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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ogre in the Playground
     
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    Default [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    So, everyone died in today's session. (Well, minus two. One was unconcious and his body hidden, the other couldn't make it to the session.) Now, I have nothing wrong with being a brutal DM. In fact, I love it. Problem is, I try to keep my encounters roughly 80% survivable. Going from full strength to dead in one battle is not accurate to this view. So, I come to the Playground to learn what I did wrong so as to avoid similar results in the future.

    Here's a rundown of the situation:

    PCs:
    Level 1 Chaotic Neutral Elf Hexblade
    Level 1 Chaotic Good Human Swashbuckler
    Level 1 Lawful Neutral Human Samurai
    Level 1 True Neutral Elf Ranger

    Enemies:
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Pitchfork [Improvised Trident]
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Pitchfork [Improvised Trident]
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Scythe
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Heavy Pick
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Hammer
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant

    (Note: All zombies also have Destruction Retribution.)

    Location:
    An Inn. Door locked and blocked with chairs. Windows, on either side of the door, reinforced with tables. Bar in the back, barricaded with tables.

    - Two zombies breaking through each barricade. (Two at each window, two at door.)
    - Ranger and Swashbuckler, both posessing bows, taking cover behind bar.
    - Samurai standing at ready in the middle of the room.
    - Hexblade standing halfway up the stairs, only visible to the window directly in front of him.

    What Happened:
    After several rounds of pounding at the barricades, the zombies break through the door first. After a taking a round to get the chairs out of the way, they charge the Samurai, while the archers take (ultimately futile, given the zombies' damage reduction) pot shots at them.

    Next round, zombies break through Hexblade's window, charging him. Hexblade curses pickaxe zombie.

    Little progress next several rounds, the zombies at the last window rolling poorly and making little progress. Given PCs high AC and zombies' high DR, little progress is made in either direction.

    Hexblade finally gets a good roll and beheads pickaxe zombie. Resulting Destructive Retribution does little, but seems to shatter morale, since things take a turn for the worst at that point.

    Final two zombies finally break in and charge across the room at archers. Takes a few rounds to get there, knock down the barricades, and jump over to attack. In the mean time, one of the pitchfok zombies KOs the Samurai, but is distracted by a shot from one of the archers. Unfortunately, the scythe zombie is not and coup de grace's the Samurai in the next round.

    Final two zombies reach the Ranger and kill her in a few rounds. Zombies that had been fighting the Samurai turn their attention to the Swashbuckler. Her weapons are all piercing in nature, and do almost nothing to the zombies. With the Ranger dispatched, those zombies move towards the Swashbuckler.

    Meanwhile, Hexblade is taken down in a few good hits from the pitchfork zombie. Swashbuckler attempts to escape, but during her overrun attempt is killed during the zombie's AoO. TPK.

    -----

    Is this sufficient information to determine where the error in judgement was made, or was it just unlucky dice tonight?
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-24 at 11:55 PM.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Ewwwww Samurai!


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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Where you went wrong is sending six templated undead against four pc's who just happened to not have a single effective means of harming undead between them. Archers face DR, hexblade can't use most of his magic on mindless undead, and well....samurai suck, plain and simple.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Marnath View Post
    Where you went wrong is sending six templated undead against four pc's who just happened to not have a single effective means of harming undead between them. Archers face DR, hexblade can't use most of his magic on mindless undead,
    Hard to avoid in a campaign centered around undead... and +2 HP/+4 STR isn't THAT bad...

    and well....samurai suck, plain and simple.
    Funny then that two of the players are rolling Samurai for their next character.
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-25 at 12:04 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Psycho View Post
    PCs:
    Level 1 Chaotic Neutral Elf Hexblade
    Level 1 Chaotic Good Human Swashbuckler
    Level 1 Lawful Neutral Human Samurai
    Level 1 True Neutral Elf Ranger

    Enemies:
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Pitchfork [Improvised Trident]
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Pitchfork [Improvised Trident]
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Scythe
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Heavy Pick
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant w/ Hammer
    Corpsecrafted Zombie Elf Peasant

    (Note: All zombies also have Destruction Retribution.)
    I think this is where the encounter broke down. At level 1, being outnumbered by things that likely have more HP than you do, that hurt you when they die, is a tough encounter. For a party consisting of those classes, with no magical support, no way to overcome DR, and six templated monsters, a tough encounter becomes brutal. With a short string of bad luck, a brutal encounter becomes a TPK.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Private-Prinny View Post
    I think this is where the encounter broke down. At level 1, being outnumbered by things that likely have more HP than you do, that hurt you when they die, is a tough encounter. For a party consisting of those classes, with no magical support, no way to overcome DR, and six templated monsters, a tough encounter becomes brutal. With a short string of bad luck, a brutal encounter becomes a TPK.
    Fair enough. Though both the Samurai and the Hexblade had katanas, so DR wasn't a problem for them. The Ranger was simply killed before she got a chance to draw her sword and... yeah the Swashbuckler was kind of SOL.

    Though I like tough and brutal, TPKs just mean a session wasted on rolling new characters. So I need to figure out where to stop short so that at the most maybe two PCs will die in any given encounter.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Just because you have a katana doesn't mean you're effective with it.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Honestly? I mean this as no offense, but tell your players to roll better characters. Additionally, Destruction Retribution was a little overdone for first level characters. I mean, seriously. Tone it back. The Corpsecrafting was bad enough.


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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Gareth View Post
    Honestly? I mean this as no offense, but tell your players to roll better characters. Additionally, Destruction Retribution was a little overdone for first level characters. I mean, seriously. Tone it back. The Corpsecrafting was bad enough.
    Well it's also partially because I want to give this campaign survival horror undertones, thus using any means practical to make the PCs want to run like hell at the sight of even bottom-rung mooks.

    Could be worse. First session, I stacked the Fast and Unkillable zombie variants on the things. TPK at the hands of the Samurai's reanimated mother. Obviously I retconned the entire incident and removed the variants.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marnath View Post
    Just because you have a katana doesn't mean you're effective with it.
    No, but it does mean that you don't have 80% of your damage delt going up in smoke.
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-25 at 12:17 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Some of the stuff I would have said like DR, although that may have been a mistake on the players' part, has already been said, so I'll add this: Maybe it's the difference in play-styles between the players and the DM. You, as the DM, have confessed to an expected 20% 80% survival rate, meaning players are probably expected to optimize. The players, one of whom picked Samurai and two of whom will be picking Samurai, apparently do not. Therefore, my recommendation would be to either teach the players optimization, or if that's too time-consuming or boring-sounding to the players, especially with four of them, maybe just tone down the campaign's difficulty.

    If I may ask, how experienced are the players? How well do they know character optimization and tiers and all that other meta stuff?
    Last edited by StreetPizza; 2010-09-25 at 12:30 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by StreetPizza View Post
    Some of the stuff I would have said like DR, although that may have been a mistake on the players' part, has already been said, so I'll add this: Maybe it's the difference in play-styles between the players and the DM. You, as the DM, have confessed to an expected 20% survival rate, meaning players are probably expected to optimize. The players, one of whom picked Samurai and two of whom will be picking Samurai, apparently do not. Therefore, my recommendation would be to either teach the players optimization, or if that's too time-consuming or boring-sounding to the players, especially with four of them, maybe just tone down the campaign's difficulty.

    If I may ask, how experienced are the players? How well do they know character optimization and tiers and all that other meta stuff?
    80% survival rate, akshully, but not that important.

    Not a fan of optimization, myself. I just want my PCs to be smarter about choosing their fights. My problem is that most PCs seem to assume that a martial victory is always an option.

    As for the players' experience? Three of them are playing their first campaign with me, and the others have several campaigns under their belt but don't worry too heavily about optimization. They do know who Pun-Pun is, at least.
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-25 at 12:23 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Why did I know the first thing anyone said would be a crack at Samurai?

    The party didn't lose because they had a samurai; that's totally irrelevant. A level-1 samurai isn't significantly worse than a level-1 fighter.

    They lost primarily because they fought stupidly. Secondarily, if you strongly wanted them to survive, you could have been more flexible in changing the encounter on the fly once they started losing.

    First point first: they were stupid. Their arrows weren't doing anything? Quit firing arrows and grab a weapon that counts! If they're not carrying slashing weapons, and their friends can't toss them a spare, then this is an inn, right? Let there be a meat cleaver or two, or an axe for chopping firewood. (This is where DM flexibility comes in: once they start acting smart and looking for better weapons, let 'em find something.) Once a zombie falls, grab his weapon.

    And -- DM flexibility again -- let 'em get away with Rule of Cool here. In movies and popular culture (though not so much in D&D usually) fighting zombies is a canonical badass moment. So when they quit plinking away with arrows, which they ought to know won't work (not because they've memorized the SRD, but because why the hell would a zombie care if you poke a hole in it?) and do something badass, let it work.

    If they light a zombie on fire, have it flail like a living torch (except for the living part), spreading the flame to other zombies before it falls. (Of course, rule of cool works both ways -- if that burning zombie hits the players before it collapses, they'll take a bit of fire damage too. Not enough to be devastating, just enough to remind them that there's a frikkin' burning zombie here!) Come up with a cool improvised weapon (and in an abandoned inn, there should be plenty!) and it works better than the rules might say it does.

    Your players didn't do any of this. They used the same tactics they would have used against living opponents. When those tactics didn't work, they kept using 'em anyway. You could be forgiven for using the phrase "too stupid to live" here. But even then, if you wanted to improve their chances, you could still have altered some things on the fly.

    You don't want to do a full-blown deus ex machina rescue unless there's truly no other choice. But you can do things that seem like they were part of the encounter to begin with. If the party is having a rough time with the zombies already in the room, then that third barrier could hold out a little longer than the dice say. Or better yet, it could collapse after the zombies breach it ,temporarily pinning them in rubble, giving the players a few rounds of breathing room while they claw their way out, and maybe even injuring the zombies.

    And by the way, if you do suddenly decide the zombies are iinjured by falling rubble, don't just say "they take some damage". I mean, that's bland at the best of times, but it's worse when they might be suspecting you're just doing it to make things easier (which you are.) So have the pinned zombie tear off its own arm to escape, and stagger lopsidedly toward them waving the severed arm as a weapon. It won't occur to them that you're going easy on them, because you made the encounter cooler, rather than just easier. (And if one of the melee types tosses the zombie's original weapon to one of the poor archers, all the better.)
    Last edited by mucat; 2010-09-25 at 12:29 AM.

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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Psycho View Post
    I just want my PCs to be smarter about choosing their fights. My problem is that most PCs seem to assume that a martial victory is always an option.

    As for the players' experience? Three of them are playing their first campaign with me,
    I've narrowed down the problem. New players should have some sort of guidance making characters, especially if you're sitting watching them make ones you know will be worthless in your campaign. On top of that, their inexperience makes the enemy roster way more unfair than it already was. If you want your players to keep to a low level of optimization, you have to come down from pun-pun killing mode first, or they'll just die a lot.

    *edit @ ^: Mucat, they're not too stupid to live. What they were is dead before they got time to do that stuff.
    Last edited by Marnath; 2010-09-25 at 12:31 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Whoops, misread.

    In this case, I stand by my belief that the players need to optimize more if the encounter survival rate is around 80%; they probably should know how to at this point unless they're like me and only game with a small group without accessing the interwebs. Also, preparation, like I already said, and maybe a bit of smarts too--how would you have responded if they tried to use some of the inn's furniture as improvised weapons of some sort? The zombies, being unarmored villagers, probably wouldn't have had that much AC even with the natural armor bonus, right?

    ^Yarg. Ninja'd on the improvised weapon thing.
    Last edited by StreetPizza; 2010-09-25 at 12:31 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by mucat View Post
    First point first: they were stupid. Their arrows weren't doing anything? Quit firing arrows and grab a weapon that counts! If they're not carrying slashing weapons, and their friends can't toss them a spare, then this is an inn, right? Let there be a meat cleaver or two, or an axe for chopping firewood. (This is where DM flexibility comes in: once they start acting smart and looking for better weapons, let 'em find something.) Once a zombie falls, grab his weapon.
    The Hexblade was carrying no less than four slashing weapons. Giving one to the others never occured to him.

    If they light a zombie on fire, have it flail like a living torch (except for the living part), spreading the flame to other zombies before it falls. (Of course, rule of cool works both ways -- if that burning zombie hits the players before it collapses, they'll take a bit of fire damage too. Not enough to be devastating, just enough to remind them that there's a frikkin' burning zombie here!) Come up with a cool improvised weapon (and in an abandoned inn, there should be plenty!) and it works better than the rules might say it does.
    Molotov cocktails did occur to them, but the Samurai's read the Zombie Survival Guide and repeatedly quoted the mantra "the only thing worse than a zombie is a flaming zombie."

    Quote Originally Posted by StreetPizza View Post
    Also, preparation, like I already said, and maybe a bit of smarts too--how would you have responded if they tried to use some of the inn's furniture as improvised weapons of some sort? The zombies, being unarmored villagers, probably wouldn't have had that much AC even with the natural armor bonus, right?
    The zombies had an AC of 13. The biggest obstacle was easily the DR.

    As for improvised weapons, I definitely would've allowed it. Hell, I gave them an indefinite period of time to prepare for the inevitible siege (over 300 zombies had just invaded the town, with a soon-to-be-zombified population of 1000, so at least a few zombies heading for the inn was a certaintly), so it's not like they didn't have time to think of that...
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-25 at 12:37 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Did you *tell* them you expected them to choose their battles and that you planned to kill 20% of the party in a given encounter? Cause those aren't exactly standard D&D assumptions.

    Even just "prepare a backup character for when you die" would be nice.

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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    If you want to try it again, un-template the zombies, don't send them all in at the same round, and for the love of Goddess help them build appropriate characters for an undead campaign.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by arrowhen View Post
    Did you *tell* them you expected them to choose their battles and that you planned to kill 20% of the party in a given encounter? Cause those aren't exactly standard D&D assumptions.

    Even just "prepare a backup character for when you die" would be nice.
    I gave them plenty of time to realize I was an absolutely brutal DM. Hell, I've already given the poor bastards a cow phobia.

    Quote Originally Posted by Marnath View Post
    If you want to try it again, un-template the zombies, don't send them all in at the same round, and for the love of Goddess help them build appropriate characters for an undead campaign.
    Honestly, I was hoping the Libris Mortis featured prominently on my table, with repeated recommendations to check in it for CharGen material would be a sufficient hint.

    And just an FYI, from the sounds of it their next characters are going to be:

    Samurai -> Samurai
    Hexblade -> Samurai
    Swashbuckler -> Hexblade
    Ranger -> Ranger
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-25 at 12:41 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Psycho View Post
    Molotov cocktails did occur to them, but the Samurai's read the Zombie Survival Guide and repeatedly quoted the mantra "the only thing worse than a zombie is a flaming zombie."
    Fair enough; at least for that moment they were thinking creatively. They just needed to do a lot more of that.

    Again, if you wanted to help 'em a little, after a poor attack roll have the hexblade lose his grip on his weapon, which spins end over end and embeds itself in the bar that the archers are hiding behind. Hexblade doesn't care; he's got more...and might actually think to start arming his friends on purpose.

    Of course, you describe the event as if its point was "hexblade nearly took his friends' heads off"...let them realize on their own that it also means "good weapon for the archers", and feel good about themselves because they have turned your mean little fumble ruling back on you!
    Last edited by mucat; 2010-09-25 at 12:41 AM.

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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    it seems to me its a combination of a powerful enemy and some poor combat choices. Typicaly i find basic undead very easy to beat because of their -int they are very easy to lead into traps such as say fighting them at the top of the steps where you have a height advantage and can get three melee characters against one zombie at a time (for added fun add marbles to the top step dc 15 balance is hard for a zombie to make even if it is more agile then normal)

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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    And the archer picks it up in time to see the super zombie eating hexblade's brain as it's 4 nearby comrades rush you! Huzzah!
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Psycho View Post

    Not a fan of optimization, myself. I just want my PCs to be smarter about choosing their fights. My problem is that most PCs seem to assume that a martial victory is always an option.
    And what else are they supposed to do, use their skills? You have an entire party of martial characters. Of course they're going to try and solve every problem through violence!

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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by mucat View Post
    Fair enough; at least for that moment they were thinking creatively. They just needed to do a lot more of that.

    Again, if you wanted to help 'em a little, after a poor attack roll have the hexblade lose his grip on his weapon, which spins end over end and embeds itself in the bar that the archers are hiding behind. Hexblade doesn't care; he's got more...and might actually think to start arming his friends on purpose.

    Of course, you describe the event as if its point was "hexblade nearly took his friends' heads off"...let them realize on their own that it also means "good weapon for the archers", and feel good about themselves because they have turned your mean little fumble ruling back on you!
    Were that even remotely physically possible, I might have considered it; the archers were behind the Hexblade, on the other side of a wall. That would have to be one hell of a fumble.

    Quote Originally Posted by Thrawn183 View Post
    And what else are they supposed to do, use their skills? You have an entire party of martial characters. Of course they're going to try and solve every problem through violence!
    To quote that awesome French guy from that god-awful American Godzilla movie:

    "Running would be a good idea."
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-25 at 12:44 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Sounds like one more thing they could have used is a veteran zombie fighter to show them how it's done (and then Die Horribly once it's clear that they know enough to handle things on their own.)

    Again, misdirection is key. Make the guy a gruff, half-crazed curmudgeon whose personality is so quirky and memorable that it will never occur to the players that he's really there to serve as a walking tutorial mode.

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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Psycho View Post
    To quote that awesome French guy from that god-awful American Godzilla movie:

    "Running would be a good idea."
    Where the heck were they supposed to run? You sent zombies in every window and the door.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Marnath View Post
    Where the heck were they supposed to run? You sent zombies in every window and the door.
    Past the zombies? The inn wasn't exactly all that crowded (except when the Swashbuckler was cornered by two of them) and there was pleny of space to maneuver around the things and out the door.

    Quote Originally Posted by mucat View Post
    Sounds like one more thing they could have used is a veteran zombie fighter to show them how it's done (and then Die Horribly once it's clear that they know enough to handle things on their own.)

    Again, misdirection is key. Make the guy a gruff, half-crazed curmudgeon whose personality is so quirky and memorable that it will never occur to the players that he's really there to serve as a walking tutorial mode.
    Wish I had thought of that. Closest thing I did to that was introduce a Paladin who's only function was to die horribly and inform the party "ZOMBIE COWS WILL KILL YOU," then be reanimated later as The Dragon.
    Last edited by Drakevarg; 2010-09-25 at 12:50 AM.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Psycho View Post
    Well it's also partially because I want to give this campaign survival horror undertones, thus using any means practical to make the PCs want to run like hell at the sight of even bottom-rung mooks.
    Was your party aware of such? Did the party have any cues these were not basic zombies?

    I mean, the party is clearly not well informed about composition of a group nor character creation, and you said this is the first campaign with you for a few. You expect them to fight off a group of zombies larger than the party, zombies who live longer and do more damage and also explode doing a sizable amount to first level characters while healing one another? Be the DM and make decisions during the campaign, not simply what you wrote, and remove the template.

    Next time you want a party to flee, inspire the need to flee. Six zombies? A first level party would take them while expending a decent amount of resources, probably. Send twenty, say they are seeping negative energy, and more.

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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    So you don't want your player's to treat martial violence as the answer to every problem. You proceed to let them roll a party that can't do much aside from kill things, and thrust them into an un-winnable fight in a nigh-inescapable location, with presumably no knowledge that it is in fact unwinnable due to their limited game experience, coupled with the fact that the players will be assuming fight is the answer, since they can't use magic or skills, and you havent indicated they need to flee. And you come here asking why you TPK'ed?
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Vangor View Post
    Was your party aware of such? Did the party have any cues these were not basic zombies?
    Hopefully the way their asses were handed to them back in their Doomed Hometown tipped them off to that.

    Next time you want a party to flee, inspire the need to flee. Six zombies? A first level party would take them while expending a decent amount of resources, probably. Send twenty, say they are seeping negative energy, and more.
    They had just witnessed the No Holds Barred Beatdown of every single competent NPC in the town by this horde. If they can't figure out that the **** has hit the fan, honestly that's their fault.
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    Default Re: [3.5] Learning from a TPK...

    Quote Originally Posted by Marnath View Post
    So you don't want your player's to treat martial violence as the answer to every problem. You proceed to let them roll a party that can't do much aside from kill things, and thrust them into an un-winnable fight in a nigh-inescapable location, with presumably no knowledge that it is in fact unwinnable due to their limited game experience, coupled with the fact that the players will be assuming fight is the answer, since they can't use magic or skills, and you havent indicated they need to flee. And you come here asking why you TPK'ed?
    I'm not seeing the "nigh-unwinnable" part, Marnath. It sounds like with intelligent tactics, they could have taken these six zombies down. (It's when they realize that there are hundreds more out there, and they've just seen that even six are pretty tough, that they'll have to learn to run like scared children!)
    Last edited by mucat; 2010-09-25 at 12:57 AM.

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