A few weeks ago I wrote about how it’s ok to stop your campaign before the game’s maximum PC level
. Read the link for the full backstory, but the short answer is my campaign ended abruptly. While people agreed that the campaign was fun, they walked away from the table that night frustrated and disappointed.
So I decided it wasn’t over. I try to give my players a lot of room to make choices, and their characters decisions should have weight. However, I also believe that the DM’s job is to facilitate fun, and that ending, while natural, was just not fun. I told everyone we had one more session and began planning my ultimate ending. I wanted to make sure it fit certain criteria to make it fun, challenging and have that epic feel.
1. Getting the Band Back Together. I told my players that they could bring any character they had played so far in the campaign. Whomever they chose, we would find a reason to get them involved, and a reason for them to have reached level 30. This gave them the opportunity to end with the character they connected with the most, and really end that characters story with a big event.
2. Time Passed. I set ten years between the last session and the finale. This serves two purposes. First, it gives the PCs reasons to have reached 30 more slowly, so it doesn’t feel like we missed a really exciting session. The second reason is to respect the natural ending that we previous came to. It’s true I didn’t like that ending, but that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded. By having a length of time between these two events, it gives the last session weight. That ending changed the way the characters viewed and interacted with the world in the downtime and set up how they would treat the threat before them.
3. Truly Fearsome Encounter. To that end, whatever they faced now had to be an extremely dire foe. Not only does it have to challenge characters of Epic Power, but scare them in such a way that they won’t handle it individually. Some characters needed really strong reasons to be present for this fight, such as the cleric who ascended to the heavens or the warlock who had been captured and tortured by Tiamat.
I decided an outbreak of the Abyssal Plague was finally joined by two of the Elemental Princes of Evil. The gods cannot directly interfere on the mortal plane in my campaign, but their mortal servants can. That gives Tiamat a reason to release a favored captive, and the other gods a reason to turn a blind eye when one among them chooses to descend.
4. Tie It Into the Campaign. It has to feel like an ending, and not just a big fight for the sake of it. I had plenty of enemies to choose from. I knew I wanted Tharizdun as the final enemy for my next campaign, so setting that up made sense, especially since the players had been battling his cultists, and accidentally freed his avatar. The Princes of Elemental Evil are powerful foes in their own right, who are naturally tied to Tharizdun.
Pazuzu was also a favored villain. He loves chaos and I could see how the Abyssal Plague might amuse him to no end. He had previously led a PC astray, and it seemed like the perfect time to bring that PC back. This time, he would be the embodiment of the Voidharrow.
5. Challenging and Dynamic Combat. I didn’t want this to be a series of static fights against solo brutes. Epic characters are powerful, damn near impossible to kill and full of options. I wanted each fight to have terrain, multiple enemies and allow the players to think creatively.
I kept it under the open sky but on a dead rocky terrain. That gave us boulders, ledges and crevasses to deal with. First fight was Imix, with a couple of powerful demons and plenty of minions. That made sure if the solo got locked down, there were still powerful threats to deal with, but not so overpowering that they didn’t save some dailies for Ogremoch who loomed in the distance. When they got to Ogremoch, their former ally was revealed as the Voidharrow (Elite) and they had to deal with both foes at once. I added a voidharrow goop hazard that would cause an instant of domination. I also decided that if the Voidharrow was eliminated before Ogremoch, then new minions would stop spawning. That allowed a natural change in momentum, halfway through the fight. I made sure Ogremoch kept two action points till then to keep the combat threatening.
The end result was a much more satisfying ending. The players were challenged but not overwhelmed. They felt like they had accomplished a real goal, which made their epilogues more meaningful. The moral of the story, don’t accept a crappy ending. It’s your game.