A lot of things have recently got me thinking about recapturing the excitement in my game. The game is coming to it’s preplanned end, but it has been plagued by a slew of minor issues recently. I’ve been rolling with them and delivering some fun sessions despite the issues, but my enthusiasm for the game has been waning and it just doesn’t have the fireworks of the first few months. I want to end the game with a bang, so I’ve been thinking about how to recapture that excitement.
The Thoughts In My Head
I started this campaign with a bright and shiny idea. Ideas are ALWAYS bright and shiny. Taking them out and using them dulls the shine a bit and changes the nature of the idea. What starts as the most beautiful campaign you will ever run changes as you actually run it. In my game, things have veered from the original concept, and I’ve chosen to roll with that rather than try to drag things back to the track. We’ve been through 2 different “acts” in the overarching campaign and we are now approaching the final act where the group’s actions determine the fate of the city that they are protecting.
I want this last act to be short, sweet, and have a great memorable ending. To that end, I’m throwing in a lot of preparation on the front end and making sure I’m ready to run it. I’ve also built myself an outline of the steps I need to take to make sure it is exciting for the finale.
- Assess/Buy In — An important part of recapturing excitement is knowing what issuesÂ thereÂ are in the game and ensuring that the players are buying into what you’re selling. I’m planning to tell the players that I plan to end the game and how I plan to end it. I’ll be doing a 2 to 3 session finale, letting them know that this is the crux of everything they’ve worked up to. I’ll use this opportunity to ask them what they want to see in the ending.Finding out what the players want, and ensuring that they know how the ending will play out (at least in the general sense) will clear away some of the issues that can come up during a game. Players will be more ready to jump on clues and tackle issues head on, knowing that they don’t have much time and if it is coming up now it is likely important, not a hook for something in the future.
- Buildup — A big part of excitement is anticipation. Knowing that something big is coming will make people want it to come all the more. I’ll be taking a week’s break from my game, and calling players in that time to work out individual goals and build their excitement up individually. We’ll do small roleplaying sessions over the phone for character development and to make sure none of their side stories or goals are missed. There will also be down time in-game so that their various plans can come together and flow into the epic finale.
- Draw Attention To Focal Points — If all goes as planned, I’ll have a group of players at the table ready to go and excited. I’m going to try to have stuff for them to focus their attention on. Since there are a lot of NPCs involved, I’m going to take the NPC cards I printed and put them up so everyone knows who all is involved. I’ll also be making big use of maps and minis. Anything I can think of between now and then to give them something to focus on and keep them in the mindset of the final 2 sessions. Since one part of the big final scene is going to be a banquet held in their honor, I’ll be trying to decorate the gaming room as banquet hall like as possible.
- Engage — All of the points previous to this one are to draw the players in and get them ready for something exciting, now it’s time to give that to them. I’ll be working on engaging the players from the get-go and have them involved in things going on. Making sure that they know they are part of the action and a motivating force is going to be essential. Players will tell stories of how they talked their way past “whatever his name was noble”, not that Duke Terencillus had set up all sorts of plans to stop them. I’ll definitely be focusing on the players and their actions.
- Reward — Finally, excitement requires denouement to feel tangible. The resolution after the climax. This is what gets the people talking. I’m planning to really play up the end scene and allow for their victory (or defeat if they really screw it up) to shine. I’m also planning to give the players time to narrate the “credits” showing what occurred with their characters after the story. This will let people get the resolution to the character’s’ stories that we won ’t have time to play out. This will be done in front of the other players, because everyone wants an audience.
That’s my plan for recapturing the excitement for the finale of my game. Every game waxes and wanes. Sometimes you just need to roll with it and have the best time possible that evening. Sometimes, though, you need to give it a 110% and try to light a new spark, even if that is just so you go out with a bang. When your games slow down, what do you do to rekindle the excitement?
Have you ever had a campaign finish that included the death of a PC as part of the plot? I’m curious if any players or GMs reading this have coordinated a PC dying in a blaze of glory, to enable the party to “win” the game. As long as the player buys into it, I think that would be a great way to end it: instead of retiring and living happily ever after as a demigod or other master of the universe, the bards will sing of your great deeds and glorious sacrifice for centuries to come!
@kirkdent: I had a plot that required the entire party to die at the end. It wasn’t explicitly stated that “you will all die in the finale” because that would have ruined the surprise, but it had been foreshadowed and I have good rapport with my players, so I was pretty sure it would work. It was well worth it. The final climactic battle took place in a cathedral; the bad guy could only be killed by a specific macguffin, so he was planning to bring the building down on all of them before the PCs could kill him. They knew throughout the entire fight that they were doomed, and it was all they could do to take the bad guy down before they died. It was frantic, it was epic, and it was a very, very cool way to end a campaign.
If your group is cool with that sort of thing, it makes for a very memorable ending!
@Riklurt – And what a marvellous finale would be if, playing with other characters in the same world, the previous party would be recognized as the major heroes of the land!
@kirkdent – I’ve had that happen once. A PC sacrificed themselves to prevent an ancient god from using him as a vessel. It avoided one of the big ending fights and provided a great narrative for the ending. Buy-in for that sort of thing is really important. I let the players tell the end of their stories after the last session, and he told a really touching tale of how his family remembered him and visited his small roadside grave and how few people really knew that it was his sacrifice that saved the world.
In a dimension hopping game I essentially created an almost perfect denouement… at the end of the first dimension.
The players didn’t know it wasn’t the end, everyone was blown away by the explosive “ending” (sending a captured super-dirigible, laden with explosive munitions into the capital of the evil empire, ah steampunk). One of the players was actually shaking my hand to congratulate me on a campaign well-run when I pulled the rug out from under them. They zap-ported to the next dimension and into an even more hopeless situation than the one they’d just fought their way out of…
… The characters continued to grow but the great number of costly victories and costlier losses (very noir-esque cyberpunk setting) started to make the characters grow and appropriately became very jaded, nonchalant about the constant threat of a violent end, and more than a bit maudlin. The characters though began to loose a bit of their zest and the players really weren’t having as much fun playing them after a while. So Introduced some new ally NPCs, Aesir-worshiping jetpack-toting crazy warriors so dripping with verve, vigor, and chutzpah that it was contagious. The characters/players perked back up and went out in a blaze of glory… Only to get zap-ported unto their just rewards (skipping a 4-6 session campaign arc).
Sometimes something simple, the changing of a single set-piece can be all it takes to revitalize a campaign.