Total party kill
A total party kill (TPK), total party wipe, or total party wipeout is the colloquial term for the demise of the entire party of player characters in a single encounter during the course of a role-playing game adventure. While many games permit other player characters to resurrect deceased comrades in some fashion, a TPK often results in all of the players making new characters (or the end of the campaign if the group is less cohesive). In roleplaying games outside of the traditional pencil and paper medium, such as video games, a TPK is usually only a temporary setback that at most results in loss of time or carries other penalties, depending on the game.
Total party kills are situations that may first appear to be only disadvantageous but can rapidly degenerate. Usually a series of small changes in situation combine to make the situation lethal. Total party kills can be symptomatic of overconfidence or carelessness, usually occurring during smaller mid-game encounters rather than anticipated climactic battles. Frequently players do not realize the severity of the situation until it is too late. The players may not appreciate the risk because of lack of obvious clues. Lack of communication is a common problem that can lead to a total party kill.
Some players consider a total party kill to reflect poorly on the game master, while others feel that a game should have some encounters where a total party kill is possible, for the sake of a dramatic narrative.
TPKs have many causes, including:
- The players refuse to consider surrender or flight as an option against a clearly superior foe, and fight to the death.
- The composition of the party makes it unable to deal with some specific foe, even though the challenge rating is correct. For instance, a low-level D&D party may have no magic weapons and simply be unable to hit an otherwise weak incorporeal monster.
- The players have a string of unlucky dice rolls or the game master has a string of lucky rolls, causing the combat results to shift against the players.
- The game master fails to properly balance an encounter against the party's abilities.
- A single player in the party makes an extremely unlucky roll, resulting in his character's death and triggering a domino effect that results in the deaths of other members of the adventuring party. If this doesn't kill the whole party immediately, it may make the rest of the encounter impossible for the survivors.
- One of the players in the party talks the rest of the group into attempting a reckless or dangerous course of action. This may occur when a player is bored with his character or with the campaign as a whole and turns to reckless behavior to add excitement.
- One or more of the players undermines the party's ability to fight an otherwise non-fatal foe.
- The GM intentionally slaughters the party for some perceived personal slight (for example, a meteorite falling on the party, ending the campaign abruptly), sometimes accompanied by the words "Rocks fall! Everyone dies!"
- A TPK can be scripted and fit within the game's unusual milieu, as they are in Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia. In the latter, TPKs are to be expected and the players are compensated by having extra clones, which enter play whenever a previous player character is killed.
- A TPK can also be a scripted element of the adventure in which the deaths of the party are not intended to be permanent, or is illusory (the party is resurrected by a powerful entity and is given new identities, the scene was "just a dream", or the players' characters read a diary kept by a party whose members were all killed, and the Game Master decides to make the players "play" the dead characters' adventures until the expected end whose exact nature may be unknown).
A TPK or near-TPK can make a dramatic conclusion for a one-shot session, particularly in a horror game. Challenging players to encounters with a high probability of TPK is considered an exciting challenge for some game masters and players. Other game masters and players prefer encounters which, while difficult in their own way, will not frustrate players if the luck of the dice runs against them.
- "All four TPKs shared a very gradual pacing. ... The PCs' tactical situation became worse very gradually — and it wasn't until long after they'd crossed some sort of 'TPK event horizon' that they realized how dire their situation was." (Decker 2005)
- "But the TPKs I saw didn't have obvious turning points like that. The building blocks of the TPKs were small, unfortunate events." (Decker 2005)
- " In all four cases, the TPK happened in 'just another room in the dungeon'. It wasn't a climatic encounter where the PCs knew going in that their lives were at risk." (Decker 2005)
- "Even though the DM may not have overestimated his characters' abilities, if the players don't recognize the threat in a timely manner, the fight may get a lot uglier than intended." (Collins 2006)
- "Even more importantly, there weren't enough clues as to the level of risk that faced the PCs." (Collins 2006)
- "Another thing I noticed is that lack of communication among the players was really the monster that earned the TPK, not the rogues or the mind flayer." (Decker 2005)
- "A full TPK (total party kill) is an appalling abandonment of the players to the whims of gaming fate. It is a failure to be worthy of that trust they offered you when they sat down." Adams III, Roe R. (2003-08-25). "First Night". RPGA Feature Article (Wizards of the Coast). Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- "To keep the blood flowing, you should have one overwhelming encounter that the party can't handle without serious risk of a total party kill." Baur, Wolfgang (2006-07-28). "Writing Your First Adventure". Adventure Builder (Wizards of the Coast). Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- "Sometimes the dice just don't fall for the players, and your own are on a hot roll." (Nelson 2003)
- "Sometimes you underestimate how viciously effective a particular strategy or situation is going to be, or you overestimate the PCs' ability to deal with challenges." (Nelson 2003)
- Sometimes all it takes is one lucky blow or unlucky save to turn the tide of the battle and change a tough fight into an absolute rout or, in the worst case scenario, complete annihilation." (Nelson 2003)
- Collins, Andy; Greg Collins (2006-04-18). "Sibling Rivalry, Take Four". Tactics and Tips (Wizards of the Coast). Retrieved 2007-06-13.