How to end a campaign?
Itís a great question and one too often overlooked in GM advice. A great ending is often what makes a campaign most memorable!
First, as the end nears make a list of all open plot points. A satisfying ending wraps all (or at least most) of them up. A dropped plot point is likely to frustrate players. Plan ahead and avoid that pitfall. You donít have to come up with this list entirely on your own. Ask your players a session or two before (if you can). What do they really want to resolve? If there is a plot point no one mentions that you think is important, well Ö maybe itís not.
Second, consider is there anything the PCs donít know about the villain or the plot that you wish them to know Ė this is your last chance to hand out information! Remember, villains love to gloat.
Third, the ending should be unique and special. If the PCs have been fighting in cavern after cavern Ö consider the ending scene being out in the woods. Shake things up. Throw in a gigantic battle scene. Shake the pillars of heaven! If you can't go all out at the end of the story, when can you?
Fourth, good endings are often surprising. If the PCs think just because they have the magical MacGuffin they need to slay the Dragon that all is going to go smoothly, well, think again. What about a twist? What if the dragon is already slain by a more powerful foe who needs the MacGuffin for his own twisted purposes? ďYouíve done me a great favor by bring it here. Now hand it over and you donít have to die like all your pitiful friends!Ē A twist at the end is not essential but it is can be a very potent option and one you should consider.
Five, endings have consequences. Alas, after the ending, things will never be the same. Whether for good or ill, the ending of your campaign should change the world in some way.
Six, steal steal steal. Remember that movie or that novel with that ending you really loved? Steal it. Adapt it Ė sure. Put your own spin on it. But steal it. Why reinvent the wheel? The world of fiction is full of great endings. And donít restrict your stealing to fantasy and sci-fi. Read some Louis Líamour novels. They are quick, delightful western adventure tales (mostly) and that man really knew how to write a powerful ending. Some of the best endings are actually adaptions taken from another genre.
Seven, the next time you put together a campaign Ö why not think about the ending first? Think about what would make a really powerful, interesting, compelling ending and make a campaign that works toward it. Employ literary devices like foreshadowing. Have one of the characters be haunted by visions of some terrible calamity that looks like the end of the world but maybe just maybe really isnít.
Ending well is no easy feat. Just ask all the movie makers and writers who have failed to accomplish it. But when it works ... it's magic.
"The end of a melody is not its goal: but nonetheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable."