When I write GMing advice here on the Stew — and previously on Treasure Tables, as well as for freelance projects — one of my goals is to only give advice that a) I have taken myself, b) is based on observing other GMs or games or c) I would take if the opportunity arose.
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a series of articles outlining six ways you can end a campaign. Here they are in order: How to End a Campaign… With a Bang, With a Whimper, A Sudden Stop, On Indefinite Hold, Fast Forward and According to Plan. You can also grab a free PDF that collects the whole series: How to End a Campaign: Six Approaches.
Since I wrote that series, I’ve ended a short-lived campaign of my own with a whimper (the worst possible way…), took part in a campaign via email that ended according to plan and watched one of the other GMs in my group end an awesome Stargate campaign according to plan — the absolute best approach, in my opinion. Hell, he even threw us a “wrap party” in keeping with the TV-show theme of our campaign (which totally rocked).
I bring this up because for the past year I’ve been running a Mage: The Awakening chronicle, and it’s about to end — we’ve got two sessions left (most likely). And from the start, I’ve taken my own advice and worked towards ended it according to plan, and at a point where we could resume it at a later date if everyone was interested.
Knowing from the start that I wanted to combine three of the approaches I outlined in that series — ending the game according to plan and with a bang, but also taking the best parts of putting it indefinite hold — has been a huge help to me. Here’s why:
- With the end always in sight, I’ve been able to focus on packing every session with as much cool stuff as possible — because I know I don’t have forever. I haven’t always succeeded, but it’s been a great motivator.
- We’re all on the same page. I made it clear from the outset that I’d be following “the Stargate model” and planning a game with a well-defined endpoint, and over the past few months I’ve reminded the guys that the end is nigh.
- I’ve retained the right amount of flexibility (right for me, that is). When I started the game, I knew roughly what the ending would look like, but not how it would shake out or exactly how my players would handle it — and very little of what came in between. It’s been a ton of fun letting the individuals chapters (sessions) unfold organically, responding to my players’ interests and surprise events as well as random elements that grabbed me (someone bought me an awesome supplement on ghosts…not long after that, ghosts became part of the game in a big way).
- The whole game feels…better defined. With individual chapter names, story arc titles and overall themes that we talked about before the first session, plus a known endpoint, there will be a lot of handles for us to grab onto looking back on the game years later.
- When I write each chapter, having a plan helps me stay on track — much like an outline would if I were working on a long freelance project. When in doubt, I can think to myself, “OK, here’s where I know we’re headed — what’s the coolest way to get there?” and then go from there.
It’s nice to know that I wasn’t just babbling when I wrote that article series — it’s actually been a big help to me, and I think it’s sound advice. As of a few years ago, I’d never given much thought to the architecture of my campaigns; I just ran them and let them end whenever they happened to end, which usually wasn’t the best way they could have ended.
If you’re in that boat, snag the How to End a Campaign PDF and give it a read. Hopefully it’ll be as useful to you as it has been to me over the past year.