What are some amusing ways to TPK a level 20 party?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


I am putting together a campaign where the PCs start as squires for a max level adventuring party.

The story however will start with the level 20s dying, leaving the level 1 PCs woefully unprepared to take on the world ending threat the 20s were handling.

How can I go about killing these characters in a way that is believable and funny? Bonus points if it is somehow the PC's fault.

An issue I am running into is any high level party would be functionally immortal being only a few thousand gold away from a resurrection.


Does it have to be funny?

The high level NPCs can push their squires into some kind of hiding place and all they hear are grotesque noises. The actual enemy is not even seen, but the PCs have sounds or smells to follow.


There's the classics. A sculpted demon face whose mouth leads into a dark passage. The L20s walk into the darkness and disappear. The passage is dark because it's filled with a sphere of annihilation.

Or, a bunch of ninjas jump out and take the PCs hostage. The L20s heroically offer to take the PCs places. That happens. Then stabstabstab with thinaun weapons from D&D 3.x. (this may require a little more suspension of disbelief)


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*PC squire is giving a bag of holding and throughout a good portion of it, they draw out awesome things and hand them out to the level 20s: healing potions, magical bane arrows as big, bad monsters appear, ladders, etc. Then somehow you contrive to have the PC get a black handkerchief which is actually a folded up (or really tiny) portable hole (possibly created and placed by the bad guy). They drop it in the bag, rift opens... level 20 hero knocks PC to safety as they're all sucked into [the Void].

*PC loses sight of heroes at one point (having been told to hide around corner, move to a balcony, fog cloud or obscuring mist). When they see the fight again, the bad guy has used an illusion to switch appearances with the heroes (which the heroes aren't fooled by). The heroes maybe say something that hints about it, but isn't clear ("You think that trick will fool us!?") while the PC can't see it. Hopefully they come around the corner or see an opening to [use a weapon/use a magical bomb/etc.] and they hit the heroes and it works incredibly well (crit/stone to flesh then crumbles and the bad guy blows them away/etc.)

*Lever labeled 'Super Happy Fun Slide'.


"Woefully unprepared? Who cares? We're RICH! I am *totally* selling Sir Slavedriver's +5 Vorpal fauchard, then buying a palatial spread to retire!"

(I.e., better make sure that all the dope L20 gear disappears with them.)


Pizza Lord wrote:


*Lever labeled 'Super Happy Fun Slide'.

Does it really drop them onto a sphere of annihilation?


The rules for suffocation care little about such things as hit points and bonuses to saving throws.
Maybe the low-level PC's are the tough, brawny ones and their level 20 employees are relatively frail.


Could it be shockingly gruesome? During the adventure into the dungeon on their way to the BBEG, have the L20's one by one step in different One-shot-killing-traps that are "almost" undetectable. And yes, you can make the PC trigger the traps that kill the L20 NPCs.

For example, the first L20 steps on a trap that instantly crushes him/her between two giant pillars, one coming below and one from the ceiling. The squire was """just""" out of reach of the trap, but fully within reach of the gore splatter of the crushed L20 hero (and items likewise crushed). In between traps, have the L20s have epic fights with demons/devils/whatever the world ending threat is in your game. Than, after a combat, the next L20 triggers a trap that opens a giant bottemless pit. So a different L20 quickely casts Featherfall and succeeds, only to see the side of the pit quickly close in and crush the slowely descending L20. Again, guts and gore everywhere. Eventually, have the last L20 teleport the terrefied squires to safety before the gets killed in the final battle with the BBEG. No items from the L20s, just bits and pieces of their actual body.

Scarab Sages

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The L20 party plane shifted to a private Demiplane called "The Tavern" or "The Temple" (created with the spell Create Demiplane, Greater) to get some private R&R*, only to find that the tuning fork the PCs packed in the Wizard Spell Component Pouch was actually the one for the OTHER Demi-Plan, the (dead magic) one created by them to Trap enemies in. So, the L20s have ended up in an Anti Magic Plane, with a bunch of monsters they have (over the years) plane shifted here to dispose of.

Heck, the target Demi-Plane could even be Time-Stopped, giving the PCs a long range goal - to ultimately free the L20s from the time pocket... along with a BUNCH of monsters for the FINAL FIGHT SCENE...

*The private Demiplane was created by the L20 Cleric of Cayden Cailean, and has a Tavern Theme...

Scarab Sages

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I can see this being even funnier if the PCs were actually "Body Doubles" hired to stand in for the L20 NPCs at a function the high level guys didn't want to bother with. You know, got to go the the opening ceremony for the new charity wing of the Old Adventurers Hall.

So they LOOK LIKE the L20 gang, and most people around them treat them as the L20 gang. So when a Mummy suddenly attacks out of nowhere and all the PCs freeze in terror (failed their save), and the "low level guards" take out the threat, the Guard Captain thanks the PCs for "holding back so my crew can get some experience in". The Captain could even offer to help them with "any light work" they encounter during their investigation in town. "No need to trouble yourself handling monsters that are so low level you don't even get any XP for..."

Heck, you could even add in a "guide" or "coach" for the PCs by having the L20 Wizards familiar still around. Say a Raven so it can speak, and at 20 level it has more HP then the players, has an INT of 15, and a real reason to drive the players to "get the boss back!". It would provide the GM with a 'voice' to guide the action in the game. Insuring that the PCs KNOW what happened... and can constantly update the PCs on how to "keep up the act" and "play their part"...

you know what? I'm really liking this idea for a game.

Lantern Lodge

Well, back in the day (ADD 2nd Edition) our PCs were adventuring in the Forgotten Realms and there was this portal that presumably (so we thought as PCs) took you to someplace that you needed to get to continue the adventure. Turns out anyone who entered the portal was disintegrated (or something along those lines). Technically, our entire group committed unintentional suicide and our GM was left wondering what to do. Our GM ended up NOT killing us all and having us transported somewhere innocuous from which we could return and continue adventuring as he didn't want to have everyone roll up new characters and/or end the adventure. We were not 20th level, but it wouldn't have mattered if we were.


A group of lvl 20's have so many contingencies and counters to any possible effect the GM can throw at them that a TPK *should* theoretically be impossible at that point. A level 10 can influence a continent, a level 20 can influence an entire planet. A level 20 is basically a Superman-level character in terms of influential impact. You can survive and even threaten deities. Tbh, if a GROUP of 20's gets TPKed, you were either so ill-prepared that you deserve it, or your GM was so fed up with you that he sent Thanos while the party was split up.


What Ryze states is correct. Between Wish and True Resurrection permanently killing a 17+ character is extremely difficult if not impossible.

But maybe a cabal of deities has decided 'man' has gotten out of control ... and all the campaign's high level heroes (and villans) get killed off overnight by the Cabal i.e. they hit the reset button. The squires have to convince at least one deity to reverse their decision.

(Break time over, back later)


The party of 20th level adventurers recently discovered their long running nemesis is on the cusp of summoning an Elder God. Most embarrassingly, his super secret lair is actually in the secret escape tunnel from the hidden castle the Hero Party lives in. (The nemisis' construction company was the lowest bidder)

While the Hero Party was able to kill their nemesis, his death was the final component in the ritual. The entire hero party is fighting against hordes of lesser...things. From Beyond. Don't look at them, you'll go funny and then you'll become useless. Quick, all of you squires run up to the Wizards Lab and grab everything from the Sealed Refrigerator of Secrets and return immediately.

In the Refrigerator is a bunch of different parts from...difficult to identify monsters. None of it looks pleasant. One item in particular stands out. There is a plate with a broken and slightly blackened bone on it that has a sign that says "Under no circumstances is this to be removed from this Refrigerator."

Whatever choice the players make, it is the wrong choice. The Hero Party ignores anything they say, take the items, and either curses them for not bringing everything, or says the squires have doomed them all. Then giant tentacles flood from the portal enveloping the Hero Party and pushing the squires back before they retract into the portal and the portal closes (or doesn't close).


One possibly funny way to do it is to have the PC's find some sort of activation rune that transports the level 20's to the 9th circle of Hell, where Asmodeus and a few of his Archdevils are having a meeting. Archdevils are 10th-rank mythic creatures, not counting their boss. That would do it.

J


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Win Initiative.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Just make it background info and don’t go into details


epic level time travel quest.

"Don't touch ANYTHING! and we mean it!"

3 cut scenes later a lone goblin attack. the (low level) party , they kill it. turns out it was the missing xp for the (level 20, still level 1 in this time line) others to level 2, before the big bad boss fight.

"but..but i remember Lord Finn saying the hobgoblin leader was a push over... how can they loose?"

Liberty's Edge

The lvl 20 party is very talented. The lvl 1 PCs are obviously not. Make something with a failed skill check, like a stealth roll. Make it in a spot where the lvls 20s managed to move around in full gear stealthily enough, but the PCs in barely tunics and tabards keep making enough noise to wake the dead.

Someone above mentioned suffocation.

Perhaps in the opening scene the lvl 20s JUST fought off a big bad guy, and their spellcasters have been exhausted.


As someone pointed out, environmental hazards can be devastating at all levels. While lvl20 characters could theoretically afford all kinds of contingencies, in my experience players are largely less prepared than their characters could be expected to be. Just because a hazard is trivial to overcome with low level magic doesnt mean they have it on habd at all times.


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A band of Gunslingers and Monks led by an Arcane Archer who Imbues his Arrows with Anti Magic Field.


A bunch of low level wizards with scrolls of Mage's Disjunction. XD

The Exchange

Giamo Casanunda wrote:

I can see this being even funnier if the PCs were actually "Body Doubles" hired to stand in for the L20 NPCs at a function the high level guys didn't want to bother with. You know, got to go the the opening ceremony for the new charity wing of the Old Adventurers Hall.

So they LOOK LIKE the L20 gang, and most people around them treat them as the L20 gang. So when a Mummy suddenly attacks out of nowhere and all the PCs freeze in terror (failed their save), and the "low level guards" take out the threat, the Guard Captain thanks the PCs for "holding back so my crew can get some experience in". The Captain could even offer to help them with "any light work" they encounter during their investigation in town. "No need to trouble yourself handling monsters that are so low level you don't even get any XP for..."

Heck, you could even add in a "guide" or "coach" for the PCs by having the L20 Wizards familiar still around. Say a Raven so it can speak, and at 20 level it has more HP then the players, has an INT of 15, and a real reason to drive the players to "get the boss back!". It would provide the GM with a 'voice' to guide the action in the game. Insuring that the PCs KNOW what happened... and can constantly update the PCs on how to "keep up the act" and "play their part"...

you know what? I'm really liking this idea for a game.

Expanding on this more -

The L20 Party actually "acts as/provides for" a Defensive Force maintaining the Country/Empire/Civilization. Keeping the neighboring Evil Lands from "Overrunning Civilization". If there was an indication that the L20 Party was no longer available for that Defense... So the players have to maintain the appearance of the L20 Party, while scrambling to try to "get them back!" or replace them ... or something!


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Or you could pull off a Megamind ending. The party sees the heroes get killed. They go on doing whatever it was they need to do, and any attempts to bring the heroes back to life fail. At some point near the end of the campaign, the characters find out the heroes are actually alive and just decided they no longer wanted to be heroes so faked their own death.


The most effective way of killing high level characters is to drown them. Most players don't think to equip their characters with an (item) of water breathing, most casters won't have a spell that allows breathing underwater prepared, and only a few races can naturally breathe underwater. Water is one of those things players usually don't think to prepare for unless they're playing in a nautical/aquatic campaign.

My idea: Make a huge thing of the Level20's getting prepared to take down the villain, several times stating that with proper preparation they can take on anything. The overconfident Level20's swagger into the villain's lair, tell a PC apprentice to pull that lever, and then are sealed in an anti-magic chamber that rapidly fills with water. The PCs watch as the heroes flail about for a few minutes before drowning, brought down by their own sense of superiority.


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Have you ever seen 'Mystery Men'?

BBEG traps the level 20s in some sort of insidious death trap. The PCs are the only ones who can save them, since they're not trapped. But instead, they trigger the death trap, which kills the level 20s, maybe trapping their souls or something.

The BBEG shows up, the PCs hear them coming and flee, knowing they're no match for the BBEG. Or, if you'd prefer to remove the chance that the PCs try to attack a BBEG that took out level 20 characters, have the trap drop them into the dungeon or teleport them away to somewhere they have to start over. The BBEG finds that their level 20 prisoners are already dead, which tips them off that someone was there, and have some minions go looking for the PCs to kick off their adventures.


I've seen the difference between theoretical and real high level parties.
The closest I've come to TPKing high level parties is when I crafted combats to be hard but defeatable given their standard gear up/prep, only to have them get sloppy/experimental and make bad assumptions.
I ended up scrambling to avoid TPKing the party.

People get sloppy and over confident.

Hint: When they party is taking a small amount of energy damage each round that forces a moderate save or be screwed if they take any damage, blocking the damage is crucial. The attitude "oh, we'll just kill the monsters rather than waste time pulling up communal protection from x energy type, because the saves aren't that hard" will likely lead to TPK.


An Ancient Solar Dragon and 6 Iron Golem Archers?


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20th level characters are larger than life demi-gods, and should act like it, maybe instead of killing them, have a divine avatar come to them, calling them to help save one of the outer planes.
Them being the big heroes that they are, they jump at the oppertunity to go have a mythic adventure.

They leave their (Somewhat unwanted and forced upon them by the kingdom) frail and mortal apprentices to look after the slightly enchanted fortress that serves as a glorified gate house and contact point to the heroes personal Demi-Plane.
The apprentices have never been inside the Demi-Plane, but the place is rumored to rival Elysium in it´s splendor.

A week after the heroes leave, not expecting to return for at least a year, the BBEG starts invading with his goblin army and evil McGuffin that will enable him to control the kingdom in an iron appendage.
Time to half-elf up and act like actual soon-to-be heroes.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Adopt the Movie Zemo method, and make them destroy themselves...

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