Level 2 TPK; didn't even make it to the dungeon entrance!

Bam, TPK

After making their way to the Keep on the Borderlands in preperation for hitting the Caves of Chaos my Party of 5 had hit 2nd level.

They roamed around the keep and hired an additional 1st level cleric to bolster their party. The dwarven fighter and barbarian then got into a fight with a pair of racist men-at-arms and asked to leave the keep.

Displaying some staggering stupidity the party decided to push on to the Caves and camp nearby. I'd spent the better part of an hour having every NPC tell them how dangerous it was, they'd already heard tale of goblins, hobgoblins, ogres and one entirely ficticous tale of a dragon inhabiting the area.

During the night they were dicovered by an Orc scout, those on watch overheard its approach but it fled when they moved to investigate. They didn't investigate any further once it ran off and assumed it was an animal, they did mention the incident when awakening the next shift.

The scout returned with 8 of its friends for what I thought would be a moderately challenging encounter. They got the drop on the watch and shot the 2 players and the npc on watch in the suprise round felling the NPC. 

The wizard's Thunderwave slew two outright, bloodied a third and awoke the rest of the party. 3 Orcs discarded their shortbows and entered melee with the awakening party members one scoring a critical and bloodying the dwarven fighter. The mage was dropped by an avenging orc with bleeding ears.

The players made a poor accounting of themselves, the martial characters rolling an unfortunate string of misses  aside from the Rogue who slew an orc outright and Displayed his Deadliness putting the two remaining melee orcs at disadvantage. The priest channeled radiance, wounding another trio of orcs and drawing them into melee.

The priest was introduced to 3 crudely crafted orc axes and fell, after unleashing a lance of faith and dropping an attacker, the orcs at disadvantage flailed around in melee while the mage slayer sunk an axe into the barbarian's back.

The martial players dropped only a single orc in their melee with another string of awful rolls, 3 d20s were thrown out of the room in disgust by various players.

With 4 wounded orcs vs 3 wounded players things were looking up, then the rogue and the barbarian were dropped with 4 well-placed axe blows. The warrior felled another orc but missed his cleave and was brought down by the two remaining.

I read all these tales of player wandering through combats without a scratch and that player damage is too high or hit ratios are too consistent but I've yet to have a combat where I've not dropped at least one of the players and none of my combats have used my full XP budget.
Were the martial characters using their martial damage dice for extra damage on successful attacks, and were they using their martial damage dice and skill dice each turn (not round) for Parry?
Where they hit they burned them for damage to try to drop the orcs, the fighter was parrying when he missed in the round though.
That may have contributed to what you saw happen. The MDDs don't burn on a single turn. They refresh every turn, not just every round or on the start of your next turn. So in every round, they can be used on a players turn to add extra damage to a successful hit, and then they can be used one more time as a reaction (along with skill dice) to reduce damage from a successful monster attack, regardless of whether you used them on your attack or not.
Only one of my players was a fighter with access to Parry which he used successfully once or twice I'm not sure that would of managed to lead to him surviving more than an additional round. Although that could have been enough to change the tide of the combat.
Level 2 has always been very dependant on rolls. My players party of 4 + 1 hireling wiped at level 2 by 6 skeleton minions because poor rolls and strong rolls by monsters. Dying at low level usually ain't a biggie though

Thanks for sharing though :D was a fun read, you add good flavor to your stories!
Well, it sort of begs the question as to what is supposed to be considered a legitimate party kill, assuming parties are to ever TPK? If not this sort of situation, then what situation should set off a TPK and be considered a 'yep, that's how it goes' situation?

"In the game there is magic" - Orethalion

 

Only got words in my copy.

9 orcs (450 xp) against five L2 players. An average encounter for them would be worth 300 xp while a challenging encounter is worth 550 xp. This encounter was seemingly between average and challenging.

However, the orcs outnumber the players nearly 2:1. In that case, the DM guidelines suggest bumping the encounter difficulty up a step. An above average encounter has now become above challenging. The fact that the orcs got surprise advantage made the encounter even more challenging. I'm not sure how many NPCs were with the group, but apparently they weren't very effective.

All in all, it was stacked against the PCs, even moreso if the fighters and barbarians weren't properly using their defensive abilities like parry and rage-resistance. Mix that with bad rolls and the wizard only catching 3 / 9 of the orcs with his area spell, I don't think they stood a chance.
Sure they had a chance. They could have run away. That option seems to have disappeared in the minds of many as a viable choice. This version will change their thinking quickly. Besides, the DM told them repeatidly that the caves were dangerous. You don't camp in front of the enemy gates. 

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Sounds like it was just one of those nights.  Bad rolls for the party, good rolls for the orcs.  Which, I recall orcs always have hit pretty hard in every edition of dnd. 

Were the pc's allowed any sort of roll to hear the orcs?  I don't remember if the rules as is reference this or not though. 

But it just sounds like bad rolls and the bad guys having both superior numbers and tactical advantage is what did them in.  Honestly, that is why I am starting to love this version of dnd, they brought lethality back.  :-) 

I'm sure this experience is going to change the parties behaviors from here on in.  Hopefully for the better.  But yeah, unfortunately nothing can be done when the bad rolls are coming in.  Especially since it sounds like most of the party was having bad rolls.

I have a mountain of d20's and a bag I call the "f off" bag, so when I rol a 1 or something, the d20 goes in there until it straightens up and flies right.  :-) 

hopefully even though they all were wiped, they hopefully had fun.  Sometimes making a new character to "avenge" fallen pc's can be pretty fun and rewarding as well. 
Another thing to consider is that you can always remove the K of the TPK. Either the party is left for dead when the orcs leave, valuables stolen. Or possibly the party is taken prisoner and forced to endure a whole new adventure: escape. It might require you to stop there for the night and think about how to approach it, and of course there might be some handwaving involved if anyone failed those death saving throws. However, it's always possible to spin a bad encounter into a memorable adventure.

The Isle of Dread pdf has some good suggestions for this type of situation.
I think if you're going to do that, you need to decide if you are going to have death at all.

It's okay to simply rule death out.

But to say 'sure you can die' but then every time they aught to have the GM says 'oh, captured!' or 'oh, unconcious!' means that the claim you can die is a false one.

"In the game there is magic" - Orethalion

 

Only got words in my copy.

Death is a big deal. You are basically telling the player that he/she wasted all that time writing up a character sheet, and now it's time to throw it out and make a new one. In certain groups, it can lead to ill will and frustration.

I don't believe that DMs should be in the business of "punishing" players by killing their characters. What the DM here calls "staggering stupidity" could also be the result of bad rules, mismatched expectations between players and DM, or his own lack of providing crucial details to the players. It could be some mix of all three. Plenty of blame to go around. I assume that blaming the players for being "stupid" is generally an arrogant thing to say, but I don't know anything else about the OP's game so I won't make any further judgments.

On one extreme, you might have the DM ruling that death is never allowed, and magical fairies teleport a near-death character to the nearest temple for full healing. On the other extreme, a DM might rule that a player didn't take adequate precautions while securing lodging for the night, which allowed a group of highly skilled assassins to infiltrate his room with silence spells and slit his throat while he slept, no saving throw or skill checks allowed. It was the player's own damn fault for not hiring a bodyguard, after all.

Finding a happy place on that spectrum is crucial, so both the players and DM are on the same page when it comes to expectations about the game.

Personally, I would rather rest the decision of whether a character dies in the hands of the player. It is cooperative story-telling, after all. I would rather see the paladin nobly sacrifice himself to save the party (in agreement that death was highly likely) than see the group get waylayed by a random group of bad dudes and get murdered for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not the most heroic or memorable way to end an adventure.

Personally, I would rather rest the decision of whether a character dies in the hands of the player. It is cooperative story-telling, after all. I would rather see the paladin nobly sacrifice himself to save the party (in agreement that death was highly likely) than see the group get waylayed by a random group of bad dudes and get murdered for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not the most heroic or memorable way to end an adventure.



 I like you Veggie-Sama you can be my DM any time. As a DM I always take 100% responsibility for a TPK. I set the players a challenge they couldn't overcome, I killed the joy of the evening, so its my job to sort it out so the evening has a happy ending. Individual player deaths is different, that could be good/bad tactics, or a players wish to sacrifice himself for the story.

 @ the people saying that "that will teach the players": Yea, bad players for going to sleep with 2 sentries on guard! That will teach them...absolutely nothing. Sounds like 2 players was already dead before the others had a chance to even join the combat, run away from your dieing friends? Sure if you are evil aligned. So what the OPs players can learn from this is: Always make evil aligned characters, and always have 3/4 of the party awake while camping.
This is not ment as a dig at the OP btw, he followed DMG guidelines (for a hard encounter), and they backfired in his face. But he (and us because he shared) is the only one to learn or change anything.
Sure they had a chance. They could have run away. That option seems to have disappeared in the minds of many as a viable choice. This version will change their thinking quickly. Besides, the DM told them repeatidly that the caves were dangerous. You don't camp in front of the enemy gates. 



Yeah, totally, running away, at night, poorly armed, with a band of murderers on their trail. Completely valid option here.

Sounds like a DM who threw a strong encounter at a vunerable party, didn't pull any punches, in a system where early level is rocket tag combat. The first two I have no problem with; the party made bad choices. Hell, this would have been a TPK in 4e, no question. But my problem is that so many people went down so easy, that it feels like there is a single strategy in combat at early levels; hit people till the fall over. I don't think this is a great idea, considering that we want players to survive to level 3.

Of course, we could always play one of the many games that do D&D better than D&DNext so far.
Sure they had a chance. They could have run away. That option seems to have disappeared in the minds of many as a viable choice. This version will change their thinking quickly. Besides, the DM told them repeatidly that the caves were dangerous. You don't camp in front of the enemy gates. 



Well stated.  There's always a choice, but players rarely seem to want to take that.  PC's often hear stories like, 'three bands of adventurers went to those caves . . . and none came back!'

Well, it happens to the best of us.  A second level party getting wiped probably isn't that uncommon - especially if the party decides to camp in a hostile area. 
I once heard a story where NPC's kidnapped the chief of the organisation the players were in. The NPC's shouted not to follow, or they'd shoot the chief. The PC's follow. The NPC's shout not to get closer, or they'll shoot the chief. The PC's jump onto the van the chief is being held in and scramble all over it. The NPC's shout not to try and break in or they'll shoot the chief. The PC's start to hack their way through the walls of the van.

The NPC's shoot the chief.

The players turn in unison to the GM and go "Oh! You shot the chief!"

Some people are unable to attribute any amount of responsibility to themselves.

"In the game there is magic" - Orethalion

 

Only got words in my copy.

Hi All,

Quick update; party rerolled a new 2nd level party and were sent off to look for the NPC hired by the original group.

It really was just one of those nights, the Players did have a listen check which they bungled, thus the Orks having the suprise. We've all learned well from the TPK though, nearly every player has a reaction available and they've all built a little more defence in to both their characters and their play-styles. They're going head-to-head with those pesky orcs again tonight, I'm hoping it'll be a nice bit of revenge and settle the whole debacle.

Thanks for all the comments, support and criticisms; I'll be sure to let you know how it goes, will our plucky adventurers exact their bloody revenge or will they become carrion for the kobolds?
Hi All,

Quick update; party rerolled a new 2nd level party and were sent off to look for the NPC hired by the original group.

It really was just one of those nights, the Players did have a listen check which they bungled, thus the Orks having the suprise. We've all learned well from the TPK though, nearly every player has a reaction available and they've all built a little more defence in to both their characters and their play-styles. They're going head-to-head with those pesky orcs again tonight, I'm hoping it'll be a nice bit of revenge and settle the whole debacle.

Thanks for all the comments, support and criticisms; I'll be sure to let you know how it goes, will our plucky adventurers exact their bloody revenge or will they become carrion for the kobolds?



I'd say if martial characters use the MDDs for damage and for a single Parry reaction, and if you use the DM Guidelines' Encounter Building table as Veggie-sama mentioned, things should be better.

Let us know how it goes.