Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sometimes TPKs are no fun

  At Saturday night's Midlands 2e Sandbox game, I managed to TPK the party with a trio of ghouls. The party consisted of A 2nd level mage, a 2nd level fighter, a 1st level fighter, and a hatchling copper dragon(using modified Council of Wyrms rules to allow one of the players who on average loses 1 character every session to play the dragon from an egg the party found). With many players being new to gaming, or returning from decades long hiatus, I've been trying not to be too tough on them.
  Anyway, the game started well enough, picking up from the time before where the party was attempting to rescue the mage's henchman by fixing a problem they may have caused for the locals. They easily found the ghouls, but when they moved to attack, the dice did not favor them. The Ghouls managed to murder the party in less than 5 rounds. So, less than 1/2 an hour into the session, we had a TPK.
   The group created new characters and tried again . . . for another TPK. It's a darn good thing that character creation doesn't take too much time. It soon became apparent that the players were becoming frustrated and they didn't want to admit defeat to "three lowly ghouls".
   That's when I, as DM, decided to give the players a break. I don't like doing it, but trying to create new characters for a whole party mid-session is no fun at all. It's always half-assed, and the players don't have enough time to really think about or get into the idea of the character. When you combine that with the players' desire to get vengeance for characters they actually loved, then it starts being a slog for everyone.
  Instead of all this, I decided to let the players use the characters they had started the session with, letting them use what the plan they had not considered until it was too late. The session was effectively reset, and though the encounter was dangerous, the party prevailed. We called it a night after that, and I warned the group that this was a once a campaign event. Next time, the deaths would stand for keeps.
  I'll admit, as a DM who prefers to let the corpses fall where they may(I'm not a killer DM, but given the low level nature of the campaign at the moment, I'm sure a few people might beg to differ), giving the players a "do over" makes me feel more than a little dirty, but all in all, I feel I made a good call.


  1. I think you made the right call. Yeah, I don't like changing/retconning the game, yet once in a great while it is needed to keep the players happy. I have had to do this once or twice, in different campaigns, and the result was it worked better for the game overall.

  2. Those ghouls suck!

    I have also engaged in revisionist history. We had invited a few new guys to play in a campaign years back and the vibe was way off and the session was lame. We eventually declared that the entire session had never take place.

  3. I like this. It's a "go back to an earlier save" -maybe something larger in the cosmos was changed and the PCs later develop a crawling sensation that they were not supposed to have survived...
    I think you did right by your players, and maybe in future you can play on a healthy fear of ghouls. ;)

  4. Just call the final time they fought the ghouls an alternate reality and a singularity paradox.

    In this one reality your players prevailed, in the other ... Well let's hope there are other heroes in the area.

  5. I would have introduced the appearance of a high level cleric (and his or her party), on an overlapping quest - to come save the day. Ghouls = destroyed.

    I remember, as a player, our party used to encounter ghouls every now and again but we always had at least two Elves that could chop them up and block to protect our human clerics and fighter (me!). BTW we were playing the BASIC game here (the red boxed set).

    At one stage I also remember our low level party ran into about 4 or 5 Carrion Crawlers which did us all in. Later we awoke as guests of the local Kobold King! In the end we had to go on a quest to destroy the lair of the local Orc King and bring back their magic sword. The Orc battle degenerated into a running fight inside their complex.

    I can't remember what happened to the Kobold King. I vaguely recall that we were spitting chips because we swore not to kill him and had to hand over the magic sword - something like a long sword +1, +2 vs Undead!

  6. Haha! This reminds me of the one time the Dwarf Fighter in this one game i was running decided it was a good idea to stick his tongue into a locked door's keyhole. It got stuck, and all attempts to dislodge it safely failed. We were discussing cutting the tongue off or leaving him there when i decided to treat it as a pocket universe that never happened. That player still gets heckled about it.