Determine how many overall dots the merit is worth and when the player will be done with this extended use of his time.

Using downtime to have the character perform these actions allows the player to continue to participate in the game and be vital to the group and still dedicate himself to the task so that it can consume his time. The trick is that the downtime must involve an opportunity cost. Have the other characters spend the downtime doing something interesting or beneficial as well to their characters, so that the player feels like the time he's investing is more than just busywork and instead build that into the story itself. The player will feel like he's earned the merit without having to divert too much experience away from other things, the character is not overly imbalanced especially in comparison with the other players in the game, and you have lots of opportunities for good character building during downtime as the player maps out the caverns and disarms and rebuilds the defenses to suit his new home.

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I'm assuming the slaying of the werewolf happened during gameplay. If it didn't, then it either happened in backstory (Thus, character creation, so this question wouldn't be applicable) or as an offscreen event during some kind of time skip. (Exalted and old WoD were fairly rife with these, and nWoD can be depending on GM and playstyle.) If the player is not actively playing an event, by making granular decisions, rolling a decent number of dice, and having failure being an option, then it's just something he bought with XP and that's all. A discount for points sunk into the previous estate might be reasonable, again depending on group.

If, however, the werewolf was defeated through active efforts by the player(s) during gameplay, then I for one would advise a slightly devious approach. They would have gotten XP for killing the werewolf, right? Presumably enough XP to be worth a few dots of Lair? XP is a representation of the acquisition of skills, powers, and in some cases stuff. I would subtract as much XP from what the player would get as the dots would cost, maybe with a slight discount for good roleplaying. If I could, I'd award the other players similarly priced dots (Resources comes to mind as a likely suspect) so that the XP difference would be less obvious.

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As a generalization, from my experiences with oWoD games...

If the story makes it apparent that the player has earned a given merit, background, or rite, grant them it.

Play balance, however, calls for them having to pay for it as well... but it's reasonable to let them have the benefits while paying for it.

In the question's exemplar situation, I'd grant the lair the moment the player asked, as he's done the in-play., and an experience deficit to pay for it. I'd offer a new flaw related to it as an option, or if the character had acquired some flaw in play, use those points to help pay for it.

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"As a storyteller, are merits acquired only through experience after character creation, or do you reward your players with them for accomplishing their goals? [...] Should I, as the storyteller, allow the scenario to play out as narrated, since it is color. Or third still, should I do both? Do I require that [...] player engage in combat AND spend his experience points to acquire the merit?"

As someone who has experienced all three of these, I'd have to say the one that "feels" the best to a player is "Earn your Kill, Defend your Kill", the third option when presented with a justifiable reasoning behind having to spend the XP once play has started.

In the example you've presented a player is now the proud owner (squatter?) of a werewolf's lair. The werewolf has scared away all of the other supernaturals (and presumalby some naturals as well). In the way I reccommend you gain the location; however, the security needs to be re-examined.

  • Werewolves mark their territory with smells and sigils (oWod). Smells and Carvings fade over time and need to be maintained to stay as powerful, otherise the rating will degrade.

  • The pathways needs to be mapped, otherwise he may get lost in all of the twists and turns.

Both of these represent roleplaying opportunities for the player and a chance for them to test their wits against the world. I reccommend the XP expenditure be reduced as the majority of the work is done for them (you may want to make them only pay for the last rank, or everything but the last rank, depending on how much XP your games generate).

IF there is a rule stating a 1:1 XP expenditure to purchase the location in question , go with the written rule (unless, of course, it is stupid and you don't like it). Presumably, the game's authors would have wanted XP to reflect the attention given to the character's purpose. Making a new home = spend XP on the home. Beating up bad guys = spend XP on skills/attributes, etc.

If you're looking for more of a D&D feel to your game, "Keep what you Kill" is very valid. Someone else spent the points, but you took it from them through force. No additional XP required. It comes off as a reward for being good at what you do, which is always a nice feeling.

As far as "color" is concerned, what is purchased should be given - this is the basis of trust between player and GM/ST/Ref. If it has to be changed to justify an earlier outcome, so be it, as long as equivalency is maintained and no friends are lost over the matter.

As always, whatever feels the most fun to both the GM and the player is the final answer to any question you may have.

Roll well, and may the die be ever in your favor.

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This is a key point of contention I find when playing with World of Darkness players - whether to be strict about XP expenditure for in-game accomplishments, or allow in-game actions to grant ooc mechanical sheet power.

I personally take the tack that trying to artificially control people's power is doomed to failure - any options in a game open up the possibility of powergaming. Level of power in a game is ultimately a process of negotiation and consent, like nearly anything in life.

It's better to preserve the verisimilitude of a game world by allowing the mechanical effects of a sanctum apply to a character who spends the time to build or acquire one in-game but doesn't have enough xp to buy it on his sheet, than to try to enforce some kind of artificial 'balance' that inevitably isn't balanced anyway.

I use sheets as 'pre-game' assets - once the game hits the table, all bets are off.

But you'll find as many people who disagree with this attitude as agree with it - as always, knowledge of your table's preferences is key in making decisions as a storyteller/gamesmaster.

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My 2c would be they have "Justerfied the XP expenditure" for the taking of a safehouse. Justerfying to beable to pick up a safe house with 5 dots in size is really hard most of the time. A player with resources 3, can own a home. A player with Reasource 5, can own half a dozen homes.

But this home doesn't give them the Safehouse/Lair/Haven merit for free. A home bought oly with resources isn't normally a gameplay focus, that a Lair is. It is a place where your character sleeps when he is not advancing the plot. Having high enough resources is justification for spending XP on a safe house though.

"I bought this house" is equivalent justification for the safehouse as "I killed the previous owner." Physically the building is there. Physically your character can sleep there. Put his stuff there and the rest. But there is nothing to stop someone else turning up, it is not safe.

In short I would not give the merit for free. I would however make sure that if it looked like the players were going that way, then they had enough Story XP given, to pay for it.

I got into an argument with another ST when i too a Lair that had no dots in security and he suggested that hobos might turn up in it. We eventfully came the other conclusion that yes there was nothing stopping someone who wanted to go in there from getting in, no one wanted to, because it was Mine, (in that I had purchased dots in it's size etc). While not safe from active intrusion it was safe from passive intrusion.

If I hadn't put any dots in it at all, I would be expecting squatters to turn up, my stuff to get nicked, and the area vandalised. vvs if I had security, not only would no one go in tyhere, but a Private Investigator looking for me, couldn't get in, easily. But with all that it would still be a place insetting that existed. and I could go there and chase everyone else out.

Edit: Although on the converse, depending on the effects required from the merit, it may be possible to have all the required effects through roleplay. I am iffy about this. Eg if a character roleplays through having the address removed from whitepages, maybe even going so far as to Apply the investigation skill to himself. Buys strong locks, gets a bunch of guard dogs, etc. One can not argue that he is goign to get all the effects of increating the security dots. I would prob handle this buy paying out the XP he has earnt from that rolepay and say: "You have justerfied increasing your does't in Safehouse security. You haven't justified anything else. You can purchase the merit or not, but if you don't then the changes arn't going to stick around forever."

This is all largely related to the fact that I am happy to go above the XP guidelines. Conversely it would be possible to run a gain where you never gave out XP and just rule of thumbed character advancements: Player: "Can I justerfy upping my Larceny? I've picked like 4 locks since last time. GM: those locks were no challange to you, so i think you will need abit more to justerfy that." I'm kinda in a agame like that now, the GM has been increasing the XP per session by about 5 every story arc, i think we are upto about 30XP per session. But makes it really hard to ever justerfy XP expenditures, so most players have about 100+XP spare.

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