The PCs had ample warning that continuing on their present course would probably get them all killed. Hell, their contact said, “No, no, no — don’t do that! All of you will be killed. No, seriously.” The writing was on the wall.
They went there anyway. Now, halfway through what is clearly a losing battle, they have no options for retreat. They are, in short, headed for the dreaded TPK.
If you let them all get killed, turn to page 17. To fudge a couple of rolls and give them a slim chance of survival, turn to page 41. To tweak the encounter slightly without fudging any rolls, turn to page 67. If you want reinforcements to arrive and completely save their bacon, turn to page 73.
Which page do you turn to?
Page 67. I’m not the die fudger. I don’t like reinforcements either. And letting them die would be somewhat appropriate, but not really my style either 😛
I’d probably open up some kind of hidden retreat option, one that’s spiked with traps and leads into another kind of peril of course though.
To tweak the encounter slightly without fudging any rolls, turn to page 67.
I might let them make a last chance, never gonna get it, here is your one way out roll. I did that once and the player rolled percentage dice just at the 90% I required for them to get out of the situation. It was the only thing that saved their bacon.
I think I might also give them the Run away with your tails between your legs, oh look the whole town is laughing at you, option. Discretion, valor, all that jazz.
Only happened once. I let the party die, but started the next campaign fifty years later with their ressurection by an unknown power.
They got to spend the first half of the campaign figuring out the web of intriuging that had led to their rebirth.
TPK all the way. While I realize that may go against some folks grain, in our campaign’s I’ve always felt that the game loses something if the *players* don’t have a chance lose it all in the final, climactic battle.
Some of the most memorable storylines in our campaign came about from TPKs, or the story equivalent there of. In one case, a a doppleganger traitor within the party lured them to a remote ambush, where they all had their minds trapped in ancient stone pillars. In another, the party utterly failed to unravel a conspiracy threatening their home town; as a result it was overrun by their enemies, and they were forced to flee.
Of course, a TPK can be a campaign-ender, and shouldn’t be entered into lightly, but I don’t think they need to be avoided at all cost. In our case, most players have secondary characters, and we can easily shift from one group to another if the need arises.
I’ve gotten good mileage, in that situation, with having the PCs be captured, not killed, and then sent by the captors to do a “little favor”. Worked out pretty well, and kept the plot moving.
I guess that counts as tweaking the encounter.
Page 17. It’s not so much a matter of “They’re getting what they deserved” as it is accepting what the players have chosen. If you don’t let the players make the choices they want, why should they play?
This also might be a way for players to deliberately end the campaign. If they’ve gotten a bit tired of things, it can be easier to let the party get wiped rather than say to the DM that they’re bored.
I’d stand up, use that voice that tells the players that I’m talking to them as friends, not as the DM, and say, “Listen, this is a really tough encounter. I think there’s a good chance that it could turn into a total party kill. It’s EL 11, which is 4 levels above the average party level, plus you guys are already a bit banged up. If you survive it, you’ll get huge amounts of XP and you’ll be the talk of the kingdom — that I can promise. Do you really want to do this?”
I agree with Adam. Give them a completely honest appraisal of the situation, and let them know you’re NOT going to fudge the encounter or the dice rolls. Then let them decide if they want to risk it or not.
The big factor is whether they’re making a rational decision based on the data they have at the time. If everything they’ve learned points them towards the Encounter of Certain Death, then I’ve failed as a DM, and will try to rectify the situation in-game.
If they have the right information, but faulty logic, I might have an NPC cross-examine their rationale. The NPC (and not the DM) can point out obvious mistakes and forgotten (or disregarded) information. “So, you four are going for a daylight frontal assault against a hundred men in a fortified keep… That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of; can I have your stuff when you die?”
If it’s something else entirely, and they’ve had all the warnings in the world but decide to do it anyway, then I wish them luck and hope they have good character concepts next time. And I will remind them of their stupidity at the most inopportune times. “Hey, this guy says there’s a Ancient Red dragon up north; y’all wanna go get him?”
That said, if it all comes down to a squeaker, I may fudge a dice roll. I haven’t fudged recently (i.e. since the “fudge sucks” topic). But one fudged dice roll to save the party (especially if it saves me hours of work on a new campaign) might be worth it.
TPK. If I’ve made it very clear that there’s a red dragon in the mountains to the north, one that’s been mentioned in ancient texts, who’s been killing whole battalions and devouring the king’s greatest champions, then the party gets what’s coming to them. Before they embark, they’ll get warnings, they’ll get NPC reality checks, but if it’s a case of thinking the DM won’t kill them all, or they want to gain notoriety really quick, then they’re all dead.
Indeed, I’d be inclined to be harder on them then normal, simply because they have ignored all the warnings of ultimate doom, and I do not want them walking away from a TPK thinking that had they made a couple of botched rolls, they would have won. I would fry and then eat the tank. I would dimensional anchor, and maybe hold person the mage. I would step on the rogue and crush him. I would pick up and throw the druid’s summoned creatures back at her, and I would work on impaling the cleric with the dragon’s tale.
Most of all, I would pull out the screen, roll behind it, and ignore the results. Any argument would be met with, “You’re fighting a Great Wyrm Red Dragon, what did you expect?” and the one arguing would be the next to die horrifically.
Stupidity has its own rewards. In this case, reward them with death. TPK.
This seems to happen a lot in my group. I figure it’s partly a failure of the GM in differentiating imminent doom from your run-of-the-mill life-threatening danger, and partly the fault of prior GMs in being too lenient and allowing players to survive in situations when they shouldn’t have.
If you assess the situation and think you did a bad job of conveying the danger posed then having a straightforward conversation with the players, or pulling a one or two punches might be warranted, but elsewise you should kill them off. Doing anything less shows you don’t respect your game, and if you don’t then it’s hard to expect the players to do so.
As a general rule I think it’s important to try and keep track of how your players solve problems and assess what sort of impression they’re getting from those successes. If you’re attempting to run a campaign that’s heavily vested in politics/roleplaying or deductive reasoning rather than the typical kick-in-the-door style, then you need to penalize kick-in-the-door gaming, even if the players succeed. If players are kicking in doors and succeeding without any negative consequences they are going to conclude that type of behavior is acceptable and are more likely to rush in to TPK situations.
Page 17, TPK.
That said, my warning would be a lot more blatant than the example given. The warning would probably come from multiple sources, be unambiguous, and be reinforced as they got closer (seeing bones, and the likes). I’d judge from the player reaction whether they were picking up on this or not. If I even suspected not, I’d drop OOC for a moment and ask a few questions.
But yeah, if they go forward after all that, then it’s their choice. My guys do that rarely, and they usually manage to pull a rabbit out of their hat–though sometimes their luck turns sour. It helps that I don’t have a situation like this very often. One case, in a D&D game, their contact said: “It’s a complete suicide mission, which you don’t have to accept. The emperor asked me to offer it to you. Here are a couple of raise dead scrolls. It’s probably not enough, but it’s all we could come up with at the moment.” (There was a war on.)
The most important ability for avoiding a TPK is not raw power, but information and the brains to use it.
Page 17 all the way. If you warned them straight out, and offered alternatives, and the party still starts marching off to face certain doom let them perish.
Plus page 17 allows for the party to surprise you. Sometimes they do pull off the impossible!
I hesitated, because I’m wondering why I (as the DM) introduced this thing that’s so cool the players are willing to suicide for it.
I’m leaning towards page 17 (letting the TPK fall), but… doesn’t it seem that their strong and coherent response should be telling me something about my game?
(As a guess: they’re tired of being the 2 bit heroes– maybe it’s time for a superhero game. Or maybe they really want to play with the new supplements… or something.)
Usually, even if they survive the encounter, the campaign will be doomed unless you nerf the reward they expect. (If it’s the reward that motivated them.) This is very high stakes: put up or shut up– the campaign’s going to end (or change dramatically) even if the TPK is somehow averted.
Page 17. If they’re willing to ignore a bunch of warnings and assume I won’t kill them, they’re going to get what’s coming to them. I might try to tweak it if I realized that they were heading for a defeat and hadn’t realized that it was likely to happen, (new players perhaps) but that’s not the case.
So, my response is: Kill ’em all.
I’ve always thought it a little odd and even a little unhealthy when a player gets ‘attached’ to a certain character. I know it’s bound to happen, but really, you should be psychologically and emotionally ready for your Hero to go out in a heroic battle to the death, and celebrate it. Then roll up another and keep playing.
When you get into that situation where you really HAVE made it clear that it’s to the death and yet you start fudging things so the characters don’t die, well, you’re not only cheapening the game beyond recognition, you’re actually admitting to yourself that the people you’re playing with have within them some kind of emotional or validational neediness to not dying in the game, and that, to me, is just so creepy, I don’t even want to be playing with that person/people in the first place.
In the above situation, my question is this: did the players know that a TPK was possible?
I think this is something you need to talk with your players long before the situation ever occurs. If you get to edge of a TPK and have to ask what to do, something is wrong.
It is my personal opinion that the decision to have the potential for a TPK is a decision for the entire group. For example, in my group, they have no desire for their entire party to die. This means two things. One is that I never send an encounter that is beyond their abilities. The second is that if I misjudge an encounter, I have a backup plan (such as capture or reinforcements).
On the other hand, if your group decides they want a lethal campaign, then you can’t pull punches. At the core of the issue, you are not giving your players what they wanted. If they want the risk of death, and walk into a death dealing situation, you have to give it to them.
I think it’s interesting the number of people who would go for TPK without talking about it before hand.
One of my favorite games I’ve played in (a three person Burning Wheel game) ended in a TPK. We were losing the fight, about to die and the GM stopped and said, “Ok, where do you want this to go?” The other player and me looked at each other and agreed. We wanted our characters to die, failing to succeed to pay off the crime lord. He pushed our bodies into the river. It was an awesome ending to a dark and gritty game.
I take the 7th Sea option (page 67): You’re all knocked out wake up chained in a dungeon, naked and without equipment. Most of which you’ll never see again.
“I think itâ€™s interesting the number of people who would go for TPK without talking about it before hand.”
Depends on what you mean by “before hand”. I like to talk about such stuff before the campaign even starts, but not generally in the middle of the action–except the very minimum needed for clairification.
I have to jump in and say that StingRay is wrong. You shouldn’t fudge to make the death worse any more than you should fudge to save the party. It breaks the same clause of the Social Contract.
Several people have mentioned here and on the forum “punish the players”. Speaking of people with mental instability! Why on earth would you want to punish anyone? RPGs are a game, we play for fun. If everything has to work out exactly as the DM wants, then drop the players and start writing short stories, a blog, or a novel. Then those annoying free-willed individuals we like to call our friends won’t interfere with your grandiose plans.
I say, page 17, but pure no-fudge. Roll the dice right in front of them and let the results count. There’s a significant chance that they will kill or very nearly kill the Ancient Red Dragon. They might even outsmart it and get its treasure without killing it. Many a time in my 28 years of gaming I’ve seen a party escape a TPK through good playing or fantastic rolls.
Indestructible figures are terrible points in any game. I’m reminded of the awful dungeon in the 3rd Edition GURPS Basic Book. A teenage thief steals an item and escapes. No rolls, no chance for the PCs to react, nothing. And they’re supposed to be hardened adventurers. But the entire plot of the adventure hinges on this. Bad adventure writing, just as putting an invincible dragon in the mountains is bad design on the part of the DM.
Stopping the action and having a brief meta-discussion about whether or not the TPK should happen is a really interesting idea.
I can think of folks I’ve gamed with who would absolutely hate it, and folks who would love it. As a player, I’d be in the latter category — and there are plenty of situations where I’d opt to lose my PC in favor of a really cool flameout.
As for answering my own question, I default to page 67 (tweak the encounter, don’t fudge any rolls).
To clarify my position:
I’m like CJ… If you’re heading for a TPK, we’ve already discussed it. If you decided to move away, then that is what we do. But if it’s a conscious decision by the players to risk a TPK very, very intentionally, I won’t hesitate to kill them.
If they were thinking I was going to save them at the last minute anyway, or tweak things to be easier on them, then they probably should be disabused of that idea, or at least have asked for the TPK to be avoided. If they understood entirely that there was that risk, but went ahead, then the players are best served by going on with the encounter as planned.
Therefore, I mentioned taking the “page 17” option because I didn’t figure discussion was necessary; the players already gave me their choices. If they originally wanted a no-fudge game with a lot of danger and originally went “go w/TPK” as their option, but decided to change their minds, they could mention it to me and I could adjust. However, if they know they’re getting into TPK territory, don’t ask, and continue ahead, why should I fudge? It’s not going to do anyone any good. I can start another campaign if the players wish; I’ve got enough ideas to keep games going for a while. I can restart the current campaign with new characters… it’s interesting to see how others might have viewed the original party’s actions. I can let someone else DM, if they wish. I could even have the characters get TPK’ed and get revived somehow, and let that become a plot point. “Saving the campaign” is not really an issue for me.