5E How hard is it to accidentally have a TPK?
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  1. #1
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    How hard is it to accidentally have a TPK?

    The key word being accidentally.

    I frequently read here about DMs not wanting to risk something for fear of TPKing a party. But I'm starting to wonder about how reasonable (in 5e especially) that fear is?

    As the DM we continuously control the threat level. For example if the party is out for the count the victors can truss them up and keep them for a tasty snack later (offering the opportunity for escape, revenge or whatever).

    If the monster is too deadly for them then they're probably more of a nuisance than a threat and the monster could choose to make an example of one of the party, leaving the others to deal with bring that character back to health.

    So is it easy to accidentally have a TPK? Or does it require a DM to ignore the warning signs?

  2. #2
    On first level, very easy.

    On high levels, it can still happen, assuming the encounter is "special" somehow. What I mean by that is that half a dozen heavies just bashing the heroes can't cause accidental TPKs, but at that level there are save or suck abilities; you could have an encounter where the heroes must do something (and the players simply not getting it): pull this lever or the Volcano of Doom explodes!

    So, no. I encourage the thread to stay well clear of the badwrongfun part of the pool, where we assume TPKs happen when warning signs are "ignored"...

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by robus View Post
    The key word being accidentally.
    Eh.....

    Responses-

    1. There is no such thing as an accident.

    2. There is a fine line between a DM adjusting the threat level "continuously" and a DM operating as a Deus ex machina to ensure that the players never face any actual threats, which leads to no real stakes and the occasional Monty Haul campaign.

    3. Never underestimate the creative ability of players to snatch a TPK from the jaws of victory.

    It's like anything else; it depends. (Almost) no DM wants a TPK. Even the most sadistic DMs understand that a TPK means (possibly) hurt feelings, the occasional drunken brawl, and, of course, the time that a new campaign and rolling new players will take. That's a serious commitment.

    It's a fairness issue; on the one hand, no player wants to think that the DM is "loading the dice," or "loading the game," or "loading the econunters," against them. But to completely avoid, in all circumstances, a TPK, you would have to argue that the DM must load the dice and the game and the encounters for the players.

    That's why being a good DM is more of an art than a science. It depends on the table. There might be tables where the (willing) suspension of disbelief is such that the players believe that there is real tension even though the DM is constantly scheming to keep them alive, and therefore, there are no "accidental" TPKs. On the other hand, that doesn't work at all tables, and it's possible that the DM plays it straight, the players have an off day (or are very, very creative in a bad way), and there is an "accidental" TPK.

    YMMV.
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  4. #4
    I think the answer is "all of them". I mean, does anyone actually plan a TPK? So I'd think they all are accidents. Even if the DM has an encounter where he or she knows has a high risk of TPK, the players control their own choices. Not every encounter is meant to be fought, and running away is a perfectly viable solution at times. So as to how hard is it? Totally dependent on your players and their choices.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post

    So, no. I encourage the thread to stay well clear of the badwrongfun part of the pool, where we assume TPKs happen when warning signs are "ignored"...
    Agreed this is more about, if I do go outside of the challenge guidelines am I fooling myself into thinking that I can manage the threat in the moment (i.e. the warning signs are available if I choose to see them)? Or am I risking things getting wildly out of hand and boom the party is dead?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by lowkey13 View Post
    3. Never underestimate the creative ability of players to snatch a TPK from the jaws of victory.
    Oh absolutely just the other night I had the monsters heading away from the party as the PCs had found a secret door to escape their tight predicament and wound up behind the monsters. I thought they'd look on that as a lucky break. No. It was fireball time and back into the fray. (and it had been a long while since they'd rested...)

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sacrosanct View Post
    I think the answer is "all of them". I mean, does anyone actually plan a TPK? So I'd think they all are accidents. Even if the DM has an encounter where he or she knows has a high risk of TPK, the players control their own choices. Not every encounter is meant to be fought, and running away is a perfectly viable solution at times. So as to how hard is it? Totally dependent on your players and their choices.
    Yeah - perhaps this was not worded well. I didn't mean to be rude I was just curious as to how easy it is and I agree it's totally situationally dependent and probably my question is answered...

    "It all depends"

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by robus View Post
    Yeah - perhaps this was not worded well. I didn't mean to be rude I was just curious as to how easy it is and I agree it's totally situationally dependent and probably my question is answered...

    "It all depends"
    OH, you weren't rude at all. NO need to apologize for that.
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  9. #9
    If the party doesn't have access to Teleport or equivalent, then a TPK can happen pretty much anytime; the core ingredients are the monsters doing too much damage, the players not eliminating monsters fast enough (for whatever reason) and the party's Cleric or other healer going down. Once the party has the ability to escape from a fight in one round, with Teleport or the like, then their chances of having a TPK go down to 'very unlikely'.

    As to how likely one will happen by accident, which I interpret as 'when you're not expecting the fight to be very dangerous', then that is more of a dice thing than anything. If the players decide to chance it against a Basilisk, and then all fluff their saves, that'll be a TPK or close to one, despite being a fairly easy fight in general. Huge AoE attacks are the real culprits I think, such as a Cone of Cold from a Mage, since they can make the entire party more fragile to then be brought to 0 in quick succession.

    From my experience of parties going down the toilet - though I've only had one TPK so far, which was against Aeresi in Princes of the Apocalypse - it doesn't take that long. Once one person goes down, and the bad guys start focus-firing on the rest, the scales can very quickly tip from 'dangerous' to 'find 4d6'.

  10. #10
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    My advice is not to worry about it. Just figure out a plan for what to do after it happens (e.g. backup characters that are easily tapped in).

    A TPK should mostly be a situation where it's a mistake the players made, combined with some measure of bad luck. If you're telegraphing threats and difficulty appropriately, what happens after that is up to the players and dice. If they choose to fight to their own deaths, that's on them. A fair-minded player will see that when the dust settles.

    If you're going outside the recommended XP/CR guidelines, I suggest changing the stakes to something other than life and death. The monster or PCs need to achieve some goal - those are the stakes now. Losing some hit points might be involved in the doing, but any character death as a result is generally unlikely. Changing the stakes from life and death to something else you can win or lose maintains the challenge and allows you to play around with the difficulty without necessarily risking a TPK.
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