Very short post today. It's nothing personal, but I've deleted three or four other posts at this point and haven't slept very well. Still, I want to have something to talk about, and so today I'm going to talk about endings and why they may take a bit more thought than you would otherwise think.
Before we begin I do want to point out that a lot of this post was prompted by my finally finishing Mass Effect 3. If you haven't beaten ME3, no worries I won't spoil anything - aside from what the topic already did. If you have beaten ME3, then you know what I am talking about.
Basically, it goes like this. Sometimes we think the stories we are telling are about one thing when they've actually been presented as being about another. This can be the simple case of bad focus - a war story thinks it is about the feelings of brotherhood that develop between soldiers when it is actually just about the battles and action - or a case of oversight in the part of the story teller - you forget to give key details because it seems obvious to you, but isn't as obvious without that knowledge. The problem is that when these things happen, the ending that is presented for the story can feel like it just comes out of left field and blind sides the players/audience. Things they had no idea were going on become the focus and worst of all, the ending addresses the wrong thing leaving the audience unfulfilled.
For example, with the war story idea I used above, an ending that focused on the feeling of brotherhood could have as it's climax the emotional moment between soldiers as the last bits of 'outsider' feelings are wiped away and the squad becomes whole. This would even be a good end point for a story about that. However, it could also mean ending the telling in the middle of an arc that has gotten enough focus that the audience thinks it should end. They're now left feeling unfulfilled by the ending.
In a sense, this feeling is why some people just don't like movies like Inception. They don't want to be left with a question at the end as to what happened, they want to know what happened and not giving them that answer leaves them less than satisfied.
As a GM bringing about a satisfactory ending is an almost monumental task. The game has been going on for weeks/months/years now, and a lot of things have likely slipped through the cracks. Important NPCs who have been laying low may be completely forgotten by the players. Other NPCs, ones who aren't important at all, may be believed to be the fulcrum points of the universe. It's crazy.
Because of this, when ending an RPG you need to look over what you have done so far and ask yourself what the story/game has been about. If the ending can't address that aspect, then it isn't really an ending. It's just the last thing everyone gets to see.
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