Hello! I just posted this on the NerdNYC forums, and then thought: maybe I should it post it on SG, as well? Why not! Let me know what you think...
There are lots of great games out there. Most of them don't tell you how to wrap up a game. How do you end it? How do you make sure the story reaches an endpoint that is satisfying and conclusive, and leaves everyone happy, sad, or otherwise fulfilled?
This seems like nearly unexplored territory. And it shouldn't be: in some ways, the ending is the most important thing. It's the last you remember, after all, and can make a good story a bad story... or turn a good story into a great story.
Here's a procedure I put together for my game The Camel's Egg:
You're playing a long-ish game. A campaign, maybe, if you want to call it that. And you're either: (1) feeling like the end is near, or (2) running out of time. Either way, you want to end the game.
So, one to three sessions before the predicted or desired "end", sit down with your group (preferably right after a game session) and spend a few minutes discussing what is happening in the story. On a big sheet of paper, make a list of questions you would like to see answered before the story ends. What are the main points in the story you have a burning desire to see resolved? Each player (including the GM) should write down one, two, or three questions. For instance, a group may want to know:
* Who killed the doctor?
* Will William manage to escape from the space station?
* Can Judge Jesaphat save his marriage from collapsing?
* Where did the Flying Dutchman end up, and why was it abandoned?
* Will Anastasia finally face her teacher in a duel to the death?
From now on, keep this sheet of paper on the table, on the wall, or somewhere else that is visible to everyone while playing. At the end of each session, or at important breaks, take a minute to discuss, and cross off any questions that have been answered. (You might need to rewrite a question occasionally, or add a new one, but try not to do that too much.)
When playing, from now on, the players should all try to (in whatever way they can in the game) push towards situations that make it possible to answer questions on the list. For instance, you might finally have your character confront that dude who never gives up his secrets. Maybe you'll need to push hard: threaten him with violence, drug him, bring him the priceless gift you've been hesitant to part with, or maybe even give in to his demands and compromise on your values so that he'll tell you his secrets. As another example, if you want him to keep mum, you might have your character (or someone else) try to kill him before anyone can get him to spill the goods.
More importantly, brainstorming those questions together will reveal each player's interests to the rest of the group. Everyone should now be able to improve the game for the other players by helping those questions be resolved in interesting or surprising ways. However, the questions are particularly useful for the GM (or any other players with enough authority in the game to frame scenes, etc.). The GM should have the sheet of questions on hand when preparing for the next session, and craft situations, characters, and locations that are relevant to these questions. In particular, look for connections between the questions and important traits, background info, or game stats ("Flags") belonging to the characters. Try to craft situations that address two (or more) such Flags and provide an avenue to answer a question.