Today’s guest article is by reader Tom Puketza, who I believe is our most prolific guest article writer — his previous articles are Building a “Petri Dish” Sandbox and The Handmade, Super-Simple Wizard Tower Tile Set. Thanks, Tom!
Recently I finished the Xbox game Fallout New Vegas. Without giving anything away, you’re shown a long slide show detailing the fate of all the people you met in the game. This took me by surprise and gave the game a really cool immersive feel. Naturally, I thought it’d be a good thing to shamelessly steal for use in my tabletop campaign.
Every campaign racks up a list of friends, enemies, and factions. What happens to all these people? If your group has spent actual (real-world) years adventuring it can be very rewarding to revisit the notable ones and see how things panned out.
The basic idea is simple: Write up a good narrative conclusion to your campaign, but also include epilogues for as many NPCs as you think may be appropriate, then find a good way to present all this to your group during or after your final session. Below are three delivery ideas as well as pros and cons to each approach. Maybe you can think of others.
Round Table Read
Place your epilogues on a stack of 3×5 cards, hand each player an even number, then have them go around the table. Each player reads a card until you reach the end. You probably want to have some good ending music playing in the background.
Pros: Getting the players involved gives them one last bit of personal investment. A good set of players could also really make things shine.
Cons: We are not all born actors and orators, and you’re asking everyone to deliver cold reads. If you’re going for a dramatic delivery, this can derail into giggles, false starts, and general messiness. The wrong set of players could also completely ruin this experience. There is also a high potential for misunderstanding, so make sure your cards are as explicit and clear as possible.
GM as Omniscient Narrator
Instead of giving the players your 3×5 cards, you the GM read them yourself. If you’re confident enough, you can really turn this into a solo performance. For example, you can do what Fallout does and present each epilogue from the point of view of a particular NPC. You can also spice this up using old props, maps, and whatever other tokens and art you used to reference all those old adventures. (That is, if you still have it lying around.)
Pros: GM has total control. You can practice your delivery.
Cons: GM has to effectively perform uninterrupted for several minutes. This means earning undivided attention, and we all know nothing in gaming survives contact with the players intact. Also, rather than prepping for a game, you may end up rehearsing. Gathering props and art and trinkets the players used, or ones they will recognize, may be challenging.
TOTAL MULTIMEDIA EXTRAVAGANZA
Projectors! Slide shows! Soundtracks! Art and props! ACTING!
Cons: You’re basically mounting your own mini stage production. This means your campaign conclusion has just become an event. You will need lots and lots of rehearsal time. You will need to do tech rehearsals to make sure all your equipment works. You may get odd looks from your family. You might get tied up in things like “subtext” and “artistic intention.” You may or may not be as good a narrator and actor as Ian McKellen.
However you do it, you want to make the players feel like they made a difference in the world. You want to show the consequences of their choices and how the people they met made out in the end. But probably most importantly, you want to create a feeling of closure to the story everyone shared. A definitive, proper ending is a really powerful experience. Its what makes us remember our favorite movies, books, performers, politicians, and events. It provides emotional satisfaction few other things can. And like they say about pizza: when it’s good, it’s great, and when its bad, it’s still pretty good.
In all my years of gaming, I’ve only seen a campaign end (as opposed to stop) a few times. And yet, it was usually anticlimactic and rushed. In one case I spent two years developing a character I really enjoyed. I had had so much fun feeling like I was in my own TV adventure series. But by the time it came to end things everyone grew impatient. The GM hurried the last game so he could get to the next campaign. A slide show send off would have been, dare I say, more respectful. If you are running a long campaign and can pull off a good ending like this, your players will remember it for years.
Here’s to memorable exits.