Day 3: What gives a game “staying power”?
Yesterday I mentioned the role of the characters in the setting. A game is interesting where the characters do interesting things. And a game with staying power has a setting that allows for a wide range of interesting adventures in it for those characters.
Take for instance Dungeons & Dragons. It was the first RPG, and its fifth edition is still going strong — one can’t deny that it has had tremendous staying power. Of course, there’s a lot of ‘inertia’ to cement its place at the top, and a network effect that can’t be neglected. But the main setting (Forgotten Realms) has a premise (I’d describe it as “exploring the wilderness and the remnants of lost civilisations in it — for gold and glory”) that allows for many different adventures in many different locales. If all you could do in a game is to explore another Goblin-infested dungeon, then it would get very old indeed.
Another RPG with tremendous staying power is tiny in comparison: the Amber Diceless RPG is still going strong. It’s always been a niche game: lots of people refuse to play an RPG without a randomiser, and it has been argued that the ADRPG is not a game at all because of that. It came out in 1991, and the only supplement for it came out in 1993 — and that was its full run. Nothing has come out for that game in 25 years. But the breadth of its setting (a multi-verse as depicted in Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels) and the basically unrestricted freedom the characters have within that setting to pursue their goals (often at odds with the goals of other, equally powerful individuals), turned it into a very versatile ‘engine’ for telling stories. There are still conventions being organised solely to play the ADRPG. That’s amazing, and it’s all because of the setting presented in the source material, and the wide range of possibilities that represents.