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D&D 3E
So I ran my first TPK today. Ended the campaign. Not on purpose, of… 
15th-Apr-2007 10:13 pm
So I ran my first TPK today. Ended the campaign. Not on purpose, of course.

I'm not sure what I think about it.
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16th-Apr-2007 01:16 pm (UTC)
Um, the party died because they made a couple bad decisions (splitting up, for one) and had A LOT of really bad rolls.

Technically, a TPK is a possibility before any adventure, so I'm not sure I understand what you're saying.
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16th-Apr-2007 02:48 pm (UTC)
I respectfully disagree. But maybe I'd just like to think that the players have some choice in the matter, and just passively receiving a story I create. I'm pretty sure that I can create a non-lethal environment which the players can turn lethal. I'd also suggest that, philosophically, luck DOES have a place in what happens in the game. Just because I made a situation where there was a chance of dying doesn't mean I killed the characters. Perhaps I made an situation where there was a 1% chance of the party dying. Well, bad luck could mean that the party did in fact fall into that 1% chance. And I will not play any game in which there is a 0% chance of failure. Because then what's the point?

But whatever. In any case, I am neither surprised nor confused about the fact that the party died. I am unsure about my own feelings about what happened. Is that alright by you?
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16th-Apr-2007 07:18 pm (UTC) - Defensive? Hardly...
I'm gonna disagree with you as well Phasmaphobic. Saying the DM allowed for a TPK because he just happened to set a scene with lethal potential is a weak argument.

Any environment/adcenture that involves risk to the PCs has the potential to become lethal -- that's the nature of the game. Unloess you strongarm the players into the "non-lethal" path (which ruins the game itself), there's always a chance that things will go bad. It doesn't matter whether it's bad die rolls, poor planning/strategy/decisions on the part of the players. It can happen.

It's hardly the DM's fault if he keeps thing balanced -- an orc with a greataxe can instantly kill a 1st level barbarian with a crit.

Since PCs will commonly do things that the DM won't expect, it just goes to show that things can swing either way. I had a high level party nearly get wiped out by a fair challenge (with them at full strength) because of some bad decisions. Almost ended the campaign right there, if the mage hadn't fled.

It's how the game goes. You can't feel miserable about it, nor should you cackle with glee over it. Best thing to do is to learn from it and break out the d6s.
16th-Apr-2007 07:40 pm (UTC) - And incidentally...
...he has reason to sound defensive given the accusatory tone in your initial post.
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16th-Apr-2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
Judging form the attitude you put out... he was reacting just fine.

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16th-Apr-2007 08:12 am (UTC)
If you find in time that you're really proud of it, hide that from your players. I've literally followed the PCs into Hell in order to reverse a TPK.
16th-Apr-2007 09:58 am (UTC) - I accidently did that a month or so ago.
It annoyed me. It was a good group of characters :P
16th-Apr-2007 01:21 pm (UTC) - Re: I accidently did that a month or so ago.
I don't think I'm actually THAT annoyed about it. I was running a home-brew campaign that was pretty restricted in order to test out some house-rules. I was becoming less enamored with the whole setup, and was getting ready to try something else.

We're all moving away during the summer, so the game was going to end soon anyway.

Of course, I had a couple neat events planned out in the story line. Shame the PCs won't be able to take part. But I promised I've give them a closing narrative so they know what happened (to an extent).
16th-Apr-2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
I had the same thing happen a few months back, but it was really the culmination of several game sessions that didn't go the PC's way that added to it.

I created the situation, knowing full well that the PC's should (and actually have in the past) deal with it with a moderate amount of difficulty. Unfortunately for them, they failed a number of important rolls.

I wasn't so much upset with myself for it, but I can say that I was disappointed.
16th-Apr-2007 06:02 pm (UTC)
That's it exactly. I don't think I did anything wrong (and neither do my players, since I talked it over with them). Maybe it is just disappointment.
16th-Apr-2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
TPK's can happen. The thing that gets me is the guy blaming you for it. The only way you could prevent it is if you hide all your dice rolls, and IMO all that does is give you an excuse to keep the party alive thru the story. Just the other day I almost killed the party rogue/beguiler because he got hit by all 8 darts from a poison dart spray and the damage/con damage almost did him in. The only thing that saved him was that death does not occur till the end of the round in my game and someone managed to stabilize him before then. Granted he was walking around with a max of like 18 HP's at 9th level for the rest of the dungeon, granted he stayed as invisible as possible.

It is going to happen, you can do your best to avoid setting it up overbalanced encounters, but at the same time a challenge is more fun to play. Keep the dice rolls visible in combat and go with the results, you can always find a way to bring them back if you have to.
16th-Apr-2007 06:03 pm (UTC)
I'm glad someone else agrees with me about that guy.
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16th-Apr-2007 09:12 pm (UTC)
How can "Which means you should be pretty okay with that decision. Otherwise, why else would you have done it?" not be taken as you saying that the DM did it.

The only way the DM can choose to not "allow" a TPK is if you fake dice rolls or have some deus ex machina soultion tucked away. Sometimes the dice rolls come up bad, no DM should "allow" a TPK it should happen as a result of the game itself. You can avoid setting up a situtation that would result in a TPK but at the same time there needs to be some risk.

Do you hide combat dice rolls from the party? Because if you do not and you can choose to not "allow" a TPK then you never put them into a situation where death is an option.
16th-Apr-2007 09:19 pm (UTC)
Okay, then, let's start from the beginning.

What was the context of "why'd you do it?" What "bits and pieces" are we taking out context here? You gave very little to work with in the first place...
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16th-Apr-2007 11:13 pm (UTC)
Okay. The issue is, as you have said, is one of misinterpretation.

But I do strongly disagree with what seems to be your central argument:

After all, in a traditional game of DnD combat, the GM has complete authorial control, above and beyond the dice.

I do not believe this is true. There are two other sources that have "authorial control" equal to or great than that of the DM.

1) The players.
2) The rules.

The players do (or should, in my opinion) have equal authorial power over the game. They decide what the characters do, and in many cases they can decide what situations they get into. In a good story, any situations should be a direct result of the character's actions. And so in my D&D games (which I consider to be good stories), they are. As a DM I can create broad, external, environmental circumstances, but it is up to the players to define the specific, internal, and character-based circumstances.

And while Rule 0 does exist, I believe (again, my opinion here) that the DM should not be above the rules. There needs to be some basis for playing the game, some common ground upon which all the players can meet. Something that makes it so the DM's decisions about anything are not completely arbitrary. And that basis is what allows the group to play the game. And manipulating and exploring the D&D chassis is in itself a sub-game, one that I highly enjoy. So even though you can theoretically get rid of the rules, I personally would not want to play that way. I like playing D&D instead of free-form.

And even if you are doing free-form, if the players do not have equal say then it is no longer a cooperative venture at all--it's the DM telling a story and the players listening.

In short, it seems to be your opinion that the DM has total authorial control, and so is in total control of whatever happens in the game. It is my opinion that the DM does not have total authorial control, and so the game can quite possibly get beyond his control or go in directions he did not expect. And I am willing to just agree to disagree about that. Though I will end that I have heard much anecdotal evidence about how writers are often surprised by the actions their characters take, even though such writers should have total authorial control. So do they really?
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16th-Apr-2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
In brief:

The party is a group of pirates who are currently working under a big head pirate NPC. This pirate has plans to take over a small kingdom, which involved the PCs breaking into the castle and taking out its defenses.

The PCs managed to sneak in, but in the process the Barbarian made the PC decision to leave her weapon behind (figuring she could kill a guard and get another one). The party also split up to enter the castle, and did not rejoin for a significant period of time. Two of the characters spent an almost exorbatent amount of time engaged in a scuffle with a group of guards, and because of poor die rolling, wasted a ton of resources (HP, and spells) with almost no effect, not to mention sounding the general alarm. The other pair of PCs also used most their spells taking out a single solitary guard. So when the PCs finally regrouped, they had almost the entire castle garrison coming down on them and few spells or hit points left. And in this battle, a nasty critical took down the Binder. The Wizards split up and ran away, and the Barbarian surrendered.

Next session, the Binder and the Barbarian had been captured and were questioned. One of the Wizards escaped the castle (and wasn't at the session), and the other walked out into the middle of the guards and got himself captured as well. While being escorted by two guards to the local jail, the PCs tried to escape. The Barbarian had wiggled free of her ropes and pulled her hidden dagger, and the Wizard used a spell to take out his ropes. But as they had been captured, none of the characters were wearing any armor. So the Barbarian was not able to stand up to the guards in a 1-1 fight (being almost out of HP anyway), the Binder still had his hands bound (and was standing only because a temporary Diehard Feat effect) and so was unable to do much of anything. So the Barbarian fled (easily outrunning her guard) in one direction, the Binder in another, while the Wizard went in a third direction to try and use his remain spells to take out some of the castle defenses (so that they could complete their mission).

So finally the PCs found themselves facing a single guard beneath the palace walls. The Barbarian couldn't take more than a single hit (and was exhausted from having her Rage end anyway), the Binder was at -10 and couldn't take any actions more significant than a standard move, and the Wizard was totally out of spells. So when the guard finally called for help, the PCs were shot down by the rest of the guard.

But here's the deal: the Barbarian and the Binder are both at negatives, the Wizard is running away. So the party isn't technically dead, but they did fail in their mission. So the guy they're working for will fail, and since that quest was driving the campaign, the campaign is over. So even if I have the characters survive and continue playing, the story is still finished. It doesn't make any sense for it to continue (and I'm sure you'll agree there should be some consequence for failure--otherwise the PCs haven't had any impact on the story and so why are they even playing?). And because the group is going to split in a month or two, it seemed a better idea all around to have the campaign end.
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16th-Apr-2007 11:26 pm (UTC)
I actually always hide my die rolls and stress a very strict standard of OOC knowledge and such anyway. One time I actually penalized someone 500 xp just for menioning offhand that there dexterity score was 16. Always thought stuff like that ruined a game. Broke the spell as it were. one way or another, I hide my die rolls not to change them, but because I dont like people getting so solid a picture of any individual situation just because they know one die rolls result.
as for TPK's. the point of D&D is risks of life and limb without a trip to the hospital. removing the chance for death or horrid dismemberment sucks the life out of it. if bad luck is present, I try to RP it off as ill-health, bad situations and the like, representing conditions that will hopefully, force the players into playing more conservatively with there characters lives. and if not, well then, they may die. Is it my responsibility? Partially, yes. but moreso, I think its there own. unless your railroading the storyline which is a whole other can o worms, the players always have a choice, as it were. players, moreso than the GM, should be prepared for a greataxe in the eye.
16th-Apr-2007 05:23 pm (UTC)
Coincidentally, I had a somewhat deliberate TPK recently in my game.

Long story short, the PCs (or at least one of them) taunted the wrong villain, and she lost her temper, levelling the group. The fight was unplanned, and the villain didn't even have STATS until I decided to have the fight.

The difference, I suppose, is that I run my games as interactive fiction/entertainment; a premature end to the campaign would wreck the story we're trying to create, so I always leave an out. (In this case, the group is carrying around a relic containing a fragment of the world's sole goddess, which kept them from dying - and drowning, as the battle was on a ship, and the ship sank as a result - until help arrived.)

My advice for the future is that for any given game, decide for yourself and/or discuss with your players which is more important to you: the survival of the plot, and by extension, the characters that make up the plot, or the vagaries of life and the ever-present possibility of permanent death. If you go with the former, you should always have a plot device handy to save the group's skins if they screw up. (I'm rather fond of the merciful villain, myself - rather than kill the party, they capture the group and imprison them, or send them back to civilization humiliated.)

That's not to say that they should learn that failure has no consequences. There are plenty of ways to humiliate, injure, main, torture, impoverish, or otherwise punish PCs for their mistakes... and not even death has to be permanent (if you don't want it to be).
16th-Apr-2007 06:10 pm (UTC)
That is very good advice. But for this game, I made a kind of executive decision that the campaign was over. The enemies they were fighting were all good guys, so would have probably saved and tried the PCs. But by failing in their mission, the PCs kind of derailed the plot I was working on. We could have kept going with the same characters, with them effectively starting back on square 1. So while the characters could have continued, the campaign was definately over--we'd be starting a new campaign either way.

Maybe I'll ask the players if they want to do that. I could probably continue running the characters (who they like), and maybe make it like 10 years in the future. I'm sure I could come up with something. But we do have another player who is running a game, so it might just be easier to let him run exclusively for the next few months until the group splits.

Thanks for your input though :) That was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to hear.
16th-Apr-2007 11:46 pm (UTC)
My advice for the future is that for any given game, decide for yourself and/or discuss with your players which is more important to you: the survival of the plot, and by extension, the characters that make up the plot, or the vagaries of life and the ever-present possibility of permanent death.

Huzzah to that. You worded it perfectly.
16th-Apr-2007 07:47 pm (UTC)
I don't really have any input, but I just wanted to say that there was som really good advice/feedback offered here.. this entry is a good read.

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