D&D: Creative Ways To Keep Your Party From A TPK | Screen Rant

2022-07-02 03:07:13 By : Ms. Bright Tan

In Dungeons & Dragons, a DM can sometimes see a TPK coming before it arrives. There are several creative solutions to keep their players adventuring.

Sometimes a Dungeons & Dragons party is clearly heading for a total party kill, and the Dungeon Master is left wondering how they can salvage the situation before it is too late. The obvious answer would be to tell the players that they are about to make a lethal decision and encourage them away from it. While this solves the problem, it can lead to a lack of verisimilitude and give the Dungeon Master too much perceived authority over the players' actions. Often, the Dungeon Master will have to do constant and intricate work behind the screen to keep the party away from an untimely (or undeserved) demise and do so without revealing how the game is being guided.

There are many ways to wipe out a full party before reaching the end of a long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Enemy encounters, even ones that the Dungeon Master has meticulously balanced, can turn lethal if the dice rolls are in favor of the enemies. Often, if there are more enemies (even lower powered ones) than there are party members, the odds of a total party kill increase dramatically. Outside of combat, the party can choose a course of action, such as spitting on the king's shoes or poking a sleeping ancient red dragon repeatedly. These actions would logically result in death or another campaign-ending event, yet the party could be insistent that it is the correct course of action for continued success. This often leads to an imprisoned or barbequed party, and a Dungeon Master pinching the bridge of their nose.

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Creatively avoiding a classic TPK, including keeping evil D&D parties from killing each other requires the Dungeon Master to think of ways to dissuade or otherwise alter the course of events that would lead to the TPK without letting the players know that they are pulling the strings to do so. Utilizing the environment to dissuade a dangerous course of action is a good way to do this. Another avenue is to alter the conditions of the situation to give the party just enough wiggle room to escape or alter the intentions of the enemies from kill to capture. There are myriad ways to creatively avoid TPK-ing a party, but most - if not all - require some work on the Dungeon Master's part.

Prophecy is a well-established tool in Dungeons & Dragons. An entire school of magic, Divination, is devoted to reading or altering the future, and some D&D subclasses can counter dangerous situations by interpreting fate, such as diviner wizards. A party may be on the verge of entering a cave housing a cantankerous owlbear or swarm of kobolds and be completely unaware, and a well-placed portent could save them from certain doom. Getting stomped by a swarm of enemies is not what makes Dungeons & Dragons combat fun. The Diviner could have a brief glimpse of a future in which all the party lies strewn about the owlbear's lair, or the cave could appear supernaturally dark and foreboding. Anything that would subtly dissuade the party can be used. If enough in-game time is available before the point of no return, a prophetic dream could spell out the doom in front of them, getting the D&D party back on track while still having a reasonable in-universe explanation.

What better way to show the results of a course of action than to show a previous party who experienced those results? The party could be loudly trespassing in an elven forest when it comes across the bodies of another group of adventurers. If the players need a particularly obvious signal, the bodies could even be grotesquely arranged as a warning. In addition to providing the Dungeon Master an opportunity to dish out some loot that this previous Dungeons & Dragons party had on them, the arrows in their bodies would serve as a powerful example of what happens when someone fights a seemingly invisible Dungeons & Dragons enemy - elves of the forest. Once the party recognizes what happened to this previous group, their plans may change to a more survivable course of action, be it stealth or a less direct path to their goal.

Passive perception can be one of the most useful yet underutilized skills in Dungeons & Dragons. Passive skills allow a player to succeed or fail a check without needing to roll, and passive perception can be especially useful for foretelling certain doom. If a party insists on transporting a large sum of gold across a rickety bridge over a perilous drop, the ranger with an extremely high wisdom, because of how passive perception works in D&D, could notice the fraying ropes or dry-rotted timbers that signal the bridge is on the verge of collapse. They would be able to discern this without the player expressly having to ask for a perception check, or in other words, the Dungeon Master could tell them without having to sugar-coat it.

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In theory, each skill has a passive variant that can be calculated, but the most common three are perception, investigation, and insight. Passive investigation could save lives when navigating a trap-filled dungeon, letting player characters find traps without having to call for investigation checks every ten feet. Passive insight allows the party to know when the shadowy figure they are talking with is more powerful than they appear, potentially saving them from the wrath of an angry demigod masquerading in shadow.

Sometimes the party gets in over their head, and even using D&D spells that can actually break the game won't save them. Either one or more characters have already failed their last death saves, or it is clear that the party will be wiped out by one devastating attack. In such situations, it could be reasonable to have the enemy shooting to wound rather than kill. If the party runs afoul of a hostile group of drow in the Underdark, it makes sense that they would be killed should they lose the fight. However, an equally sensible option is that the drow would take them prisoner, either for ransom or sacrifice. This changes the scenario from total-party kill to daring prison escape, as the party must get creative and find a way out of their predicament as opposed to rolling up new characters.

There are ways to save a Dungeons & Dragons party from certain death without the DM orchestrating a godlike event, like how Vecna ended an entire edition. Through subtle story manipulation or altering encounters behind the screen, a Dungeon Master has plenty of tools at their disposal to prolong the adventure and keep their players' characters alive. Of course, there is also a distinct possibility that no matter how much legwork the Dungeon Master puts in, a party will be dead set on a course of action that will result in a total party kill. In that scenario, if all options have been exhausted, it may be a matter of letting the party poke the sleeping dragon and deal with the thousand-degree consequences.

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Freelance Writer for ScreenRant. Cody Prater has been writing personally, academically, and professionally since 2015. Among his earliest accomplishments is the Mysticon Scholarship for Creative Works, which he won over a variety of multimedia projects for a short story. Using the scholarship to fund an education at Roanoke College, he completed a degree in Creative Writing in 3 years, citing the appropriate Captain Kirk quote from J.J. Abram’s Star Trek as he did so. Outside of college, he is heavily involved in the Roanoke geek scene, being a perennial patron of Mysticon as well as a customer face for Star City Comics and Games (of Magic: The Gathering fame). Aside from official accomplishments, he has had a variety of encounters with celebrities, from breakfast with Doctor Who’s 5th Doctor Peter Davison to sharing a mic during a charity auction (in his benefit) with Firefly’s Dr. Tam, Sean Maher. He is currently based out of Virginia with his girlfriend and 2 cats.