Endure. exploring struggle in tabletop RPG
Endure is a rules-light, survival tabletop roleplaying game about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. It's is available as Pay What You Can from itch.io.
The idea behind the game #
I made Endure to tell a very specific type of story. One where the players will struggle against overwhelming odds, but with clever thinking, and some luck they will come out victorious. I wanted a system that can make you feel like you are in a survival story. This is how the rules help to achieve that:
Emulating struggle #
My goal for this game was to let the players feel some of the struggle their characters feel. This is where the Endurance mechanic comes into play. Pretty much every time a character tries something risky, it takes a toll on them. In the narrative, the character is gradually getting physically and mentally exhausted. In the game terms - Endurance score (your safety buffer) goes down. Without it, you can only count on a luck of the roll... and the odds are not in your favor. The promise of this constant drain can feel exhausting, and is pretty good at giving players a taste of dread.
Of course, clever players will look for ways to avoid risk rolls. This is fine, encouraged even, because this is exactly how a person would act in those situations. Play it safe, conserve energy until shit hits the fan. Because in survival narratives, it always does. Then you are forced to roll, because if you don't - bad things will happen. This can feel oppressive, especially when you know that your Endurance will deplete fast. Each lost point will hurt, and you just might feel your character's struggle.
Quick and simple resource handling #
Other survival games seem really heavy on keeping track of resources. I mean, they are clearly important - they can be the difference between life and death, but most games just force the players to track them only so they can be ticked off when it's time to eat, sleep or shoot. Such approach is boring and a chore. All it is a spreadsheet with survival trappings. I wanted for the resources to mean something, have an impact on both the character as well as the player. This is why I connected resources and items to the Endurance economy and Risk Rolls.
The only way to recover Endurance it to take a break from all this madness and use a resource. Eating, drinking, or even having a swing of whiskey - all give you back some Endurance. This small change in rules has a drastic impact on the gameplay. Suddenly food and water become something sought after, as they interface directly with the game and provide a mechanical reward (instead of penalizing the player for not being mindful of their resources). They become an important part of both the mechanical system AND the narrative.
But, because it's a game about struggle, characters can't just keep everything. Between consumable resources, items that help with risk rolls and the limited inventory, players will need to make some tough choices. This turns resource handling into a more active part of the game. You are not simply writing and and ticking off lists - you're making choices! All of this combined makes it easier for the player to be involved in tracking their own resources.
You are not ready #
The rules surrounding Equipment and Endurance are pretty much the whole game. The missing piece was characters. There's a reason why the characters are mechanically flat, consisting of only few traits, that, at best, give you the same bonus that you could get from coming up with a clever solution to a problem. They are not heroes or specialists sent to deal with the crisis, they just got caught in it. This forces the players to interact with the above discussed systems. And that's it. That's the whole game. The rest of the book is advice and few procedures that that reinforce the narrative.