raging_swan (raging_swan) wrote,

GM Advice: Dodging the Dreaded TPK

Things have not gone well. Once the clamour of battle has faded, the PCs lie among the bodies of the fallen. Slain by their enemies, who now pick over their corpses and loot their choicest treasures, the PCs are now nothing more than worm food.


We’ve all been there at one time or another. Sometimes, the PCs fail and sometimes they fail so badly they all end up dead. So with the end of the campaign staring the GM in the face, what’s he to do?

Firstly, the GM has to decide if this is the end. Does he want the campaign to continue or is it time to try something new? If he wants to continue the campaign the following suggestions give him a plausible means of doing so.

  • New Characters: The players make up new characters that are in some way linked to their fallen heroes. Perhaps, the new band of adventurers are friends or relatives of the original PCs and are seeking clues to their fate.

  • Held For Ransom: Perhaps some – or all – of the PCs are not dead. Instead, their enemies realise the adventurers are worth more alive than dead and bind their wounds. The PCs may have rich friends or patrons that would pay handsomely to have their powerful servants returned (relatively) unharmed.

  • Left For Dead: Once the victors have looted the battlefield they leave. Hours later, one or more of the PCs regain consciousness. Badly injured, and no doubt missing much of their equipment, the adventurers are still trapped deep in the dungeon. At least they have a chance, however.

  • Held For Sacrifice: Many evil villains worship dark, malevolent powers that thrive on sacrifice. Once the heroes have been beaten into unconsciousness, the villain binds their wounds and carries them away to be ritually sacrificed. The ceremony is scheduled to take place in several days, giving the PCs a chance to escape.

  • Held For Execution: The villain wants to make an object lesson of what happens to those defying him. He saves the PCs’ lives, but plans to execute them in several days time when certain troublesome minions or enemies can witness the deed.

  • Sold Into Slavery: Defeated, the PCs are stripped of their gear and sold into slavery. Shackled and beaten, they must escape or end their days as nothing more than nameless slaves.

  • Rescued: This isn’t the greatest option, but if all else fails you can have some NPCs rescue the PCs. The NPCs could attack the PCs’ enemies as they loot the fallen heroes. Alternatively, the PCs can be rescued while they await sacrifice, being sold into slavery and so on. This can be a dangerously lame option to use – but if it is the only one available go for it. One way of making it more cool is for the PCs to play the heroic NPCs – at least then they have some control over their PCs’ fate.

So that’s my take on avoiding (or at least mollifying) the effects of a dreaded TPK. But did I miss anything? Have you done something even more cunning? Let me know in the comments below!

You can download this article as a free PDF here from Raging Swan Press’s website.

Art by William McAusland (Outland Arts)

Tags: gm's advice; raging swan press; article

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