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D&D General TPK or Imprison

TPK or Imprison?

  • TPK

    Votes: 19 35.8%
  • Imprison

    Votes: 31 58.5%
  • You're History's Worst DM

    Votes: 3 5.7%

  • Total voters
    53

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I should note that this thing with the BBEG is the finale of the campaign even though it is at relatively low level due to scheduling stuff and some incompatibility between players and preferences.
If the PCs are working for the local authorities or have done good works on behalf of the populace, the BBEG might want to keep them prisoner as insurance in case things go wrong. Having a beloved group of heroes as a bargaining chip is a great reason for him to imprison them.
 

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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Neither is a great option but given some choices my players have made recently, it looks like it has to be one or the other.

So -- should I have the PCs captured and have an opportunity to escape and also finish their mission (they would be imprisoned in the BBEG fortress) even though there is no real reason for the bad guys to spare them? Or you the dice fall where they may and if it turns into a TPK, so be it? TPKs are a bummer, though,a nd the campaign almost always ends on a down note. Of course, it could also be both, as they TPK while trying to escape.
As a player, I am often as much of a fan of a TPK as I am capture scenario. As GM, it depends, usually I will nudge around the issue with players, such as do they want to continue with the game? Then it is capture, often with the cost of gear.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Long story short, they allowed two separate enemies to escape, are extremely low on resources (and have even lost one party member) and are planning on taking a long rest right next to the unsecured teleportation circle leading to the BBEG lair. They have convinced themselves through a circular argument between players that the bad guys will lay in wait for them to come through, ignoring the fact that the second escapee knows they are in their weakest possible state and nothing is stopping a force to come through the portal to attack. One player has been adamant that they should leave the location to rest and go the overland route to the BBEG lair (which is a good idea and would work) but other players have argued him down.
So, teleporting into a circle is a highly dangerous act if the circle is occupied by your enemies.

They could easily have set up a killer ambush, possibly guarded against scrying, hitting whomever shows up. They can even destroy the circle easily during teleportation, splitting your forces if you come in waves.

If the BBEG has any kind of plans that the players are disrupting, then breaking the teleportation link and finishing their plans makes a lot of sense.

An initial scout through the portal is also a good idea. Any scrying on an alert enemy in a plausible ambush spot should be considered suspect; so if they can, they'd scry the location (doesn't even grant a saving throw, but does open up risk the PCs spot the sensor), confirm a lack of ambush, send through a scouting force (cheap enough to lose, strong/sneaky enough to last a round) via teleportation circle, keep scry up to see if the sensor was faked out, then send a larger follow-up force through next round.

Lacking scry, you do much the same, except you send a scouting force with the ability to know if they are wiped out and/or communicate back (a sending, for example).

Lacking even that ability, BBEG side either (a) set up a killer ambush at their end, (b) send a reconnaissance-in-force through, or (c) break the teleportation circle link.

The BBEG side should assume the other side is clever, even if the PCs are acting dumb.

---

Anyhow, as for the result, don't fall into "DM my guy" syndrome.

My guy syndrome is when a player does something that makes the game less fun for everyone, because "their PC would do that". The fact is, their PC's motivations are within the player's control.

Similarly, as the DM, the BBEG motivations and the like are within your control.

If you want the PCs captured or similar, it isn't "they have no reason to capture the PCs", it is "I cannot think of a reason they would capture the PCs that is consistent with what the PCs know about the BBEG's side and the constraints of my planned plot".

If you want them captured, what I'd do is think back over the last sessions or the PCs backstory or the like, and see if you can invent a connection between something utterly random that happened and a reason to capture the PCs.

Once you have invented that connection, and found something to ground it in, pretend that was the plan all along. Work out a way to highlight that connection -- it could be as simple as one of the BBEG side saying it openly when the PCs are captured -- so the PCs see the reveal.

In the last fight, did they focus-fire PC1 and not attack PC2 that much? Is PC2 some strange race? Turns out that they where under orders to capture PC2, because they need PC2s blood for an experiment. I mean, didn't the players catch that? It was so telegraphed. (Actually, it wasn't true until you needed an excuse to capture the PCs). The capture of the other PCs is collateral damage by some underling who wasn't clear which ones are supposed to be kept alive.

You could even have the BBEG brutally kill one PC (talk to the player first, maybe the one who warned everyone that this was a dumb plan, or someone whose character arc could do with a replacement), and they reroll a new PC that helps them get out of confinement in the BBEG dungeon.
 

Panfilo

Existential Risk
Publisher
If the PCs are working for the local authorities or have done good works on behalf of the populace, the BBEG might want to keep them prisoner as insurance in case things go wrong. Having a beloved group of heroes as a bargaining chip is a great reason for him to imprison them.
I like this, especially since if even a single one of the player characters has a background tie to wealth or a title or an important NPC or an artifact hook, a rational BBEG might want to use them for ransom.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Long story short, they allowed two separate enemies to escape, are extremely low on resources (and have even lost one party member) and are planning on taking a long rest right next to the unsecured teleportation circle leading to the BBEG lair. They have convinced themselves through a circular argument between players that the bad guys will lay in wait for them to come through, ignoring the fact that the second escapee knows they are in their weakest possible state and nothing is stopping a force to come through the portal to attack. One player has been adamant that they should leave the location to rest and go the overland route to the BBEG lair (which is a good idea and would work) but other players have argued him down.

My big question? Was the "this is a HORRIBLE place to rest" telegraphed strongly enough? One person caught on, but the rest clearly didn't.

I find I have to be REALLY clear with this kind of telegraphing of info as what seems clear to me (or any DM with full knowledge) is almost certainly not to the players.

I'd tend to go with capture for my players (but possible TPK) as that presents fun opportunities for later as opposed to just a reboot.
 

Imprison them and then BTK them. If there is no reason for the BBEG to spare them then personally if I were a player in this campaign and we were spared or given some cheesy opportunity to escape and win the day I'd feel cheated. I've done this before as a DM and if its not believable its not rewarding for the players or the DM IME. So the campaign ends on a down note, it happens, cant win em all.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Yeah, I find TPK a bummer too in the kind of games I like to play. And yet, the menace of a TPK needs to be real enough to keep the thrill going, and give satisfaction in "not dying".

As a DM, I see TPD (total party down) as a defeat, a failure. This can have several consequences, death for the whole party being one. Being imprisoned, getting robbed, being "taught a lesson", given a "warning", losing something important are just a few off my head. I usually try to telegraph fights that might lead to a real TPK. I find that it's easier to build and exploit tension as a narrative tool this way.
 


Reynard

Legend
After reading responses and thinking on it, I am leaning toward imprisonment by fiat. "You barely remember what happened. The teleportation circle began to glow and your alarm spell started to scream, but then the pain in your minds took over." (Some of the enemies are psionic.) They wake up in the cells without rest or gear and maybe a level of exhaustion, but they are actually closer to their goal. Now the question becomes do they attempt to escape or attempt to finish the mission -- even if they do so, they probably won't survive.

The alternative is to actually let that fight run out, which is where I am afraid the TPK will come in because in my experience, players refuse to surrender ever, and only very rarely flee. The worst case scenario would be for half the party to be dead and half the party captured, I think. It would be really tough to plausibly inject a bunch of replacement PCs.

I do have one other option: they made friends-ish with a self interested, kind of villainous party who is established to have the power necessary to save the party at the last minute. If I want to avoid the problem altogether and take the choice out of the PCs hands, they can show up and be like "Come with me if you want to live, and then you can do that job I asked you about a few weeks ago." Among the problems with this solution is that it veers off this storyline and I am trying to wrap things up.

GMing is hard sometimes.
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
After reading responses and thinking on it, I am leaning toward imprisonment by fiat. "You barely remember what happened. The teleportation circle began to glow and your alarm spell started to scream, but then the pain in your minds took over." (Some of the enemies are psionic.) They wake up in the cells without rest or gear and maybe a level of exhaustion, but they are actually closer to their goal. Now the question becomes do they attempt to escape or attempt to finish the mission -- even if they do so, they probably won't survive.
Imprisonment by cut scene is often a tough sell - depends on your players. But it wouldn't be my first choice as it seems exactly like the ham handedness you seem to be trying to avoid.

The alternative is to actually let that fight run out, which is where I am afraid the TPK will come in because in my experience, players refuse to surrender ever, and only very rarely flee. The worst case scenario would be for half the party to be dead and half the party captured, I think. It would be really tough to plausibly inject a bunch of replacement PCs.
If the bad guys have access to melee weapons and spells that incapacitate, capture without TPK is actually pretty likely. From what you've said they are NOT expecting teleporting in enemies. Frankly I find it poetic justice to give players a taste of scry and fry (especially when, far from malicious it's 100% warranted by the parties own actions). Unless the group is warded against charm, it's not THAT hard to take them alive if the villains get the drop on them.

I do have one other option: they made friends-ish with a self interested, kind of villainous party who is established to have the power necessary to save the party at the last minute. If I want to avoid the problem altogether and take the choice out of the PCs hands, they can show up and be like "Come with me if you want to live, and then you can do that job I asked you about a few weeks ago." Among the problems with this solution is that it veers off this storyline and I am trying to wrap things up.
I like this option because it lets the players know that an asset they'd "collected" has truly come in handy. Players love it when something from their past comes back in a positive vs. negative way! As for veering off - well just make sure that the save comes with an express - now get this done and get it done pronto prompt and shouldn't be a big departure. Probably less than imprisonment actually. So a nice compromise option.

So definitely seems like the best of the options presented.

GMing is hard sometimes.

Seems fund though.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Split the difference. Kill half of them, imprison the rest. If you have an odd number cut off the legs and imprison the remainer.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Don't sell yourself short. Some people aspire to greatness, some people's purpose in life is to be an example of what not to do! Embrace being the world's worst DM! :p
 

Stalker0

Legend
I’ve done a decent number of prison break adventures and i think they can be a lot of fun, it’s a great change of pace to strip the party of all equipment and spell components and then let them go. It’s also a great chance to try low level people at them and it still be a great challenge.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've only had a couple of TPKs in my history of DMing, most have just been very close calls.

However, I don't really have many qualms about people facing the consequences of their decisions. Bad luck? I'm going to be fairly lenient. Multiple bad decisions when I'm certain they should have known better or were metagaming and making assumptions? That's another story.

So if you can make the last fight epic, if you can give them a chance, however slim, to pull off something truly amazing I'd be okay with a TPK. On the other hand I would probably only imprison them if you can come up with a good reason they would be imprisoned and an interesting story arc for their escape.

The only thing I would caution is to not do a TPK just because you aren't happy with the group and/or campaign. If you are ready to restart, even with a different group, just have a conversation with their players and ask what they want to do. Maybe ya'll just say "yep we all died, see you in the next life". But I also wouldn't assume a foregone conclusion, even if there is only a small chance they'll succeed they deserve a shot at that chance.

There isn't always a best answer. Good luck.
 


In most cases for most groups - imprisonment. Beat and taunt (briefly! Too much exposition = ungood) them while they're down for their stupidity. Take their stuff, let them recover their major pieces of equipment but lose a bit of the minor; force them to try escape at reduced hp.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I see several potential traps here:

1. Killing the whole party with overwhelming force, even if they've set themselves up for it, is a lousy way to end a campaign.
2. Beating down the party to zero, but then having the bad guys take them alive, can easily feel like a DM taking pity on the party.
3. Declaring that the PCs were captured by fiat, without a chance to react, rubs players really raw.

What I would do is have the bad guys come through the circle in force and hit the whole party with psionic stun attacks. Minions rush to bind and gag PCs who fail their saves. By leading off this way, you make it clear that their goal from the start is capture, so if somebody does end up getting beat down to zero, it won't feel like DM charity to let them live.

Now, I don't believe in combat theater--if you pick up dice, there should be a possibility of multiple outcomes. But nobody said those outcomes had to include "PCs kill all the monsters and win." PCs who make their initial saves can flee, and if they do, they should have a high chance to escape. Then they can set to work rescuing their companions. If they try to fight, they get beat down and captured with the rest, and now the party must escape without outside help.

Of course, all this does depend on you being able to think up a plausible reason for the bad guys to want the PCs alive. If not, I would instead opt for a staged attack. The teleportation circle flares up, giving the PCs one round of warning, and then the first wave of monsters comes through. Then it flares again, heralding the second wave... and the third... and so on. This gives the players time to realize that they are going to be overwhelmed and that they need to GTFO. If they insist on fighting to the death, well, so be it.
 
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I mean ask them, but in general, I find death to be boring anyway, especially if that's it and that's where we end. Or worse, roll up a bunch of scrubs to play out the last down for some reason.
 

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