Well, the campaign has come to a close!
Throughout this campaign, I have been listening to a lot of podcasts on being a game master, and I have been learning a lot of great techniques.
One really cool point that I listened to was how if system designer is like a game designer, then the GM's are all level designers. They have to not only create the world that the players play in, but they have to craft experiences for their players. It's like it's only their job to create the fun; all of the players are responsible for that; but the GM has the power to cater to their players. The players of a video game pick the game that matches their tastes, but in a tabletop game, you have five players who may all have different tastes. If you're lucky, your playstyles align to a degree, but it's also up to the level designer to make sure the spotlight can pass from player to player, week to week.
By the end of the game, I think the players all had opportunities to play to their strengths. In the final sessions, they revisted Aleria, the city that they visited way back during the second session. I have to say, I'm extremely proud of myself, and my players, for following a breadcrumb trail I set up. Amidst the now demon-infested city, the mystery played out perfectly, with them finding the right pieces of information to find the right location.
Unfortunately, the ending wasn't all happy sunshine and demon blood. By the end, we had lost the lives of both the NPC they were traveling with, and the wizard who was with us from the beginning. We did a quick epilogue, where the bodies were brought back to the academy to be laid to rest, then the remaining two players, the paladin and druid, went back to close the portal, from the inside out. But that, is another story.
And what about the Fate game, you ask? It too has come to a close, just before the end of the year. We lost two along the way, but the three other players were plenty to finish out the campaign. I learned a few things from this game, as well.
To start, I wasn't able to give them the same freedom as my other players, because newbies often just don't know what to do with the freedom. Fate is an extremely improvisational system too, which I now realize, would work much better with experienced role-players. My normal methods of "what do you do in response" didn't always pan out, as they were stuck deciding among too many options. Though the improvisation occasionally got really interesting and even threw me off a number of times.
All the same, there were some really fun subtle puzzles to solve and history to piece together. They explored some high-tech ruins (which I had fun designing) and the campaign came to an interesting close, when the Bureau they were working for was ransacked -- and the kind director went missing. The group disbanded and the scholar character went into hiding with the artifacts... for now.
Clearly, I like my endings open ended. I blame Miyazaki's influence.