Total. Party. Kill. Again.
I have played D&D for a long time. In those years, I can count in one hand the number of times–excluding DM fiat–where the entire party got wiped out. I venture to say that it has never been more than once per edition in my experience. However, in a span of less than two years, 5th Edition has killed 12 characters and two separate TPK incidents.
The most recent incident was in my Out of the Abyss campaign against a beholder.
The party was sent to kill the beholder. They asked lots of questions about it beforehand and I specifically told the characters all the eye rays and about the antimagic eye. After wandering in the Underdark for a while, they discover where the eye tyrant resides. Approaching the lair, they are greeted by the beholder’s pet mage. While the beholder humors the characters for a while, finally he is sick of their stalling and attacks. From 50 feet above the floor. Because of the random nature of the eye rays, the beholder spent many rounds being ineffective, firing off rays that did not affect certain characters. However, I threw the cleric off the ledge several times, pertrified the paladin, and charmed the elfshadow druid–about the only ray that would affect him. Cleric, wizard, and ranger all plane shifted away at the end. I had killed two characters. This was not the end however.
Two weeks later real time, all the characters returned to the Tower of Vengeance and once again vote to confront the beholder. Now they have experience under their belts, they have first-hand knowledge of what to expect, and they have rage in their hearts. What they needed was some stuff between the ears.
Let me recap a few things:
- The beholder took very little damage from spells because of the antimagic eye
- The party could not reach the beholder because it was hovering the entire time
- The beholder easily shifted the antimagic to cover the majority of the party and isolated one character for eye ray attacks
- The beholder and pet mage are intelligent
So returning to the second bout with the beholder. I changed the scenery to make suit the beholder further–disintegration can make quick work of solid stone–both the mage and beholder used the items in its treasure hoard, and I figured out the optimal ranges and angles to trap the characters. The characters did nothing to prepare or change their tactics–no ranged weapons, no preparations for the eye rays, no scouting. I mentioned in a previous post that I felt the TPK was coming. The players should have seen it as well.
I gave them a few opportunities in the beginning of the battle to adapt, try something new, do something different… but then I got serious and I savagely destroyed them one at a time. No mercy. They managed to hurt the beholder worse than the first battle, but only because one new character was designed specifically to battle the beholder. I killed him first. The rest just died the same way the first battle unfolded. I was apologetic in the end, but the more I thought about it, the less surprised I was about the outcome. To be brutally honest, they dug their own grave. It is not the fault of the DM–I did not roll a single attack roll or eye ray the entire evening, I made the players do that–or the system. Sometimes the dice need to fall and the heroes with them.
Where do you fall when it comes to a total party kill?
But… what do I know…?
(Thanks Kevthulu for the awesomely amusing image, which I swiped from his Twitter account, and for encouraging me to write up this article.)