Is the Endgame its Own Game?

Both my own work on Emprise!™ and today’s release of the Dark Dungeons retro-clone of the Rules Cylopedia published via the offices of the OGL (definitely worth a look, btw) have gotten me thinking once again about the Old School Endgame once again.

I can’t help but wonder if the “end game”, where players end up ruling their own freeholds, running their own thieves’ guilds,and establishing their own temples, doesn’t deserve its own game.

Now, the Mentzer rules did  a yeoman’s job of covering the salient rules, but I would argue that the AD&D PH and DMG did so as well. Siege rules, costs of mercenaries, taxation and tax revolts, it’s all there. But it’s just not systematized. It’s like they just assumed you’d know how to put it together, and use it in a campaign, once the players got to the point where they were recruiting armies and clearing 30-mile hexes of wilderness.

But I’m wondering if it might not be better, from a design point of view, to divorce the “endgame” from the rest of the game, and turn it into a game unto itself. I cite three reasons:

  • People don’t really do the endgame nowadays, even though they have the Rules Cyclopedia (and now Dark Dungeons), the DMG, and Mystara to use as source material.
  • Players aren’t necessarily going to want to settle down. Just because your magic-user reaches 12th level doesn’t mean you’re ready to give up the dungeon or wilderness. Hell, in a lot of campaigns, you’re just getting started.
  • (A)D&D is a game about young, inexperienced nobodies steadily improving both their personal power and wealth by investigating and looting crumbling ruins and/or slaying villains, which may or may not have some broader impact on the setting at large, on a scale where a single character could realistically command his followers’ actions directly.

Now, this does not imply a complete divorce between a character in an (A)D&D campaign and one in a hypothetical Endgame Campaign. Indeed, the rules as written imply a transition from the one to the other, but they do not, I should point out, ever mandate it. The (A)D&D rules allow for player characters to continue grubbing about in the dungeons until they reach 29th level, and more power to ’em.

I can’t help but wonder if a sharper delineation between the two states might make the endgame a little more understandable and popular. What if there was a separate game, which was based on what would happen when the 10-15th level player characters from (A)D&D felt their oats and settled down to found their own temples and freeholds? Nothing says you couldn’t play both games in the same campaign setting; indeed, it would work better if it was completely compatible. It would have armies, and siege rules, and politics, and trade, and so forth. All the “flyover country” rules in the DMG that gets overlooked (and more).

I don’t pretend to have the key to making it work as a separate game, but I think the break (thinking of them as two separate games) might make the endgame a little easier. I could easily see a campaign becoming bifurcated; the players are playing both games at the same time. In the one, they’re back to being 1st level schmucks, and in the other, they’re playing the 15th level movers-and-shakers, both of which have an overall impact on the other.

But the question is, would separating the two styles of play into separate games matter? Would removing the incongruity of army morale and siege point damage from the DMG make a difference? I lean on the side of “yes”, but I’m eager to hear others’ opinions.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “Is the Endgame its Own Game?

  1. …and it can be called, Lords & Liquidities!

    It has been quite a while, nut on the occassion where players reached sufficient level to enter into such a socially advanced position, I used the DMG & lots'n'lots of role-playing. Bargaining wasn't as simple as a few dice rolls, I encouraged their negotiating ability. And sometimes they had to hunt down the next dungeon just to keep their serfs from revolting.

    Someone has to keep the monsters off the land. Being a Lord or Lady has its inescapable responsibilities!

    It can be the same game, if they're both run by a similar mind; one that can keep the macro & micro in perspective and keep the players' enthusiasm going.

    Looking at it from the macro perspective, it could digress into an Economics course. Or worse, too much like a job. Okay, maybe not exactly like a job…these co-workers & subordinates could & may assassinate you!

    It is certainly food for thought. Seperate could be better, but what would the system be? Hmm…


  2. I see no reason to separate the two. What would help realize the endgame, would be a nice set of mass combat rules, which could be integrated with the current system. Years ago, I DM'ed some AD&D "endgame" sessions. The Battlesystem Rules from TSR worked, but seemed a bit wonky. For the next round of earth-shaking mass combat I made my own system, which seemed to work at least as well as the Official one, but ran faster. Alas, I no longer have those notes.

    Write us a Mass Combat system! I think that would suffice to foster more D&D endgame play.

  3. I think they are already separate games, different rules, different goals, etc. If you mean separate game in that out of the 6 players you have only 3 of them will want to play end game. Then yes, it has to be separate.

    btw that some/most RPG'rs aren't wargamers is why end game is not so popular these days as in past when most RPG's were wargamers and getting to the wargame was something to look fwd too.

    Miniature and mass combat games are good and all but they are wrong level of detail/scale for RPG endgame. I like how Birthright handled this. Large abstract turns, large abstract combats. Definitely the way to go.

  4. A poignant post. I will be steering my group towards this when they complete their current quest and will be running this 'end game' for the first time. I see it a little like this: the motivation for removing villains shifts somewhat from being hired by someone else when its their own villagers being terrorised. They get to meet the bigger players, who have bigger resources than they do and get bullied by them and attempt to turn that situation around. Im thinking it will be like moving into senior school when suddenly, the hardest kid in the junior school discovers its a different playing ground hes in now, one where /who/ you know becomes very important.

  5. Another vote for the Birthright system. It was a great way to handle the high level stuff using relatively abstract rules, but bundled in the idea that the leader would occasionally don the armor and jump back into action now and then

  6. I think most of the notion of "the end game" being separate from the rest of the game is in the presentation of campaigns from the start of the campaign. If players are in a campaign where they can see how political maneuvrings and those trying to climb the social ladder are shaping their lives and how it can shape the lives of the PCs then name-level should not feel like a switch is being flipped and a new game started.

  7. Well, I've got a glimmer of an idea on how to do something along these lines, and I'm tossing it about in my mind to see how or if it coudl actually work. Plus I'm casting about looking at how other games treat the question, so I don't end up using an idea that's already been done, without realizing it.

    And fear not, James; a mass combat system is on the agenda at some point, but no idea how it fits into my timeline of projects, or if it will end up being encorporated into something else.

  8. That's an interesting post. I've been wrestling with this, trying t owrite something for OSRIC, and when it comes down to it, I'm often stymied by the 'problem' that the details and implementation of an end-game is so, so dependent on the campaign already played – I feel like the endgame is probably several different games.

    Reading back, there's high level solo-gaming (Robilar) and also more political/wargame (Mordenkainen) styles.

    I think that the cleric (and maybe a literalistic attempt at using the druid organization) is as close as we get to any transition-to-endgame.

    "…would separating the two styles of play into separate games matter?"

    Maybe? 😉
    I can see how that might help, to treat it as a separate subject. It's not DMing stuff necessarily – it's world or campaign-building stuff (not for use 'at the table' so much as 'at the desk')

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