Gaming My Way

25 Oct

The TPK: Is It the End of Your Game, or a New Beginning?

The holy warrior Warrick stands before the might of the dragon, defending his fallen comrades from the certain death they will face if he falls. He fights valiantly, but in the end, he is no match for the might of the creature before him… and as such the game ends in a TPK (total party kill). As a result, the story comes screeching to a halt, and the ending of the game is quite unsatisfying to everyone. The players have lost, and the GM’s careful plot planning is wasted.

It doesn’t have to be this way though! There are more than a few ways around this that can spin the TPK into a valuable part of the roleplaying experience, or just get the game moving again, depending on your goal. The next time you face an unsatisfying end to a campaign due to a TPK, give one of these ideas a try instead.

A wandering cleric finds the dead heroes, and is inspired to bring them back. This one is one of the most generic, but it can still make a good plot hook, and can help bring the story in your game in a new direction. After being resurrected, the heroes may go on a quest for the church in return for the very significant aid, or perhaps this cleric brought them back because his deity has a very specific role for the party in mind. Circumstances might also determine how much of the resurrection the church is willing or able to finance. In a D&D setting, a poor church might even have traded some of the party’s gear to gain the diamonds needed to cast resurrection. But hey, at least they’re alive and able to continue making the world a better place. Besides which, they’ll have a very personal grudge against whoever offed them in the first place, and you already have a recurring villain set up for your game. There are lots of roleplaying opportunities here.

Have an adventure in the afterlife. Well, everyone died, but your spirits are all together now, so the story now picks up with the journey your spirits will be making. This can turn quite a few assumptions upside down, and will also allow your group to explore some new territory that isn’t often covered in roleplaying games. While the afterlife is often explained in fantasy settings, players don’t often get to actually play through their afterlife. It could make for a lot of interesting adventures finding out how things work on the other side, and if anything or anyone needs saving there as well. Heroes could very well be needed in the afterlife just as they are amongst the living. Perhaps your game even has an afterlife for the afterlife, ad infinitum. You could also have the afterlife be a gateway to a new physical plane, where the adventures continue. There are a lot of things you could try with the afterlife, so try them out and see what works for your game.

This band of heroes failed their mission, but they inspired others to take up their cause. In this case, the TPK stands, the heroes are dead, but the campaign continues as your players roll up a new band of heroes who want to accomplish the mission of the fallen characters. If you go this route, play up the heroism of the last party, and make sure their deeds are well known. You could possibly even get their spirits involved occasionally. Perhaps the wizard’s spirit becomes a guide to the party, or the warrior’s spirit inhabits his favorite greatsword to help it’s next wielder accomplish his mission… and it just so happens the new party’s warrior eventually finds this greatsword. In this way, not only do you get to continue the game, but the TPK even works to advance the story as the old characters stay involved in the plot, and their inspiration is what set the new heroes on the path they’re on now.

Play it off as the party getting knocked out and captured. This one isn’t always possible depending on circumstances, but when it is possible, it can be a good one to use. If no characters actually die, but all are unconscious, it’s easiest to pull off, but if any characters actually die, you might need to do a little handwaving. You’ll also need a reason the creature who defeated them decided to capture them or keep them alive. Perhaps they won’t find out, but they very well might try, and it’s always best to not underestimate player ingenuity. This could also serve to inspire new plot, since the reason the villain didn’t kill the PCs will likely be fairly important to the players. Once more, it could bring your game in a new direction, and help it grow into something more than you expected.

So there are some ideas you can use if you don’t want the campaign to end at the point of TPK. If a TPK is an acceptable ending at the point you’re at, or if you prefer to play the game more than tell the story, then naturally you won’t use these ideas. But if everyone wants the game to continue, pick one that seems reasonable to you and run with it. It can be a great way to turn your gaming experience around, and can also provide lots of cool roleplaying experiences for your players that aren’t possible without a little death or some close calls.

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