Well, we’re all still here, so we may as well discuss ending the world in role-playing games.
Apocalyptic scenarios are always a fun – if final – way of ending a game. In heroic campaigns the goal is to avert the apocalypse, and in horror campaigns it might be simply to survive it. And if the game master is looking to just finish the campaign, then there’s no means of “winning” – the world ends, period.
One of the more popular theories of the world ending on December 21, 2012 is the arrival of Nibiru, a planetary object that either collides or passes by Earth. Call of Cthulhu has several scenarios that address this concept.
- “Music of the Spheres” by Kevin Ross in The Stars Are Right is a campaign-changing event. The Great Plains Cruciform Array (GPCA) picks up the resonance of “Nemesis,” but it’s Ghroth, the Harbinger and the Maker of the Doom of Worlds.
- Similarly, “Long Live the Prince” in the Delta Green role-playing game features a Scientologist-like cult known as Enolsis that is duped into luring Ghroth to Earth by aliens.
- “Nocturnum” is a full campaign from Fantasy Flight Games that features the arrival of a comet. What’s great about this campaign is that it features a conspiracy to cover-up the truth and then, once the word is out, has the PCs experience the full panic of a world gone mad. In my campaign, I switched the comet to Ghroth, combining all three scenarios into one apocalyptic showdown on 12/21/12.
For fantasy games, there’s several ways to end a campaign.
- “Tale of the Comet” is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure that features alien invaders.
- “When the Sky Falls,” by Bruce Cordell features a shooting star that heralds a divine apocalypse for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.
- There’s also Robert J. Schwalb’s “Elder Evils,” which has everything from a life-warping comet landing on the planet to an undead planetoid bringing death to the world.
Sometimes, however, the end of a campaign comes about accidentally. In high school I had several campaigns implode because of bad rolls or poor planning – basically, a Total Party Kill (TPK).
It should be noted that these were campaigns, not one shot adventures. The PCs developed, advanced in power, and were substantial enough that inevitably pissed off that their character died.
COLLAPSE #1 – ORIENTAL ADVENTURES: I was DMing this one.
The PCs had infiltrated a castle and were battling bad guys in a courtyard with a big nasty pit — if you fall in, you instantly burst into flames (presumably, you fall into a volcano beneath the castle…or something). For cinematic effect, the bad guys were battling the PCs at the edge of the pit. There were five PCs against lots of low-level bad guys. One of the bad guys managed to push one of the PCs into the pit. I attempt to give the fallen PC a fighting chance and have another PC attempt to grab him with a Dexterity check. He didn’t just fail, he fumbled the check. The next PC made another grab, and FUMBLED. He fell in. The PC after him made a check and succeeded. At this point, there was a long chain of heroes who were all about to fall to their doom.
I asked the top PC to make a Strength check. He failed. They all began sliding in.
By this time, the other bad guys were tearing the remaining PCs apart. Two PCs panicked and ran screaming, attempting to scale a wall. One was nailed to the wall with a spear; the other was killed by an arrow as he reached the top of the wall.
Meanwhile, back at the pit, I invented a friendly NPC to grab the PC at the top of the pit. He failed his Dexterity check. Every character in the campaign fell into the pit and burst into flames.
We all agreed to not play Oriental Adventures anymore. Since then, I learned as a Dungeon Master that “instant death” scenarios where a bad roll kills the PC…well, it sucks and I try to avoid using it.
COLLAPSE #2 – STAR WARS (WEG): I created a series of adventures based on some adventure seeds that WEG provided in the back of one of the books.
One of the PCs was a bounty hunter with one of those thermonuclear detonators from “Return of the Jedi” – it was part of his bounty hunter template. The PCs found themselves surrounded by a mob of cat-like aliens in a cargo bay. The idea being, the PCs either negotiate or fight their way out, breaking free to their spaceship and escaping by the skin of their teeth.
The bounty hunter detonated his thermonuclear bomb, killing everybody.
We stopped playing Star Wars after that.
COLLAPSE #3 – HEROES UNLIMITED: My superhero was a powerful psionic who suffered from the “berserk” insanity trait.
His specialty was telekinesis and he enjoyed psionically “wielding” two scalpels to cut up his foes. He was quite a creepy guy. During a combat situation, a mental-affecting villain freaked out my character. His berserk insanity was triggered. He begins attacking everybody. The villains went down right after that happened.
My character (I can remember his name) proceeded to slice and dice half the entire party before being killed by the remaining PC, who killed him.
COLLAPSE #4 – HEROES UNLIMITED: One of the PCs decided he would actually play a double agent for the bad guys.
He thought it would be cool to play a traitor. Apparently, the GM thought so too. He tossed a grenade into the middle of the party, killing us all. Nobody thought it was funny.
That was the last time we played Heroes Unlimited.
In retrospect, these campaigns imploded due to:
- Lack of player interest
- Inexperienced GMing
- Slavish devotion to the dice roll
- Scenario flaws that were so bad, they could destroy a game
- Bad game design
I imagine this mess happens more often with a lot of players extremely devoted to the rules rather than the spirit of the game and unintentionally ruining their own fun because of it.
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