Friday, June 17, 2005


...And in the End. The love you take, is equal to the love...You make.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away... No. Better not go there.
In the distant past, a group of disparate individuals came together, found common cause and became great friends. In that time they tangled with miscreants,buckled swashes, righted wrongs,sang songs,broke hearts, and mended fences. Each person came to become an expert and then a master in his or her field. Each made enemies and each did great things...And now? Time to face the music?

Ideally, A game master or storyteller has in the back of his mind the final destination of his story. He can dimly visualize the promised land of the tales completion and while certain details haven't fallen into place yet, he can remain confident that the completion of the epic saga that the P.C.'s are headed toward will come in it's own time.

There's only one problem with this: Nobody does it. Hell even I don't do it. Well actually...I didn't... Until recently. Now I'm beginning to realize that making an ending is perhaps the most important part of Game Mastering and campaign scripting. It give shape to a campaign and gives players closure that they would not ordinarily have otherwise.

Legend has it that Uncle Joe came up with the entire idea for Babylon 5 while in the shower. He saw it entirely of a piece with a definite beginning,middle and end. And knew that it would take at least 5 years to tell completely and right. For those of you who've never seen the show I think it's one of the greatest things ever seen in television. It follows a group of characters for 5 years and although there are still movies and ancillary projects...We know how the real story ends. And it is moving in the extreme at times. Babylon 5 wouldn't have worked as a single movie. It also wouldn't have worked as an ordinary Sci-fi show like Star Trek. These shows are not building to any kind of conclusion and thus lack the same kind of emotional momentum.

Game Masters don't plan Endings, at least not in my experience. Game mastering and Writing share certain literary underpinnings but for the most part,GM's don't plan the campaign as they would a long novel. Sure,individual stories will have exposition, rising action,a climax and a denouement but rare is the GM who actually plans the whole campaign this way. The idea is usually to keep playing the game forever...Which (sadly) never happens. People move away, people fight, people get sick of the same old thing and the campaign trails off into nothing. Rather than do this, it might be good to seriously consider some of the ways to end a chronicle.

Ending a chronicle does not mean never playing again. Ending a chronicle can be the gateway into a whole new game. Ending a chronicle can create the history that is the underpinning of the new game. Ending the chronicle can give everyone a chance to do something new.

Multiple Paths in the Garden of Agony

It is imperative that you think about multiple paths to the ending. If you only have one in mind, I guarantee that you will have at least of your players do something to knock the whole thing into a cocked hat.

Each character has the seeds of his possible destruction and his own salvation as well. This is the time to explore each of these themes. Some may make it and some may not. This does not necessarily mean what we think it does... a character can survive and yet be a broken man or a character can be destroyed utterly and yet ultimately triumph. Tragedy doesn't necessarily mean tragic.

Each player has made enemies and has tangled with bad people but towards the end the heroes need to stare into the naked face of evil or at least finally have a showdown with those that have come to personify evil for them...And always remember, sometimes evil wins.

You ,as a GM, should sit down and make a list of possible endings to pursue and then slowly but surely start winnowing them out. Some of this can be done with game play, some with logical choices...Sooner or later, the ending will come to you as being inevitable.

The Mortality Warning

Most players figure out that I generally don't like to kill characters. I personally would rather put them through the wringer until they wish they were dead...It's much more fun. But there are times when it should be made extremely clear to players that the possibility still exist and that I'm not afraid of using it. During the climax of a chronicle I generally give out what I call the "Mortality Warning" which is basically a warning that if the players screw up badly then they will probably meet their demise. After all, if the Players go after the really big fish knowing that the GM won't kill him then the whole thing is just a complete ego stroke for them, right?

Loose Ends

As the game begins to draw to a close, it's time to deal with all of those little niggling details. The Mystery that never got solved, the annoying villain who never got caught, the love triangle that never got resolved, the person who left and swore they would return, the courtship that has yet to be consummated, the evil plots left unhatched...

It's time to go through with a weed-whacker and start getting rid of these loose ends. Although some may even survive to plague your gamers for years to come. Two whole chronicles ago, I introduced a serial killer that was never caught by the P.C.'s and today that person is still plaguing the denizens of my game world....But this sort of leftover is rare and generally not recommended. Ends of Campaigns are about closure and you should aim to give it to your gamers.

The Arc

Towards the end of the life of a game, it is necessary to begin making the game almost entirely serial. Every game needs to be one of the last building blocks towards the conclusion. It is at this point when standalones and threads are cast aside and the epic takes center stage. By this point in the chronicle you should know your players well and their characters better. By this point in the chronicle it is very important that your players understand that the end is in sight and that they should make every game session they can manage. Crippling personal emergencies,natural disasters, and Death are the only acceptable excuses because sudden losses of personnel will bring the saga to a grinding halt. It may be necessary to become increasingly autocratic when petty niggling squabbles threaten to derail the game. I recommend beatings.

Also, it's a pretty good idea not to add anything new to your game. The introduction of a new set of table rules is going to cause confusion and possible resentment towards the end of the campaign.

Resist adding any new players to the mix at this juncture as well. No matter how much they beg and plead, no matter how much they whine and pule, no matter how much they flatter you by telling how much they've heard about your game and how cool it is....No matter how much they call you a fascist asshole motherfucker...Don't do it. A new character entering an existing game requires a large investment of time on the part of the Gm and the other players. This is time taken away from focusing on the real story at hand. In a novel you could introduce a new guy in the last 20 pages. It cannot be done in the last 3 game sessions of a chronicle.

Continuations ( or Belgerath Syndrome)

Unless you have grown to utterly hate and despise your fellow gamers, and plan to take up something more soothing like knitting, you should at least try to leave the door open for the possibility of another story. It's entirely up to you whether or not you use the old characters again but I usually council against it. Half the fun of making a game happen involves building the characters. Starting from scratch is one way to go but the other possibilities can be interesting as well.

Campaign: A knight and his companions manages to hold a warring kingdom together and stave off enemy nations. The Knight eventually captures the heart of the fiery strong willed princess and they marry, and live happily ever after.

Sounds pretty good doesn't it. a great place to stop. But your weaselly gamers have wheedled and cozened you into doing the game some more...How to go about it?

Option 1) The next story involves the young prince, maybe he lives in his fathers house, maybe he's been kidnapped by enemies and raised as one of their own, maybe his father the king was deposed or killed and he was spirited away by a kindly (or crafty) noble. This opens the way for the next generation and has the added bonus of enabling you to use the former characters as NPC scenery and plot device.

Option 2) involves the Knight-turned King...Kingship is not exactly an easy job. Heavy is the head that wears the crown especially when assassins manage to claim the life of your queen before she could produce an heir...It's your fault of course, it should have been you....You've taken to extremely strong drink to numb yourself from the pain and in doing so managed to drive away most of your friends in the process....It was almost a relief when the nobles deposed you and elected one of their number as the new king. Now you languish in the king's prison waiting for death to come...Only it doesn't.

This is where the new chronicle begins....You are in your 40's. Time and drink have dulled your skills and robbed you of your former honor. Your adventuring friends have scattered to the four winds to deal with their own problems (which may be just as bad as yours) and you're locked in your own gaol. Your people have forgotten you and everything you've worked for is crumbling away. But maybe....Just maybe you finally see the light. Maybe you've had a visitation from your deity or your dead wife or maybe you finally just got angry enough to do something. So... All you really have to do is escape from prison, elude your pursuers, locate your compatriots, get them to trust you again, hone your skills to a razor edge again, battle your incipient alcoholism, Forge your team into an effective fighting force and take back your goddamn kingdom...Piece of cake...

Hey! Where are you going? Get back here Fuckhead! You said you wanted to be an adventurer! Doesn't that sound like a goddamn adventure?

You see what I'm getting at. Having the King and his best buds ride out to deal with another monster on the horizon just isn't going to cut it as a campaign. The building or rebuilding as the case may be is some of the best stuff.

The Hammer of Destiny

Once you have decided on the course of the end of the game...It's time to start getting specific. In the beginning, the board was neutral and the players were mere pawns. Then the game got interesting and they were promoted to knights and rooks and bishops and now they are kings and queens. The fulcrum around which the entire game turns.

Destiny has spent a lot of time and energy forging the player into useful tools and now all of the debts are coming due. Whereas prophecy used to be very vague, it is now becoming very concrete.

Events that seemed unimportant are now shown to be integral parts of some portent or other. New information is coming in all the time...The court wizards don't like the configuration of the stars for this fall, Seers are going mad and howling your name over and over in every corner of the kingdom. The cards and the I-ching won't tell you anything you don't already know in your heart, and the path ahead is darkness.

You can even predicate an entire campaign around a prophecy. Let's say that the players have a book that contains an ancient prophecy...But they only have part of the book...Or they have a bad translation of the book or the book is written in ciphers which range from easy to unbreakable. Perhaps you might even have a the prophecy be a living animate force like in the David Eddings books or even have the incarnations of destiny become directly involved with the characters but refuse to tell them why. (Pressuring Destiny for answers is not an option. No matter what your players might think. You did issue the mortality warning didn't you?)

Ideally, a prophecy is only figured out before it's almost too late, but it can also be possible for a character to figure something out and then try to counter destiny...With incredibly tragic or comic results. A possible variation on this theme is to have a prophecy that is predicated on seemingly impossible things...And then have the impossible happen. Nobody was more shocked than MacBeth when Birnam Wood "came" to Dunsinane. Pull off something like that well enough and they'll despise you and admire you forever.

Look out for the fickle finger of fate. It'll fuck you every time.

The Denouement

Denouement is a French word which means: "The bit after the exciting bit." This where the heroes say their good-byes and ride of into the sunset... Or at least gather up the pieces of their shattered lives and go home. There is the tendency to try to stretch this out some. Everyone is reluctant to have a good thing end and so this could go on for a good long while if you let it. Try to resist. It's O.K. if you don't actually manage to resist but you should at least try. Plan the last hour of the game to be your Denouement. Don't do it too quickly or slap-dashedly simply because you are tired from running the last big huge combat and then regret it later...Do it right. It is after all, the last hurrah.

However, I caution against having the climax of the game one night and then the Denouement on the very last game session. It just simply does not have the same kind of emotional impetus and if you commit a whole game session to it , it's likely to drag.

Short. Sweet. Tie up the loose ends, and leave em wanting more.


You might think that since you are done with GM'ing a Game that you are finished with all the paperwork I've been heaping on your shoulders..Ha! Guess again buddy.

If you ever plan to do something in that same game world again, Your game has become history and history (and historical record) can take some weird turns. Take some time when the game is over to sit down and create a page that points out all the possible consequences of the players actions (go back as far as you like.) Make a list of those NPC's that have died and whether you plan for them to stay that way, make a list of NPC's who will eventually go on to greater things. Figure out how the various factions and power-blocs will reorganize in the wake of the campaign's climax. And then put it away with the rest of your archives until you are ready to breathe new life into it all.

I'd like to thank all my gamers who made this advice possible and made me realize that there aren't any real endings just new beginnings.

Sono Finito.


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