I had the pleasure of dungeon mastering my current Ptolus campaign and yesterday was one partial end of the story but everything came a bit different than it was planned…
As a sidenote, when we started the campaign we started with seven players, with the latest two adventures we only saw three players – so a few adjustments were made and the lethality of the campaign grew due the general path on which it is set.Â So I’ll split this posting in two parts – one will deal with the adventure yesterday, the second will deal with TPK (total player kill) in general.
We started in-midst of the large forest where we last left. After a meteroid impact and the imminent threat in the immediate area a rain of ash in theÂ area followed and left hardly any secure shelter for Surina, Rilla and Godrik. After a mostly controversial start with the plate armor of another knight which they found in the storage of a bestial creature, it went on with a lot of smiles, when Godrik on the (obviously lied) comment of his (in this case) leader “the two stones are worth almost nothing” and he throws them instinctively and spontaneously over his shoulder – that made Surina pretty fast to regret her lie in this case… The stones were lost in the spores/ash and not to be found in as little time as they spent searching.
The afternoon started very combat-heavy from my side and to further reduce the comfort the first revelation of the ash-rain in fact being a rain of spores hit almost as hard as the group’s first encounter with shadows. The element of surprise being on the side of the undead it cost the group’s designated leader (Surina) all her strength not to give in to the utter-cold and rally her small band against the undead threat. Two normal and one giant sized shadow later the group had experienced what a chill-to-the-heart really meant and decided to travel on without much of a rest. So it did not take them too long until they found more adversaries, even a hungry ghoul came out of his resting place and could score a hit on the wounded Rilla before Godrik’s Greatsword cleaved it in two.
Even during their night-rest at the camp-fire they encountered a ghost, this time the ghost of an unfriendly boar. The boar was not outrightly evil, but insisted they should help him free his family – immediately. To press onto the situation and besides create a lot of confusion, the boar possessed first Surilla, which ended bond and gagged by Rilla and Godrik – afterwards it was Rilla and in the end Godrik who were possessed by the ghost. Rilla lied that they would help and suddenly the ghost was gone. It was then that all together decided to have a look in the morning. Indeed, Godrik could find a few spots that looked like terrain marks of boars only to find moments later a small family of zombie boars. When the party stood in complete and utter darkness after the slew the boars, it was once again the ghost that brought havoc between them, possessing Rilla for just a few moments almost brought her a cleaving hit from Godrik’s sword when she sneaked up on him in the darkness and penetrated his armor from one side. Finally it was the curse of the ghost that grew boar bristles for a day in Rilla’s face and it haunted her in her dreams. Playing the memory of the ghost to his dying family that night dozens of times.
Finally the party decided to find the shadowy guise that killed these creatures and started with a bit renewed vigor (but hardly capable of carrying their equipment due to their drained essence from their earlier confrontations with the shadows). When they finally found another zone of pitch black shadows and fought their own fear they faced utter and complete evil in it. Paralyzed and unable to move they fought their fears – and confronted eight shadows that were draining first Rilla to the dark-side, afterwards it was Rilla against Surina and the remaining shadows against Godrik who managed to send several of them into nothingness before he fell…
is this a positive thing?
In my opinion a TPK can be one of the worst-case scenarios for a gaming group, it has usually a negative impact on the motivation of players and leaves a big hole in the hearts of players.
In my opinion player deaths are a key element to a campaign that has horror elements and is (at least) partiallyÂ plot driven. And I tend to use death and real danger for the characters a lot.
I think the best approach is generally when players always have to choose whether they fight or run – and only in really forced fights I tend to adjust the threat-level to the real party level. It is just so much more than kobold-hunting when one of the kobolds is a cunning mage – and it’s a lot more fun in the end when your decisions are not just made of combat encounters and the choice of the right maneouvers but the danger of death and the lethality of the game is present.
I have to admit, it is a dangerous game and one (DM) has always to be on the cautious side of keeping the spirit of your players high, but in my eyes, a heroic death can be much more rewarding than a life of neverwinter-nights :).