D&D General Don’t Fear the Reaper: TPK is Not the End


B/X Known World
A lot of referees seem to think that the dreaded total party kill (TPK) or party wipe is the end of a campaign. It could be, if you let it. But it doesn’t have to be.

“But everyone’s dead! It’s game over, man. Game over!”

This thread is all about coming up with ways to keep a campaign going after a TPK. Most D&D games take place in a high fantasy setting. Seems like a good idea to lean into that.

Here’s how.

#1. From DCC RPG: “Total party kill: Don’t end the game! Transport all the player characters to Hell—where they can give in to Death’s demands or try to fight their way out.”

#2. Have them wake up 100 years later as newly free-willed undead.

#3. Have them wake up in chains in a dungeon.

#4. Have the PCs wake up in the afterlife and have the gods strike a bargain with them to go back and complete unfinished business.

#5. Have them wake up a century or two later as undead servants to a necromancer and now they have to fight their way out.

#6. Have them wake up on the banks of the River Styx and they’re out of coins for Charon…who sends them back to the land of the living to collect the proper obols.

#7. Have an adventurer’s guild that will resurrect guild members for a fee. Have all your PCs be members. The group loses a week or a month and the cost of resurrection. They’re given basic equipment because their fancy gear was left in the dungeon, and sent on their way.

So, that’s seven simple ways to keep the campaign going with the same characters.

What ideas can you come up with to keep playing after a TPK?
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Victoria Rules
#8. Have them roll up new characters, whose first mission is to follow up on their previous characters and find out why they never came back. If they succeed in finding the remains of their old characters then somehow let those characters be brought back to life. Now everyone has (at least) two characters in the setting, making future TPKs considerably less impactful to the overall campaign; and they can go back to playing the old ones, keep playing the new ones, or a mix, as desired.


I'm the Straw Man in your argument
#9 If the party is hopelessly lost without food or water, then have them discover a dungeon/adventure

Right now the group is on a long journey that would take a month at least. They'll travel through the desert and then the mountains. There's the possibility of becoming lost and/or running out of food. If it happens in the desert, then I'll present the hook from B4 The Lost City [wandering lost in a severe sandstorm without food/water, the group discovers the lost city]. If this happens in the mountains then I'll present the hook from #79 Frozen in Time [The group discovers a glacier with two tunnels carved into its side]

I use the Planescape/Great Wheel cosmology for the Outer Planes. So a character's soul should go to (in this order): 1) The judge of the dead in their pantheon, or 2) The realm of their patron deity, or 3) The plane that best fits their alignment and outlook.

I favor having characters go to the afterlife and adventuring there for a way to return to the realm of the living. If they all worship the same pantheon with the same judge of the dead, that is fairly easy. Or if they have the same patron deity, or are of the same alignment.

But since none of those are the most likely case, you need some sort of gimmick so that they all end up together (maybe in the Outlands) in the afterlife. Perhaps they all end up together in the Outlands, not in any deity's domain, contrary to what they would have expected, and with their memories of their mortal lives intact (also not supposed to happen). Now they get to solve this mystery, and if they want to, find a way back to their normal lives (it's best if that's an option rather than a given, because maybe after they figure out what went weird about their deaths, they'll be ready to retire to their respective afterlives as a cool campaign epilogue).

Of course, this only works once.


Follower of the Way
Provide strong allies who are chained by their other responsibilities, but who value the PCs enough to save them. E.g., I have a gold dragon on a secret mission (not secret to the PCs, though) which requires that his identity as a dragon remain hidden. He cannot act openly. But he can help the heroes, and most importantly he can save them if something goes horribly wrong. They carry a small piece of him with them, Vorlon-style, so his power is never totally cut off, no matter where they go. (But if they go very far away it may be harder to pull off/cost him more.)

Have a secret benefactor who wants the PCs to live. Could be good, bad, or in between. You can drop subtle hints that things are not all they seem, that fortune favors them in subtle ways. Perhaps the gods, playing their Great Game with the loom of time, have by will or by whim decided that these heroes will be important pieces.

Maybe have an event the players need to deal with where death isn't claiming people the way it should. They deal with that event early on, but unknowingly, this marks them as allies of Death Herself. And the Lady repays her debts.

My Classic is to do the Legacy idea:

#101 Advance the Timeline a couple years, and now all the players are characters that are the children of their previously dead characters. Out for "revenge" and to "finish their parents work". Some times a player just "copies" their dead character, so they are "following in the foot steps of their parent". Sometimes they make a new character.

#102 for a twist on the above, with no timeline jump is the Friends and Family. The players make friends and family of the dead characters that get together and team up to "finish the job".

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