“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand . . . there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep.” These lines by Frodo in the Return of the King perfectly summarize the feelings that one gets when a loved book, movie, or campaign comes to a close.
Ending a campaign can be a tricky task. This blog explores things to consider when ending a campaign.
Just yesterday I finished one of my longest running campaigns. It was a time of joy because all the hard work and strife the players had gone through was finally being rewarded. But it was also a time of loss. The players had been using these characters for almost a year. They had developed relationships and stories together as they had grown in power and strength. The great thing about RPGs is that players have a chance to reuse characters which makes the usual sad ending of never seeing your characters in action again obsolete.
In a sense this is a good thing because these same characters can develop farther and have even greater backgrounds. The players are happy because there is no loss. Of course this benefit can also be a negative. There is a sense of closer and balance that comes from a stories ending. An ending with loss is a much more powerful ending because it gives a greater context to what the characters accomplished.
At the same time the end of the campaign is a climax. It has to be the most dramatic and exciting part of the campaign. It is what the players have been working towards since day one. Because of this the finally has to be a challenge. I know personally I would be frustrated if I worked so hard to level my character up to defeat the final boss and the final boss ends up dying in the first round of battle. The finally has to be difficult both physically and mentally for the players. Just whacking on a boss again and again until his HP is zero gets boring.
On top of this there has to be a sense of dramatic flair; something the players are not expecting. It could be a plot twist or maybe bringing back old friends from the beginning of the adventure. Including the character back stories is worth considering. The final part of the campaign needs to be memorable.
The campaign I just ended finished with all the characters but one dying. This character than had a choice to either sacrifice her soul to a demon and rescue the others or become immortal and the others would be trapped in the abyssal plain until rescued. This was a major decision that added drama through decision making and would determine if majority of the characters would be playable again. On one hand, a character in the group would be lost forever adding the sadness and perspective to the campaign while on the other hand it had the possibility of making one character overpowered and the possibility of a future campaign of different characters to rescue the old characters.
Just remember that when ending a campaign you want it to be rewarding to your players but also something that is not taken lightly. Much of the end campaign determines future play of the characters and also becomes part of their story and history. The finale should be a culmination of the entire campaign up to date. Finish it in a way that will make the players love the campaign and crave more.