I love a good epilogue in an RPG. It’s tricky in a limited time slot to make sure that when a session ends, it can end properly in a satisfying manner. I’ve been trying to improve in this way as it’s a good way of finishing a character’s story once the action’s done.
Think of it like The Wire or Game of Thrones. The penultimate episode is normally where all the action happens, then the finale lets the dust settle, puts all the toys away and has some potential hints for the next season.
Most of the time for a one-shot I can get an at least a five minute epilogue from players, getting them to sum up their characters’ fate in a sentence or two. No one ever manages it in that short an amount of time, but that’s fine as long as its short. The King is Dead had a fun epilogue with each of us as youths vying to be the family to take the throne. My character was a naïve son of a duplicitous family. While two of the families were going to war, his family’s forces picked both sides off and took the throne. He was the king in name only, with the rest of the family ruling through him. His epilogue was the kind of solace he and one of the other nobles who was now under house arrest had in secret. Two of the other characters had an epilogue of regrouping in another country and scheming an eventual return.
Then there are the longer epilogues. My weekly group, The In-Fighters, have way too often narrated their own retirement, downfall or deaths. In tremulus, the group spent the finale having sent some gangsters to their death and then squabbling about whether to sacrifice the psychic aunt of the gravedigger to some mi-go. The player of the gravedigger and some of the others came to an impasse. The crook phoned a cab and sent the aunt away while everyone else was arguing, then told the group he’d sent her to a retirement home in Boston. The truth was he’d told the taxi driver to take her to the warehouse the mi-go were hiding in and leave her there. The players knew, the characters didn’t.
The epilogue started out with the vagrant who found a home and a job as an orderly, even starting to romance a diner owner. That was nice. The politician became mayor, but was surrounded by scandal, which was frankly inevitable as he was the one to hire the group to do all kinds of shady things. Then the fake psychic who’d stolen a Necronomicon from a man named Whateley was arrested, then the police station burnt down when the old wizard came looking for the book. This had the added bonus of fulfilling a prophecy that the psychic aunt said earlier in the campaign that the police station was going to go on fire. Then the gravedigger narrated finding out his aunt wasn’t in any care home in Boston. Finally the crook narrated coming out of a speakeasy, drunk and merry about how things went down. He sat down in his car and didn’t notice the gravedigger in the back seat, readying a garrotte. A grim, fun ending and a death entirely agreed upon by both players involved.
Finally I’ll return to Dungeon World as its something I’ve run a massive campaign of. After two seasons, a journey through hell and out the other side, then a fight with the avatar of an anti-god, the group finished the action at the end of the penultimate session. I’d already pencilled in a final session to be a full epilogue to the game. I didn’t have anything specific planned, but instead asked the group to take turns telling me: what happens to them in the immediate aftermath of the finale, what happened a week later, then what happened a year later. Each scene could be anywhere from a top down third person description, or a scene taking several minutes to run through. There were happy endings, sad endings, a new beginning and one of the group became a kind of prismatic wolf creature sworn to protect the multiverse. You know, the usual kind of ending. We didn’t really use the system that much, as we knew the characters and the world enough, we knew this was the end of the line for the cast, so free play worked for us.
The next big campaign I run, I definitely want to do this sort of thing for. Players and GMs can get really invested in the characters, so while I’m not a fan of playing the same game forever, I definitely approve of this method of definitively saying goodbye to the story.