So, your campaign is winding down. Your characters have reached high levels, completed their quests, and killed enough monsters; and most importantly, your players want to try that new RPG coming out. So how do you wrap up that campaign that you’ve been toiling over for years? How do you prepare for the end of the line for those characters with whom you’ve spent so much time?
You can do what so many role players do and just walk away from the game. Most campaigns fall apart before they reach a satisfactory climax. But that’s lame. The best thing to do is to find a way to wrap up the campaign in a satisfying way.
To do all this effectively, you’re going to want to start early. If you wait until the last session, you’re going to be rushing to wrap up all the loose ends, and nothing will feel right. Long before you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, insert a story arc that has a challenge to overcome. Also, make sure a lead villain is within that challenge; don’t make it just a big evil entity. It’s more satisfying when you’re overcoming someone or something specific.
Have that challenge be present throughout the rest of the campaign. Make it personal to the players by having the lead villain, or something he/she is associated with, hurt the players either physically or emotionally. The players will be anxious to get revenge.
WRAP UP LOOSE ENDS
As the game goes along, your players will no doubt be picking up their own side goals. When you know you’re going to start bringing your campaign to an end, close out these story arcs one or two at a time. If you leave it all for the end, it’ll be a tangled mess. Doing it a little at a time will further give the players a feeling that they’re building to a climax.
You can also provide payoffs for any characters who have appeared throughout the story during these smaller wrap-ups. Was there a character who dropped in and out of the story? Bring them in for one last guest appearance and let them have a triumphant moment, or have them die at the hands of the lead villain, making the players all the more passionate about defeating him/her.
IT SHOULD FEEL HOPELESS
When the end is within a session or two, you’re going to want to get things as dark and hopeless as you can. In story terms, this is called the end of the second act. It’s when the heroes get to their lowest point; where it seems all is lost. Think of the third and second to last episode of a show you binge watch. Things just get worse and worse until it seems impossible for the hero to win, but then, somehow they pull it off.
MAKE IT EPIC!
The players should feel like they’re in a for a huge ending. This ending should also feel like it’s going to affect more than just the players. This is a story you’ve worked on for years; it is, by definition, epic. Make it bigger than life! You can also bring in characters and storylines that didn’t get wrapped up earlier so they’re all part of the big ending.
The final session should be an event. Send out special invitations complete with a recap of the story up to this point. Remind the players of their goals, and of everything that makes them dislike the villain, and showing why what they’re doing is so important to the world.
DON’T FORGET THE WRAP-UP
And finally, assuming they succeed, don’t forget your denouement. This is what happens after the climax as the characters go back to their normal lives. The players have been with these characters for years. They want to know that they’re going to live happily ever after… or not. A story doesn’t seem complete without this step, because otherwise they feel stuck in the moment right after the battle. By providing a denouement, the characters feel more real, going on with their lives as you and your players go on with theirs.
But finally–and this is important–as all this is going on, make sure to leave one small, seemingly insignificant issue unresolved. You might want to return to this one day.
Tell us about some of the best RPG campaign wrap-ups you’ve been involved in below.
Featured image credit: Skyland Games