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D&D General Continuing a Campaign (with the same PCs) after a TPK

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Full disclosure, this post is inspired partly by this video;

So, let's say you are running your campaign... and the PCs suddenly make a bad decision, getting themselves into a tougher-than-expected-combat. The PCs are rolling badly. The enemies are rolling well. The cleric goes down. Then another PC. Then a third. The cleric has failed his death saves, the enemies are closing on the barbarian... it's a Total Party Kill. And you, the DM, know there's no way these baddies are going to leave the job unfinished.

Believe it or not, I don't believe most DMs are excited when this happens. The players obviously get invested in their characters, but a decent DM is going to get invested too... maybe their next villain is pulled from a character's backstory, or the fighter is secretly the lost prince to the throne, or maybe they just enjoyed their comraderies.

Anyway, the point is, sometimes you don't want to let the story end with the PCs dead and the players having to roll up new characters. So, how do you continue a campaign when all your characters are dead? Not captured by the way; DEAD. Those death saves are rolled, and doggone it, you aint a DM who wants to retcon!

So here are three ideas on how to keep the same party of PCs going, even when they hit an untimely demise.

1. Deal with the Devil
Simple, but effective. The party is dead, but their souls are brought forth before a powerful, planar entity. This can be anything, from a Archdevil, a Celestial, an Archfey... anyone whose got enough power to twist the wheels of fate so that the PCs souls are sent back to their bodies (or entirely new ones). This could be a malicious force, like Zariel demanding servitude in exchange for another try at living, or it could be a Deva who needs assistance in pushing back an incursion in Mount Celestia. This favor could be cashed in immedietly, as the Fey require assistance with a monster in their grove right now, or it could be a contract that doesn't come due until the characters are alive again. This option has the added benefit of giving the players a choice; they can turn it down, sealing the PCs deceased fate. Or, they can accept the consequences of a deal!

2. Escape the Afterlife
This one is a little more wild... what if the PCs are given the opportunity to pull one over on the jailors of death, and make an escape attempt? Think of how in Greek Myths, heroes cheated death by tricking the Reaper or simply trying to fight their way out of the Underworld. The opportunity for an escape could be as simple as the Boatmen falling asleep at the wheel, and the PCs have the opportunity to seize control of the boat and try to sail back for the living. Or maybe, an angel gets a little impudent and decides to slip a PC the key to their bonds, in hopes they can escape heaven and return to their bodies. This could be a short "Fight our way to the portal to the Material Plane!" or a longer traipsing through the planes as Inevitables are sent to drag the heroes back to the afterlife.

3. Roleplay the Undead
This one is perhaps the most out-of-the-box, but let's say your party has been killed, but some time has gone by. A mad scientist (for fun, we'll say Mordenheim) has brought the party back to life, their souls returned to their bodies... their stitched together, slightly misshapen bodies. This requires a bit of buy-in from your players of course, with the additional caveat of how this might change their personalities. But there are loads of reasons why a unscrupulous villain may find it useful to bring back dead heroes. A vampire could bring the party back as their new spawn, or a hag might need new revenant foot bodyguards. With the new Van Richten rules, these are all possible. Of course, what the villain doesn't know is the the PCs have maintained a bit of their personality, and maybe even a bit of free will. As soon as their eyes are turned, they may find the PCs ready to smash a flowerpot over their head, or run off when the master is away.

Those are my ideas; do you have some of your own?

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When my 2e "The Oath" campaign ended in a TPK in The Hidden Shrine of the Tamoachan, we followed it up with mini-campaign of adventures in the afterlife and them being summoned for a final battle on the prime material plane by some powerful cleric. I don't think we ever got to finish it, but one of the most fun parts was that the campaign had already had a high death toll with most players having had more than one (and some three or more!) characters over the course of play, and they were all there to be chosen among like a Valhalla meadhall thing - so different parts of the adventure the players could choose different groups of PCs, some of which had never met when they were alive!


I ran my sons through a Dungeon adventure, "Headless" (written by none other than James Jacobs), which unfortunately ended in a TPK for the two PCs and their NPC druid. But the adventure dealt with an artifact that siphoned the souls of the recently slain straight to Orcus in his realm, Thanatos. So, not wanting to start over with a new campaign and new PCs, we picked it up from there: they woke up at Orcus's feet with no memories of their previous lives and Orcus informed them they had been his trusted lieutenants who had just failed in a plot to overthrow him. He, therefore, had imprisoned these "demons" in their current mortal forms and they would have to work their way back into his good graces.

The next three adventures dealt with them doing various missions throughout the Outer Planes for Orcus, until they encountered the father of one of the PCs, who had become a celestial after his own death some years ago. Recognizing his daughter, he called her by her real name (Orcus had reassigned the PCs with names of his own choosing), and hearing her real name restored her memory. She was able to restore the other PC's memories by calling him by his real name, but the NPC druid escaped before she could fall under such a horrible fate. (She therefore remained a loyal follower of Orcus.)

So then the two restored PCs spent a fair bit of time undoing all of the harm they'd done while believing themselves to be demons, and my oldest son vowed his PC cleric was going to permanently slay Orcus on his own plane to pay for what he'd done to them. And that vow shaped the entire rest of that campaign, which ended up getting retroactively referred to as the "Orcus campaign."

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These are cool ideas, but the biggest issue is that you really can't get away with doing this more than once. I think that the undead is a pretty cool idea, because instead of dying due to HP, you can have various body parts fall off/destroyed instead. This lets them play much longer than they otherwise could, but they'd get worse over time, making EVERY combat meaningful.

This is what I used my game Strange Tales of Songling for a lot. Not just TPKs, but if an individual character died, I would make them a Strange Tales character and have them play in the after life (to see if they could make it back to the world of the living or if they could reincarnate)


Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
TPK's are rare, but they have happened. When it did, we just ended that party and moved on to the next. That works for me because I don't run campaigns that must complete an arc. If the party fails, the bad guys may win or another group may have to come along to clean up the mess. Both have happened.

It's disappointing when it happens and some work I've done does go to waste but I just take those ideas, those NPCs and organizations and figure out how things will proceed. That then becomes part of the history of the world and we move on.


In a campaign series my friend runs (Desperate By Dusk) characters who die can attempt to escape the underworld. It's really tough though.

Everyone awakens completely without equipment (naked), and each person needs to find two coins to pay Charon to ferry them out of there. Coins aren't plentiful as you might expect, and there are nasty monsters like harpies looking to chow down on lost souls.

I can't recall whether we ever successfully pulled off an escape (over a half dozen campaigns), though I'm certain we were very close at least once.


Something we've done in our D&D games is the divine intervention roll. It's a small percentage chance upon death that you will be given a second chance. Usually, but not always, by your deity. The way we've always done it is that characters that are particularly pious towards their deity have a significant bonus to the roll.

Most recently it happened in our weird post-apocalyptic D&D game. I was playing a character that was kind of a Frankenstein's monster created through mad science from DNA scavenged from battlefields. My character is a priest of the roach spirit, and quite devoted.

We ran into a pair of flail snails who killed my character dead. As luck would have it, the DM rolled divine intervention. The handmaidens of the death goddess were particularly busy that day and didn't want to deal with the paperwork that processing an abomination of mad science would cause, so they offered to send him back as an undead skull. I accepted, and spent several sessions playing as an undead skull, which was incredibly inconvenient (no opposable thumbs, or fingers for that matter).

Luckily, one of the other players is playing a mad scientist, and we eventually happened across some notes from my character's creator's teacher. The mad scientist was able to decipher the notes (with an exceptionally good skill check) and figured out how my character was made. From there, it was a matter of finding some materials and a suitable lab, but eventually the mad scientist was able to reanimate my character (and now I have thumbs again, yay).

Depending on the enemy PC can be kept alive for multiple reasons: eaten or sacrifice later, ransom, exchange, torture for intel. that might give them a chance to escape or get rescued.
You can make the players play the rescue party.
PC can be made slave, sell out, and try to escape later.

The whole fight can be a premonition dream or transe from a party member. A movie plot classic. better if you a diviner, some cleric domain, a warlock may fit to have such help.


In my 4e campaign there was a "TPK". The PCs regained consciousness prisoners in the goblin caves.

There were two exceptions: one of the PCs had reached negative bloodied hit points and so could not be merely unconscious; that PC was brought back to life by the Raven Queen, his god, to prevent his soul being used in a strange goblin ritual. And one of the players wanted to bring in a new PC, so his old one also was killed by the goblins.


Friendship is Magic, and Magic is Heresy.
I'd be strongly tempted to make the old PCs small-time legends (big time legends have a greater come-home rate), and make new PCs in that world. They might be relatives, friends, or otherwise attached, but they might be entirely new unattached characters (as some will want that option, I might).

It could be a generation later, five years, or a couple months - any can work, and there is now some rich backstory for the players that want to work with it, as well as a chance to do something different for those that want that.


Grab the new Ravenloft book. The PCs wake up seemingly a few hours later on the abandoned battlefield, batting away some carrion birds pecking at them. Something seems…off about the terrain around them, but they cant quite place it. And why don’t these wounds seem as fresh as they should be?


If your players are taking notes you can assume the characters are writing in journals as well. So as long as their bodies aren't completely incinerated you can assume their journals are found by the next adventuring party so no campaign knowledge is lost and continuity is maintained.

Well you got Reborns now, Hollow One Supernatural Gift from Theros as well as the Revenants from the one UA. You most certainly have your pick for poisons when it comes to life after death options for PCs.

You could even use the Deathless Nature from the UA or the new Ravenloft's book if ya really wanted to go that far. Note that route would mean you'd have to adjust to a number of "quirks" like healing being interesting, but at least potions and certain spells still work though.


Last time it happened was back in 3e with the Age or Worms campaign. We were 2nd level and met an ogre in the tavern and ended up fighting him at 2nd level instead of at 6th level. The DM asked if we wanted to ret-con the encounter and talk to him instead of starting a new game. None of the players minded.


There doesn't need to be clear in-character explanation. It's possible to just decide, as a group of players, to restart. Just because you want to. Almost like starting from a save point in a video game.

But that might seem too cheap, like cheating, and players could feel guilty for continuing like that. One solution is to make it a Groundhog Day scenario. The characters have to do the day over again. And if they don't do better, they have to do it again... and again... until they get it right. That way, when the group does move on, there's more a feeling of having earned it, and they'll feel less undeserving.


Other ideas:

  • Revenants.
  • Allies bring the PCs back.
  • Don't explain it right away. They wake up, without their equipment, nearby. They have to uncover what brought them back - and why. You can figure it out in advance, or wait for inspiration to strike and then tie it to an unfolding event in the game.
  • It didn't happen. If a cleric has cast the right divination spells recently, or used their divine intervention, rewind to that point and explain that the spell revealed the future if the PCs follow that path...
  • Rewind and don't explain why. Then, as the PCs continue to adventure, introduce a 'multiverse' storyline and have them visit the world where they died in that battle, and see the difference they've made in their universe.
  • An archaeologist raises them a thousand years later to study them. They can escape and use magic to return to the past (creating a branching timeline).
  • An enemy of the group that killed the PCs brings the PCs back (which is a flavor on th deal with the devil, but it doesn't necessarily involve a deal).


I had this happen recently. I "fixed" it by having their NPC companion (the only one to survive the fight, by running away) recover a chunk of their body, take it to a druid, and they got reincarnated into new bodies. Since it was still level 1, they didn't have the diamonds required, so now they are indebted to the druids. The only reason I did this is because my two players are really interested in this little seasonal mini-adventure that they wanted to continue with it. So, I went the reincarnation route.

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