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

Shiroiken

Legend
The key to a successful campaign conclusion is the story. My first 5E campaign started with the party investigating some bandits, leading ultimately to a showdown against Lolth in the Demonweb Pits. Everyone enjoyed it, and with an epilogue to wrap things up, the story was complete. My latest campaign ended at much lower level, but with a similar story wrap up. Both were left open, allowing me to revist them if desired, but their original story is complete.
 

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payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
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.
It really isnt. I think players should consider this for their GMs too. The ideal state is a satisfying end for both. I think clear communication from beginning to end helps deliver that outcome.
What do you think is key to creating a satisfying ending?
Less focus on a penultimate fight and more focus on payoff for all the work the players did throughout the campaign. As corny as it sounds, it's about the journey, not the destination.
And what are your stories of (un)satisfying campaign endings?
I completed 5 APs as a GM during the PF1 era. (didnt complete a good number of them as a player). We got into a groove where completing the adventure was satisfying by getting through it. The unsatisfying part was usually high level feeling a bit long in the tooth and folks anxious to start a new PC in a new adventure. It took a lot of work on my part to adapt the APs to the players and their interests.

In games where they failed to complete it was usually a combination of system burnout, dislike of high level, and/or the GM trying to run the adventure page for page. Low energy and enthusiasm shows at the table and has a cascading effect on the satisfaction of not just the ending, but the entire campaign. I fully understand how difficult it is to manage the ups and downs of that. I just got an iron will when it comes to campaign play I guess.
 

delericho

Legend
I try to make that last session (or few sessions) a microcosm of the campaign as a whole - whatever the premise of the campaign was, that happens again. (So, you're lost in Ravenloft being played with by the Dark Powers, so in the last session you get trapped in an even more constrained realm, and toyed with by the Dark Powers. Or whatever.) Also, try to include something for each of the PCs - give everyone their moment to shine.

Additionally, I make it clear to the players that death is most definitely on the line, and indeed that resurrection afterwards may not be an option - the dice will fall as they may, and the stakes are as real as we can make them.

And, lastly, once the PCs have (hopefully) emerged victorious, provide a small epilogue for each of the PCs, with extensive input from the players, talking about what further adventures they have, or how they retire to open an inn from which to inspire future adventurers, or whatever it is that they choose to do.

Then say... "The End."
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
And, lastly, once the PCs have (hopefully) emerged victorious, provide a small epilogue for each of the PCs, with extensive input from the players, talking about what further adventures they have, or how they retire to open an inn from which to inspire future adventurers, or whatever it is that they choose to do.

Then say... "The End."
Character epilogues are always my go-to once the final battle / scene / event occurs as well. Let the players make a few statements on what they think happens to their PC after the finale, I throw in some extra embelishments here or there that perhaps make them end up more important in the land that they might have suggested for themselves (as their final "treasure" for playing), and then a nice quick summation and end.
 

Incenjucar

Legend
My 6-year 1-30 4E campaign ended with the death of the big bad and the freeing of the sun and moon deities that were his parents, and all the worlds his undead minions had conquered, but the damage of two upper planes being slammed together persisted, so as the sun set on the campaign the players sailed off to explore the exciting new opportunities and challenges of the recovering cosmos with their planejammer pirate fleet.
 

teitan

Legend
To be honest, while my previous answer was a joke, we tend to a more old style of play where there isn't an endgame and the story is more about the players than anything I write. I create scenarios, a page or three will lead to several months of adventures for us as I riff off the players and read the room. I find I get less frustrated, less straight jacketed and they've found that the anything goes fun, especially since I can easily riff on almost anything they do. Long term they retire and new PCs come in. Or T.P.K., whatevs.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I like an open ended ending with the option for returning to these characters. So not every single thing is tied up, but we can imagine these characters maybe going their own way to follow up their own agendas with a promise to reunite someday (or perhaps more dramatically, never see each other again! - with the meta-knowledge that someday the world may call on them again despite their enmity! ;) )

I ended my Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign right after they completed the Final Enemy (3 years in real time), but we plan/hope to return to these character after a year's time has passed (in-game) and in the meantime started a new campaign somewhere else in the setting which may take several years.

I ended my Out of the Frying Pan campaign after five years with characters going their separate ways after the central concern had been resolved, following after the hooks that were never pursued in the midst of the campaign. For that game we actually had a pair of reunion sessions involving hunting a dragon about a year later.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
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?
Wow that's a lot of sessions. Way to go!

Reflecting back, I think the key for me was caring about what hooked each player, and prioritizing understanding why they joined the table to begin with. Not in the superficial "Bob's my uncle" way, but what's unique about their connection to role-playing games. The "player type" stuff in the front of the 5e DMG is like the gateway into the deeper stuff I'm talking about.
 

GrimCo

Adventurer
To be perfectly honest, most of campaigns i played or DMed never did reach any conclusion, they just fizzled out because we either got bored or life happened.

Our long spanning campaign that stared more than a decade ago reached kind of end. Cleric became Pope, fighter got to restore his old martial order, Bard hung op his lute and retired to small village with his paramour, my wizard became Archmage and head of Abjuration school. We managed to achieve something like Pax Romana in the realm that started with both civil war and double invasion. DM does have prepared next big adventure for those characters ( we are level 12 now). But that will wait for some better times (as in, not for at least 3-4 years).

Since i run Ravenloft/CoC hybrid, decent amount of games end with tpk. Sometimes they die by monsters hand, sometimes they off themselves in desperation. Other times, they go insane. It's just the vibe of the game, but those are "campaigns" lasting maybe 10 sessions at best ( by design since until recently we played once a month).
 

Wow that's a lot of sessions. Way to go!

Reflecting back, I think the key for me was caring about what hooked each player, and prioritizing understanding why they joined the table to begin with. Not in the superficial "Bob's my uncle" way, but what's unique about their connection to role-playing games. The "player type" stuff in the front of the 5e DMG is like the gateway into the deeper stuff I'm talking about.
Thank you! I take the same approach as you in crafting a campaign. But specifically with endings -- the last 1 to 3 sessions that should be the climax of the story -- I am a nervous wreck. So hard to get right. For me, anyway.
 

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