Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A DM's Dilemma: Dealing With Deadlines

The end of the school year. The end of summer. The end of that amazing institution known as unemployment. What do these things have in common? Potentially, a swift end to your tabletop game. Obviously, every so often an end to a campaign comes suddenly and without warning, but when a Dungeon Masterdoes has time to prepare, or there is a clear dead end to the game in the future, there are some steps any Dungeon Master can take to ensure their game ends on a good note.

1. Tell Your Players

If you're moving away at the end of the summer, there's no reason to keep this from your players. It will keep your players focused (especially towards the end) and hopefully help them try to enjoy each session more, knowing that the campaign will indeed be ending.

2. Stick To Commitments

Canceling sessions, or calling games early - while sometimes unavoidable - may make your players more upset the normal if they know you only have a limited number of sessions left. Plan ahead. If you have to cancel a session, do it a decent deal of time in advance and not last minute.

3. Remove the Excess

Random encounters? Who needs em! Not you! You have plot! Juicy juicy plot! Anyways... If your using a published adventure, look ahead for encounters that are just there to be there. Regardless of what game you are playing, combat generally takes the longest. If you're working on budgeted time, every fight should have a purpose and/or advance the story. If you're using a homebrewed adventure, put that random encounter table away!

Remember, when the campaign finishes, your players won't be thinking back to the more or less senseless battle with the orc bandits. I'm not saying random encounters are bad, but when working with a deadline you should weigh the value of each to your game before throwing them in there.

4. Keep Things Exciting

When you're running a short campaign, it's important to pack a lot of enjoyment into each session. The best way to do this is to find out what your players will enjoy and making sure that they're enjoying your short time together. Keep lines of communication open with your players and get regular feedback from them.

This is especially important when your campaign is coming to an end. If you have to end a campaign early or cut our some extraneous side plots it's key to let players finish the plots they are interested in - not necessarily the ones you are.

If they really want to track down the thieves guild that got in their way during the first couple sessions, even though that plot's all over, make sure they get the chance to do that. Prioritizing what your players are interested in will maximize their enjoyment and ensure that they get what they want out of the campaign.

5. Closure is Key

Even if you can't end a campaign the way you, or the adventure's author, previously imagined, you need to give your players an ending. Obviously, if you're not sure which session will be your last, this is impossible. If you do have the final day planned however, plan as far in advance as you can to make the ending a good one.

If you won't be playing with the group again or for a very long time, try to steer clear of cliffhangers and give your players some proper closure. Let them kill the villains, hand out some titles/prestige, and tie up any loose ends.

Giving them a dragon's horde worth of treasure isn't suggested, and in fact I'd warn against it. Treasure at the very tail end of any campaign is generally a bad idea because your players will be sad they don't get a chance to make use of it. At the end of a shorter campaign it's especially good to avoid since you last session shouldn't be bogged down with treasure identification.

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In the end, if you have enough preparation for the end of a campaign, keep your players in the loop, give forward thought to each session to maximize player, and plan out your ending, even short-lived campaigns can be enjoyable and stress-free!


Bonemaster said...

I have to say these seem to be spot on. As they say in business; Communication, Communication, Communication!

Storyteller said...

@ Bonemaster - Thanks! Having played a lot of games at college I've had to deal with deadlines a lot. Communication is definitely key. Thanks for the comment!