I have been game-mastering Dungeons and Dragons in some form or another for over 35 years. At first it was easy. I would draw some rooms on graph paper, label the rooms and populate them with the monsters I thought were cool and then we were ready to play. Ready to play only until the party actually encountered something and I had to look up the monster statistics and write down the basics for the encounter.
I get to game-master a lot less now so I try to make the adventures playable in one night and be a part of a larger story arc. Now when I start a game session I have a map and several printed pages of descriptions with decision trees and even monster statistics for encounters. The problem now is that this process takes much longer.
I have been running adventures that are all loosely related through a fictional town called Crossroads for the past few years. I have decided to end the campaign and I figure it’ll take about four adventures to end it. I started by outlining what I want to see happen before the end. Then I broke it in to chunks that will play through in about four hours and give the feeling of a continuing story to the group.
Now I am starting to put together the pieces for the individual adventures. I wonder what elements will be most appreciated by the players. The final villain is someone the party met in their very first adventure so there will be familiarity and a sense of accomplishment if and when they are able to defeat him. What else should be added? If you were playing in a game that was working toward a finale what would you like to see? Accustomed locations destroyed? Old friends return?
Encounter creation is also part of this equation. I usually design each encounter with a feeling I am trying to create in the players. When I created an encounter with the automatons from the Cult of Nogad I wanted the party to feel both awe and fear towards what the cult had created. When they encountered archers across a chasm with log bridges trapped with druidic magic I was trying to make them question whether they were on the correct side or not (they were, damn evil druids). Now I am trying to create encounters that generate feelings of nostalgia with the twist of determinism as they work toward ending the campaign.
When I have all these elements I will put them together in what I hope is a cohesive narrative. I want there to be some doubt as to what will happen next but still know that the climax is coming. I also need to make sure that I don’t answer all the questions because sometimes the answers that occur during the course of the session make more sense than anything I could think of.
Hopefully I can pull it off. If not everyone will at least know what I was thinking.