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Keep Up Right to the End

When last we spoke in Chapter One, we discussed the importance of having two good signposts, or bookends, by which to set the course of your adventure. Picking the two strongest scenes you pictured when first thinking about the adventure you are about to design and then pumping them up with further details, twists, and plot hooks can give you an excellent place to start and end your main adventure. Getting good Opening Scenes are especially important for establishing the setting and tone of your adventure as well as shaping the expectations of your players.

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The Closing Scene is just as important. Many of the elements necessary to make a good Opening Scene apply just as much to crafting Closing Scenes that are memorable and that reward the effort your players put in while getting to them. Without sufficient additional build-up and attention to certain details, closing scenes can leave your players feeling let down and defeated, even if they won.

Out with the Old, In with the New

One of the first things you want to make sure you do with your Closing Scene is show how things have changed, thanks to the characters combined efforts. While you may have started in the big battle trying to save the princess and escort her safely home, you don’t want to end under those same conditions. Some effort on your characters parts must have changed things somehow. Otherwise, why did we bother telling the story? If no change happens, then no story occurs.

Maybe, by returning the Princess to her castle, she is able to finally issue the orders or reveal the information necessary to bring a halt to the fight, or perhaps the characters fail to return her safely and the battle turns into an all out war that engulfs the entire continent. Whatever the case is, it is important that a change occur to reflect an advance on the starting conditions you set up in the Opening Scene.

Remember that the closing scene isn’t where we hand out rewards and congratulate everyone on a job well done. Save that for the epilogue. Once everything directly related to the adventure has been brought to a close, then you can hand out rewards and XP.

Setting the Stage, Again

While you are wrapping things up for this adventure, you’re also setting the stage for the next one. It’s different if this is just a one-shot adventure and you never expect to see these characters again. If that’s the case, go ahead and wrap everything up in a nice, neat bundle and be done with it. However, if you intend to use these PCs in an ongoing adventure or campaign, then start setting the expectations for the next part of the adventure right now. Sure, we’ll have seen how this adventure has changed things, but we can also start dropping hints about how those changes are going to impact events later on. New conditions can be set right now and hints of further adventures can be scattered around for the PCs to pick up and run with.

In fact, it isn’t a bad idea to think of this adventure’s Closing Scene as the next adventure’s Opening Scene. Go ahead and allow for the elements of the Opening Scene and combine them with a good closing for the current adventure. You and your players should be able to step right across from one to the other. You’ll save a bit of time and effort because they’ll already know what they need to about the setting to make their decisions (unless you are going in a radically different direction) and you can devote that to setting new hooks, which we’ll discuss in a moment.

Powerful Payoff

It is important to remember that the pay off for the PCs and Players should be of a similar magnitude to the adventure they’ve just been through. No one wants to fight through the Forest of Certain Death, the Caverns of Quite Evident Lethality, and the Desert of Definite Destruction only to come out the other side to a hearty pat on the back and an indifferent “Well done.” Your Closing Scene has to show a level of thought and care equal to the amount you have put in to challenging them up to that point. Sell the ending. Make it as engaging and memorable as you can. Do not be afraid to throw a whole kitchen sink full of cool into it. Give each character a personal moment showing their growth or what they’ve learned. Then do it for the whole group at once. Recap the adventure through flashbacks, hitting the high points and the low points. Allow them to realize what their contribution has meant to their eventual success. Then they can go on to receive their rewards and have specialty food items named after them.

No Loose Ends

While you are at it, tie up those loose ends if they aren’t going to be used elsewhere. Don’t leave plot threads dangling if you have no intention of using them. That group of forest gnomes who popped in to help the PCs out of a tight spot in spite of needing help themselves? Go ahead and tell us what happened to them. Did they profit from their time in the groups presence or did their help mean that their personal difficulties overwhelmed them and they suffered? Did you casually mention a 2nd Lieutenant to the BBEG? Players are going to want to know if that is something they should still be worried about or if it fixed itself. Don’t leave them laying around if you aren’t going to use them, it will help give the PCs and their players a sense of completion to this chapter of their adventures. If these elements are going to come back, though, this is the perfect time to foreshadow what that all might mean in the future. In that case, strengthen those dangling threads into genuine future plot hooks.

Release the Hooks

Why? Because you are about to release the plot hooks you set in the Opening Scene for this adventure. Way back then you got them involved in rescuing the princess or investigating the ruins or fighting the dragon. Whatever it was it is time to let them off the hook and return things to normal. Or the new normal, at least.

Show!

Just like making sure the Closing Scene is as strong as the rest of the adventure has been, you’ll want to show them that they have definitely accomplished their goal for this adventure. This can take many forms, whether it is profuse thanks for returning the princess, the dispersal of evil spirits from the ruins, or the tumbling fall of the dragon as it dies, you have to show them, not tell them, that they have been successful. No satisfying conclusion to any adventure story worth telling ever happened off screen and out of view of the heroes.

If you are a reader of comic books you know that if the villain didn’t die ‘on screen’ then he definitely isn’t dead and will come back to trouble the hero once more. Sometimes even that isn’t a guarantee, but for the purposes of an adventure it’s best not to pull that too often. Let the heroes see the bad guy die and let them know for certain they have accomplished the goal. Don’t cheapen it by having it all occur off screen, or worse, by the hands of an outside agency. Let them own their own victory and get the satisfaction of their efforts.

Yahoo! We did it!

And do let them enjoy it. Allow the PCs time, space, and opportunity in which to revel in their accomplishments. Let them congratulate themselves in character and out. Don’t rush them on to the epilogue until they are ready to go. Then, once they’ve had an opportunity to applaud themselves, you can carry on with the big finale.

By making effective use of Opening and Closing Scenes we provide satisfying, engaging, and memorable adventures that our Players will recall fondly years from now. They’ll remember the big battles against insurmountable odds, the struggle to win through, and the eventual final confrontation with the Big Bad of the piece. By using these scenes you set up the bookends to your adventure and make coming up with the middle bits much easier because you will have sign posts to guide you from a solid start towards a solid finish. By combining these scenes with other elements of good storytelling, you’ll enjoy your preparation work more and your players will benefit from the hard work you put in, rewarding it with hard work on their end as everyone strives to tell the best stories possible.

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