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TPKs I've known and loved

Henrix

Explorer
There is an interesting article about TPKs up on Wizards’ site.
How they happen, what happens and how to avoid them, both from a players and a DM’s perspective.


Now, I recently had, or perhaps I should say inflicted, a TPK (or, well, really a NTPP, read below), so I am interested in the subject. Nothing stops a campaign in its tracks as firmly as a badly timed TPK.

The article spelled out some ways that make TPKs happen.
The main reasons I've seen are a lack of communication between the party members, the just-one-more-room-before-we-rest syndrome, and of course a lot of really bad luck and feeble dice rolling.

What other causes of TPK are there, and what varieties of the above are there?

And, not the least important, do you have any funny TPK stories to share?


My two most memorable TPKs are the Domino TPK and the one I mentioned earlier, the NTPP. I am 90%+ DM, so both are from games I’ve DMed, and they both caught me unawares at the time.


The Domino TPK.

The bold adventurers are down in a dungeon and haven’t really met anything yet, barring some nuisance, when a bunch of Shadows step out of the walls.
First round one of them hits the combat focussed Cleric, and drains 6 points of strength from him. Cleric rolls miserably on his Turn Undead and fail. The rest of the party kill all but one of the Shadows, but the Cleric dies in the three rounds the combat takes (one hit each round doing 6, 4 and 6 points of Strength damage. They start to pull out, knowing there’s still a wounded Shadow lurking nearby in the walls.
1d4 rounds later the Cleric becomes a Shadow! And the wounded Shadow steps forth again.
A few rounds later both Shadows are down, but so’s another party member (the rogue? I don’t remember).
1d4 rounds later he rises as a Shadow, hunting after the rest of the now rather scared party (all are low on Strength, if I reall correctly).
This time they, or at least the two remaining memebers, destroy the Shadow, only to be confronted with their lastly killed friend’s Shadow the round after.
They both start to run. The shadow catches up with the fighter, who is rather encumbered as he only has a Strength of four or thereabouts, and kills him too.

The last member, the Wizard, and the druid’s animal companion, a wolverine, is running all they can for the entrance and daylight. But Shadows have a fly speed of 40 and can pass through walls…..
The wolverine, Logan, survives, and lives happily still, even if he is a bit afraid of shadows.


The NTPP, or Near Total Party Petrification

This time it starts with the heroes hearing sounds of approaching movement from two different directions. The elven barbarian/sorcerer/dragon disciple and the dwarven fighter charges of in direction of some of the enemies, a bunch of grimlocks, leaving the druid, the illusionist and the halfling ranger/rogue to fight another grimlock, but this one with a trained basilisk!
All three seemingly panic, and don’t really know what to do. The illusionist casts a phantasmal killer on the beast, but it gets lucky on it’s save.
Then the druid sends her wolf on it and remains close by, trying to hit the basilisk with her bow while averting (50% miss chance) her eyes. The wolf is petrified, followed shortly by the druidess.
The other two scramble away towards where the others are fighting, the basilisk and its keeper slowly ambling after. The halfling just keeps out of sight a bit away, and the illusionist (a little low on spells, having used up a lot earlier) turns invisible and levitates up to the roof. However the grimlock basilisk handler has no trouble sensing the illusionist, and directs the basilisk to look upwards towards him. And since he’s only averting his eyes, not closing them, he turns to a levitating little garden gnome statue.
The fighters are locked in combat this whole time, slowly battering down the tougher grimlock fighters, aided a little by the the halfling taking pot shots from a way off. But then they start falling to the basilisks gaze as well. Still not closing their eyes, which would have been hard, as they wanted to run away at this point, and half speed would not get them out fast enough.
The halfling gets away, though, but with no means of getting the others out and unstoned.


Analysis of some sort

Well, the Domino TPK…. I don’t really know what went wrong there. They had a bit of bad luck against a bunch of Shadows fighting smart (hitting and running through walls and stuff), and I had a streak of really good dice rolls. Can’t really see what they could have done better, except perhaps concentrate their fire a bit.

The NTPP on the other hand was clearly a case where the party didn’t communicate at all with each other. Everyone was fighting only for themselves, and basically nobody was trying to do anything about the basilisk (except a little at the beginning).
But a lot of bad luck was involved, as well. When they averted their eyes they failed their miss chances, while the basilisk succeeded, and nobody succeeded on their fort saves (DC13).
(They had also more or less run past the remains of several earlier petrified victims without stopping to inspect them and being warned.)
 

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amethal

Adventurer
Good link. That was an interesting article.

I've never had a TPK, either as a player or a DM. (Ok, I once killed 2/3 of the party in Call of Cthulhu, but I'd like to think that doesn't count.)

I was amazed by the reference in the article to "the party decided to retreat, but nobody actually ran away that round". I've never gamed with those guys!

We once played an adventure from Dungeon (I forget the name) where the BBEG started bringing down the roof on the party. We all ran for it, and the only person who went back to help stragglers (who didn't need any help) was being played by the DM as the player wasn't there.

[The temporary DMPC was buried under countless tons of rock, but the rest of us got away. I felt really sorry for the player whose character was killed in his absence by DM stupidity.]

I feel for the guys in the article who got killed by the shadows.

You don't mind if your character falls in the climax of the adventure (for example, we had a PC die because the player reasoned that standing toe to toe with a badly injured BBEG mummy was the best option for the group, as one more hit would take out the BBEG but it would take a critical to kill the PC .......) but a TPK in a warm up fight really hurts.

Had I been the DM, I would have delayed the cleric rising as a shadow in the interest of the story, but different DMs have different styles.

The encounter with the grimlocks and the basilisk looks like bad tactics on the part of the players. My party would have identified the basilisk as the main threat and the spellcasters would have acted accordingly. (Although the paladin would still have been petrified - it happens to that particular player every time, no matter how easy the save is.)

With the clay golem example, it looks like bad communication. If I was the DM, I'd have dropped the players a hint that the party had taken a lot of damage (the characters should be able to tell, presumably), but only if I was aware of it myself.

I also wonder what tacticsl the party were using. Our wizard always greases the floor under golems; it usually works, especially against lone opponents.
 


MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
It's a great article - I'm really loving these R&D articles from wizards.

One TPK in my group:

The group is sneaking into a cultist hideout. They find the cultists holding a ceremony. The PCs sneak into the body of the cultists and then one of the PCs, without first letting the other PCs know what he was doing, casts a fireball at the low-level cultists and not their leaders.

The party had moved in far enough so they had *no* route out, and any plan they'd had has just gone out the window.

Player stupidity is a big factor.


Cheers!
 

PatrickLawinger

First Post
TPKs

Well, over the years I have had several TPKs or near TPKs. The funniest one, for me, was when the party knew they were going to be meeting a vampire. This was during an earlier edition when elves were 90% resistant to charm. Wisely, the party sends in the elven cleric and ranger. They had to enter the room one at a time, and boldly went in certain the vampire couldn't dominate their powerful elven brains. Both failed, and when I say they failed, I mean failed the % checks and saving throws so miserably that the entire table was laughing their heads off (we always rolled in the open, and still do).

Obviously, they call out, "All clear, come on in." Of the party of 8, 6 were under the vampire's control. The other two didn't stand a chance (mage and rogue). After all, they all come in one at a time, certain that everything is safe.
The vampire never entered combat.

I suppose some of the funniest moments during the whole thing were due to the comments made and the role-playing of the characters.

Patrick
 

SpiderMonkey

Explorer
The most memorable one for me involves a DM friend of mine with a reputation for "rat bastardry." TPKs were not an uncommon experience under him.

We were playing our first session in game with first level characters. After some overland travel, the DM randomly determined who happened to be on watch one night. It was the cleric, with virtually no spot or listen outside of his Wisdom bonus. The DM asks him to roll listen, and he failed with a result of around '12' or '13.'

The Cleric was promptly surprised by about four ghouls (remember, we're first level). Somehow, a few of us were allowed some kind of roll to awaken, but against four ghouls, and without our armor, it didn't take long for them to eat our faces.

That was one short campaign.
 

HeapThaumaturgist

First Post
My characters, once they reach a level that can afford it, carry "Survival Kits" for trying to survive these situations.
Potion of Sanctuary (Heightened to what you can afford)
Potion of Invis
Potion of Pass Without Trace
Potion of Expeditious Retreat
Potion of Hide From Animals

Various others. Keep the little vials in a seperate pouch that can be taken and fled with. But I'm usually the master-planner of my groups, anyway. Also why I like generalist utility wizards. Prepared for anything.

I've come close to causing TPKs, but a little of my preparedness rubbed off on my players. One memorable situation had them retreating into a room with a 5' door ... then throwing down a Quaal's Tree Token in the doorway to block the bad-guys for a moment ... then having the Druid cast Transport Via Plants off of a scroll they had for just that reason.

--fje
 

Henrix

Explorer
The most humiliating TPK I've taken part in was a long time ago. Oldtimer (as he calls himself here and some other places) DMed his variation of 1st ed AD&D (with lots of RQ and C&S).

We were 6 PCs, all 1st or 2nd level. All humans except one half-elf.
We entered a cave, I don't think we knew there were kobolds in there, and to light our way the cleric cast light on the half-elf, the only one who could have managed in the darkness. I don't think anybody had brought a lamp or some torches.
The kobolds saw us, of course, all walking tightly around the lit-up half-elf, and started throwing javelins at us. Several of us realized we were just shining targets, and ran out. Into the big, dark, cave.
The half-elf was of course a bit upset, as he was left alone, but he went down fast. The rest of us lasted a short while longer, but we were all shot down as we floundered in the darkness.

So, six PCs vs. six kobolds ended up as six dead PCs and not even a scratch on any of the kobolds.

That taught me to always bring a lantern.

And to continue the analysis, I'd say that we were not communicating at all with each other. When we first entered the caave we were bickering about who should have brought torches, which ended with the cleric casting light on the half-elf to spite him.
We were young and foolish ;)
 

amethal

Adventurer
HeapThaumaturgist said:
I've come close to causing TPKs, but a little of my preparedness rubbed off on my players. One memorable situation had them retreating into a room with a 5' door ... then throwing down a Quaal's Tree Token in the doorway to block the bad-guys for a moment ... then having the Druid cast Transport Via Plants off of a scroll they had for just that reason.
Unbelievable - a use for the tree token.

Our party found one early on (I think it was in the sunless citadel, but might be wrong) and carried it round for months. We thought the DM had invented it up as a joke when he told us what it did.
 

Crothian

First Post
My favorite is the one that happens a few years ago. THe party is leaving the house that the adventure took plae in as the house is changing into something evil. THey have fought a lot of things and no had more then 10hp, no one had any healing left, and they all confirm this to each other talking about it (they are about 7th level). So, out of the house walks a demon, more powerful then they've ever faced and they knew this to. They talk about what resources they have, they have very little but choose to go fight the demon anyway. They did a lot of damage and actually killed the beast, but it exploded killing them.
 

Rel

Liquid Awesome
amethal said:
Unbelievable - a use for the tree token.

Our party found one early on (I think it was in the sunless citadel, but might be wrong) and carried it round for months. We thought the DM had invented it up as a joke when he told us what it did.

Are you kidding me? The Tree Token is one of the "must have" items that goes into almost every one of my PC's bags of tricks as soon as I have the spare cash and can find a place to buy one. I had them save the party bacon twice in the same campaign.

Once we doing battle in the top of a huge lighthouse. We had accomplished our mission (steal the crystal that powered the light) but we were about to be overwhelmed by bad guys. My Halfling Rogue throws a QFT-Tree to the ground and we grab on (using a series of Str checks) as it grew to full height. This put us close enough to the windows in the top of the lighthouse that we could smash our way out and escape.

Later in that campaign we wound up getting surprised by some Scrag (sea Trolls) as we camped on the beach. My Halfling again throws down his QFT-Tree and quickly climbs it. From atop the tree he rained a hail of crossbow bolts down on the Scrags long enough to drive them back into the sea (they only Regenerate in the water) and buy us time to escape into the jungle.

Quall's Feather Token: Tree - Don't leave home without it.

As to the TPK article, my experience has been the same as the author. It wasn't the big crit or huge spell effect that caused my one and only TPK as GM. It was the accumulated misses, failed saves and failure to retreat when they still had the chance.
 

Rel

Liquid Awesome
Crothian said:
My favorite is the one that happens a few years ago. THe party is leaving the house that the adventure took plae in as the house is changing into something evil. THey have fought a lot of things and no had more then 10hp, no one had any healing left, and they all confirm this to each other talking about it (they are about 7th level). So, out of the house walks a demon, more powerful then they've ever faced and they knew this to. They talk about what resources they have, they have very little but choose to go fight the demon anyway. They did a lot of damage and actually killed the beast, but it exploded killing them.

That is one rat-bastard DM right there. My hat is off! ;)
 

Henrix

Explorer
Rel said:
It wasn't the big crit or huge spell effect that caused my one and only TPK as GM. It was the accumulated misses, failed saves and failure to retreat when they still had the chance.

Yes, the failure to retreat while still having a chance is a serious party killer. My first experience of D&D3 ended thus, when we retreated forwards, into another room filled with zombies, instead of out.

(That I had insisted upon playing a half-orc cleric didn't help things. I had no inkling of the rules, and a -2 Cha modifier didn't help when I tried to turn them! :heh:)
 

Quasqueton

First Post
It should be an standard adventurer understanding and agreement that if a PC falls in combat, everyone should immediately begin pullout (taking the fallen comrade if reasonably possible).

Quasqueton
 

Delemental

First Post
Rel said:
Are you kidding me? The Tree Token is one of the "must have" items that goes into almost every one of my PC's bags of tricks as soon as I have the spare cash and can find a place to buy one. I had them save the party bacon twice in the same campaign.

Here, here! The tree token is one of the best of the lot, by far. I've had DM's quadruple their cost to keep us from getting too many.

It's a story I've told here before, but we once won a combat through tree token use. We were on a riverbank, chasing down a Red Wizard who was on a ship pulling away. His Thayan KNight bodyguard stayed on shore to engage us. He was several levels above our group average, plus we're having spells and arrows from the ship raining down on us; the DM was intending it to be a "Knight holds party off long enough for Wizard to escape, then leaves" scenario.

Our group's illusionist gets off a lucky Tasha's Laughter spell on the Knight, and he goes down laughing. Then my druid casts Soften Earth under him. We're on a riverbank, he's in plate armor, so he sinks about three feet into the mud, still laughing.

Next round, I throw my tree token on top of him.

With the Knight out of the way, we were able to get to the ship and kill the Red Wizard. We just dug the body of the Knight out of the roots later.

We also used one to kill a pesky roper, by throwing the token down its throat.
 

Never DM'd a TPK, or played in one. However, the ones we nearly had or that happened while I wasn't playing happened due to player hubris/stupidity. Unfortunately, it happens, but it must if the PCs are to truly fear death at higher levels.

-AoA
 

babomb

First Post
Delemental said:
We also used one to kill a pesky roper, by throwing the token down its throat.

This is illegal (in third edition, at least; I make no claim as to previous editions). The Quall's Feather Tokens are conjuration effects. See the description of the conjuration school:
A creature or object brought into being or transported to your location by a conjuration spell cannot appear inside another creature or object, nor can it appear floating in empty space. It must arrive in an open location on a surface capable of supporting it.

Technically, it would also be illegal for the tree to appear under someone, though I'd be inclined to allow it anyway.
 

the Jester

Legend
The last tpk I dmed involved the ol' "splitting the party and failing to retreat" combo.

Bummer, man. That was an epic-level group, too.

On the other hand, the cleric's cohort (who wasn't there) managed to bring back the cleric via an elixir of true resurrection that the cleric had left in his care just in case of such an eventuality... :)
 

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