TPK: Post-Mortem

Nine sessions into my latest game and the hammer came down.

A TPK.

Yes, at least one of my players would object to me saying that, since their character managed to flee the conflict wounded, reach an island, and crawl beneath their overturned rowboat as the buzzing of a group of stirges approached.
And as is always the case I wonder what went wrong.

Yes, there were bad decisions and bad dice rolls, and one night we should’ve called the game at a cliff-hanger point instead of pressing on – but things happened as they happened. Now everyone’s making new characters (and we’re changing the rule set while staying in the same setting), but as is the case it’s time for introspection and dissecting the game to see what worked and what didn’t.

Here we go…

THE BASICS

Rule set: Through the Sunken lands by Flatland Games. It’s a retroclone and one I’ve used before.

Characters: A Pirate Captain, the Goblin’s Child, and the Student of the Dark Arts (players could pick playbooks from either Through Sunken Lands or Beyond the Wall). This ended up being a fighter/thief, a fighter/thief/mage, and a mage. The playbooks are fun, but they can be disappointing when the rolls don’t go your way. Despite two fighter types I don’t think anyone started with a strength above 13.

House Rules: The use of fortune points was expanded. Spend two to shrug off a spell effect. Spend a fortune point to regain a HD of HP on a short rest.

Advancement: XP was a combination of pop quiz style (each adventure offered a basic amount of XP for accomplishing certain goals) and XP for loot. Loot however needed to be spent in town. A carousing table was used.

Since characters got XP for loot, there were instances of one character splitting off from the party, getting very lucky, and getting loot the other characters never knew about. (The players knew and rolled their eyes in disgust… or at least I imagine they did. We play online without any cameras, but I swear I could hear the eye rolls.) This also meant times where the party had loot they needed to convert to XP, but had to travel to a bigger settlement to spend it. This was the situation before they died. Still I liked this mechanic and the mix of XP awards. But it did incentivize a certain selfishness among the players (or at least it did in that one heel player). This, however, fit the sword & sorcery vibe in my opinion. Whether the selfishness led to the TPK is debatable. The party never really came together as a group loyal to each other and able to strategize together.

Equipment: Inventory slots and a usage die. Both of these worked well, but they did seem to have an infinite amount of rope.

THINGS THAT MAYBE DIDN’T WORK

Nothing. I’m perfect.

Uhhh… I mean…

Time Management: You get a feel for the game and when something tells you this is a good point to end the session, end the session. It’s okay to finish 35 minutes ahead of the usual time. Better too short than too long. If the game had been cut early one night, then players would’ve had a week to prep/ask questions before going into the encounter that killed them*.

Avoid Bullet Time: There’s a tendency to want to play out every moment of game time. That’s not always necessary. The loot mechanic of get back to town to gain XP maybe encouraged some bullet time, since if the game ended with them making camp, the next session would then be them getting back home. Often a random encounter would happen that would then thwart their objective to get home and send them deeper into danger and deeper into turns and bullet time.

Telegraph Threats: It’s fun to make things weird and unpredictable, but (as an example) giving a goblin a breath weapon where they can vomit out a slurry of jagged gravel that does D6 damage to everyone in range may be fun, but A) it induces paranoia in players, which can lead to analysis paralysis, B) it also makes it difficult for players to determine what they should worry about.

Information Economy in the Fog of War: Is it punishing the players by withholding information about their current mission, because they spent their one opportunity to research things researching some other information they thought was more important? Is that a failure on the GM’s part for not telegraphing what details are important? Should the GM even worry about this? Are players supposed to say (hell, even know!) the magic words that will trigger an NPC to give the relevant information or should players just be given the damn information that might be relevant? In other words…

Should players hear about a thing (that may be relevant) even if they never ask about the thing?

Questions. Questions.

* Yes, that character made it back to the beach so the campaign actually ended with the lone survivor cowering under an overturned rowboat and a fade to black as buzzing approached.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: