On Wednesday we talked about endings. Specifically I stated my belief that it is better to aim for a sufficient ending than a great ending, and I talked about what it takes to have a sufficient ending. Today I want to narrow the focus a little bit more on the table top gameplay aspect of things and touch on some things you definitely want to include before your game comes to an end, even if it only happens in the end.
Player Pay Off
One of the biggest things to remember to address is paying off the players. By this I don't mean giving them money - but if you are can I join your game? - but rather giving them the big pay off for the projects they've been working on.
How does this work? Well, for example, if a character has put a lot of time into restoring, repairing, tuning, and customizing a piece of equipment then they should get to use that piece of equipment and, preferably, in as dramatic a fashion as possible. If another PC has spent a lot of time cultivating contacts and lines of information, then those contacts and lines of information should provide some key piece of information.
Essentially, the stuff your players invested in should matter, and the more that was invested the more it should matter. For some characters it might matter for longer than just the end and that is fine, they don't need as big a pay off, but if someone has been investing but not reaping the benefits, they should get paid off in some significant way at the end of the game. Otherwise they're going to leave the game wondering what was the point of all the time and effort they put into that thing.
Don't Force The Plot
One of the things I've seen a lot of new GMs do is force the plot, especially near the end. The idea they have in mind, the idea they've had since the beginning, is that things were going to happen in this certain way and that was going to make it super awesome and cool. Only, the game they were playing - the game the PCs were playing - didn't work towards that ending.
This is what I mean when I say an ending needs to make sense. If the story your PCs have been playing and focusing on is more about the battle than the politics, than the ending should be more about the battle than the politics. Yes, that can suck if you had a huge master-stroke political scene ready to go, but if the PCs aren't interested or playing that game forcing them into it can make things stale. That doesn't mean that the political part can't have an impact (choices do have consequences after all) but it shouldn't be the be all end all focus.
Ask Your Players
If you are having problems planning the end, but know your game is working towards one, it can be smart to ask your players what they want to see resolved and what story lines interest them. This doesn't have to be an end game spoiler, but the conversation can make things interesting. Maybe someone is really invested in a side character and wants them to come into more prominence. Maybe someone really wants to see the aftermath of something that already happened. The point is your players are telling the story as much as you are, so why not poll them when it comes time to figure out the end?