What’s going on in the game
The party emerges from the secret passages where they hid last time - only to find the Ophidian pirates making the priestesses dance for them! They try to convince some minions to revolt against Verathensia, which just leads to them being captured - but they overhear from her that they have the only weapon that can kill her (a knife they snatched off her person in their last confrontation).
But they’ve been knife-tricked! The knife also turns Verathensia into a powerful lich possessed by Hecate!
The Fair Lady is forced to make a final decision on whether she truly loves Balboa and wants him to stay in the realm of the living. Their “true love’s kiss” moment hijacks Verathensia’s transfiguration spell and turns them into avatars of Luna and Neptune respectively. They battle Hecate with cool metagame attacks while the “mortal” PCs fight a big Ophidian demigod to break the enchantment on the reflection pool with the help of Yuki’s self sacrifice.
Luna thanks the crew and Calypso grants them each their choice of reward. Some good roleplay there, then individual wrap-up scenes with each character.
What’s going on in this post
Final sessions are a paradox: they usually have definite goals – that cool setpiece you want to use for the boss battle, that ultimate choice you’ve set up for a PC – so they can afford to be more “railroaded” than most sessions. Yet at the same time, they can afford to be less controlled by dice than most sessions, since big, climactic scenes are more about story and roleplay.
In this post, I’ll be talking about a couple techniques for handling this paradox. More in this video.
How to Railroad Right
When you “script,” you’re essentially writing notes to yourself of stuff you need to throw at your players this session. It’s your job to make sure this stuff happens, not to determine how it happens or what order it happens in.
A big tip for meeting your story goals is to keep your players so busy they don’t have time to get “off script.” Choose with scenes that are so big/high-stakes that they practically force your players to react. Sure, their approach to a problem you throw at them might surprise you, but they’re focused on the problem you’re giving them, not off getting into trouble of their own. They’re happy, you’re happy.
That being said, allowing them freedom is just as important now as it is in normal sessions. When you’re doing an adventure that requires more scripting, it’s easy to start worrying about pacing and tell a player “no, don’t do that yet.”
This session, one of my players wanted to leap headlong down a wellshaft to the moon pool and start bashing away at the unholy sigils inscribed around it. But I hadn’t had Luna tell them how to break the sigils yet! I told him to wait. And that was a MISTAKE. His energy and enthusiasm for the game never fully recovered.
Whatever timed event you have in mind, it’s not worth curtailing player initiative. So when they do go off script (and you know they will!), LET THEM, and remember that your “script” is just notes to yourself – notes you can reshuffle.
Prepared PC Challenge: tailor-made enemies
When I say “script,” I mean, “be sure you’re hitting all the points your players signed up for.” Making custom enemies for your PCs – a duelist for the party duelist, a mage for the party mage, etc. – is a great way to do this.
|“Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s dip the main character in a vat of ink and make you fight him before you get to the end boss.”|
Prepared Roleplay Challenge: You have to feel it!
Similarly, tailoring a roleplay situation for a PC will let that player do what he designed the character for in the first place. So take some time to dig down into the deepest defining emotions of a character, and craft a scene that will draw those out.
My friend Russell designed his PC specifically to stretch his roleplay skills; for one thing, the character was female (the Fair Lady). For another, she was in a once-romantic-but-now-tense relationship with an ally NPC (Eleazar Balboa). Last week I made him declare Fair Lady’s true love for Balboa.
But he didn’t realize there was a “false bottom” on that situation. Balboa began to “blink out” again, because there was still a part of Fair’s heart that, deep down, rejected him. And that’s just GM speak for, “last week was ok, Russell, but you really have to feel it this time!”
And he did!
|Dungeons and Dragons gives Roy the feels|
Third-Act Twist: the trick knife
I wrote about this trick on Thursday, so I’ll save space by not describing it here – only want to point out that it’s the kind of scene I’m talking about above: a twist so unexpected, so devastating, that players will be tied up reacting to it instead of going looking for other potential plot material.
The other burden in Final Sessions is the “how they all ended up” scenes.
If the party’s final adventure earns favors from someone in power (a goddess, say), then you have a great built-in way to let the players define a bit of their own ending. Just ask, as the powerful NPC, what reward each PCs wants. This gives them the chance to decide what their characters will be doing “in retirement.”
And just like it’s good to start a campaign with single-character introduction scenes, it’s great to end one the same way. Give each player a chance to tell the group what his character is doing as the curtain closes – come prepared with suggestions in case they freeze up, then let them take it from there.
Some of their endings will surprise you (like our elf mage becoming a gentleman pirate) and some of them won’t (like our simian swashbuckler lolling in a Pile Of Treasure And Women and saying, “I’d never ask any gift from Luna; heroism is its own reward!”) but this final little bit of pure, consequence-free roleplay is not to be missed as a “cooldown” from your campaign.