This is the fourth post in our charmingly random 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.
Cue the hold music, because that’s what today’s approach involves: Ending the game, but not permanently.
Putting your game on indefinite hold is a bit different from ending it with a whimper. Going the whimper route is more of a non-approach: the campaign just sort of peters out.
When you put your game on hold, however, there’s planning involved — and you make an active decision to leave the campaign at a good stopping point. (If you just put on the brakes, that’s a sudden stop, not indefinite hold.) Common reasons to put a campaign on hold include: real life concerns, GM burnout, an absent player or simply needing a change of pace.
You and your players know that you might or might not pick up the game again, but the option remains open, and that’s the element that really sets this approach apart from the others.
As long as it’s not just an excuse for avoiding saying “I don’t want to run this game anymore,” putting your campaign on indefinite hold is an excellent approach. Unlike a sudden stop, you have a bit of advance notice — and that lets you plan for the “final” session.
You can wind up loose plot threads, give your players a chance to accomplish some of their short-term goals, work up a really kickass climactic battle and leave the party at a good stopping point — either a stable downtime situation (between adventures) or a cliffhanger.
Even if you don’t ever start the game up again (which, based on my own experience, is pretty common), it’s somehow nice to know that you could, if you wanted to. And you never know what will happen — a few months or a year down the line, everyone might be in exactly the right mood to revisit the game.
The only real downside to this approach is that some players (and GMs) prefer closure — solid, definitive closure, not the semi-closure you get when you put your campaign on hold. Those folks might be better served by ending the game with a world-altering bang, or planning out an actual ending (which will be covered in a later post).
As I mentioned above, if you have no desire to play the game again, putting it on hold — instead of actually ending it — is unfair to your players. You’re dangling a tantalizing possibility in front of them, but have no plans to deliver on it. If you want to end the game and never speak of it again, don’t take this approach!
There’s a reason that putting your game on indefinite hold appears in the middle of the list (see below): It’s a solid, middle-of-the-road approach. It lacks some of the advantages of fast forwarding or planning to end the game for good, but it has none of the disadvantages of letting your game die or calling a halt. It’s also a lot less drastic that ending things with a bang, and is likely to ruffle fewer feathers.
The rest of this series looks at different approaches to ending an ongoing campaign.
Have you put a campaign on hold before? Did you start it up again? And do you agree that it’s a solid approach with very few downsides?