That’s a really good point. Win conditions do in one shot games was xp does in longer games: direct you to what you should be doing in play.
Dead Planet, the Mothership module, offers a few ways the creators can think of how you could “beat” it (quotes in original). It’s kind of neat as an example of how you can have intentionally ambiguous “win conditions” in a very open ended game.
Winning and losing is such an important and useful idea across games.
Inhuman Conditions is another good example of a roleplaying game that makes good use of it.
John Harper’s Agon has you playing Greek heroes competing for glory. While there’s definitely a quest to complete at the end one of you will be more glorious than the others, and win
This is baked into the system and definitely encourages (and rewards) inter party conflict, although more in the ‘killing more than the other guy’ way than in the ‘stab him in the back’ sense.
I ran it once, and it was good.
I’ve played both a one-shot LARP and a big group wargame ( please bear with me) that had a very similar way of determining winner(s) that might be worth considering.
As a note, neither announced these ways prior to the end of the game, so perhaps they didn’t exactly encourage certain play behaviors the way they would have were they known in advance.
In the LARP, at the end of play, everyone was gathered together ion a circle, and then a sort of bragging session/debrief happened. Each player had 1-2 minutes to re-introduce their character( the play group was big enough that you may have only interacted with their character briefly or not at all)and talk about how far they had gotten on accomplishing their character’s goals ( often your character had multiple goals, not all of which were fully pursuable in the allotted play time). After everyone finished, the group nominated a couple of players ( GMs aided in narrowing the numbers down to just a couple of players ) and the in-fiction winner was chosen by vote-by-applause.
After that, a second of round of voting produced an MVP ( Most Valuable Player) award as well. This was for a player who contributed most to the overall fun of the LARP play, not necessarily succeeded as their character.
( Yes I won that, and yes I was super pleased )
In the big convention group wargame, they really just jumped to the second type ( MVP) award when the time was up for the game. A round robin verbal debrief wasn’t really necessary as everyone playing had seen the game-state at the end of play time. Also, MVP here was kind of nice because it was a war game with wildly lopsided results, in a genre of wargame that often has wildly lopsided results ( Late 1800s Colonialism. It’s rare for the locals to win solidly, and even when they do, rarely without absurdly awful casualties).
Yes, I got that one too . Apparently I was an awful tactician even for someone playing the outgunned locals, but apparently made the game fun for other people.
Anyway, the point is that you can have win conditions. But, there need not be a single person as the sole winner of the gold medal, so to speak.
You could have multiple winners, and winners in different categories (outside of in-character, in-fiction wins) and even a well-planned debrief method can let people brag a bit about what they accomplished and get some decent encouragement and recognition, without going absurdly competitive.
I don’t think the idea of winning / losing an RPG is anything new, but it’s definitely a difficult thing to do with nuance. It is used a lot more frequently for short campaigns or one-shot games than longer form campaigns. I agree that a win condition does motivate similarly to experience, but game length is a factor here. Getting “points” is a great motivator, which works well when your games win condition is not easily or visibly attainable.
I, like others in this thread, have been working with the concept in my own game. It’s focused on the long term competitive, short term cooperative flow of play to build up a sense of paranoia and ultimately betrayal. I think there is an excitement that comes with social competition with players that is harder to achieve when fighting against the dice or the narrative, but it also can make things less friendly and more aggressive (obviously). It isn’t a game style that can fit every group.
Multiple winners seems like an interesting method, but I think it undercuts a lot of the excitement of competition. That is, if there isn’t a large enough group to keep “winners” relatively scarce.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read it, let alone played it, but Burning Empires had a pretty clear meta narrative and win conditions.
I was really happy with it, though I ran it. I had one player really not like how little influence they felt they had on the overarching narrative and phases, whereas the other players were totally there for it.
For most RPGs, the default assumption is that the player and the character are aligned in their goals, I.e. the player wants to see the character succeed. So the game doesn’t actually need an explicit win condition for the players, because that would be redundant. The point of a win condition is to motivate players in a specific direction. If you’re already motivated to make your PC succeed in their goals (whatever they are) then you don’t need an additional incentive.
But a win condition could be interesting or useful when the goals of the player and the goals of the character aren’t the same. In a game about comedic or dramatic irony, you might set up the player’s goals to be opposed to the character’s, so that the player who wins is the one who pushes against their own character’s goals the most, causing entertaining dramatic interactions. In a horror game, this might mean putting your character into the most danger by going along into the woods at night with a broken flashlight, even though we know what might happen. In Paul Czege’s The Valedictorian’s Death, each murder suspect was trying to be the most suspicious person who wasn’t arrested for the murder, which motivates players to describe their characters in a suspicious manner, but be careful not to incriminate themselves.
Space Wurm vs Moonicorn has win conditions for the title characters, either control the universe or liberate the people respectively. It helps to drive the conflict in a specific direction. The campaign ends when one of those characters succeeds at their objective, but it’s kind of one of those “the real Space Wurm was the friends we made along the way” kinda of things