I woke up this morning, about to sit down to finish up details for the game tonight, when it dawns on me: this is the end of the Campaign.
How often do players and DM’s really and truly get to wrap things up? I have a confession that the only campaigns I’ve ever complete under my belt were all World of Darkness chronicles; and now that I think about it, they were all Vampire specific. Last time I “finished” a D&D campaign, it wasn’t over — we just hit a convenient plot point for a game I was running every day for a month straight. Tonight is different: Tonight, I wrap up a story that started from Session One, where the heroes were just a small band of Mercenaries. Since that time they had liberated holy temples from evil cults, slayed a few dragons, rebuilt a small village into an enormous town, saved a Princess from assassination by way of Doppelganger, earned the trust of a clan of Shadar-Kai, and traveled deep within the neighboring mountains in a suicide mission to reclaim a dwarfen artifact; all while liberating a few Dwarfs, Goliaths, and Shifters along the way. Oh, they also had their brains nearly sucked out from Mind Flayers, burnt to crisp by Red Dragons, one even had a dragon fall on him, defied the Gods, got drunk, screwed some whores and ultimately even an enemy of the party became a friend. For one player in particular, that friend became a lover. Which was interesting, since her character was originally a male cross-dressing Wizard who would eventually receive a blessing from Sehanine that turned him full blown woman. It sounds like a really bad anime, but I swear it was all done rather in good taste.
Which, I’m hoping stresses the fact that as I prepare this final encounter for tonight, I’m feeling both a tremendous amount of reward and sadness. I’ve been trying to draw things for a close for a while for a multitude of reasons. The biggest reason, as stated, is just the sheer fulfillment of completing a plot line. I hate it when things are left unfinished! I played in a long term Hunter campaign once that ended with the players having a bad fallout with each other. It drives me nuts to know we went so far in that game and never saw the plot resolved!
Unfortunately, some of the other reasons I’ve been pushing for campaign end have been petty. It’s stemmed from some personal conflicts with how the 4E System handles higher level play. When I saw our combat lengths devour entire sessions, I began to panic. I wanted the campaign to wrap up simply because the idea of going to Epic and beyond seemed like a nightmare. As it is, already, my players have huge hands of power cards written out to sort through; and for a while there I was worried about not only the time it took to sort through the power options, but that they weren’t damaging enough. Sadly, another factor was DM burnout. I seem to be one who takes the chair most often. I’m also infamous for having “Gamer ADD.” Especially with my introduction to Savage Worlds, and my collection growing in some other games, my mind had begun to wander to other systems….
But that was a few months ago. Today, I feel like I’ve grown a bit in my DMing levels. I’ve even left a lot of my House Rules that I wrote to the wayside; though I still use my revised Healing Surge system and half the HP of grunt/foot soldier monsters. I think a big thing about the higher level of play is learning to be more flexible with encounter design, including (but not limited to) remembering the varying level windows you can throw at your players. Less large-scale battles, more big baddies. And even with large scale battles, there’s different ways to handle it. Minion rules can be fun, but the Monster Throng rules from Open Grave were perfect for the mass combat I ran last session!
In a sense, I’m vaguely regretting pushing for the closure. But in another light, I think I’m getting my Second Wind for DM’ing 4E some more. I’ve already told my players to hold on to their characters; I’m already prepping some ideas for an Epic-Level campaign that takes place about 20+ years after tonight’s game. I won’t run that immediately; I know the players have already been looking and talking about what classes and races they want to try out next. And even though I’ve been saying I was going to just give up and run a published setting for 4E, I think instead I’m going to take the 20-30 year campaign leap instead as an excuse to “re-align” it with the cosmology and lore a bit. How exciting will it be to roll new characters in an old world with a changed landscape? I mean it worked for Forgotten Realms right?