This is the third post in our sporadic How to End a Campaign series. Each post covers one approach to ending a long-running game, including pros and cons.
Ending a campaign is rarely going to be easy, and it’s something a lot of GMs struggle with. In fact, it was one of the two most common answers to the question “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do as a GM?,” which was asked as part of our GMing profiles thread.
Today’s approach is like putting on the brakes and getting out of the car: The sudden stop.
A sudden stop is just that: You announce that the campaign is over — no wrap-up, no resolving loose ends, no closure. Just over.
Most often, this is because Real Life rears its ugly head. Your hours change at work. That one class turns out to be tougher than you expected. Your campaign notes get wiped out in a flood.
Sometimes, though, campaigns are ended with a sudden stop for in-game reasons. The whole party got wiped out in a TPK and no one has the energy to keep going. The last five sessions sucked, and you’re not sure how to fix them.
This approach is a very mixed bag.
On the plus side, much like ending a relationship abruptly, at least it’s over. And unlike ending things with a whimper, at least it’s decisive.
No one is wondering whether or not the game might start up again, and as the GM you can put everything aside and focus on other things. Perhaps someone else can run a game for a little while.
When real-life factors intervene and I suspect my game is going to suffer for it, this is the method I generally use. You have to explain to your group why you’re putting on the brakes, but in my experience most groups are pretty understanding.
On the minus side, much like ending a relationship abruptly, it’s over so fast you don’t get any closure. Because it comes as a surprise, it can be a bit disorienting.
For the players, all of their cool plans get cut off midstream. The plotline you had lovingly crafted — and that they were devouring with gusto every week — just ends. Not happily or unhappily, just done.
As a player, this approach gnaws at me — particularly if I was really excited about the game. On an intellectual level, I know that if the GM can’t keep going, that’s totally understandable. But on an emotional level, I wonder about the possibilities, the might-have-beens and the nifty things I was planning to do.
The rest of this series looks at different approaches to ending an ongoing campaign.
Have you ended campaigns with a sudden stop? How did it go?