Is it time for the end?


I have been running the same game with the same players for nearly twenty years. I am beginning to feel like things are getting stale. Do you guys think that I should begin planning a series of "wind-up" adventures to reveal the highest level plot mysteries and create an eventual showdown with the "Big Boss"?

There is an end.
It must be so.
Yet why there must,
I wish to know.

I wish to know my babies cry.
I wish to sit and wonder why.
I wish to wish a world gone by,
back again for one last try.

And if again that world was made,
from purest light to darkest shade,
it is my wish, in laboured pain,
to sit and watch it die again.

The first question to ask is, do your players still want to continue playing?

The second question is, do you still want to referee for them?

The third question is, would you all still be doing this for pleasure, for stimulation of your imaginations, or would you just be going through the motions, like some sort of loveless marriage?

I went through a bit of a crisis patch with my campaign a few months ago. Several negative factors conspired to bring people to the point where some of them were saying 'perhaps this campaign has had its day'. One of these factors was a gut-wrenching conversion from 1e+ to 3.5e D&D - which was agreed on as a Good Thing by the players before we started converting, but then there were all sorts of battles to fight with people over specific details of their characters that they didn't want messed with. It's amazing how conservative some players can be. It's not like I was asking them to change their life story or their personality or anything important, or even their adventuring idiom (which was enhanced in every case). It was quantified specifics like how many levels of Rogue they should have or whether their ring of protection should also give them a bonus to saves like it did in 1st edition. Most of the arguments arose from the fact that the players perceived that I'd stolen their old shoes. They hadn't noticed that I'd left a gold brick in their place. I found the whole thing quite depressing really and considered whether I needed to find a new bunch of players.

With morale already low, one of my co-referees who was running something suddenly flaked out mid-adventure leaving the storyline stranded. He'd stepped in to take over from myself for a while because I had had to take some time off from refereeing to deal with various family issues - so that was the second time in several months that an adventure had been started but left high and dry midway through. It's no wonder the peasants were revolting, really.

Things seem to be getting back on track now. We have a new player who has joined us which always livens things up a bit. People seem to have mostly accepted 3.5e though we still have some issues to negotiate. They are starting to get back into the plotline of the campaign again. It's still a fragile peace but it's a hopeful one.

I don't know how relevant the above is to your own situation. You mentioned on the other thread that you were finding players who played computer RPGs (and I suspect you meant the MMO variety) had become lacklustre roleplayers. Perhaps you don't feel as if you get back what you put in with these players anymore. Maybe it's time to shake up the line-up of your group - if that's possible, and I know it may not be.

Or else you could do as you yourself suggest and start the big wind-up 'apocalypse' storyline you've been holding back all these years - while you've still got a group of players who will appreciate it. At the very least it should revive the flagging old warhorse for a last charge. At best it could lead to a rebirth.

It could also be the testing ground for your group. The way they deal with this, the mother of all plotlines, will help you to decide whether the group is worth saving or whether it is time for a parting of ways.

First, I agree with lurkinggherkin's points.
Second, assuming you're not the only one who's feeling the staling of the campaign, I encourage you to "go out in with a bang", letting you do all you can to make it moving, exciting and interesting, without concern for "what happens later".

I was having a similar issue a while back. Things were getting kind of stale in a long long term campaign. I like the loveless marriage comparison; if the shoe fits...

That being said, I realized that the beauty of the campaign was in the joy the players got from interacting with the setting. I started running shorter campaigns at different time periods within the setting where they would come across the doings or results of other groups or other characters they had played. Or, they set the stage or changed to world in such a way that allowed the events of previous campaigns to happen the way they did (not retconning per se...but allowing them to take part in events in the past that other previous characters had felt the repercussions from).

However...some things run their course naturally. If it genuinely feels as though it's over, then let it end gracefully. I wouldn't go so far as to wrap up all the secrets though. Start a new campaign in the same setting and let new characters that are still wide eyed and naive stumble on some of those mysteries and approach them from a different angle.

Twenty years? It's time to share *all* of your secrets, my friend. Just make sure they are as cool today as they were twenty years ago. Don't hold anything back for the next game.

Especially after a rule conversion, I think it's a good idea to wrap it up. If you are asking the question, you already know the answer. You should finish the story.

Thanks for the comments and advice. Sorry it has been a while responding -- I was in Florida on work. Yeah, I know, what a drag.

I think it is hard when you have been playing for a long time for the players to become complacent and "safe" with their characters. In their effort to preserve their characters I wonder if they are losing the essence of what they were. Perhaps I am somewhat jaded, I don't know. I don't think the players are ready for the end, but I am coming to it. I feel bad for writing it and feeling it. I have tried a lot of things over the last few years to get them to "immerse" in the moment. However, more and more of the talk surrounding the game is done in that odd meta-game speak with AC, Hit Points, Levels, and the every present Experience Points. Too many questions about experience points leads me to think that they are not experiencing the point of the game. A character is not a legacy that you can leave behind.

Maybe a switch away from their characters would help. I did that one about eight years ago where they had a splintered psyche event. They had a dual reality where they would dream as one character and wake as another -- alternating back and forth between their main character and a new one. They enjoyed it for a while but were eager to complete the shared quest (that had to be solved from both ends) to return their focus to their main character.

What do you guys think of just putting it on the shelf and get involved as a player in the group and let someone else take the reins for a bit?

As it seems that you're the only one feeling its "not what it used to be" (I suppose you asked them about it, right?) It could be a good idea to step down for a bit, to "change gears" as it were. Assuming there is someone willing to take the reins, of course.

Sometimes players too invested in their characters lives end up never risking them, and that misses the point of the game. These characters should not be collectables - pristine in plastic. Is a Ferrari really any fun if it just sits in a showroom all the time? I prefer to go out with a bang! Sometimes the fear of that can be eased with an online component - a little web page "tomb" devoted to dearly departed PCs - a way they can live on in memory. You can write your "happily ever after" stories there too.