Alright, I was going to write something board game related today or talk about the book that I just finished, but I wanted to get back to writing about and building out my city for D&D because D&D is really on my brain. And it […]
You’ve had a long running campaign. The players were really into the story. They’d spent a bunch of time planning on how to infiltrate this tower. You’d told them the wizard in it was too powerful to fight. Everything is going to plan…
The barbarian has now rushed the evil wizard. There is one way that this is going to end, with a TPK (Total Party Kill).
What do you do?
Now, there are plenty of ways that this can happen. The one that I gave above is actually one of the trickier situations because one player, the barbarian, has decided that the party is going to fight. And since it is D&D and the party will generally stick together, that probably means that you aren’t going to have them run away from the fight when the fight gets tough.
Before we talk more about what we do, let’s talk about a few other situations where a TPK might happen. The most likely situation is the final boss fight. It can go one of two ways, either the BBEG kills off all the player characters (PCs) or the PCs kill the BBEG. Another way that it can happen is that the players knowingly start a battle that is over their level. In the first example, if the whole party had planned to fight the wizard, that is the parties choice, and you can leave that choice for a likely TPK in the players hands. And finally, the players might be rolling poorly, and you might be rolling hot.
Let’s talk quickly about two of the examples I gave. With the BBEG or when the players know they are fighting above their level, those the players have chosen. It’s known that with the BBEG, the campaign either ends with their success or their failure, there isn’t going to be a next session, at least with the game world the way it is now. And if the players are fighting the wizard, for example, as a group decision, they know that they might not make it, or they should. So in both of these cases, you just play out the game, and you let the dice lie as they have been rolled. And you can get some epic stories of sacrifice or of triumph coming out of these scenarios, but either way the players are going to remember it.
Now, what happens in the case where you are rolling hot, or the player stumble across a conflict that is too dangerous for them, but they don’t know that. You’re in the situation as the DM where you have a few things that you can do.
First, you can pull your punches, if you want. There are two ways that you can do this, you could, for example, limit the power of a wizard. Maybe, in the example at the top, the wizard has already cast her high level spells for today, so she’ll be a challenge, but not as deadly for the player. And maybe, even the she’s down a few hit points. So this challenge that was clearly too strong for them is now going to be at their level. You can also pull your punches with your die rolling and strategy. If you don’t play optimally, and maybe turn a few more hits into misses or saves into fails, now the players are able to take on a higher challenge than they should be without the TPK happening. But this is a flawed solution, because it doesn’t teach the players that there are consequences for their actions. They are now always going to assume that they can fight anything. And, in fact, with new players who have mainly played computer RPG’s that strongly scale monster level, they are going to assume that in the first place.
Second option is that you can just TPK them. Or try to TPK them, make it clear that it’s so bad that they are probably going to need to run away. In the wizard example, have her target and take down the Barbarian. It’ll give the players a revenge story if they want, and hopefully it’ll remind the other players to just run away before they meet the same fate. And if the wizard takes down the barbarian quickly, you can make the reason that she doesn’t hunt down the rest of the PCs quickly is that they aren’t worth her time. So maybe pull your punches a little bit, just have her disintegrate the barbarian instead of dropping the fireball at 7th level on the whole party. This option, can work better, but is clearly harsh. You might end up in the situation where the players ignore all the road blocks and warning signs and still try it, and now you’ve potentially ended your campaign early if you do end up with the TPK.
So, is there a better option, is there something that you can combo together to make it work instead of a TPK?
I haven’t ever TPK’ed a party, but I have, on multiple occasions knocked them out. When they get into a fight above their level, you can just knock them out and take them captive, it might derail your story for a little bit, but it might be better than a TPK. Just come up with a reason that the bad guy is going to knock them out. This doesn’t work well if you come across a pack of ten wolves and the players are second level, but a pack of goblins, sure, they might not kill the players because they want to turn them into a stew later and everyone but the dwarf is too skinny. But, this can’t be the solution for every situation. Like I said, sometimes the creatures wouldn’t have a reason or the mental capability to think about just knocking out or down the players.
There’s also an option for divine or NPC intervention. With divine intervention, it can work in a couple of different ways. If you have a PC who is a Paladin/Cleric or deeply devoted to some deity, you can have their deity intervene. You can also have a deity intervene by making a deal, almost a warlock style pact with a PC. There’s also the option of just a stronger hero or NPC coming along and saving the players. Both of these should still be used sparingly because if you use them too often, again the players feel like they can just go in and fight anything and they’ll be fine if things start getting hairy. Or, you run into a situation where the players start to feel like you’re setting them up to fail just so you can have your NPC have the hero moment. Either case is less than ideal, so use it sparingly.
Finally, I do like the option of killing a PC. Again, this is used sparingly, because you don’t want the whole party to be new every few months because you keep on killing PC’s when they make poor decisions. But have the monster or villain they are fighting kill off one of them. If it’s a villain, they can kill one of them, and then get bored and leave because the party isn’t strong enough to entertain them. Or, if it’s more of a monster, like a pack of wolves, when the wolves get one of the PC’s down, let the wolves start eating that PC, definitely killing them, but that will then either allow the players to escape, or you can give them advantage on their attacks to finish off the wolves because the wolves are distracted. That one is definitely a bit grizzly (well, wolfy) but it would set the tone for the players that they aren’t safe.
With all of this, I think that you need to set the expectations up front. You need to tell the players that in your game, there are going to be things that might be too dangerous for them to fight and that they might need to run. And possibly remind them once in a while of that, because it’s likely that they are going to forget. And, really, sometimes, a TPK might just happen, if the players know what they are getting into, that’s fine. In the wizard example, if they all make the decision to try and fight, let them fight, don’t take that away from them, but maybe leave them nearly dead and trapped in a prison in that case.
Have you accidentally had a TPK? How do you do combat, is everything scaled to the PC’s level?
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I’ve recently been listening to a lot of LitRPG and you’ve seen me talk about it with Sufficiently Advanced Magic, Ascend Online, and Towers of Heaven that I’m listening to currently. Those are the ones that I have enjoyed but I also read Awaken Online, which had some issues.
So, what is a LitRPG book?
LitRPG is a novel where it takes place in a world where there are statistics for the characters, like you would in an RPG. This can either be split between the real world and a game world, like Ascend Online and Awaken Online, or it can be a world that just happens to have RPG like rules, which you get in Towers of Heaven (though that kind of walks the line between the two) and Sufficiently Advanced Magic. In these books, you see the characters clearly leveling up and becoming better at things, gaining new skills, and getting new quests (fairly often). The quests is more obviously laid out in the ones where they actually go into an RPG, but the other ones really do the same thing as well.
LitRPG is a really easy and obvious way to do the heroes journey as you have that marker of progression for the character, and if the character is good, eventually they’ll be able to do more and more good. Now, you also have books like the first one in the Awaken Online series where the characters aren’t good, but might, in fact, be the villain of the piece if you really look at it. But if you don’t consider them going that far, they become an edge lord. I have mentioned the term before, but an edge lord is a character who is supposed to be the bad boy and edgy. I highly recommend not doing an edge lord character if you decided to write litRPG, because it seems like a wish fulfillment and often then leads to stupid situations just for fulfilling some wish of the author.
Now, LitRPG has also moved into other mediums. I actually think LitRPG most likely started in Japan, though you could argue that D&D Novels might have been the original. Manga and Anime like Is It Wrong to Pick Up A Girl in a Dungeon? and Sword Art Online are examples of LitRPG or LitJRPG that have been around for a little while. Is It Wrong to Pick Up A Girl in a Dungeon? is an example of an anime where the world itself has RPG rules to it, and Sword Art Online goes between the real world and various game worlds. It’s interesting to see how popular that these anime are or aren’t, but personally I find them both enjoyable.
So, what makes a good LitRPG?
I think that there are a few things to look for. First, you can often tell within the first few minutes or pages if the book has some sort of fulfillment edge lord fantasy feel to it. This will often be done by creating situations of unnecessary violence or hits of things of a sexual nature. This has happened in a few times when I started listening to something and I could tell quickly that it was going to be a situation where we were going to end up with an edge lord.
I also think that you can tell the quality of the writing pretty quickly by how they use descriptions or dialogue. I’ve noticed that some of the writers, since a lot seem to have originally been self published, don’t structure their books in the best way. I talked about this in my world building article, but don’t spend the first few chapters or third or whatever of the book explaining your world to me. Show me and also give me plot at the same time. If you can’t do that, I’m probably going to set down your book. And the same with dialogue or maybe more so with relationships. Know your strong points in writing. Also, be careful what point of view you use.
Also, when creating LitRPG works, have your system figured out and dispense some of the information for leveling up, things like that into your book. But don’t lean too heavily into the trope of the pop-up messages in your screen of how much damage you take or when a skill upgrades. You can show us a character sheet once in a while. I think that this is less annoying in the written form, but when I’ve been listening to things on an audio book, it really wrecks the feel you’re trying to create for the world and the characters.
Finally, have your story cohesive. People are familiar with RPG’s, you often have one quest and then another and then another, and eventually you might tie them all together, but you’ve been playing for a year now and you’ve lost one of your story threads along the way at some point, so that’s fine. But in a book, I can listen to even some of the longer LitRPG books in a week or maybe two. So that means the thread that you lost, because you might actually be pulling from your own pen and paper RPG, or just because you didn’t keep enough notes in your writing, it’s obvious to me. And if you’re doing it intentionally, don’t. It might feel thematic, but you’re writing, and like the character sheet, those things that you don’t notice in a pen and paper RPG are very obvious in a LitRPG book.
And let me do a finally, finally and say this. LitRPG is a ton of fun, I’ve been enjoying what I’ve been listening to. It has been making me want to play more D&D and write my own LitRPG, but please, people, please, if you are going to write something and self publish it on Amazon or somewhere, please hire and editor. Or at least have some friends who aren’t going to be Yes Men read the story and give you feedback. In Ascend Online, he needs someone to edit his content because he isn’t great at description so uses words over and over again. If the Sufficiently Advanced Magic writer had a good editor, they could have fixed the bad romantic language that the author tried to add to the book. And really, this isn’t just for litRPG, but please use a good editor people.
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I think that this is a very rare thing. I don’t know that a ton of people ever really complete their D&D games. There are multiple reasons for it potentially not being completed. But, is that something that’s okay, or as the DM should you […]
We’re wrapping up our D&D alignments today with your most evil character as we look at Chaotic Evil. Now, I say most evil, but I don’t think that it has to be, I think that when people want to play that really evil character, though, in an evil campaign, this is often what they’ll change. Though, I think you could argue that Neutral Evil might be more evil.
When people play Chaotic Evil, they generally play it, since they are chaotic that they have a get out of jail free card. Basically, I’m the hero of my own story, therefore, I can do whatever I want and the DM will make it work out in the end. Much the mindset of the Chaotic Neutral character who is actually Chaotic Evil. So your Chaotic Evil character is going to go around stabbing people and generally causing as much trouble as possible, and you should get away with it.
In an evil based game, even, that mindset isn’t going to work. You’re going to have the law after you at some point in time. Someone like The Joker who just does bad stuff for the sake of it still gets beat up by Batman and then arrested. And that is likely to happen to your character as well. I think that The Joker is a fairly good example of what you might do as a Chaotic Evil character however.
Mainly, The Joker doesn’t go around stabbing everyone, even though he’s not above it. Instead he’s just trying to create as much havoc as possible, and when there is havoc, he feels like he’s succeeded. So, in an evil campaign, you can take it that direction by going for more and more chaos and destabilizing of an area, versus just leaving a trail of bodies in your wake. That doesn’t mean that you might not stab someone along the way, but it isn’t the modus operandi of a good Chaotic Evil character or of the Joker. If we look at The Dark Knight, we see how the Joker makes Batman make choices, but then lies about what the different options actually are, just to mess with Batman, that’s very chaotic evil.
Let’s talk quickly about what classes might make the most sense for a Chaotic Evil character. Again, most of them are going to work, with things like a Paladin or Cleric being the hardest to fit into there, and I think that a Monk or Druid would be tricky as well. Bot of those classes lean into discipline or harmony with nature, so there would have be some event that you’d need to lean into that causes them to be that way. If you do just want to be the murder character, the Barbarian is going to make a lot of sense, and a Rogue would be very effective at it as well.
If I were to play a Chaotic Evil character, I would play a Wizard, personally. The reason for that is that an illusionist Wizard would have a fun tool bag to mess around with. And with a character like that, you don’t have to murder everyone, but can instead make someone feel like they are going insane, which is probably worse than just being murdered. But as a player, I would feel better playing that versus just a random character who wants to murder everyone. Other spell casters would work well for this as well. It’s almost like Loki can be, with the story that Thor tells in Thor: Rangorak, where Loki turned into a snake and then back into himself to scare Thor, something like that.
But even with that, I would be careful about playing a chaotic evil character. I actually be careful about playing with someone who really wants to play a Chaotic Evil character. There are plenty of ways with any evil character to go very dark, and Neutral Evil and Chaotic Evil are going to be more apt to go that direction.
Have you played in an evil game with a Chaotic Evil character? Have you played in a good game with a Chaotic Evil character? How did that work for you and the rest of the party?
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Here’s a hot take, I don’t like Chaotic Neutral, and I don’t think most people who play a Chaotic Neutral actually play a chaotic neutral character. Now, time to explain myself, and explain how you can play it better. My issue with Chaotic Neutral is […]