You are done. You have run your campaign, and through scheduling follies, player-player conflicts, and the occasional near-TPK, you have guided your players through the climax of your storyline, and are now ready to pack it up and move on to a new campaign. Before you lay this campaign to rest, take an evening to sit with your players and review the campaign with them, and share with them the GM’s Cut.

Thank you Avantman42 for suggesting this article in our Suggestion Pot.

I’m running a campaign which is getting close to the end, and I’d like to run a debrief session once it’s over, where I can tell the players exactly what was going on, and they can let me know when they saw things coming, etc.

Have you ever had a debrief session at the end of a campaign? Are they a good idea? Would it be better to not shatter illusions?

Proof that not only do we cook up a good stew, we eat it as well.

The GM’s Cut

In most campaigns the GM knows far more about what is going on than the players. A good GM uses foreshadowing to hint towards future events, they drop hints, they make a string of coincidences coalesce into a conspiracy, and all other wonders of storytelling. The truth is that not all of the work we do as GM’s translates clearly to the players. It is something that the Gnome In Chief has talked about before (here and here).

At the end of the campaign, there is a natural tendency for a GM to want to reveal to the players, what really happened; to give them the behind the screen look at how the campaign unfolded. After all, as the GM, you may be the only person who really knows what happened in the campaign, and how much fun is that?

The act of revealing the inner workings of your campaign is a lot like the directors cut on a DVD, where the director reveals the behind the scenes workings of the movie.  In the the world of RPG’s this behind the screen working is something I call the GM’s Cut.

Why You Should Do The GM’s Cut

Avantman42 wondered if you should reveal all the inner workings of your campaign to your players. I am all for doing this type of wrap-up session, and I have done a number of these in the past. I have a few reasons why I think this will be a good idea:

  • Players do not always see what the GM sees– From the players side, some plot elements look arbitrary or railroaded. This can be a case where the players missed a clue or some foreshadowing. By doing the reveal, you can show the players the bigger story and fill in some parts they were missing. They will appreciate having the whole story, and it will…
  • Help your players be more attentive– After hearing your masterful plans and how you seeded elements from the early sessions and weaved them through the end, they will know to be more attentive in future campaigns. Of course if they pay attention more, then ….
  • You will have to work harder next time– By revealing your inner workings of your campaign, you will now have to develop new and more creative ways to surprise your players, as they will now be on the lookout for the techniques you used in the past.

Tips For A Fun GM’s Cut

The GM’s Cut can be a lot of fun, and to make sure, there are a few things you should do, and more importantly a few things you should not do.  Let’s start with things to avoid:

  • It’s not about you-– One common folly that GM’s make during the GM’s Cut is to make the session all about how smart you are, and what great story planning you did, and how you foreshadowed things years in advance. While your player’s may enjoy your skills, they are not going to want to sit and listen to you go on about how awesome your GM skills are.
  • Do not mock the players– Hand-in-hand with the previous tip, do not mock the players for the clues they did not find, or the plots they failed to foil. Even if they made mistakes or went in the wrong direction, according to your master plan, it was never your campaign, it was a campaign shared between you and your players, and that is what matters.
  • Don’t take it personally– There are going to be elements of your campaign that you are very proud of: a conspiracy, a nasty villain, etc. You will think they are the coolest things, only to find out that your players hated it. Remember, that what the GM likes are not always the same things that players like. Celebrate the differences, and don’t dwell on it.

Now that you are avoiding the things that will suck the fun out of the GM’s Cut, lets talk about the things that you should do, to make it enjoyable for everyone:

  • Focus it on the players– Rather than leading the players through every moment of the campaign, start by asking each player what part of the campaign would they like to review. In the course of the campaign each player will connect to a different part of the plot. By asking them which parts they want to review, you are placing the focus of the session on them.
  • Fill in gaps– When you agree upon a section to review, don’t just narrate to the players what happened. Rather focus on them, and have them tell you what happened, and along the way fill in the gaps, and make reveals by adding flavor to their description of the events.
  • Highlight player accomplishments– Part of the GM’s Cut is that you will reveal things that the players missed, misdirections they took, and paths they should have gone down. Don’t dwell on these, instead highlight the great decisions they made, tell them how their decisions had an impact on the campaign. Let them know the things that they did well, after all they are the heroes of this story.
  • Find out what did not work for them– As said above, the players are not going to like all the things you created. Perhaps the players did not like your nigh-invincible boss NPC, and felt frustrated during the course of the campaign. While you are not taking it personally, find out why your players did not like a specific element, so that you can avoid doing that again in the future.

Cut It Up

The GM’s Cut is a great way to give your players that sense of the whole campaign, and a way to create a mutual appreciation between you and your players. By highlighting what the players have done well, and filling in for them the things they missed you will give them a more complete experience of the campaign, and a chance for them to learn from you and you from them.

Have you ever done the GM’s Cut of your campaign? What did you learn from your players, and what was the big shocker for them?

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.

10 Responses to Campaign Finales– The GM’s Cut

  1. After each of our game session my wife always asks me “So what was supposed to happen?” becuase she knows what I have planned and what the PC’s actually do sometimes diverge dramatically. Going over those things with my crew and my wife has actually helped me be a better Gm in a lot of ways. More often then not my game notes are much shorter now and usually end with “… see what happens.”

  2. I’ve had players that practically (okay, *really*) demanded a review. Too bad for them; they wanted a review after every few sessions.

    I would just grin and say “who says it’s over?”

    Never do a GM cut if there is anything still in the background hanging that could (or in my case, *will*) turn up in the next adventure or campaign.

    As I tell my players, I reserve the right to use what you missed or shrugged off against you.

  3. @XonImmortal – This is my greatest concern about doing the GM’s cut. If you know that you will never return to those characters again, then a GM’s cut might be kind of cool. If you might return to those characters at some point, then there are a lot of things that can be spoiled by the big reveal. So like all good things, one must use their best judgment on whether this is a good thing to do or not.

  4. One thing I’ve learned is that you don’t always need to do a GM’s cut or debrief. It’s important to ask the players if they want it, and what they want to know. This is usually where I pull out all of the material that I put together for players. It’s great to let them see all of my maps and background info that they would otherwise never see. Remember to not lay it on too thick, though. Like said above, let it be about what the players need and not the awesomeness of the campaign.

  5. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    @shadowacid – My game prep is mirroring yours. Now it’s just “well, here’s a pile of stats and descriptions for whatever’s in the area… Let’s see where they go next.”

    I like recaps, because I’m proud of my work, and want to show it off. If the player’s aren’t interested, then I’ve either failed to run an interesting game, or they’re just a bunch of douchebags.

  6. I am not a big fan of doing any in depth review during the campaign. The GM’s Cut is really more of an end of the campaign activity.

    I will sometimes reveal to my players what I thought was going to happen at the end of an individual session, as long as there is not any material lingering in the background, that I might be compromising by talking about it.

    A lot of what I tell my players between sessions, has to do with what decision branches were available, or what other alternative solution I thought might have come up. e.g. “I didn’t think you would make a frontal assault on those guys. With the rail gun you have, I thought you would have taken them out from the building’s roof.”

  7. @DNAphil – Oh, hail no! The last time I said something like that, I had a teleporter using semi-trucks as artillery rounds.

  8. This actually was one of my favorite parts of the game. In some cases it made both the players and GM more aware of how the players actions affected the game. Some times the GM is so affected by the events within the game the storyline completely changes from the GM’s Vision. The Directors cut gives the opinion of what was going to happen vs. what did happen.

  9. Thanks for the article. I’m pretty sure that nothing from this campaign will be appearing in a future one, so I’ll give my players the option of a GM’s Cut once it’s over, and if they want one, I’ll re-read this article beforehand :)

  10. Nothing formal, just a few drinks to wind down after a campaign finishes. I will share my thoughts, and go into detail about background etc that never came to light. Though as others have commented, if you’re returning to the setting you may want to keep your powder dry.

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