D&D General DMs...How do you end a campaign in a satisfying way?

Last week I ended a campaign. It was the second long term 5E campaign that I've ended. The first campaign was 122 sessions and took the PCs to 20th level and 7 epic boons. The end was satisfying in that none of us had actually completed a 20th level campaign. The climax was a rather turgid fight with Tiamat in Celestia. It was MOAR EPIC but not particularly great. This last campaign was 60 sessions spanning 12 levels. The end was both more satisfying and more intimate--the characters drew from the Deck of Many Things. We let the cards fall where they may.

As the end of both campaigns approached, I was increasingly anxious. Unlike a novel, you can't script the ending of a campaign. The narrative isn't entirely in your hands.

What do you think is key to creating a satisfying ending?

And what are your stories of (un)satisfying campaign endings?
 

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aco175

Legend
I have had a few campaigns end where I thought they would end with the BBEG killed and the town or kingdom saved. There were celebrations and songs singing the PCs names along with statues being commissioned to them. Then the players say they want to continue. The campaign lasts a few more weeks of floundering around since there is no bigger big bad and I'm trying to make something happen. Eventually they end when a player or two wants to start something new.
 



iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I find the key to a satisfying ending is thinking about the end before you even begin. In particular, how much real time (hours, sessions, weeks, months, etc.) you need to get through it. Then line that up with reality of the group's schedules and preferences to see if it is feasible. Err on the side of keeping it shorter. Whatever it landed upon, assess the prep needed and allot time for that. Then get to work. Everything else will fall into place. And when you start getting close to the predetermined real time limit, start looking for opportunities that get you to a satsifying conclusion based on the emergent play so far.

It's the campaigns that fizzle out that are the least satisfying in my view and that's almost always due to the DM not considering real time in my experience. I'd rather leave them wanting more than have it sort of just go away because it goes too long.
 

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I ended a campaign with a fight against a warlock the players had been hunting who was trying to absorb the power of a sleeping elder dragon (basically just a step below a god), the defeated the warlock and then the elder dragon woke up. That's how it ended,, how has the world changed, has that dragon sought out the rest of the dragon elders put to sleep beneath the earth by the gods? Who can say, at least who can say until we start playing again.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Usually they kinda wind down around 7-12.

Covid killed the last few due to lockdowns.

Hmmnn haven't actually ended a game naturally since 2017 at least. 2018 took a break, 2019 one Covid got it and the next one.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Believe me, I'm still working on this one. I've got stuff planned. Strings that have been pulled from nearly the beginning. Dangers resolving slowly, pushing toward inevitable points of no return. Etc. I pray that, in the end, it will be enough.
 

TheSword

Legend
At the end of Curse of the Crimson Throne my character drew the Throne card from the deck of many things and became the new king of Khorvosa. Which was a weirdly coincidental and appropriate ending.

When we ran Way of the Wicked the party won and tore down the old kingdom of Talingard reshaping it to evil. But then turned on each other. We didn’t run this as combat, we had a closing segment where the PCs narrated what happened like an epilogue. It worked really well and wasn’t a happy ever after!
 


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