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Lists, Lists, Lists!

Lists, Lists, Lists!

Do you want Production to like you? Of course you do. They’re the people who make your game beautiful, and make it even possible. Without them, you’re just a bunch of people running around in your normal clothes in some empty woods! You know what Production loves? Nicely formatted Production lists, that actually help them do their jobs.

Which is why we have here for you some updated Production List formats, written by an actual Production staffer! Ruby has gone through and made some nice clear guides for how to make good Production Lists. You can read through them with her commentary right here:

Sets & Props
Costuming
Game Systems

Now, if you’ve already written up your lists and they don’t look exactly like that, it’s not the end of the world. But you should probably go through and make sure you’ve included all the information Ruby is asking for. Trust us–she knows what Production needs to know way better than we do. To those of us on the Story Board, Production remains a terrifying and glorious mystery.

Once you’ve read through those annotated versions up above, you can click here to find blank templates for you to use. The annotated versions explain why Production needs these things; these blank ones are for you to copy and paste into your game to your heart’s content. Make life easier for you, and easier for Production, and everyone will be happy. Enjoy!

Blank Sets & Props List
Blank Costuming List
Blank Game Systems List

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The Big Finish

The Big Finish: ending your game

“GAME!”

The shout goes up and everyone cheers and collapses into hugs, eager to tell their friends stories of their epic adventure. But hold on, let’s wind back a few minutes–not far, just a few–how did we get here? Today we’re going to talk about one of the hardest parts of gamewriting: endings.

Like all stories, every game has to end somehow, and there’s an art to it. In this post I’m going to lay out some ideas as to the philosophy of endings, run through the various types of game endings, talk about some common pitfalls to avoid, and give you some practical pointers.

Philosophy of Endings

So what makes a good ending? What makes an ending satisfying? Think of your favorite story climaxes, grand finales. They’re a summation of everything that came before, everything that built up to that point. The hero confronts the villain. The traveler accomplishes their goal. The tragic atoner finds redemption. Endings bring together the themes, setting elements, characters, and goals, combining everything into a grand climax.

The unifying idea underlying all of these endings is that they revolve around two things: choice and change. The protagonists make a choice about some kind of change, and then strive to enact that choice to see the change made manifest–or not! Of course, those ideas run through just about every part of most stories, but the ending is the moment when that choice is forced and the change is determined. This is absolutely true of Wayfinder games, or at least the ones with satisfying conclusions.

“Hold on,” you say, “what are my day camp PCs choosing to change when they defeat Dark Lord Maximus?” In most Intro Games, the villain is the one seeking to change the world (usually by conquering it), and the PCs are making the choice to reject that change and stop it. To enact their choice, they’ll have to confront the villain and prevent them from manifesting their change.

Many game endings are more complex than that, with less literal changes. In advanced games, characters are often fighting each other over different ideas of change. Sometimes they’re changing the world, sometimes they’re changing themselves, sometimes they’re changing others. Often it is only through the act of self-sacrifice (choosing to change oneself) that the players can emerge victorious. Even heroes who seem to emerge from their journey unscathed have had a drastic change of perspective, which is why returning home after an adventure can be so difficult (see: every fairy tale ever). Some games are more about personal change, and others are more about changing the world–both are totally okay, but you should have a clear idea about where in that philosophical spectrum your game falls, and that should be reflected in your game’s final choices.

Games with satisfying endings foreshadow that choice throughout. That might mean telling the PCs up front that they’ll have to choose, or it might mean showing examples of similar choices. It’s important to give an alternative choice, otherwise it’s not really a choice at all, is it? In the case of intro games, that often takes the form of making it clear exactly what the villain’s victory would mean for the world.

It’s also important that the PCs understand their choice. If the players make a choice that they think is right, but then in a twist find out that the choice they made is something totally different, they’ll come away unsatisfied, with a bitter twist in their mouths. It’s possible to do this well if you’re doing it intentionally, but in general you should be pretty explicit with your PCs about the choice they’re making, and its consequences.

What Actually Goes Down

Alright, with all that philosophical mumbo-jumbo out of the way, how does your ending actually play out? What do the PCs actually do? Let’s run through a few different common types of endings.

The Final Battle

Probably the most common ending type! The two sides gather up, give some speeches, then charge and have an epic battle. Last one standing gets to call game! More detail on this later, because there’s a lot to be said about final battles.

The Ritual

Everyone stands in a circle and says some stuff in unison. We joke about these being overdone, but they’re used so much for a reason–they work really well. It allows everyone to participate, it can be beautiful and moving, and it forms a nice parallel to the intention circle we start every game with.

The Rescue

Someone or something has to be rescued! Grab what needs to be grabbed, and get outta dodge. This is often a component of or motivation for a final battle.

The Escape

EVERYTHING WILL EXPLODE! BOOK IT! This is tricky, because you need to give yourself a set destination to jump to. The docks? The helicopters? The train?

The Philosophy Debate

Let’s choose our fate! This is common when there’s an object of great power, and everyone disagrees on how to use it. These can be important, but often get bogged down in mechanics, bickering, and can be hard to draw to a satisfying conclusion, especially when a single answer has to be reached for the game to conclude.

The Choice

This is similar to the Debate, but more individual. Some people have to do a thing, and others don’t. Who will step forward? This includes moments like people volunteering to stay behind to guard a tomb forever, using up their lives to power a spell, returning to the human lands, or giving up their magic forever. Each player has to make the choice for themselves.

The Redemption

Someone (or something) messed up! But they now repent, and are offered forgiveness for what they’ve done.

The Departure

The time has come for us to leave this place, and we will do so. Everyone bids farewell to the world they know (or the world they’re visiting), and gets on the boat/steps through the portal/etc.

The Adventure Continues

We’ve finished this quest, but another awaits! Prepare yourselves, everyone, because we’ve got plenty more work to do. Done poorly, this is an unsatisfying cliffhanger. Done well, this is an exciting open-ended quest hook, that gives the players room to imagine the next chapters of their characters’ lives.

Everybody Dies

The chained god is unleashed, and everyone is consumed in fire for all eternity! The bomb goes off, and everybody dies! The monsters eat everyone! This ending doesn’t happen very often, but it… does happen. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes less so. It can be really cool, when done well! Last year’s Golden Blade ended this way, but it came about because one PC made a choice based on the way she had changed during the game, so most players came away satisfied.

Something Else Entirely

There are probably more and weirder ways to end a game, that haven’t happened before, or that I just forgot about! Push the limits, experiment!

Bringing it All Together

As you were reading through these, you probably saw your game’s ending in half a dozen of those. That’s totally reasonable! Few games end with just ONE of those endings. To make a good ending, feel free to mix, match, and combine from those. It’s not at all unreasonable to have an ending in which the heroes have an epic final battle with the Big Bad, then after defeating her, take her powers away in a ritual, after which she is redeemed, and the heroes must then depart back to their homeland. Totally reasonable ending.

The important thing is that the elements of your game have led up to this point. The players should feel like they’re using what they’ve learned and accomplished over the course of the game to pull off this finale. If they acquired artifacts, have those be useful in a big ritual! If they got sweet new powers, make them use those to defeat the villains! If they were forced to have intense moral dilemmas, bring those up again at the end!

It’s also vitally important to keep momentum going into and throughout your ending. An ending should be a big rolling climax, that sweeps up the PCs and carries them into a grand finale. If you have big plot twists, reveal them before your ending or after it–but not during. A big twist will cause momentum to grind to a halt as people react, and as information spreads through the PCs. It might seem like a cool idea to have your villain be dramatically unmasked mid-climax, but the reality of it winds up being a little impractical. It’s hard enough getting PCs to focus on their quests, and keeping that focus throughout an ending is even trickier.

The Grand Showdown

On that note, let’s talk about final battles. They happen in most games, but as often as not people don’t put much thought into them. Why not? Make your final battle interesting! Don’t just make it a bunch of people with swords fighting one big tall person with a monster weapon. At the same time, though, an overly complicated final battle can dissolve into incomprehensible chaos, which is just as unpleasant for the PCs. Here are some things to consider as you think about your final battle.

Balance. How big is the villain’s army? How many people have they recruited? Who has more powers? Do you want your PCs to feel like epic heroes rolling in and overwhelming the villains, or should it be a desperate and dangerous contest? Do you want to give your Big Bad unlimited spellslinging and tons of protections to make them a bigger threat? Or would you rather give them more backup to give the PCs more people to fight?

Objectives. Consider giving your PCs specific goals within the larger battle. This can be a fun way to make specific groups feel empowered. Does each PC team have a dedicated enemy they have to overcome? Will all the monsters respawn indefinitely until the Kaiburr Crystal is destroyed? Do the rogues have to smuggle a bomb onto the enemy’s shrine?

Tactics. Are your PCs a rag-tag band of heroes, or are they an army? What about your villains? What kinds of battle plans are the characters to use? If your PCs do have specific objectives going into the final battle, make sure they know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it, in order to avoid more and bigger chaos.

Length. How long do you want your final battle to last? Should it be a brief climax in which the PCs murder the villain? Should it be a long, knock-down drag-out brawl that leaves everyone exhausted? Should it happen in multiple stages, with changing objectives? This winds up mostly being a question of balance, but is still an important consideration on its own.

The End Button. What determines when the battle is over? Is it when the Big Bad falls, or do the last few monsters need to be mopped up? You should make sure there are one or two people who are standing by, ready to yell a lot and gather everyone as the battle reaches its climax. Transitioning into the wrap-up is a place where a lot of final battles lose their momentum.

Now, with all that said–it’s still totally okay for those questions to have simple answers. There’s nothing wrong with ending a game by having the PCs roll in swords drawn, stab the heck out of a person in a black cloak, and then celebrate with a cheesy speech. Of course, if your final battle is PC vs. PC (as occasionally happens with advanced games), then you need to give these questions some very serious thought, especially the last one.

Multiple Endings

“Hey,” you say, “I have this sweet super complex advanced scenario game, where all my PC teams want totally different things! How do I pull that off?”

Hoo boy, what a big can of worms. LET’S OPEN IT AND DIVE IN.

It is totally possible to write a game with multiple possible endings–it’s even possible to have a bunch of them happen simultaneously! Here’s how you do that. First of all, figure out what each group wants. What do they want to accomplish? What is the change they want to see enacted? Is it a personal change? A political one? A global one? Now, how do they go about accomplishing that? What is the practical way they can achieve their goal in-game? Do they send a message? Perform a ritual? Kill someone? What steps do they need to do to accomplish that?

Once you’ve figure out what your different groups are trying to do, figure out what specific thing they can do to trigger endgame. You generally want to make sure this is something that involves lots of people! A common trick is to have them need a certain number of people to complete their ritual, or need to get everyone to agree on a thing to do something, or kill an entire enemy group to satisfying their blood god. That way you don’t just get a group going off on their own in the woods and calling game.

But hold on, what if they do? What if that’s not the worst thing in the world? It’s actually totally possible to have your different groups have goals that aren’t mutually exclusive. I’ve run games where one group accomplished their goal, decided they were satisfied, and called game for themselves, while the rest of the game did something totally different for the ending. That’s totally fine! It’s up to you to decide if your multiple endings are mutually exclusive.

You do need to make sure that everyone does get SOME kind of ending, though. An easy to make sure this happens is to at some point force everyone to gather at the same place. Maybe each group trying to achieve their ending needs to use the same altar for it. Maybe there’s a crystal that everyone needs, but can only be used once. If you want your groups to fight over whose ending reigns supreme, this can be an effective way to do it.

Branching narratives and multiple ending possibilities are really tricky to juggle, but if done well, it’s one of the most intense ways to empower your PCs. If they feel like they were the ones to bring about the ending of the game–and they’re aware that it actually could’ve gone differently!–they’ll feel awesome afterwards. But of course, then you run the risk of disempowering the PCs who failed to cause their ending. It’s a tricky art, and there’s no one tried-and-true method! Good luck, though.

Common Pitfalls

There are lots of ways to have an unsatisfying ending. The most common one is to just have a lot of people miss the ending! I was once in a game where someone grabbed a few props and ran into the woods with two people, and then came out of the woods five minutes later having called game. Uh, what? Turns out he was secretly the Big Bad in disguise, and had a nuclear bomb waiting in the woods, which he detonated. Well, that was sure thrilling. In order to avoid this, make sure your ending can’t happen unless a large number of PCs are present! Sometimes that can require a bit of silly shoehorning (especially if it results in your villains delaying their ascension ritual indefinitely until the PCs show up to interrupt it), but it’s still necessary.

Another common issue is when the PCs don’t actually understand the ending. This can take a lot of forms! Maybe they don’t get who the Big Bad is. Maybe they don’t really get who they’re supposed to kill in the final battle. Maybe the twist hinges on some big secret that was revealed while they were in the bathroom. Maybe your philosophical choice gets too esoteric and goes over the heads of the ten-year-olds. While some of these aren’t really your fault, you should do everything in your power to spell out the ending for the PCs, both during the leadup to the climax and in the resolution of it. Sometimes that can be a little ham-handed, but better that than the PCs coming away confused and unsatisfied.

It’s also very easy for endings to lose momentum. People get caught up in debating what to do with the crystal, or whether or not to execute the Big Bad for their crimes. Suddenly everyone has an idea about what to do, and people are bickering, and the focus is gone. The best solution to this is to have one or two people whose job it is to make sure things keep moving. Sometimes that means the leader who keeps the discussion moving smoothly and brings things to a consensus… and sometimes that means the angry militant who’s going to get bored of talk real quick and just resort to weapons. Either way, it’s better than just standing around waiting for plot to happen.

A common rookie mistake is to have your ending totally revolve around your SPCs. The PCs sit back and watch while their SPCs beat the evil SPCs! Then the SPC gives a sad speech and dies dramatically and the PCs cry. Okay, sure, cool, but what did the PCs actually do there? Did they fight a few monsters maybe to clear a path? Booo. Make sure the PCs are directly involved, and are the ones making the choice! If you’ve currently got some SPC sacrificing their life/magic to seal the Big Bad, consider–why not have a group of PCs do that instead? Much cooler.

An Ending to Endings

PHEW. That sure was a lot of words about endings! Let’s see if we can sum all that up…
Satisfying endings usually center on a moment of enacting choice in order to manifest or prevent change.

Figure out how to have everything in your game build up to your ending, so it doesn’t just come out of nowhere.

Make sure things keep flowing smoothly and that momentum doesn’t drop as your game ends.

Final battles are crazy and chaotic and awesome! Put some actual thought into how yours goes.

Be sure to think about who actually triggers endgame buttons, and how those play out mechnically.

Ensure that however your game ends, that ending is primarily PC-driven! It’s okay to have SPCs providing guidance, but your PCs, as always, should be doing all the work.

If you’ve done all of those things, sit down, pat yourself on the back, and then hit the submit button on your game! Are there things we left out? Further questions? Our askbox is always open! For now–good gamewriting, friends.

Original post 1/13/15

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Game Submission Samples

Game Submission Samples

Sample Intro Games

The Blood Moon by Michael Phillips and Eamon Burdick (2013)

A dark fantasy about an uprising against a long-reigning vampire lord.

While this isn’t the most polished game submission, it’s a good example of how to provide a solid framework without having to go overboard on details. We love forty page long submissions, but not every game needs to be that. There’s nothing wrong with a straightforward concept that’s well-executed, and this is a good sample of that.

The Fall of Lumnoch by Jack Warren, Jay Dragon, Hunter Igoe, Alex Hoffman, Eric Lasko, and Leo Lasdun (2013)

With the Void itself devouring all of reality, the last survivors of the land of Lumnoch must set aside their differences to find a way to save their world – or, failing that, at least escape it.

This game submission, the climax of the collaboratively-written Morforia trilogy, does a fantastic job of weaving its setting and tone into the actual meat of the submission. Through effective use of character quotes and emotionally charged writing, the tone and themes are conveyed very clearly. Each race and region is distinct and interesting, drawing on classic fantasy elements without ever relying on them.

Luminites of Uliark by Jack Warren (2014)
High fantasy superheroes deal with the origins of their powers, the dangers of the monarchy and grand betrayals.

This is a phenomenal example of how to write a classically structured Intro Game that’s in a different genre than a standard fantasy game. It’s chock full of superhero tropes and ideas and themes at every level, without ever breaking away into confusing advanced territory. It’s also exceptionally well-written and clear in its purpose and focus. It pays special attention to the experience of the campers, and includes proposed workshops to support its themes (which went great, for the record).

Paradise Marches to War by Jeremy Gleick (2014)

In the Everlast, the Realms of the Gods, trouble is brewing. A great divide between the pantheons is coming to a breaking point.

Jeremy set out to write an intro game with some advanced concepts and conventions. The strongest part of this submission are the different groups in game. Rather than write out all the information in game, Jeremy conveys what is necessary to the Story Board.

Marathon Wakes by Mike Phillips (2015)

A fantasy intro game where the heroes must descend to the underworld to cease the relentless burning sun. Persephone myth meets Mad Max.

The Game Submission is perfectly formatted and organized. The world background and mythos transitions into the system of governments, then into recent history and the PC groups. Flow is solid, although it is written in huge paragraphs. A great example of a “classic” archetypal intro game, with straightforward PC empowerment and fun monsters to fight.

Sample Advanced Games

Factory Town by Dylan Scott and Ben “Books” Schwartz (2010)

A bleak fantasy, in a world where the heroes failed and a dark Emperor rules over all.

An example of a small, tightly focused high concept Scenario game. This submission takes a straightforward concept and explores many different aspects of it, while sticking to a small scale. The submission is neatly divided into sections for ease of reading, and has a high level of polish, with a table of contents and early overview.

The Secret Light by Roy Norvell-Graham and Deanna Abrams (2013)

Come to The Secret Light to find meaning in your life. No, this is definitely not a cult. Definitely not a horror game!

With this submission, less is more. Each tier of The Secret Light conveys the cult dynamic without being too wordy. The cast list throws in ideas for each character, and there is a sample character sheet. The flow shows the acceleration of the game, as well as specific horrifying acts. The writers don’t have everything done yet, but they give a clear idea of what’s to come.

The Golden Blade by Jay Dragon (2014)

In a world where adventuring is an organized sport, teams from all across the land compete for the grand title! A game of monsters, mayhem and budgets.

This is a great example of how to build a game in a very non-traditional structure and highlight unique elements. This game was built from the ground up around sports and sports issues, and the submission is full of incredibly deep mechanical information on that. The concept is a bit risky (or at least unorthodox), and the submission makes sure to include the elements that will make it fun for the campers–cool corporate sponsors, long budget lists and team stats to keep track of! Even with an unfinished world background and not much flow included, this submission’s concept and execution made it a must-play.

The Third Gate by Sadia Bies (2015)

Famine has ravaged the kingdom and death is clawing at your door. This is not the time of Gods or Kings, there is no help on the horizon.

The overview is beautifully written; it contains the basic premise and setting, as well as the game’s foundational elements. The writer’s intent is clear from the beginning. The whole game submission is very complete, and ready to run. Also the game conventions are super interesting and clearly fit with the themes.

The Interstate by Ruby Lavin and Roy Norvell-Graham (2015)

This is an advanced scenario game set in a low-key magic rural town, and is tied together by a strong aesthetic thesis. The production lists are well done (if informally written). The flow is written in a unique way that conveys vibe as well as plot. The submission only has a vague world background and group/character descriptions; but sometimes, less is more!

Sample Finale Games

Secrets of the Forbidden Isle by Michael Joseph Grant V (2014)

A group of adventurers journey to a Necromancer’s secret temple in an attempt to resurrect their beloved princess, hoping to stave off the collapse of their Empire.

This is a game built from the ground up around its theme; it has a strong thesis that is clearly expressed and runs throughout every piece of the game. The flow is built around the stages of death, and the PCs’ journey through the underworld is a perfect integration of plot and concept.

When the War Came by Quinn Milton and Ben “Books” Schwartz (2015)

An epic war story inspired by Chinese and Japanese mythology and history.

This game submission is very complete, well written and organized. Production lists are incredibly thorough and are broken down into sections of game for optimal comprehension. Lists include a slew of photos as references for the production staff members. The world background is epic and also consistently comes out in the game. The submission is structured consciously to be easy to read and understand.

Original post date 11/28/2015