Ending It All
In previous instalments of this series, we’ve talked a lot about preparing for and starting a new campaign, but we’ve spent no time thinking about how we should end a campaign. Lots of campaigns come to a natural halt either due to participants moving away, a desire to try something new, waning interest or catastrophic in-game events. You shouldn’t assume, however, that your campaign will suffer such a fate but when you start up a campaign it is important to have a good idea of how and when you want it to end.
Normally, in the case of an adventure path or other series of connected modules for example, the campaign has a set endpoint – usually coinciding with the defeat of the threat, the death of the main enemy and so on. Other campaigns have no set goal, consisting merely of a vaguely-linked series of adventures. Often at the start of the campaign the players will only have a vague sense of the endgame. You should, however, provide them with a rough idea of how long the campaign will last in real time and what level you are expecting them to reach at the end. This crucial information enables players to make certain that their own schedules can accommodate the campaign and also allows them to plan and customise their character concepts so that they fit within the scope of the campaign.
Beyond these in-game reasons, logistical factors also come into play, which make it useful for people to know the rough end date of a campaign. It’s good for everyone to know that the end of a campaign is approaching; it allows them to start planning their new character concept and also enables the GM (or the new GM) to start planning the new campaign.
Sometimes the end of the campaign does not have to be the end of the campaign. Perhaps the GM needs to take a break or some of the participants are away at school or on extended holiday. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from a campaign and trying something new for a bit. A pause can sometime reenergise a faltering campaign.
The Fade Ending
Sometimes it becomes obvious that a campaign is slowly dying. People move away, lots of characters die or the players (or GM) simply fancy a change. It’s obviously pointless to keep playing if enjoyment levels are waning and a GM should be courageous enough to accept that. Sometimes “hitting pause” works, but if this fails it’s best to move on and try something new (after all new books and options will inevitably be available by then!)
The “Oops” Ending
Another aspect to consider when pondering the end of the campaign is what to do about character death. Character death is an inevitable part of the game but sometimes a character’s death can have serious consequences to the storyline. A GM should thus give serious thought about how to handle such events. This is such an important potential consequence of the game that the GM should decide on his strategy before the campaign actually begins. Is he going to gloss over death and make resurrection or the like very easy to get hold of? Must a player start a new character and if so at what level? What happens if more than one PC dies or even if the PCs suffer a dreaded TPK?
At the end of the day, nothing lasts forever. The end of a campaign shouldn’t be dreaded, but rather embraced. Hopefully, if things go well the PCs defeat the big baddie, found a kingdom or do something else epic. Even if things go wrong, it doesn’t mean the campaign was a failure. Likely, everyone has had weeks, months or years of fun and will remember the events for years to come (and will leap at a chance for revenge if that villain ever turns up again!)