Non-TPK Story Lines

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After reading the other thread on TPKs and seeing a few DMs offer up some plot hooks that might occur instead if a TPK, I thought it might be nice to throw together a few of them for DMs in need.

Here are a few that popped into my brain:
You wake up to the sound of chanting to find another group of adventurers attempting to dispell the petrification that has consumed your bodies. Unchecked, the BBEG has run wild in the world and it is now a far more desolate place than it once was. Weaker heroes seek the legendary champions of old to join them in a time of dire need.



Your body rattles and shakes as you become aware of the guarded caravan in which you ride. Shackles bind you and you immediately recognize the insignia of slave traders on the men around you. In he distance looms The Arena where you are destined. You will spend the last of your days fighting, unless you can find an escape.


As the axe blade plummets toward your head everything is suddenly frozen and you feel yourself pulled, as if by your very soul. You find yourself in an unknown place before a group of robed figures. The whisper vague notions of the future, and that your time is not yet done. 
After reading the other thread on TPKs and seeing a few DMs offer up some plot hooks that might occur instead if a TPK, I thought it might be nice to throw together a few of them for DMs in need.

Your examples seem to assume that the characters lost due to being physically overcome. That's not necessary, and more than likely to cause aggravation.

The king and his assassin lie dead at your feet. You weren't fast enough to save the noble, and some spell ended the life of the assassin before he could be questioned. Those who aren't weeping are looking at you with angry eyes. Some protectors. But perhaps there's still time to save the heir apparent.

You fight your way into the chamber as the last words of the ritual are uttered. Darkness gushes out of the well like a noxious wind, to pour out over the land. The lich cackles as he ascends to demi-godhood before your eyes, leaving you to try to survive this new, blasted world, long enough at least to find a way to take the fight to your nemesis once more

Your shots go wide, and the kobold chops through the last rope, before legging it. Looks like it's the long way around.

Generally, enemy has something to take or destroy. If they do that, the PCs lose and the game continues, with consequences. Saruman won at the Redhorn Gate. The Empire won when it froze Han. Cobra won when they assembled whatever the weapon of the week was. But the stories continued, with consequences.

But, this has to be considered up front. Consider the possibility that the PCs will lose, and prepare for that. Don't expect them to win, and then have to pull their bacon out. That's not likely to be appreciated.

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

Stuff



So if I'm understanding this straight, it is "likely to cause aggravation" and therefore undesirable for the PCs to be in a situation where they can lose a combat situation?

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

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

After reading the other thread on TPKs and seeing a few DMs offer up some plot hooks that might occur instead if a TPK, I thought it might be nice to throw together a few of them for DMs in need.

Your examples seem to assume that the characters lost due to being physically overcome. That's not necessary, and more than likely to cause aggravation.

The king and his assassin lie dead at your feet. You weren't fast enough to save the noble, and some spell ended the life of the assassin before he could be questioned. Those who aren't weeping are looking at you with angry eyes. Some protectors. But perhaps there's still time to save the heir apparent.

You fight your way into the chamber as the last words of the ritual are uttered. Darkness gushes out of the well like a noxious wind, to pour out over the land. The lich cackles as he ascends to demi-godhood before your eyes, leaving you to try to survive this new, blasted world, long enough at least to find a way to take the fight to your nemesis once more

Your shots go wide, and the kobold chops through the last rope, before legging it. Looks like it's the long way around.

Generally, enemy has something to take or destroy. If they do that, the PCs lose and the game continues, with consequences. Saruman won at the Redhorn Gate. The Empire won when it froze Han. Cobra won when they assembled whatever the weapon of the week was. But the stories continued, with consequences.

But, this has to be considered up front. Consider the possibility that the PCs will lose, and prepare for that. Don't expect them to win, and then have to pull their bacon out. That's not likely to be appreciated.



I have great appreciation for the fact that you bring a different view to things. I specifically stated this was designed to help turn a tpk into a story/plot hook. So rather than coming in and posting something along those line, your post seems to just say tpks are stupid? I dont really get what your post was meant to do aside from degrade the initial direction of the thread.

If I wrong, please fill me in, because Im really not sure what you're trying to say and would rather not jump to conclussions. 
Bohrdumb, just delete this thread. The TPK  and character death debate, will just shift from the last thread to yours. I've considered starting a thread like this before, but it's just going to create a battle. It's a good idea your thread in theory, but people on this forum can't do it without going off topic or going at each other.
Centauri is saying the "instead of TPK" doesn't have to mean "still knocked out/beaten down." It can be looked at as a more arbitrary measure of success or defeat. In your examples, which are fine, the characters instead of being killed are knocked out, moved to another place, another situation. They wake up and the game resumes. In Centauri's there is no unconcious, they simply now have a consequence of their failure and a new goal.

Both are fine, just different.
I know what I'm trying hardest to do as a DM is to get the party to perceive the danger that they are in and at least feel the threat of death as a real possibility so that their actions have greater consequence. Obviously I don't want them to die, and I can certainly cook up alternative means of defeat from time to time in the manner centauri suggests, but I'm a newbie, what if I try to make an encounter threatening but I do too good a job, or things go so totally wrong that the party stands on the brink of death? I've seen centauri advocate not getting bogged down by the fight mechanics toward explaining the conditions of defeat, but I know I have a hard time getting around the result of the entire party being knocked unconscious and just explaining it away, having them all miraculously escape but fail their mission would seem cheap in some situations; if the goal of the enemy was not to kill them then fine, but it can't always work, and so I don't see a reason to dismiss the "physically overcome" sort of defeats out of hand. The players will be aggravated, well they lost, it shouldn't be inconsequential, and the frustration now makes the eventual success all the sweeter.

I came up with an idea for possible alternative to TPK because I was new and thought I might gum up the works somehow and get my party killed, seemed like a reasonable concern for an inexperienced DM, furthermore I had players with virtually no 4th edition experience and their early encounters certainly showed the potential for failure Cool.

The essential idea was that the heroes would awaken to find themselves revived and indebted to a witch. If I determined it was my fault the players had died, then the witch would just make some vague threat about eventually collecting on her debt and make for a later plot hook, and the mission the characters were on could still be completed. If the encounter had been fair and still resulted in defeat, then they would have to pay their debt then and there, with the current quest failed, kobolds run amok, hostages experimented on, whatever the case may be. The players would then have to embark on a morally compromising quest for this evil witch before she would release them to go on with their lives. Obviously I would have to gauge how game for this sort of thing the players are, but I know my group and they would go along with it and enjoy the chance to be slightly evil knowing that the witch would eventually get her comeuppance, other groups would utterly reject this sort of thing. Perhaps much later the heroes would encounter a group of evil adventurers only to discover that they were enslaved by the witch just as the players had been earlier. I suppose at the end of the day my alternative is similar to centauri's, the mission is failed and the new path is less pleasant.

Different players would react differently, I know my group wouldn't appreciate DM fiat saving them from death or cruising along with no threat at all. I have played games where we don't ever die or lose and its boring, I want the players to feel like they can try and run away from unfavorable encounters if things have gone poorly for them. I want the players to be thinking about preventing the TPK so I don't have to, and if there is no threat then why would they ever think that? The only aggravation I've ever seen over defeat was when it was done in a cheap manner, instant death or cheesy mechanics that they did not have ample opportunity to avoid, getting stuck on the railroad tracks and run down. I have faith in the players not to poo-poo everything and I don't need to coddle them.
I have great appreciation for the fact that you bring a different view to things. I specifically stated this was designed to help turn a tpk into a story/plot hook. So rather than coming in and posting something along those line, your post seems to just say tpks are stupid? I dont really get what your post was meant to do aside from degrade the initial direction of the thread.

I did not understand from your original wording that the point was to turn a tpk into a story/plot hook, though now I realize that's what your examples were intended to do.

If I wrong, please fill me in, because Im really not sure what you're trying to say and would rather not jump to conclussions.

Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt.

I was assuming that TPKs are undesireable. If they weren't, then people would just accept the outcome, and not feel a need to avoid or mitigate them. So, instead of the approach (seen as unsatisfying by some) of pulling the PCs back from death through a contrivance, I thought I'd show some examples of the approach of avoiding those deaths entirely, by making the consequences of failure non-lethal.

Centauri is saying the "instead of TPK" doesn't have to mean "still knocked out/beaten down." It can be looked at as a more arbitrary measure of success or defeat. In your examples, which are fine, the characters instead of being killed are knocked out, moved to another place, another situation. They wake up and the game resumes. In Centauri's there is no unconcious, they simply now have a consequence of their failure and a new goal.

Both are fine, just different.

A "ha ha not really" death scene can be unsatisfying, and I'd be surprised if anyone who was given one didn't at least have mixed feelings about it. Haven't we all seen movies in which the character should have died, but was brought back through incredible luck, or had their bacon saved by some other character? Haven't we all thought, at least a little, that such a character is a little less of a hero? That's the definition of deprotagonization, and it needn't be the penalty for failure. Isn't it generally preferable for the heros to succeed or fail on their own, and especially great to see them struggle on despite failure, and recover from it on their own?

I know what I'm trying hardest to do as a DM is to get the party to perceive the danger that they are in and at least feel the threat of death as a real possibility so that their actions have greater consequence. Obviously I don't want them to die, and I can certainly cook up alternative means of defeat from time to time in the manner centauri suggests,

This is the classic dilemma: the desire to threaten them with death, but no desire for them to die. This has to be resolved: either we have to want them to die (as some do), or we have to threaten them with something else.

but I'm a newbie, what if I try to make an encounter threatening but I do too good a job, or things go so totally wrong that the party stands on the brink of death?

Exactly, and if you make an authentically challenging encounter, then you must teeter on the edge of their failure, and you must be prepared for it. That's what Bohrdumb and I are both after, it's just that death and capture have some serious (for a game) issues surrounding them, and I feel that they're best avoided, unless the players are entirely bought into them.

Why wouldn't players in a game in which characters can die be bought into their characters dying? I don't know. Some just are, some just aren't. If you and yours aren't, then you have to find a failure mode you can buy into.

I've seen centauri advocate not getting bogged down by the fight mechanics toward explaining the conditions of defeat, but I know I have a hard time getting around the result of the entire party being knocked unconscious and just explaining it away, having them all miraculously escape but fail their mission would seem cheap in some situations;

It's not miraculous, unless you don't leave yourself any options. If you've knocked them all out, you've taken away most of your options. If, after every time you knock someone out, you ask "You can escape, and lose," (with whatever "escape" and "lose" mean in that scenario), then they can get away in a non-miraculous way and fail their mission. I can see how that might be dissatisfying for both players and DMs, and not actually prevent TPKs. For instance, players might just want to see if the DM will actually let them all die.

Or you can set up encounters in which the monsters don't need and don't directly benefit from the PCs deaths. Look at the examples above: an assassin squad that knocked out all of the PCs doesn't need to kill them, nor does the lich who is now a god, or the kobold who just took out the bridge. They've won. Yes, the heroes are alive to try to reverse that victory, but they might not be able to simply perform a ritual to do so.

if the goal of the enemy was not to kill them then fine, but it can't always work,

It almost always can.

and so I don't see a reason to dismiss the "physically overcome" sort of defeats out of hand.

Because resorting to them just because one doesn't see any other, more interesting way to hand the PCs a failure is no reason to resort to boring failure.

Bohrdumb is trying to make the failure interesting, by finding ways for the story to continue despite death. I get that, and fortunately in a fantasy game we have that option. I'm trying to do the same thing, but from the angle of avoiding death, so that when players are bought into the idea of their characters dying, it can have heroic significance.

The players will be aggravated, well they lost, it shouldn't be inconsequential, and the frustration now makes the eventual success all the sweeter.

Yes, I'm all for failure, just not boring failure. Bohrdumb's ideas aren't boring, but what if they happened a lot? Wouldn't players start to wonder how they were going to be "saved" this time?

I came up with an idea for possible alternative to TPK because I was new and thought I might gum up the works somehow and get my party killed, seemed like a reasonable concern for an inexperienced DM, furthermore I had players with virtually no 4th edition experience and their early encounters certainly showed the potential for failure Cool.

It's good that you kept that in mind.

I suppose at the end of the day my alternative is similar to centauri's, the mission is failed and the new path is less pleasant.

While still retaining the physical defeat. It's a reasonable approach, but how many times can one reuse it?

Different players would react differently, I know my group wouldn't appreciate DM fiat saving them from death or cruising along with no threat at all.

Fortunately no one is proposing anything like that.

I have played games where we don't ever die or lose and its boring, I want the players to feel like they can try and run away from unfavorable encounters if things have gone poorly for them.

You're new, so you should be warned: players hate running away. Don't count on them doing it. They'd rather make it the DM's job to keep the game fun, despite defeat.

Along those same lines, don't bet on them reaching the same conclusion as you that a given fight was "fair" and that defeat was "their fault."

I want the players to be thinking about preventing the TPK so I don't have to, and if there is no threat then why would they ever think that?

Because why would someone want to end the game by killing the characters? Yeah, people can make new characters, but not those same ones. In the context of a roleplaying game, it's really a bit odd to believe that the DM would want to bring everything to a grinding halt. This is especially the case in a game based on heroics.

The only aggravation I've ever seen over defeat was when it was done in a cheap manner, instant death or cheesy mechanics that they did not have ample opportunity to avoid, getting stuck on the railroad tracks and run down. I have faith in the players not to poo-poo everything and I don't need to coddle them.

Right, don't coddle them. They can and should fail. But failure doesn't need to mean death. Yes, sometimes death is dramatic and appropriate, and the players are bought in. Then death is ok, and you probably don't even have to resort to bringing them back, because everyone's ready for it.

When players are not ready for it, they will fight it tooth and nail, and not just within the rules. I can't be the only one who has been in an argument with someone over a rule interpretation, which is intensified by the fact that a characters' survival hangs in the balance. Yeah, ok, sure, don't game with crybabies, or whatever, but let's be real: death or capture of a character has connotations that no other states in the game have. Death, aside from deus ex machina, means a screeching halt to, at best, the character and at worst, the game. This isn't chess, where you just set the pieces back up again. Death in D&D has issues, and they can get personal. Capture, without player buy in, is generally just insulting, and full of DM blocks on player ideas.

If your players are bought in, you can do anything, even a full-stop TPK. Fine. Go for it. If you can't get buy-in for that, look for approaches that they might buy into, and talk to them about those.

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

This is the classic dilemma: the desire to threaten them with death, but no desire for them to die. This has to be resolved: either we have to want them to die (as some do), or we have to threaten them with something else.



I don't see why you see it so black and white as what we "have to" do

While still retaining the physical defeat. It's a reasonable approach, but how many times can one reuse it?



It's just there as the backup plan, if I had to use it, I would have to do things differently after that, but the idea is that things went wrong and at least they aren't all killed, I could see how the players handled it and have a better idea what to have prepared for the next potential calamity, so there was no intent to use it multiple times

I would respond more but getting multi-response to work on these forums is more work than I have time for just now
I have great appreciation for the fact that you bring a different view to things. I specifically stated this was designed to help turn a tpk into a story/plot hook. So rather than coming in and posting something along those line, your post seems to just say tpks are stupid? I dont really get what your post was meant to do aside from degrade the initial direction of the thread.

I did not understand from your original wording that the point was to turn a tpk into a story/plot hook, though now I realize that's what your examples were intended to do.

If I wrong, please fill me in, because Im really not sure what you're trying to say and would rather not jump to conclussions.

Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt.

I was assuming that TPKs are undesireable. If they weren't, then people would just accept the outcome, and not feel a need to avoid or mitigate them. So, instead of the approach (seen as unsatisfying by some) of pulling the PCs back from death through a contrivance, I thought I'd show some examples of the approach of avoiding those deaths entirely, by making the consequences of failure non-lethal.

Centauri is saying the "instead of TPK" doesn't have to mean "still knocked out/beaten down." It can be looked at as a more arbitrary measure of success or defeat. In your examples, which are fine, the characters instead of being killed are knocked out, moved to another place, another situation. They wake up and the game resumes. In Centauri's there is no unconcious, they simply now have a consequence of their failure and a new goal.

Both are fine, just different.

A "ha ha not really" death scene can be unsatisfying, and I'd be surprised if anyone who was given one didn't at least have mixed feelings about it. Haven't we all seen movies in which the character should have died, but was brought back through incredible luck, or had their bacon saved by some other character? Haven't we all thought, at least a little, that such a character is a little less of a hero? That's the definition of deprotagonization, and it needn't be the penalty for failure. Isn't it generally preferable for the heros to succeed or fail on their own, and especially great to see them struggle on despite failure, and recover from it on their own?

I know what I'm trying hardest to do as a DM is to get the party to perceive the danger that they are in and at least feel the threat of death as a real possibility so that their actions have greater consequence. Obviously I don't want them to die, and I can certainly cook up alternative means of defeat from time to time in the manner centauri suggests,

This is the classic dilemma: the desire to threaten them with death, but no desire for them to die. This has to be resolved: either we have to want them to die (as some do), or we have to threaten them with something else.

but I'm a newbie, what if I try to make an encounter threatening but I do too good a job, or things go so totally wrong that the party stands on the brink of death?

Exactly, and if you make an authentically challenging encounter, then you must teeter on the edge of their failure, and you must be prepared for it. That's what Bohrdumb and I are both after, it's just that death and capture have some serious (for a game) issues surrounding them, and I feel that they're best avoided, unless the players are entirely bought into them.

Why wouldn't players in a game in which characters can die be bought into their characters dying? I don't know. Some just are, some just aren't. If you and yours aren't, then you have to find a failure mode you can buy into.

I've seen centauri advocate not getting bogged down by the fight mechanics toward explaining the conditions of defeat, but I know I have a hard time getting around the result of the entire party being knocked unconscious and just explaining it away, having them all miraculously escape but fail their mission would seem cheap in some situations;

It's not miraculous, unless you don't leave yourself any options. If you've knocked them all out, you've taken away most of your options. If, after every time you knock someone out, you ask "You can escape, and lose," (with whatever "escape" and "lose" mean in that scenario), then they can get away in a non-miraculous way and fail their mission. I can see how that might be dissatisfying for both players and DMs, and not actually prevent TPKs. For instance, players might just want to see if the DM will actually let them all die.

Or you can set up encounters in which the monsters don't need and don't directly benefit from the PCs deaths. Look at the examples above: an assassin squad that knocked out all of the PCs doesn't need to kill them, nor does the lich who is now a god, or the kobold who just took out the bridge. They've won. Yes, the heroes are alive to try to reverse that victory, but they might not be able to simply perform a ritual to do so.

if the goal of the enemy was not to kill them then fine, but it can't always work,

It almost always can.

and so I don't see a reason to dismiss the "physically overcome" sort of defeats out of hand.

Because resorting to them just because one doesn't see any other, more interesting way to hand the PCs a failure is no reason to resort to boring failure.

Bohrdumb is trying to make the failure interesting, by finding ways for the story to continue despite death. I get that, and fortunately in a fantasy game we have that option. I'm trying to do the same thing, but from the angle of avoiding death, so that when players are bought into the idea of their characters dying, it can have heroic significance.

The players will be aggravated, well they lost, it shouldn't be inconsequential, and the frustration now makes the eventual success all the sweeter.

Yes, I'm all for failure, just not boring failure. Bohrdumb's ideas aren't boring, but what if they happened a lot? Wouldn't players start to wonder how they were going to be "saved" this time?

I came up with an idea for possible alternative to TPK because I was new and thought I might gum up the works somehow and get my party killed, seemed like a reasonable concern for an inexperienced DM, furthermore I had players with virtually no 4th edition experience and their early encounters certainly showed the potential for failure Cool.

It's good that you kept that in mind.

I suppose at the end of the day my alternative is similar to centauri's, the mission is failed and the new path is less pleasant.

While still retaining the physical defeat. It's a reasonable approach, but how many times can one reuse it?

Different players would react differently, I know my group wouldn't appreciate DM fiat saving them from death or cruising along with no threat at all.

Fortunately no one is proposing anything like that.

I have played games where we don't ever die or lose and its boring, I want the players to feel like they can try and run away from unfavorable encounters if things have gone poorly for them.

You're new, so you should be warned: players hate running away. Don't count on them doing it. They'd rather make it the DM's job to keep the game fun, despite defeat.

Along those same lines, don't bet on them reaching the same conclusion as you that a given fight was "fair" and that defeat was "their fault."

I want the players to be thinking about preventing the TPK so I don't have to, and if there is no threat then why would they ever think that?

Because why would someone want to end the game by killing the characters? Yeah, people can make new characters, but not those same ones. In the context of a roleplaying game, it's really a bit odd to believe that the DM would want to bring everything to a grinding halt. This is especially the case in a game based on heroics.

The only aggravation I've ever seen over defeat was when it was done in a cheap manner, instant death or cheesy mechanics that they did not have ample opportunity to avoid, getting stuck on the railroad tracks and run down. I have faith in the players not to poo-poo everything and I don't need to coddle them.

Right, don't coddle them. They can and should fail. But failure doesn't need to mean death. Yes, sometimes death is dramatic and appropriate, and the players are bought in. Then death is ok, and you probably don't even have to resort to bringing them back, because everyone's ready for it.

When players are not ready for it, they will fight it tooth and nail, and not just within the rules. I can't be the only one who has been in an argument with someone over a rule interpretation, which is intensified by the fact that a characters' survival hangs in the balance. Yeah, ok, sure, don't game with crybabies, or whatever, but let's be real: death or capture of a character has connotations that no other states in the game have. Death, aside from deus ex machina, means a screeching halt to, at best, the character and at worst, the game. This isn't chess, where you just set the pieces back up again. Death in D&D has issues, and they can get personal. Capture, without player buy in, is generally just insulting, and full of DM blocks on player ideas.

If your players are bought in, you can do anything, even a full-stop TPK. Fine. Go for it. If you can't get buy-in for that, look for approaches that they might buy into, and talk to them about those.




I like the new Centauri.

      
This is the classic dilemma: the desire to threaten them with death, but no desire for them to die. This has to be resolved: either we have to want them to die (as some do), or we have to threaten them with something else.

I don't see why you see it so black and white as what we "have to" do

Ok, it's slightly more complicated, I was just simplifying, because the border between "challenging but not lethal" and "impossible and lethal," is extremely narrow. Therefore, if DMs want to challenge the players, DMs have to be prepared to kill the characters. That's fine, except for the other horn of the dilemma, which is that some DMs don't want to kill their characters.

I don't think every DM becoming callous toward character death is really going to work, and I don't think DMs aren't going to want to challenge their players, so I conclude that removing the "lethal" so that the narrow border is now between "challenging" and "impossible" is one of our few options. The others are making death interesting, which I find questionable and not all that workable, and fudging dice.

While still retaining the physical defeat. It's a reasonable approach, but how many times can one reuse it?

It's just there as the backup plan, if I had to use it, I would have to do things differently after that, but the idea is that things went wrong and at least they aren't all killed, I could see how the players handled it and have a better idea what to have prepared for the next potential calamity, so there was no intent to use it multiple times

Yes, I don't think death is probably common enough in most games to need too many backup options.

What continually perplexes me is that D&D doesn't offer much if any advice on "backup options," despite how easy it is for challenging encounters to go bad. Actually, the one place they do talk about what to do about failure is in the skill challenge section, which strongly advises failure to be something that allows the story to continue. That's what put me on the idea of interesting failure for combat. Why should it be possible in one case, but not the other? And if it's okay to slam the door on the adventure in combat, why wouldn't we be okay doing the same out of combat?

I like the new Centauri.

I don't see a difference.

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

I just like Centauri in general. The guy not only sticks to his guns but is willing to explain his views. He also doesn't take aggressive deconstruction of his ideas as personal attacks.

Also, as a general observation, I keep seeing things about "wanting" players to experience the fear of death but not actually wanting to kill them. The enemy in this case, and in many cases, is neither the death nor the fear of it...but the WANT. The DM "wanting" something causes many problems. If the DM is not invested in WHETHER OR NOT the players live or die automatically creates the fear of death because the DM is acting in a neutral manner. Instead of playing ones desires against themselves (live but fear dying, my PCs!) you need simply remove those desires.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

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

Ok, so in general I think it's better to have encounters in the way that Centauri suggests, where failure =/= being physically overcome.  That said, in my own game, and even in an ideal DnD world, there will probably be some encounters that a DM will want to use where it's blast and win or blast and lose.  If we're dealing with the latter type of encounter, a lot of avoiding a TPK will be situational, but here's a few that I've had planned in the case that PCs couldn't defeat whoever was standing in their way:

The PCs wake up hours after the fact.  They've been left for dead and whoever/whatever it was that they were searching for is long gone.  The lost BBEG, MacGuffin, whatever is still attainable, but it's more complicated now, though the PCs may have the element of surpise, considering that team monster thinks they're dead.

The PCs are imprisoned.  It's been done and done and done, but it's compelling.  This is, of course, assuming that team monster has a reason to keep the PCs around -- they're needed for a blood ritual, they will have an eye taken out that's intended for another owner at a prison colony (thank you Chris Perkins), or they're awaiting trial for high treason.

The PCs are now undead, but through a sheer force of will have retained their humanity.  They must fight against their most base urges while they seek a way to undue the horrors that they have become.

The BBEG and the PCs actually have a goal in common, and the BBEG will return their equipment, outfit them further, and help them to achieve that goal.  In the meantime, there's been a curse placed on the PCs that disallows them from striking the BBEG or any of his minions.  Ouch. 
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />The PCs are now undead, but through a sheer force of will have retained their humanity.  They must fight against their most base urges while they seek a way to undue the horrors that they have become.



Quite like that. Very nice.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

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

That said, in my own game, and even in an ideal DnD world, there will probably be some encounters that a DM will want to use where it's blast and win or blast and lose.

I'm not clear what this means.

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

That said, in my own game, and even in an ideal DnD world, there will probably be some encounters that a DM will want to use where it's blast and win or blast and lose.

I'm not clear what this means.



I think the suggestion is that sometimes, enemies just want you dead. As a matter of fact, I think you would find far fewer instances in movies of the bas guys not killing the heroes and instead focusing on their alternate goal, if the bad guys had better aim.

Kill or be killed makes sense as the most common scenario.


Also, Cent, you quoted me on a bunch of stuff I did not write. No biggie, but wanted to point it out so the original author got credit.
That said, in my own game, and even in an ideal DnD world, there will probably be some encounters that a DM will want to use where it's blast and win or blast and lose.

I'm not clear what this means.



As Bohrdumb says, I think that sometimes success should = physically overpowering your opponent and failure = being physically overpowered.  Let's use a vampire as an example.  The PCs have had a number of encounters with the vampire, they've saved Nina Harken, they failed to save Lucy, or whomever, and the storyline has progressed to a point where the PCs really want to kill this thing.  There may still be a clock involved -- the PCs have to conduct a ritual or use a magical item that will stop the vampire from assuming an ethereal form, but at the heart of it, the PCs will succeed only when the unholy blood-sucker is dead-dead as opposed to undead-dead.
I think the suggestion is that sometimes, enemies just want you dead. As a matter of fact, I think you would find far fewer instances in movies of the bas guys not killing the heroes and instead focusing on their alternate goal, if the bad guys had better aim.

This sounds sort of like you think that the heroes should just be shot dead in the middle of the movie sometimes. I assume that's not what you mean, but I'd appreciate understanding what you mean.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you might also be alluding to the fact that in real life people don't always die in interesting ways at appropriate times, and are also implying that it's therefore okay for PCs to die in boring ways at any given time. I will grant that some people have decided that they're okay with that, for the sake of realism. I think there are plenty of people who would prefer and interesting game and an interesting story to realism for realism's sake.

Kill or be killed makes sense as the most common scenario.

No, it doesn't, because it can be assumed that we're trying to have an enjoyable time playing a game, and "be killed" is not conducive to the game continuing in an enjoyable way. If it was, we wouldn't have to come up with far-fetched methods or simplistic rationalizations to make death an enjoyable part of the game, it would be enjoyable out of the box.

As Bohrdumb says, I think that sometimes success should = physically overpowering your opponent and failure = being physically overpowered.

Yes, when (as your example shows) you're either at the end of the game, or failure would otherwise be interesting.

Let's use a vampire as an example.  The PCs have had a number of encounters with the vampire,

Why didn't they die then? In a book, it's because the author didn't want them to, and provided plausible reasons for them not to, often a larger plan by the monster. In a game, in which "kill or be killed" is supposed to be the most common scenario, either the PCs are killed in that early encounter (boring), or they kill the monster in the early encounter (boring), or the monster flees. Why would it flee before killing the PCs? There's usually no reason, unless the DM has given the creature alternate goals. Usually that's not done, so instead of the example you provide, the players would encounter the vampires spawn or followers. We're already off the track of how a D&D adventure "commonly" goes.

they've saved Nina Harken,

Mina Harker? In the most well known book about a vampire, she's wasn't saved until the end. But look at what you've done: you've given an example of an alternate goal for the PCs, one they (according to you) could accomplish without killing the creature. They could also have failed this goal without being killed, as you go on to show.

they failed to save Lucy, or whomever,

Wait: they failed? Why are they still alive?

and the storyline has progressed to a point where the PCs really want to kill this thing.

They didn't want to kill it at the beginning? I don't see why not. I will concede that it didn't want to kill them at the beginning, otherwise the storyline would not have "progressed," at least not with those characters.

There may still be a clock involved -- the PCs have to conduct a ritual or use a magical item that will stop the vampire from assuming an ethereal form, but at the heart of it, the PCs will succeed only when the unholy blood-sucker is dead-dead as opposed to undead-dead.

Right, but that's not my point here. Alternate goals for PCs are good, but yeah, usually they just want to kill things and should be allowed to. My point here is that if these characters lose, it's not a TPK. They might lose one member (assuming the vampire's target is a PC), and they'll certainly lose some NPCs, but they themselves can lose utterly and still live. Granted, if we're talking about a game, they might get to try again, but the world has changed. Maybe now there are two vampires, or hundreds. Or the vampire has acquired an immunity, or relocated to a dangerous area. Whatever, something interesting. Interesting. And plausible, and not a deus ex machina or a tired cliche.

One thing I'm okay with, that I think can work reasonably well, and repeatedly, is for characters to die and for the next group to have to deal with their failure. For instance, you could make a pretty awesome adventure with a group on a ship carrying crates of soil. Some NPCs start disappearing, and soon the PCs are fighting for their lives against a very powerful undead creature. Maybe they do their best to sink or scuttle the ship, but the creature prevents them, and finally wins. The crew is all dead, and the players slip right into their back-up characters, a group investigating the strange behavior of one of their friends. This also takes some preparation, as well as a strong expectation (which I don't think is common in D&D) that the players will fail.

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

@Centauri, yes I listed previous encounters to show that in general I think that having success or failure measured in ways that do not equal physically overpowering or being overpowered by team monster.  Still, there will be -- and I think should be, at least in my own game -- encounters that are based around that fact.

Yes, Mina Harker was saved near the end of the book, but the very end of Dracula has Dracula being killed.  At that point in the narrative, the story is near its resolution and is begging for the BBEG to be destroyed. 
@Centauri, yes I listed previous encounters to show that in general I think that having success or failure measured in ways that do not equal physically overpowering or being overpowered by team monster.  Still, there will be -- and I think should be, at least in my own game -- encounters that are based around that fact.

Right, but look: the game doesn't give us anything to go on for how to handle the characters losing such an encounter and being wiped out. Yes, it's a game, and games just end and you just start over, but role-playing games are somewhat different, aren't they?

Yes, Mina Harker was saved near the end of the book, but the very end of Dracula has Dracula being killed.  At that point in the narrative, the story is near its resolution and is begging for the BBEG to be destroyed.

"At that point in the narrative." There is no narrative in a game. The rules of combat don't care how close you are to the "resolution" of the game, and exciting, appropriate death scenes, for either PCs or villains are not going arise on their own.

If Dracula were a game, and Dracula won at the end, there'd be no need for any of these Non-TPK Story Lines. He won, they lost, cool story, lets do something else. But the monsters without longterm goals and reasons not to kill the PCs don't always win "at the end," they can win at any time, even when it's completely unsatisfying.

In my zeal, I'm seem like I'm saying "don't kill the characters." What I'm saying is "don't kill the characters if you're just going to gin up reasons for them to be brought back." Thank you for making me clarify that.

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

@Centauri, yes I listed previous encounters to show that in general I think that having success or failure measured in ways that do not equal physically overpowering or being overpowered by team monster.  Still, there will be -- and I think should be, at least in my own game -- encounters that are based around that fact.

Right, but look: the game doesn't give us anything to go on for how to handle the characters losing such an encounter and being wiped out. Yes, it's a game, and games just end and you just start over, but role-playing games are somewhat different, aren't they?



Role-playing games are quite a bit different.  I think the purpose of this thread is to come up with ways where in the event that we're dealing with an encounter where failure = being physically overpowered but that fact doesn't end the game.  The challenge is, as you mentioned in a previous post that deus ex machina techniques feel forced, diminishes player agency, and makes the players feel like their PC is less than heroic.  

Yes, Mina Harker was saved near the end of the book, but the very end of Dracula has Dracula being killed.  At that point in the narrative, the story is near its resolution and is begging for the BBEG to be destroyed.

"At that point in the narrative." There is no narrative in a game. The rules of combat don't care how close you are to the "resolution" of the game, and exciting, appropriate death scenes, for either PCs or villains are not going arise on their own.



I don't know that I buy that there's no narrative in a game.  Can you clarify that statement.  To my thinking, role-playing games are collaborative storytelling games, so by definition there is a plot, character development, forward momentum, etc. which requires there to be a narrative(s).



Role-playing games are quite a bit different.  I think the purpose of this thread is to come up with ways where in the event that we're dealing with an encounter where failure = being physically overpowered but that fact doesn't end the game.  The challenge is, as you mentioned in a previous post that deus ex machina techniques feel forced, diminishes player agency, and makes the players feel like their PC is less than heroic.

Yes, that's the purpose of this thread. What I'm railing against is that we should have to come up with those ways ourselves. If TPKs are supposed to occur, and the rules allow them to occur at any time, why isn't this something the game gives copious advice for dealing with instead of, you know, pretty much none that I've ever seen, except to fudge dice.

I don't know that I buy that there's no narrative in a game.  Can you clarify that statement.

You can create combat without a narrative. "Kill or be killed" is not a narrative, and I'm told it's the most common approach. Therefore, even if your overall game has a narrative, any given combat can end the plot, character development, forward momentum, etc. right there, which means you don't have, and never really had, a narrative.

One approach is to make the character death part of the narrative. If the engineering chief dies, even after a long, glorious career, then he wasn't some amazing hero, he was just another redshirt, part of the narrative meant to serve as a warning to the other characters, including the character now being played by the player who had played the engineering chief. That's a fine approach, if you're prepared for it. One thing that always bugged me about one common approach is that there's no good way to bring in a replacement, because the PCs are by themselves far from civilization, and maybe not even on the same plane as any other heroes. Cue the deus ex machina.

I don't like fudging rolls. I also don't like deus ex machina; monsters who beat the characters into unconsciousness, and then scoff about how it's not worth finishing them off; or capturing characters, but if my players collaborate with me on such outcomes then that's fine. But I'd rather collaborate with them on outcomes that are more like what I see in movies and stories: the enemy has a larger goal, and might do some damage to the PCs, but doesn't need them dead and plausibly can't risk taking the time to finish them off. The PCs fail, but carry on. The only thing preventing D&D games from running that way is calcified tradition.

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

@Centauri, thanks for clarifying.  You are right that combat in itself is not plot.  Ideally, plot should drive the combat encounters.  You're likewise correct that the rules don't offer a lot of advice for how to deal with TPK style encounters.  It would be nice if they did, considering that "Ok, re-write your characters and let's have another go of it" can make players feel like they wasted a lot of time -- and rightfully so -- or "Ok, I was just kidding that this encounter is dangerous; you're all ok," is less than meaningful or fun for the players.

The challenge then becomes, if one is to use combat encounters where brute force = success or failure, how do you make failure interesting and not a game-ender.  Seeking out player input on this can be helpful, as can some of the suggestions offered in this thread.  I know that you take the former approach; have you had any experience or cool examples that you can give on this?  I know you usually have success or failure not dependent on knocking HP to zero -- or near zero -- but have you used any high-noon style encounters where the presuppositions of this thread would hold? 
Yes, that's the purpose of this thread. What I'm railing against is that we should have to come up with those ways ourselves. If TPKs are supposed to occur, and the rules allow them to occur at any time, why isn't this something the game gives copious advice for dealing with instead of, you know, pretty much none that I've ever seen, except to fudge dice.



it seems much stranger when you get to 4th edition and there are rules for virtually everything else

there is a lot of creative license for these situations, as these threads bear out, it would be nice to have greater guidance on the subject, but there are a few things still left to us to sort out ourselves, perhaps leaving it in the hands of the individual groups works best as long as they can agree on how to handle the outcome
@Centauri, thanks for clarifying.  You are right that combat in itself is not plot.  Ideally, plot should drive the combat encounters.

I think that it usually does, to a point. Plot gives a reason for the encounters, and a reason for who and where you're fighting. But the "why" anyone is fighting tends to be ignored, because it's assumed to be "to kill the PCs" for the monsters, and "to survive (by killing the monsters)" for the PCs. If the PCs fail, the plot is made irrelevant, unless the DM planned for their failure.

I think it's fine to fail the plot. One recent d20 fantasy setting was basically set in a world in which the Sauron-equivalent won. But that has to be planned for too, and a DM without a plan is far more likely to come up with an unsatisfying next step. Bohrdumb's ideas aren't bad, but those ideas have been around for years and so I personally find them a little tired, and I'm aware of the issues they can bring up. I believe the issues are driven almost entirely by needing to adhere to physical defeat over other modes.

  You're likewise correct that the rules don't offer a lot of advice for how to deal with TPK style encounters.  It would be nice if they did, considering that "Ok, re-write your characters and let's have another go of it" can make players feel like they wasted a lot of time -- and rightfully so -- or "Ok, I was just kidding that this encounter is dangerous; you're all ok," is less than meaningful or fun for the players.

Thanks yes, this is what I mean.

The challenge then becomes, if one is to use combat encounters where brute force = success or failure, how do you make failure interesting and not a game-ender.  Seeking out player input on this can be helpful, as can some of the suggestions offered in this thread.  I know that you take the former approach; have you had any experience or cool examples that you can give on this?  I know you usually have success or failure not dependent on knocking HP to zero -- or near zero -- but have you used any high-noon style encounters where the presuppositions of this thread would hold?

I don't think I really have, but I will admit to have become so accustomed to my players surviving with no problems that I don't always think carefully about what the non-lethal failure looks like, so if things had gone wrong, I might have had to scramble for a way to keep the plot going, and pulled in player ideas.

One of my characters wants there to be more of a chance that his character will die. He claims to prefer it. I like to give players what they prefer, so we're going to look for more ways to endanger his character. But I will also be asking him what the back-up plan is, in terms of who his new character will be, and how we'll bring that character in.

Here's something else: I make all my encounters, of any kind, with no regard to how hard they are. If I feel like there should be more enemies in the encounter, or a certain obstacle, or anything, I'll add it, and I can do so without worrying that I'll kill the characters, because that's not the point of the encounter. If they fail, fine, but if they don't fail, that's also fine. This puts me in the position of being able to say yes to any ideas they have for getting out of a situation, and to rule 100 percent in their favor when there's a rules dispute. I think we've all seen someone argue about some questionable maneuver or rules point that would save their character, and I just don't argue. So, this also helps keep them from dying when they don't think it would be appropriate, and it also encourages them to come up with cool ideas.

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

I give up.
The king and his assassin lie dead at your feet. You weren't fast enough to save the noble, and some spell ended the life of the assassin before he could be questioned. Those who aren't weeping are looking at you with angry eyes. Some protectors. But perhaps there's still time to save the heir apparent.

You fight your way into the chamber as the last words of the ritual are uttered. Darkness gushes out of the well like a noxious wind, to pour out over the land. The lich cackles as he ascends to demi-godhood before your eyes, leaving you to try to survive this new, blasted world, long enough at least to find a way to take the fight to your nemesis once more

Your shots go wide, and the kobold chops through the last rope, before legging it. Looks like it's the long way around.


These are all very awesome examples. I have one question though: if an enemy is doing other stuff than fighting the players (assassin killing the king, lich enacting a ritual, kobold destroying the king), it's not damaging them. How do you then make combat challenging for the players?

Do you add extra monsters (like bodyguards) that do fight the players? If so, how do you approach encounter balance? (appr. 1 standard monster for each player)

Do you make the fight a race to stunlock / reduce the enemy to 0 hp before it achieves its goal? If so, what does the defender do besides contribute a piddly amount of damage? 

Do you ask them to make skill checks instead of attack rolls? If so, how is it different from a skill challenge? 

I'm not attacking you, I'm just trying to learn. I still don't have a lot of experience with Alternate Goals in Combat (despite the link in my sig) so please enlighten me.
I give up.



You are not allowed to TPK on this thread.  There is an alternate ending.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
I give up.



You are not allowed to TPK on this thread.  There is an alternate ending.



I agree.  Why are you giving up, Bohrdumb?  I thought there was a good deal of useful stuff in this thread.  Are you wanting more examples of how to take what would be a TPK syle encounter and keep the momemtum going?  If so, could you post an example of what type of encounter you'd want to "save"?
These are all very awesome examples. I have one question though: if an enemy is doing other stuff than fighting the players (assassin killing the king, lich enacting a ritual, kobold destroying the king), it's not damaging them. How do you then make combat challenging for the players?

First of all, we have to stop using the term "challenging" as shorthand for "threatening death." Something can be a challenge, and not threaten death. In each of those examples, avoiding failure could be extremely challenging, requiring them to pour on every available power and item they have. It comes down to time: you can't plink away at the assassin, lich, or saboteur, you have to stop them now.

The encounter could very well involve other creatures or hazards. If nothing else, the shortest path to the assassin might be a three-story drop, or leaping over a bonfire. But the key is that if the characters are knocked out, all that happens is that they wake up at the end of the encounter to find that they've failed.

Do you add extra monsters (like bodyguards) that do fight the players? If so, how do you approach encounter balance? (appr. 1 standard monster for each player)

I might. I don't balance it at all.

Do you make the fight a race to stunlock / reduce the enemy to 0 hp before it achieves its goal? If so, what does the defender do besides contribute a piddly amount of damage?

The defender can get in extra damage if the monster tries to move, or can get past physical or damaging obstacles. I'm surprised you didn't ask about the leader.

Do you ask them to make skill checks instead of attack rolls? If so, how is it different from a skill challenge?

Of course, and maybe not at all. Why should it be different? Most of all, why shouldn't combat get the same advice as skill challenges, specifically "failing the challenge should not end the game"?

I'm not attacking you, I'm just trying to learn. I still don't have a lot of experience with Alternate Goals in Combat (despite the link in my sig) so please enlighten me.

The point about the defender needing something to do is a fair one. I usually do try to combine alternate goals with actual combat, so that if the defender's skills and durability aren't required, they can be involved in holding off an enemy. But that enemy doesn't need to kill the PCs to win, it just need to keep them from completing their goal.

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

I give up.



You are not allowed to TPK on this thread.  There is an alternate ending.



I agree.  Why are you giving up, Bohrdumb?  I thought there was a good deal of useful stuff in this thread.  Are you wanting more examples of how to take what would be a TPK syle encounter and keep the momemtum going?  If so, could you post an example of what type of encounter you'd want to "save"?



I give up because I am tired of people coming in and regurgitating the same view points. I wanted to see a thread where the only thing posted were interesting story hooks should a TPK occur. This is why we can't have nice things.
I put up some fun stuff on the prisoner's dilemma thread if that helps... 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here

I was inspired by the ones posted here I have in brackets a rough concept of why the players failed beneath the introductions.


The Dark Portal Opens


You managed to defeat Zathrak the evil necromancer body lies motionless on the floor.  The battle was won but you lost the war for you failed to cease the ritual in time.  With the last dark sigil pounding like some ancient heart the portal opens.  For a moment you look into what can only be described as darkness and madness.  You can hear noises like rock tapping on stone.  You see pinpricks of light in the darkness as the forces from the other side begin their invasion of the realm. You realize that you will need to find a way to defeat them.  Your hearts sink if sorrow at you failure but your bodies begin to warm use as you retreat so you can rally the forces of the realm.


[The idea is that this is a failure during an combat encounter with skill checks to stop the ritual to open the portal.  The concept is that the players have a set number of rounds to either use skill checks to close the portal, or use combat to defeat the enemy before he completes the ritual. Now the players must win by open war with the enemy. This could slightly extend the campaign or only be  a few more sessions.]


 New Car Smell


Yours eyes open as you see the your benefactor looking over you.  He seems to be studying you.  Somehow you are standing erect but cannot move.  You benefactor move out of your sight if checking someone else.   Just before the paralysis maddens you, your benefactor moves backwards where you all can see him.  You realize you are in his workshop.  He pours himself some tea, strangely although you feel as if you haven't eaten in a long time, thirst does not come to mind.


"I'm afraid that you didn't stop the Midnight Maiden in time before she cursed you.  You bodies are currently implanted with her dark magic.  Lucky for you I had a contingency plan if you didn't succeed." Looking you all over the ancient Elf smirks.


"In a strange way this might be more fitting it was the ancient War Machines of the last age the defeated her last time.  You must return to the cursed city and finish her for good.  If you wish to retrieve your bodies with time I can remove the curse upon them and then return your souls to them.  You have only twenty-four hours to get used to your new bodies so you better start practicing."


With a push of a button you hear chains call you suddenly begin to fall forward. You stop yourself and hear your footsteps, the sound of heavy steel striking stone.  As you turn you notice in the mirror your image is not your own.  You body is not made of metal and wood.  Your new glowing eyes flicker as you realize that you are now in the bodies of the Warforged you met when you first came here.


You notice that your benefactor's back is to you.  When he speak again  it cracks with sorrow and then with a touch of anger.  "The bodies you not inhabit were my friends.  They served me longer than any of you have been drawing breath.  They willingly allowed me to conduct the ritual to place your souls in their bodies.  Now they are gone forever, don't let there sacrifice be in vain."


[Similar to the last one as a skill check failure, the players get to do it over, but this time they do it without their racial encounter powers.  However they do get the Warforged ones.]


The Light of Hope Extinguished


You kneel beside the body of the boy.  His dead eyes are glazed over, the savior is dead what hope do you have now?  Suddenly the room is blasted with light.  Though the tears stinging your eyes you can see several silhouettes around you.  You legs tremble as you can feel their divine auras peer into your very souls.  You brains feel like they are aflame as these deities speak to you directly.


"You have failed to protect the savior, how or why you failed is irrelevant your failure is all that matters."  The pain flares as if your mind is at the center of an inferno as you feel that anger in your heads.  Still you must complete the mission.  But the task shall be far more difficult.  


"The dark visitor now has no one to threaten his existence, save you directly.  You shall locate the host of the visitor and slay it.  If the host is king or peasant, old man or child, friend or foe, good or evil it matters not.  For now  you shall do this or you shall be responsible for the end of not only your world, but countless others."  And just as suddenly as the light appeared it has vanished a coldness fills your soul as you see the device that will lead you to your pray, and the dagger that will say it in the hands of the lifeless corpse of the savior whom you failed.


[The idea is that the campaign ending has changed due to failure of protecting the target.  The mission is now not only going to be harder but also potentially morally difficult. Kill one innocent to save the billions upon billions of others.]

I came up this scenario early this morning.  The basic structure of an RPGA game (encounter...encounter...encounter with a skill check in there somewhere) the idea is what if you players have a bad few sessions and cannot actually succeed in an encounter.


Players are hired to collect an object and are given another object (plot device) to help them.  Players lose the first encounter do to physical defeat.


As you lay there watching the blood flow away from you and your allies everything begins to dull.  Is this death?  You cannot say.  You blood and the world around begins to dull, everything becomes different variants of grey.  Something in front of you flickers, you see other flickering lights around your allies.  The flickering lights seem to be encircling you each individually.  The light is green and is the only color you observe.


As you finally have the strength to stand you realized that you are being circled by a glowing green candle.  The stone that  Yurath gave you rises from the pouch it was carried and glows a troubling violet.  You hear Yurath's voice as it appears to be echoing from a great distance.


"Excellent, everything is going precisely according to plan. Oh did I neglect to mention that your near death is a requirement for you to obtain the object? Silly me.  The idol is not actally located in this world but the Shadowfell.  To be specific it is protected in a location in which only those at death's door can enter.  The fight with the enemy was a setup, I needed you do lose in violent combat for the ritual to work.  I would apologize to you if I actually felt compelled to do so.  The plan and job still hasn't changed, get me the idol.  Those candles circling are a timer so to speak.  You have until it reaches its end to obtain the idol or else you body completely dies and you stay there forever."  For a brief moment the candles go from a green color to a dark red.


"Ah so your angry is it...I suggest you use that anger to get the job done if you ever want to return to the land of the living."


[So what might be consided a failure is now simply part of the plot.]


 


So the players still can't get the rolls they need.  That's ok.


 


The stone Yurath gave you dims and flicker faintly. The root guardians of the idol cease their assault.  They raise their weapons in a salute.  In the center of the roots a woman appears.  Her hair is so black it seems to blend in to the darkness around her.  Her face is pale but her eyes sparke a golden color.  Her expression is that of concern.  Her dress flows about her owardly and seems almost more like liquid than fabric.


"I apologize for the attack, do not fret and failing to destroy my guardians.  For it was not the guardians that defeated you but your very souls.  You know deep down that Yurath has betrayed you and will simply betray you again if you deliver the object.  But do not fear, I seek to aid you and assist you in Yurath's defeat."  She holds out a stone idol, it appears to be perfect but something about it that concerns you.


"This is a false idol, its design is to deal with the treacherous  Yurath. You need not defeat him physically although I can sense some of you would have no issue if you did.   You need only for him to hold onto before the sun sets on your world for it to accomplish its mission.   No matter the outcome you can use it to trick him to bring you home. Farwell and may the shadow look over you."  She bows and vanishes into the darkness of the roots.


[Another failure is now not an issue since the opponent is actually your ally in this regard]


So this seems to be going well, but those rolls, ouch!  No matter if this is a combat encounter or a set of skill challanges its alright:


 


Yurath stares at the idol again, as before his eyes were clearly glazed over by his sheer ego.  Now they seem to see more clearly. "Take me for a fool do you!  This idol is false!  What exactly did you think to do with this thing?  I shall finish you, not that I wasn't going to anyway..."  You attention is drawn to the dying of the light as the sun sinks beneath the visible earth.  As the darkness envelops the room the idol  visage turns from stoic to a disturbing grin as its eyes flicker with green light.  Yurath eyes widen as he realizes his fate.  You watch as Yurath body is enveloped in green flame, his screams fill the chamber as his minions flee in terror.  In moments nothing remains of him but his signet ring a dark red ash.  As you pick up the ring and look and the gold properly owed to you in the corner you decide to keep the signet ring as a memento of deceiving the deceiver.


 


[So basically the group win because there were more than one way to win this encounter.]


 

Been away for a few days at a conference. Glad to see some genuinely good material was added.
[The idea is that this is a failure during an combat encounter with skill checks to stop the ritual to open the portal.  The concept is that the players have a set number of rounds to either use skill checks to close the portal, or use combat to defeat the enemy before he completes the ritual. Now the players must win by open war with the enemy. This could slightly extend the campaign or only be  a few more sessions.]

Excellent. The players failed but they didn't die.
[The idea is that the campaign ending has changed due to failure of protecting the target.  The mission is now not only going to be harder but also potentially morally difficult. Kill one innocent to save the billions upon billions of others.]

Don't be surprised if the players find this to be an exceedingly obvious choice, unless you make the "innocent" someone the players actually care about. Otherwise, I'm all for failure with consequences.

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