Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Cliched End Game

There are a lot of things that quickly evolved out of my 1st edtion AD&D. Old school concepts such as henchmen and hirelings, endless dungeon crawls, and strictness about character creation are things that got old long before the 80’s where over. I didn’t really mean for my style to take the high fantasy road, but that was where I went. That later editions of D&D did much the same was a coincidence (my non-attendance of cons or other game groups kept me out of the loop more or less of what was going on in later edition core books).

It’s weird I guess, but the end game of classic D&D, that of clearing a hex in the forest, killing it’s monsters, and building a keep (per the DM guide fretting over the cost of every brick and every mook with a shovel) so a village would build around it and you could collect taxes didn’t seem to appeal to my players by around the mid-80’s. Sure, MU’s need to have somewhere to research at later levels, and clerics (maybe) need to set-up a place of worship, but for the most part, it did not tend to go the classic way of becoming some kind of lord over barony.

Maybe it stems from my DMing style and game setting, or perhaps I’ve just had exceptional players, but characters in my games just seemed too cool and colorful for basic stronghold building when they got to higher levels (or “name” level). Things they often chose to do instead were to use their hard-fought wealth to perhaps buy/build a tavern. Some might buy horses and land and start a ranch to raise ponies. Maybe a garden house in the nice part of town with a view from a hill. MU’s in the big city didn’t need to go live in some cobwebby tower to research. There was the Wizard’s Guild where all the proper areas and equipment were available to members. And for clerics, well, the big city already had huge temples to the major god, with high level clerics already in charge. So if a cleric character didn’t want to go to some bumblefuck bumpkin part of the kingdom to start a new temple, they would usually settle in as a respected cleric/troubleshooter for the main temple of their god in the city.

All the manpower that comes at high level, to fighters and clerics and whatever as in the books at name level, were often turned down by the players. Hey, they would only have to house and feed them. If they don't advance as characters with a passle of henchmen and hirelings along for the ride, they don't get into that "gang mentality" where more is merrier. Most of my players don’t seem to find that appealing. Micromanagement. It ain’t always fun. And if you’ve ever read King Conan, you know that heavy is the head that wears the crown, especially if that head lead a life of action, derring-do, and a new wench every night. There was a great Twilight Zone where the guy thought he died and went to heaven because he was getting everything that he ever wanted handed to him on a silver platter. Turns out that was actually hell, bub.

So I don’t really look to the end game by the book, and my players tend not to as well. To them, settling down with a keep and managing a garrison maybe sounds too final to them. I think they would rather tend bar at their tavern telling tall tales of their adventures, or sit on the porch of their hilltop garden house with the ocean view, sipping wine and waiting for that next big adventure to come along. To most characters in my games, it seems like the end of the adventure life might as well be the end of their fun.


  1. Cool post. The whole lordly land management end game never appealed to me either. I remember the highest level campaign I ran back in the 80s climaxed with the characters traveling through the Gygaxian Planes of Hell to challenge the lords of evil. If I recall the final session saw the party defeat Asmodeus, which was some pretty good heavy metal fun.

  2. I've had a few players retire their characters into NPC's. Then they had the fun of building up new ones all over again.

    One player wanted his character back in action after a few years. I told him he'd have to rescue him first! He'd gone on one more adventure and was captured.

    The game started with the NPC's funeral (everyone believed he was dead). The player thought it just didn't seem right that a hero like that would just disappear. At the very least, there may be something to gain in going after whatever the NPC was after (or so he said to convince the other players to help him get his character back).

    It was good fun, and he did manage to rescue the NPC, now his character again.

  3. Cyke:Gygaxian planes of hell. Sweet. I've never run a campaign where they got high enough level for that. After my current campaign though (looks like they'll make it out alive tonight), I'm temped to run them through Judges Guild's Inferno...

    Gath: now, that sounds epic as hell. I like that.

  4. Would you characterize this post as quite possibly anti-Old School? I mean, I go from James at Grognardia penning panagyrics to "traditional" D&D play, including henchmen and keep-building, and then read your own preferences run in a wholly different direction, and with good reasons.

  5. The landholder endgame didn't really appeal to a lot of gamers as far as I can tell. I could see liking it, but also not being in the mood for it. Of the highest level characters I ever GM'd for one wanted a ship, the other an elaborate tree house (a la Burrough's Tarzan)

  6. We didn't even know about the assumed end game back in the day. Probably because we were too young and dumb. I doubt we would've appreciated it much, though, even if we did. I always wanted to think of Eristolle wandering the wastelands "like Caine from Kung Fu", kicking butt and righting wrongs.

    As the PCs in my current B/X campaign get close to name level, I wonder what they'll end up wanting to do. My players are relative newbies to D&D, and this is their first campaign. If I can keep from unduly influencing them, it will be interesting to see what they come up with as a fitting conclusion.

  7. For myself, it's not a keep or becoming a duke, the end comes when there doesn't seem to be a need for the PC to adventure anymore. I'm in a game I've been playing for over a year and the character I've been using is almost 8th level, and if he can survive long enough, I'm going to retire him at 10th. He has a few items and some treasure, but not enough to run his own kingdom--much less an Inn. More important with all the fights, negative hp's, lost comrades, ect.He's close to hanging it up--and maybe even myself as well. lol!

    Do I see this as a loss, not at all. But I think to some degree just like in real life, these imaginary people we play do have a life of their own and just like in our own word we're not all going to be rich and famous.I think the same applies to them as well.

  8. Would you characterize this post as quite possibly anti-Old School? I mean, I go from James at Grognardia penning panagyrics to "traditional" D&D play, including henchmen and keep-building, and then read your own preferences run in a wholly different direction, and with good reasons.

    Who gave James M. the license to define what "old school" is? To most of us old school equals an approach to gaming that is unrestrained, creative, and relies on a certain level of DIY insanity. Old school isn't replicating Gygax's 1973 Greyhawk campaign - it's a style of play where the sky's the limit and rules and expectations are always malleable. In the case of this conversation, "old school" would be the power to play whatever endgame you want.

  9. I think the only endgame I've ever gotten to as a player was decades ago when our 20th level evil characters campaigned against Set by killing or converting all of his followers. Ultimately we had to fight a now weakened Set so that we could steal his power and become demi-gods ourselves.

    I believe it was our other characters who went through Dante's nine layers of hell on a rescue mission.

  10. I think there are multiple version of old school folk. Where Grognardia James might sit is the old school who have a more pragmatic approach to keeping within the "rules" of what the books hinted (or even hit you over the had with) you should do. James does not seem as motivated by things akin to heart and passion as I feel I am (he often describes his Dwimmermount sessions as more of a social visit with a little bit of D&D going on) when it comes to the "colors" of what comes out of the game and the players interations with it. Not to say he doesn't have either, but I think the more you try to emulate what Gary told you/hinted to do in text the less of your own soul you can put into it.

    As far as the end game, I think the player, not the DM, should dictate where they go with it or what they do with it. Tell me my 10th level fighter now needs to settle down and put money into a keep and a crew, and I'll tell you that you aren't being very imaginative. It for sure ain't how things ended up in our favorite fantasy books.

    I didn't make it through three plus decades of D&D without burning out by doing the norm. That's for damn sure.