Rewarding consistency or character development with moral dilemmas

Hey y’all!

I’m planning out a game, and I’m looking for input on how to deal with players being confronted with dilemmas unique to their mix of opposing personality stats.

In an effort to avoid the four point trap, I’m thinking of just having axes of personality that change with your decisions. Each combination would result in different personality archetypes that would act as the lenses through which the PC experiences the main events.

Each personality aspect would have its own associated moral dilemmas; like an honest character would have the chance to tell a small lie that would save a lot of grief, or a merciful character would have a situation where anger is justifiable; but I’m struggling to decide whether to “reward” consistency to your previous personality alignment or for changing.

Because each archetype would have its overarching moral theme (e.g.: the furious, honest, transformative “rebel” archetype would struggle with becoming just like their predecessors, the merciful, deceitful, traditional “peace-keeper” would have to deal with conflict and confrontation) do you think it would be interesting or exhausting to make choices in the mid-to-late game that are antithetical to the character you built in the beginning?

I know that there are games that have taken both approaches, or other ones, but I would love to hear how players and authors feel about this topic.

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In my experience with games it is usually optimal to go all in when building stats for your characters.

The reason for this is that when games place a large focus on stats, the best rewards and most successful paths are those in which the player is consistent. Whether this be siding with a specific faction, only using one, or a few, skills, or maintaining a personality for the entire game.

As the game progresses, making inconsistent choices usually backfire. The outcome is determined by examining the player’s level in a certain stat and if this is too low (consistently making a different choice) he player could fail the check, and thus the outcome is usually negative. For clarity I mean failure as getting a different outcome than was flagged by a choice by way of having one stat either too low or too high.

I’ll use your analogy of an honest character having the chance to tell a lie. In most games the player’s success at lying will involve testing their honest/dishonesty stat. If they are too honest the player will fail to lie, and will be called out on it. Usually along the vein that the player is a pool liar and so any lie would be obvious.

Now I personally dislike this. Though this encourages replayability and branching, the player tends to be locked in by the mid-game. It isn’t a problem in and of itself, it is just a difference in design, it is just my opinion that rewarding consistency can cause problems in set scenarios. On the other hand, rewarding players for either choice can remove significance from choice entirely since there aren’t many consequences for the player for doing so. Players may also be too used to consistency anyway and so wouldn’t consider making a different choice.

So there is clearly a lot to consider from the perspective of the player.

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This looks like a fun topic.

But before I start, let me say that the most important thing in games is the fun factor. Another point is human, given the push, will naturally change (unless you’re holed up inside your dark room with a laptop on 60% brightness and a pair of earphones plugged to your earhole-- ahem).

When writing, as much as I’d like to include many options for the players to pick, I have to remind myself to write options that make sense. Then, further cut the numbers to those that are fun.

When playing, I usually have a certain character archetype in mind to play as, but the further I went along, the more I deviate from that into the usual “ideal me in this other world;” I build the character inconsistently.

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Hmm… I’d rather reward consistency, but I’m against personality checks, usually.
Well, to start with, I don’t like games that rely too heavyly on stats.
But what bothers me most is when you have difficult checks based on personality. I think checks should mostly use physical and mental abilities. Like, with the honest character example. I think lying should be checked on some kind of “wits” mental stat, and not depending on where he stands ont the honest/deceptive opposed stat.
I’m a honest person for example, and I HATE lying. But if sometimes I lie, people almost NEVER notice I did actually lie. See? I’m honest and I hate lying, but I’m a good liar.
That’s because I have wits and easily read people if they’re in front of me, and I have a pretty good idea how to decieve each person, if needed.

So yeah, consistency in ability skills should be rewarded, sure, but I think personality skills should mostly be used for flavor text and some very contextual and special checks - like for example additional options avaible only if the MC has a certain personality.
But of course, if you have an honest MC, and keep using his wits to lie, it should gradually shift his personality stat from honest to deceptive.

Does it make sense?
That’s what I like and consider most logical, from a players point of view

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You have a really interesting idea here about taking the characteristics established in the early game and designing scenarios that will specifically challenge those traits. This part I’m a fan of.

However, I think you’re making a fundamental mistake in thinking of this in terms of “rewarding” either choice. See, I love the idea of building up complexities in the personality system, but it ultimately means nothing if you end up creating a binary value system anyway.

To wit: if you reward consistency (which, as has been pointed out, is what many games do), you eliminate the possibility for change or growth and encourage players to play static characters; this approach I am explicitly not a fan of.

But the opposite approach has its own problems; players might feel railroaded into a character arc that they aren’t interested in pursuing—not all honest characters need to learn how to lie, for instance, and in fact, it might come across as reductive to imply that MCs can be boiled down to a few character traits that need to be “fixed”. You’d also have to be very careful about signalling to the player that this isn’t their typical game where they automatically pick the option they have the highest numbers in.

My position is that there should be tradeoffs to both choices, when you’re confronted with such a dilemma; for instance, sticking to your guns might mean losing out on a new opportunity, while changing the game would mean potentially giving up something you already had. In either case, the player should be aware of at least some of the stakes going in. Ideally the player would still feel personally challenged—because the dilemma will be catered to the kind of character they’ve been playing so far—without it being dictated for them which choice is the “right” one.

Alternatively, make the results context-sensitive? To use the “honest character having to lie” example again, I feel the more important lesson here is not so much learning to lie as it is learning when it might be advantageous to lie. In one situation, lying might be for the best; in others, it could backfire. This system would encourage the player to use their own judgment and gauge what the best call is at any given moment, rather than imposing a sweeping, unilateral bias toward one playstyle or the other.

There are probably other approaches that I haven’t even thought of, but my underlying point is here is that I think it’s a disservice to the complexity of your idea to then simplify it back down by saying that your choices in the early game determine the only right way to play if you want to succeed. Challenging the player fundamentally means making the choices difficult, and you can’t do that if you tell them that one way is inherently better than the other, no matter which side of the “consistency vs. growth” spectrum you fall on.

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Wow thank you for your reply!

I struggled to use the word ‘reward’ because I wanted to avoid both of the problems that you have described so eloquently.

I get what you’re saying about balancing out the consequences of staying true to your initial principles or adapting to new information/events; I like the idea of having a benefit for a high score in one area, but indicating that there is an opportunity cost of the outcomes dependent on the opposing stat. Most of the outcomes will be context dependent as well.

Broadly speaking, I wanted to break the mould a bit of Heroic Fantasy where the PC triumphs by relying on their unique smarts/strength/sneakiness, because the game very quickly becomes scanning through every choice for the “right one”. I wanted the PC to be about as good as the next guy at everything, with the chance for players to specialise in terms of their outlook.

I think I’ll have to be very conscious about conveying in each event that while there are benefits to growing a stat high (e.g. an honest character enjoying a reputation for trustworthiness) that there is also an opportunity to question that PC’s principles and take the chance to do something out of character without being penalised for it, unlocking alternative benefits/consequences.

Thanks again for your reply!

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I’ve been thinking about something similar, how a character starts off and the ways that their character development can change based on how they react to a situation that fundamentally challenges their worldview and personality. For the moment, I’m leaning towards the idea that this can be a fun way to explore multiple facets of a character.

Getting into whether some of those decisions should lead to fail states or game overs or whatever is a harder thing to pin down. I generally agree that I don’t like decisions where you fail based on your personality, like “Your selfish stat is too high but you chose an altruistic option, you lose.” I do really like the idea of a game catering challenges to your personality and seeing if you stay true or change, though. I just feel like both staying true and changing should be “valid”, even if they lead to different outcomes. But that could also get really cumbersome to write or program, so maybe not?

…I’m not sure I actually provided an answer anywhere in there, haha. Just musing.

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You’re definitely right about the cumbersome bit!

Even with only three dimensions of personality, there’s at least 24 different combinations of traits (including ‘neutral’ to capture middle-range values). I was thinking of having an active title denoting which archetype a PC falls into at a given moment, e.g.:
Merciful, Honest, Transformative: The Idealist
Neutral, Deceitful, Traditional: The Serpent
Furious, Neutral, Neutral: The Wrathful

I’m thinking of having flavour text that’s only dependent on your position in one or two of axes, but I can already see that this is gonna bloat the real world count of each storylet significantly.

Just the nature of CYO though isn’t it?

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Why do I feel so called out about this :joy:


Personality checks are…weird to me.

I feel like if implemented properly, it could really add to the story. However, it can also lead the way to one-dimensional characters (archtypes, if you will), which are extremely uncomfortable to read (to me at least).

What you could do, is that you can track character actions instead of the normal binary values. That way, it may give way for character development, while also giving a player the “reward” you desire to give. Like, if someone is selfish, but is slowly turning more altruistic thanks to influence, you can initiate a double stat-check in a choice, where it will compare your selfish actions to your selfless ones and influence the story as intended.

As you’ve already guessed, it’s going to be a pain to implement, since the amount of paths will be massive and soon your project might balloon out of proportions if not properly tracked and maintained. But hey, that’s a way to do it.

I just realized that I did not answer the question in the topic at all, sorry about that :sweat_smile:

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Don’t worry about that, thank you for your reply!

Tracking specific choices could be more effective than trying to quantify personality aspects, and would certainly be easier to implement and plan around; as Boolean variables rather than stat-checks.

Thank you for your feedback about the one-dimensional archetypes as well, because one thing I’d like to avoid as well is the PC just swapping hats between stereotype personalities. My vision for the titles was just to help the player keep track of how their personality mix influences their reputation with the NPCs, but again it may be more important/interesting to have NPCs “remember” specific decisions through meta-plot counters rather than being like, “I would trust you if you were 10% more honest, should not have lied to that one guy 3 chapters ago in an interaction I didn’t know about”.

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Corvus had it well put. Then, I’d like to discuss about the “right choice” in this one

The problem is this: to tackle a problem requires a correct answer, but personality is about how you face the problem. They’re different and not something that mutually exclusive, so tying personality to a correct/wrong situation does a disservice.

Example:

  • Tell the truth and the criminal is hanged. Easy answer, does not challenge the player whatsoever.
  • Tell the truth, but the criminal is just a child. If your character is an established good liar, this is an easy [lie] answer–and the child is saved.
  • Tell the truth, the criminal is just a child, but then an investigator interrupts showing the evidence after your lies. Telling the truth hurts your morality, but lying risks your neck.

I agree with Corvus this is less more about “reward” and, I’d add, correct answer. Try to not thinking about “how to punish this” and instead return to the roots: how to make this good fun.

P.s. I don’t imply that hanging minors is fun. Please don’t. Do not attempt without supervision of professionals; maybe a stuntman?

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There’s a lot to unpack here but mostly I have more questions.

What is the role of failure in the game? For me genre is the most important consideration, mechanics should suit the demands and needs of the genre.

Moral dilemmas are brilliant but they are best tied to relationships. The most painful moral dilemmas are ones that have consequences that resonate in the rest of the game, reflected in the NPCs. Letting friends down, being betrayed by friends, an ally who died because your prioritized something else over their welfare, etc. These are the things that people will remember long after the game has ended. They may not remember the time their Honesty score got a %-20 nerf with the same intensity.

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I would love to see people try different things with this than simply, click your highest stat to succeed. In literature, characters changing from who they are at the beginning of the story is hugely important, and in my opinion, leads to much more interesting and well-rounded characters, so I would love to see people do more with that in the CYOA space. In my opinion, its not rewarding players with moral dilemmas, but rewarding players with character development. Which is always exciting!

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I’m glad to see you’re trying to depart from the “spam the skill I’m best at” style of gameplay. In regards to locking the PC into a certain archetype, I think you need to handle it in such a way that the reader does not feel constrained to their archetype. Making choices that go against your character values can leave immense room for growth in the PC and their evolving situation.

For example, maybe I become The Idealist, but at some point in the game I’m faced with killing an enemy spy or setting him free. As an Idealist, you’ll expect me to free the spy because of my merciful stat, but maybe I want to kill him instead, because he’s a threat.

Obviously you now have a conflict between the locked archetype (expectation) and player choice (desire). I say balance the choices so that there are “pros and cons” to each decision. Killing the spy can cause a hit to my mercy, some NPC relationships, and corresponding choices later, but I’ve also prevented the downfall of my faction. Freeing the spy will maintain my merciful reputation, but destroy my faction. Stats and the consequences of your choices can result in an engaging push and pull for your narrative.

On a micro level, we can look at the Honesty stat. Maybe it’s a simple stat check where you decide to lie or not. One of the best things I’ve absorbed from reading Game Dev topics is: allow the PC to “fail forward.” Trying to lie and the consequences of failing that stat check can be just as interesting as sticking to your type and staying honest. You could even enrich the story by having the NPCs comment on your failed attempt.

Actually, now that I think about it, a really interesting concept would be where an upstanding, honest PC slowly begins lying to everyone and is eventually manipulating everyone around them (as long as they don’t get caught lying). :thinking:

This is something I’m trying to implement in my own game, but more for NPC relationships, as they’ll remember and react to your previous actions (especially if they’re contradictory).

Hopefully that helped; honestly I’m echoing what most of the previous posters said- let the PC be contradictory but make it such that it’s not a “worse” option/path than staying true to your type.

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Most realistic way would be to have it dependant on the choice itself, rather than stats, though you could maybe make stats factor in via the way of reputation. Told a lot of lies, it might be harder for people to believe you and vice versa. Doesn’t necessarily dictate whether the lie is successful or not, and it helps prevent choice locking as it’s something I personally dislike, particularly with morals. People really aren’t black and white. You know, a ‘good’ person can do ‘bad’ things and vice versa.

So looking at it from the perspective of reputation, it might just mean the player/reader has to work a little harder to convince someone. It also squarely puts the focus on the reader looking at the text and deciding for themselves which might be more suitable for the occasion, rather than looking at the option and thinking ‘oh, my lie stat is high, so it’ll be fine’.

That said . . . maybe a composure stat or something similar could work? To dictate how well you hold the lie and it could work for other things.

Just realised my thoughts are basically the same as Corvus’ as well.

@Sealio, you mentioned reward. It’s interesting what you want to do. Personally, I tend to think less in game terms and just see the narrative as a reward, as well as how it makes the reader think/feel, so it’s quite possible I’d be interested in your work.

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