I think I spoke about this a little bit when Halo Reach came out, but it came back to my attention the other day when I was at the local Barnes and Noble with Atraties. We were looking through the books, and one in particular caught our eye. Looking at the back, it seemed to be a sci-fi war story about a losing battle. Atraties then made the comment that he liked those stories where you knew from the beginning how things were going to end. It got me thinking about that very same thing for RPGs.
Now, this isn't exactly a new concept. As I said before, I believe I've talked about this before. John Wick has certainly touched on it on some of his videos on Youtube (LordStrange for anyone interested in finding him). The idea behind it is fairly simple to. We play on the dramatic irony, the audience knows the ending but the characters don't, and use that to create a sense of desperation, and of course, despair.
Picture this scene. You're playing a swordsman, out for revenge against the man who killed your father. Only, you've spoken to the GM and have agreed that you aren't going to win when you get to that fight. You're going to lose, and lose badly. Now, you know this, and the GM knows this. The other players may or may not know it, but that isn't important for now. Now, with this knowledge the GM can tease you, and taunt you. He can set up minor encounters with your foe, is this the time you go down hard? Or is it set up? Will you even find out who the man is before or after? How hard do you push knowing that this is the man who will kill your character?
Do you see what is going on? There is a tension at play here, on the OOC level, that can help to fuel those IC interactions. Even if they don't know what is going on, the other players may pick up on them as well, and react in kind. If they do know, they can help play into it, and plan it out. If they don't know, how far will they go to try and save you, not knowing that your death is a foregone conclusion in that situation? It is a powerful thing.
Now, take that concept and bring it onto a wider scale. It isn't just one person, it is an entire planet. No one knows the planet is lost in character, sure they may suspect, some may resign themselves to it, but not everyone will. Some heroes will stand up, some heroes will keep fighting, and pushing. They'll pull off the miraculous to try and save that planet, and all the while it will be doomed to failure.
Knowing how the end plays out can also help out in your game. See, in a story you get the feeling of desperation and can pick up on it, root for heroes that you know are doomed. In a game, you are those heroes. You are playing a game, and gosh darnit, you are going to try to win. However, when you know how that battle will end then you know what you are doing when you keep pushing. On the out of character level you know what is going on, and that takes the sting out of things. The GM is no longer relentlessly pushing and trying to kill everyone, he's let you in on the secret. This battle is a loss. You then have the choice to have your character be a hero on that field, or to be one of the ones who gets off planet to fight another day.
In a lot of ways, knowing the end - or at least the end in a broad stroke kind of way - can free you from the trappings of the game for those few sessions, and let you really delve into the story and the character. It is something I've only done on the small scale, but may be time to bring up on a larger scale in a game soon.
How about the rest of you? How do you feel about letting players in on some "What is coming up?" scenarios? Have you done them before? Good experiences? Bad? Let us know!