View Full Version : Avoiding TPK

04-16-2009, 03:26 PM
My PCs are so close to getting slaughtered that they can hear their hearts beating in their ears. They're scared, near-blinded, bleeding, and outnumbered. Luckily for them, they have an ace-in-the-hole about which they've forgotten. So they'll live to see another day, if they don't screw it up.

Do you have any favorite techniques for avoiding Total Party Kill? Fudging dice, deus ex machina, bumbling enemies? How much help do your PCs get?

(my PCs are some noisy dungeoneers who spend too much time discussing - the better for lurking dark elves to regroup, cast spells, and set ambushes in the dark. And being 2nd level doesn't help survivability much, despite the enemies being equal or lower than that.)

04-16-2009, 03:38 PM
Have the dark elves capture the party instead of kill them, perhaps using magic. You then have a jailbreak scenario instead of a TPK.

04-16-2009, 03:39 PM
there was a WOTC article on this. They were basically playing very not smart. The DM gave them a break and made the monsters less powerful.

I fudge rolls, I mess up tactics, I ignore certain things to avoid TPK, unless they bring it upon themselves.

In your situation, it might be good for them to learn the lesson you want them to learn (be quiet, but aggressive). You may go as far as saying that explicitly "shut up or the dark elves are going to turn you into BBQ."

But if they don't heed your warning and continue to be loud and oblivious, let em fry. Character death is a great lesson learner (most of the time).

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
04-16-2009, 04:14 PM
My games can be tough, but i have been known(not by players) to take it a bit easy for the first few levels till everyone gets into the skin of their respective characters. I even give pointers after each session on the good decisions and the bad, explaining the whys of each. I find all this works and enhances game fun.

I had a noisy group of dungeoneers once. They kept getting attacked and running and were complaining about it. What did i say? Then shut up! You guys are making too much noise as well as taking way too much time discussing things. They finally got a clue. This took place in WLD.

Beaumont Sebos
04-16-2009, 06:58 PM
I've used a variety of methods from fudging dice to deus ex machina.

In general, I don't kill PCs without warning them first that unless they change their behavior/tactics they are going to die.

04-16-2009, 11:09 PM
When I DM, I use the enemy's INT and WIS to a HUGE extent, and plan and make them living, breathing bad guys. When it looks like I am about to destroy a party, I get anal about APPEARANCES.

(this is being thought by the bad guys)
"I just smote Bob the Paladin for a GREAT amount of damage, and he (role played by the player) just smiled at me!! WTF?!?! If he hits me hard, that means that I'm not hurting him as badly as I had thought, and I may end up dead!! Let's take this round by round, and if he blasts me again or shows to me that he isn't hurt, fook it! I'm RUNNIN'!!"

This is why Charisma isn't a dump stat in my game. Fred the Wizard is getting his bottom parts handed to him by an orc with a dagger - and the player starts giggling... that means Fred does too - what would ANY self-respecting orc think?? This is just a hold-over from 2nd Edition's Morale rolls. When morale fails, people run. When a person runs, others may well join in and run... when a bunch of people run, I ain't a gonna roll - they're ALL gonna run!!

04-17-2009, 12:33 AM
Sometimes it's OK to let a TPK happen; but you are looking for ways to avoid it. Something I'm using in my next campaign is the "Death Flag" linked in this blog post (http://www.enworld.org/forum/blogs/psion/532-death-too-bitter-make-bittersweet.html) at another website.

The crux of the idea is that a character can't die unless the player of the character raises their death flag. This indicates that the fight is significant enough for the character to risk death in order to win. The penalty for loss is actual character death, so what's the reward? In the "Raising the Stakes" PDF it's 'conviction points' which translate over to action points just fine in 4E.

You are willing to risk your character's life because this is the big fight with his/her nemesis? Cool, have a few action points to make it exciting! The tradeoff is pretty huge and matches the penalty well. Plus, this gives the player some control of that risk.

Since I'm an EvilDM at heart, I am thinking that I might sometimes force a characters flag to be raised if the situation merits it; but for the most part I don't mind letting the player decide how big the risk is. They can still lose plenty and not die. If I take them to zero with no death flag, they don't keep fighting, they are KO'ed and mine :evil:

04-18-2009, 03:35 AM
aren't drow a +2 ecl race in 3.x? and actually have the powers to justify that ecl in 2e and 1e? ^^ one supposes that they could also fumble and shoot themselves with the sleep poison....

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
04-18-2009, 11:13 AM
My rules in games: if it can happen to you, then it can happen to the baddies(crit hit/failures/fumbles). Same rules also applies to race/class. I allow everything, so be prepared that the baddies are also allowed everything. he he he <Evil DM Laughter heard>

04-18-2009, 11:23 AM
Hmm. The jailbreak scenario is really smart. Funny how that didn't even occur to me, especially since I'm trying to run a murder-is-generally-avoidable game. What's more valuable than a dead person? A hostage! I have to put that on my list of to dos...

Considering appearances is very important to the game, since it's much more real if the characters aren't just video game sprites walking around in the same undamaged outfit at all times. (Now that I think about it, my PCs don't have more than two outfits...) However, if Orc Schmo hits a PC for big damage, the PC doesn't have to display pain for the orc to notice blood, a limp, or some other sign of damage. It's like the Monty Python knight - he refused to acknowledge his wounds, but it was pretty obvious who was winning the fight.

My dark elves, by the way, don't follow Monster Manual rules to a T. Same with my other people-races. So their book ECLs don't hold up. I find them much more useful as a race of People than as a race of Monsters.

04-21-2009, 01:20 AM
My dark elves, by the way, don't follow Monster Manual rules to a T. Same with my other people-races. So their book ECLs don't hold up. I find them much more useful as a race of People than as a race of Monsters.

here here. you nailed the essence of my little aside about "monster manual races". =D

04-21-2009, 09:52 AM
Do you have any favorite techniques for avoiding Total Party Kill? Fudging dice, deus ex machina, bumbling enemies? How much help do your PCs get?

No, because I don't avoid TPKs. I'm a fair, impartial referee that runs the world as hard as the players run against it.

My players just went thru a near TPK (http://oldguyrpg.blogspot.com/2009/04/dark-ages-dissection-of-near-tpk.html), but they're back, they understand (and some have commented that they enjoy) the lethality and the challenge of overcoming the fact that PCs are crunchy gooey meatbags who have to overcome challenges, or retreat when down, even with gold staring at them in the face.

No fudging. No deus ex machinas. No bumbling enemies unless they started out that way. All dice rolls in front of players and are final.

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
04-21-2009, 10:03 AM
Only time TPK's took place in my game was through player ignorance. I'm cool early on, making it a learning experience, but after a few levels, you gotta work for it.