|Image by Tom Hodges|
Lately I’ve been thinking about how to end a campaign. I’ve been paying close attention to the end of movies looking for inspiration on how to, and how not to, end a storyline. Warning: Spoilers.
Inception ends with the ‘is he still dreaming or not?’ which is a classic kind of Twilight Zone ending to a mind-frak movie. This is very difficult to pull off in a campaign, but they are the Holy Grail for GMs if you can leave your players stunned and amazed at the last minute reveal.
Contagion ends with a dull fizzle. It does approximate what really happened in the real-world cases of Bird Flu, SARS and H1N1 as the story never becomes quite as big as the hype (fortunately!), and the media moves on to the next big thing. Unfortunately, this was a fairly tense movie until the fizzle out and when the movie suddenly ends you are left wondering where the hell the climax went. This is how NOT to end a campaign, but we’ve all run/played in games where it becomes clear that both the GM and the players are just not into things. When that happens, break it off immediately and move on to something the group will get excited about. If you are a completest and must end the story, move the final battle up/confrontation as quickly as possible. Remember, role playing is first and foremost a game and games are meant to be fun.
Bridesmaids wraps up with one of those big sing-a-long endings that my wife calls a Big Ewok Party or a BEP (though to be honest, what she calls it would actually be abbreviated as FEP). Unfortunately, in this otherwise funny movie, the BEP feels utterly unearned and an excuse for the writers to end it with a flourish without bothering to actually clear up any of the storylines. I’ve only ever managed one BEP ending, and that was in our long running Star Wars campaign when the characters participated in the destruction of the second Death Star. Everyone joined in a rousing rendition of ‘Yub Nub!’ which was utterly awesome.
The better endings I’ve seen lately come from animated movies, which seem to be the last bastion of traditional (and coherent) storytelling. How to Train Your Dragon and Wreck It Ralph, both have classic final confrontations against a Big Bad, completely with sacrifice, pathos and genuine intensity. This is what every GM should be aiming for. Make the players EARN their ending and that earn should come at some sort of cost. Even if a PC or two dies, if you can pull off an honest ending, it will be one of those campaigns that you talk about years later.
"Remember when Ash Warbow stayed behind to hold off the zombie horde while we rushed the Lich Queen? That was awesome!"