I can't help but wonder if the "end game", where players end up ruling their own freeholds, running their own thieves' guilds,and establishing their own temples, doesn't deserve its own game.
Now, the Mentzer rules did a yeoman's job of covering the salient rules, but I would argue that the AD&D PH and DMG did so as well. Siege rules, costs of mercenaries, taxation and tax revolts, it's all there. But it's just not systematized. It's like they just assumed you'd know how to put it together, and use it in a campaign, once the players got to the point where they were recruiting armies and clearing 30-mile hexes of wilderness.
But I'm wondering if it might not be better, from a design point of view, to divorce the "endgame" from the rest of the game, and turn it into a game unto itself. I cite three reasons:
- People don't really do the endgame nowadays, even though they have the Rules Cyclopedia (and now Dark Dungeons), the DMG, and Mystara to use as source material.
- Players aren't necessarily going to want to settle down. Just because your magic-user reaches 12th level doesn't mean you're ready to give up the dungeon or wilderness. Hell, in a lot of campaigns, you're just getting started.
- (A)D&D is a game about young, inexperienced nobodies steadily improving both their personal power and wealth by investigating and looting crumbling ruins and/or slaying villains, which may or may not have some broader impact on the setting at large, on a scale where a single character could realistically command his followers' actions directly.
I can't help but wonder if a sharper delineation between the two states might make the endgame a little more understandable and popular. What if there was a separate game, which was based on what would happen when the 10-15th level player characters from (A)D&D felt their oats and settled down to found their own temples and freeholds? Nothing says you couldn't play both games in the same campaign setting; indeed, it would work better if it was completely compatible. It would have armies, and siege rules, and politics, and trade, and so forth. All the "flyover country" rules in the DMG that gets overlooked (and more).
I don't pretend to have the key to making it work as a separate game, but I think the break (thinking of them as two separate games) might make the endgame a little easier. I could easily see a campaign becoming bifurcated; the players are playing both games at the same time. In the one, they're back to being 1st level schmucks, and in the other, they're playing the 15th level movers-and-shakers, both of which have an overall impact on the other.
But the question is, would separating the two styles of play into separate games matter? Would removing the incongruity of army morale and siege point damage from the DMG make a difference? I lean on the side of "yes", but I'm eager to hear others' opinions.