Many dungeon masters want to know how to finish a campaign in D&D. Some dungeon masters have run a game for 15 years and have not completed a campaign. What are they missing?
How to finish a campaign in D&D is based on luck, dedication, leveling speed, your campaign, and actually wrapping up your plot.
I have finished long campaigns, short campaigns, and ended up with a host of failures. Through these failures and successes, I hope to share with you the secrets of actually completing your D&D campaign.
People want to learn how to finish a D&D campaign because it isn’t great when 1 isn’t finished. I know people will say it is okay, not everyone completes their campaigns and it happens.
This does not change the fact that the game feels a bit hollow at the end. Potential is unreached, you and everyone else is not as happy, and an unfinished game is more forgettable than a completed one.
But why do most campaigns fail to finish? Is it because the dungeon master is at fault or is it because the players are at fault? This may surprise you, but the answer is neither and both. It depends on the situation and may incorporate a whole host of reasons why the game didn’t finish.
If you are unsure about your campaign being able to finish you must first find out why. It may not be 1 reason but instead many. That is why I have a list of the most common reasons here, and these are the reasons that we will be looking at to help you finish your campaigns.
- Luck- Real-life issues and Player synergy
- Player dedication
- DM burnout or disinterest.
- Too big.
- Not wrapping it up.
- Not knowing your timeframe.
While these issues are technically the 5 listed in our second paragraph, they need to be broken up into 7 sections. Luck is also technically 2 sections but both are based on luck so they are just lumped into 1 reason.
These 7 reasons are why you are unable to finish a campaign or are concerned about finishing your own campaign. Find out which of these reasons or reason is plaguing your game and skip to that section to fix it. I would recommend reading every section though since you might discover another reason.
Now without further ado let’s get onto reasons and how to address them!
In order to finish a campaign, you need to be a little bit lucky. People may think that how to finish a campaign in D&D is left up to a magical list that has every problem solved. There is no such list and our list here is hopefully the closest that you can get to such a thing, but even then there are variables.
In order to finish a campaign, you need to have a little luck in finding a good group and not having that group fall apart from real-life issues.
Let’s address the group part.
If you are trying to get a group together you should figure out from the first session that they are interested in your game. You also need to figure out if you can deal with this group of players or if they are not right for you. The reasons can vary from players being constantly high to players just wanting a different game like a hack and slash game instead of a story-based one.
The easiest way to figure this out is to have a session 0. Here you can explain what type of game you want to run, home rules, etc and see how the players react. If they are not interested or show signs of problems then you might want to re-think this group.
Sadly you might not be able to figure out if the group is a good fit even from session 0 or have already passed this stage. In that case, look at the first 5 sessions. If the players are not going to change, then you were unfortunate in this pick of players and need to ditch that group. If the players are showing signs of change from being new, or some other reason, you might want to give them a chance.
The option is up to you but a good synergy with players and dungeon masters is critical for making a campaign or just D&D in general work.
As for real-life issues, there isn’t much that can be done. Things can happen and real-life should always take priority. 99% of the time you cannot help someone who has a real-life issue. I know that this is not what we want to hear, but I have never seen a player or Dm try to fix another person’s problems and succeed.
These are the most common factors that can be attributed to luck. You can work around bad players sometimes but real-life issues are a campaign killer for that player. If you need to you can find a new player but it will be hard.
Most of the issues on how to finish a campaign are solvable in session 0. In session 0 make the dates, times, and requirements clear. If players say that they can make it but don’t hold up their end in the first 5 sessions then you have a player problem.
This is talked about in the luck section, but what if players suddenly 20 sessions or more stop coming? In these cases, it is either real-life issues or disinterest in the game.
If the problem is real-life issues you cannot do much as described above in the luck section. If the problems is disinterest in the game there should be a reason why.
Some players will tell you the problem when asked while others will evade or lie and say it is something else to avoid hurt feelings.
The root of the disinterest needs to be addressed. If the player feels that their time can be spent doing other things there is a reason. The other players don’t take this player seriously, the game isn’t fun for them due to recent developments, or 1 of many other reasons.
Whatever that reason is, you need to figure out what is causing the player disinterest and solve the root of the problem. If the player says they don’t feel important to the group giving them a new role might not solve the issue if the player really didn’t like their character.
Find the root and address the problem or you are only putting a bandaid on the problem.
As for them avoiding hurt feelings, this can be 1 of 2 things. Either they don’t like your Dming and fundamentally disagree with how you are running the game, or they think that you cannot take criticism.
In this instance, you need to be approachable and calm. Do not express emotions and try to find the root of the problem.
Whatever is the cause of disinterest you need to address the problem or you will not finish the campaign with that player. Have this happen twice and another problem pops up like real life and your campaign is done so really work on addressing player problems.
But players aren’t the only ones who can be at fault.
Dm burnout or disinterest
We have a whole article on Dm burnout here so read that if you are just feeling frustrated with your game or have come to think of preparation/the game as a grind. If you are only starting to feel that way and are concerned then look at our article on how to prevent Dm fatigue/burnout.
Now that burnout is addressed, disinterest is a huge problem for many dungeon masters. It takes weeks or even months for players to get through a section of your campaign. This can bore anyone and make people think about what is next or what could happen.
It is fine to think like this for planning pocket ideas for the future, but do not take these ideas too seriously. If you start planning for these events long before your party is even close to encountering them then your campaign is in danger.
Anything can happen with players and all this work could be scrapped. That can cause an unseen animosity towards players, railroading, or a host of other problems. Stay focused on where you are at now and what will happen next.
If this is a problem, then you need to figure out how to make it fun for yourself. Saying ‘it isn’t fun’ doesn’t solve anything. Try to ask instead ‘how can I make this fun?’ If throwing in an intelligent item that is cursed to only throw shade then do that. If you are wondering how to make the players actually use that item and not destroy it then look at our article on cursed items.
You need to find something to make the game enjoyable for you here and now. Thinking of some cool thing in the future is fine but stay in the here and now. Make the present fun for you and your players will most likely find the game to be interesting even if they have no idea where the plot is going.
The problem that is causing disinterest might actually be speed.
We all love leveling up. The feeling of gaining new stats and abilities is like an adrenalin rush! This also allows for the dungeon master to play with new tools and think of new ideas to challenge the players. You can do more at level 5 than at level 1 and the game is a lot more interesting.
This is why you might need to look at the speed of your game. If the leveling is too slow then players feel like they are not progressing. Hell, the dungeon master might feel the same way. This is why you might need to look at the pace of progress everyone is making.
Progress does not just mean leveling pace.
Progress can refer to the players’ speed on getting through the campaign. If the players are constantly sidetracked, don’t get victories, or have other problems it will affect the speed of your game.
If the players are sidetracked make this part of the campaign. Find a way to tie it into the major plot and make them think that everything is a master plan even if it is a thinly veiled bit of string.
Everything that the players do should have consequence. If the players are feeling like they are not doing anything then show a little bit of your plan. Let the players know that their actions are influencing the world by villains, past failures, or gratitude from people whose lives are now better.
If players don’t get victories that should be okay. It sucks to lose, but games are all about learning from failure. So is life. In these situations, the players should be able to learn from past failures and make something out of it. The villain will not change their plan if it succeeded so let the players find a way to break to plan.
We don’t learn from success that much. We do however learn a lot from failure so spin it that way and failing will be okay.
This could also be because your plans are too big.
You have a plan! A grand plan that will make your players demi-gods. This plan involves them going all the way from level 1-20 and a little bit further. But in the end, they will become demi-gods or even full gods!
This is a cool idea, but you can already see the problem. Thinking that your group will get from 1-20 is ridiculous. You cannot plan how to finish a campaign in D&D if it is too big.
That is why you will need to make sure that the scope is not too drastic. Will your players end up at level 20 and become demi-gods? Maybe, but you should not plan for it at level 1. Plan a smaller campaign at first if there is any uncertainty. A good rule that I made for this is the 5 level rule.
If your campaign spans more than 5 levels from where the party is at it has a high chance of failure.
Too many grand campaigns are planned and never completed. If the campaign is more than 5 levels there are too many uncertainties. Luck is a big uncertainty. Over 20 levels real-life will pop up and you will not be able to finish your game.
Does this mean that you can’t have an idea for what will happen at level 20? No! You can dream, just don’t try to make your dreams reality yet. The hard work to make them a reality has not happened. Without that foundation, it will not happen.
This actually presents an opportunity. Instead of making the game focused on 1 objective for 20 levels, you have 4-7 other objectives that all wrap into 1.
Isn’t it better to have 4-7 investments than 1 long drawn out one?
Make your game more meaningful by having a bunch of smaller campaigns. This way you can finish your campaigns have a great memory to look back on and have a final campaign contain a lot more meaning and personal investment.
Wrapping it up
I just want to keep going. I don’t know how to finish it. There are many reasons why you might not end up wrapping up your campaign. This is why we wrote an article dedicated to ending your D&D campaign here.
That article is dedicated to helping you wrap things up and get you fired up for this singular point.
A lot is involved in wrapping up your campaign, but it is essential on how to finish a D&D campaign.
It is a big article and contains some key points that are in this one to fire people up and finish their games. Because of this, we will not cover wrapping it up much more. Just read the article and it will help you wrap up your game.
When you plan a campaign you should have a relative timeframe to work with. If you know that the timeframe is going to be a semester or just 1 year, then you can plan accordingly. If you do not have an idea of how long your game will last, most don’t plan an ending. Many dungeon masters think their games will go on forever. Spoiler, they will not.
Many campaigns fail because the dungeon master only knows that the game is going to end in 2 sessions or last session. How to finish a D&D campaign is based on good time management. If you understand how long you have, then you should be okay if you follow the 5 level rule in the too big section.
To make sure that you keep your timeframe, you have to check in with everyone. Not by asking how long they want to play. Instead, keep in touch with their personal lives. If they are in a stable situation you should be okay sticking to your plan. If things are going awry then you can speed up the end of your campaign.
Assessing the situation and figuring out what time you actually have is an important part of finishing a campaign. Many dungeon masters do not do this and end up never finishing.
Learn how much time you have to work with and keep up to date with your players.
These 7 tips should teach you how to finish a campaign in D&D. If not teach you, they should at least give you ample warning before things completely fall apart.
Finishing a campaign is something that you and your group want to do. I have never heard of a group that was happy that a game didn’t end. This is because if a game ends you can still pick up the pieces and expand on it or make a new game. Leaving a broken game behind is not nearly as rewarding.
Once again, I hope that I have helped you complete your campaign to give you and your players a fulfilling experience.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!