362 The End Is Near

What are the Up and Down sides to knowing when a campaign is going to end?

“Well… this is the last session so…”

“We only have X more sessions”

Does any of this impact how we plan, play, run?


We have a standing rotation of GMs in our group of 6. (We play every Monday night. We used to play at a Alesmith in San Diego, but since COVID we went online and now two of our players are in a different time zone.) Each person gets 9-12 sessions at a time and we generally run different worlds/games, though sometimes we cross over. When it gets back to your turn as GM you can pick up where you left off or start something else. So … yes it affects us greatly. When we are playing in a sandbox setting, it usually means letting threads emerge for 8 or so sessions and then looking ahead to see how we might achieve closure. If it’s a more structured campaign idea, we might define the end goal up front - like we are trying to get through a specific module or we need to collect one of the three shards of an ancient staff, and we all work toward that point.



In the campaigns I run, there is always smaller story arcs I call chapters. These can be everything from defeating a big-bad to non-combat like discovering a lost city. I never tell the players how close they are to the end of the chapter to avoid the metagaming aspect you discussed. They will obviously know the end is near but not exactly when.

At the end of each chapter, we discuss if they want to continue the campaign an start the next chapter or retire and start another campaign. This way I avoid the never ending campaign while still leaving the option to continue in a world the players are really digging.

I don’t think this is a unique idea but thought might still be interesting to add to the discussion.


Over the years, I have mostly DM’d campaigns that last weekly or bi-weekly for 1-3 years. Not because a specific time frame had been placed on them, just because that’s what my group always did. I’m lucky to have a bunch of players that always end up loving their characters and want to see how they deal with the next situation they are placed in. Some times they will spend multiple sessions in a village instead of adventuring. Other times they will follow the action all over the map.

I think not setting a structured “end” to an adventure or campaign helps with player immersion. I don’t want them to feel like they have to check off all of the boxes before the movie ends. Don’t get me wrong, I love to build stress and tension with a clock ticking down for an event, but that type of time constraint encourages a different type of desperation for the characters. Usually not reckless abandon.

So you ask, don’t you want to play other games and create more campaigns? Of course I do, but if my group is enjoying themselves and don’t want the dream to end, so be it.

Now back on track. I’ve played a few 1-shots lately and it definitely causes me to equip my character different and not play as instinctively as I am used to. I’m not so sure myself that I want to see the sand in the hourglass deplete that fast.

So how about an “adventure”, 3-8 or 7-13 sessions? I think this is enough time to grow the character of my character and play in wonderment, yearning for the next interesting experience. I need to know that there is a possible tomorrow for my character therefore his/her choices will matter and affect their future.

Or…set session limits and schedule the end.

If everyone talks about the game for months and the inside jokes live on, it was done right.:grin:

Feelin Good about Not Knowing When


I see you’re interested in my Conan: Beowulf game next year. But maybe I can entice you into Against the Darkmaster too.

My intention with these offerings is to address a shortcoming that many in the Gaming Moot have pointed out: one-shots, particularly for more mechanically complex games, don’t provide full enough experiences. So we’re trying out “short campaigns,” which many of us are defining as 3-5 sessions of length, or a full, robust “adventure.” But, as you mention here, in my two offerings for next year, I’ll certainly invite players to try just a little bit more, if people are up for it.

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@Gabe I’m definitely interested in both games. I have ordered the rulesets and can’t wait to dive in. If the stars align, I should be able play at least one of them. I’m sure I’ll be hitting you up with comments and questions real soon. Thanks

Yikes! You ordered the rooools?

I always feel self-conscious if I’m indirectly the cause of a game being purchased. I hope you like them!

Another great podcast subject. The End is Near, or how to wrap up a a game is something I have been thinking about. But the real dilemma is not when it happens, but how it happens. The “when” plays into it for sure. Those who liked the game will be sad those who don’t will be excited to move on. Let alone a regular adventure which is hard enough to wrap up, but against that backdrop the job is just plain tough.

As a GM I want to leave a campaign on a high note. Don’t we all want to make that last night memorable and satisfying. Of course we do, but they rarely are.

To this point, I have found that the most memorable moments in games are rarely the last night of a campaign. Generally, they fall into two categories: dumb luck and inspired moments of roll play. That is the stuff of legend, not the campaign’s denouement.

Yes, occasionally things like this happen at the end of a campaign, but in my experience not often. Why do I care, well I want to wrap up the story in satisfying way. Not completing it is just… unsatisfying. It can be story-booked, but that is rarely memorable. And how do you do that without the players losing agency? To reintegrate what I said earlier, endings are tough! Why?

For better or worse we compare TTRPG’s to books, movies and tv shows. And clearly they are not that, but we still try to force them into that box. It would be like trying to hold an improv group to that standard which would be lunacy.

Now, lets look at that metric. How many books, movies and tv shows have that
“Satisfying ending?” Not many. Another way of looking at that is how many “great” shows don’t stick that landing. Battlestar Galactica, Lost and and every Anita Blake book I read. Well, until they became something else. But that’s another issue.

Wrapping up a long running campaign well is tough! If I am being truthful most campaigns I ran faded or were abandoned. Which has left worlds of unfinished business. Many are the grand sweeping stories that I have tried to tell that were never realized. Oh, well. I think the question is really “how to” wrap a campaign well. For the first time in years am running different 3 games and I hope when their time comes I can solve this elusive problem. Of course this might only my problem, which is a definite possibility.


@Gabe please do not feel responsible for my spending habits. I WAS going to purchase more RPG books (it’s kinda what I do). You just helped steer me to which ones. Especially don’t worry if I will like it as much as you. I definitely will not toss your 2 cents back at you. I would much rather buy a book (good or bad) that someone else is reading so I can have an active discussion about it. When I’m the only person I know reading a particular book, my family starts to think I’m a little crazy when I start grumbling and debating out loud with myself the significance of what rules I was reading.

I am a strong believer that the only way you will know what you don’t like is by actually experiencing the bad stuff. i.e. books, movies, cereal, games. But more importantly, you will realize how much more you enjoy the things you like, if you are aware of what you don’t.

So, don’t worry about me. Just be prepared for some riveting discussions about these rotten apples you tricked me into buying. :wink:

Feelin’ Good about Not Feelin’ Good About Things

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When it comes time to dissect VsD, we have to be sure to get @Harrigan involved. He keeps his knives sharp for any Rolemaster or d100 derivative.


@Gabe , and so it begins…

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I haven’t finished this episode yet, but Brett’s poo-pooing of endings got me thinking of my own take on this subject. (If this were a place where bad language was used, I’d say he was shitting all over it but that kind of fucking horseshit ain’t happening here.)

I’ve run a long campaign before and ran it like I had all the time in the world to wrap it up. After three years, a player moved to another part of the country before online play was a valid (or known) option. We had to stop cold. Two years later, we had a chance to reunite for a weekend to wrap up the campaign. What would probably have taken another year for me to wrap up “neatly” now had to close “messy.” Somehow, we were able to pull off one helluva ending but I’ve always considered lucky more than fortunate to have finished it.

Which is why I like knowing when the end is or should be coming because it helps stay on pace for what we want in our story. It helps control tangents like a faucet. Leave it open too long and now you’re wasting water. If the majority of the table feels like an ending works here, you don’t exactly want another player looking at the map going “What’s that over there and how many days until we can reach it?”

For me, I started using a scene currency that lets players buy into a scene and help set the goals for the scene and how it will benefit their character. For example, a player spends a scene point and wants to find out where their suspect is hiding so they can go get him. Once everyone has spent all their scene points, we have an epic scene to close out the act. Since I prefer to run my games in three acts, it let’s us all know when it’s time to stop going on tangents or try new ideas and start wrapping up storylines, kids. If we want longer acts, we use more scene points. For writers table games, this approach has worked well for me and I plan to use it in some of my designs moving forward.

Because I look at this kind of meta-knowledge (yes, I agree with that) as a piece of meta we’re already subconsciously using when we play. Like knowing the odds when you hear the difficulty number. It helps you make an informed decision rather than be the map guy who finds out the group took a vote during their last bathroom break. Knowing when the end is coming allows you to prep for the end rather than stumble into it or worse trip on it.

My regular group, now on hiatus after playing weekly and then biweekly for a couple of years straight, is a a rotating group of GMs. We always know approximately how long the games will last – a one-shot, a few sessions, 6-10 sessions, that sort of thing. That group just wasn’t doing long-form play… but even in ongoing games, I don’t mind at all knowing that we’re planning X number of sessions before we wrap it up. Several of my games (Delta Green, Rad Hack, Vaesen) are on the shelf after a number of sessions, but I can pull them off again when the time is right…