Monday, July 16, 2012

Ending The Session

Believe it or not there is an art to ending your sessions. Some GMs have a natural understanding of this, and they leave their sessions off with the players chomping at the bit for more. Others don't, and the end of the session is nothing special aside from a sign that the adventure won't continue for whatever amount of time is between your game sessions (2 weeks for me, so a long time.) There are some easy tricks to follow though to end your session in such a way that the players will be chomping at the bit to get back into the action. Let's talk about that today.

Have An End Time In Mind
When I was younger a lot of my gaming sessions were scheduled like this: we meet up friday at 6 and run until we want to stop. Sometimes this meant the game went on until 2 or 3 in the morning, other times it meant the game was called at 10 or 11. While those long sessions were fun, and a good time could still be had with the shorter ones, it is only now that I see the real benefit an end time can give you in creating an effective break.

Currently my games follow the following schedule: We'll get started as close to 6:30 as possible, and I'll run until about 10:30 or 11. Now the close to 6:30 as possible is important for getting everyone to the table at the time. The 10:30 or 11 end time is also important though for a few reasons. First and foremost, it segments a section of time where the players know they'll be playing in the game. Sure, we still have days where tangents happen all the time, but for the most part everyone shows up intending to be in game for the 3-4 hours that have been sectioned off. Secondly, it gives me - the GM - a clear indication of how long the session will be, and thus I can plan accordingly.

Track Your Players
You want to figure out how long it takes your group to do things. If you have a large table and it takes you an hour to do a single combat round, then a big 5+ round fight is going to take almost the whole session for your group and you probably want to avoid those. If your group regularly goes through about 3-4 scenes every 2-3 hours, then  you have room to sprinkle a light fight here or there to stretch that out. The point is that every group goes at a different rate. Only experience will tell you how fast your group goes, but knowing about "how much" gets done on an average session is important for having a good ending in mind.

Plan Further Than One Session
Last bit of preparatory advice: plan further than the end of the next session. On average maybe your group can handle 3 fights and five scenes, but today you're 6 scenes in and is only been half your play session but fights aren't stretching it out because one of your players is rolling crit after crit. These things happen, and some sessions your players are going to cover two,three, or maybe even four times as much ground as they usually do. On the other hand, sometimes they'll cover a lot less, but the sessions where they cover more are what often gets GMs in trouble. Whenever possible you want enough material to run two, maybe even three sessions ahead of where you are. Maybe not as detailed as you normally would be, but you want to have the next story points in mind at least.

Find The Moment
Now that you have a schedule, know where the players will probably be, and are prepared to go further comes the hard part. During the session you have to find the right moment to end the session. Some of these are clear and easy to spot. For example, I don't recommend starting a big fight when you have 30 minutes left in the night, nor do I ever recommend ending session in the middle of a combat unless you have no other choice. Others can be harder to spot and vary depending on the group, the time, and what else is happening.

For help in "finding the moment' I honestly recommend everyone watch the anime Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny. Almost every episode has a great ending that may, or may not, be a cliff hanger but still leaves you wanting more and knowing you can't have it (unles you have the next episode available.) In many cases the shows timing for these endings is beyond amazing, and you can learn a lot from seeing how they handle that - and how they use it to begin the next episode.

The point here is that you want to end the session with a clear indicator of what the next session will begin with. As such, any time there is about to be a resolution it can be a good idea to end the session just before the resolution can happen, and then begin with it the next session. The larger the answer, the more poignant the ending spot will be.  Other great end points are times when all the characters are in some sort of transition (say, sleeping) but have done something to pu events in motion.

Treat your game like an episode of your favorite show - preferably one with a continuous story - and you'll start seeing the ending spots. Just have to watch out for them.

Watch The Time
The last advice for this post: watch the time. As the GM I like to have something - a watch, my phone, a computer - readily available for me to discreetly check the time while I am GMing. When I get into the last hour of play I open my eyes to find a good ending moment. If I am not in that last hour, I guage how much time I have left and either ramp things up or begin to ramp things down. The key is to be discreet. Check the time too often and too obviously and you give off the impression that your bored. You want t monitor the time and use it as an advantage to hold the tone you want your game to have, not have your players think you are bored at the head of the table.

Also, don't be afraid to end session a little early - almost any time in that last hour is fair game provided it is a good end point - or to go a little late if a good end point is in sight. Obviously when going late you tell your players it might do so, but the end spot, a natural end spot, will make it a lot easier for everyone. If you end early, you just have time to talk about things with your players before everyone goes their separate ways. If you end late, just remember people may need to get out of there quickly once you are done.

Your Thoughts?
Any tips for finding a good end point you'd like to share? Sound off in the comments.

P.S. I apologize if there are more spelling errors than normal in this. First time writing a blog post on house mate's new "public area" laptop. I'd use my own computer, but this one has my mouse and headphones on it already and I'm lazy....


  1. Like your post and I totally agree that ending a session with some sort of drama is the way to go. We only play for 2 hours every week and I usually start looking at the clock with about an hour to go to plan, as best I can, how to end things.

    One thing I do differently is that I will end a session, happily, in the middle of combat. But, I like to do this when things look grim, or there's some mystery to the opponent. This seems to bring the players back enthusiastically, wondering, what the heck are we in for?

  2. My favourite endings are usually just before a fight looks like it's about to kick off, preferably a fight the players don't think they can win. They will spend the down time trying to figure a way out of it, and to be fair, if they do a good enough job, I'll often let them. Other than that, my biggest bit of advice would be to pick a memorable moment to end.

    As a GM I suck at keeping notes of what's going on. I am actually a bit of a lazy GM, and have recently blogged about it - - so picking a point that will stay in everyone's mind, including the GM's, is very much the way to go.

    When it comes to timing, one the biggest issues I have is last orders at the pub we run the game in, and watching the level of alcohol intake as the night progresses. True, my players become a bit more brave about things, but when it starts to get silly, it might be time to think about ending for the night.

  3. Chad: Ending in combat is something that has to be done at times. I often prefer to end any hyper tense situations in the session at hand when possible, if only because I've found it very hard to get the feeling of tension and intensity back again the next session. Some folks can do it though. I envy those folks.

    Shorty: Cliff hanger, or obvious "there's more' endings can be great. Giving the players time to think before a tough situation can also be good. Also, thanks for the blog post. As a fellow corner cutter, I'll have to peruse it carefully.

  4. There are two issues to ending in combat. One is making sure you can pick up - do you have the map state and all of the character's states accurately recorded? What if one player cna't make it?

    The other issue is that during combat people remember what went on and that might be an issue a couple weeks later. Remember which monsters were more hurt and which ones were tougher is hard.