Write the Damn Ending First!

Some say the journey is more important that the destination. I disagree. No matter the journey’s quality, the destination needs meaning, a reward for the long road travelled. This applies equally to novels, television shows and role-playing campaigns. That said, many writers tend to focus on the concept and the journey while ignoring the closing act.

And it is driving me crazy!

Take dramas like “Lost,” “X-Files” and “Star Wars” as examples. Each one has a very high-concept and an interesting cast of characters. Their respective creators generated fresh and exciting worlds that drew in viewers. Viewers that invested time and money in the stories. After faithfully following these dramas for literally years, the big payoff is…well…crap.

It is like the writers only focused on the pitch and the first season and did not take the long view. By focusing on the short-term, errors, inconsistencies and outright stupidity creep into the story. Then, when someone realizes the plot is beginning to get sloppy, some ludicrous plot bandaging comes into play (that was not Bob, it was his never-mentioned twin that died!)

I am not saying it is a universal problem. Many writers do a good job of driving a story towards a goal.

Babylon 5‘s” entire plot run existed, at least in outline form, before the first season ended. Robert Jordan claimed he knew the last scene of the “Wheel of Time” series before beginning the project. (As an aside, while I am thrilled Jordan knew the ending, it is too bad he so terribly lost control of the middle!)

My rant today is a plea to game masters everywhere. Much like a television series, ongoing role-playing campaigns need an ending first. Excluding the “ending sucks” problem mentioned above, it makes writing the intermediary adventures much easier. It forces the GM to ask himself, “does this adventure lead towards my ending?” Unless you are intentionally writing “filler” adventures (which I do not recommend) then whatever you created needs revision.

More than that,  have a ending keeps the story lean and focused. NPCs no longer disappear after one session. If there is an NPC in the story, he matters. Defeated enemies now mean more than a pile of treasure and experience, they advance the story.

So, do not write an elaborate plot outline, write an ending first and work backwards. It is how I wrote my recent “Alpha Omega” campaign and it worked great! I hope it works as well for you.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

4 thoughts on “Write the Damn Ending First!

  • June 1, 2010 at 8:31 am

    If you are talking about a dramatic TV show, then yes, plotting the end is a good idea. But for an RPG? I think it’s a TERRIBLE idea. You will relentlessly railroad your group to achieve the ending you planned out. Basically, doing this removes player control and essentially the entire point of RPGs.

  • June 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I’m going to respectuflly disagree here… the more you plan and try to set in stone the more life, PCs, etc. will work against you. I agree wholeheartedly with the above post about the feeling of railroading creeping in to an RPG, but also take some time and think about what you are asking for.

    If you have a TV show slated to go out 6+ years and a core actor dies in a car accident you now have to re-write things and it’ll almost never be as good the second, third, or fourth revision. How many characters on LOST left / were forced to leave for various reasons?

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand where you are coming from and how something like LOST can get emotions running high! I’m just saying be careful not to jump too far the other direction when you don’t like where you find yourself standing.

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