As a dungeon master, you have the power to create an unforgettable experience for your players. One of the most important aspects of any D&D adventure is the ending. A satisfying ending can leave players feeling accomplished and excited to play again. A great one-shot ending can make the difference between new players coming back to the table – or not.
Here are a few tips for giving your D&D adventure a satisfying ending:
Make the ending epic.
Your one shot ending should be where you really go big. How you define “going big” depends on the scope, theme and genre of the adventure.
For a fantasy RPG or D&D one-shot ending this probably means a climactic boss fight with the villain whose actions kicked off the one shot. For a heist game, it might mean a huge, life-altering score. For a murder mystery, it might mean learning the killer is far more dangerous than the players realized, or the discovery of supernatural elements.
Look at the encounters and obstacles you have thrown at your players, and hit them with something that feels at least a little above their pay grade. If there isn’t any real sense that failure is likely, the ending might feel like a letdown, even if the party succeeds.
Make the ending personal.
The ending should be personal to the players. This could mean tying the ending to the characters’ backstories or to the events of the adventure. If you built-in personal stakes from the beginning, you’ve already got this covered. (Check out our epic guide to one-shots and the related printable worksheet for more on this).
This might mean the ending provides obvious next steps for their personal character quests, such as avenging a dead loved one. It might mean the characters are now released from some obligation, or free from some debt.
For divine casters, you might tie the conclusion into their deity’s purpose. For a warlock, you could dole out more information about their mysterious patron. If your party is involved in a faction or guild, this is a great moment to connect to either their organization – or their nemeses.
Making the ending personal will make it more meaningful for the players and will make them more likely to remember it.
Make your one shot ending matter.
A satisfying ending is one that feels consequential. This is true whether your players end the adventure celebrating their success – or lamenting their loss.
If they’ve defeated the villain, what are the effects of their win? Describe how the people and places affected by their destructive influence begin to recover. Distribute the rewards they’ve earned with their heroic actions. Those rewards can be both material treasures and intangible things like public accolades, boons or favors that help them progress towards their personal goals, or access to previously forbidden resources.
If they failed, what are the consequences? Show the devastation the villain’s success has caused. Describe the toll it takes on the characters, and what they lose because of their failure. Again, as with the rewards, this can be material losses but also a loss of morale and confidence.
Don’t forget the possibility of a “successful … for now” ending. Maybe they forced the villain to flee, and delayed rather than eliminated the threat. Even in describing this mixed result, you need to show how their actions mattered.
The End. Now what?
Before you leave the table, consider where you and your players want to go next. Do they want to continue telling the story of these characters? If you think there’s a possibility of continuing, then it’s smart to embed some seeds for their next adventure as you’re wrapping up this one. Creating a whole campaign a single one-shot at a time is a totally valid strategy!
If they plan to continue playing with their one-shot characters, might be when you help them level up. It’s also a good time to do a check-in with your players to see if there are any tweaks you could make to improve your adventure. Your first players are effectively playtesting your one-shot, so make sure they know you appreciate their ideas.
Here are a few more tips:
- Don’t be afraid to change the ending. If the ending isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it. The players will never know if you needed to make changes to the story to make the ending more satisfying.
- Be prepared for the unexpected. The players might do something that you didn’t expect. Be prepared to improvise!
- Make notes for next time. Be sure to make note of what really worked, and what could use some work. The next time you run this one shot with a different party, or write the next one-shot, you’ll be even more prepared.
💡Ready to get started? Download this great printable one-shot worksheet from our founder, game designer Janet Forbes.
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co-written by Janet Forbes & Kat French