D&D 5E When you've made the battle too much to handle...

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
That time the party wiped, was raised by a lich, escaped, then sought revenge...not that time the DM took it easy on us.
Epic is always good.

"The lich is winning. Is anyone willing to be a martyr that the rest of the party can escape?"
That blends with some prior ideas. Makes me thing of Ghostbusters where "crossing the streams" becomes the best option. We're all going to die but we're taking out the ancient god on our way. The backstory also blends into an ultimate BBEG that would lose a huge investment if the group's Baron dies. The rest the BBEG could care less about. She can't do a lot to intervene, but they've been seeing hints of her influence on these lands in the form of a very particular visual. If they see it again on something that helps in this place, of all places, it'll lead to a lot more questions than answers. Always good for a campaign.
 

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It might be crazy if she intervenes. They'll know something crazy is up but not why. And it fits. She's got a real reason to fear this Boss. If he ever were to get his full powers back, he'd be a legit threat to her.
Sounds like an excellent opportunity to me! Secret help of the "I need you to succeed now so I can make you fail the right way later" is a delightfully juicy development, and this lets you plant the seed of doubt in the party without it seeming too out of line--they DO need the help, but any suspicions they might have will be justified by the in-character situation.

Whatever you decide to go with, I'm sure you'll end up with something cool--not simply a platitude, either. It's clear you really care about weaving the tangled web of a good intrigue, and this seeming-disaster can now become an invitation for looking at that intrigue from a whole new perspective.
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
That can be fun. But, as others have said, that can also kill the game dead. TPKs are serious business, and can destroy any enthusiasm the players might have had for playing. It can be difficult or even impossible to rekindle the flame of enthusiasm once utterly doused by disappointment.


That's a pretty blatant non sequitur though? You're conflating "how does the system math work" with "what do DMs choose to do." The two are entirely orthogonal things. It may be the case that the rules make it hard to die (though frankly that is exactly the opposite of my experience), and it may be the case that DMs are reluctant to create situations where death is a likely consequence, but those two things are not related to one another. One is about how the designers wrote the rules, the other is about DM psychology (and maybe player psychology too).

I don't run 5e myself. I run Dungeon World. But I also run a game where my players know that random, irreversible permadeath doesn't happen. Unlike what a lot of people (seemingly including you) would say in response to that, this does not mean my campaign has no stakes. I, personally, find that removing death from the table actually enhances the stakes, as my players take very seriously that everything they do can affect the world and have ripple out consequences; they know that the people and places they're attached to are not inviolable; they know that they will be tested, not so much in "can you roll big enough numbers to rescue the President," but in "can you make a decision you can live with?" That's so much more juicy and weighty than death!

Well, that's a matter of maturity and gaming experience. My current group has been playing for about 7 years (5E), and we've all been playing since 1E. We've all lost PCs over the years, so a TPK (which rarely happens) is just a temporary bummer, then we move on.

Non sequitur? They may originate from different perspectives, but the end result is the same. Relative to other editions, it's hard to die in 5E.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
It's honestly nothing about maturity.

Some people are there to play a character, they take time to craft the character in all ways, then that characters gets trashed and you're expected to do it all again, over and over until you either get jaded to the point you don't care and don't put in as much work or passion, or you find a new DM.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
It's honestly nothing about maturity.

Some people are there to play a character, they take time to craft the character in all ways, then that characters gets trashed and you're expected to do it all again, over and over until you either get jaded to the point you don't care and don't put in as much work or passion, or you find a new DM.

It feels like there is a lot of space between never happens and happens over and over again. Like the "rarely happens" in the post one above yours.
 


dytrrnikl

Explorer
Based on what you posted: let the battle play out. If it’s a TPK, it’s a TPK and now you have a launching off point to continue the campaign. Anymore concern than that is only going to get you second guess yourself worse than you are right now, worse, you’re denying them the natural result of their character’s choices and actions railroading them into a save that was unearned, making every session meaningless.
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
It's honestly nothing about maturity.

Some people are there to play a character, they take time to craft the character in all ways, then that characters gets trashed and you're expected to do it all again, over and over until you either get jaded to the point you don't care and don't put in as much work or passion, or you find a new DM.

If it happens frequently, then it would seem that either A. the DM is actively competing against the players, B. the players are acting recklessly or C. The players are not learning from their mistakes.
 

rmcoen

Explorer
Character Death, when it happens, rarely lasts more than a couple rounds (revivify), or at most a Long Rest (raise dead). With this understanding, maybe we can agree that Character Death in 5e isn't uncommon. PERMANENT character death is very rare, and generally the result of either (a) abandonment (party had to flee/leave), or (b) TPK (no one is alive to rez you). Thus TPK is devastating, because there is no recovery.

I'll add my two pence, but you've heard them before in these 7 pages: Don't fudge dice. Do remind the PLAYERS that not all fights are winnable; running is an option (but not guaranteed). Don't Deus Ex Machina... but Do think about "Rescue/Escape with Cost".

The last one is where there's lots of room to wiggle, but requires knowing your group, which we do not. In my current campaign, the warlock pushed his luck, and died, in the middle of a warzone (allies had fled, as planned, he didn't). He did succeed in his goal, killing the army's two mages. But... the army had couple caster-medics nearby (warlock saw them flee earlier, in fact), who used revivify ON ALL THREE BODIES. So his death was rendered meaningless - dead mages were rez'd - but he was also not dead... just captured by the army leadership. And, because of the decisions of the rest of the party, out of play for the next "unknown number" of sessions (I think 5, as it played out). He made a new character, introduced two sessions later because Story, and we moved on. Offline I roleplayed his captivity with him, and he ended up befriending one of the mages he slew! Fast forward 6 months, and the party is just wrapping up a sidequest from this "enemy" NPC that netted them 2 levels and a bunch of magic gear.

Same warlock, two sessions after that, mis-communicates with the party, charges off by himself (as they all retreat), and ends up dead, stuffed in a crack in the ground. Loooong discussion by the PCs on whether to cast raise dead when they found him! (They did, next session.)

On the other hand, a couple campaigns ago, the party made bad decisions, backed by bad dice rolls, followed with bad tactics, and ended up in a TPK. There was, due to Story, nowhere to go from there. We all just sat there, kinda shocked, and called an end to the night. Next session we talked about it, and mutually decided to "reload last saved game" -- after some bad dice rolls, and after most of the bad decisions, but with an opportunity to fix a couple decisions and use MUCH better tactics. They cleared the complex without losing a single PC (although a BBEG fled this time, instead of staying to enjoy the kill). We all felt much better about that, mutually agreed to "forget" that "bad dream", and we moved on with the campaign.

Another campaign, like the third combat of the campaign, the party ranger was KO'd, but stabilized. The party, unfortunately, pretty much TPK'd; the warforged literally "Nat 20'd" a Death Save the round the last PC fell, got back up, and killed most of the surviving foes. Some, though, took the opportunity to drag their kills into the lake. The warforged didn't need to breathe, so he waded in and saved everyone, he thought. Not sure what happened, but he forgot the ranger. The ranger drowned. The player was like "no biggie, I got five other character ideas ready to try out!" 12 levels and three characters later, that ranger returns to the party in a blaze of angelic glory (and amnesia), and the Story went on.

So pick the solution that works best for YOUR GROUP, embrace it, and move on!
 

Stormonu

Legend
Character Death, when it happens, rarely lasts more than a couple rounds (revivify), or at most a Long Rest (raise dead). With this understanding, maybe we can agree that Character Death in 5e isn't uncommon. PERMANENT character death is very rare, and generally the result of either (a) abandonment (party had to flee/leave), or (b) TPK (no one is alive to rez you). Thus TPK is devastating, because there is no recovery.
IF those options are available at all. I haven't had a player revived from the dead since early 3E - and have point blank asked; players generally would rather create new than revive old in the game's I've run.
 

ECMO3

Hero
So, damn, what do you do? I believe now the PCs should have been 9 or 10th level before this battle, my bad on that part. Too late now to correct. It's game on and if I play the Boss intelligently, it knows it's winning and simply has to spam Toll the Dead until everyone is dead. Looking for ways to throw in some (believable) chances for the PCs rather than mercilessly mow them down. Also, on a tangent, may approach the group again about limiting the # of attack cantrips one can cast between short rests. The fighter PC is probably not happy with cantrip spam at the moment...
Nuke them from orbit. It is the only way to be sure.

When I have made a battle too hard one of two things happen - TPK or a few of the party members flee and survive. Either way I don't pull punches. Players can always roll new characters.

The worst encounter was a 1E encounter I did back in the day with some Devils (I think Erinyes), who could summon devils, who in turn could summon more devils .....

It was a pretty fair fight until a few lucky rolls took out the Rogue, a magic-user and a Dwarf Fighter who needed a 2 to save and rolled a 1.

At that point the remaining 3 characters were still way more powerful than the remaining devils and would have easily won a figtht but with 4 Devils on the battlefield and a 30% chance of each summoning 1 or more every turn and those summoning .... and the remaining party members only being able to take out 1 devil a turn .... and the enemy being Lawful and intelligent, they just started summoning and the number of enemies the party was facing slowly grew every round, they would kill 1 and 2 or more would be summoned. The Bard saw the writing on the wall and fled (this was a 1E Bard) fled, the Dwarf who was charmed or held or something got tortured to death off screen after the fight everyone else got killed in the fight.

We turned the Bard into an NPC who hired some new adventurers (new NPCs) to finish the quest.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Character Death, when it happens, rarely lasts more than a couple rounds (revivify), or at most a Long Rest (raise dead). With this understanding, maybe we can agree that Character Death in 5e isn't uncommon. PERMANENT character death is very rare, and generally the result of either (a) abandonment (party had to flee/leave), or (b) TPK (no one is alive to rez you). Thus TPK is devastating, because there is no recovery.
I think death in 5E is not that rare at low levels. I have personally had one 5E character I was playing actually die. A 1-1 Wizard-Monk. She failed a death save then rolled a 1 on her second death save. Ever since then I have been terrified to roll a 2nd death save.

I can only recall 1 high level character dying - We had a 14th level Fighter/Barbarian/Wizard dip die, but that happened when he threw himself into a portal to the elemental water plane to close it from the other side and keep the Prince of Water Elementals from entering Ferun.

I do find though that DMs pull punches a bit once characters go down and that keeps them from actually dying. Since every hit is a failed death save, if enemies focus on killing downed characters it is pretty easy to do it. Logically considering the amount of healing - that makes sense at higher levels because usually one of the other PCs is going to heal a downed character to get him back in the fight if you don't kill him.

If a bad guy with multiattack downs a character on his first swing, he can give him a failed death save with his second and the bad guy standing next to him can follow up with 2 attacks to kill him right then and there, but most DMs will not do this and will shift to someone who is up, giving the downed guy an opportunity to get back in the fight. Of course they can still be brought back with Revify as long as the party does not flee.
 

nevin

Hero
As stated earlier if it's all thier bad choices and they won't run kill em. If you however feel it's your fault for not playing it up enough or leading them there, have an NPC party show up and kick the liches ass and pat them on the head and tell them someday they might be as good as them.
 


toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Looking at what some folks have offered, did the following (we resume this weekend):
  • Sent a private message to party's wizard that he's been "tethered" enough to get a feel for how the energy connection works, and he might be able to "nuke" himself to send an energy surge back, albeit at the cost of his life. It might buy the others time.
  • Sent another to the cleric. His connection to the gods has lured spirits that died in this foul place, including their neighboring barony members who went missing months ago and had their brains removed. He can feel their rage. He's not sure what would happen if he gave himself over to the apparitions. The cost might be catastrophic. They might very well consume the cleric, but he can sense they're remnants of vengeance, waiting for a catalyst.
  • Sent one to the Bard and current Baron (behind the scenes plot is that the region they settled has never remained settled, it always fails. For eons, a powerful fey has been cursed by the Eldest to make kingdoms rise and fall for their amusement, each in a unique way. She's close to being done, and she needs the PCs to rise, become independent, and then quickly fall in a way that hasn't been done before. Right now, since they haven't become independent from their kingdom, which has pending civil war, she's put a lot of investment in them and doesn't want to lose it...yet). He sees a leprechaun out of the corner of his eye tip his hat and stealthily (exaggerated sneaking) make his way to a back room.
  • Sent one to the Druid, who is in the back room. The room has a feature that would weaken the BBEG if damaged/marred/destroyed. He was originally up here to destroy a Shield Guardian that could absorb damage from range for the BBEG.
  • Sent one to the Fighter, who wields a unique weapon sacred to the god of the Dead (who hates undead). She's had some other experiences that make this make sense. It becomes clear to her that if she were to sacrifice herself to the weapon, imbue it with her spirit, it would become a mighty weapon indeed. She could get one swing in during the transference, perhaps enough to buy time for her friends or even defeat the BBEG, or give them a powerful weapon to finish the fight (although the rest of the party are not STR characters).
I haven't come up with any mechanics of what might happen if each follows thru, but I figure this is more "cool" than smashing one another till hit points run out.
 


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