D&D 5E You've just TPK'd in the final fight. What do?

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Many have advised to start the next campaign dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophic event the heroes failed to prevent. It is good advice, that I'd like to complement with the idea that you don't need to have the follow-up campaign taking places decades after the first. If the heroes died at the last step of the campaign, there is strong possibility that they had become high-level enough to be known in the setting, and if they barely failed, have an interested third-party (or their patron) start taking those 25,000 gp diamonds out of the treasury to cast True Resurrections.

What I'd expect as a player is... to trust my GM to do his best to narrate something cool.

As a GM, I have successfully:

a) restarted a campaign 4 years after, after the players naughty word-up while fixing the eldritch, world altering machine. Sure, they saved the world, but things had changed. So now, they play in that strange, slightly different world, as reincarnate of the formers heroes, starting to notice things as amiss as their destiny was left unfulfilled.

b) restarted a campaign immediately after, because it was in a world were the court cleric could cast True Resurrection and the king wouldn't lose his whole Round Table because of a stroke of bad luck.

c) (my favorite)... Enter team B! In the campaign, PCs had liked a few NPCs henchmen/adjuvants working for their patron. In the follow-up of their TPK, those NPCs, endowed with specific abilities fitting their characterization, all volunteered to help the patron in the dangerous mission of retrieving the corpses of the late heroes from the den of the evil mastermind, so the patron could put to good use his prized artefacts: a series of Raise Dead scrolls. It was a much lower magic setting, so they had to run as the B-team to meet the 10 days hard limit on Raise Dead.

If there is nothing cool that can come out of a TPK, I'd avoid a TPK and have the evil guy take prisonners to know if they operated alone or if they are part of a larger conspiracy. "You all wake up in a cell" would follow. As a bunch of talking head powered by the evil BBEG's awful necromantic ritual if you're into horror fantasy (and can come up with a credible scenario where the characters regrow a body quickly).
 
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As all of my campaigns take place in the same world, it would have an impact on the next campaign. For example, in my first campaign the party managed to defeat Lolth, forcing her to abandon the Demonweb Pits (her primary plane in the Abyss). Now her clerics have lost several class abilities as a result, as she is more concerned with recovering her power. This has led many of her followers to abandon her for other demon lords to worship. If the party had died in a TPK, she would have started to absorb the world into the Demonweb instead, and the party would be rebels against their drow overlords.
 

James Gasik

Legend
I guess it depends on why the TPK happened. The last TPK I was involved in, the DM presented us with an enemy he apparently wanted to become our long term nemesis. He set it up so we encountered him at low resources, and when we beat him he "assumed his final form" (which really cheesed off the Wizard who had been making sure to hit him with Chill Touch- "He's not healing, he's taking on a new form"), and used Legendary Actions to dominate us into attacking each other.

During the fight, he cursed us with this strange curse that would last for a year and a day, and allow him to scry on us, and use any of us as a point of origin for his powers. Realizing that even if we ran away, we'd be at his mercy (and a danger to anyone near to us), we decided to make our stand there.

My Paladin got a lucky crit, and I prayed the guy would drop, but no. We all died and were left staring at the DM, wondering what the point of it all was.

"Well you were supposed to run away and try to find a cure for the curse", he said.

"How could we do that, if he could drop the curse on anyone we got near?" we responded.

He spluttered and said "that wasn't going to happen", but didn't elaborate.

The game ended there, but to this day I don't understand why. If I was in that situation as the DM, I can't imagine I'd be happier letting my BBEG win, preserving my storyline at the cost of the game itself...

I'm normally averse to retcons, but in a scenario like this, I think it's fine to think of a way to salvage your campaign, if the players are on board with it.
 

pukunui

Legend
As a DM, I don't think I've ever had an actual bona fide TPK. There's always been at least one survivor.

Depending on where/when in the campaign this near-TPK has occurred, we either end the campaign and start a new one, or continue the campaign with a new party (possibly with the survivor/s having recruited new allies to continue their mission).

When I ran Curse of Strahd, the party made it to the final fight with Strahd in the crypts beneath his castle. All but one of the PCs died. The player of the surviving PC said his character would have escaped the castle and gone to live with the crazy mage in the mountains. End of story.

Most recently, my Mad Mage party wiped in a fight against the drow. Technically only one of them died. The drow wanted to keep the others alive to experiment on them. I offered to set up an "escape the drow" scenario, but the players voted to have the one PC who escaped return to Waterdeep and recruit new PCs who would descend into the dungeon and seek revenge against the drow. The story continues.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
DM: "Suddenly, Drizzt shows up!"
Players: "Who?"
DM sigh "Suddenly, Vex'ahlia shows up."
Players: "Hurray!"
I mean, as someone who likes men and women, I’d sure as hell rather be rescued by Vex!

I always imagine Drizzt talking with a slightly goofy Bostonian accent. Can’t help it.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I guess it depends on why the TPK happened. The last TPK I was involved in, the DM presented us with an enemy he apparently wanted to become our long term nemesis. He set it up so we encountered him at low resources, and when we beat him he "assumed his final form" (which really cheesed off the Wizard who had been making sure to hit him with Chill Touch- "He's not healing, he's taking on a new form"), and used Legendary Actions to dominate us into attacking each other.

During the fight, he cursed us with this strange curse that would last for a year and a day, and allow him to scry on us, and use any of us as a point of origin for his powers. Realizing that even if we ran away, we'd be at his mercy (and a danger to anyone near to us), we decided to make our stand there.

My Paladin got a lucky crit, and I prayed the guy would drop, but no. We all died and were left staring at the DM, wondering what the point of it all was.

"Well you were supposed to run away and try to find a cure for the curse", he said.

"How could we do that, if he could drop the curse on anyone we got near?" we responded.

He spluttered and said "that wasn't going to happen", but didn't elaborate.

The game ended there, but to this day I don't understand why. If I was in that situation as the DM, I can't imagine I'd be happier letting my BBEG win, preserving my storyline at the cost of the game itself...

I'm normally averse to retcons, but in a scenario like this, I think it's fine to think of a way to salvage your campaign, if the players are on board with it.
If the BBEG in my game was using you guys to spread that kind of curse, I might have had him arrange bring you back so that his plan could achieve its fruition.
 




d24454_modern

Explorer
I would jump up and cheer, crying out:

HA! I GOT YOU, I got you all SOOO good! You all thought your characters were invincible, huh? Right? Well, yeah, now you know. Now you see that they weren't such "hot stuff", huh? HA! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!! :devilish:

Then I would run around the gaming table, hollering and skipping in mirthful glee. Finally, exhausted from celebrating, I will fall back into my chair, let out a big sigh, and merrily ask the players, "So, everyone ready to return to 1st level? Let's roll up some new PCs!"

:D
Would the other players murder you?
 



jgsugden

Legend
Suppose your party TPK’d in the final fight. Would you reset and try again? Would you accept defeat? Or would you expect your GM to fudge the dice just enough to keep the BAD ENDING from ruining a good campaign? What's your philosophy of failure when it comes to the campaign finale?...
Let's talk about the options you raise first:

Would you reset and try again? If this happens, it destroys the game part of a role playing game. If they get to try over and over until they succeed, then there is no game there - just a story the DM is telling with flourishes from the players. So long as the DM dictates what will happen in major events, the DM is really just playing with themself and is letting the players watch.

Would you accept defeat? You can really build off of this if the players are going to have another campaign following the first. They can experience the world created by the failure of the first party. One of my favorite campaigns, as a player, took place in a setting where my PC sold out the world. We had an artifact. It was essential for the bad guys not to get it. I was playing a PC that was was only in it for themself. The group trusted me with the artifact. A representative of the bad guys came to me and offered me a deal. I took it. The campaign ended that night, and we started a new one soon after that took place 5 years after the apocalypse created when the bad guys got the artifact. It was a fun scenario to explore and we really enjoyed that subsequent campaign ... but it was an anticlimactic end to the first campaign.

To that end, I don't think that a total failure is a perfect answer, either.

Or would you expect your GM to fudge the dice just enough to keep the BAD ENDING from ruining a good campaign?Unless your DM is a master trickster themself, this is almost always obvious and falls into the same problem as the first approach - the DM is dictating the game that is no fun.

So what have I done? You have to respect the way things played out, but you can't let it be a total failure. To that end, I set big end battles up with stages of victory. Even if they do not get the Big Win, the heroes get a chance to ensure lesser victories along the way so that they can celebrate something. As this is the end of a campaign, those lesser victories have to have meaning to the world in general.

In practice, PCs get opportunities to collect resources that make their ultimate adventure easier. If they get those resources, they get a chance to stride in like the hero at the end of the movie that has figures out how to beat the bad guy through more than just force. That doesn't mean that I have not seen campaign ending TPKs ... but they're rare.
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
On Spacebattles, back in the day, we had BROB games, essentially Bored Random Omnipotent Being whether it was Q, or 5-D Imp, or Living Tribunal.

That kind of thing.

And one the key things is that they would capture your soul, and offer resurrection if you work for them. This would mean you could pick enhancements and equipment from fiction - relevant yo the game.

But from a purely DnD perspective this could mean players could be resurrected, with a few extra levels from another class of choice, and maybe equipment from other DnD settings.

They could then encounter the Big Bad later down the line, and hopefully kick the snot out of it.
 

It would pretty much be the end of the line. But even then, things might come up if the players took precautions. The group might be rescued by a friendly NPC party, could be resurrected by allies and so on. But it is usually the end.
 

Firstly, I always find it very weird that the BBEG saves his best resources for the last. Strategically, it is often much smarter to deploy your resources earlier. So, in my games, the PCs will probably have some very big encounters first. When successful, they will eventually get to the BBEG who has already spent his resources. The BBEG fight will therefore not be the most dangerous, and a TPK at the BBEG is therefore just really unlikely.

In addition, the players in our group would be extremely unhappy with a TPK in the final fight. So, I would fudge the dice a bit if the players are unlucky with the dice. Death is extremely unlikely in the game anyway. The players have enough problems in real life. We just enjoy creating a story together. I know this is not everyone's cup of tea, but we like it.
 

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