Gothic Earth: Session 12 TPK

Well, last weeks game had some major issues and ended up falling apart. Technically, everybody died, but there were things going on beyond our ability to control. It was horrible. Nobody had their thinking caps on and this is a very hard game. I knew that from the beginning. Whenever something like this happens, you learn a lot, and we did.

Lets back up. We took a month off and are playing twice this month, this being the first session to make up for August. I had beat them down with a dragon, and their characters needed time to heal up. This gave us a week where they just stayed in their cabin, and I really don't like that much missing time, especially since this campaign will only last for 10 years of in-game time. To fill the gap I wrote some fiction.

There were things that I wanted to recap, and game elements which weren't being utilized, such as the mystics tarot cards. I never wanted to shut the game down for the time it takes to focus on divination, not in real-time anyway, so I took the opportunity to do that. Providing hints, and clues and basically telling them that it is time to move. They are transporting the bones of Saint Sabaldus, he is their knight, but there is a dark knight as well, and the party can't fight him, Sabaldus has to.

I also revealed that there were three parts, the Dragon, the creature in the mine, and the Witch, these were all connected, not separate at all, but one big problem. In order to tip the scale in Sabaldus's favor they had to eliminate at least one of these targets.

I also decided to bring the character who died last adventure back to life. I have never done this before, in all my years of gaming nobody has ever been resurrected. It was a pointless death, but I also had the Holy Relic. The character had served the town, so the town served her. They fetched her body from the canyon and returned her to the party where Sabaldus gave her back her life. In exchange for this, they lost the girl that they had saved to the witches. This also speeds up the clock, once she is made a witch they will form a coven, and this will allow the ancient witch who is imprisoned under the church to escape.

I introduced a new character as well, a German Detective who has been hunting them ever since they left Germany with the artifact, he showed up with a ton of men and they have now taken over the village of Belalp, and they arrested Van Helsing, so he is off of the table as well.

At that point, we began the game. Everybody really loved the story, the player who had died was jazzed as I had told her to keep this to herself, she rolled her Resurrection survival and passed it. Then they cleared out of town taking the artifact with them.

I thought that they were going after the dragon, they almost killed it last time, and it is injured still; I'd figure that they'd go finish the job. They didn't, instead they went right to the Tomb of the Witch, and broke the seal. There was no going back now, the Witch was officially loose.

This specific dungeon was the hardest thing that I have ever drawn up. It hasn't seen a living soul since Father Sabaldus trapped her in there back when he was alive. Inside is a living nightmare, those who followed the Witch Kevra were entombed as well, and a war over supplies raged inside until every one of them were dead. This war repeats itself over and over again. Even the dead here cannot be slain, the curse always brings them back.

Somehow, I don't know how they do it, my dungeons are always mazes, but they always seem to stumble right where they need to go. The nastiest trap in the place, they figured out. An elevator which must be locked at the bottom, it goes to the Witch's chambers, and she controls the undead to lower the elevator if she wants to. If the players don't pay attention to this elevator, they will be the ones who are entombed down there as it is the only way in or out.

So, the players fight their way to the witch's chambers, and find an evil sentient statue of some forgotten pagan god, it is casting spells, and the witch appears but gets blown away. The players take the Relic into the room, Sam knows that this is where the artifact belongs, and then the war begins, the horror of true good vs. evil, but since they didn't really kill any of the beasts party (the witch, the dragon, and whatever is haunting the darkness in the mine) Sabaldus can't win. I am describing this battle of light and telling them that it is getting darker and darker and they aren't doing anything about it. They are just sitting their listening to this. Finally I just shut down the game.

We've been playing this game for almost a whole year. Everyone was distracted and having difficulty. They didn't understand what was going on, I thought that it was obvious, but was wrong. A couple of the players were loving it, it is harder than hell. The Wizard didn't show up to play, so they had no offensive spells. We also figured out that the Mystic is unbalanced and unplayable at the level that she is at. When they designed the Masque of the Red Death box set, it was meant for a one shot adventure, but we've been playing it long-term. She is not a normal cleric, and is so restricted in her spells that all she is is a medic, and she hated it. We talked after the game and decided to grant her an offensive psionic power which hopefully will give her character that little boost that she needs.

I felt like a failure. I take things personally, I do! I did make a big error during the game. I couldn't find the stats for the ancient witch, it wasn't on my stat block sheet, instead I had placed it right on the Random Encounters sheet and had forgot, so I improvised. She had a Fake Kevra, which I ran, but I gave it way too much power, and hit one of the fighters almost killing him instantly. Afterwards I found my mistake, so there is that.

I offered two options: We could either hold the game where it is at, or we could reboot it from where the PC resurrected. So far they have opted to hold, they returned to the elevator and locked it between floors so they are safe, but I told them that there is only one path to win the scenario. They have to kill this witch tomorrow. If they flee, they'll be killed. With all of the bumbling they did end up cornering both themselves and the witch, but with the injuries that they have, they are in a very tight spot.

I feel like a cad for stopping the game because of TPK. We've got a character who has no hp left, a high level cleric who is helpless in a pit of the undead, a fighter who can't enter the Demon room, and another fighter who was charmed by the statue and is now working for it. Only the thief of the party is unharmed, and they hope to kill the witch in her own domain. Personally, I think that they are doomed if they follow this path.

I don't know. I didn't give them any XP because I was angry, but calmed down during the post game discussion. There are lots of reasons why the game collapsed, but it still feels cheap. I am not willing to take it easy on them in regards to fighting the witch. That would be a huge disservice to them. Like I said, the majority of the players were cool with the difficulty level, but we all agreed that we weren't mentally in the game as the game required us to be.

What would you do?

Do you think that it was wrong to not TPK a party for one off night? It was many factors: my bumbling, bad dice rolls, and caring for a player who was not able to play. I have no problem TPKing early games, but we've been playing these characters for over 10 years, they got us back into the hobby. I can't do that to them.

Bad games are a bummer!


Scott Anderson said...

Wow that sounds like a really awesome setup! It sounds like a great climactic battle waiting to happen.

I'll tag you on Ruins of Murkhill because this is too complex an issue to sort out in one response.

But this is general advice that stands in most cases: you are all adults and you are there to have fun. It's appropriate to talk to your players like adults and tell them what is bothering you. More importantly, ask them what they honestly think and what they think should happen.

Again, looking forward to hearing you share in more depth

RipperX said...

Hey Scott. It is a big ending, and I was really looking forward to it. This isn't what I expected to happen. No matter what I do now, it is cheapened.

Unknown said...

I'm sort of in the same boat. When I was younger, all I could arrange was one-shot adventures and they were all shit. Now that I'm older and a better story-teller I'm currently in my first long-running campaign and we've been going at it for a year or so. I feel that the longer the game goes on, the harder it is for me to kill my players, but I also want to make it hard, and I kinda want one of them to die, because many of my players are new, and I want them to experience that part of the game.

Right now, I'm contemplating some much harder monsters and even almost un-defeatable, which will taunt but not outright attack.

In your scenario, it's tricky. The players DID enter the lair underprepared, and it would be a dishonour to the players to nerf the encounter you had planned. On the other hand, if you felt like it was harder than it should have been because you messed up your notes, or vital piece of info etc, then maybe I'd give my players a 2nd shot.
When I play DnD, what I really like is the endless possibility and the unknown. I don't think I'd want to replay a scenario I'd already lost. I would have too much meta-knowlegde and the sense of wonder is gone. It would be too gamey.
What's done is done, it was a grand tale, you will all remember, but it ended on a bittersweet note. It's not about the ending, but the journey as we play, right?

RipperX said...

Hey Martin! Good to see you :)

I think that we are all students of the game. We all learn as we go. AD&D is a wonderful system that won't stop you from falling flat on your face. I created a fatal flaw in my design and didn't notice it until it was too late. Every game is a play-test.

In regards to unbeatable monsters, I don't think that you really need to do that. Just play them smart, put them in areas where the players are exposed and they are not, and be mean. Finding that balance between challenging and lethal is always difficult.

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