I’m going to be blogging about ten game mechanics that I think are cool and why they enhance the game they’re in. The list is my personal preference, and I’m restricting it to games I’ve actually played in and seen the mechanic in action. The “countdown” structure is not meant to show preference for #1 above all others, and the order (and even how many entries) would surely change if I started this next week or last year. Plus, it’s also based on what I feel like writing about next.
Let’s start at the end–endgame, that is:
#10 – Endgame & Epilogues from My Life with Master
In 2003, the idea that a role-playing game could have an ending–that the rules of the game and the numbers on your sheet could tell you when and how to stop playing–was revolutionary. It flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Lots of people considered the lack of a definite endpoint to be a defining feature of RPGs. They were different than all other types of games because they didn’t end.
And yet, My Life with Master came along and said that when Love minus Weariness was greater than Fear plus Self-Loathing, and a minion successfully resisted one of the Master’s orders, the gameplay shifted to a new phase–the last phase of the game. There was no doubt it was a role-playing game. No board game could have such rich, tragic characters. And yet it ended!
We can look back now and wonder why this innovation was not more obvious. In application, all RPGs have ended. I may have never run the ultimate campaign-ending scenario I had planned for the D&D game I was running in 11th grade, but there’s no question that the game is over. MLwM’s endgame took this real world constraint and made it a feature, rather than a bug.
Not only that, but the game itself shaped how your story would end. The decisions you made, and the outcome of those decisions, limit the possible endings for your character’s story. The minion who never succeeded at making their ham-handed overtures of affection understood by the townsfolk, who reveled in the violence and villiany that the Master demanded, is going to have a huge Self-Loathing by the endgame, and likely not going to qualify for a peaceful “integrates into the village” epilogue.
This showed other designers how they could use the game’s rules to reach into the fiction the players were making and shape it into a statement on the game’s subject.
And role-playing games have never been the same.