What gives a game “staying power”?
You know, I knew what the answer to this question was as soon as I read it. However, I second guessed myself. Despite the fact that I know that these questions are prompts and open ended, (hell, I’ve told enough people that they are simply jumping off points), I found myself feeling like I should look at the aspects of the RPGs themselves that make them keep from getting stale. So, I don’t want to waste what I came up with, and to be honest there is a great deal of truth in those answers ~ they just aren’t THE answer. So buckle up.
A game that allows you to stay in the “sweet spot” as long as possible has a greater appeal over time. We have all run into the dilemma where a game suffers from “power creep” (sometimes power sprint). Somewhere in the middle of the competence spectrum is where characters are the most fun. The game I grew up with and all of the iterations since have suffered from some level (pun intended) of that unfortunate phenomenon where the characters become caricatures of themselves ~ (try saying “the characters become caricatures” three times fast). One of the great things I have found about the games powered by Ubiquity (Hollow Earth Expedition, All for One, Desolation, etc.) is that the characters start out competent, and as they improve, they do not become some superhuman versions of themselves. Comparing my musketeer (the incomparable Phillipe Moreau ~ have you not heard of him?) to the stats for D’artagnan shows a considerable expenditure of XP requiring extended long term play, but they can exist together in the same world and both live in the same house in terms of being hyper-competent, but believable human beings. (At least in the pulp heroic sense).
Nostalgia aside, a game can have some staying power if the system makes sense to you and it works for what you want it to do. It seems contradictory, but to a certain point, (and for the right people), a game has staying power if the possibility exists for you to tinker with it to make it interesting again. Maybe it’s in the setting, or maybe it’s in the nuts and bolts of the system, but for some of us an old love becomes fresh when we get under the hood and tinker with it a bit. I think that’s why the OSR has a certain amount of traction. Many games are best treated as “hands off” for me, but my “first girl” just begs to be messed with every once in a while. ~ That’s not as creepy as it sounds, I promise. 😉
The last of the “not quite right” answers is possibilities. When there are new applications of possibilities for a favorite system it can become new again. I look at the Ubiquity rule set and I don’t think I could get to all of the scenarios and ideas I have. There are other systems I have similar feelings about. Of course you have to be careful with that. A system produces a certain feel no matter what, so it’s not as easy as bolting on any old rule set to any old idea ~ but that is a topic for another day.
The other sort of possibilities inherent to a game itself are all of the unexplored parts of a game or system that keep you coming back for more. Broken Rooms is one of those games that I look at longingly as it sits on my shelf. With 13 parallel worlds, 13 meridians of “unusual abilities” and a super freaky unpublished meta-plot that the designer was nice enough to share with me, It’s hard to imagine running out of possibilities with that game for a long, long time.
So what’s the real answer?
There is a downside to the earth not being flat. (Sorry if you’re one of those people – ~ it’s round). RPGaDay starts later each day on the east coast of the USA than it does in other parts of the world like Korea & the UK. ~ This is awesome as I get to listen to and read a near constant stream of answers, but it also means that I have to write my notes early the day before to keep from being affected by their answers. Sometimes I think that some of them have been peeking at my notes. ~ True to form, at 11:30 AM my time during what was to me Day 2 of RPGaDAY, the Slinger of Runes & Caster of Shadows said what I first thought of as the “correct” answer to the question for day 3.
What gives a game staying power are the people involved. The right group of people interacting with the game and making it “real” create something that I want to return to again and again. Sure, the social aspect by itself can be enough for some, but there’s more for me. The whole somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts. The group of players and the characters become something special, something that it’s hard to explain to someone not involved. Situations, scenarios, & genre are all important, and without them the fiction doesn’t work. But when the characters become “real”, everything else does as well. A game where the characters and surrounding fiction become real to the players, where the stakes seem important, and where we become immersed in the experience is something that leaves me wondering when we get to do it again. It’s why our game of All For One ~ Regime Diabolique feels like “home” every time we get to play. (Alas, not often enough!)