Friday, May 27, 2022

TPK in the Deep!

Left to right: Lieres, Goloxir, Aeneas:
Aeneas perished in last night's game

 Over the last month, I have been sitting at the helm of my friend Stephen's campaign world, Weirth, while he did some catching up on personal projects. It is the second time that I have created and run an adventure for his very detailed, and very weird setting.

I have to confess, it is very strange trying to capture the flavor and intent of another GM's world at times. Weirth is very different from the kind of game I like to run: it is a gritty, low-fantasy setting where the gods are silent, most knowledge is lost to the ages, and the people bound up in a mix of survival-mode desperation and elaborate tradition. Where the most magic most people encounter is the constant low-grade zombie apocalypse that is ongoing, but has been going on so long most people know how to handle it.

Compared to my bright, weird, high-tech, high-magic setting of Xen, or my noble-bright realm of divine heroism in Aldrune, Wierth requires a totally different mindset and design principles. Accordingly, I worry often about introducing elements that may foul up the setting. Especially once I add intrigue, politics, or intelligent beings to the mix.

Stephen is, of course, gracious. He seems to just like how much effort I put into creating adventures that feel like they fit in his world. In fact, he gave me the green light to create the introductory module for the upcoming published Wierth setting, The Queen of Decay, which I posted at the end of March on my itch page, and will soon be migrating to DTRPG.

I think he enjoys the effort I put into being an asset at his table. Including taking the roles of Mapper and Caller with deadly seriousness (even if I have to do both at once), and creating silly fan art of the campaign.

But last night I did something that surprised me, and that bothered me a little;

I killed everyone.

Thanks to stupidly good dice rolls in some places and terrible dice rolls in others, my one-month run as DM ended in a Total Party Kill as the PCs were just inches away from Victory.

Now, Stephen is no dummy. He built Wierth to last. It run using one-to-one time with the players handling a  stable of three to eight PCs each, plus a small army of henchmen who can be promoted to PCs at a moment's notice. We currently have two large groups of PCs in different regions of the campaign world.

I was put in charge of handling an adventure for a PC who had split from the party back in the Fall, and who we'd left hanging. His adventure took him to a region of the campaign world far away from where the rest of our PCs were living. And it was isolated from the rest of the campaign world by taking place underwater (my specialty!) where even radical events wouldn't have much impact on the campaign.

But what if it had?

If I had been guest GMing a more modern campaign, I might have been in the positions to say "Sorry, Stephen, I'm afraid I wiped the campaign. You are going to need all of us to roll up new characters... maybe build a new world."

There is definitely something to be said about the power and flexibility of multi-PC campaigns where we were playing with strict one-to-one time. It made it possible for Stephen to hand me his game without worrying about whether he would have one when he came back. It makes the game so much more flexible. It proofs it against abrupt endings.

I also consider myself to be very lucky to be playing with a group of mature Old-School guys: like me, they all can enjoy a good character death. They found the tragic tale of these PCs amusing. I deeply appreciate players who remember that this is a game and comes at it with good sportsmanship. They would have been very disappointed if I had fudged my rolls.

They are true champions.

I also want to say a special thank you to my friend and fellow-player Abraham, who is leaving the Wierth game for at least a little while because of the other demands of life. Abe has been a real net plus to the game. And sending his character out eaten by monstrous fish for some players might have been a disappointment. In his case, he thought it was a laugh.

Abe, you were a real asset to the table.


  1. This is awesome!
    I can't wait to hear the whole story.
    And, kudos, congrats and thank you again for taking over for a bit.

    I hope to be able to return the favor...

  2. I really like the stable of PCs and henchmen/hirelings idea. Perfect way to protect against a campaign ending TPK.

    1. You know, it's funny. This really was the assumed structure of a campaign in the early days of Dungeons and Dragons, but it wasn't put down on paper in the original edition or the BECMI products. D&D really relied on older players teaching new players how to tun the game. Once it became a published product, I don't think the TSR guys had accounted for the fact that there would be self-taught people across the globe who had no contact with any of the wargaming clubs that first tested the game.

      Gygax tried to convey these ideas in the. AD&D1e DMG, but so many people never looked at that document. I was too young. I went straight from the red box to 2e, which just assumed people had figured out how to run a campaign and didn't go over this even if it did, there's a pretty good chance nobody would have read it, as I have noticed that GMS tend to gloss over sections that they believe are covering skills they already have.

      The whole culture of play had evolved to be very different feeling than the original concept. And certainly stuff like the original Dragonlance modules were just built on the assumption that you were going to play one character per player. I just got lost in translation from the original tables to the game as it was played by 1989.

      The idea of what constituted a campaign has changed radically. Originally it was the idea of one GM running a world that you could have multiple parties and adventures in. Now it essentially means a singular narrative Arc for one set of characters that feels like a Final Fantasy game.