Last night was the final episode of my Victorian vampire hunter game, Sunset Empire. I am usually an advocate of short, sharp endings in RPGs, but this time we did something a little different.
The action of the campaign actually finished last session, and that would ordinarily be the place where I stop; in the past, I've felt that it's better to go out with a bang than draw out the goodbyes. This time, I opted for an extended denouement which took a whole episode. The bad guys were already all dead or scattered, the mission complete, only a few small details left to sweep up.
The reason I went for the longer ending was partly because of the scope of the story -- SE ran for three long seasons and incorporated a lot of story and characters over the course of four years of play. The other part was that from the beginning I'd wanted the players to have an opportunity to make bold moves and really change the world with their actions; would they prop up a corrupt and decadent empire that hates them, or leave it to die at the hands of a vampire god and his Unseelie allies? (As it turns out, neither.)
Making a big change in the setting at the end of the series means that you don't really get a chance to see how that's going to play out. In this case, the actions of one of the player characters tore down the barriers between the physical world and the Middlemarch, the otherworldly realm of the faeries. Victoria and Titania were now one powerful, immortal entity, and London was transformed into something new and fresh and strange. What would the new century look like? Only allowing the players to play out a few scenes would let us know that.
I had scribbled down a few ideas for what might happen, over the greater span of time, but it turned out that we wrapped up the denouement (on a particularly choice line of dialogue) just before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. That was enough time to chart the course of a changing world and say goodbye to one of the characters, a ghost who finally surrendered his hold on the world after his half-fae paramour's death. That scene had it all -- sadness, comfort, and a laugh-out-loud end line ("What could possibly go wrong?"). We cut to black, and in the end we didn't really need to see what a magic-injected Great War or a WW2 with Unseelie Gestapo looked like.
I had hoped to bring the timeline up to 1975, where our fae character would come face to face with his punk descendents -- Johnny Rotten and a faerie that looked suspiciously like Sid Vicious. But that's another one for the cutting room floor... something you've got to let go of at the end of a long, good game.
I'm not sure I would often go back to the "long denouement" model, but I think it was a good fit this time around, and it let the players write the ending for their characters that they wanted. Or at least the one that was the most satisfying.
And so Sunset Empire rides off into the sunset.
Good show, chaps.