How you reward play choices
Mechanics are the answer.
Specifically, the mechanics involved in reward.
I've found that, fundamentally, it's all about the reward cycles encoded in mechanics. And especially when players have read the mechanics, they will tend to do what's rewarded most.
Rewards come in about 4 basic types:
- ways to improve the character's permanent abilities
- mechanical focus on given activities
- expendable one-use bonuses to characters
- out of game rewards
To stop the psychotic behaviors, you need to reward non-psychotic behavior AND stop rewarding the psychotic ones. And make certain the players know the reward cycles, and that you use the ones you've defined.
Psych 101 refresher
Further, remember the basic psychology: There are four modes of reinforcement:
- Positive Reinforcement - reward after doing what is desired
- Negative Reinforcement - aversive stimulus until desired behavior
- Punishment - aversive stimulus after undesired behavior
- Bribery - reward stimulus prior to desired behavior
Bribery is effective at getting near-immediate passive cooperation, but lousy for evoking desired active behaviors.
Punishment is effective at quashing behaviors only when immediate and uniform in application - if it's hit-or-miss, it fails to extinguish behaviors.
Negative Reinforcement generally drives people off. It's excellent for getting simple tasks done when the behavior is easier than going away, but it fails in RPG groups due to it being easier not to show up than to accept the aversive stimulus.
That leaves positive reinforcement.
Let's look a few games reward cycles:
- It gives rewards of XP and Treasure for killing opponents, and more XP for the treasure taken.
- It gives rewards for dungeon penetration, puzzle solving, and trap defeating.
- It gives mechanical detail for physical combat, and makes it hard to defeat opponents without killing them.
It directly rewards psychotic thieving behavior.
- It gives XP for playing, roleplaying well, roleplaying your disads, and completion of goals.
- It gives mechanical detail for physical combat, and in some editions and sourcebooks, magical combat - like AD&D, it grows out of a character-scale wargame.
- It makes little distinction about killing, and it's easy to accidentally kill an opponent in melee.
- The most valuable disadvantages are those that make combat harder, such as missing limbs, followed by those that mandate or deny violence - this encourages polarized characters.
It indirectly rewards violence by being detailed in combat but not so much elsewhere, though it does have an extensive skill system. The combat disads being high value encourages them to be taken, but the GM has to be proactive to prevent the traditional violence-driven cycle.
RuneQuest 3E and Chaosium BRP Games*, as well as **Mongoose RuneQuest
- It rewards killing with the opportunity to take their stuff (so does real life)
- Skill use is rewarded by potential skill gains
- Physical and Spirit Combat get detailed mechanical treatments.
- Injuries can cause permanent losses to character capabilities by loss of limbs
The system rewards what you do with skill gains in those very skills. It provides its mechanical attention to combat, both physical and magical, so it weakly rewards those two activities, but, gives strong disincentives to casual violence by maiming characters and killing them fairly easily. It does, however, make knocking someone out much more doable than D&D... and so less strongly rewards psychotic behavior
Prime Directive 1E
- XP are given for mission difficulty and completion quality only
- Pro Rep (Professional Reputation) is given for Mission Difficulty and Completion quality only
- Hero Rep is given for TV-appropriate heroics, ESPECIALLY ones that are brave-but-suicidal
- Seniority is gained for completing missions successfully
- Seniority can be lost for disobeying mission prohibitions, or inappropriate behavior witnessed and reported by PCs or NPCs
- Combat is mechanically detailed.
- Skill resolution has lots of mechanical crunch, but is less detailed than combat.
- High Pro Rep provides more access to equipment
- High Hero Rep allows turning dice into 6's, a pool that recharges each mission
- Seniority leads to promotion and additional Pro Rep
- Stunning is as easy as killing, and costs less energy with most "modern" energy weapons.
- Military Decorations for the characters can be gained for heroic action and for satisfactory mission completion.
- unused pro-rep can be used to improve mission evaluations.
Depending on the mission, killing can be either actively rewarded (when it's part of a mission goal) or actively punished (when it's forbidden by the mission). The use of stun makes casual use of force far more an option, and stunning does leave more energy in the packs, so setting for kill is not actively rewarded. The game also has enough mechanical crunch to support non-combat modes of play, but it also tends to result in more book lookups. Hero Rep can be grounds for players to do things that are not practical, but are cinematic and dramatic, so it actively encourages such play; if survived, it makes to easier to pull it off later, as Hero rep provides a rechargeable (start of new mission) pool of "I make this die open end" roll modifications.
Burning Wheel and Burning Empires
- Skill use is rewarded by skill specific experience
- needing to attempt stuff you are incapable of doing is required to advance skills and attributes - Failure isn't required, but is likely
- doing easy stuff is required for low skill levels - and worthless for high ones
- Helping someone better than you still counts as the full difficulty for skill experience, so helping someone do something you can't succeed at yourself still counts for advancing that skill
- other skills that you have can provide bonus dice by linked tests or by "FoRKing" them in.
- Failure is encouraged to be made interesting
- Retries are prohibited
- Help is multiply rewarded - the helper gains experience as if tackling it alone, the helped gains a bonus die for the task.
- Playing defined beliefs and traits is rewarded with one of two types of expendable, Fate and Persona depending on which, and how.
- per session, the player most useful to the group and the player who played best, both by group vote, is rewarded with a Persona point. In groups over 2p, they have to go to different players.
- Heroics, story completion, and storyline subplot resolution can be rewarded with a 3rd expendable, Deeds
- Artha: Fate, Persona and Deeds. These are one-use expendables, easily earned.
- Fate grants extra dice for each 6 rolled, spent after rolling to "open end"
- Persona is used to add extra dice before rolling, and to survive mortal wounds.
- Deeds doubles your skill or stat for one roll, or allows rerolling all failed dice on a roll.
- dice from artha don't count for experience, so they are how you do the stuff you can't and still succeed.
- Social (Duel of Wits) and Physical (Range and Cover, Fight) combats receive mechanical detail
- Magic has plenty of mechanical detail
BW rewards help extensively, as well as having lots of low-value skills to provide FoRK dice. Social conflict (Duel of Wits) makes debate just as detailed as melee. The separate ranged combat mechanics actively discourage shooting in melee, and melee in open field sniping battles, by making them exceptionally hard. The experience mechanics make it actively reward trying things you know you will fail; the Artha rules make it so those are not auto-fails. It tends to encourage non-violent conflict with Duel of Wits, and playing one's defined beliefs for more artha. If the beliefs are non-combat, it can result in a very low lethality game. Further, it is pretty easy to arrange it so you don't kill, but do incapacitate, your foes. Or, for the psychotic, to put them down - but that's always a choice. You don't roll melee damage, but use the results of your to hit roll, and are not required to take the increased damage option on a good hit.
Burning Empires reduces the maximum benefits from FoRKing skills by limiting them, but is very much the same engine.
- Skill advancement requires successes and failures. Not attempts, but actual successes and actual failures (with consequences)
- Skill use is sorely limited.
- Choosing to limit yourself with your traits in the first half of session (GM Turn) gets you the chance to do stuff in the second half of the session (Player Turn) or to recharge your once per session traits you've already used.
- all forms of conflict use one mechanical resolution, including extended skill use, Duel of Wits, Combat, and even travel. Pick the 2-8 relevant skills, announce them, and start scripting...
- playing your Belief and Instinct earn you Fate; expending a fate allows open ending your 6's.
- Completing your goal earns you Persona, as do dramatically playing the conflict when you ignore your belief. Persona is expended for extra dice on tasks or adding nature.
- Failures are encouraged to be interesting in exactly the same way as BW.
- No retries allowed.
- Turn Structure
- In the GM turn, if the mission resolution is scheduled for the GM Turn, you eventually succeed at the mission unless you die.
- If the mission completion isn't schedule in the GM turn, you will need to nerf yourself to be able to complete the mission. It's "evil GM" territory, but it can be quite a blast.
Mouse Guard, despite its origins in Burning Wheel, is a very different game because the reward cycles require you to nerf yourself to get freedom to pursue your own goals. The conflict system can be used for non-combat encounters, and it's great fun. I've used conflict for things like building a dam, moving a beehive, and traveling across a burning grass field. When you get the same detail level for these as for a fight, it's a high chance that players will consider them the high point of the session rather than the combats, which can hurt badly. The requirement for failures to advance a skill is also interesting, in that failures always bring some consequence, and in the GM turn, that's allowed to be a more interesting encounter.
Fixing it without changing systems
You'll need to add mechanical rewards for non-psychotic behaviors. In AD&D, this means giving XP for roleplaying (which 2E did, and which was an option in AD&D 1E), and decrease rewards for killing (Alignment infractions are good for this - 10% losses in earned XP!). Further, use the -10 HP death rule but without the bleeding - this allows capture much more easily. Also, add social issues in play for killing rather than capturing - make orc slaves in demand and worth 10GP each, and suddenly scrolls of hold person are a cleric's bread and butter.
For GURPS, simply disallow the relevant disads (Bloodlust, Berserk), and focus on non-violent activities as missions. More puzzles and mysteries, fewer active foes.
For RuneQuest, social consequences are about the biggest tool. That, and more dangerous foes chopping limbs off before dying. RuneQuest combat is pretty dangerous already.
For Burning Wheel, encourage non-combatant PC's. And then simply turn them loose. The system rewards playing their beliefs quite strongly, so don't approve ones that lead to psychotic behaviors.
It helps to add an expendable of some kind that is for GM-favored behaviors. For example, grant a one-time reroll for bypassing a fight. Or for playing some belief written down. Borrow Artha from BW or Aspects and Fate Points from the FATE system (Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, Dresden Files, Starblazer Adventures).
You can't solve it with in-character social effects alone unless it was originating solely in the characters, and not the mechanics. Players do what gets the spotlight, and what advances their character. Modification of mechanics is a twitchy subject, really, so make certain that you don't do so secretly. Be open with your players about the changes, and the reward cycles (but you needn't call them that), so that that knowledge can reshape play. Hidden changes both fail to encourage the behavior and can lead to resentful players when they don't get something they think they're entitled to.