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A Tale of Two Endings, or Another Look at Momentum

A few months ago I wrote an article about the power of momentum [1]; repercussions from my friend leaving as well as the summer break led me to a fresh observation about how momentum affected two different campaigns.

After careful consideration, I’d decided to end my Hellfrost campaign. While my friend’s departure was not responsible for this (there are plenty of players) I’d lost interest in running the campaign even before the break and a few of the players had as well. The only consideration that the host of that campaign asked for was that I finish the adventure that we were currently running. I felt that was fair and agreed.

Glancing at my notes, I realized that the group had stopped just before the final room in the dungeon delve. All I was really providing was one final combat. As the players arrived it was evident that no one really remembered why they were in there or what they’d hopped to accomplish, but a few quick notes from me were all they needed. We spent the better part of the session enjoying the final battle and a quick epilogue before moving onto the next campaign.

I also ended my long-running WitchCraft series of campaigns. While we’d ended the 1950s campaign back in June, the entire group, along with a former member, thought it would be great to cap off 12 years of playing with our departing friend by having one final romp in the game world we created.

I immediately went to work crafting an adventure that was designed to be played in one evening but could possibly spill into two. At the outset, however, one of the players informed me that he wouldn’t be coming the following week. As the night wore on, it became evident that I needed another night to finish things properly but because I’d streamlined on the fly, all that was left were a couple of combat scenes.

Rather than lose momentum, the group chose to press on for another hour and had me ‘dramatically describe’ the earlier combat scene and I fudged a lot to speed up the final combat scene. We had a satisfying ending and the characters rode off into the sunset. Mission accomplished.

Later, I reflected on the two games and realized how different each of them were in terms of momentum. In Hellfrost, it didn’t matter that momentum was lost; everyone enjoyed playing what was essentially a tactical war game for a couple hours. My WitchCraft campaigns, on the other hand, have always emphasized character development, social roleplay, and investigation over the combats; the group didn’t care about the specifics of the final combat at all and would rather finish while momentum was high.

I’m not implying that one gaming style is better than the other, only that I observed that both campaigns had satisfactory endings in ways that just wouldn’t work for the other campaign. My Hellfrost group would have felt cheated back in spring if I looked at the clock and said “oh geez, we only have a half-hour left and one room to get through. How about I just narrate the ending for you guys?” in much the same way that the WitchCraft group wouldn’t have appreciated holding off another week just to have an official combat scene.

So how about you? Have you ever sped up an ending due to time constraints? Have you ever held off to properly finish and discovered that you might have been better off ending the session prior? Was momentum enough for the players to tolerate a sped up ending or a wait for the next session? Does the type of scenes (combat, investigative, social, etc) matter when making these decisions?

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2 Comments To "A Tale of Two Endings, or Another Look at Momentum"

#1 Comment By randite On September 26, 2013 @ 6:07 pm

Oh yah… Sometimes you’ve got ramp it up or slow it down, tighten or loosen the granularity, bring in the darkness or let out the lightheartedness. Gamemastering is essentially an art of constant adjustment. It’s performative; to borrow a stand-up phrase “you gotta take the temperature of the room”.

If we’re playing 3.x dnd, hand waving a big combat is probably gonna piss everyone off. Tactical combat is a pretty big part of that system. Doing it in a Savage World’s game probably won’t as much… so long as everything’s still fast/furious/fun. The type/genre of game has a lot to do with it too, investigative games won’t tolerate tipping your hand too soon. Horror doesn’t have much room for comedy.

Despite the fact that some games/systems/genres have explicitly or implicitly different goals, every group is also different (duh-doy). Further every session’s different too.

Figure out what everyone’s enjoying about the campaign and make sure that’s a part of the ending. If you can’t get a read on things, just ask. The players, wily bastards, may not actually know or tell you what they like, but it might point you in the right direction.

Aaaannd, I think this caffeine fueled rant is done now.

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On October 3, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

So how about you? Have you ever sped up an ending due to time constraints? Have you ever held off to properly finish and discovered that you might have been better off ending the session prior? Was momentum enough for the players to tolerate a sped up ending or a wait for the next session? Does the type of scenes (combat, investigative, social, etc) matter when making these decisions?
I have sped up endings, but not as often as I should have. (It’s very easy for me to get trapped in standard procedure/habit, instead of stepping back and looking at things from the 30,000′ view.)

Momentum buys more forgiveness. If you’re in a session that’s going well, people are likely to defer to your judgement as to what should be skipped or compressed for the best experience.