Monday, May 19, 2014

How do you know when a campaign is over?

It's a simple but big question. How do you know when to put the characters down and fold up the GM screen and move on to a new game?

This is generally a harder question for fans of open-ended games than folks like, say, Bill Stoddard, who routinely run games with an arc of play and an end point.

But how do you know it's over barring a TPK that derails the game and ends interest in picking it back up?*

I know back in my elementary school/high school AD&D days, it was over after Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits. No campaign end party or anything. No plan. But that was the highest level module we had and if you beat it, we pretty much didn't have anything more to put in front of you. PCs made the occasional comeback, but even the one time we played the Q1 vets from one game it was in the elf-world behind one of the gates in Q1. It was a campaign ending finale.

Otherwise, we played until PCs died off or players moved on from lack of interest.

My later games sometimes had a clear end goal, but they were rarely met. The games still ended either from a TPK or a near TPK and a lack of interest in playing any further. My pirate game ended when the PCs got a ship and escaped, and while we talked about running a ship-based pirate game we'd had our fun in the "bust out of captivity and escape to freedom!" campaign.

My DF game, by design, can wrap up whenever we want to. It's pickup basketball, not a league with a championship game at the end. I have ideas on potential cool stopping points, but it's not meant to go out with a bang but just go on until we get bored.

Still it's hard to say for me when an open-ended campaign should end without a TPK. I can plan for it, but it's hard to set an end-point unless the game has a strong story to it, even if that story is just "get to power level X and do Y or establish in-game thing Z."

How about you guys? When do you know you've gotten the fun out of it and it should be put down?

* No, I am not saying all TPKs end games. I'm talking about the ones that do end the game as everyone says, that was fun, but let's start over with something else.


  1. The ends have to be tied up. All of them - except the occassional "I'm living this open to come back to it later maybe." Endings are hard. I once had a campaign where I it ended after one of the player character committed suicide to get his friends to believe him about a worked, but the game ended with the character's mourning their dead friend and wondering what they could have done to prevent it.

  2. My group's long term games usually reach an ending point for a story arc, and then go on hiatus. They may or may not be picked up again, depending on interest. There's usually another story to tell, but not everyone wants to participate.

    "Short" games (we're on session six of a 1-shot...) go until they reach their natural conclusion and stop. They tend to be more tightly scripted with less loose ends and plot hooks.

    1. I rarely have story arcs, which is probably why that happens. The pirate game did - it ended when they nabbed a ship, and it would have been easy to re-start from that point on. But mostly if my games seem to wrap up, they end, and otherwise it's a long-haul game.

  3. This is completely unhelpful, but thinking back, I'm sad to realize that almost all the campaigns I've been involved with have ended due to logistical reasons, rather than for plot reasons. The GM moves away; a key player gets a new job and can't come anymore; and so on.

    There have been a few honourable exceptions, though. The best was an alternate WWII campaign that ended very appropriately when we killed Hitler and stopped the war. It was a weekly game, and the following week we went right into a new campaign, with new characters in the same universe, but 10 years later. Great fun.

    I've also been involved in one campaign with a deliberately limited run: the GM was in town for 3 months, and then had to leave, so he planned the whole story arc out accordingly, with a climax in the last week before he flew away. Much fun had all around.

  4. My games all have a definite end planned out.

    Even when the campaign is on pause because players have left or cant play I still consider it unfinished until we reach that point.

  5. Even in my "open ended" games, there tends to be big "finale" events. These tend to end with a bit of a resolution, but also with more to do... but at the time the group usually evaluates if they want to continue on or do something new. Sometimes that is decided before the end, but the result is the same.


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