Season 3, Episode 6 - The Cliffhanger Episode, Part One

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?

Are you sitting at the edge of your ear seats?

Because we're about to drop a cliffhanger on you. And no, Sylvester Stallone is not involved.

We recorded so much content about cliffhangers that we couldn't resist the oh-so-meta urge to split one ginormous cliffhanger episode into more than one episode about ... dun dun dunnnnn ... cliffhanger endings to your campaign sessions!

But first ... dun dun dunnnn... we read some emails!
  • from William: Wulfgar's real life manifesto of war
  • Tweet from @rzrstrm: with a recommendation for Game Night Games in Salt Lake
  • from Robert: EDM stuff and validation of William's Wayne's World reference
  • from Blair: Hey Exemplary DM!
    • Who can recommend online Pathfinder char generation tools?
    • In which we discussed Zero Charisma.
  • Twitter convo about winter from the sprawling metropolis of Rochester, MN, as a preview of the stuff we discuss on twitter, aside from funny dnd quips.
  • from the wife : i can haz moar podcast?
    • Skill challenges should be well described, not just math, a "choose your own adventure"
    • The side conversations and camaraderie during long journeys and uneventful time 
  • from adam: re: Thoughts on a horror campaign? 
  • from andy: DM appreciation
    • picking up the torch
    • thanks Andy for warming our cockles 
Top 10 Tips to Implementing Cliffhangers
  1. At the end of your next D&D session, pull an old trick from: the end of every Dan Brown chapter, the end of Star Trek:TNG The Best Of Both Worlds Pt. 1, the end of Christopher Nolan’s Inception and all three of his Batman films, the final episode of Twin Peaks, the end of X- Men II, the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Back to the Future movies, the end of Matrix Reloaded, the end of the first Kill Bill, the end of the first season of Jericho, the end of the patched version of Portal 1 which came out right before Portal 2, the end of the old BBC show Blake’s 7, the end of Half Life 2, the end of Mass Effect 2, the last episode before the break in the middle of The Walking Dead season three, end of the Sopranos, the end of every season of Lost, the every episode of 24 or really right before the commercial break of any action prime time action television show, and of course, that movie Cliffhanger (with Stallone and Merle from The Walking Dead).
  2. Why do they use cliffhangers? The Zeigarnik Effect (Ignore the cat in the background. It isn't a cliffhanging cat. Yet.)
  3. What we’re trying to do here is create a memorable anticipation for the next game session. So like the end of Inception, you really want to know the ending, but unlike Inception, you really want to resolve the action in the next campaign but more importantly - make your characters look forward to it.
  4. Cliffhangers require setup in order to connect you to the suspense and the new danger or intrigue that has been introduced and left in the balance. This is where you planning capabilities as a DM come into play. (But don't railroad!)
  5. Good cliffhangers do one or more of the following:
    1. Reference character backstory
    2. Change the timing of a well thought out plan
    3. Provide new and sudden inspiration
    4. Place one or more loved ones in mortal danger
    5. Reveal a terrible betrayal
    6. Pervert the ending to an otherwise innocent quest (but in a fun way)
    7. Renew an old love, hatred, stress, fear or desire
    8. Introduce a new villain or ally, or change an ally to a villain or villain to any ally
    9. Change the weather, stars above, lightning, atmosphere or tone, or height of the flame of the candle
    10. Encourage discussion or wonderment about what’s about to happen away from the table
    11. Let something happen that everyone has wanted to happen for a long time happen, then make them wait for the next session to see the aftermath. 
      • W's wife pointed out, in Friends, when Ross and Rachel kissed, everyone wanted to know well what happens next.
      • Say the players finally are made members of the Thieves’ Guild, and you end the session there. They’ll want to play the next session now that they’ve entered the state they wanted to be in for such a long time.
      • Give them a new level (and therefore abilities/feats/stats) or a new item, then let the anticipation simmer.
  6. ... dun dun dunnnn...
Season 3, Episode 6, Part Two will be the conclusion of The Cliffhanger Episode... 

Big Thanks for music, once again big thanks to the Diablo String OrchestraThe Kobolds, our listener Chuck for the intro to the gadgets of the podcast jam, and mega-fan Joshua Bentley for voice-overs galore (@voiceofthebigjb).

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