With this post, our sporadically-updated How to End a Campaign series enters the home stretch. Each post in this series covers one approach to ending a long-running game, including pros and cons.
As Identifying the Tough Stuff discussed, “end a campaign” was one of the most common answers to the question “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do as a GM?,” which I posed in TT’s GMing profiles thread.
Today’s approach is a good one: Jumping ahead in your game’s timeline, and fast forwarding to a logical climax.
The fast forward approach is pretty simple. You know your campaign needs to end, but you either don’t have time to finish everything you had planned, or you want to reach a very cool climax — so you skip to the Big Dramatic Ending. Depending on your game, this could mean jumping ahead by weeks, months or even years.
The key is being able to plan ahead, which allows you to avoid the downsides associated with some of the other approaches to ending games — especially ending your campaign with a whimper.
This approach lets you make sure that the party gets a chance to shine. You know your campaign needs to come to a close in advance (perhaps because you picked up more hours at work, or your courseload next semester is much heavier), and that makes all the difference.
Since you’ve got plenty of ideas for nifty stuff that could happen later on in your campaign, why not just skip ahead? If this sounds a lot like ending your campaign with a bang, you’re on the right track — there are a lot of similarities between the two approaches.
The big difference, though, is that using the fast forward approach means skipping ahead to something you already had planned, or something your players were really looking forward to, rather than dropping a world-altering climax into the game mid-stream.
Fast forwarding can also give your players a chance to try out some high-powered abilities that they wouldn’t see if you just ended the game. In D&D, for example, fast forwarding your game could involve the PCs jumping ahead 10 levels — a dramatic change that gives them a chance to flex their muscles.
In character-driven games, you have the potential to lose out on a lot of character development. A PC who had been courting an NPC, for example, might be married after the jump — but without any of the pleasure of playing out the rest of the courtship.
If you decide to start your campaign up again, you’re committed to picking up at the new endpoint you created using this approach. Depending on how far you skip ahead, or exactly how you end the game, this might be jarring to your players.
At worst, it could even be unsatisfying. After being used to earning XP for so long, suddenly having a lot more power without having to work for it might frustrate some players.
The rest of this series looks at different approaches to ending an ongoing campaign.
Have you ever taken the fast forward approach to ending a campaign? How did it go?