Thursday, September 20, 2012
D&D Next - Soft TPK
Before I explain, a quick recap. The PC's penetrated an ancient citadel that had become the lair of an Orc tribe that was raiding the town. They made their way down into the first dungeon level. The slew Orcs, and didn't leave any survivors to interrogate. They took a Short Rest and used up their Hit Dice. They wandered around a maze of hallways. They found some rooms with unholy mutations gestating in large sacks, which they put to a quick death. They made their way into a lobby, with a yawning stairway leading down, and killed to two Orc guards posted there. They killed a couple of Ghouls that had wandered up from the stairway, while one remaining Ghoul fled back down the stairs.
And then they did the thing I least expected them to do.
They decided to follow the Ghoul down the stairs and into a deeper dungeon level.
They stopped on a small circular landing between the levels. I hadn't mapped any of the level below, so I was in full improv mode. It was then time for a wandering monster check, and sure enough, the "1" indicated that a unit of Orcs had discovered the intruders, and the PCs had 10 Orcs marching down the stairs hot on their trail.
The battle that ensued in that small spontaneously generated chamber was the most dramatic and intense combat I've experienced so far in D&D Next. The Fighter was actually forced to use his Expertise Dice to Parry. PCs fell and made Death Saving Throws. Two Orcs rolled 1's and got into a brawl amongst themselves, but succeeded in their Wisdom Checks the next round to snap out of it (this was bad luck for the PCs). The Rogue was bleeding on the ground, 1 hit point away from true death, before the Cleric risked an Opportunity Attack to stabilize him using Death's Door. Then the PCs' dice got cold and mine got hot. A final Critical from an Orc felled the Cleric, and all the PCs were down.
My first TPK as a DM. But ... a "soft" TPK. All of the PCs were down and out, but none of them had failed enough Death Saving Throws to have actually died. At the end of the day, 3 of the PCs are now in the hands of the Orcs, while the Rogue is in the hands of the Ghouls because he wandered down the stairs and was attacked there. Typically, you'd expect these monstrous humanoids and undead to simply seal the deal and slay the fallen PCs. But this campaign has established facts that give the monsters reasons to keep the fallen PCs alive. It was established, in fact, that the Orcs who had raided the town took live captors back with them. Actually, unknown to the PCs, the Orcs are keeping human prisoners alive and periodically turning them over to the starving Ghouls. The Ghouls have an interest in ridding the Citadel of the Orc invaders, because those Orcs have cut off the Ghouls from their food supply in the nearby graveyard. And they remember what the Rougue shouted at them before they brought him down, something about helping them get rid of the Orcs.
So, the monsters have an interest in keeping the PCs alive. Despite the "TPK", the campaign will continue. The next session will see the three PCs in Orc hands locked in a dungeon cell, stripped down to their underwear. The Rogue will be down with the Ghouls, negotiating with the Ghoul Lord and Princess.
D&D Next's "Death and Dying" rules open up the possibility of "soft TPKs", where the PCs can fail in a battle, but the campaign can continue, if the story justifies it. In this case, the failure of the PCs in this battle will twist the campaign in a much more interesting direction than what would have happened had they succeeded.