Monday, November 5, 2012

Endgame

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

The first roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, creates an implied setting of a lightless dungeons and trackless wastes in which lurk horrible monsters guarding gleaming treasures. However, the original D&D rules paint another picture as well, that of the adventurers not as explorers and treasure-hunters but as lords of their own domains, building a stronghold, hunting down and killing or driving off monsters, attracting settlers, collecting taxes, and investing in their demesne. This became a feature of 'name level' characters in 1e AD&D, who, on the strength of their prowess, attracted various followers as well, frex, men-at-arms to a fighter lord, thieves to a Master Thief, or all manner of sylvan beasties to a Ranger Lord.

The origins of this playstyle are well documented in The First Fantasy Campaign and reflect a common trope of fantasy literature, such as Conan's rise to the kingship of Aquilonia or the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser establishing themselves as the masters of Rime Isle.

The same is true of a number of cape-and-sword tales. The Musketeers' saga, frex, stretches over decades and sees the rise of d'Artagnan from petty Gascon nobleman to a maréchal of France and Aramis from theology student to prelate and Spanish ambassador. This, too, would find its way into early cape-and-sword roleplaying games, first through the status points of En Garde! and through the careers and Social Rank of Flashing Blades.

But while this transition from adventurers to authority figures in the game-world - the endgame of roleplaying games - was ingrained in early play, it fell out of favor among gamers relatively quickly, for a number of reasons. This is reflected in the description of the endgame in Flashing Blades.
If the idea of each play session is to have a fast adventure in the 17th Century milieu, focusing mainly on combat, personal initiative and quick fun, the Gamemaster may ignore careers altogether. There is no need for light-hearted swashbucklers to get weighted down by the responsibilities of a military rank, political office, etc.

If and when the game becomes a continuous series of inter-related adventures, however, the Gamemaster may find that careers and Social Rank add to the atmosphere and heighten enjoyment of the game. Characters may come to enjoy political power as much as physical strength. This system for ranks and position also allows characters to 'age gracefully.' Even though a character may grow older, and no longer be able to endure strenuous adventures, he will have gained political power, and will be able to enjoy lively court intrigues, assassinations, and power struggles.

In short, at the Gamemaster's desire, none, some or all of this section may be used to make 'Flashing Blades' enjoyable for his or her players. It is really up to the Gamemaster to decide what is most fun. If the full rules are used, adventures ought to be mixed in at regular intervals (one or two per game year), and they ought to have more significance than die rolls for positions. Rewards for a successfully completed adventure may include promotion and increased Social Rank, as well as booty and experience. Characters should be allowed to age, although slowly, and adventures should relate closely to their positions and ages.
I think this text is noteworthy in that it reflects this diverging approach to roleplaying games, of "light-hearted swashbucklers" engaging in traditional, fast-paced cape-and-sword adventures versus a growing emphasis on political machinations and the trappings of power over swashbuckling prowess.

Perhaps reflecting the fact that I'm an old wargamer turned roleplayer, I'm a big fan of this endgame in roleplaying games. One of the reasons I'm most attracted to Flashing Blades is the way the system builds to the endgame beginning with character creation, through the rules for careers, increasing Social Rank, acquiring wealth and property, and building a clientele. What Flashing Blades doesn't do, however, is what many roleplaying games didn't, or don't, do: provide explicit advice of how "lively court intrigues, assassinations, and power struggles" may unfold, of what actual play is like after the transition to the endgame. I'm going to spend some time exploring exactly that in the coming weeks, first looking at the synergy of those endgame elements then discuss planning and running the endgame.

Though my focus is on the rules of Flashing Blades, the discussion should be general enough to apply to not only other cape-and-sword roleplaying games but most other roleplaying games featuring a similar endgame. Moreover, the career rules in Flashing Blades are readily adaptable to other swashbuckling games, so I hope that these posts will be of some more general use as well.

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