Total Party Kills, Are They Intentional?


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This is a question I've wanted to ask for a long time:

Why don't official modules for D & D follow the same guidelines for encounter difficulty that the Dungeon Master's guide suggests?

I've been building my own 1st level module for my 4th edition group and I've been using the suggestions the Dungeon Master's Guide lays out: And I noticed that it recommended that a hard encounter for a 1st level party should be a 4th level encounter.

So why in the heck is a 6th level encounter one of the earlier encounters that PCs playing Keep On The Shadowfell will run up against? Was this an intentional TPK or just a mistake?

I've actually wondered the same about some of the encounters in past issues of Dungeon, especially some of the ones in Shackled City and Age of Worms. Are some encounters just meant to be so challenging that they take numerous times to complete? Are the designers just trying to be cruel?

What are your thoughts?


4th Edition characters are far more capable of potentially handling monsters above their level (by about four levels, I think). They are also not as prone to randomized, instant death, so they can even potentially flee from a difficult battle before they start hitting the floor.

Now, I think that you might be referring to Kalarel, who is the last encounter in the adventure. By that time, the players are supposed to be 3rd level, and if they've been to the kobold lair, burial site, and taken out the elf chick, they should be.
This means that he's only three levels higher, and well within the means to be stopped by them assuming that they take a short rest and heal up before heading in.


4e doesn't scale as sharply as 3e. You can have a challenging but winable encounter that is several levels higher than the group's level with out too much fear of a TPK.


David Witanowski wrote:
So why in the heck is a 6th level encounter one of the earlier encounters that PCs playing Keep On The Shadowfell will run up against? Was this an intentional TPK or just a mistake?

That wouldn't happen to be the second fight, would it? Just got TPKed on that on Saturday! XD

Well, we did have only three characters...


I think he's referring to the Irontooth encounter, not to spoil too much.

I dunno if the point of that encounter was to teach the new party, "Run Away is a valid tactic", or "Bossfights are nasty," or it's just "the writer f-d up."

And yes, I have noticed that WotC and Paizo products have higher potency encounters than "recommended".

In 3.x it seemed that the tendancy for players was to hit one room hard, dump all your resources in it, then pull back and rest for the night. So from the GM's standpoint, each of them has to be tougher so the party uses the appropriate resources and you get the "commando raid" feel.

Rather than 4 equal level encounters using 25% of your resources, you get 1 much higher level encounter you barely survive, using 100% of your resources.

The Irontooth fight was like that, for us. Unfortunately, I, player of the rogue, wandered in to see what was inside, provoking the ire of the inhabitants while the previous fight was still going on.

We pulled it out, mainly due to some luck and bloody minded determination.

And there are 6 of us.


Michael Landis wrote:
David Witanowski wrote:
So why in the heck is a 6th level encounter one of the earlier encounters that PCs playing Keep On The Shadowfell will run up against? Was this an intentional TPK or just a mistake?

That wouldn't happen to be the second fight, would it? Just got TPKed on that on Saturday! XD

Well, we did have only three characters...

I was thinking it was the 4th fight.

The first three are within the 1st and 2nd level range for a party of 5, if memory serves (500-600 ish XP for the encounter). The fight with Irontooth scales in at a whopping 1250 xp, which is something like a 6th level fight and WELL outside the suggested parameters for a 1st level party.

I've wondered the same thing myself, actually, and I'm not sure it doesn't apply to Pathfinder. I'll grant that my friends and I make some of the dumbest tactical decisions possible, but it seems like far too many encounters weigh in at N or N+ in the first few modules of Pathfinder, when the recommendations in the 3.x DMG suggest that not be the case.

I wish I had an answer to the OP's question though. I like the games, but I hate always feeling like we're pulling through by the skin of our teeth in modules.


AlexBlake wrote:

I think he's referring to the Irontooth encounter, not to spoil too much.

I dunno if the point of that encounter was to teach the new party, "Run Away is a valid tactic", or "Bossfights are nasty," or it's just "the writer f-d up."

We were blatantly told that there was no escape once the fight outside the waterfall happened. Irontooth and his short little friends were faster on foot than our party and we were far enough away from the town that there was no way we'd reach safety before getting run down and killed.

We pulled it out, but it was mainly because of incredibly bad rolling on the DM's part (6 rounds of nothing but 1-3 on a d20), and nobody realizing that using Lance of Faith should have been giving Irontooth OA's.


Speaking in a much broader sense (not just modules and not just D&D), I do not think most TPKs are intentional. I think some TPKs are the fault of the GM.

I think most GMs fail to realize their every action has consequences. Many GMs lead their players into certain actions without thinking about it.

Some TPKs are the fault of the players. Some players refuse to see retreat or surrender as a viable option. I am guilty of this myself. Some players prefer to play their characters as flawed individuals instead of game pieces to be tactically moved around the board.

I do not think modules are designed to kill parties but to appeal to a very broad and varied market. Some of that market wants to feel challenged in a ‘skin of our teeth’ kind of way.

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I thought that it was a difficult encounter. we only survived by holding our ground and having our dailies proc at the right time.

I've been wanting to like 4e. The last session though seemed like a slog-fest. I was slow to make decisions because of it, and there were several instances when the players were irritated by little rules nuances that we hadn't grasped. Its our third session in and things haven't gone as fast as 3.5. By comparison, we did Sons of Gruumsh...the whole thing, in four sessions, including a huge battle in the courtyard of the keep.

Burnt Offerings did not seem this way running it, either.


I vaguely remember James Jacobs (or someone similar), while discussing the Age of Worms AP, that the magazine format didn't allow for adventures of the appropriate length to follow the recommended blend of easy, even, and difficult encounters. In an effort to get the right amount of XP out there for the PCs to rake in, the average difficulty of each encounter was increased. This, in turn, leads to the occasional TPK if the players aren't wary or overextend themselves between rests. There is, of course, also the problem with designing encounters in 3.5 that makes them essentially impossible to predict it's ease or lethality. Often, it's a crapshoot.

As for the encounter in KotS, IIRC that fight is supposed to hit in waves, so that the PCs have a chance to thin the opponents before Irontooth and his buddies show up. Thus, it would be an overwhelming encounter if everything hit at once, but it's not supposed to be bad in waves (or so the writer seemed to think).

O


Hiya.

As others have mentioned, some times "get the hell outta Dodge" is a good tactic.

On the other hand...I still am amazed at how many current RPG'ers see a TPK as a "super-bad thing" and somehow the DM's fault. o_O "Adventuring" is dangerous. If you decide to try your hand at "adventuring", you are almost guaranteed a horrible death. Because of this aspect, you don't have commoners or even soldiers/guards of a keep "going out into a goblin cave to do some adventuring"...it's not like just going out golfing for the afternoon.

AFAIAC, the DM's jobs are: (1) be Neutral in adjudicating the rules, (2) create a vibrant and self-consistent campaign in which the players can have their characters interact with and get involved with, and (3) when the PC's are in a life and death battle against a foe who is trying to kill them...the DM should try and kill them.

The last point is important. Nothing sucks the fun out of a game faster than when the players realize that no matter what they do, the DM won't "let their character die". The two main reason I see for this sort of DM mentality is either that they are mistakenly under the impression that their story/NPC/whatever is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and there is no way they are going to 'let' the players make choices that would screw that up (including getting their characters killed). The second reason I blame mainly on certain newer editions of the game (re: not 1e): that the players are *supposed* to win, and if they all die, they loose, and it's the DM's fault if they all die.

So it all boils down to this: Encounters are encounters. Sometimes the PC's win, sometimes it's a draw, and sometimes their corpses become dungeon dressing for the next group.


pming wrote:


On the other hand...I still am amazed at how many current RPG'ers see a TPK as a "super-bad thing" and somehow the DM's fault. o_O "Adventuring" is dangerous. If you decide to try your hand at "adventuring", you are almost guaranteed a horrible death. Because of this aspect, you don't have commoners or even soldiers/guards of a keep "going out into a goblin cave to do some adventuring"...it's not like just going out golfing for the afternoon.

Your view on this seems to be that D&D simulates a real activity with real results. My view is that D&D is game played for the amusement of a group of people around a table. While it may be true that a person who tries "adventuring" will probably meet a horrible death, a TPK results in less fun for the players at my table as we have to create new characters and, often, a whole new adventure.

The simulation factor of the game is just less important to us than the game play factor of D&D.


pming wrote:

Hiya.

As others have mentioned, some times "get the hell outta Dodge" is a good tactic.

On the other hand...I still am amazed at how many current RPG'ers see a TPK as a "super-bad thing" and somehow the DM's fault. o_O "Adventuring" is dangerous. If you decide to try your hand at "adventuring", you are almost guaranteed a horrible death. Because of this aspect, you don't have commoners or even soldiers/guards of a keep "going out into a goblin cave to do some adventuring"...it's not like just going out golfing for the afternoon.

AFAIAC, the DM's jobs are: (1) be Neutral in adjudicating the rules, (2) create a vibrant and self-consistent campaign in which the players can have their characters interact with and get involved with, and (3) when the PC's are in a life and death battle against a foe who is trying to kill them...the DM should try and kill them.

The last point is important. Nothing sucks the fun out of a game faster than when the players realize that no matter what they do, the DM won't "let their character die". The two main reason I see for this sort of DM mentality is either that they are mistakenly under the impression that their story/NPC/whatever is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and there is no way they are going to 'let' the players make choices that would screw that up (including getting their characters killed). The second reason I blame mainly on certain newer editions of the game (re: not 1e): that the players are *supposed* to win, and if they all die, they loose, and it's the DM's fault if they all die.

So it all boils down to this: Encounters are encounters. Sometimes the PC's win, sometimes it's a draw, and sometimes their corpses become dungeon dressing for the next group.

I agree with you PM, that when the DM pulls punches it takes something out of the game.

That said, I do think the DM has a responsibility to try and balance the encounters he creates so that the party has the ability to succeed (and yes, should be expected to). With modules of course, I'm more lenient. Sure the DM could have taken the time to notice a module's encounter was too hard and adjust it, but if I'm running a module it's so I don't have to put that very thought into it. :P

The Exchange

David Witanowski wrote:

This is a question I've wanted to ask for a long time:

Why don't official modules for D & D follow the same guidelines for encounter difficulty that the Dungeon Master's guide suggests?

I've been building my own 1st level module for my 4th edition group and I've been using the suggestions the Dungeon Master's Guide lays out: And I noticed that it recommended that a hard encounter for a 1st level party should be a 4th level encounter.

So why in the heck is a 6th level encounter one of the earlier encounters that PCs playing Keep On The Shadowfell will run up against? Was this an intentional TPK or just a mistake?

I've actually wondered the same about some of the encounters in past issues of Dungeon, especially some of the ones in Shackled City and Age of Worms. Are some encounters just meant to be so challenging that they take numerous times to complete? Are the designers just trying to be cruel?

What are your thoughts?

The Keep on the Shadowfell encounter is supposed to be run in waves. It's really an EL+2 and an EL+3 run back to back. It's all about timing on the DMs part. If you po wave 2 too early, TPK. If you pop it too late, plyers don't feel the pressure in the right way.

As far escalating nastiness with writers... The splat books released by WOTC at the end of the run produced nasty and broken combinations. This drve up the ante considerably. If you played LG, you got to see the worst effects of the arms war. All new books were forced into play to drive product. As a result, the writers pushed to make encoutners more and more lethal to offset the designs they saw form the players.

Power creep taints the gaming community at times as editions evolve. I am really worried about it in 4.0.

Sovereign Court

In regards to the published adventures that I've run, most of my comments are already echo'd again. Space constraints, having to try and meet the expectations of a very broad audience and so forth.

But to address the point of TPK's being a bad thing: I think it depends a huge amount on your players and your playstyle. If you're running a deep Roleplay style game, with the players encouraged to develop deep backgrounds, a robust group of NPCs with complex interactions and a deep investment, then a TPK is a terrible thing to inflict without incredible story reason and a lot of lead up.

On the other hand, if you're playing a pure slashfest, or a very lighthearted comedy game, then the sting of a TPK is fairly light, and won't usually result in the end of the world.

Dungeon of the week campaigns versus those with an overarching story are also much more forgiving, and oneshots even more so. In fact, in those cases, sometimes a TPK is an awsome thing in those situations.

Not so much in an adventure path, or similar situation.

So I guess my response boils down to: It depends.


tadkil wrote:


The Keep on the Shadowfell encounter is supposed to be run in waves. It's really an EL+2 and an EL+3 run back to back. It's all about timing on the DMs part. If you po wave 2 too early, TPK. If you pop it too late, plyers don't feel the pressure in the right way.

This is the line my DM tried to feed me. It's hogwash. If there is no short rest, it's all one encounter, with all of the inherent limitations that implies (no refresh on encounter powers, no refresh on second wind, no chance to burn healing surges to top off, primarily.)

It's about 3-400 xp too thick, IMO. In our case, the DM was (and typically is) a rolling machine. His minions routinely hit whatever they aimed for..his dragonshields routinely hit for 10+ damage, and so did the other non-minions. Irontooth was, literally, the only creature on the table that didn't hit with 5 out of 6 attacks. Our cleric was forced to burn his healing touch before IT was activated, we lost the fighter, and the ranger was completely out of healing surges before the fight even started...

It was a hell of a night.


I didnt think that the encounter with Irontooth was so much hard as drawn out. My experience ended with everyone surrounding him and beating him to death in a very 3E fashion: he couldnt really get away because of massive opportunity attacks and the fighter's mark, so he basically sat there using a double attack over and over again until he eventually died.

If things had started to look bad, the party could have pulled out with the defenders taking up the rear as the wizard just zapped him with ray of frost to keep him slowed.

The Exchange

Christopher Fannin wrote:
tadkil wrote:


The Keep on the Shadowfell encounter is supposed to be run in waves. It's really an EL+2 and an EL+3 run back to back. It's all about timing on the DMs part. If you po wave 2 too early, TPK. If you pop it too late, plyers don't feel the pressure in the right way.
This is the line my DM tried to feed me. It's hogwash. If there is no short rest, it's all one encounter, with all of the inherent limitations that implies (no refresh on encounter powers, no refresh on second wind, no chance to burn healing surges to top off, primarily.)

Yours is a fair complaint.

This party is a Dragonborn fighter, a Halfling warlock, an Elven ranger, a Dragonborn warlord and a Human Wizard. The minions went down fast to the breath weapons of the Dragonborn, and then the players srikers and controller jsut concentrated fire until everything was picked off in series. Granted, both the Dragonborn were down at the end of the fight and the party was OUT of resources. I also delayed the second wave for two extra rounds to give them a better chance to pull it off. TPKing my sons and all their friends would have done nothing to grow the hobby.

Now, if it they were grown ups...


pming wrote:

Hiya.

As others have mentioned, some times "get the hell outta Dodge" is a good tactic.

On the other hand...I still am amazed at how many current RPG'ers see a TPK as a "super-bad thing" and somehow the DM's fault. o_O "Adventuring" is dangerous. If you decide to try your hand at "adventuring", you are almost guaranteed a horrible death. Because of this aspect, you don't have commoners or even soldiers/guards of a keep "going out into a goblin cave to do some adventuring"...it's not like just going out golfing for the afternoon.

AFAIAC, the DM's jobs are: (1) be Neutral in adjudicating the rules, (2) create a vibrant and self-consistent campaign in which the players can have their characters interact with and get involved with, and (3) when the PC's are in a life and death battle against a foe who is trying to kill them...the DM should try and kill them.

The last point is important. Nothing sucks the fun out of a game faster than when the players realize that no matter what they do, the DM won't "let their character die". The two main reason I see for this sort of DM mentality is either that they are mistakenly under the impression that their story/NPC/whatever is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and there is no way they are going to 'let' the players make choices that would screw that up (including getting their characters killed). The second reason I blame mainly on certain newer editions of the game (re: not 1e): that the players are *supposed* to win, and if they all die, they loose, and it's the DM's fault if they all die.

So it all boils down to this: Encounters are encounters. Sometimes the PC's win, sometimes it's a draw, and sometimes their corpses become dungeon dressing for the next group.

I can't speak to 4E in this regard but in 3.5 if you play in the style you advocate you actually decrease the chance of a TPK. I know - I cheese out the monsters right and left and I'm very good at it. I kill a lot of characters. The thing is my players know that death is always coming for them - they have two or three back up plans all meant to get them out of dodge if things turn on them. The real kicker is they tend to scatter, some teleport out, some try and fly away, some turn ethereal and flee the scene and some are just really, really, fast over almost any terrian. The result is its nearly impossible for me, as a DM, to catch them all. Maybe I catch one but most always get away. Generally my only kill is the one that initially takes out a PC and causes the route in the first place, after that I rarely manage to bag a second PC.

Essentially the more your players know that you are serous about trying to TPK them the less likely you are to actually pull one off.


tadkil wrote:

This party is a Dragonborn fighter, a Halfling warlock, an Elven ranger, a Dragonborn warlord and a Human Wizard. The minions went down fast to the breath weapons of the Dragonborn, and then the players srikers and controller jsut concentrated fire until everything was picked off in series. Granted, both the Dragonborn were down at the end of the fight and the party was OUT of resources. I also delayed the second wave for two extra rounds to give them a better chance to pull it off. TPKing my sons and all their friends would have done nothing to grow the hobby.

Now, if it they were grown ups...

Our party was the pregen Fighter and Cleric, an elf Ranger and an eladrin Wizard. The only AoE attacks on the table was my Thunderwave.


doppelganger wrote:

Your view on this seems to be that D&D simulates a real activity with real results. My view is that D&D is game played for the amusement of a group of people around a table. While it may be true that a person who tries "adventuring" will probably meet a horrible death, a TPK results in less fun for the players at my table as we have to create new characters and, often, a whole new adventure.

The simulation factor of the game is just less important to us than the game play factor of D&D.

I agree with Doppelganger.


pming wrote:


On the other hand...I still am amazed at how many current RPG'ers see a TPK as a "super-bad thing" and somehow the DM's fault. o_O "Adventuring" is dangerous. If you decide to try your hand at "adventuring", you are almost guaranteed a horrible death. Because of this aspect, you don't have commoners or even soldiers/guards of a keep "going out into a goblin cave to do some adventuring"...it's not like just going out golfing for the afternoon.

I agree. Nothing sucks the fun out of a game faster than the DM fudging to keep my character alive. That's why when I DM I try to do very little of that.

Sczarni

Reading the module ahead of time I noticed Irontooths difficulty. For the last 5 years starting a published campaign I have always thrown in my own beginning module or quests to buff the party a level above designed, then start. With that said, we did the mini module in the back of the DMG. I also instead of roleplaying the town encounter, did it by doing one on one skill challenges with each party member. I also gave them all three hooks and rewards from all of them. This buffed the party to 2nd level and then they got ambushed with the first fight of the KOTSF module. I will let you know how Iron tooth turns out, but 1/2 the party is now 3rd level and we have not even finished the kobald waterfall liar. Maybe throw some skill challenges for your group, reward them with 1 piece of level 5 gear for successfully doing a skill challenge, making the party a little stronger than designed not only makes it less a tpk feel, but also allows me as DM to add a little flavour from time to time as well. Maybe throwing in a scorpion or two just for a new feel and look.


Antioch wrote:
4th Edition characters are far more capable of potentially handling monsters above their level (by about four levels, I think)... Now, I think that you might be referring to Kalarel... By that time, the players are supposed to be 3rd level, and if they've been to the kobold lair, burial site, and taken out the elf chick, they should be. This means that he's only three levels higher, and well within the means to be stopped by them assuming that they take a short rest and heal up before heading in.

FWIW, I think this argument breaks down somewhere. Are the DMG guidleines wrong, or is the module too hard (and prone to TPKs)? It's one or the other.

I think higher-than-recommended encounters are good for the game and fun for the players, but they put more responsibility on the DM. If care isn't taken, it can quickly become a bloodbath.

Are TPKs intentional? No. They are evidence of incompetence -- either the DM's, PCs' or module designer's.

Two more cents :)


Tatterdemalion wrote:


Are TPKs intentional? No. They are evidence of incompetence -- either the DM's, PCs' or module designer's.

I don't think this is necessarily true at all. It isn't a given that if the PCs do everything right, they'll always win unless the DM or moule designer was incompetent. A very dangerous encounter at the end of a campaign or adventure might well go either way, with no fault on anyone's part. The PCs are going to win more often than not, but they don't have to always win absent incompetence.


Steerpike7 wrote:
Tatterdemalion wrote:


Are TPKs intentional? No. They are evidence of incompetence -- either the DM's, PCs' or module designer's.
I don't think this is necessarily true at all. It isn't a given that if the PCs do everything right, they'll always win unless the DM or moule designer was incompetent. A very dangerous encounter at the end of a campaign or adventure might well go either way, with no fault on anyone's part. The PCs are going to win more often than not, but they don't have to always win absent incompetence.

And, hey, when you wipe the party 3.5 hours into a 5 hour session, you can always head downstairs to play the Wii, since there's not enough time to start over. :/


Christopher Fannin wrote:
And, hey, when you wipe the party 3.5 hours into a 5 hour session, you can always head downstairs to play the Wii, since there's not enough time to start over. :/

We always have extra rolled characters on hand. Never been a problem.


Steerpike7 wrote:
Christopher Fannin wrote:
And, hey, when you wipe the party 3.5 hours into a 5 hour session, you can always head downstairs to play the Wii, since there's not enough time to start over. :/
We always have extra rolled characters on hand. Never been a problem.

My players spend a LOT of time developing their characters prior to and during a campaign. We don't do a dungeon crawl style game, so a lot of emotion and effort is put into developing each character's background, personality, and connection to the campaign. This leaves the idea of "extra characters" as something of a no-go.

For the most part, I admit I try to keep the character's alive, keeping most of the challenges within their abilities (and occassionally fudging dice rolls). The exception to that is that I break my campaign down into 3 acts generally. At the end of each act, there might be an epic battle. This will be more challenging and definitely has the possibility of character death.

There have been times when characters died at random occassions when I didn't expect them to have a chance of dying. We played it out and the player had to develop a new character - but those times are few and far between.

For my campaigns, my player's get attached to their characters and feel almost betrayed when their characters die and it's not at the hands of a major villain. So, I try to keep their characters in the campaign, but I also maintain the feeling of imminent danger and the possibility of death with the occassional death at the hands of a normal encounter. It's a FINE line to walk, but one I think can be done and still keep the intensity and challenge up.


Usually TPK's are not intentional unless it is VITAL to an over all campaign metastory in some fashion.

However, "usually" is the operative phrase ... there are 'legal' if not exactly 'nice' ways of butchering an entire party in short order in 3.0 / 3.5 (not so sure about 4.0) with little to nothing that can be done by the PC's to stop it. Especially if you can "pick your own swag" on magic items.

I've been told by a few players that part of the reason they play with me as a GM is preciely because they know that if they screw up they'll probably get fragged. And generally, some times the method of escape is so obvious it is unseen and not thought of until after the fact. I've done both as a player and as a GM. Hopefully, I'll learn and remember from it.

Of course, I've also been told off by a few players about an "encounter that we couldn't win" - which of course surprised them when the response was "you could have run away you know - all you had to do was X or Y or Z to keep your character alive". Such as, say, withdrawing behind total cover, then descending below the main deck to arrange for a magical retreat...

The most memorable and nominally enjoyable TPKs (or encounters that come very close to achieving that) are the hard-fought ones, as opposed to the ones that are generally unresistable in some form or fashion.

Of course, such tales are best told elsewhere. :)

Scarab Sages

P1NBACK wrote:
My players spend a LOT of time developing their characters prior to and during a campaign. We don't do a dungeon crawl style game, so a lot of emotion and effort is put into developing each character's background, personality, and connection to the campaign. This leaves the idea of "extra characters" as something of a no-go.

Wait. I thought 4E allowed people to create characters in a matter of minutes, and reading through it, I certainly can believe it. It's a shame to not be able to take advantage of this because of some nebulous emotional involvement or effort put into the (previous) character, don't you think?

Also, about the "dungeon crawl style" comment. Seems to come up as a polar opposite to character development prior to and during a campaign, and a polar opposite to emotion and effort put into them.

I don't think that dungeon crawling automatically means there would be no involvement, no emotion and/or no effort put into the players' characters. Furthermore, I believe it is misleading, through this mistaken statement, to imply that dungeon crawl would be the antithesis of role-playing.

There's a healthy amount of dungeon crawling in my own campaigns. Emotions, efforts in character development and immersive role-playing are far from unheard of, if you follow my drift.

Character deaths do happen. They're not "rare". There's a risk involved when your character acts foolishly at my game table: your character dies. You'd better think before you make your move.

That's why I prefer simpler game mechanics now. They allow you, player, to create characters on the spot if your current one was to die unexpectedly. You just have to come up with a concept/appearance (which you can write down way before your present character dies, if ever). You can thus end the session at hand to later develop your background as you see fit.

Just to make clear: there's nothing wrong with your way of playing the game, and if you feel 4E supports it, awesome! I just bring my own experience to the table for variety's sake, and because I don't want people to think that because we play dungeon crawling it automatically means we play some sort of mindless, roll-playing, door-bashing... "skirmish game". ;-)


The Red Death wrote:
Just to make clear: there's nothing wrong with your way of playing the game, and if you feel 4E supports it, awesome! I just bring my own experience to the table for variety's sake, and because I don't want people to think that because we play dungeon crawling it automatically means we play some sort of mindless, roll-playing, door-bashing... "skirmish game". ;-)

I never implied this. I'm sorry you took it that way.

My games have a blend of combat, exploration, investigation, and social encounters. I was simply saying my games aren't just about dungeon crawling. We have an intricate plot that heavily involves each character and their backstory and so having pre-generated characters as backups isn't an option.

And to answer your question, yes I think 4E (so far) has supported our style of gameplay nicely.

Scarab Sages

Good, just wanted to set the record straight, so to speak. :-)


The Red Death wrote:
Good, just wanted to set the record straight, so to speak. :-)

Right on! :)

Scarab Sages

P1NBACK wrote:
Right on! :)

That's just un-belieeeevable the number of gamers who make this strict separation between dungeon crawling and role-playing, and judge all the older editions of the game as pieces of crap because of it.

This is insane. *sigh*

Anyway. The TPK in Keep of the Shadowfell occurs at the end of the adventure with the "CR 6" encounter, right? What was the CR of the the Kobolds encounter? Seems like a lot of groups had issues with that one too.


The Red Death wrote:

That's just un-belieeeevable the number of gamers who make this strict separation between dungeon crawling and role-playing, and judge all the older editions of the game as pieces of crap because of it.

This is insane. *sigh*

I don't think there's a strict separation between dungeon crawling and roleplaying. I do think there are groups out there who don't care for story and/or character development and care more for killing, looting, XPs, and powers/builds.

All I am saying is, that's not my game. And, having pre-generated characters doesn't mesh well with my game despite it being totally appropriate for the above style of game.

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P1NBACK wrote:

..For the most part, I admit I try to keep the character's alive, keeping most of the challenges within their abilities (and occassionally fudging dice rolls). The exception to that is that I break my campaign down into 3 acts generally. At the end of each act, there might be an epic battle. This will be more challenging and definitely has the possibility of character death. ...

Reminds me of TORG, where the adventures are deivided into Standard and Dramatic scenes, with different rules. Success is almost guaranteed in a Standard scene.

--

It's beginning to sound like different people here are trying to convince others that their own style of TPK-management is the right way to play. Folks, I'd like to remind everybody that Rule 1 of the game is: if everybody's enjoying themselves, you're doing it right.

For some people, a TPK-derail 3.5 hours into a 5-hour session is just no fun, and the DM must avoid it. For others, a battle 3.5 ours into a 5-hour session where there's no real chance for a derailment, is missing the danger and the excitement. And the cost of that excitement is that, sometimes, bad things happen.

Different campaigns, different parties, different preferences.

Dark Archive

Just to further narrow the discussion somewhat:

What surprised me about the difficulty of the encounter was the fact that it was meant for a group of 1st level PCs who were most likely playing the first module of 4th edition ever. And yes, I was talking about the Irontooth encounter.

I'm not opposed to tough encounters, but to face one so early, when the characters are still learning the ropes so to speak, just seemed awfully mean spirited to me. And, sure, I could have tweaked it to make it easier, but I too was running the first 4th edition module available to me. How was I to know until it was too late?

My players don't like having their characters killed, though they do agree that the constant threat of death keeps the game exciting. But nothing turns them off of a campaign than dying multiple times in a single module, especially if its the first module of many. I tried to run Shackled City long ago, but one Grell and an animated chain killed off two whole parties and then they basically told me the campaign wasn't for them. TPKs in Whispering Cairn and Three Faces of Evil from Age of Worms led to me inventing a "fate point" system to allow characters the chance of avoiding death so that they would play through the campaign.

The Irontooth encounter has almost turned my players again 4th edition all together. Even when I told them that I later realized the fight was higher than appropriate for a party of their level, they now have the idea that 4th edition is even deadlier than 3rd ever was. "We're being killed by Kobolds and Goblins," they pointed out. "What will happen when we face the TOUGH monsters?"

My point is, I never thought they were just whining, because the encounters were indeed incredibly deadly. So the question remains: are the TPKs intentional? (in particular the Irontooth encounter in Keep On The Shadowfell?)


Chris Mortika wrote:
Different campaigns, different parties, different preferences.

Amen. And this goes to show the versatility of the D&D game, and I think 4E maintains that possibility of completely different gaming styles.

I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything other than how I play though. It seems like my players supremely enjoy my game and I've never had a player complain that it's not challenging. I think you can most definitely maintain suspense and challenge and keep characters, who players have invested a lot of time and emotion into, alive.

To get back on topic - I did run Keep on the Shadowfell and TOLD my players I was going to run it as is without any sort of pulling punches to test the new system. Our group got TPK'd during this "Irontooth" encounter as well. We didn't play past that encounter and we're starting our own campaign this weekend.


David Witanowski wrote:
My point is, I never thought they were just whining, because the encounters were indeed incredibly deadly. So the question remains: are the TPKs intentional? (in particular the Irontooth encounter in Keep On The Shadowfell?)

I suspect there were a few things going on that affected the difficulty of the encounter design.

First, obviously, it's in waves. Despite my feeling that this doesn't really mitigate the difficulty of the encounter as whole, I'm sure that the writer did.

Second, using the playtest party of 6 characters, I'm sure they won. It's barely outside the realm of 1st level characters (or maybe just inside) if you have a full group.

Third, I suspect that the encounter level guidelines hadn't been finalized at the time Mr Cordell had been told to write the adventure. My guess is that he had a goal (get # characters to level 2 by this point), and designed his encounters to match.

Fourth, lots of new mechanics. The Irontooth fight is really good at showcasing some of the new stuff that you and the monsters can do (up-to-and-including Action Points and Second Winds). It wouldn't surprise me that influenced the number of creatures included.

And finally, again, I think that party size has a lot to do with it. At 1250 xp, a party of 6 is roughly expected to deal with 200xp of creatures per person. That's 4 minions and a normal, or some variation. That probably didn't seem unreasonable when he layed it out.

What bothers me most about KotS isn't that the fight was difficult, it's that there's no suggestions in the text for scaling for party size. (For a party of 5, remove 1 skirmisher and 3 minions, for a party of 4, remove an additional dragonshield and 3 minions). And since KotS was released before the core books, nobody that didn't have torrented copies could possibly have known what the actual EL was.


David Witanowski wrote:


My point is, I never thought they were just whining, because the encounters were indeed incredibly deadly. So the question remains: are the TPKs intentional? (in particular the Irontooth encounter in Keep On The Shadowfell?)

As I think more about it, I would have to say that yes, it is deliberate. I was looking through a gaming friend's old D&D stuff, and there is an adventure from the start of the 3.0 line called Forge of Fury. It is an adventure for low to medium level characters (and is the second adventure published by WotC for 3.0 D&D, from what I can tell) that contains a roper (a CR12ish monster). The adventure goes out of its way to point out that the roper is deadly and that the party (presumably still new to 3.0 and having little to no idea of how dangerous a CR12 roper can be for four 4th level characters) should not fight it and that it is there just to show the players that sometimes a party has to run. The fact that if the party tangles with the roper they will be trapped and unable to run makes it seem that the lesson was intended to be delivered by way of a TPK.

So WotC already has a history of handling out a TPK early in a new edition just to teach players that they can bite off more than they can chew and lose characters because of it.

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David wrote:


What surprised me about the difficulty of the encounter was the fact that it was meant for a group of 1st level PCs who were most likely playing the first module of 4th edition ever. And yes, I was talking about the Irontooth encounter.

I'm not opposed to tough encounters, but to face one so early, when the characters are still learning the ropes so to speak, just seemed awfully mean spirited to me. And, sure, I could have tweaked it to make it easier, but I too was running the first 4th edition module available to me. How was I to know until it was too late?

Wasn't there a roper (EL 11) in "The sunless Citadel," the first 3.0 adventure? If I recall correctly, the purpose of that encounter was indeed to teach players that there were tough things out there.


P1NBACK wrote:


My players spend a LOT of time developing their characters prior to and during a campaign. We don't do a dungeon crawl style game, so a lot of emotion and effort is put into developing each character's background, personality, and connection to the campaign. This leaves the idea of "extra characters" as something of a no-go.

For the most part, I admit I try to keep the character's alive, keeping most of the challenges within their abilities (and occassionally fudging dice rolls).

Yeah, see I wouldn't like to play in this game. But to each his own - that's all cool. We put time into character backstory and that sort of things as well, quite a bit when it comes to some players, but we have additional characters on hand if needed. The two aren't mutually exclusive.


P1NBACK wrote:


All I am saying is, that's not my game. And, having pre-generated characters doesn't mesh well with my game despite it being totally appropriate for the above style of game.

But the implication that having extra characters on hand doesn't work with games that are heavy RP with in-depth character backgrounds is a false one.

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Steerpike7 wrote:
But the implication that having extra characters on hand doesn't work with games that are heavy RP with in-depth character backgrounds is a false one.

Hi, Steerpike7. I'm a simulationist myself, with PC death coming as it may, and I know where you're coming from.

But there is a correlation between heavier body-counts and players not investing as much work into their PC's. I've seen some real blood-baths, with players who won't even name their characters until they make it through a couple of sessions.

It's certainly not an absolute correlation, put the implication has some merit.


Chris Mortika wrote:


Hi, Steerpike7. I'm a simulationist myself, with PC death coming as it may, and I know where you're coming from.

But there is a correlation between heavier body-counts and players not investing as much work into their PC's. I've seen some real blood-baths, with players who won't even name their characters until they make it through a couple of sessions.

It's certainly not an absolute correlation, put the implication has some merit.

I haven't run into this problem yet. I am also a player in a 1E game where player death is quite common, and people will usually flesh out their background as the game progresses and their character levels. So where they might have started with just a skeleton of a backstory, as the game progresses and the character survives, that backstory is built upon.

But in either case, the game is heavily RP-dependent, and isn't just dungeon-crawling and fighting. I think that implication was misplaced.


Steerpike7 wrote:


I haven't run into this problem yet. I am also a player in a 1E game where player death is quite common, and people will usually flesh out their background as the game progresses and their character levels. So where they might have started with just a skeleton of a backstory, as the game progresses and the character survives, that backstory is built upon.

But in either case, the game is heavily RP-dependent, and isn't just dungeon-crawling and fighting. I think that implication was misplaced.

How common is death in that game? How common is 'quite common'? How heavy is the roleplaying aspect in that game?

What is the average character level in the group now?


doppelganger wrote:


How common is death in that game? How common is 'quite common'? How heavy is the roleplaying aspect in that game?

The roleplaying aspect is very heavy. It's the predominant aspect, in fact. Some sessions go by where roleplaying is the only thing that takes place (politics and intrigue play a big role).

As for how common - I'd estimate that making it to level 5 with a new characters is about 30-40% likely. New characters all start at level 1. If you can make it through the first two or three levels you have a semi-decent chance. If you make it to level 5, you're probably going to have maybe a 60% chance of getting as high as level 8 or 9. Beyond that, I'm not sure how the odds play out.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber

When I ran the Age of Worms AP we lost a lot of character near the end (in the last half we had at least a death every second adventure). So in the final adventure when I introduced a new character I asked the player his character's name and he replied that he stopped naming them two characters ago. For most of the players it killed some of the "realism" or continuity (for lack of better term). Why should all these new character suddenly show up in the middle of nowhere. One player liked it however, as he got to try out lot of new and interesting ideas and character concepts.


The 1E game takes place largely in well-populated areas, so it's never a problem explaining why new characters are around.

I've had other games where it is a problem. Once, the PCs were in the middle of nowhere, with only a semi-reptilian race in the area (they were an indigenous tribe). When two players were killed simultaneously (by a trap) the two players just rolled PCs who were from that tribe. We put the race together and off they went. They even came up with some interesting stories as to why they were leaving their tribe to go with strangers, etc. Didn't have to explain why other characters might be in the area :)


David Witanowski wrote:
I'm not opposed to tough encounters, but to face one so early, when the characters are still learning the ropes so to speak, just seemed awfully mean spirited to me...

Unfortunately, popular opinion is that KotS is a fairly disappointing first attempt -- I'd say this simply reinforces that view.

This time, it's the incompetence thing :)

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