Nothing is worse than playing a game for an extended period of time; months, years, decades, only to see it whither and die with no satisfactory conclusion. When that happens it just leaves everyone who took part feeling very unfulfilled with no sense of closure. When you have invested so much in a character you don't want to leave him right in the middle of a quest, you want to see him make it through it. Unfortunately that doesn't always happen.
My group has been together a while now, but up until recently we just couldn't finish a game. Now a big part of this was the philosophical debate within the group about whether or not a game should have an end and not just be a constantly running thing that ends only when the players have all lost interest. I have always approached a game I am building as one might view a single season of a television show. TV seasons have a beginning, middle, and ending, but that isn't to say that the cast won't reunite for another season. If a game is successful there is almost always room for a sequel campaign.
That was the approach I took during the last game I ran, Legacy of New Lago. I wanted the end to provide not only a sense of closure, but a real sense of accomplishment. I wanted the players to know, if they were victorious, that they had really achieved something special. In short, I wanted a truly epic ending. I got some advice from DNAPhil's article on Delivering the Goods over at GnomeStew, but I still felt I was missing something. I wanted the end of the game to be truly special, to do something no one in our group had ever done. Then the idea hit me... I would build out the battlefield.
I had a picture in my head of the final battleground. An ancient ruined temple with weather worn statues and crumbling buildings, I figured I could give it a try. I did some research online and got some helpful tips and set out to purchase or requisition what I would need.
Here is a picture of my supplies. Nothing overly expensive here, in fact I was able to salvage a lot of it from my parents garage. What?! They weren't using it. Some things, like the plaster of paris I did buy, but it was dirt cheap at Home Depot. I had to buy a massive board for a base and have them cut it so I had a ton of leftovers there. My end board was 3 feet by 5 feet, the rest of the twin sized bed plank I never used.
Next is a look at my work area. I'm not going to lie... it got pretty messy. That pink you see is the left over foam board I used. Everything you see is made out of the foam board, it's really great stuff. Don't try to use superglue on it though. It dissolves the foam and releasing some really nasty (and more than likely toxic) fumes.
Here is the best picture I have of the whole terrain piece. I took it when I put it into storage... also in my parents' garage... What?! They weren't using that space anyway. The PCs began the battle on the near side while their opposition began on the far side already "entrenched" in the ruins.
The water is made of silicon, also very cheap and very smelly.
Here are some close up shots of the ruins. Made of that pink foam board.
Again I'm going to mention the usual disclaimer... I have no artistic talent to speak of. But just like with digital mapping you don't need it, sure it helps, but you don't have to be artistically gifted to make something that your group will love and that will create a long lasting memory.
This terrain is crap compared to what some people can make, but it did its job well. My players realized that this was a serious battle, the fate of the world was at stake, to say nothing of the lives of their own characters. They had fought battles against their arch enemy over the course of the whole campaign. Some they won and some they lost, but none of it mattered as they stepped onto that final battlefield with everything on the line. Even without these pictures to remind me I'll always remember this fight. How Trogan and Klemdo hid behind the weathered obelisk, how Viola and Kain fought off Voraptis' minions while their allies charged ahead, how Alexis took cover behind some rubble while being blasted with spell after spell, and how Phineas who was hopeless the whole campaign rose the challenge and became a true hero.
That's what it's all about, the stories and memories we take away from the game. No part of a story is as important as the end, it is the part that leaves a lasting impression in everyone's mind. Next time you are working on a new campaign spare a thought for how the game will end and find some way to make it truly special and memorable. Whatever it is your players will appreciate it and the end will be that much sweeter.