The most difficult assignment I’ve had in game design remains my contribution to Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters.
It wasn’t the writing.
The taxing aspect was formulating the beginning, the middle and then, that most excruciating of parts, the ending.
Whichever one of the 36 dramatic situations served as the framework for that particular plot, it had to have an ending.
Finales didn’t have to be grand or spectacular, but some kind of outcome needed to be presented.
It wasn’t so much that we were prescribing THE ending to a given scenario, but rather, providing a likely or possible outcome.
Something even a novice GM could hang their hat on, a point they could reasonably wind things up.
It’s a laudable goal, completeness — and if you utilize one of those adventures at your table — you’ll be presented with an endpoint.
Of course, it’s the one aspect of the assignment that does not fit with my style of gamemastering.
Sure, I know how to signal an end to the night. “Let’s wrap this up, folks.”
But endings? What are those? When the bad guy is dead or defeated? When the treasure is found?
(Or was it No. 17: When the characters discover the dishonor of a loved one?)
There’s always another bad guy. Another thread to pull. Another ploy that comes with the next sunrise.
No, endings are the players’ prerogative. Always have been. Always will. That’s because their choices — usually at two or three choice moments in the course of the narrative — are what truly dictates the outcome.
Yes, I’m a starting-line GM. Here’s a hook. Here’s a dilemma. Here are some resources. Found a motivation for your character? Great, because it’s time to start. Ready, set … go!
Now, that hardly absolves me in providing a plot nor anticipating a few possibilities and providing interesting elements along the way.
I propose that what the GM should be responsible for isn’t the ending, but rather those pivot points during the course of the narrative.
Those pivot points are what point the way.
OK, so what are pivot points?
They are decision junctures. Forks in the road. Do we turn left or right? Do we help or hinder? Do we fight or flee? Do we look before we leap? Do we contemplate the next move or do we rashly rush in?
It’s the scenario that follows that decision point that matters. If it serves the plot and propels the action and the characters forward, that’s what matters. I’m not talking about random encounters, but rather, purposeful, consequential moments.
Do that well at three or four places along the way, and I think the ending— whatever desired result emerges — becomes self-evident to the players as well as the GM.
If they have closed in on the villain, let them at ‘em. If they are close to guessing the secret, unveil it. If the unspeakable horror is just behind that door, then by all means, open it.
If it’s revenge they’re after — here’s their chance.
It’s their moment, their ending, if they so choose.
Give it to them. They’ve earned it.