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I have been brought in as a substitute DM to finish the last 2-3 episodes of an almost eight month campaign of Tomb of Annihilation spanning over 30 sessions. (I was chosen to help maintain continuity because I am a former player with knowledge of their campaign.)

Stepping in this late to cover the end of such a long campaign feels like an alarming challenge. It would be great to give the ending of TOA a great sense of closure and have it feel epic as if the PCs have accomplished something important and the game world recognizes it.

One way to deliver great stories is through the story arcs. Robert Mckee, the author of Story and the teacher who inspired Peter Jackson to rewrite Lord of the Rings into what we saw onscreen is known for conveying that you can give a story a more satisfying and powerful ending by simultaneously closing multiple story arcs at the end of a story. For example, it was recently reported that the writers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker found 24 unclosed character arcs that they could close with the final movie. They closed those arcs to give the movie more narrative impact.

But, reading ToA it is clear that there are a variety of unclosed story arcs. As written, the ending feels a little abrupt. There are a few comments about how if the PCs saved a particular character then the PCs then receive treasure as promised. There are a few words about future adventures but that's about it. It feels a bit unfinished - like how it might feel if Star Wars: A New Hope might feel didn't have the final throne scene or if Return of the Jedi didn't have the scenes of celebration across the many planets. For example...

Syndra is an almost legendary arch-mage in the story that the PCs save but little is mentioned of their final meeting. This feels like a "throne room" opportunity that is being missed.

That said, there are hundreds of pages of adventure - and clearly the authors opened a variety of arcs closing some and leaving others open. It can be a challenge to find and remember all those arcs even having been a player.

It would be great to have a list of those unclosed story arcs so we as DMs can create scenes to close those arcs to help give that more satisfying "Mckee"-type sense of completion.

So the question is, what are the story arcs that are opened in ToA’s story that were unclosed in the module?

We are looking for a bulleted list of opened arc story elements that the authors left unclosed or for which the authors didn’t outline the scenes for closing them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rubiksmoose
    Aug 16, 2018 at 5:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ What does any of the star wars stuff have to do with this. Seems unnecessary and confusing unless you just wanted to rant about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Dec 5, 2019 at 20:47

1 Answer 1

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Here are unclosed story arcs I found. There may be others.

Addendum: I have added the closing approaches that we play tested. Anecdotally, these seemed to work as the players (mostly in their 30s and 40s) cheered at the end of the adventure which, given the last minute coverage as a DM, was a relief.

OPEN ARC:

Ubtao and the Nine Gods --> As Acererak is vanquished or routed, there is little mentioned about how the Nine Gods, who have possessed various PCs, leave their hosts, what they say or how they convey the reward for those who get to keep their special weapons. What is missing is how might DMs close these arcs.

OPEN ARC:

The Airship Crash Survivors --> The PCs found a crashed airship in the jungle. The crew had failing health, no food, and a broken ship. Their story is left unclosed after being saved. DMs can answer the question how does one close this arc in a meaningful way for the players? -->

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

We modeled this similar to the end of Lord of the Rings. In LotR, when it was clear the ring has been destroyed, three eagles are sent to pick up any possible survivors. The eagles find two survivors. One eagle flies back without anyone. Thus, for this adventure, once the soulmonger was destroyed, we anticipated that diviners and others the world over would know resurrection works again. We placed that airship and their crew as haven taken the risk to fly to the Tomb and wait outside like the eagles to pull up the battered and bruised PCs. ”We are honored to be here and greet the heroes...” The airship returned to Port Nyanzaru. On the way back, we had the PCs see the rest of the impacts that they have had on the world with zombies walking aimlessly into the water and being torn about by dinosaurs. Villagers below were seen digging people up from graves and priests were seen resurrecting people. Giants were seen leaving on long boats with their dead.

OPEN ARC:

The Clone --> A clone of a PC is found beaten and bloodied, tortured by the witches, and deformed but with all the memories of the PC. Andrew Stanton, in "The Clues to a Great Story" says the core principle of great stories is "Make me care." DMS can answer the question, how do we finish the arc of the Clone and make it so the PCs might care? -->

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

The pit-fighter PC who was cloned in our party was creeped out by the Clone. Whereas the rest of the party cared about the abused Clone and actually freed it from its cage. To give the Clone an arc and a chance at gaining that last PCs empathy, we planned to have him throw himself in front of one of the Soulmonger's tentacles saving his clone "brother" from being thrown in the lava. The Clone was to take heavy damage in the lava and be additionally scarred - but the scenario never presented itself. Instead, at the end of the fight he told the party he will leave pit-fighting to his...he's unsure what to call his cloned brother...and instead "wants something a bit more peaceful. Maybe run an inn up in the mountains. If I ever get one, you can always know you are welcome and have a place to stay." The "brother" was still creeped out - but the party wished him well and said they would visit.

OPEN ARC:

Strawbundle, Clay No-Face, Joho --> The party found children with souls trapped in dolls who are slaves of the witches. The party freed them from witches. DMs can answer this open arc around how does their story end and how to convey it to the PCs?

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

The dolls rode back with the PCs on the airship, looking down at a world they have never seen. They tugged at the legs of the PCs pointing out sights that stunned them. We considered that the three dolls were a new odd family straight out of a Tim Burton movie that might ultimately leave for the world of Fey - but instead we had the temple priestesses in town promise to give them a home and promise they would work to restore the dolls to their childhood bodies.

OPEN ARC:

The Monodrone --> In ToA a Monodrone is released into the Prime Material Plane with no clear way to get back to Mechanus. Blinking and in fear, it clung to the edge of the bureau, clicking and whirring unsure what to do around the PCs.

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

--> Our party became quite attached to the Monodrone. "He's a cute little guy." He'd been following the players because he was lost. The PCs freed the Dao who before the PCs departed on the airship offered to return the Monodrone to Mechanus. They said goodbye to him: he made gear sounds.

OPEN ARC:

Artus and DragonBait --> Despite being hunted by Frost Giants for the Ring of Winter, these NPCs can ally with the PCs and help them on their quest to defeat the Soulmonger. Yet, little is mentioned how the story finishes and how they finish their alliance and story in a compelling way.

OPEN ARC:

The Frost Giants --> searching for the Ring of Winter, the PCs meet and fight some of them. This has a middle but could use a story arc for their encounter.

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

---> We chose to close both Artus & Dragonbait and the Frost Giants in a single scene. As the PCs traveled across the jungle in the airship, they saw the Frost Giant's longships leaving Chult for now. Artus said, "They are leaving. Maybe they too have friends or family they wonder if can be resurrected." He then looked at his ring and said, "They'll be back."

OPEN ARC:

Undead --> There were tens of thousands of undead wandering across the land, bound, potentially, by Acererak's power. DMs can answer the open story question was there any effect on the land of Chult with Acerak's setback?

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

--> The undead became temporarily aimless and torn apart by dinosaurs. Floods of undead were seen walking into the sea.

OPEN ARC:

Families of the Dead --> Families have been suffering across the world. People gave up hope and buried the dead. Graves are filled with the bodies of the un-resurrectable many which now become resurrectable. How best to show the impact that the PCs have had on the people's lives?

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

--> As the PCs entered the city by airship, they could see grave sites being dug up all over. Priests stood nearby over the exhumed bodies to cast resurrection. People were hugging lost loved ones brought back from the dead.

OPEN ARC:

Syndra ---> This almost legendary arch-mage is suffering a withering death from the SoulMonger. DMs can answer, what is a cinematically effective moment for the PCs to greet her and close the tale? -->

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

Syndra was on the steps of the temple that resurrected her. All the priests were around her and as the airship lands she greeted them, thanked them, and offered them the reward they were promised. We aimed to make it kind of like the end of Star Wars throne room moment.

OPEN ARC:

Acererak ---> This legendary arch-lich is defeated in his effort to create a new God by the adventurers. The adventure mentions that the Acererak decides to kill the PCs with the most powerful tool he has to wield: time. As an immortal, their lives are a blink in time. He will let them die and haunt their progeny. This is a haunting story moment that would seem a great loss to the story if PCs were deprived of experiencing this realization.

...PLAYTESTED CLOSING:

---> In the calm of the epilogue, Acererak delivered his message of dark vengeance to their dreams months later so the PCs realized that the quest to end Acererak had just begun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suggest sticking more to explaining the unfinished plot threads and put less weight into explaining the thing you're planning on doing. At this point your answer is 3/4 "here's the cool stuff my group is planning on doing" but we don't look for that in answers and it's not necessary to answer the question. Focus more on just explaining the unfinished story arcs. Readers can come up with their own plans. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 29, 2018 at 11:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with doppelgreener about the ratio of answers to the question vs. brainstorming solutions. My issue is that a downvote (which I don't mean to imply came from @doppelgreener) means the question gets marked as technically unanswered, which is not the case- the answer is there for anyone with the same question, but it could benefit from editing for clarity and focus. Praxelites, I'd follow the suggestion and remove the notes on stuff your group is doing, and you'd have a very successful response. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 29, 2018 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Thanks for the suggestion. We have separated out the arcs from the solutions so people can just ignore them. (We left the arc solutions as our original desire in our question is that we also wanted example principles of arc completions that have been used in play and proven to be useful. We will come back and add whether or how these worked in play and what the principles were that became clear that can be used for crafting ending arcs for ToA.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Praxiteles
    Aug 29, 2018 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ That goes beyond what the question is asking, which can be perceived by voters as “going the extra mile”, or can be perceived as “going off topic”. Considering the response so far, it seems the latter might be happening and it may still attract downvotes. Time will tell. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 30, 2018 at 1:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Praxiteles
    Aug 31, 2018 at 3:52

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