Two years of blood, sweat, and tears invested in one campaign can make for a fantastic story, but you know what they say about “all good things.” Today, we look some ways of using the last session to give a beloved adventure the proper send-off it deserves.
Dear DovahQueen: So, I have been GM’ing Rise of the Runelords for about 18 months now, and I expect to finish up the campaign within the next few months, late January to early February. What I am struggling with is how to make the end of the campaign memorable. I’m not just talking about ending Rise – I have the book, I’ve read through it, I know how the final battles will go. What I would love your advice on is how to sum up over 2 years worth of adventuring, remembering the good times, and then packing everything up to “put it on the shelf.” I’ve read a lot of advice, some even from you, on how to make the start of a campaign memorable, but how do we sum everything up at the end? Thanks.—Game-ender
Dear Hold On, Was That an Ender’s Game Pun? Nice: First and foremost, congratulations on making it to the successful end of a campaign. I think in my nearly two decades of play, I’ve only been fortunate enough to see a handful of stories from start to finish. Sometimes, it’s just too hard to keep everyone’s schedules aligned for that long. So hat’s off to you and your party. After two years of drama, fights, friends, foes, triumphs, and defeats, I think a proper send-off is kinda mandatory. After the final encounter, ending with “Ok, the BBG lays dead and you’re staring down the barrels of ‘happily ever after.’ What do you wanna play next?” would really cheapen the shared experience. Because of our nature, as humans, things tend to become less memorable as they become more routine. Therefore I think that, perhaps obviously, the best way to make your last session more memorable—and thus the whole campaign in retrospect—is by coming up with ways to be ‘extra’ about it.
I want to start with what I think is the easiest thing you can add to the session. Sure, it’s likely a rare game-day where food, snacks, and drinks aren’t in some way involved, but this isn’t a regular game-day. This is *the* game-day. If you can, go all out. Order like three pizzas, get one of those giant cookie-cakes from the grocery, buy those fancy sodas that come in glass bottles, etc… You know, that stuff. You even could, and probably should, ask your players to bring something just a little bit more fancy than usual. Make it a right and proper party. Sometimes money to buy a bunch of sugary, crunchy garbage isn’t there; consider going the potluck route. Everyone could make, bake, or bring something special to the game instead. Having that little bit of extra effort put into the real-world setting should go a long way towards making the night standout.
Let me start the next suggestion with a question: how much do you use music and ambiance in your game? ‘Levels of audio’ are my go-to anytime I need something at my table to feel a certain way. Since we’re specifically talking about one session here, I’ll summarize real briefly. I use three different ‘levels of audio.’ At the base, I have general, non-musical ambiance. This includes town sounds, swamp noises, rain, wind, etc…, and I have something at this level going in every ‘normal’ scene. When something special is happening, I use music without lyrics that I’ve carefully selected because it has the tone for the scene. Finally, when I want my players to feel the importance and remember a particular scene forever, I’ll use a song with lyrics. I could talk about tabletop audio all day so I better keep this brief. Think about some of the critical fights and scenes coming up in Runelords. Then, go on Youtube and see if you can’t find something that you feel would accent those moments quite well. Personally, I like to start by searching for acoustic versions of songs that I think might work, but YMMV. Having some audio ready to go during the final moments could be just the kick you’re looking for.
So far I’ve only been talking about stuff you can do outside of game because I honestly think that’s the easiest way to have the most impact. Food and music are sometimes seen as a distraction at the table, and if that’s you guys, they’re likely gonna be more difficult to consider. In game, you just gotta write something damn good; there’s no way around it. Consider being ready with at least these two things: accolades for the party of heroes immediately after victory in an appropriate manner, and the generalized accomplishments they go on to achieve as individuals. Right after achieving victory, have a feast or something held by the town in honor of the heroes, and don’t just declare that a feast happened—sure them. Instruct the PC’s to find their seats while notable NPC’s talk their turns sharing some of their favorite exploits that the party is known for. Really ham it up too. Sidenote: if you were able to hold a real-life feast for this session, this works even better. Now, I get that talking about what the characters go on to do later in life feels a bit like the ending of a cheesy 90’s movie, but there’s something special about having your character’s “badassitude” wholly and unabashedly recognized. I think writing one solid paragraph per character to read for them outta be enough.
Depending on how much time you and energy you have to invest into this final session, you might not be able to make all three of these ideas happen, and that’s ok. Honestly, doing anything above and beyond their expectation is going to make it a night they won’t soon forget. I didn’t even talk about props or parting gifts. Think about what works best for you and figure how you could implement it.
Or you could always go with “Rocks fall; everyone dies.” Just saying.
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