Sunday, January 20, 2013

Handling a Total Party Kill

In response to my TPK, Rod Thompson over at Alemiter asked me:

"If you have an ongoing story arc in your campaign, how do you handle the continuity break?"

My answer became as long as a blog post, so here it is--

Perhaps it is just best to start a new campaign. (If others have suggestions, feel free to comment).

I have had maybe three TPKs that threatened to disrupt a campaign story arc.

1. The first was back in my old Greyhawk Campaign in the mid-1990s. The player-characters encountered a lake-monster, and I quote: "It exhales a highly toxic cloud of sickly yellow vapor, about 40 feet long and 20 feet wide on all of you."  I hadn't really read the description of Cloudkill beforehand, thinking it was like stinking cloud but a just little worse. The characters were all about 5th level and they all failed their saving throws (at a -4 penalty). They all died.

Whoops. I just reset the encounter. They all ran away. It wasn't worth basically ending a campaign just over a random side-trek to a lake.

2. The second time the players were being idiots anyway, attacking a tax collector (who hadn't threatened or asked them to pay taxes) with the town guards nearby. I just folded the campaign.

3. The last time was more tricky. I had spent considerable time building the story arc. Each character had a kind of role to play, and had invested a lot of time into their characters. Once the TPK ended, we thought about how to continue. But instead we started a new campaign. The continuity disruption was just too great.

For now, I'm done running campaigns with massive and convoluted story arcs. I finished my last one on December 11, 2011. Because all that work hung in the balance whenever it looked like a TPK. Or became a little messed up whenever a key character's player didn't show up that night.

That's why my Expeditions in the Northlands campaign is patterned in part after the West Marches sandbox campaign. Thus, when 9 characters die, it isn't that big of a deal for them to roll up new characters when they can play again.

I guess my answer sort of dodges the question. It just depends on a number variables, such as how your players would respond. 

Like I said, if anybody else has any insights, feel free to respond. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for answering at such length. I'm switching from a story arc (after ten sessions it just hadn't engaged the players) to using a patron passing out short 'quests' in my current campaign, so my thought was if it happens he'll hires a new group.


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