...My First TPK in D&D. Ever!
They had every opportunity to run away, and I pulled no punches. It was glorious. They laughed the entire time.
Well, I did it. The party I DM for on Thursday nights had their first TPK (Total Party Kill).
We normally meet in person, but because Omicron is surging in our area, we have been using Roll20 as a backup plan. None of us like it as much as at-the-table play, but it’s better than not being able to play at all.
Our group is pretty large, ranging from 6 players to around 12 (it’s an open game at our FLGS). The group this week was our core 6 who rarely—if ever—miss. We do milestone leveling (at their choice), and they have made it to Level 5.
They had a choice to make
At the beginning of the session, they had to make a choice: head to the surface from a subterranean tomb they had been exploring so they could return to the quest-giver and get some intel on stuff they’d discovered. Or head further into the caves, likely getting into the Underworld beneath the Southlands. (We are playing in the Kobold Press Midgard setting, and it’s great.)
I had plans for the story, either way, and they chose to head to the surface.
When the party reached the open air, they found themselves not too far from a duo of shady characters performing some sort of ritual near a broken obelisk that was carved like Tiberesh, the evil god-king they were working to prevent being resurrected.
Naturally, the Gloomstalker Ranger and Grudgebearer Rogue rolled incredibly high stealth and snuck up on the duo.
Who just happened to be chanting in Void Speech, which makes people experience Short-Term Madness if they fail their saving throw. The Ranger failed.
The Rogue saw his friend fall into a stupor and go limp, and did what any self-respecting Rogue would. He attacked one of the NPCs and initiated combat for messign with his friend.
They made the wrong choice
You see, I was about to set these two NPCs up to be the BBEGs (Big Bad Evil Guys) of the campaign. Or at least the two that worked as the BBEGs until the Biggest Bad would come later to overshadow them.
They were both CR 11 creatures, based on a very lightly tweaked version of the Herald of the Void stat block in KP’s Tome of Beats 2. At one point in the battle, they summoned their pet CR 13 Eye Golem.
The party’s barbarian saw this was some bad juju and tried to get the party to disengage. It didn’t work. They even meta-gamed some, laughing the whole time about what to do.
Eventually they stuck with it and eventually all went down. Our Battlemaster Fighter was 1 turn away from being able to duck into a small ravine and hide. The Drakewarden Ranger stopped running and turned to drop a Healing Spirit on the Sorcerer—she got slaughtered for it.
And then there was 1…
As it turns out, the Rogue who started it all made his 3rd successful Death Save on the same turn that the final party member was dropped to the ground. I gave the player the option of either keeping the character or rerolling a new one because they were, technically, stable as the rest of the party was bleeding out.
Looking back at it, I feel like this was a mistake. I misplayed my BBEGs.
Because this was my very first TPK, I didn’t want to seem adversarial and as though I was gunning to murder the party.
Because I wasn’t. That’s not my playstyle or personality.
But I did play the NPCs as intelligent as they are and used the tactics I feel would have been warranted during the fight. I did not, however, use the post-combat tactics that they would have.
These baddies…they would have gone around to each body and made sure that not a single one of these interlopers was still breathing. Especially because it was the middle of the night, they had a ritual to finish, and there was no one else due to be in the area for at least another 6-7 hours.
But…what’s done is done
The player and I have talked and instead of it being a choice he makes alone, he wants the party to roll d20s at the start of the night. If the collective score is 11-20, the Rogue lives. If it’s 1-10, he dies.
So that’s gonna be a fun way to see what happens.
This TPK put the fear of God in these people
What’s hilarious to me is that they went into this fight (read: campaign) as a rag-tag band of gameshop murderhobos, and they are coming out as a cohesive group of players who are discussing party composition and how many support classes they need. They are figuring ot how to their new characters’ backstories into not only the running game narrative and setting, but also with each other!
It really feels like this has brought the party closer together. It’s like a hilarious collective trauma where they realized just a little too late they were in over their heads and just went with the flow.
I was absolutely terrified of killing players before this. I am not anymore.
And, mind you, I have zero plans to be a raging, vengeful DM. But I do think that this has made the campaign—which started as a gameshop game, remember—into something these people are more deeply invested in because they see very real consequences for their actions.
And I think that’s pretty dang cool.
RIP Buck Naked, O, Bucket (and Snuffles the drake), Magnar, Cadmus, and (probably) Harold. You will be missed.
What’s the story of your first ever TPK (or character death)? Let’s pour one out for the dearly departed in the comments!