Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Recapping Three TPK's During DnD Encounters

Over the past few months I participated in three different TPK’s during the recent season of DnD Encounters, The Elder Elemental Eye at The Gaming Goat in Elgin IL. Never having been a part of any TPK in 25+ years of playing this was initially a bit of a shock. I had initially wrote it off to a combination of both good and bad luck, a little bit of  "c'mon it’s just a game," and then throw in some "let’s just pick it up next week and play on from there." After all there has always a risk of a death in any adventure encounter, and – as I said before – it’s just a game. But after two additional TPK’s during the ensuing weeks of the season … well, somethin' ain’t right. As is my wont afterwards I spent considerable time thinking about what happened, what was it that that I could have done different, and ultimately, what did I learn from the experience.

Was it the adventures (or designers) fault? We had been warned up front that this one was going to be a tough one, but honestly, it’s not the fault of “the book.” Encounters like this were designed to ensure the adventurers were pushed to some degree, to make them work together, and to make them feel that sense of urgency that occurs when things looked the darkest. So yes, the encounters were tough, but I just don’t think they were overly so.

I would say that the nature of the DnD Encounters environment – where players tend to come and go from week to week – does make it harder to build up that sense of teamwork and chemistry that a group does get after playing together regularly. As a point of reference we did have two tables at most sessions and the other table from mine did have a more stable set of players for this season and had no TPK’s.

Was it the players fault? Not withstanding the somewhat fluid nature of the participants mentioned previously, I suppose there was some blame to lay here. I am not accusing anyone of poor play or some sort of gaming malfeasance, but in a hit-and-run kind of encounter-based game play character selection does matter. A hammer swinging mage in a year long saga might have been a fun and interesting character to play, but in a short burst environment like this I was not convinced this character was a particularly good choice to bring to the table.

After the first two TPK’s the DM offered to let us bump our characters up to the next level regardless, although myself and some others chose to stay with what we had. If we had taken the bump up, well, who knows? Similarly, we could have swapped our characters for another that might have been more beneficial to the party, or we could have even negotiated with the DM to let one of the players run a second character for the duration of that night’s adventure. We had options, chose not to take them, so yes, we kind of got what we asked for.

Was it the DM’s fault? We had Clyde as our DM for most of the sessions. Clyde rolled his dice right in front where we could see them, so he certainly wasn’t cheating. I would also say though that when Clyde’s dice got hot, well, you could bet the blood that flowed was going to be ours. After the evenings encounters were completed for a particular night we would usually sit around and discuss what happened and we would be told what the adventure really called for versus what he had rolled out for us to fight against (even on nights when we didn’t die … maybe I should revisit that first point again).

In my regular Sunday evening group we have had maybe one character death in the 25+ years I have played with them. It's not a formal house rule mind you, it was just one of these “unwritten rules” that we had instituted over the many years we had played together – character death is to be avoided. Given that particular philosophy is woven tightly into my game playing DNA, I think if I was DM'ing I might have allowed the first TPK to occur, but after that I would have made sure there was not a second or third. But that's still a matter of philosophy, not a point of fault finding.

Was it my fault? I had choices, I chose poorly. I could have quaffed that healing potion when I wasn't bloodied yet, but I didn't. I could have bumped my character up when they hadn't actually earned the promotion, but I didn't. I could have asked to play a second character on nights when we were short-handed, or swapped my character out for one more beneficial to the party, but I didn't. Again, who knows if any of these would have made any difference at all, but did I really try to maximize my chances of not being killed or did I just go along for the ride? 

Conclusion: I already stated that I couldn't participate in the upcoming DnD Encounters sessions so the point is kind of moot as far as that goes I suppose, but I think the point was there was always something that could be done. Clyde would have let us do any of the things I mentioned above, but we didn't ask, we just took it. Or more specifically, I didn't ask. I'm the one that's played DnD for more years than most of my Encounters peers have been alive, I should have done a better job in the leadership department. Maybe I internalize these things too much, but that's my conclusion.


  1. Definitely some very good points to ponder, I would like to clarify "what the adventure really called for versus what he had rolled out for us to fight against", just incase people are wondering I didn't increase what they faced and most nights held back from throwing everything that was available at them.

    Don't beat yourself up over it, hind-sight is always 20/20 and if we always perceived the perfect actions for a favorable outcome for every encounter wouldn't the game become totally monotonous and boring ?

  2. I concur with your clarification Clyde - that is certainly what I meant, albeit just not what I said. Regardless, thanks for running these. I do enjoy playing and it is nice to play with a different set of people and see/learn something new.