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by Mike on 14 March 2022
Ending a session right before a big battle is a powerful trick for lazy dungeon masters. It hands you your next strong start. It makes players excited for the next session. It gives you time to plan out your big battle. And it adds some breathing room to your next session. It's not a perfect solution, though.
Today we're going to dig deeper into the advantages and disadvantages for ending games before big battles.
We'll start with a few advantages for ending a session before a big battle.
First, you know exactly where your next session begins. A big battle is a nearly perfect strong start. Starting a game with a fight is an easy way to get peoples' attention but it's particularly powerful if the players know the battle is coming ahead of time.
Second, ending before a big battle adds excitement and drama to the next session. It offers a great cliffhanger that keeps your players excited for the game to come.
Third, ending before a big battle gives you more time to prep that battle. You know exactly where your next game starts and you know it's going to be a big deal. This gives you time to set up a cool map, tweak some monsters, and consider how you can turn the dials to tune the battle. All of the tricky bits of preparing a boss battle won't go to waste because you know the battle is going to happen.
Fourth, because you're starting with a big battle and such battles take time, you don't have to prepare as much for the rest of the game. It gives you a bit of a break.
Finally, ending before a big battle is much better than trying to shoehorn in a big fight right at the end of a session when energy is low, time is tight, and your players are thinking about going home. Instead, we end early (often not a bad thing) and get the players excited for the session to come.
Ending before a big fight isn't a perfect situation, though. If a player can't make the next session, they're going to be sad to miss it. People are busy. With four to six players at your table, someone's likely to not be able to make it. It can be a drag for players to miss out on a big fight like this because it got pushed to the next week.
There's no great soliution for this. You can reschedule it so everyone can show up but that risks pushing it back week after week until everyone can make it. That's risky too. The most likely way to deal with it is to accept that not everyone can make it to the boss fight.
Another problem is figuring out where the story heads after the fight. Often such boss fights happen at the end of a major arc of the story. Where the characters head next may be anyone's guess.
We might use this opportunity for a downtime session in which the characters rest, recouperate, train, study, and prepare for the next leg of their journey. If your game is short enough, you might end that session with their big decision about where to head next.
Finally, ending right before a big battle can get repetitive if you do it too often. Just like starting with a fight for your strong start, ending before a big fight all the time can get stale. Keep this technique handy when the opportunity presents itself but don't do it all the time.
Ending before a big battle has some tricky bits to it but it stands as a fantastic tool to help keep your players excited and give you a bit of a break in your preparation for the next game you run. Keep it in your lazy DM bag of tricks.
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