Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Table Top Design Idea: Total Party Kill Handler

I had a design idea for handling total party kills in an RPG.

Let's be frank, first up. When it comes down to the group all about to die, basically a dues ex is coming up. Often the GM will wave the little rule zero wand the book gives him and make all the bad go away. Prior to that, your characters getting beaten up is scary because you don't know what will happen. You can't be sure this GM is the sort of GM who will wave his wand that way. He might just leave you for the crows.

But once he waves his wand...bah, you now know! And when your party is getting beaten up next time, you'll know.

Okay, so lets take a slant on the traditional design (which technically makes it non traditional, but lets pretend it's stil trad!).

  • The GM notes the party progress and may assign one single fate point to them at any point PRIOR to a battle commencing (a battle being that initiative has been rolled). This assignment is based on the GM's judgement of the group and basically his whim (like the petty god he kinda is). The GM writes this down on a scrap of paper (this is important) but keeps it secret. The GM can also retract the fate point if he wishes, but again that has to be before battle begins.
  • The party cannot start play with a fate point. It can only be assigned (or retracted) by the GM mid session.
  • When a total party kill seems imminent, the GM rolls percentile in front of everyone. A result of 1-80% means a dues ex happens, interupting the battle and the party escapes (make something up as to how that happened!). A result of 81%-100% requires that the GM present his piece of paper with the fate point on it. If produced, a dues ex occurs (and the fate point is used up). If not, the battle continues, most likely to a TPK result (though how awesome is it if they somehow win despite not having favour with fate!?).

The buzz is that when the percentile are rolled, on a 1-80% you don't know if you would have been fine on 81%+ result or not. Unlike above where you begin to know if the GM will wave his wand or not, here you don't know if he would have.

The mechanic also stops the GM deciding in the moment of TPK whether he'll save you. He's likely to be incredibly biased towards doing so at that point. This means it's like an opt out system - at the time, he more has to choose to opt out of saving the group. While with this mechanic, you start play with no fate point and the GM has to opt in. Which he might forget to do, even, because your just not that spectacular. Remember, he has to produce a piece of paper with the fate point note. No, the GM is not allowed to cheat on this. A reminder: you wont be following these rules if you do something else orther than this procedure - if you try and assert you are were doing these rules when doing some other procedure, your in ugly denial.

I can imagine some people don't think that's terribly tough. "1-80% chance? Most of the time you'll live! Ha! We play much more dangerously than that! Our GM is fair and decides how it turns out!". Except I really wonder if that is more dangerous, or given the GM biases involved, considerably less dangerous? In that case, since the final arbiter is hidden in the GM's head, how do you know he's not just saving the group every time? Even the GM could deny to himself that's what he's doing, as the whole process is hidden in a bunch of fictional musings.

Atleast with this mechanic, if the GM didn't write down a fate point note and so can't produce one, that's emperical. Or if the GM quickly fabricates a fate point note, it's alot harder for him to deny to himself (and others) that this is cheating.


  1. not to be a butt, but i think players should be given (reasonable) accommodations to assist them in heading off a TPK in the first place, rather than helping them find a way to miraculously escape when it's "too late".
    in gamist play, at any rate, the survival of the PCs is often a pretty contested thing. and in d&d0e-style games, there's a big emphasis on playing to see what happens AND on not pulling punches.

    case in point: d&d3, 2004ish.
    paladin and barbarian are exploring a cavern in the mountains. they encounter a gelatinous cube. they have plenty of arrows and a good vantage point, so they start firing. it starts advancing. it takes damage from the arrows, but i guess it's not "showing" its injuries enough for the barbarian's satisfaction.

    so the barbarian charges with his sword, strikes a couple of hard blows, and then gets hit by its glittering psuedopod (and fails the save). he's paralyzed!
    the paladin, eager to save her friend, charges in to stop the cube from engulfing the poor barbarian. she, too, is psuedopodded, and fails her save.
    the cube engulfs them both. TPK!

    ... later, i ask them, "so what inspired you to charge? your arrows seemed to be working."
    barbarian: "eh, i dunno! oh well..."

    so, as much as it was kind of a bummer that they died (and that ended the campaign, womp womp), it felt like the only way to give their choices any weight was to make it clear that death really was a risk.

    in any case, i think if you want to take TPKs off the table, it's good to clarify that at the social level, rather than simply having that be what happens in play, lest the players feel vaguely ripped off.

  2. Zac, I'm not sure how your examples shows that you assisted the players in heading off a TPK? It seems to be an account of "And that's just what happened - as GM I didn't interfere at all!"

    You just seem to have pulled punches at the start by giving the players the vantage point, so as to: not just drop them into melee with the cube/assist in heading off a TPK.

    Maybe you'll argue you didn't, the vantage point just 'naturally' came up. If so, okay, so where is the example of assisting the party to head off a TPK that you mentioned?

    Also I think you can see this design doesn't take TPK's off the table. And I assume people will read the rules (and on top of that, I assume people who are too lazy to read them take responsibility for unexpected results that they might get - which I grant alot of gamers seemingly wont. Which I just don't condone, let alone try and assist them in such irresponsible lazyness).