Alright, we already know how this is going to go, I love this series. So it’s going to be me talking about why this series is good, but I’ve finally read everything that out thus far from Jim Butcher for the series. This includes the…
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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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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Final topic for things to think about with a party. We’re going to try and figure out what alignments you should have in your adventuring party. Probably a trickier subject because some people really don’t want an evil character with their good character, or they make the rogue steal everything and everyone hate the chaotic neutral rogue.
I do think you can have any combination of alignments in an adventuring party. However, I would say that it depends on the game that you’re playing. If you’re getting all your information from the church, having a chaotic evil character is probably not going to work that well (and generally Chaotic Evil is going to be the hardest to make work in a campaign). Even a lawful evil character will be willing to work with the party as long as it’s in their interest.
When I start a game, I generally recommend to my players, since we don’t play evil campaigns, that we go with the part of the alignment matrix that is Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Good, and Chaotic Good. That means that the party should generally be on the same page. Though, we don’t use the alignment system that heavily, so a Chaotic Good character has some flexibility in what they do, as well as a Lawful Good character. I might write on the different alignments soon. But by having your party generally in the same area of the alignment matrix and not dipping into evil or trying to be a true neutral character allows you to have a more cohesive party.
But what if you have someone is playing a lawful evil wizard in a party with a lawful good paladin? And then you have a chaotic neutral rogue, and a true neutral druid? How do you make that work for the party?
You really need the full party buy-in for that. It’s too easy to have the paladin and wizard at each others throats while the rogue steals there stuff, and the druid just sits by and does nothing. And then eventually you end the game in a battle royale after the wizard and paladin realize the rogue has stolen their stuff. That’s going to be less fun for everyone, and definitely less fun for you as the DM as you have to basically scrap your campaign or work it in such a way that everyone ends up happy sometimes.
But, if everyone at the table has buy-in before you start playing, you can do things to negate this. The lawful evil wizard can animate the dead for missions while the paladin is off doing something else. And both players can make sure that’s how it’s working. The rogue can respect the party enough that she doesn’t steal from her party members, but in turn, the Paladin will not notice when the rogue steals from a shop. Once, however, one person in the group decides that the effort to make that happen to not step on the other player characters and players toes, you have a chance for breakdown in your game.
Now, you could also just run an evil campaign for a little bit so that lawful evil wizard gets their game for a bit, and everyone is playing an evil character. I might eventually write about evil campaigns, but they tend not to be that interesting an idea to me, I prefer the heroes journey.
So, basically the recap this last bit. Figure out the alignments that are going to work well for your campaign and offer those up to the players. Give some wiggle room in them, but try and keep the party focused in the same area so that you don’t have to deal with anything odd. And that can be either a good party or an evil party or anywhere in between. And if someone is an outlier, it’s on them to figure out why they fit in, not on the other players and not on your as the DM.
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