Second, I have been thinking about The Princess Bride. It's one of those iconic pieces of fantastic media that gamers of my generation tend to keep in mind when coming up with ideas. It's got pirates, fencing, torture, twoo wuv - all the good stuff.
How can we model The Princess Bride as a game? Let's assume that we have Wesley, Inigo and Fezzick as our players (while Buttercup is important to the story, her lack of agency would imply that she's an NPC).
Inigo's stat niche is his mastery of fencing. His motivation is revenge.
For Fezzick, his stat niche is strength. His motivation is acceptance.
Wesley is harder to deal with, stat-wise - he's good at everything! In a balanced game, how do you end up with a character like Wesley who can beat the master fencer at fencing, out-wrestle the mighty giant, etc.?
Here's my thought - when Inigo and Fezzick fight Wesley, they're dealing with it as a random encounter - a standard amount of effort. For Wesley, this is a throw-everything-at-it kind of quest. My contention is that if Wesley and Inigo fought when something other than Buttercup's life was at stake, then Inigo would win.
How can we make a game mirror that kind of narrative imperative? One idea is having something like "fate points" or "miracle points". Some kind of finite resource that lets a character exceed thier limits temporarily. Wesley's burning through those like crazy. Inigo holds onto his until he meets Count Rugen. Characters use thier resources when the conflict directly impacts thier motivation.
A frequent model for regaining these kind of points is to a) have a character's flaw come into play (as in Nobilis), or b) when something bad happens to a charcter. It's not unreasonable to think of Wesley being tortured to death, and then coming back as severely weakened, as a good reason to refill his fate points.
This kind of thing has definite advantages for introducing a sort of narrative driven uncertainty - and I maintain that uncertainty creates excitement for the players. The down side is that it can lead to focussing the attention of the game onto management of the points, instead of the actual story. This is a criticism that I have seen levelled against Nobilis, for example. If players are using thier points in every battle, and contriving situations to gain back more, their attention may be focussed on gaming the system instead of playing the game.
Still, I like it as a way to have a Princess Bride style game. It's a better explanation than that Wesley's player just rolled better than everyone else, and works better in a game than just having Wesley be better than the other characters at thier specialties.