This week we look at some fun ways to kill our players in what I like to call: TPKFTW!
Dear Dungeon Master,
I have had a game running for a few months, lots of fun and I am wondering which would be the best way to kill my players off? (as they are too overpowered)
Nich – Jr. DM
Every experienced DM has been in this situation before. If you let Players stay with the same PC for too long, they start turning into indomitable powerhouses, and DMs will have trouble challenging them anymore. When they start laughing at the Tarrasque you know something needs to change.
This thing should always be scary.
So, what’s a DM to do? Sometimes players are all too happy to trudge along and easily slaughter everything in their path. They want nothing more than to be an unstoppable killing machine. But even players like this eventually tire of not being scared of combat. We could just let things run their course, but this can take painfully long for the one or two players that are sick and tired of their overpowered PCs. And mainly, it’s boring as hell for me, and if I get bored, I could care less if my players are still having fun.
If everyone isn’t having fun, the game is broken.
One course of action is to simply end the campaign and not give the players the option of continuing with their current PCs. If we build each new campaign around a different setting or timeline or universe, then it makes sense for the players to have to abandon their PCs at the end of each one. This makes the players happy because they get to retire their PCs in style, but if we’re not careful it can also be anticlimactic. If campaigns ends perfectly and happily and without much challenge, they’re going to be something of a let down. One solution, as you have pointed out, is the Total Party Kill. After all, what’s more dramatic than death?
Remember: the key word here is dramatic. If their deaths aren’t epic it’s going to be just as much of a let down anyway. We need to be sure their deaths will be remembered forever, even if it’s with the seething rage of an undying grudge. Don’t surround them with 10,000 kobolds. That’s just cruel. And don’t make it random. That’s not funny, it’s annoying. Work it into the story as well as their personal character development.
Let’s say your players have a group of Evil Aligned PCs who have been trying to completely annihilate a group of Lawful Good Clerics. Why not have those Clerics’ Deity come down from the heavens and personally slaughter the characters. They get to die at the hands of a God (sort of satisfying?) and you get to tell them that Good always triumphs and they shouldn’t have made stupid Evil characters.
Or if they’re a group of Good characters trying to save all of creation from hordes of demons, why not add a mechanism that forces them to sacrifice themselves in order to save the world. They get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you get the satisfaction of telling them that martyrdom is the only thing waiting for idealistic youth that don’t grow up and start voting for conservatives.
It’s a little tougher if you’re dealing with Neutral characters (or “Unaligned” if you’re into that nonsense word). I would personally base their death around whatever driving motivation they’ve had for the whole campaign, and try and make it ironic and annoying so you can punish them for their lack of moral convictions.
Now, I’m not encouraging the Total Party Kill as a recurring game mechanic. Like everything else, if you do it too often, it gets old, stale and may lead to violence. Good roleplaying has variety and the unexpected. As soon as anything becomes expected it also becomes lame. Super lame. The TPK is a good way to give players a little reminder if they’re getting lazy or apathetic, and it can make for some truly epic roleplaying moments. But my Roleplaying Rule #1 is, “Don’t be a dick.” So keep that in mind at all times, and if you’re players start hurling full cans of Mountain Dew at you, it’s your own fault.
In summary: if you go with the Total Party Kill, always say something with it, and don’t overuse it. Do use it as your own personal sounding board though, and let the players know exactly how you feel about their characters. That way, maybe the next time around they won’t make such annoying PCs.
Role it like you mean it,
The Dungeon Master
You can also see me in action in the webcomic, One Die Short.