Dealing with the TPK

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Our last session ended with my group's party just outside the last room of a dungeon which (unbeknownst to them) contains a fairly difficult solo monster. The encounter just before said solo monster was supposed to be not that difficult, but through a combination of poor decision making on the part of the party and certain traps and terrain effects working much better than I had intended, the party got pretty badly hurt by it. Most of them now only have a single healing surge, and several of them lack their daily abilities. I am genuinely concerned that going against the solo monster as is will result in a TPK. The party was fully aware that this was a difficult dungeon going in, and are honestly just as to blame for their current state as the monsters are. I'm posting this here to ask:

Do you guys think it's a good idea to scale back the difficulty of the solo monster, even though it may result in the monster being noticeably weaker than it should be? Or should I let the party face the monster as is?

If they do face the monster as is, and a TPK does occur, has a TPK happened to any of you guys in the past? How did you guys end up dealing with it? I don't think my group will accuse me of being out to get them, but if one of them does get upset, what are ways that you guys use to get around that?  
Easy solution:  Instead of the PCs being killed when they fail their death saves/hit negative bloodied, simply declare them unconscious and out of the battle; the next game, they can wake up in the bad guys' prison or dungeon or kitchen or something and go from there.
Easy solution:  Instead of the PCs being killed when they fail their death saves/hit negative bloodied, simply declare them unconscious and out of the battle; the next game, they can wake up in the bad guys' prison or dungeon or kitchen or something and go from there.




Yeah, I was thinking about this as well. Personally, I don't think the villian I made would want to capture them, but I suppose with a little tweaking I could make it work. 
 
I am actually in an extremely similar situation with my group right now.  They are in a very untenable position in a dungeon with no clear way to rest and they see the next encounter(s) coming (They let someone get away and they raised an alarm).

I will say this in two ways.

The first is, what I think, what post people would say:
Scale down the encounter, give them a McGuffin, make a gimmick for the final encounter (rather than scaling it down) or have them not die when knocked "down and out".

The second is what is going to happen to my group if they continue to be so reckless:
They are going to TPK if the dice fall that way.  The area they are in likes them not.  They are literally there to finish killing a creature the locals revere as a god which they wounded earlier in the campaign.  The only way they won't be TPKed is if I decide to have them taken alive and offered to the hungry god they just royally pissed off.  Granted the party could live, but this situation is looking very bad for them.

I've made a point to warn my players that if they get into a bad pickle and its because they didn't think things through (didn't leave themselves an exit and then assaulted a city) that I have no problems TPKing them. 
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Do not scale back the monster. Instead, figure out a way for the PCs to fail that doesn't mean their deaths. Failure can be interesting, death usually isn't.

That's all I have time for right now.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

To TPK or not to TPK can be dependent on a host of factors.  Are these long-running PCs who the players are very attached to and would truly lament losing?  Then find a way to make their failure miserable maybe without outright killing them.  (They are cursed and are awakened 100 years later wrapped in sinewy webs, adrift on a mote in the fey wild?)

if they are new characters and your players are new/ unattached to PCs/ not taking threats seriously, then maybe this early TPK would deliver an appreciation for the lethality of their decisions.  An early TPK can sometimes instill greater decision making moving forward.  It can also be a great way to introduce a recurring villain; one that the players know is capable of heinous acts.

 It really depends on the situation, but the few times that I have perpetrated a PCs death, I made sure that it made the story more interesting.  Constant DM fiat can mitigate the feeling of a real threat and the players of suspense for their actions.  But you know probably how your players might react... Act in a way that will be the most fun for them.
Our last session ended with my group's party just outside the last room of a dungeon which (unbeknownst to them) contains a fairly difficult solo monster. The encounter just before said solo monster was supposed to be not that difficult, but through a combination of poor decision making on the part of the party and certain traps and terrain effects working much better than I had intended, the party got pretty badly hurt by it. Most of them now only have a single healing surge, and several of them lack their daily abilities. I am genuinely concerned that going against the solo monster as is will result in a TPK. The party was fully aware that this was a difficult dungeon going in, and are honestly just as to blame for their current state as the monsters are. I'm posting this here to ask:

Do you guys think it's a good idea to scale back the difficulty of the solo monster, even though it may result in the monster being noticeably weaker than it should be? Or should I let the party face the monster as is?

If they do face the monster as is, and a TPK does occur, has a TPK happened to any of you guys in the past? How did you guys end up dealing with it? I don't think my group will accuse me of being out to get them, but if one of them does get upset, what are ways that you guys use to get around that?  



What is the monster? Will it WANT to kill them immediately? Most beasts, if not hungry, actually prefer to scare things away instead of trying to murder them.

More info would be great.

However, the most important thing to remember is that if they have gotten to a point by their own decisions and you have been fair in regard to those decisions, if they come face to face with something and end up dead that is usually okay. They can always run. A retreat is a valid tactical decision. If they stand and die, that's up to them.

Do not lessen the impact and importance of their decisions. Removing the threat of a permanent loss in the game (through the removal of something unique be it an item, NPC or PC) invalidates their decisions because without real threat of failure there is nothing to actually succeed at.

EDIT: I also wanted to add, contrary to what you may be told...do NOT base your decision on how long the characters have existed or ANYTHING else meta-game like that. It is not fair. You are not there to try and teach a lesson one way or another...you are not an educator. You are a referee adjudicating. Your personal biases should not start entering into it. Can you look at the situation with more scrutiny to make sure you ARE being fair to the players? Absolutely. However, that does not mean to start trying to determine their fates based on your own prejudices.

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100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Our last session ended with my group's party just outside the last room of a dungeon which (unbeknownst to them) contains a fairly difficult solo monster. The encounter just before said solo monster was supposed to be not that difficult, but through a combination of poor decision making on the part of the party and certain traps and terrain effects working much better than I had intended, the party got pretty badly hurt by it. Most of them now only have a single healing surge, and several of them lack their daily abilities. I am genuinely concerned that going against the solo monster as is will result in a TPK. The party was fully aware that this was a difficult dungeon going in, and are honestly just as to blame for their current state as the monsters are. I'm posting this here to ask:

Do you guys think it's a good idea to scale back the difficulty of the solo monster, even though it may result in the monster being noticeably weaker than it should be? Or should I let the party face the monster as is?

If they do face the monster as is, and a TPK does occur, has a TPK happened to any of you guys in the past? How did you guys end up dealing with it? I don't think my group will accuse me of being out to get them, but if one of them does get upset, what are ways that you guys use to get around that?  



What is the monster? Will it WANT to kill them immediately? Most beasts, if not hungry, actually prefer to scare things away instead of trying to murder them.

More info would be great.

However, the most important thing to remember is that if they have gotten to a point by their own decisions and you have been fair in regard to those decisions, if they come face to face with something and end up dead that is usually okay. They can always run. A retreat is a valid tactical decision. If they stand and die, that's up to them.

Do not lessen the impact and importance of their decisions. Removing the threat of a permanent loss in the game (through the removal of something unique be it an item, NPC or PC) invalidates their decisions because without real threat of failure there is nothing to actually succeed at.

EDIT: I also wanted to add, contrary to what you may be told...do NOT base your decision on how long the characters have existed or ANYTHING else meta-game like that. It is not fair. You are not there to try and teach a lesson one way or another...you are not an educator. You are a referee adjudicating. Your personal biases should not start entering into it. Can you look at the situation with more scrutiny to make sure you ARE being fair to the players? Absolutely. However, that does not mean to start trying to determine their fates based on your own prejudices.



I enjoy your posts Yagami... I'd like to weigh in.  This particular advice is good in theory but I have found it impractical in application.  The OP, as the DM of his game, has said that the events leading up to a TPK are already set in motion.  It is going to happen unless he intervenes.  So...

He has come here asking what the repercussions of that might be, and if unsavory, to head that off.  That is what DMs do isn't it?  Of course!  They know the numbers, good or bad from behind the screen.  They know what waits in every dungeon, town and vessel.  DMs have to meta-game because they are the game, though their meta-gaming happens behind the screen, out of sight.  It is only to what degree he should help the party that he is actually inquring.

I am sure that every DMs play-style will set that benchmark at a different degree, and that is where some may disagree a little.  If the players and DM are having fun, then, I guess that way is what you would call "right". 

Too, I think it does matter if the players are new to the game or established.  Go a little easier on newbies I say.  In that, yes, the DM is an educator.  He is teaching.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking out-of-game factors into consideration when running a game.  You do it on a conscious or unconscious level all the time if you DM.
If they are to blame for the situation I wouldn't scale the encounter down. Even if only partially.

What I would do is leave an scape route opened. That way they can decide between failing the mission or dying.
A while back I came up with a way of dealing with a TPK. I gave my players these story coins that they could trade in to "break" combat if they needed, but at a cost. The idea was simple, you escape, but ... Players fill in the rest.

So it became "The drow overwhelm you, forcing you to fall back into a side chamber. You've escaped but ..."

Player: "I lost my sword in the fray. It was my father's blade. I have to get it back."

or

Player: "We couldn't escape with everyone. Our loyal retainer is in enemy hands."

or

Player: "This new chamber is dangerous. (Everyone fills in new danger)."

Game continues with new goals and new fun.

We ended up dropping the idea because, honestly, TPK's are almost non-existant in my game. If we were to get into a situation where the players feared they were going to lose, I'd probably just offer them the deal at the table, rather than requiring an actual mechanic.
When we left our game last week, my players had recklessly charged the front gate of a keep and had engaged 38 armed-to-the-teeth orcs... none of them minions.  When we departed, mid-battle, two of them were bloodied.  They are surrounded now, losing resources fast and if they continue along this course of action, they will surely be reduced to zero HP very quickly.

But will they die?  I am sure that they will not unless they foolishly decide that they want to keep doing what they are doing.  But I know my players.  They will try to bargain.  They will find some means of escape.  I could have said that most of the orcs are away on a huntng trip, but, no, they knew what they were going to be in for if they charged the front gate.  So, the challenge (and the fun) lies with what they decide to do next.  I have no idea what it will be, but if they show me that they don't want to die in glorious battle, then we will complicate their lives in another way.  Finding out what happens next is where the fun is.  Or they can decide to fight to the last man.

In that case... TPK...  
We ended up dropping the idea because, honestly, TPK's are almost non-existant in my game. If we were to get into a situation where the players feared they were going to lose, I'd probably just offer them the deal at the table, rather than requiring an actual mechanic.

Excellent. I highly recommend this.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I'm with merb101 and Centauri with this one. The players might not have been smart enough, had some bad luck; you may have selected a really tough adventure or created one, none of that matters. Run the encounter as it stands, if the TPK happens then ask the players if they want to continue. Offer a few different options, they might come up with something anyway.

Here are a few things I've been wanting to try out. You might like to give them a go.

(1) The party finds themselves in hell and have to free themselves, then fight their way out of hell.

(2) The villian turns them into undead, they need to break free of his control and find a way to regain their mortal lives.

And a few other cliche ideas.

(3) A diety, saves the party, but at a terrible price. Next quest is to play off the debt to the god.

(4) The party are captured not killed, but find themselves in some sort of prison, or food for the pantry.

In the end it will be easier to just sit down with the players and come to a joint decision as to the best course of action. 
In the end it will be easier to just sit down with the players and come to a joint decision as to the best course of action.

Yes. And I'd like to suggest that the "failure" doesn't have to follow completely logically from the apparent mechanics. Many is the story in which a group of heroes is shown facing an impossible force in one scene, and then in a later scene is shown as having escaped, entirely under their own power, though at some cost. I'm saying: don't assume that "defeat" can only mean death, capture, or rescue by a third party.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Throw back your head and laugh, rejoicing in the experience.
Encourage the players to laugh at their own expense.
Lighten the mood.

Then look at what other people have written.
Let me add this: Fade to black is a wonderful story device. There is no reason you couldn't start the action up again somewhere else and say "Wow, that was a rough situation. How did you make it out?" and let the players fill in the gap.

I had a session where I told one of the players "You are being hunted by an Treant. What did you do to piss off a tree?!?!" and he filled in the details with much crazier stuff than I ever could have come up with.
Let me add this: Fade to black is a wonderful story device. There is no reason you couldn't start the action up again somewhere else and say "Wow, that was a rough situation. How did you make it out?" and let the players fill in the gap.

I had a session where I told one of the players "You are being hunted by an Treant. What did you do to piss off a tree?!?!" and he filled in the details with much crazier stuff than I ever could have come up with.

Yes, when there's enough trust at the table that the players can declare details about the game, amazing things can happen. Players are much better at getting themselves into trouble than are DMs.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Do not scale back the monster. Instead, figure out a way for the PCs to fail that doesn't mean their deaths.

Well said. Give the players a challenge (they might surprise you). To avoid bad feelings though, make it clear though that you would be surprised if they won.

There is a term called "failing into success." It's often used to describe books like The Dresden Files or shows like Farscape where things get worse and worse for the heroes until they eventually, barely win. It is usually a victory that costs them, but at the same time grows their legend. And it usually involves a fair amount of desperation by the heroes and overconfidence by the villains.

In the end, everyone knows the heroes slew the dragon. They don't need to know it was because the powerful lich chasing the heroes exploded when the dragon accidentaly ate him.
Do not scale back the monster. Instead, figure out a way for the PCs to fail that doesn't mean their deaths.

Well said. Give the players a challenge (they might surprise you). To avoid bad feelings though, make it clear though that you would be surprised if they won.

I'm not sure I follow your last statement, but I think I agree. When both failure and success are interesting and move things forward, then the DM can pull out the stops and be in the position of allowing and encouraging player creativity, instead of acting as a governor on it.

There is a term called "failing into success." It's often used to describe books like The Dresden Files or shows like Farscape where things get worse and worse for the heroes until they eventually, barely win. It is usually a victory that costs them, but at the same time grows their legend. And it usually involves a fair amount of desperation by the heroes and overconfidence by the villains.

In the end, everyone knows the heroes slew the dragon. They don't need to know it was because the powerful lich chasing the heroes exploded when the dragon accidentaly ate him.

Most interesting stories involve repeated failures before victory. Sometimes this is done poorly, with the heroes surviving for dissatisfying reasons, but the shows we tend to love do it well, with survival in the moment not necessarily being the issue, but failure looming large.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

The TPK is a relic of D&D's DM vs. player mechanic that needs to go. Honestly, don't kill them, whatever you do. Except in very specific situations, dying is never any fun for anybody. The story and the characters are always more important than the mechanics of the game. It doesn't matter how they win (that is survive); do whatever feels least like a deus ex machina.
The TPK is a relic of D&D's DM vs. player mechanic that needs to go. Honestly, don't kill them, whatever you do. Except in very specific situations, dying is never any fun for anybody. The story and the characters are always more important than the mechanics of the game. It doesn't matter how they win; do whatever feels least like a deus ex machina.

The idea of combat as "Kill or be killed" is very pervasive. Look at your own post: you say "it doesn't matter how they win." You seem to be equating survival with victory, which is taken as a truism across the hobby. I don't think the idea of the PCs always winning will gain much traction. The key is interesting failure. PCs should fail regularly, but that failure doesn't have to be boring, and never should be.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I was equating "survival" with victory. Failure's just fine, as long as it doesn't mean a TPK that ends a campaign or an adventure for no good reason.
I was equating "survival" with victory. Failure's just fine, as long as it doesn't mean a TPK that ends a campaign or an adventure for no good reason.

What about a situation in which the PCs survive, but lose? The heroes suffered major losses in The Empire Strikes Back, but most of them survived. The same goes for lots of adventure stories: characters survive but still lose, or win but still die.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

The situation is the important factor here.

No run-of-the-mill encounter should really end in a character's death. It's anticlimactic and more often than not leads to mixed feelings around the table.

It is acceptable for the characters to survive, but lose, and it should happen when the situation calls for it. This can make for a great story and engaging roleplaying.

Winning (or losing), but dying is generally only fun or emotionally rewarding for the player if the character dies in a way that is heroic, and when the choice is made willingly. Death is almost never fun when it comes as the result of a mistake or accident, as with most TPKs.

I think all of the alternatives to the OP's potential TPK are definitely worth considering, and that includes surviving and being imprisoned, etc.
The situation is the important factor here.

No run-of-the-mill encounter should really end in a character's death. It's anticlimactic and more often than not leads to mixed feelings around the table.

Agreed. Some people have come to cope with this, by telling themselves that this is right, because following the rules led to it. This leads to them lashing out at people who don't think this is right. That's not the issue here, but it's worth mentioning.

It is acceptable for the characters to survive, but lose, and it should happen when the situation calls for it. This can make for a great story and engaging roleplaying.

Agreed. Losing still needs to be interesting, and be something to come back from, stronger than ever. Now, in D&D death can be interesting, and it need only ever be temporary for a PC, but I rarely see it handled that way. Usually groups are at their wits end as to handle death interestingly.

Again, people have learned to cope with death, by just making a new character or whatever. The problem arises when a group feels this "cheapens" death, and so gin up other factors to make death "sting."

Winning, but dying is generally only fun or emotionally rewarding for the player if the character dies in a way that is heroic, and when the choice is made willingly. Death is almost never fun when it comes as the result of a mistake or accident, as with most TPKs.

Absolutely. Death rarely looms in my games, but if it were to, it would be as an option for avoiding some kind of failure as in "You can get into position to take the shot, but risk death. Or you can make the shot, but definitely die. Still want it?"

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I was equating "survival" with victory. Failure's just fine, as long as it doesn't mean a TPK that ends a campaign or an adventure for no good reason.



Indeed.

The fact that failure almost invariably equals death has always been one of D&D's largest flaws.

What if you add some in game warnings letting them know just how tough the opponent behind that door is? You can even suggest out of game "This is a very hard fight, I suggest you rest" if they are willing to go at it let them. 


- I second the, no death just unconscious decision earlier. One of my favorite house rules.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

What if you add some in game warnings letting them know just how tough the opponent behind that door is? You can even suggest out of game "This is a very hard fight, I suggest you rest" if they are willing to go at it let them.

Iffy. What does the DM do if they are then killed and don't enjoy it? Claim it was their fault? Claim that he assumed they wanted to die?

Don't rely on players heeding warnings. Set the game up so warnings aren't necessary. Don't go easy on them, but don't make death the only way to fail, either.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

To avoid bad feelings though, make it clear though that you would be surprised if they won.

I'm not sure I follow your last statement, but I think I agree.

To clarify: a player's normal expectation in 4e is to be able to win any encounter, so set expectations by making it clear to players when they are facing an overly-powerful encounter.

To clarify: a player's normal expectation in 4e is to be able to win any encounter, so set expectations by making it clear to players when they are facing an overly-powerful encounter.

I see.

The reason for that expectation is that it's assumed that if the PCs don't win, then they have died, and it's assumed that this isn't the intention. Set up a very tough encounter in which the PCs aren't in any danger, but can't win just by killing all the monsters, and let 'er rip.

(If the players are interested in the idea, of course, but as an experiment I would hope most players would be up for it.)

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I see.

The reason for that expectation is that it's assumed that if the PCs don't win, then they have died

Good point.

I was actually thinking that (because encounters are balanced) if the players didn't win, they messed up (and thus were frustrated because they felt like losers).

Conversely, I've had players die without minding because they knew to expect it (indeed, one player's PC died every session in Gamma World, but she was ok with it because she knew it wasn't her fault... Gamma World was just a deadly environment).

But I can see your point where players may have an investment in their character.

The reason for that expectation is that it's assumed that if the PCs don't win, then they have died

Good point.

I was actually thinking that (because encounters are balanced) if the players didn't win, they messed up (and thus were frustrated because they felt like losers).

Encounter balance is not an exact science. I've seen DMs ask how they can challenge their players... but not kill them. It's a knife edge. If a DM want to challenge them, but not kill them, the only reliable way is to threaten them with failure, but not death.

One issue people people have with that is that the players might not be invested in anything besides their characters (because they assume that they'll be getting necessary treasure if they survive), and so threatening their characters is handy. But players can easily become un-invested in their characters. As shown by:

Conversely, I've had players die without minding because they knew to expect it (indeed, one player's PC died every session in Gamma World, but she was ok with it because she knew it wasn't her fault... Gamma World was just a deadly environment).



But I can see your point where players may have an investment in their character.

There's that, yeah, but death is just boring, even if the players don't care about their characters. Especially if they don't, actually.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Since I don't use the monster manual I have to have to make an educated 'guess' about how hard encounters are, which had them on the verge of defeat a few times. Because of the difficulty of weighing out an encounter I allow myself to change some factors during combat. For example: granting creatures additional HP if they seem to be dying too fast, or lower it if they are too strong. This never trivialized an encounter or made it impossible, it did balance out otherwise malfunctioning encounters.

(as a side-note: I never cheat on my damage or attack rolls, (bad) luck is part  of the game) 
Since I don't use the monster manual I have to have to make an educated 'guess' about how hard encounters are, which had them on the verge of defeat a few times. Because of the difficulty of weighing out an encounter I allow myself to change some factors during combat. For example: granting creatures additional HP if they seem to be dying too fast, or lower it if they are too strong. This never trivialized an encounter or made it impossible, it did balance out otherwise malfunctioning encounters.

Those are tried and true methods, just not the ones I prefer.

Sometime, try tossing in some tough enemies, but making the encounter about something other than the HP both sides have. Maybe make it about one side or the other trying to get to a certain location, or perform a skill challenge.

(as a side-note: I never cheat on my damage or attack rolls, (bad) luck is part  of the game)

Good on ya. But I assume that if the monster was rolling well you'd just lower its HP, wouldn't you?

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Sometime, try tossing in some tough enemies, but making the encounter about something other than the HP both sides have. Maybe make it about one side or the other trying to get to a certain location, or perform a skill challenge.

I have combats containing both these concepts, though I still have much to learn. This is the main reason I registered; I get to run ideas I have or had by more experienced players and hopefully contribute something aswell.

I had an encounter where the group needed to escape from kobold-infested tunnels, litteraly plowing their way through and endless stream of minions in a 20feet wide tunnel (I had decided on a distance they needed to travel, which was a choke-point they could block by knocking down some supports). I also had the minions roll a d6 to hit, with a high static modifier, the goal of this was to have less 'spread' on the attack rolls. This meant that PCs with high defenses would take little or no damage while low-AC targets would get hit most of the time. In they end they naturally formed a defensive perimeter around the 'weaker' characters, and each turn they would clear out some minions (cleave proved to be invaluable) and move forward a few steps.

Good on ya. But I assume that if the monster was rolling well you'd just lower its HP, wouldn't you?

I thought about this, and I wouldn't be able to give an educated answer to this question. Maybe I do, and if I do I am aware this is just as much cheating as changing their attack and damage-rolls. But somehow, for poor old subjective me, this feels different.
Sometime, try tossing in some tough enemies, but making the encounter about something other than the HP both sides have. Maybe make it about one side or the other trying to get to a certain location, or perform a skill challenge.

I have combats containing both these concepts, though I still have much to learn. This is the main reason I registered; I get to run ideas I have or had by more experienced players and hopefully contribute something aswell.

Good plan. I'm no expert myself, but I've had good succes so far.

In they end they naturally formed a defensive perimeter around the 'weaker' characters, and each turn they would clear out some minions (cleave proved to be invaluable) and move forward a few steps.

Cool scene. Consider, though, the amount of adjustment you had to consider, regarding the attack rolls. And what if the PCs hadn't hit on this protective perimeter idea?

Good on ya. But I assume that if the monster was rolling well you'd just lower its HP, wouldn't you?

I thought about this, and I wouldn't be able to give an educated answer to this question. Maybe I do, and if I do I am aware this is just as much cheating as changing their attack and damage-rolls. But somehow, for poor old subjective me, this feels different.

Ok. I understand the desire to fudge. If you're hoping to get away from having to fudge, or to otherwise rescue the PCs from your or their mistakes, you can find advice here.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I am grateful for the feedback I got so far, thanks!

EDIT: The perimeter formed naturally when the more fragile party members got low on the ol' HP, with the defenders still having tons, so I imagine in most cases this will work out. 
I know that this stance is not touted much on here these days, but I believe that the threat of a TPK or of a character's death offers the players a level of suspense, that to remove from the game, cheats them out of some emotional investment.

if the players know that there is no threat, why even engage in a combat?   I mean really... There has to be some balance.
I know that this stance is not touted much on here these days, but I believe that the threat of a TPK or of a character's death offers the players a level of suspense, that to remove from the game, cheats them out of some emotional investment.

You'd think, but that turns out not to be the case. Try it sometime.

if the players know that there is no threat, why even engage in a combat?   I mean really... There has to be some balance.

There is a threat: of failure. And emotional investment can't be forced. If players don't want to feel it, they won't, regardless of the threat. If they do, then they will, regardless of the threat.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I know that this stance is not touted much on here these days, but I believe that the threat of a TPK or of a character's death offers the players a level of suspense, that to remove from the game, cheats them out of some emotional investment.

You'd think, but that turns out not to be the case. Try it sometime.

if the players know that there is no threat, why even engage in a combat?   I mean really... There has to be some balance.

There is a threat: of failure. And emotional investment can't be forced. If players don't want to feel it, they won't, regardless of the threat. If they do, then they will, regardless of the threat.




My posit was not hypothetical.  And though we go round and round sometimes, I actually engage my players for ideas about the campaign, just probably not to the degree that you may.  If a scenario comes up where my players really get in over their heads, I don't think I am robbing them of fun by letting them know "ok... You know that your characters are not really in any danger don't you?"

I don't challenge my players with the threat of death with every encounter... One in a dozen it might happen maybe.  But if the knowledge that it could happen is there, well, that changes their decision making.  

Your request of me was to try it.  My response is, I do.  But I mix it up.  What if at your table one night you had the BBEG really go after your players and with bloodlust tried to destroy them, just because he is ruthless.  What new emotions would your players suddenly be feeling?  Just shake the collaborative storytelling session up one night.  Try it sometime.