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© 1998-2001 Dru
All rights reserved.
From the Greek, to uncover,
or reveal. But when we speak of an apocalypse, we think of a world-shattering
eventmost often, the actual end of the world.
What a memorable way
to end a campaign.
GM can end a campaign in several ways. The game can simply stop in mid-adventure,
abandoned. The game can be neatly wrapped up and tied off, with "happily
ever after" endings for everybody.
Or the game can end
with a bang.
run many campaigns since I started gaming in the '70s. Many of them have
ended in a spectacular climax that changes the face of my world forever.
First, an apocalyptic,
earth-shaking ending satisfies players. That is, after all, the stuff
that legends are made ofand every player likes the idea of his or
her character becoming a legend. A good epic ending will keep your game
alive in an anecdotal afterlife for years to come.
are great excuses for changing the world around. Decided you want to tweak
your magic system, segue your Unknown Armies campaign into a Call of Cthulhu
campaign, end your Warhammer Fantasy game with a bit of All Flesh Must
Be Eaten? Or simply swap your D&D campaign over from second to third edition?
Incredible events give you a great excuse for such a change. Blood-red
comets bearing plagues ... a nuclear explosion ... a war among the deities
... aliens landing. Just a few ways you can transform one campaign into
another or explain a sudden change in the rules.
Third, apocalypses can
end a campaign swiftly and without questions. Often the GM of a well-liked
campaign may be pestered for weeks or months or even years after a game
has ended: What happened to my character? Who won that war? Did so-and-so
survive? If you want to end a game finally and definitively, destroying
everything is one way to do so. If you're a merciful GM, let the player
characters escape with their lives. If you're unmerciful, end it all.
(You might want to consider your players heresome will be devastated
if you smash your campaign world into smithereens, and others will applaud
way you end your world should be tailored to your campaign. If you know
that your game will end at a certain timefor example, you know you'll
be graduating out of college and moving away from your college gaming
group in a yearthen you have a great opportunity to plant the seeds
early for the cataclysm to come. If the end needs to come suddenly, then
you'll have to be a bit quicker on your feet to make it seem like a logical
capstone to the campaign.
Some types of games
lend themselves naturally to a certain type of catastrophe. For example,
Warhammer Fantasy and Call of Cthulhu games are already stacked against
the playerssome unspeakable horror or another arises and it's all
over. ETesque games like Conspiracy X can end when the aliens land (or
are destroyed, for a more heroic end). Magic-type games like Mage or Unknown
Armies or Shadowrun or even Feng Shui can end with a magickal holocaust.
And so forth....
In other campaigns,
an existing plotline could very well culminate in some disastrous finale.
Been running a campaign with a nefarious archvillain? This is his or her
time to shine with some dastardly plot to destroy the very fabric of reality!
Been running a game with escalating political tensions? Time for war to
break out, fast, furious, and unforgiving. The key is to make the apocalypse
make sense given the background of the campaign, the social situation
that the characters are already aware of, and, preferably, the actions
of the player characters themselves triggering the end. (Or perhaps just
barely preventing it, for you soft-hearted sorts.)
Can this be satisfying?
Sure! Think of Dr. Strangelovewhat player character wouldn't get
a kick out of cockily riding the Bomb to its final destination (especially
if that destination is, perhaps, the character's enemy's fortress)? Or
any number of war movies, where the survivors walk through vast battlefields
covered with corpses, hoping thatperhapsthe worst is over
at last. Or those zombie and monster movies where the monsters are held
back at last ... but the protagonists know that they're still out there,
somewhere, just waiting to rise again....
In addition, recall
the etymology of the word "apocalypse." To uncover or reveal.
An apocalyptic campaign can be a great way to reveal final secrets about
the campaign or the nature of reality. Use it to strip away any remaining
mysteries in your game, perhaps to evoke a sense of wonder. An apocalypse
can be a stirring as well as frightening event. Use the event to enrich
your campaign even as you end it.
I sold you on the idea yet? Then get out your gaming notebook and jot
down these steps:
- Decide how the world
- Decide how the player
characters will be involved in the world's end.
- Decide whether you
ever plan to use the campaign world again. This will affect your next
- Decide whether the
world really and truly ends or just gets really bruised and battered
if the player characters manage to foil the plot.
- Decide whether the
player characters live or die. (Of course this should depend on how
the players are likely to respond to their characters' deaths, and also
to what the player characters do during the game.)
- Decide whether the
player characters' dependents live or die. (Ditto.)
- Decide whether you
want to end on a high note or a low note. A high note might be a "your
characters foiled the plot and can now spend their lives rebuilding
the world." A low note might be "your characters look out
the window of their spaceship and see the Earth vanish in a white flash."
- Remember that you
can always run a post-apocalyptic campaign later....
a campaign with an apocalypse requires a bold and decisive GMing style.
It's a gambit filled with riskrisk that players will be displeased,
risk that your GMing style will fail to impress, risk that you'll prematurely
end a campaign that you might want to resurrect again in a few years.
But if handled well, the apocalyptic campaign end will be something your
players will remember the rest of their lives. Or until the world ends.
Whichever comes first.
originally written February 16, 2001
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