Last night was the last session for a sandboxy adventure I’ve been running a bit more than a year now. We’ve gone through 7 different players at various times: more, if you consider a group that was in the same local region and fell apart–I kept one of the players and reloaded. I had a lot of fun with it, but at the same time I’m so glad it’s over.
When you’re planning an adventure, I think it’s good to have an end in mind, even for something that’s effectively a sandbox. My original intention was to have them going around the valley recruiting support against an invading army, with either a siege or big battle or something being the climax of that particular plot line. Thanks partly to my lack of direction (and some consequences for earlier decisions), they meandered away from that and found themselves helping a group that was legitimately trying to help war refugees but supported the invaders (unbeknownst to my players). At that point I had something else in mind for a climactic finish–I haven’t used it, so I’m not going to reveal that in case any of my players find this–but it would’ve taken a while to get there and probably felt kind of bad in some ways.
So what did I actually end with? Well, the cult had tasked them, essentially, to get things started for the refugees and secure some territory for the cult. A few weeks ago, they were in the middle of going to a nearby farm and driving out a Druskan garrison, and I thought that would make a suitable finale. With some foreshadowing of “dragon-kin” (not full dragons but relatives), I thought the farm battle would have a lot going on: the soldiers, civilians, taking refuge, and monsters outside trying to destroy the party. They’d use their resources and need to be resourceful to survive. And you know what? I think it went fairly well. One of the players’ characters was executed by the group for being evil and fed to the dragon-kin, but they fought a suit of powerful steam armor, persuaded the garrison captain to fight with them against the dragon-kin, and even had a bit of romance for our cleric (she decided she was suitably impressed with the captain’s heroics after he cut one of them in the throat). The party achieved some short-term and character goals: the farm was secured, our pants-crazed warlock got new material for pants, and our cleric made a connection with an NPC, so I think it provided a fairly satisfying cap to our journey thus far.
As a DM, you also have to have the forcefulness to say when the session’s over. We’d finished everything we were really going to but played another 30 minutes as two of my four (the executed character’s player was missing) players tried to figure out how they could get into a sealed trapdoor that was being guarded by an ally they’d made during the session. Now, I’d forgotten something that would’ve probably ended that discussion more quickly, but I really should’ve shut it down rather than dragging things out for everyone. (DM Tip: If you really want players to do something, tell them they can’t.)
All in all, though, I’m glad we came to what I feel was a good conclusion. I’ve had so many groups just end, but it feels more satisfying when you can bring things to a natural close. I want to write something up to end their stories for the time being, but I’ll be glad for the break from that adventure, and we might revisit those characters down the road.
How have you ended groups / adventures in the past? How do you plan for drawing things to a close when it becomes necessary?