I just finished watching the mid season finale of a TV series that I like, and…
It made me think about all of the various rpg campaigns that we never exactly got to finish. I’m sure a lot of players and GMs can relate to this. Entire campaigns come to a screaming halt due to family emergencies, people moving out of town, holiday break, group friction, or some other unexpected, unforeseen conclusion. This has happened countless times in my life, though it saddens me slightly to admit it.
Much like a popular, long running TV series, RPG campaigns tend to bring certain long-running plots to bear over the course of their lifespans. We get attached to certain background characters and subplots. In TV terms, many wrap up by the end of a season, but some keep going for years throughout.
The main difference in an RPG is the players. Nothing is ever scripted. If they want to keep a subplot going, most GMs will do their best to keep the wheels turning as long as it doesn’t become a distraction from the rest of the game. It’s a fun part of any RPG campaign and gives the characters something to do beyond smashing monsters and saving the world every week.
Another major difference is NPCs (those loveable background characters) can die or go missing unexpectedly in game. It’s not the conclusion the players necessarily wants, but it can happen. Maybe the GM had other plans for the character from the get-go. Maybe the NPC has just become too much of a main focus. Maybe the villains seized the moment and capitalized on the characters vulnerabilities.
TV shows and movie sagas suffer their fair share of abrupt character ends.
Main characters go missing in TV and movies. Producers have to adapt to missing actors, which often looks like character death. Sometimes actors don’t renew their contract. Maybe they had something come up in real life and had to leave the show or were unable to film a sequel. Once in a while, an actor ages out of the part or just plain quits the business. It happens.
The same can be said of gamers. A campaign might survive minus one or two players. Most of the time one can recruit more at the local game shop or online. It’s never impossible. But if that’s half or more of the play group? New campaign incoming in all likelihood. Sometimes a different game completely.
Chasing the one that got away.
I’ve run several games that I had plots and session notes planned out for months, maybe even a year in advance. Of course, real life intercedes and the campaign comes to an irreparable screaming end a couple of months in.
Real life happens. Families happen. I sigh a big sigh. I file my notes away in a filing cabinet or a binder for future reference. Never underestimate a filing cabinet full of old ideas. But every so often, I look back on an old campaign and wonder, “How would that have ended?”
One of my absolute favorite TV show endings was Star Trek TNG’s All Good Things Parts 1&2. They wrapped up so many loose ends and left those characters in such a good place. Everything that has happened since could be ignored and it would still stand as a great conclusion to the series.
If a TV show knows its end is nigh, sometimes the writers wrap up the loose ends and do the fans a favor by covering all the bases. Babylon 5 actually did it twice. Star Trek has been pro about it with at least three or four of their series. Xena and Hercules wrapped up, well… they wrapped up. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had one of the most epic endings in TV history that spanned the course of multiple episodes.
Imagine getting to do that with your favorite RPG campaign? I’ve written several of those types of endings even if I’m the only one who ever sees them. I’m always asking things such as what if these two characters fell in love and ran off together? What if the character took on this somewhat annoying NPC as a student? What if this starship crashed on a backwater planet and was never seen again?
Here’s wishing you all happy endings. Hopefully the rest of your week is going well and your weekend is looking bright. Thanks for being here.