As May nears an end, I am wrapping up my contribution to the travelling RPG Blog Carnival.
This month the Carnival host is Rodney Sloan at Rising Phoenix Games. Rodney’s topic is At World’s End, looking at assorted end of the world scenarios. The blog offers a few more ideas for the subject:
The topic for May’s RPG blog carnival is “At World’s End”, and the best and brightest RPG bloggers will be sharing links to related posts, right here, in the comments below.
Anything is fair game; cataclysmic events, stats for planet crushing monsters, rules for the Apocalypse, or perhaps a hero’s survival guide to the End Times. We’re not playing games anymore, now we’re playing for keeps, winner takes all!
As I explained last week, my ongoing Tales of the Hero Wars campaign has seen four sets of Heroes have their time on stage, and then pass into memory. This means four endings to a story. However, these endings have not always been the grand climaxes I wanted when I began each story with the Players.
This week I reach the two successful mini-campaign finales. Here the cycle of tales ended satisfyingly for us, with a conclusion to the main plots. These endings were not happy ones for all of the Heroes, but the Players were pleased. As with the failed finales, I am sure you can also learn from these examples. I hope to repeat these achievements in the new Fortress of Crows campaign.
The four previous cycles, in order, were:
- Eastern Isles
- Eternal Lizards
- Sigil PD
Eternal Lizards: At Journey’s End
Third in the sequence, and the first of my successful finales, was the Eternal Lizards campaign. This campaign was based upon a tribe of dragonnewt nomads, drawing heavily on the Gloranthan heritage of my setting.
After the larger cast of Players for the previous two mini-campaigns, this cycle of tales had a tighter focus with just two Players remaining after the social meltdown of the Eastern Isles campaign. These Players brought a strong narrative feel to the game, and embraced some radical developments for their characters. The story culminated in a confrontation between the two central Heroes, as the tribe reached the end of their trek across the arcane-blasted wilderness.
How to End Your World Better
After two failed attempts at reaching a satisfying conclusion to a campaign, we were all overjoyed to properly complete this campaign. These earlier unsatisfying endings lead to a new approach to running the campaign, which paid off brilliantly in the finale. There are several lessons here.
For the GM. The first two lessons build out of the revised story structure. After two campaigns with sweeping stories which fell apart on me, I set more realistic expectations for the Eternal Lizards game. From the outset, this arc was intended to create a year’s worth of gaming. This gave us enough time to explore the characters, develop their stories and enjoy a mix of short and long episodes. When the finale arrived, we still had enthusiasm for the game.
The second story lesson relates to the overall plot. This campaign was about the journey of the nomadic tribe. It was a simple goal, and the arrival at their destination automatically gave the story a sense of closure. When I layered in the conflict between the two Heroes, this linked their story to the broader theme of the game. The convergence of these two plots helped produce a satisfying ending.
For the Players. While the structure of the campaign helped create a successful finale, the actions of the Heroes helped too. The Eternal Lizards was the first campaign where the Players really embraced the possibilities of narrative gaming. They were both prepared to see the fortunes of their Hero rise and fall. This gave us far more drama along the way than is possible with a simple straight trajectory towards victory. One Hero was blinded, while the other was taken over by a parasitic leech.
The main lesson for the Players is to embrace fluctuations in fortune. Accept what fate brings, then fight to overcome it. We are only with these Heroes for a relatively short time, so throw yourselves into their journey, and watch them grow through their struggles.
This probably requires a certain detachment from your Hero. When the Players keep one eye on the broader campaign plot, then they appreciate how any current setback for their Hero is not a personal sleight. I am very fortunate to have Players who enjoy enhancing the ongoing story with plenty of drama to entertain everyone at the table. Such a careful balance still requires Players to engage with their characters. However, this should be a gentle embrace, combined with a dedication to the wider campaign story.
Sigil PD: Heroic Sacrifice
After an unprecedented successful campaign finale, we were all eager to repeat the experience with the Sigil PD game. This was set in the famous City of Doors, and adopted many of the tropes of a police procedural. The cast of Heroes expanded for this game, as several new Players joined the group.
The finale saw a successful battle against another chaos cult, although at a high personal cost for the Heroes. This was another satisfying ending to a campaign, heightened by the self-sacrifice of the Heroes.
How to End Your World Better
For the GM. While I still count Sigil PD among my successes, the victory was not at the same level as the Eternal Lizards. The choices the Heroes made were more dramatic, but the theme of the game did not wrap up quite as well as previously. Firstly, this really underlines how well a journey plot fits a short campaign.
Yet, there is more to learn from our time in the City of Doors. This was my first experience of a mystery-driven plot. I certainly need more practice at balancing the flow of information. Furthermore, mysteries are not best suited to my improvisational style of play. The overall campaign needed a tighter structure, which would have made the final confrontation more resonant for the Players.
For the Players. If shortcomings in the structure hampered the finale, then it was the dramatic actions of the Heroes which saved it. These final climactic scenes really did play out like the last reel in an action blockbuster. My wonderful Players upped their game, took dramatic risks and really threw themselves into ending the campaign in style. The clear lesson is to make heroic choices when you reach the final confrontation. Be bold, be daring, and everyone at the table will come away with some great memories.
Now you have seen the good finales and the bad ones. I feel my campaigns are improving. The short structure clearly helps, meaning the story can steadily build with the finale in sight. A simple framework, such as a journey or quest, sets a clear goal for the finale to achieve. If the Players up their game when the end is reached, then truly spectacular conclusions are possible.
How have you ended campaigns successfully? What lessons have you taken from them? Can you see additional lessons from my examples above? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
- Read all the current entries to the May Carnival at Rising Phoenix Games.
- The RPG Blog Carnival is under the stewardship of Johnn Four, at his Roleplaying Tips website.
- The host for the April event was Stephanie Bryant at Mortaine’s Blog, where the topic was weather in games.
- Do you need more Tales?
If you enjoyed this article, then please share it, or the associated quotations. You may also be interested in the following links:
- Something for the Weekend last week: May Blog Carnival Part 1, Finale Failures
- Something for the Weekend next week: Improv Gaming Part 1, My Core Tools