The game was a mini campaign while we took a brief hiatus from our Pathfinder Kingmaker game. We were all having a good time with it, but the dice fell as they did and with a few poor rolls the party died while trying to rescue a young Princess Leia. Things went south with a botched stealth roll and went rapidly downhill from there, ending with explosions going off everywhere and party members going down in a hail of blaster fire. Despite that, this will be one of the games that will be memorable for our group. This will be one we look back at and laugh at how quickly that situation went downhill.
Our group has others, there is the campaign I ran that got our group together many years ago, my return to DMing. That one is memorable for the wrong reasons, it was like running the PCs through a meat grinder. Not my best moments! It took a bit of time before I was allowed to DM again!
There was our higher level game that finally came to conclusion via TPK. Once again dice rolling was not going our way and we all fell in what was close to one of the final combats. We were disappointed when it happened, but even to this day it is still a campaign we remember fondly. Even a few years later we had a different set of characters in the same campaign world that sought out the heroes from that fateful TPK.
The threat of a TPK or character death is what helps make the successes in a game that much better. With no real threat of consequence it becomes routine to defeat the evil wizards and dragons of the world as there is no risk. The occasional TPK keeps that sense of risk around which sweetens the victories characters do accomplish.
There is certainly a fine line to walk. Too many TPKs as a GM and you get a reputation of being a “killer GM”. Never having a TPK or character death and you end up on the other side of the spectrum and you are the “soft GM” that never lets the dice fall the way they may. Finding the balance can be difficult, but in the end I think it leads to a more rewarding gaming experience with some risk being a constant presence. The risk is what helps make the game heroic!
So GMs out there, if the campaign you have been running results in a TPK, let it stand. Do not be tempted to roll back the clock and have a redo. Do not be tempted to rescue them via GM fiat. Let it stand. Chances are your players will talk about the campaign and the characters in it for many years to come! And it will add even more sense of accomplishment to future games you run when their characters are successful.