Would you like to RESTORE a saved game, RESTART from the beginning, or REROLL a new character?
Recently I was talking with some friends of mine about role-playing games and players' playing styles. One compared playing an RPG (of the pencil-and-paper variety) to playing adventure games without an UNDO command. (UNDO is a feature of most text adventures that lets a player take back the last action they performed -- like retroactively saving the game one turn ago, and restoring back to it.) This made me start to think: what would it be like if an RPG had UNDO, or SAVE and RESTORE built into the mechanics somehow?
There are several issues that'd have to be taken into consideration. It might be tricky to keep track of which things happened in which different version of events, and which things NPC's should and shouldn't know about yet. The GM would have to elide any long stretches of time where the characters want to repeat exactly what they did before (while working their way towards some interesting event that they want to handle differently), or else it could get pretty boring -- but what if those elided events could have taken place differently, depending on random factors? Plus, there's the fact that this feature might allow characters to simply re-attempt any randomized challenge ad nauseum until they succeeded, unless it were somehow designed to make that unlikely to work (e.g. if the die rolls for a particular action were set in stone the first time it happened, and automatically came up the same on subsequent reiterations).
But on the other hand, it seems like you could do some particularly interesting things with it. If the mechanisms for saving and restoring were non-trivial (say, if the players needed to use a combination certain locations, objects, or actions to pull them off), then they wouldn't be able to simply revert any failure: they would need to undertake whatever course would undo the entire chain of events since the last save. Doing this might lead to opportunities for trying different things that ultimately wouldn't lead to the same challenge they had failed, because the knowledge they gained in the previous attempt would enable them to try things they didn't even know about before. A game like this could also free the GM from the need to keep PC's alive: if they can restore after death, then no one is ever permanently taken out of the game.
It seems that there's a lot that one could try to do with this gimmick, and there are many different directions one could go. If anyone wants to try something like this out, I'd be curious to hear about it. I might even want to play.