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How to End a Campaign: Fast Forward

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 [1] 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 [2].

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 [3].


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 [4], 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.

Other Approaches

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?

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "How to End a Campaign: Fast Forward"

#1 Comment By ScottM On October 25, 2006 @ 9:32 am

This line “If you decide to start your campaign up again, you’re committed to picking up at the new endpoint you created using this approach” isn’t always true.

In Sorcerer and Sword, there’s a technique where you play the story out of order, much like pulp novels. It’s a bit tricky to play with an established future, but it’s much like forseeing the future: with planning and care, you can make it work.

I’ve never done a big leap forward, though it’s a technique I’d like to try one of these days. (We’ve tended to end with a whimper or with a bang.)

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On October 25, 2006 @ 11:19 am

The really cool thing with fast forwarding, is after the time/level up/etc, setting the characters down at a tavern/meeting place, etc and having them “reminisce” about all the stuff they had done previously?

It’s cool when they start collaboratively storytelling their “missing” adventures, changing their uniforms/etc, talking about their trophies and conquests. It also lets you know what kind of stuff they would like to see going on in future games.

#3 Comment By Dave Chalker On October 25, 2006 @ 2:54 pm

This technique could be used in situations other than a campaign ending too. I used one as a bridge between two chapters of the same game, and got to run an adventure that gets the “old gang” back together.

The only thing I don’t like about it is that a lot of leveling based games don’t have good accommodations for gaining a bunch of levels in a realistic fashion. D&D heroes given a bunch of gold tend to be more optimized (and have similar equipment to each other), and without the gold they’re behind the power level they’re supposed to be. d20 Modern doesn’t handle leveling issues well either, as the Wealth system and number of action points get out of whack with lots of leveling.

#4 Comment By Martin On October 25, 2006 @ 3:57 pm

Scott: True enough. I should have qualified that with “in most RPGs.”

John: Neat! I hadn’t thought of that at all.

Dave: When I start PCs at higher levels in D&D (which is fundamentally the same thing), I usually set a per-item cap on what they can buy.

If they have 50,000 gp to throw around, you’re absolutely right that they’ll be better optimized than characters who acquired those levels the usual way. But with, say, a 10,000 gp cap on any single “purchase,” you now know what the hard limit is. Just glance at the magic items tables and see what 10k allows them to buy, and make sure it’s a power level that works for the game.

#5 Comment By Rick The Wonder Algae On October 25, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

Another problem this could cause, related to the “they didn’t get to play it out” one you raise, is that sometimes players don’t tell you everything they had in mind, so when you start describing the way things turned out, they could be very disappointed because their big ideas never panned out (since you weren’t aware of them). That said, getting some buy-in from your players and telling them “we’re fast forwarding through X levels to get to the finale, anything you want to have happened between now and then?” should minimize it.

#6 Comment By Martin On October 27, 2006 @ 7:53 pm

Rick: Man oh man, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! Getting buy-in from your players — and making it clear that you’ll be fast-forwarding absolutely sounds like the best way to handle this. Great point!