Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Endings are hard. Difficult. Troublesome. Published scenarios have them. Storytellers are meant to provide them. The role of a good ending is myriad. A sense of closure. A final rising pitch of tension before it plummets into the Aftermath. A chance for the protagonists to really make a difference. The resolution to all that had come before it. Tricky beasts, endings.

I've always had trouble with them. Perhaps that's why I design episodic campaigns and end up with sandboxes. Oftentimes I'll craft an adventure and leave the ending open for the players to come to their own conclusions. That can work, sometimes, but if you have no clue about a potential ending than you can't guide confused players in that direction when they're stumped. You also run the risk of providing an adventure that just can't end ... or at least can't end well.

Perhaps there's no lead to the final Big Bad. Perhaps there's no way to stop the Big Bad. Perhaps the players end up in a big frustrating stone room with no feasible way out. It can happen.

So what makes for a good ending? What makes for a bad one? And what are some of the possibilities for the endings anyway?

This is the subject of my new weekly series.

Elements of a Satisfying Conclusion.
Elements of a Frustrating End.
Cultivating a Decent Default Ending.
Following the Path to its Rightful Conclusion.
Endless Possibilities.

Tune in next week to see the first in this series!


  1. I'm very torn about endings, and I tend to see having a *set* ending in mind as being a potentially massive source of problems (for a good example, see Arthur's recent set of Deathwatch posts - that scenario was designed with a very specific ending in mind, and seemed to completely stonewall any PC actions that might have changed the ending).

    The closest I ever get to having a real "ending" in mind is if the game involves the players trying to achieve a specific task, at which point the ending is "the players succeed or fail at this task."

    Certainly I don't like having a specific final "scene" in mind because I find that can very easily lead to railroading. I've read far too many pregenerated scenarios where, for example, the game assumes that the players will confront the villain in their lair, and therefore the villain will *never leave their lair*, even if they're an ordinary person living in the modern world, who presumably needs to buy food.

  2. Pre-generated scenarios function a little differently as they often lead inexorably to their conclusion and the adventure is crafted around it. What I'm talking about is how to craft possible endings and the sorts of things you can bear in mind as you go along to craft an off the cuff ending.

    Funnily enough, a few of those articles, especially 'Following the Path to its Rightful Conclusion' and 'Elements of a Frustrating End' will talk a bit about the perils of railroading or an unchangeable ending.

    After all, the way I see it the players lay the path of the story through their actions, reactions, and assumptions - not the Storyteller. If the ending is off the path than it hasn't taken into account the players' efforts.

    Its like if the players actions all lead up to a Talk Down Confrontation where the characters are well set up to try and talk down an antagonist, the players believe it will work, they've researched it, the story seems to signpost it as a viable option ... then you've gone off the path if you steadfastly refuse to let anything resolve it except the Golden Crucifix which was largely ignored before now.

  3. I don't have specific final scenes in mind, and I always try to be flexible. The Terror Out of Time had a likely setting and circumstance for the final confrontation, but even that wasn't fixed and could have turned out differently had the players changed things. While the final encounter there turned out very much like I had anticipated, it played out in ways I hadn't expected, and I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of an NPC, the cultists were planning to sacrifice a PC who had managed to get himself captured, which worked out even better. The confrontation with the cultists went very badly for the investigators due to their poor tactical decisions (i.e., rushing in and opening fire), but certain complexities allowed them to survive and for something to happen that would even the odds later, thanks to something they had done right earlier.

    It wasn't a given that the cultists would succeed in summoning the Big Nasty, so the adventure could have ended without that. They did end up succeeding, but in an unusual way (the investigators rescued their fellow PC, but the cult leader sacrificed a gravely wounded cultist instead before anyone took him down). Even so, there were a number of ways the scenario could have ended, including the possibility of the Big Nasty winning. There was an optimal solution, and the investigators' earlier research had uncovered all of the pieces, but they could not put them together and the researcher critically failed her Idea roll, so no help there. There was a less than optimal solution that would have worked with consequences, but either they didn't think of that too or thought it would be a bad idea. The investigators instead did something I hadn't expected, a solution that was less optimal still but cooler than anything I had envisioned and leaves the door open for something else awesome to happen in the future - or in the past.

    The Ninth Planet doesn't have a fixed ending or a planned final scene, though I have a cool epilogue scene in mind that doesn't involve the PCs in the event that they fail. This adventure is very player-driven and could go off in any of numerous directions. The endgame that's unfolding now is something I had never expected, but thanks to player actions and some help from the dice, is a lot cooler and deeper than anything that had occurred to me. It could still end in a number of different ways.

    The Shadow Over Dunwich also won't have a specific ending, though there is a likely endgame sequence that will probably play out if things go roughly as expected. Of course, most of this adventure hasn't even been written yet, but I have the flow of the scenario in my mind.

    Zombie Apocalypse doesn't have a fixed endpoint and was never intended to have one (unless there's a TPK, which is unlikely at this point with everyone spread out). It can just go on and on forever, with new adventures and terrors for the beleaguered survivors.

    Space Oddity is highly improvised, so there's nothing even approaching a fixed ending. I have no idea how it will end, but I think there will ultimately be a choice that the investigator from 2009 will have to make in the end that will determine his fate.