In my last session of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG I ran, what I thought was going to be a fun encounter almost turned into a TPK. With that said, it was still a fun encounter, just much more deadly than I had thought it would be.
I am running the group through Sepulcher of the Mountain God from Purple Duck Games. It is a fun little module and I worked it into the Sunken City campaign by staging a little “favor” the two wizards owed their patron. The patron did not really give them much of a choice about it.
We started last night’s session off with the group plunging deeper into a set of caverns. One character got caught up in a nasty trap, but the group recovered and continued on. While investigating a precipice they were ambushed by several creatures. The creatures had surprise and then won initiative. That right there should have been a sign that things were about to head south quickly.
In addition to the creatures winning init and effectively getting two attacks in a row, my dice rolls were on fire. I don’t think I ever rolled much below a 17 and when I did it was a 14 or so against a low AC wizard. Before the party ever really had a chance to act, three of the characters were bleeding out on the ground. None of the enemy combatants were down.
When the PCs did get their chance to act, they couldn’t roll above a 5 or 6 it seemed. Certainly not high enough to actually hit one of the creatures. The next round was another round of my rolls being high and theirs being low, though not quite as bad, they still couldn’t take any of the creatures out.
The group started getting desperate and several heroic attempts were made through lots of Luck being spent and wizards spellburning their lives away. I was nearly ready to have the creatures do something unusual flee into a pit, as if they were just passing “through” the party, but my players are hardcore and wanted the dice to fall where they may.
So we did. The wizard managed to get a nice Invoke Patron off which helped get another combatant on the field and draw some of the attacks. Then he enlarged it the next round which also helped. The others took advantage of the newfound cover and the party did turn the tide.
In Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG there is a “recover the body” rule that allows a body to be “rolled over” up to an hour after they fell. The character makes a luck check and if successful it turns out they were only knocked out. They awake with one hit point and lose a point from a physical ability score determined at random.
Each of the three characters made their Luck check, so in the end it worked out okay. The party was pretty beat up and did end up spending a good amount of time resting to recover some health, spellburn damage, and spells.
I am not a judge or GM that is necessarily afraid of killing characters. I am probably softer than I was in my initial comeback to gaming, but I certainly like for their to be risk for characters and for them to feel like they earned something. As it turns out my players for this particular campaign are pretty content to let the dice fall where they may – even if it means a TPK at the hands of an encounter that really was not intended to be a pinnacle encounter of the adventure.
During the game I think this is what made me hesitant as it looked like this encounter was going to be a TPK. It wasn’t that the characters had made bad decisions that led to this. It was that bad luck moment where their dice went cold and mine went hot.
The combination of those two things can be a deadly turn of events for characters and campaigns. It was that combination that made me feel a little guilty for how things looked to be headed. Who wants to see their characters die at the hands of a few 2HD chumps?
As it turns out, the remaining characters were able to regroup and pull things back out of the fire. They saw my hesitation as judge, but acknowledged to let the dice fall as they may. I did that. The creatures kept up with their attack and by the end the heroes were once again victorious. And I think by the end they felt like they had really earned that victory.
From here on out I know with this particular group that they want no holds barred. I think that is great and I am happy to run that game for them. I am not sure all groups would have been okay with how things were headed and might have wanted some GM fiat to bail them out. Not my DCC RPG group, which is probably why we are playing DCC RPG.
What would you have done?
So what would you have done? Killing a party is well and good, but when that bad luck combo of the player’s dice going cold while the judge’s dice go hot? Does that make you think of altering the creatures’ actions a bit or would you have stuck with it?
How about as a player in that situation? Would you have preferred the judge intervene a little bit or would you have wanted to roll with it like the group I run for on my Tuesday night game?