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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » General Role-Playing

Subject: How to Deal With TPK rss

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Geoffrey Burrell
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My group in a Lost Sons Savage Worlds campaign recently got TPKed. (Total Party Killed). We picked characters along the storyline and used them instead of starting from scratch all over again. My group kept basically the same storyline with a few character changes in stats and background in order to move forward. The group ended up changing its end goal overall but kept much of the same story alive. How do others groups deal with TPKs? Do you keep the story going or start over from scratch in the same campaign?
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Pete
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We usually did the "alternate timeline" thing, where we resumed play as if the TPK adventure never happened and either repeated the adventure that they failed (if they did so sufficiently early in the module) or just struck off on a new mission.

Pete (sees no reason to continue a campaign with all new protagonists)
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Mark Wilson
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I'll be watching responses closely. I don't know that there's a best solution. Some possible ones:

Brutality Level (BL) 1-5:

1. roll up new characters or use prominent NPCs (BL3)
2. alternate timeline (BL2)
3. campaign ends in failure; start a new one (BL5)
4. campaign ends in failure, but you pick up with re-rolled characters several years later and deal with the consequences of that failure (BL3)
5. find plot devices to resurrect the PCs, potentially with complications to that resurrection (BL1)

There are undoubtedly others I've missed. The best solution is one you talk through with your group, imo.
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Alexandre Santos
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Three ways:

- The End : the story finishes here, and it's a tragedy (my most common)
- The second Team : another team is sent, weeks, years later, and get to deal with the fallout. Former PCs often had relationships with NPCs which can become interesting. A TPK does not mean all members of the expeditions died, there can also be surviving familiars, objects and artifacts lost that need to be found.
- Third Party : We take the story from a completely different angle, either a third party or even the other side.

What I would not do is do a take back, alternate story or whatever. A TPK is just too interesting to squander by erasing it.
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Eric Jome
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mawilson4 wrote:
... campaign ends in failure; start a new one...


This is typically what I expect as a player or GM. The new one might be the same one, but with totally new characters and some adlibbing to avoid player knowledge of things.
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Jamie Hardy
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I take the GM creates a world take. In this case, things are player driven. So, if there is a TPK, then that is it. The players create new PCs. If they decide to go down the same path as before, then they can. Usually, they head in a different direction and let that story line die with the PCs. Sometimes this ends up have a major affect on the world, and sometimes it does not.

What has occurred more often than not is one or more players is missing when there is a TPK. In this case, those PCs survived and were not with the group. Those PCs then meet up with the newly created PCs and keep going with the story line. This happened the most when dealing with combat focused D&D type games rather than other types of games.
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Brian M
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Ensure its a Total Party KO?

A TPK would kill so much investment and energy put into a game. I'd consider it a miserable and discouraging end to an RPG experience.
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Clark Timmins
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mawilson4 wrote:
Brutality Level (BL) 1-5:


BLWeird

Some Apocalypse World builds have the "untenable life" move.

Characters in Fragged Aeternum can't technically die, but there is a curious mechanic for between when their corporeal body is rendered inoperable and they get another one.

Monsterhearts lets you cheat death but the trade-off probably isn't acceptable to many (most?) players.

In some games (like e.g. Blades in the Dark, Deadlands (Original Edition)) you can just go on as undead.

Phoenix: Dawn Command makes death a "level up" mechanic (sort of).

Paranoia (1st Edition) makes death a comedic event (at least the first couple of times...)

There also are other "bolt on" systems that extend whichever RPG beyond the mortal coil.
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Jamie Hardy
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ctimmins wrote:
Paranoia (1st Edition) makes death a comedic event (at least the first couple of times...)


Never had a TPK in Paranoia. There is at least one PC left after killing the others for being a commie mutant scumbag.
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We had one some months ago while playing 10th level Pathfinder characters. The GM made a hidden role behind his screen, the remaining enemies were killed, one character became conscious, and revived the rest. He said a god intervened...
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William Hostman
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Generally? TPK = time for a new campaign. Especially since most of my TPKs have been due to players not avoiding avoidable and well telegraphed situations. Rarely, it's been generate new characters connected to the old ones..
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Peter Robben
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And here...
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I've not had one in over 30 years.
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Clare Cannon
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We don't have many TPK's but they are the end of the campaign

We usually poke fun at ourselves for our terrible tactics or our bad dice rolls etc whatever was the reason for the TPK, then we move on usually with someone else in the GM seat with new characters all round and a completely new story/adventure.

It is what it is, you win some, you lose some
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Andy Evans
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It depends on the expectation of lethality.

Generally a TPK marks the end of a campaign.

However on certain campaigns e.g. Masks of Nyarlathotep, character death is very much expected, so I'd have new PCs pick up the threads of the missing original party and move on with that.
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Let them roll up new characters

It's the old school way.


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Danny Stevens
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I get a few TPKs a year, depending on the game, most commonly Call of Cthulhu then secondly D&D. The players usually have second characters they play at alternate sessions, so they play those and roll up new alternate characters between sessions.

In Cthulhu they sometimes follow the trail of their previous characters and we play out the rediscovery part of the session quickly. The players explain what clues they think are left by their previous characters including what happened to them at the end. Sometimes its "they went off and vanished from the Earth", ok now what do we do? It creates a cool narrative a bit like that in Lovecraft's "Lurker at the Threshold" where the story passes from one protagonist to the next.
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Hans Messersmith
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plezercruz wrote:
We usually did the "alternate timeline" thing, where we resumed play as if the TPK adventure never happened and either repeated the adventure that they failed...
Pete (and others who have a similar answer to this), I have an honest question: what do you find fun about this?

I ask because this seems to me to be the starkest example I have ever seen of a disconnect between system and desired play style. Like, if you are playing a game that allows for the possibility of a TPK but then, if one happens, you act as if it never happens...what was the point? Why allow for it in the first place?

It genuinely confuses me. I'm sure there are good reasons for it. But I can't think of them. I would love more details.

Mostly I just don't play games these days where the issue of how to "handle" a TPK comes up. In D&D-ish style games I play, everyone knows its a potential event and if it happens it happens; we roll up new characters and move on. These games are almost certainly "crawl" games of some sort without overarching plot lines that would be disrupted in a TPK. In nearly every other game I run or play in, it is impossible, or so astronomically unlikely as to be practically impossible (because the players/GM have so many tools to avoid it).

EDIT: Geoffrey's example of a TPK in a Savage Worlds-based game seems to me another example of disconnect. In my experience Savage Worlds is meant to be all pulp action and thrills and exciting derring do. A TPK, to my mind, should be literally impossible in such a game. Some character death is reasonable, especially if the players have some control over its exact timing and nature (e.g. you know your character is going to die by the end of the fight, but you get to tough it out until the end before you succumb). But a TPK? That should only be possible at the conclusion of a bit plot line, like *spoilers I guess?* Rogue One ends.
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Brian M
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Quote:
I ask because this seems to me to be the starkest example I have ever seen of a disconnect between system and desired play style. Like, if you are playing a game that allows for the possibility of a TPK but then, if one happens, you act as if it never happens...what was the point? Why allow for it in the first place?

Because many, many, RPGs are designed with a more "simulationist" mindset and are totally set up for random character and party death, and just because you don't like that element doesn't mean you don't like the rest of the system or that there's any good viable alternative system.
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Mavis
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skalchemist wrote:
Geoffrey's example of a TPK in a Savage Worlds-based game seems to me another example of disconnect. In my experience Savage Worlds is meant to be all pulp action and thrills and exciting derring do. A TPK, to my mind, should be literally impossible in such a game.

Not totally impossible, especially with inexperienced players/GM, but in 600+ sessions of Savage Worlds that I have GMed I have never had a TPK, and I run some pretty brutal Savage Worlds combats. I am very intrigued how this one happened and where in Last Sons (a campaign I have run through to completion) it happened (my guess would be the Devils Tower).
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Chuck Dee
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skalchemist wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
We usually did the "alternate timeline" thing, where we resumed play as if the TPK adventure never happened and either repeated the adventure that they failed...
Pete (and others who have a similar answer to this), I have an honest question: what do you find fun about this?

I ask because this seems to me to be the starkest example I have ever seen of a disconnect between system and desired play style. Like, if you are playing a game that allows for the possibility of a TPK but then, if one happens, you act as if it never happens...what was the point? Why allow for it in the first place?

It genuinely confuses me. I'm sure there are good reasons for it. But I can't think of them. I would love more details.


My GM did this one time- a lot because of how much effort goes into leveling in RoleMaster, and how easy it is to go completely wrong.

In our case, the TPK was because of the fact that we set a lone sentry, thinking we were in pretty safe area. The sentry was taken out by an 00 crit after he critically failed his perception roll. After that, it was all over but the dying.

The GM had us use our same development plans, and we started in an unknown location without our memories or souls. We had to unravel that, using our same development plans over the course of 5 levels before we actually figured out what was going on, and then quested for our souls. By the time we finished, we were level 9 or so... and then we were able to go back to our original level. It was pretty fun how he turned a bad roll of the dice into a pretty epic campaign.
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Hans Messersmith
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chuckdee68 wrote:
skalchemist wrote:
plezercruz wrote:
We usually did the "alternate timeline" thing, where we resumed play as if the TPK adventure never happened and either repeated the adventure that they failed...
Pete (and others who have a similar answer to this), I have an honest question: what do you find fun about this?

I ask because this seems to me to be the starkest example I have ever seen of a disconnect between system and desired play style. Like, if you are playing a game that allows for the possibility of a TPK but then, if one happens, you act as if it never happens...what was the point? Why allow for it in the first place?

It genuinely confuses me. I'm sure there are good reasons for it. But I can't think of them. I would love more details.


My GM did this one time- a lot because of how much effort goes into leveling in RoleMaster, and how easy it is to go completely wrong.

In our case, the TPK was because of the fact that we set a lone sentry, thinking we were in pretty safe area. The sentry was taken out by an 00 crit after he critically failed his perception roll. After that, it was all over but the dying.

The GM had us use our same development plans, and we started in an unknown location without our memories or souls. We had to unravel that, using our same development plans over the course of 5 levels before we actually figured out what was going on, and then quested for our souls. By the time we finished, we were level 9 or so... and then we were able to go back to our original level. It was pretty fun how he turned a bad roll of the dice into a pretty epic campaign.


Ok, so if I am understanding your reply here, Chuck, and Brian's reply, the answer to my question is two-fold:

* the system that is being used has features that people like a lot, and the potential risk of a TPK is worth running to have those features

* the actual TPK was not something that was planned for/predicted, and therefore an "on-the-spot" correction was needed to keep things fun. (essentially, the possibility was always there but the GM/players either thought it so unlikely they didn't need to consider it, or simply just never thought of it at all).

I get both of those things. I would still suggest, though, that if
a) one is running a game where a TPK has fair probability of happening and
b) one does not actually want to deal with the consequences of a TPK as a TPK,
then c) a house rule to prevent it from happening is worth considering.

For example, here is a simple house rule that would work in nearly any game, mechanically (even Rolemaster). If there is a TPK, at the end of the fight every player rolls a 20 sided die. The two player characters with the lowest rolls are actually dead. The others are still alive, but at the mercy of their opponents. This could mean capture, but could also mean left to rot, after which they crawl to safety, lick their wounds, and plan revenge. This ensures that TPK's have consequences that anyone can face, but also ensures (in a game with at least 4 players) that enough player characters survive to continue whatever the plot line might be in a coherent fashion.
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Chris Tannhauser
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I mostly deal with TPKs by making the goal of any opposition and the result of failure against the enviroment to be something other than totally killing the party.

That is, the opposition can achieve their goals without killing the entire party, and possibly without killing any of them. For instance, a monster might want to take an item; it would be easier to take the item if the party weren't present, and killing the party would achieve that, but it's probably still possible to achieve that goal even with the party there, so that's its focus. The party can lose, without even one of them dying, or even taking a scratch, so usually none of them die, and there's a very low chance of a TPK but there's a very good chance of them losing. (Edited to add: I don't ever consider capture or "left-for-dead-but-stripped-of-possessions" as possible failure modes, because they don't seem fun to me and don't seem to be fun for players in general, except as an alternative to a TPK.)

If a TPK is likely, or the players would like the oppositions' goal to be to wipe them all out, then I simply ask the players to make "trapdoor" characters, backup characters with aspects that make them easy to insert into the current situation, such as a fellow guildmate, an avenging sibling, a former student, etc. We would immediately pick up with this new group and carry on.

In other words, a little planning. If a TPK is possible, then be ready for it. Otherwise, it's going to make the entire experience more unpleasant.
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Jamie Hardy
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skalchemist wrote:
For example, here is a simple house rule that would work in nearly any game, mechanically (even Rolemaster). If there is a TPK, at the end of the fight every player rolls a 20 sided die. The two player characters with the lowest rolls are actually dead. The others are still alive, but at the mercy of their opponents. This could mean capture, but could also mean left to rot, after which they crawl to safety, lick their wounds, and plan revenge. This ensures that TPK's have consequences that anyone can face, but also ensures (in a game with at least 4 players) that enough player characters survive to continue whatever the plot line might be in a coherent fashion.


In EverQuest, when you died, you respawned but without your equipment. You lost a lot of XP. At higher levels, this means losing entire levels. If you wanted your stuff back, you had to go to your dead body and loot your own corpse. Of course, you may die trying to get to your body. Often people would store backup equipment in the bank. But then again, you can still die trying to get to your corpse leaving two corpses to loot.

While someone could adopt that for a PnP RPG, there is also simply the idea that the PCs will be looted since the enemy thinks they are dead. Not a big deal to a level 1, but if you are high level with good equipment, this will sting as much or more than death. I mean, if PCs are murderhobos, then why not NPCs?
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Chuck Dee
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skalchemist wrote:

I get both of those things. I would still suggest, though, that if
a) one is running a game where a TPK has fair probability of happening and
b) one does not actually want to deal with the consequences of a TPK as a TPK,
then c) a house rule to prevent it from happening is worth considering.

For example, here is a simple house rule that would work in nearly any game, mechanically (even Rolemaster). If there is a TPK, at the end of the fight every player rolls a 20 sided die. The two player characters with the lowest rolls are actually dead. The others are still alive, but at the mercy of their opponents. This could mean capture, but could also mean left to rot, after which they crawl to safety, lick their wounds, and plan revenge. This ensures that TPK's have consequences that anyone can face, but also ensures (in a game with at least 4 players) that enough player characters survive to continue whatever the plot line might be in a coherent fashion.


But we dealt with the consequences of a TPK. Just not in a conventional manner. We've had lower level characters fall victim to the same thing, and we've just spent the rest of the session rolling up our next party. The GM had this idea on the backburner and thus decided to go with it.
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