I've been playing table top RPGs since the Summer of 77' and the first time I ever heard the term 'Endgame' was very likely the Fall of 2004. This was when I tried my first Massive Multiplayer Online RPG (which was City of Heroes by the way).
See, I was always under the impression, naive as it may seem today, that there was no 'Endgame' for table top, pencil-paper-dice RPGs. That was partly the point of them actually. Sure, some games have and even need an 'Endgame', like Chess or World of Warcraft, where you have essentially won or achieved sufficient success to the point where there is nothing else to do. How could that possibly happen in an true RPG?
Additionally, even MMORPGs have Endgame Content. That is, once you reach the maximum level achievable in a game, there is still stuff to occupy your time without making up a new character. We don't have that automatically in traditional RPGs by their very nature? Isn't there still stuff for a high level PC to do in your campaigns?
First, let's truly define 'Endgame' shall we?
According to Wikipedia:
End game is the ending scenario of a particular game; when and how it will end, most prominently used in chess. Derived from that Endgame, Endgames, or End Game may refer to:
- The final stage of an extended process or course of events.
- (chess) The part of a chess game in which there are few pieces left.
OK, so now that we know what an Endgame is, do traditional RPGs have them?
While it is true that Class and Level based games often define a top or maximum level, many also have an experience point system pattern that is easily extrapolated to raise PC levels 'beyond the maximum'.
Putting levels aside, assuming you are playing a game with a maximum listed level of 11 (original edition of Advanced D&D) or 20 (D&D 3.0) and you and your fellow players have all reached that level with your PCs, does that mean you're done. Is there no 'Endgame Content'?
Check this out from the World of Warcraft Wiki regarding Endgame Content:
In most MMORPGs, this occurs when the players hit the maximum level or skill and look for new ways to keep themselves busy now that they're off the levelling treadmill.
In EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot for instance, the part of the end-game consists of hours of raiding extremely challenging locations in an attempt to earn prestige, alternate advancement points, and "phat lewt". Meridian 59, Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Shadowbane, and World of Warcraft all attempt to provide an end-game consisting of PvP activities: you have nothing to lose, no real risk, and can gain prestige by killing other challenging players.
Historically, a game company without a solid plan for an end-game risks alienating its player base. The end-game should grow and change over time, to keep things interesting for the players who still enjoy participating after "winning the game."
The term "End-game" is not entirely accurate considering that World of Warcraft is a multiplayer world and does not "end" in the same sense as a traditional video game. It merely refers to the most challenging content.
Endgame Content has been notably expanded with the release of the latest expansion as of this writing, The Mists of Pandaria.
Now then, what I am really getting at is this...
At one point in D&D's history it was not uncommon for a high level PC to set up a castle, attract followers and before long he or she would be ruler of their own little domain. Two questions pop into my mind. The first is, "What happened to that?", which I'm sure has been answered at some point by James Mal at GROGNARDIA or Jeff Rients. The second and more important question to me is, "And then what happened?".
A story can certainly end (and many of the best ones do) but there is no reason a game should ever have to end. Post castle and land development your D&D campaign isn't over but rather just beginning in a different format. It is now a political and economic game with resource management and military strategy elements. Sadly, I don't think the makers of D&D ever really developed that game but should have as a continuation of the game they had.
While I intend to go into this in further detail next month (Barking Alien is turning traitor in December and focusing on his D&D campaign universe for the entire month!), I will say that this not only happened in one of my D&D-But-Not campaigns, it has happened repeatedly.
Also, numerous players have retired PCs in order to play their offspring, proteges or simply heroes in their employ. Many times players will switch between playing their original PC, now a high level, powerful and prestigous patron and their much less experienced character, newly employed by the aforementioned mover and shaker.
In this way, characters played as far back as 30 years ago are still active in some fashion. They're not gone, their story isn't over. They command armies, lead nations and assemble new adventurers for various quests. My world of Aerth has continued with roughly the same continuity (though we do sometimes jump around the timeline a bit) since 1983. If my ex-wife or any of my old friends showed up at my game table this Saturday that could play their old characters, their characters' kids or any number of other characters in an ever continuing saga of this world and it's people.
To me, there simply is no end game.