This week on the Campaign Trail, we look at ‘Tips for Ending Your Tabletop RPG Campaign‘. After 56 session, 16 months and 17 levels, my players finally arrived at the final temple to face off against the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG). Whether they win or lose, my homebrew Vodari campaign is heading to what I hope is an epic showdown.
Having a long campaign reach a climactic finale is an accomplishment for everyone around the table and should be celebrating in and out of game. Instead of just handing out some treasure like you did at the end of each adventure, close out a longer campaign in style. If your think of your adventure arcs as a collection of TV episodes, you should end your campaign with a big finale.
This article will provide you with some ideas for celebrating victory, agonizing over defeat and setting up a hiatus from the campaign world.
The players were able to steer their PCs to the end and come out on top. Is it time to celebrate or did the victory come at great cost.
Parades, award ceremonies, parties, etc are all fun ways to close out a long campaign.
- When Luke blows up the Death Star and there’s some celebrating, but the medal ceremony in an ancient temple is a really nice way to close out the adventure (poor Chewbacca). Create your own ceremony where an important NPC hands out some awesome rewards and recognition for your players. Treasure is good, but how about knighthood, stronghold or ship?
- If a player died, a funeral can be a great scene to close out the adventure and say goodbye to everyone. Weddings work great too if two characters made a connection during the campaign.
- For my last campaign statues of the PCs were erected and songs were sung to celebrate their heroic deeds that saved the city. We’re heading back to that world (Nentir Vale) with new PCs 20 years later and those statues will still be there.
- If you want to throw a party to celebrate in the game, throw a party to close out the game in real life. Throw a few extra snack bucks in to make it a night to remember in and out of game.
RETURN SOMETHING TO ITS RIGHTFUL HOME
The idea of the PCs heroic deeds being unknown (or relatively unknown) might be a good alternative to the trumpets and confetti.
- Indiana Jones defeats Belloq and the Nazis and gets the Arc of the Covenant back into the hands of “top men”. Having your players work hard to just watch the dangerous magic item secretly go back into a vault provides closure, but the secrecy and lack of fanfare might not work for everyone.
- A more satisfying scenario is when Indiana Jones returns a Sankara Stone to the village shrine as the children come rushing back in. Indy can go away knowing that the village is going to be just fine, even if he didn’t find fortune and glory.
- Either way, let your players decide what they want to do with the powerful item. If they want to keep and protect it forever, so be it. They just proved themselves to be the best.
- If you campaign took your heroes to far off lands, maybe the heroes themselves need to be returned home like in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
- Maybe the item that needs to be returned home is the body of a fallen PC.
Why have one ending? Try out a few…
- Return of the King is known for having many, many endings. In an RPG campaign this could be a great way to close things out.
- You could move from a huge ceremony to a peaceful journey home seeing some key locations on the way and saying goodbye to each PC on the way. If your players want to imagine further journeys for their PC, try running an epilogue (see below)
Having the players lose the campaign might not be as satisfying as saving the day, but that doesn’t mean you need to close up your campaign binder just yet. There are some things you can do to honor a long campaign even if your players lost in the finale.
- Run an epilogue session (see below) to give everyone a chance to say goodbye to the campaign. A ceremony of some sort might work well such as statues put up to honor their sacrifice
- Give them another chance with a huge cost to save the day. Maybe this time they’ll have learned from the last time they faced the villain and will prevail.
- If the players aren’t done with the world even after it was destroyed, let them play in the post apocalyptic aftermath as the same PCs or brand new PCs in a drastically changed version of the setting. You might have just stumbled into your new campaign setting. Samurai Jack is blasted into a future where his nemesis he lost to fully controls everything.
- Sometimes your lose the big game, it makes the next victory even sweeter. If you players are good with the loss, let it stand and move on.
- A fix I don’t recommend is to make the loss just a dream or turn back time and let them take a mulligan.
Setting up a Hiatus or a Return to the Campaign World
If your campaign is taking a break due to life getting in the way or jumping into another campaign for a while, here are some ideas.
- If a group was going to break for a long hiatus it might be a good idea to work towards a clean season finale. While you don’t want to force the climax to happen by that last session, it you can work a clean break go for it. You can always come back for the sequel, even jumping in time a bit to catch up with everyone.You don’t even have to tie up all the lose ends, you need to leave some stuff of the next season.
- If you closed out the campaign with an epic finale, that doesn’t mean it is the last time your players will ever visit the world. My next campaign is set in the Nentir Vale with brand new PCs, 20 years after the last time we visited the setting way back in 4th edition.
- If you never get back to the game for reasons like LIFE… you can be happy you closed things out clean-ish.
Does the end of the campaign feel satisfying to your players? Often the end of a campaign is a time for saying goodbye to their PC, adventuring party and the world and in sometimes saying goodbye in real life to your fellow players (in the case of a hiatus or ending of the group). An epilogue offers everyone a chance to say a proper goodbye in and out of game.
Epilogues work best when they take place well after the immediate aftermath of the adventure and the PCs have had time to settle down. You can run an epilogue session or you have everyone just share their written epilogues away from the table. For my last campaign we didn’t run an epilogue session after the finale since half the party didn’t survive, but we wrote epilogues for the PCs that survived. I really recommend running an epilogue session if you can, and here are some ideas for running an epilogue session.
- Ask players for a one line explanations of “where they are now?”. The limitation of a sentence can provide a set up like in movies such as frat comedies, sports, or based on a true story. For bonus points, paint a freeze frame scene with your players.
- Ask players to write a scene that is a paragraph or two long about their PC way off in the future. Excellent examples of this include Saving Private Ryan and We Are the Titans (which combines a funeral with where are they now).
- Have your PCs reunite for a wedding, funeral or some other important event, such as in We Are the Titans.
- Give everyone a chance to explain how their characters grow old and spend their fortunes. If you are immediately returning to the campaign setting, this could be a chance to introduce the next generation of adventurers and keep the PCs in the game world as NPCs running taverns, guilds or just being being rich and retired.
- If an important place was destroyed have the players work to rebuild it or reunite for the grand reopening.
- Run a session where the players talk about the long term impact of their adventure on the world. Have them play that evolved setting in a future campaign using their ideas.
- If some of the party died, you could have a grand funeral scene where your players read eulogies for their PCs. You could have the eulogies read by an important NPC or even one of the few surviving PCs.
We’ll that’s it from the Campaign Trail this week. Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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