Game Mastering
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October 30, 2005, 12:05 pm

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Setting Up a Campaign Climax


Great drama is at the core of the Gaming Experience. The character’s can’t be fighting the destruction of the world every session (though that can be fun), but there is great fulfilment in the climatic scenes of a campaign or long term adventure. Every climax is not seen in terms of violence (though it is very common). The personal stories of PC’s and NPC’s should also have meaningful expression in adventure climaxes. Yet all Climaxes in a campaign have similarities.

Pyramid of Support
A climactic ending is something that needs to be built up. Near the begining of every scenario, heck often the first scene, the potential climax is presented. The best example is in Movies, Jaws for example. From the first scene, you knew it was going to come down to the Sherriff and the Shark. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett Ohara was lectured about “The Land”, so you knew she was going to understand its value. In any of the versions of the Three Musketeers, you get an inkling soon after the first fight scene that the Cardnial’s right hand man is the main dramatic bad (for D’Artanian anyways). These are just a few of thousands of examples. So when setting up the scenario, try to bring in elements of the Climax in at the begining, even if it is just a hint in the background. The players might not be conscious of it, but it will evetually click in their mind and they will be satisfied with it.

Every climax needs to be built up. Dramatic tension must be built up on a solid foundation of example. Something straight from every Storytelling 101 class. A lovely tool to do this, borrowed from our Author friends, The Pyramid of Support. It is a tool that helps us show: Nothing happens without a reason. The more powerful or important something is, the more the GM needs to both explain and foreshadow it. And what is more important or powerful than a climactic event or foe? The power or importance can be expressed in simple explanations, in rumors or stories the characters might hear, or the characters could see the results. Eventually you will have small encounters of lesser minions of the big threat. Then greater threats. Then it will show that this powerful/ important thing is important/ powerful AND THE PLAYERS WILL KNOW IT.

The more evidence and support you make for a claim, the more willing people are to believe it.

If you want your characters to respect and fear a “powerful force” show them how powerful it is. Otherwise, they will yawn, attempt to fight it, and then bitch about their characters being dead or enslaved.

The same things for importance. The more important something is, the more it should show up. It should be foreshadowed by lesser events. Then when it appears, players will go “OH YAH, of course!” or “There it is, I was expecting that” rather than “Where the h*ll did that come from?”

So to review…
1) Show it early, make it pay off often.

2) Set a foundation for the important/ powerful thing to exist. Rumors, world pack entries, NPCs mentioning it.

3) Begin to show glimer’s of its power/ importance.

4) Have these “showing events” appear as time progressing, growing more powerful/ important as time goes on.

5) Thus when the powerful/ important thing finally shows up directly, players will be appropriately respectful/ fearful, and play accordingly.

6) Thus when the climactic thing shows up, everyone gets a feeling of closure and completeness.

It is easy to do, just think of the Pyramid and do it.

In fact, see my comment here. It is a good example of pyramid.

The foreshadowing occurs in the first few scenes, as you a) find out about the Shaman and his ancestors and b) you learn about people hating the orcs. It builds from there, making for an exciting ending.

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Comments ( 9 )
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Voted Strolen
October 30, 2005, 12:07
The greatest drama and most talked about incidents in our games are hero level acts and accomplishments. Unfortunately, these depend more on the players then it does on the DM, the DM can only pretty much give them situations to be heroic in and it is up to the players to utilize these circumstances.

An example is a large monster that would usually be a tough fight for the whole group and a few would probably die. One of the players does a called shot to the eye and rolls a crit and ends up killing it. That is a story for that player to tell for a long time.

There are other instances but most of them concentrate on individual accomplishment. I think that is a definate key, if the players are not personally involved and emotionally attached to what is going on, no matter what kind of incredible climax is constructed, it will not be appreciated as much as killing a single troll which has a personal significance to the players.

That is my experience with it anyway and I am certain that it is going to mostly depend on your players and what they want or expect in a climax.
October 30, 2005, 12:07
Again here you have touched upon a good point. It is the players that most often generate the dramatic moment. However it is the GM who sets the stage and as such he must do the preperations.

A truly epic moment in a campaign or a adventure is only truly epic if it is recognized. The moster you talk about, may be a dramatic moment, but it was probably set and prepared carefully, by perhaps meeting the monster before or because other clues where scatered that this monster was a truly dangerous advesary.

I better make sure that I do a thing like that comming sunday, so I can have a climax at the end of the current adventure.

Thanks for brining up this subject at precisly the right time ;+))

Yours, Ylorea
Enthroned Carcass
October 30, 2005, 12:08
A great climax is an anticlimax: imagine the villain the pc's have been fighting all the campaign long turns out to be a weak old man, magically disguised and used by some dark power. The true identity is revealed at the final confrontation, and the (actually not evil at all) old man dies in the pc's hands. It's a climax, but also the start of the long search for that secret unseen power. I don't like definitive climaxes, i prefer the idea that there is always more to be confronted behind the immidiatly apparent scenes.
October 30, 2005, 12:12
Enthroned Carcass wrote:
A great climax is an anticlimax: imagine the villain the pc's have been fighting all the campaign long turns out to be a weak old man, magically disguised and used by some dark power. The true identity is revealed at the final confrontation, and the (actually not evil at all) old man dies in the pc's hands. It's a climax, but also the start of the long search for that secret unseen power. I don't like definitive climaxes, i prefer the idea that there is always more to be confronted behind the immidiatly apparent scenes.

Once and a while, an anti-climax is okay. A steady diet of them will make your players cranky and feel cheated out of their "success".

Ask your players what movies they like, and I bet when you look at them, each and every one of them will have a definitive ending (even if it is part of a sequel like anything Star Wars). It is just the way people like their stories.

At every end, there is a new begining is a basic axiom; and the reason there are so many sequels in Hollywood. So you should have a conclusive ending to satisfy you players/ audience, with just a few things that might be addressed at a future date. Thus you can build again on what you have done.

Besides, if you don't have an ending... all you have a continuing story... thus no climax - or ending of a story arc. So in the case you presented, the story arc continues, it is just a continuation of the investigation as the PCs take down the main "boss" of this level and move on to the next.
Voted KendraHeart
November 12, 2005, 0:28
I am just basking in the glory that is MoonHunter.

The dropping of clues, foreshadowing, and building up the story scene brick by scene brick, are all things you think about doing, but never actually do in the game. Or, never do to the degree you think you should.

This should be on the back of several GM's binders.
January 18, 2006, 18:14
One of the things that many writing books teach, "If you don't know where you are going, you might not get there." In short, if you want your story to have a climax (or strong climactic moment), you have to plan (approximately) what that climax will be. Now that you have a destination, you can figure out how to get there.

Unlike a writer, who has total control over the story, a GM does not. Like a surfer, they can mostly go where they want to, but sometimes the wave does not cooperatate with their wishes.

Now that you know the destination, you can see what is important in the game. You know what things to foreshadow or clues that need to be dropped. You can put in scenes to illuminate what you want to show. It takes a little planning (that most of which can be done ahead of time), but the payoff is worth it.
Voted Chaosmark
August 4, 2006, 16:42
I rarely give out a HoH, but this post was thought out well enough that it deserves the recognition of it, as well as my vote.
August 5, 2006, 11:17
Thank you so very much. This is a good one. A little preachy at points, but it hammers home a solid point.
Voted valadaar
August 3, 2007, 11:43

This is going on my favorites list.

Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

       By: Cheka Man

A wizard has cast a slow action freezing spell upon a PC. The air gets colder around the PC by one degree a day. If the spell is not broken within a few weeks the PC will freeze and die.

Ideas  ( Plots ) | March 17, 2005 | View | UpVote 0xp

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