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Games of Gain and Games of Loss
Raymond Long's blog: 2016-Apr-01
Gaming

Most roleplaying games are games of gain. PCs do things, and as a reward for this they gain power through increased stats and better equipment. The opposite is a game of loss, in which players try to stop their characters from losing what they have.
The classic game of loss is CALL OF CTHULHU. CoC is a game of gain, with PCs increasing their skills, learning spells and gaining equipment. But it's also a game of loss, because dealing with the Mythos drains Sanity, and a PC whose Sanity drops too low becomes useless.
The first edition (1991) of VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE also balances gain with loss. The PCs are vampires who can grow very powerful, but if they behave like beasts their Humanity drops. A PC whose Humanity drops to zero becomes an NPC. The result is a struggle to avoid turning into an inhuman monster.
The most extreme game of loss I know is PARANOIA, in which each player has six characters and the GM tries to kill off as many of these as possible in the course of a scenario. Running a campaign is largely impossible.
The example of PARANOIA shows how games of loss can go too far (though PARANOIA's a comedy game, so it's fine). But a good balance between gain and loss provides relief from the anodyne of always winning and gaining, which makes so many games dull.
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