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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Least Dissociated Mechanic

Kind of another take on the discussion of experience points...

Experience points are the least dissociated mechanic in the book.

Look at ability scores. Strength, Intelligence, etc. refer to things in the game, but what does "1 Strength point" mean? Nothing in the game world, at least in any version of TSR D&D I'm familiar with. In AD&D and Greyhawk supplement, individual points mean nothing; only certain point thresholds change carrying capacity or increase damage. And in the LBBs, there's no correspondence between 1 point of any ability and anything in the game world.

Same with hit dice and hit points. Sure, for monsters, hit dice are a rough guide to the size of the creature, but there's no correspondence between specific size ranges and specific hit dice, and there are several exceptions. It's notably more dissociated when talking about player characters.

I've seen houserules that equate 1 Strength point to 1 stone carrying capacity, or that try to interpret hit points or damage in-game, instead of as some kind of abstraction of luck. But by the book, stripped down to the barest level, they are abstractions.

Not experience points, though. 1 gp = 1 xp. We all know the formula. Experience points, even stripped of the "reputation" interpretation I use, have a literal representation in the game world. Your cumulative experience points are an estimate of your cumulative wealth. A character in the world can't say "I bet that warrior has Strength 15," but the same character could certainly say "I bet that warrior has brought back about 10,000 gold pieces worth of treasure over the years. I think I'll charge him 100 gp in taxes."


  1. In the last case, what measure would the character making the assumption use? Not every character would spend the wealth in the same way, making the wealth more or less visible. If we're talking confidence or reputation, in line with the understanding that rising through the levels is gaining in one or other of these areas, it seems just as possible to estimate STR 15 as 10,000 gp acquired.

    To comment on the past few posts too, I actually do like your take on the nature of experience, very much. The last post was outstanding for drawing it all together and not only justifying the approach, but also showing and suggesting a range of benefits in play.

    1. To be fair, I can think of ways to estimate STR 15 in-game. But the point was that there really is a 1-to-1 correspondence for experience points and something in the game world, whereas ability scores are an abstract ranking. I may write something about this.

      NPCs would estimate PC wealth based on how long the PC has been known to be adventuring, number of hirelings, and known expenditures, compared to various social levels. If a baron is theoretically a Level 9 Fighter, then barons are assumed to have acquired around 240,000 gp in wealth, although much of this may have been spent already or invested in their property. Anyone with a retinue or the spending habits of a baron may then be assumed to have acquired that much.

  2. I think somewhere along the lines of this whole discussion we've been having about the 1% tax, you started thinking I was saying XP are dissociated. I never did. It's the 1% rule that's dissociated. I'm starting to think you don't know what dissociated means...

    XP is not a dissociated mechanic. However, it's not what you talk about here, either.

    XP are an abstraction of character skill (whether that comes from confidence or acquired knowledge is irrelevant). 1gp = 1 XP uses the idea that getting money from adventuring is a decent proxy for how much and how difficult the adventuring you do is.

    Abstraction does not equal dissociation.

    And if you really think that an NPC can magically tell someones lifetime cumulative wealth just by looking at them, but not whether they're strong or weak, I really don't know what to say.

    What does 1 STR represent? Moving along a sliding scale of strength from very weak to very strong.

    What does 1 XP represent? Moving along a scale of ability from very weak to very strong. It doesn't represent wealth (although you're right that it will end up being approximately the same as cumulative wealth, that's an artifact of the system).

    It does not represent cumulative wealth. It uses cumulative wealth to derive ability. You've got it completely backwards.

    Incidentally, increasing HP or HD is not dissociated either - it's an abstraction of increasing fight ability. D&D uses increasing hit points instead of providing a bonus to Armour Class as you level up to represent a character's increasing ability to defend themself. It's abstract, but not dissociated.

    Fundamentally, I think you've missed the difference between an *associated abstract mechanic* and a *dissociated mechanic*. You're conflating the two, when really they're totally different.

    1. I think you're wrong about a whole lot of things here, but maybe there's no point in going into all of them. However, you seem to have no clear idea of what a dissociated mechanic is. It's an action on the meta-game level that does not translate into actions in the fictional world -- the game action is "dissociated" from the fictional world. For example, subtracting an ability score point or a "Fate" point to change "story" details about the setting, situation, or backstory. Or various "marking" maneuvers in new-fangled combat systems. It has nothing to do with abstraction levels.

      I've seen a lot of arguments about what constitutes a dissociated mechanic, sometimes because of a different definitions. Perhaps this is the problem here, because you're defining "dissociated mechanic" in an unknown way and I can't pin down exactly why you think assessing a tax relative to cumulative wealth is not and cannot be an in-game-world action. There's the added problem that, as I've mentioned, you are going beyond merely saying "this would be dissociated, based on the way I play the game" and saying it cannot possibly be anything other than dissociated, under any interpretation.

      You're not quite getting the fact that, whatever you think, I know for a fact that the way I run the rules, the 1% tax not a dissociated mechanic. You can't claim "I don't accept your interpretation in my game, therefore it's dissociated in your game". You are simply wrong.

  3. I enjoyed both of the last comments posted, and as an outsider, I think you are each using associated in different ways, and assuming that the other is not. Just an observation.