View Full Version : Better living through TPKs

2008-08-29, 06:09 AM
I need some opinions/feedback on something here. I'm going to be running my group through a mini-campaign in which I have a mechanic in place for handling TPKs. It's rather difficult to explain or rationalize without going into a lot of detail, but let me just say that it fits in really well with both the story and adventure line, and leave it at that for now.

Not that I'm planning on TPKing the party on a regular basis, but this campaign is rather nonlinear in terms of an adventure path; as a result, the party may occasionally discover something or make a choice which leads them in over their heads. In addition, some of the encounters and baddies are very difficult to overcome without a bit of knowledge gathered elsewhere (i.e. weaknesses, alliances). For once, I want to try to let the adventure thread go where it will; and not have to jump in to reroute or keep the PCs from doing something really detrimental to the party's welfare.

During the campaign, the PCs will occasionally hit certain "milestones". In the event of a TPK, instead of ending it there, the group has the option of choosing and "restarting" at one of the milestones (think of it sort of as a "save game/restore game" thing). Naturally, the PCs have the items they had when they created this milestone and they also retain all "future" knowledge, but beyond that, I'm undecided as to the fairest way to work the repercussions of a "restart".

(Yeah, I know it sounds really fake and corny, but trust me here; it actually adds to the story line. I'll post more on this later.)

I bounced this off a friend of mind who's a DM, and he thought that PCs should not lose any XP; i.e. if they were 5th level at the milestone and 7th level at the TPK, then they should be 7th level when they restart at the milestone. PCs can "fast forward" to some point between the milestone and TPK and pick up play from there; in which case they can earn additional XP for playing through these past encounters again, as well as make different choices; diverging from their original path.

I like this, except I'm not so sure it's fair that the PCs should restart at the milestone with all their XP intact. I have a couple other thoughts on this, but none seem quite "right". here are some examples:

-Have the PCs restart with whatever XP and level they had at the milestone; "fast forwarding" would bring them to whatever level/xp they fast forward to. When playing through an old encounter, PCs have a +2 insight (deja-vu) bonus to all attack rolls, saving throws, and skill checks. The downside to this is more record keeping on my end.

-Having the PCs restart with XP halfway between the milestone and point of TPK. Again, the option of fast forwarding. Replaying old encounters allows them to earn XP for those encounters; thus theoretically allowing them to get back to the point of TPK somewhat better than they were before. Again, more record keeping for me.

-When restarting at a milestone, PCs go back to the level/xp of the milestone, but any encounters they don't fast forward through earns them double xp.

Anyone have an opinion of what would be the most "fair" way to handle this (while, hopefully, minimizing record keeping for me)?

(In my next post, I'll go into the details of how this fits into the storyline for those who want to know more.)

2008-08-29, 11:29 AM
There is one really easy fourth option: have milestones so frequently that they pass at least one every level, and more at higher levels (where the risks usually increases as well). That way they never lose more than maybe ½ a level in the case of a TPK.

Alternatively, a fifth option: have milestones as major 'save points' and memory stones as 'mini save points'. Whe a TPK happens, the party may restart at the last milestone or any memory stone after it at the levels they had when they 'saved' at them. This option takes care of fast-forwarding but also establishes a point in time (the milestone) as the furhtest back the party can start over. This means every time they save at a milestone, the story so far is set in stone and earlier milestones and memory stones become inert.

2008-08-29, 11:48 AM
give them 2 options when they restart (or you pick one and use it allways)

1: they lose all XP since they used the milestone and any encounters they di after the milestone are still there

2: let them keep their XP but all encounters they got their XP from are gone

2008-08-29, 01:17 PM
Some interesting points. I see that my earlier use of the term "milestones" is somewhat misleading.

Here's something that may help put this in context of the story line (simplified greatly for the sake of brevity):

There is an ancient legend native to the land. No one is entirely certain of its origins, but amongst some of the older faiths and races it is still taught. Both the elves and dwarves of the region claim this saying as their own. Others say that a great and wise dragon who once lived in the Rumpot Mountains taught this legend.

“At the moment of every person’s birth, an invisible golden thread connects them to their final destination; tracing their journey through life. As we move along our paths and meet countless others, our threads cross and intertwine. Thus, a living tapestry of life is woven upon which the threads of future generations are laid.”

Although generally this legend is considered by most as simply an analogy to describe the complexities of life, many might be quite surprised to discover it is quite literally true; a shadow plane that mirrors our land is crisscrossed with a sea of countless golden threadlike lines. A visitor to the plane would see these threads actually moving and growing; the ends of the threads constantly stretching out and intertwining in hundreds of thousands of different patterns; a dynamic reflection of the many lives they represent.

However, a number of years ago a dark magic was unleashed upon the land that eats away at the souls of the inhabitants. Where once hope lay, now is nothing but sorrow and despair. The land is shrouded in a dark winter that never ends, and many of the denizens grow more depraved. The bleakness that now permeates the land of the living, however, pales compared to what waits for them in the afterlife. The gold threads have been torn asunder; devoured by a growing evil that has turned the shadow plane into a grim necropolis. Death is no longer a release from suffering; instead the very souls of the deceased slowly sink into the depths of the shadow plane where they are devoured.

A lone spirit who would bring light to the land has escaped the evil, yet in its deceased state the ghost is next to powerless. However, it waits patiently for a hero; someone who will re-establish the thread both figuratively and literally. It seeks out a band of exceptional individuals who can traverse the land; both fighting the evil that has overtaken the realm as well as re-establishing hope in the land. These prospective heroes will be given a spool of magic gold thread, and charged with “banding” anyone who would allow it; having them swear a renewed oath of fealty to the land and its inhabitants. (In many cases, this will require some persuasion, favors, or quests done on the part of the heroes) The person swearing allegiance is given a gold band of thread to wear as a symbol of their allegiance to the land. Every time a new allegiance is forged, another gold band begins anew. As the gold tapestry begins to re-weave itself, many aspects of the great evil lose power (i.e. “boss” characters becoming weaker, minions developing new weaknesses, etc)

Death and TPKs:

As outsiders and thread-spinners, the heroes have some protection from the effects of the evil. When a banded creature dies, the threads connecting him or her to the living restrict the spirit from descending into the depths of the shadow world and being devoured; at least for a while. If the entire party dies, a strange thing occurs. The effects of the great evil restrict the souls from moving on to their final resting place, but the gold threads already in place prohibit the evil from devouring the banded souls. Instead, the spirits of the heroes find that they can navigate this plane, following various threads already in place; which correspond to a creature that they have successfully banded. Where each thread terminates is a shimmering image; almost a snapshot of the moment the creature this thread belongs to was banded. The heroes can step into the image; re-entering this world at the exact moment the alliance in question was formed. Newer bands are much brighter.

Ultimately, banding other creatures will benefit the heroes in other aspects as well. At the end of the campaign, I'm planning a big battle (probably switch to Minis rules for this); the heroes versus all the remaining baddies. Any and all creatures the heroes have banded are summoned to this battle to fight on behalf of the land. Also, only creatures without evil intent can be successfully banded; otherwise, the band simply melts off. In many parts of the campaign, solid alliances are critical to success; the heroes need a means of determining who can be counted on.

2008-08-29, 01:18 PM
Oh, BTW. I appreciate the suggestions. Thanks.

2008-08-29, 05:06 PM
Okay, now that changes things. I would suggest letting them keep their levels but only awarding half exp for encounters they have already beaten once. This effect would be cumulative so that if they TPK twice, encounters they've beaten both times around (now coming on third) would only yield 25% exp. Unless the heroes does soemthing that radically changes said encounters (actions and reactions and all that).

2008-08-29, 09:35 PM
I like the deja vu bonus idea and Norr's idea, but neither of them seems quite right

I would do thusly: Characters keep all their knowledge, half the XP difference, but not any items they gathered.
They can replay old encounters and have a +2 deja vu bonus on everything they've experienced before. If they win they get the same items they got before, but only 25% of the XP.

2008-08-30, 08:23 AM
That is cool. I assume you have some reason why the evilness hasn't killed off the spirit that brought them the thread yet? Any explanation for the thread's origins, and therefore some insight as to why it's infallible? Anyway, the merging of physical and metaphorical is awesome. The way you've set it up, the PC's get to use the "yes, we are more special than everything else, we can just go do it over", without it being as cheesy as, "we know we're in a story and can just re-write it" genre-savyness that one might try at first. Instead, the characters are granted an artifact that let's them travel through a plane where all creatures are connected, and re-enter the world through connections they've made on that plane through their actions with other people in the world. Nothing really constructive to say other than, well done.

I also imagine the NPC's reactions when the PC's suddenly glaze over for a moment, or march off preoccupied with something right after tying the string on, would be quite amusing. And the possible string of "are you sure you're okay?" when it happens multiple times against a boss they're having trouble with.

2008-08-30, 02:05 PM
Thanks for the nice feedback. Yeah; I expect some very interesting roleplaying opportunities as a result of this. As you alluded to, there's much more to both the "spirit" and thread than I initially posted. There's also a whole lot more to the "evil" as well. The spirit is actually an embodiment of the spirit of the land; an ancient deity of sorts that, since the "contamination", has been forced to remain separate from the land itself (and thus greatly weakened as well). The thread, in a sense, is an extension of this spirit. At the heart of it, the idea behind the magic of the thread is kind of an old motif; the thread is a manifestation of the hope and honor displayed by the heroes, and that such qualities are ultimately sufficient to win out over evil. As their actions and interactions inspire others towards the same, the threads likewise grow stronger and proliferate.

The spirit meets the PCs en route, since it is unable to set foot on the land while the tapestry is still torn. Again; I've oversimplified the concept, but I think that gets the main idea across.

2008-08-30, 02:16 PM
So what happens if only a few of the PCs are killed?

2008-08-30, 08:03 PM
Normal death/raise rules apply, except that their spirits take a little visit to the shadowplane; while they wait to be raised, they get a glimpse of other creatures descending into the mire and being devoured, while they themselves remain precariously suspended by gold threads (these would be the threads symbolic of the group members' own alliance towards each other). Each consecutive trip here, the character's spirit form gets weaker and weaker; after about a half a dozen deaths, the spirit cna no longer resist the pull and descends into the mire. Hopefully, when a character death happens, it gives the PCs a better understanding of what is at stake.