This is the first post in TT’s How to End a Campaign series. Each post will cover 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: Ending things with a bang.
A “bang” is a dramatic resolution of some or all of the open threads in your campaign, often a story- or world-shattering event. Think of the series (not season) finale of a TV show.
It could be a world-ending apocalypse, the PCs’ long-awaited ascension to godhood, an alien attack that changes the world forever — the possibilities are endless, and will vary according to the specifics of your campaign.
Ending your campaign with a bang is very different than putting it on hold (which will be covered in a future post). The bang — whatever it may be — fundamentally alters the game, and may fundamentally alter the PCs as well.
Implicit in this approach is the understanding that this will end the campaign. Bangs are planned to do just that, and your players are aware that when the finale is over, so is the game.
A well-crafted bang offers a change of pace, and a chance to do things on a grand scale — something that, depending on your game, you might not do on a regular basis. A good bang should make the whole group go “Wow!”
Knowing that the finale is the finale gives your players the opportunity to really cut loose. If they’re normally cautious, they can throw caution to the wind — they have nothing to lose.
It also provides a definitive endpoint for your campaign. With no major loose ends left up in the air, it’s easier to move on to your group’s next game.
Have you ever watched the finale of a TV show and thought, “What the hell was that? They did what to my favorite character?!” This can be a problem with bangs, too — the tendency to go overboard.
A good bang will often close the door on the game, and you might want to start up the campaign again in the future. That could mean you have to retcon the bang to get the campaign started up again, which isn’t likely to be too satisfying for your group.
The temptation to alter the PCs directly is also a problem. A bad bang is one that removes the players’ control over their characters in a ham-handed way, and leaves them with a bad taste in their mouths. You never want to end a campaign on that kind of sour note.
The rest of this series will look at different approaches to ending an ongoing campaign.