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    BigONotation's Avatar

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    Lightbulb Do TPKs happen at your table?

    There's another thread which is an informal poll about playstyles and it was eye opening that many DMs have not TPKed their PCs even once. I find it highly dubious (especially for new groups) that they never have bad luck in a tough fight or bite off way more than they could chew. It feels like the DMs who responded are largely pulling their punches which I personally never ever do as I would never want that as a player.

    So I posit this question, if your players earned their TPK, will you let it happen?

    And to the players, if you earn your TPK, do you not want it to happen? What glory is their in a fight you cannot lose?
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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    i've had campaigns end in TPK. usually at lower levels, though. at higher levels, the party is more likely to be able to escape.

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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    In the nearly three years I've run for this group, it's only happened twice. The first was when the party was being very overconfident in their strength, and decided to try and steal from a black dragon's horde without doing any sort of prep. Needless to say, "it went poorly" is a massive understatement.

    The second time was a few weeks ago, while running PotA. They attempted to assault the keep of the fire cultists directly, but rather than use resources to heal themselves they wanted to take a rest. So of course I allow it, but realistically that gave the cultists time to finish summoning their fire elemental, and then when they assaulted they had to deal with wave after wave of reinforcements.

    I play encounters the way the enemies in question would have reacted. A black dragon is going to cruelly, mercilessly divide and brutalize the worms that dare defile its lair. The fire cultists burn first and ask questions later, and didn't really seem to be a "take prisoners" sort of group.

    Generally the party is able to handle any encounter, but when they overestimate their own strength, go in unprepared, make poor tactical decisions and forget their sense of urgency... well, at that point they get what's coming to them. Not out of spite, but just as a consequence of running the game impartially.
    Last edited by Armok; 2018-01-02 at 11:48 PM.
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    My group TPKs about once per three one shots, but pretty much never during actual adventures. I remember only once, during the final boss fight. It was set up as holding on as long as possible and succeeded, but we were actually trying to survive.

    I'm OK with TPKs and PC death in general, but prefer it only if we decide to do so in a blaze of glory or whatever. TPKs because of stupidity on our part is fine but less fun, TPKs for reasons beyond our control isn't fun at all.
    Last edited by Kane0; 2018-01-02 at 11:57 PM.
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    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    It depends a bit on what you mean by TPK, if you mean actually have everyone die and have to roll new characters? No. Have the party lose the fight, all have to roll their death saves, and wake up later sans stuff? Yes. Half the party didn't wake up.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Never had a full TPK that I can remember. Had a few times players were planning to do something dumb that would likely get them all killed (the time they were going to give an ancient red dragon a bunch of pre-poisoned hobos springs to mind) but they decided against it at the last minute.

    There were a two encounters where basically everyone died bar one guy, which is close to a TPK. They weren't coming back to life either due to circumstances, so it was pretty bad.
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    As an aside, I wonder how many parties replace all their original members before the end of the adventure?

    The closest i've gotten is one remaining original member from a party of 8, during a kingmaker campaign (the leader/ruler, coincidentally). Everyone else either retired or got killed.
    Last edited by Kane0; 2018-01-03 at 12:11 AM.
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Quote Originally Posted by BigONotation View Post
    And to the players, if you earn your TPK, do you not want it to happen? What glory is their in a fight you cannot lose?
    TBH, I'd rather not die. There is no glory in losing, as some movie characters would say. I'd do my best to weasel out of the TPK situation as best as I can, because the heroes coming back and winning from a near zero chance of victory is one of the best "movie moments" you can create in D&D.

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    In recent history, I can only remember one TPK. Superhero campaign. GM had a portal that took us to an alien ship. The ship was in zero-g. Disadvantage to all rolls. Aliens have advantage on all of theirs because we're basically floating helpless. Only one of us had flight and was the last to die. It wasn't even close. It was a complete, utter slaughter. As players, we were like, what the f#$%? GM said he didn't realize it would be so tough. To this day, we use "zero-g room" as a metaphor for a potential TPK. "Holy crap guys, this looks like a zero-g room"

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    And see- that’s where the DM should “happen to create” a button that turns on the artificial gravity or ships engines or whatever. Then give the party a chance to hit the button and readjust the fight. Cause, really. “I messed up the scenario, but was just helpless to do anything about it.” That’s just plain sad.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    My party confronted Baba Lysaga and her creeping hut today, and it was very close to a TPK.

    It was the same story when they decided to walk into that dreaded central chamber at the Amber Temple.

    In both cases, their ingenuity was not in their preparation or their combat prowess, but in their ability to work in clever ways to extricate themselves from a messed-up situation.

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    MindFlayer

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Our latest campaign ended up with our bard and paladin dead, the monk and sorcerer missing and my warlock unconscious. It was down to the druid get my warlock back on his feet and then we went on a quest to revive our fallen and find our missing members.

    If it wasn't for me remembering I had a potion to heal the druid back to consciousness to fire off a lightning bolt it would have been a TPK.

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Quote Originally Posted by BigONotation View Post
    There's another thread which is an informal poll about playstyles and it was eye opening that many DMs have not TPKed their PCs even once. I find it highly dubious (especially for new groups) that they never have bad luck in a tough fight or bite off way more than they could chew. It feels like the DMs who responded are largely pulling their punches which I personally never ever do as I would never want that as a player.

    So I posit this question, if your players earned their TPK, will you let it happen?

    And to the players, if you earn your TPK, do you not want it to happen? What glory is their in a fight you cannot lose?
    I find perplexing the notion of "earning" a TPK. Could you please elaborate as to what you mean?

    From my standpoint, if the PCs choose to enter a fight accurately knowing that their odds of success are low, sure, I'd kill them off if the fight goes poorly for them. But I've never had PCs make that sort of decision. If they enter such a fight incorrectly beliving they have the advantage, then it's my fault for not adequately telegraphing the difficulty and I'd make sure a TPK doesn't happen. But that hasn't happened either.

    There are plenty of threats in my campaign world that the PCs couldn't take on, but in decades of play I've never had a party that tried. Ergo, I haven't had any TPKs. I have had groups where fights went poorly and PCs died, but they weren't in so far over their head that the survivors couldn't flee.

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Accidental TPKs are bad. Intentional TPKs are tricky. Done for the wrong reasons, it sucks. But if the DM has a valid reason for inducing a TPK, it can be very memorable in a positive way.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Quote Originally Posted by BigONotation View Post
    So I posit this question, if your players earned their TPK, will you let it happen?
    Yes, and my players know this.

    And to the players, if you earn your TPK, do you not want it to happen? What glory is their in a fight you cannot lose?
    If we go down in flames, then that's what happens. Actions should have reasonable consequences, and if there is no risk of failure, it's no accomplishment to succeed.
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    As a DM, I have a simple policy; "Death" needs not be the end of a character, but it certenly comes with a penalty. So, failing their 3rd save, a player has the option to continue playing their character (allowing me any alterations I feel necessary to do so, and the appropriate penalty), or roll a new character.

    If a TPK were to happen, I discuss with my players what they wish to do. I never let it be the end of a campain.

    It can be explored in a lot of creative ways, from RP in Spectral Undead forms untill they can become alive again, being captured and needing to escape from an other plane of existance (for example the 9 hells), or lost in the astral plane, and hunted by Gith Pirates who stole their souls from their etternal rest, to sell theim to Hags for their rituals. In any case, they could either find their dead bodies (if within the minute of their death/time passes different in some planes), get someone to resurect them, or possess a whole new body...

    An other nice option I like is a Deus Ex Machina that brings them back to life, but with a cost (adventure hook).

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    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    I think the last TPK we had was back around 1984. However, I (nor the other DMs in our group) don't pull any punches with die rolling and if it were to happen, then it happens.
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    In my many years of playing I've been in two TPKs. The first was a 2E game long, long ago that just happened. It was a fair fight, just didn't go our way. The second was a 3E game long ago on purposeful design of the DM with conspiracy of another player (his wife) because he wanted to end the campaign. He was called on it and used Deus Ex Machina in the next campaign for those characters to be resurrected as NPCs.

    In my opinion TPKs should be rare. The DM should not be upset it never happens. There is no quota of required number of TPKs for a DM to have or else he's doing it wrong. TPKs are not a measuring stick on the worth of the risk/reward of a game, the fun of a game, or the challenge level of a game.

    To be blunt, I object to the premise of this thread.

    Edit: Not meaning to imply you shouldn't have posed the question how dare you . I'm only disagreeing with your train of thought on this matter.
    Last edited by Pex; 2018-01-03 at 08:58 AM.
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    MonkGirl

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    It happens on occasion... twice while I was GMing since we switched to 5th; (and once to me as a player). Looking back in my DnD history, TPKs fall under three categories

    -heroic sacrifices: characters had other options, perhaps less good or heroic ones, but consciously chose to fight against unlikely over impossible odds to the end

    -player stupidity: if your party decides to ‘sneak attack’ the Dragon-Emporer at low level during your audience with him... or try to steal magic items from the transplanar market place... you get what you have coming to you

    -Evil Dice: you play enough games and even with the best encounter design the dice can turn against you on a large scale

    There is probably a fourth ‘unintentionally deadly scenario’, that I tend to attempt to salvage before it becomes a ‘T’PK; or reverse in some way afterwards

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    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Very rarely. Once I gave a party of relatively inexperienced players a Deck of Many Things. Oops.

    On the bright side, we all remember the time that one guy had to fight Death by playing Summoner Wars.
    Last edited by GooeyChewie; 2018-01-03 at 09:51 AM. Reason: Correct typo

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Have only ever killed single players, never whole groups.

    Generally my groups are smart and never get into a TPK situation.
    Last edited by HermanTheWize; 2018-01-03 at 10:08 AM.

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    Daemon

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    In my opinion, TPKs should only occur when two things are true

    1) the party takes on a challenge that they can't overcome in their present state (either due to attrition or due to sheer challenge)

    AND

    2) the party knows (or has sufficient reason to know) that it's a high risk and chooses to attempt it anyway.

    Condition #1 says that planned encounters (especially forced ones) shouldn't be designed with significant TPK risk. As a result, the normal encounters should not pose TPK risks.

    Condition #2 requires that the party be able to avoid the encounter, and choose not to.

    If there's a pending TPK due to DM error (miscalibrating monster abilities, etc), the DM should alter the encounter to avoid a TPK. They should do this in as subtle manner as possible--withholding a few reinforcements from a wave of monsters, dropping max HP, "forgetting" a few of the use-based abilities, etc. Full-out retcons are best avoided, and if necessary should include a mea culpa from the DM.

    The idea of "well, I planned this encounter and didn't realize it'd be that bad, sucks to be you" is, in my opinion, an attempt to avoid responsibility. Nothing exists or acts unless the DM places it there and makes it act. The DM bears all responsibility for his pieces being out of whack with the intent. Own it and make it better.
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    The lack of TPKs could also just reflect total number of games played. The DMG was released just three years ago (plus a few weeks). If you assume a group that has been playing from the outset, meets monthly on average (which usually means nominally more than monthly but with cancellations), and only plays D&D 5e you get 36 sessions total.

    During that limited time the players not only need to get in over their head to where a TPK is a serious threat, but then also every single one has to fail to retreat successfully.

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    ClericGuy

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    The lack of TPKs could also just reflect total number of games played. The DMG was released just three years ago (plus a few weeks). If you assume a group that has been playing from the outset, meets monthly on average (which usually means nominally more than monthly but with cancellations), and only plays D&D 5e you get 36 sessions total.

    During that limited time the players not only need to get in over their head to where a TPK is a serious threat, but then also every single one has to fail to retreat successfully.
    This is an interesting way to look at it. I've mostly DM'd and played 5e and never had a TPK but some close calls. Our numbers probably look like this:
    -50 to 55 sessions over 3 years.
    -Approx. 1/4 sessions have an encounter that pushes the party to the very edge.
    -I'd like that to be more common (1/3) but sometimes they just steamroll you.
    -3 times the party ran away.
    -1 time the party surrendered.

    So there have been several close calls but only one legitimate TPK situation that instead led to capture.

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    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    In my experience, good fights aren't always about winning or losing. In fact I'd argue that fights that rely on reducing the other side to 0 hitpoints can be very boring. As a DM I prefer to make different stakes than that for my fights.

    Fights were the party can easily win, but shouldn't fight at all.

    Fights where the party will surely lose, but fighting may save the village/town/city/castle/nation (think 7 Samurai)

    Fights were you should fight for a round or two to delay the bad guys, but retreat or be overwhelmed.

    Fights where you should blow resources to win quickly because the clock is ticking, even if you know it will leave you blown before fighting the BBEG.

    So far I haven't had a TPK, but it could very well happen. When It does it will be my job as the DM to make sure it is as fun and memorable as possible.

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    Flumph

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Quote Originally Posted by BigONotation View Post
    What glory is their in a fight you cannot lose?
    This. I see a lot of 'well my group just has amazing tactics so we win hard fights'. I posit that if the group never loses, the fights aren't hard.

    Case in point I had someone argue on this board that their party of level 2 characters defeated 5 CR 5, 1 CR 8, and 12-15 CR 2 creatures in a single encounter because they were just great at the game. Of course, the DM wanted them to win to avoid a TPK.

    There is a lot of advice given on this board. I find most of it weird because at my table the characters need to work together to survive. Most of the advice here is about having an individual character gain more spotlight time because the group is going to succeed anyway.

    To answer the question we have played HotDQ, OotA, and CoS and a TPK has happened in each adventure.

    In HotDQ it happened while succeeding at the final chapter. In OotA it was fairly early on in the Duergar city. In CoS it was later on, in their last quest before storming the castle to confront Strahd.

    Knowing that a TPK is an imminent possibility has ramped up the fun at the table. Victory is a cause for celebration and the characters all work together to survive. For example, there is no concept of splitting up the loot evenly, the only thought is who will best use it to enable survival.

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    In my opinion, TPKs should only occur when two things are true

    1) the party takes on a challenge that they can't overcome in their present state (either due to attrition or due to sheer challenge)

    AND

    2) the party knows (or has sufficient reason to know) that it's a high risk and chooses to attempt it anyway.

    Condition #1 says that planned encounters (especially forced ones) shouldn't be designed with significant TPK risk. As a result, the normal encounters should not pose TPK risks.

    Condition #2 requires that the party be able to avoid the encounter, and choose not to.

    If there's a pending TPK due to DM error (miscalibrating monster abilities, etc), the DM should alter the encounter to avoid a TPK. They should do this in as subtle manner as possible--withholding a few reinforcements from a wave of monsters, dropping max HP, "forgetting" a few of the use-based abilities, etc. Full-out retcons are best avoided, and if necessary should include a mea culpa from the DM.

    The idea of "well, I planned this encounter and didn't realize it'd be that bad, sucks to be you" is, in my opinion, an attempt to avoid responsibility. Nothing exists or acts unless the DM places it there and makes it act. The DM bears all responsibility for his pieces being out of whack with the intent. Own it and make it better.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Just this Monday I nearly TPK'd the party by accident in a fairly long-running campaign I'm DMing. Was intended to be a tough fight against a major opponent. The party was at 4 instead of the usual 6, so I toned the fight down a bit (fewer guards, and I mildly nerfed the remaining stronger ones) and let the party talk one of their allies into lending them some help (a handful of Scouts to provide archery support).

    Even with the changes, the fight may have been a smidgen too hard, but the real problem was the battlefield. The party was trying to surround the bad guys so the BBEG couldn't get away. The downside was that the party was pretty split up and couldn't support each other very well. The Land Druid and Warlock were the ones missing, so the party was light on casters and AoE. So instead of focusing down the BBEG right away, half the party was tied up with the guards, while half the party got the BBEG and his body guard head on.

    Since their target was a powerful Sorcerer, this resulted in half the party eating multiple fireballs and cones of cold. It was burstier than the party expected, and the life cleric went down and the paladin would have dropped as well, but he had an amulet that, once/long rest holds the wearer at 1 hp instead of getting knocked out for one attack (like the half-orc racial).

    If the paladin had gone down, it could easily have been a TPK. The ranger's pet was already down, the ranger himself was pretty beat up, and while the last party member was actually fine, the BBEG plus the remaining guards probably could easily have overwhelmed them. Really, it would have come down to whether the Ranger could knock out the BBEG (who was badly hurt) before he got another fireball off.

    Instead, the paladin didn't go down, and thanks to the initiative order, he was able to Lay on Hands the cleric (getting her back up) and she was able to heal them both before any of the bad guys could finish them off. That allowed the party to finish off the BBEG and whittle everyone else down as well.

    Lots of folks have gone down in fights before and there have been plenty of close calls, but this is the closest call a group I've DM'ed has had in a long time.

    Edit - To be clear, had the paladin gone down, I'm not sure what I would have done. If a party does something reckless or stupid, I'd be perfectly willing to TPK them (in a different campaign, a very reckless party escaped what I thought would be a near-certain TPK through some of the luckiest rolling I've ever seen). But that wasn't the case here. The party took the fight seriously, prepared heavily, and while their plan caused some trouble in the end, overall it was well thought-through. That's an unfortunate situation for a TPK.

    The BBEG was a major rival of the party's patron, and he knows the party are her agents. After giving it some thought, if the party had all gone down, I probably would have had him capture the party for use as leverage against her, while she worked with the remaining two party members to set up a jailbreak for the next session.
    Last edited by Crusher; 2018-01-03 at 01:07 PM.
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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    While playing Curse of Strahd, while in a werewolves' den in which a large part of the pack was away, the group killed those in the den and did the goal of their mission there. But when howling warned them that the pack was coming back they got greedy and started searching for loots instead of escaping by the back entrance. They lost the fight... they awoke chained to the wall of the cave, some fast talking with Strahd who wasn't done toying with them let them leave.

    Also in COS, this time in Argynvosholt an encounter with Vladimir who did warn them several time to leave him alone, ended up with another lost and dead paladin and warlock. The paladin was brought back as a revenant by Argynvost who gave him a quest. The warlock was offered a deal by the dark power and was reincarnated into a dwarf.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Do TPKs happen at your table?

    Quote Originally Posted by BigONotation View Post
    There's another thread which is an informal poll about playstyles and it was eye opening that many DMs have not TPKed their PCs even once. I find it highly dubious (especially for new groups) that they never have bad luck in a tough fight or bite off way more than they could chew. It feels like the DMs who responded are largely pulling their punches which I personally never ever do as I would never want that as a player.

    So I posit this question, if your players earned their TPK, will you let it happen?

    And to the players, if you earn your TPK, do you not want it to happen? What glory is their in a fight you cannot lose?
    The other thread did specify 2017 and I only answered as a DM, I did have one as a player not too far back. Secondly, a lack of TPKs does not equate to pulling punches. It certainly can be a result of pulling punches, but a certain number of TPKs is absolutely not required in a D&D game. It can simply be a result of careful planning and investigating.

    I always find it humorous when people worship the dice and think fudging a roll is sacrilegious when the DM controls every action they take in combat. A misjudgment in encounter difficulty on the DM's part should never penalize the players with the permanent death of the entire party, ending the campaign. Only the faulty actions of the players should cause such a penalty.

    To your questions:
    1). Absolutely. If the party acted foolishly after being warned, then they made their bed and have to sleep in it.

    2). Yes, I want it to happen if it was earned, but it needs to be properly handled. What I don't want to happen is to stop playing because of a TPK. E.g. it should never be adversarial, where the DM is pissed off at the players. There should be some method for continuing the game, either with new characters, or a resurrection.

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