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How to make the finale of your D&D campaign epic

A few days ago I wrapped up the big homebrew campaign that me and my friends have been playing for the last year, and it was awesome! I was really happy with how it played out, and the how the stories of all my players were resolved. If you're thinking of how to end your own campaigns (whether homebrew or pre-written) then here are a few ideas for how to end things with a bit of a bang.

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Make the final battle awesome

Chances are that your campaign is gonna end with some kind of battle against the BBEG (the Big Bad Evil Guy) - so you want to make this combat session pretty special. All the normal rules of making combat fun apply, but any ways you can enhance this experience for your players - by making the battle bigger, wilder, tenser, more unpredictable, will make this final session even more unforgettable.

Maybe that involves putting a bit more time into creating a great map or terrain piece(*), or buying a few minis(*) to increase that realism. That's brilliant if you've got the time/ money to do so - but if not, then time spent on thinking of how the battle will actually work (in terms of stages of the conflict and specific mechanics) will probably have more of an impact than whatever props you buy or make.

The final battle in my campaign (ancient Greek setting) involved Hades summoning an army of undead from the underworld and launching an assault on the mortal realm. A coalition of various Greek city states (as well as our band of heroic player characters) stood against Hades' army - so this involved having to think up a few mechanics for trying to simulate the movements of huge groups of soldiers all around our players, while still focusing on what their individual characters were doing for the majority of the battle. A bit of time spent working on those mechanics was time very well spent when it came to the session.

The battle should be a struggle

This is it. What your players have been working towards for weeks, months, years maybe. You want it to be satisfying - so one-shotting the villain in ten minutes isn't exactly what you're after. It should be hard. There should be consequences. In general I don't really pull any punches with my players anyway - but for the final battle the gloves really come off. An important point though: this isn't me wanting them to fail. It's not me against them. Instead, it's me wanting them to succeed - but only just! That way they can really savour their victory.

This does mean that their may be collateral damage, though. Beloved NPCs and even a player or two might die if things go awry. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It heightens the stakes in the battle if there are consequences to the choices your players make. And a player choosing to sacrifice his own player so that the rest of the party might live could be a really satisfying end to their character arc.

Think about the stages of the battle

I love giving battles different stages. I find they really help to ratchet up the tension, and get your players even more excited and invested. In the final battle for my campaign, the battle had five distinct stages: The opening battle, with the armies of the Greek states fighting a (supposedly hopeless) battle against the armies of the undead. The second stage involved the arrival of Alexander the Great's army to aid the Greek states (he had been a somewhat unlikeable NPC who was more interested in his own glory than the wellbeing of all - so this was a satisfying turnaround and end of his character arc). The third stage involved the arrival of some of the Olympian gods to try and even the odds a little (though I tried to ensure that they didn't interfere too much in the main battle against Hades - you want your players to have the glory, not some NPCs). The fourth stage involved Hades retreating from the field of battle (which was on the beaches outside Troy) and back to the underworld, where he had taken Zeus hostage and was planning to execute him - only for our players to enter the Underworld as well and defeat him. The final stage was after Hades' death, and the portal between the mortal world and the underworld was closing up - meaning our players had to hurry to escape, lest they be trapped in the Underworld forever.

By having these different stages of the battle loosely mapped out, it stops it just descending into a boring slug-fest, keeps my players on their toes by giving them lots of different things to think about and potentially focus on, and also gives me a rough idea of how and when to progress things (which is particularly important if you've only got a set amount of time to play for).

What stages could you include in your battle?

This will be different for everyone, and will depend on the nature of your campaign and the characters in it. However, broadly speaking, there are a couple of different ways that you can alter the nature of a battle. The first is with some kind of terrain effect - something that alters the area where the battle is taking place. Is the volcano going off and now you have to worry about rivers of lava across the map? Is an earthquake happening, and the ground is collapsing under people's feet? Is the ancient temple falling down, and people have to dodge all the falling columns or risk being crushed? Whatever. You get the idea - and can get creative, depending on what's nearby and seems logical to include.

The second main way of altering the course of the battle is through NPCs. Does an old character turn up unexpectedly for revenge? Is a beloved NPC knocked unconscious and dragged away? Is the villain who is responsible for the player's mother's death spotted on the other side of the battle field? NPCs can dramatically alter the course of events (either for good or bad), and if you've done it right, your players will have developed some kind of emotional attachment to them over the course of the campaign - so not only will this alter the nature of the battle, but also increase the emotional resonance of the session.

Make it emotional

Speaking of emotions, have a think about how to make the final session as emotional as possible. What storylines can be tied up in the session? When you're doing your prep, have a think about what fears, ambitions or goals are currently unresolved for your players - and how they might be able to find some kind of resolution for them. Does an old NPC reappear? Do the players get a chance to avenge something from several sessions back? Obviously the nature of this will depend on the campaign you've run and your players backstories - but the more resolution your session involves, the more satisfying it will be.

Include Epilogues

Finally, it's worth taking a little time at the end of the session to talk about what happens next. How do your players reintegrate themselves into a world which has been irrevocably changed by the events of the campaign? Do they continue adventuring, or try to settle back into a normal life? Where do they live? Who do they live with? Answering these questions really amplifies that sense of resolution, which makes the whole campaign feel more satisfying as a result.

I ask my players to have a think about what their characters' epilogues would look like (if they survive the battle!) in the runup to the final session. I also think through a few epilogues for various NPCs or organisations etc when I'm doing my prep for the session. It's a really lovely way to tie up the campaign and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. That said, if your players have enjoyed themselves, and would like to do another campaign in the same setting (and you have the energy to run one!) just remember that any unresolved plot threads could become great jumping off points for a spin-off campaign!

Ok, that's enough for today. I hope this has sparked a few ideas for you to bring your own campaigns to really fun and satisfying conclusions. If you get to the end of it and everyone (yourself included) wants to play again - then you know you've done it right!


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