Lessons from a TV series bible. #12: First season finale

Continuing the discussion from How to write a series bible:

Item twelve on the checklist is Season Finale.

12 Season finale . If you have designed a serialized show, or even if your episodic series contains serialized elements that carry over from one episode to the next, then you should end with a short description of how your series ending its first season. Will the main conflict be resolved? Or will there be a cliff-hanger that carries over into (hopefully) Season Two?

Here I think we may confront an item that is definitely important to a TV series and usually not applicable to an RPG campaign. In the case of what I used to call a “miniseries campaign” and @RogerBW pines for by the name of a “telenovella”, then even though you might have no way of telling what the course of the plot is going to be, the nature of the core conflict is such that eventually the protagonists and their antagonists must meet at some inevitable Philippi. But I don’t think that even all miniseries campaign need a decision a priori of what the crisis will be, let alone its resolution. And besides, a great many RPG campaigns are intended without a through plot with a sustained core conflict susceptible to a final resolution — like TV series they are intended to keep going until the ratings fall. But unlike such TV series they aren’t usually planned or executed in seasons.

Note that Ury is indicating the need of a season one finale in every series bible, not any need of a series finale. I can’t think that that applies to RPG campaigns. Though — my campaigns when I was at university did have a tendency not to resume after the long holidays, even when they had been apparently puddling along perfectly fine until exams. Perhaps there is something to do when a campaign has to go into hiatus to improve its chances of getting resumed.

I am possibly over-influenced by my early experience of RPGs, where a campaign would tend just to drag on with no progress other than in power level – see previous threads in this category, particularly #3.

This advice is obviously mostly meant for writers of what one might call the indefinite series, the one that goes along one season at a time, with renewal always in doubt. The season finale there is a slightly odd beast, because ideally it has to both provide a satisfying conclusion to the story of these people if there’s no renewal and leave things open for the next season if it happens.

But I do like to get to end points, places where we can say “OK, that meta-problem is solved and we can go on to other things, we don’t have to go back to firefighting the individual problem manifestations one by one”. It’s a sense of progress, while also saying on a game level that we’ve done with that specific class of adventure and it’s now time for a change. (For example, in my standard investigative weirdness model, the season enemy might be someone who’s causing outbreaks of weirdness – the first few adventures would be fighting those, then there’s progress to seeing a common factor, tracking down the individual, and as a finale the big battle against them. After that “monster attack caused by random weirdness outbreak” won’t be a thing any more, but there’s still weirdness in the world.)

In terms of books I think the typical individual adventure is somewhere between a chapter and a novel in length. The RPG season is somewhere between a novel and a trilogy, depending on how many individual adventures there were and how much progress has been made. And as in the pilot episode (see #10), the season finale and inter-season gap when described as such are a chance to modify characters, both PC and NPC; to say “X has had enough, he’s going to retire and I’ll play concept Y instead”.

Even if there isn’t going to be a delay before the next season starts, just as one can put down book 3 and immediately pick up book 1 of the next trilogy if one wants to. Usually though this is a cue for someone to run something else for a bit, and then a bit later if the group feels like picking up a new season they can do so.