This is Part Two of the Exemplary DM's oh-so-meta two-part Cliffhanger Episode!
How can you as a Dungeon Master take advantage of the dramatic mechanic of the cliffhanger in your campaign tonight? How can you avoid disappointment while preparing for excellence when setting your players up to maximum anticipation?
This episode contains items six through ten of our very own tips for pulling off a Cliffhanger in your D&D session tonight!
- Bad cliffhangers may do one of these:
- Change the genre.
- Send the heroes back to medieval Japan.
- Introduce an unprepared-for permanent change.
- Bring back someone the players are already fucking sick and tired of, or a villain they literally just killed.
- Like Harry Potter.
- Have Patrick Duffy walk into a shower
- Sorry, your princess is in another castle.
- Railroad the players into a scripted action or reaction that they probably would not have otherwise done, robbing them of a decision.
- Remember, a cliffhanger is supposed to prepare the party for action, not spoil any action. You don't want to rip control away from players.
- Tailor the cliffhanger to each one of your characters. End of William's last game session, in which he cliffhangered each of the PC’s. The players, who are underground hunting Drow, are traveling through a tunnel to find themselves overlooking a breeding ground for the spider queen spider’s.
- Two of the players notice that the prize artifact of their tribe, missing for years, is embedded in the boss spider’s head, serving as its power source.
- One of the players sees a figure across the room on the far wall, hiding in the shadows, and upon catching a glimpse of her face, realizes it is his long lost love interest.
- Another player receives a foreboding warning from her sentient artifact.
- And the final player’s sight returns before the battle, just in time for him to open a long lost letter from his time travelling girlfriend, which contains a heart breaking goodbye and a character backstory-referencing warning... oooOOOOOoooohhhh....
- Now remember, ending a session on a cliffhanger is going to give the players lots of time to think about their reaction. When you reconvene, have your prep work done and your “yes, and” face on, because they may decide to go in a different direction from the one you were hoping. Be willing to be flexible enough to allow them to react.
- Use a cliffhanger at the beginning of the campaign, which changes the world and shocks the players, much like what happened at the beginning of the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie, where Kirk’s dad dies.
- Or similarly, when you use a cliffhanger at the end of a vignette, the PC’s can discover the resolution of later on. This is pretty much the default use of a vignette.
- A cliffhanger is not something to be overused, because it can have some negative effects.
- For example, a cliffhanger can also be a big disappointment if on the return trip, you cheap out and “nerf” the action. (Have Patrick Duffy step out of the shower and say it was all a dream.) No Deus Ex Machina resolutions to your suspenseful conflict, such as Lord of the Rings Eagles sweeping all the dwarves away to safety, unless that was somehow set up or cool for other reasons.
- If you’re afraid of how everybody is going to react, find a way to incorporate your post-cliffhanger goodness without letting them off easy or unrealistically defusing the danger. Put your "yes, and" face on, but don't let it destroy your tension or session. There's a balance.
- Don't be afraid to ask for a five minute break.
- Don’t hit them too hard, too brutally, too fatal.
- For example, at the end of Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan. Spock’s dead, they have a funeral, “the most… human.” In the original version of the movie, it ended right there. The test audience reacted very negatively, it was too depressing. They revised the end of the movie to allow for the glimmer of hope that Spock's torpedo pod landed safely on Genesis.
- Civ V uses the Mayan calendar instead of the BC/AD calendar when you play that civ.
- In Forgotten Realms, the moons had a mechanic for spellcasting.
- Not to mention lycanthrophy, full moon or new moon effects. Also, lighting effects can be significantly different at night in open terrain with or without a moon.
- “Stardate 91605.27” Few people can do that translation in their head, but that’s not important. It’s the very nature of the number that tells us the people in this story are more scientific and scientificker than we are. (That, and the spaceship.)
- From the beginning of the Gamma World 4e book: “The year is now 2162 (or 151, or 32,173, or Six Monkey Slap-Slap, depending on your point of view). It's been a hundred and fifty years since the Big Mistake, and the Earth is a very different place.”
- Googled this link to various D&D Calendar systems: http://home.earthlink.net/~duanevp/dnd/calendars.htm
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