Friday, September 9, 2011

Discussion: The TPK

GM long enough, while playing by the rules, and eventually it's going to happen. The dice are going to come down wrong, or the PCs are going to make the world's worst decision (trust me they will), and you are going to end up killing the whole party. So what now? What do you do?

Some of us look kind of fatigued and just don't know what to do. Some of us get up and do a happy dance of victory. Some do a happy dance of victory in jest. My question for you then is this: How do you deal with the TPK?

For me it depends on the situation. If the players went into it knowing full well what they were getting into, I generally give them a "good try" or "nice game" and go from there. If the dice just screwed them, I try and make sure that it was the dice and not me. On a few occasions, the players have had to tell me I didn't do it.

How about you?


  1. I've never tpk'd, but I did kill a player with a trap set after a boss fight which was kind of anti-climactic, so we narrated some awesome stuff instead. That was in my 4E game where I had to try everything I possibly could to even kill a single one of the players. It was to a point where no matter what I said about an enemy, the PCs would attack. I had to do something.

    I do look forward to my first TPK. I've started playing more lethal systems just for that reason. I really want to play an old-school dungeon crawl where TPKs are something to expect and perceive as almost inevitable.

    In a story-based game, though, I'll try not to TPK until the end, and even then I'm not trying, but it is more likely to happen.

  2. My default response has usually been something like this:

    "Everyone roll initiative. You each wake up after a while. You're in chains and stripped of your gear. However, the guard seems to have his key ring hanging just right...."

  3. In the past, when my style was more adversarial than now, I probably would have let the TPK stand and been amused at the folly of the players.

    Now I work with the players to generate a great story and have a shared responsibility to make the gaming fun for everyone.

    If a TPK is in the cards and on the table as an agreed-to for everyone, then the cards (dice) might very well play out that way.

    But if nobody on the player side is interested in a TPK-possible environment, then it's my role to either predict and remove a possible future TPK or find a way to narrate the TPK out of existence should it sneak into the game.

  4. Whoops, meant to respond to this earlier.

    @Broken: Looking forward to is an interesting way to say that. In general, while I think TPKs can be fun and good, the kindof games I run now make them something that can be bad to happen. This can be especially true if you're killing characters that everyone loves.

    @Anonymous: I've done that too with everyone just waking up knocked out. Usually I only do it if the bad guys are the type that would take prisoners, though sometimes shifting the bad guys to the prisoner taking type can be interesting in its own right. Course, then the PCs need to escape...and stuff.

    @Kevin, Your last paragraph is interesting and hard to do. Sometimes the dice just come down bad. Of course, narrating around a TPK can be useful, and if it works for your group that is awesome. My current group I think would get mad at me if I narrated away from some of the TPKs. Then again, they may want me to narrate away from some other types. It is all situational in the end.