DM Story: Near TPKs

Dear readers, this blog post is brought to you by me using voice to text, so if there are errors or mistakes, blame Android.

There comes a time in a dungeon master’s life where you build what you believe to be a good, challenging, and balanced encounter. Often times, due to the nature of how the dice roll, or can roll as the case may be, some of the more easy encounters can turn deadly. Here are two recent examples of this very story.

Story 1

I haven’t written much about my Tuesday campaign, although our guest writer, one of my players from Tuesday has been writing the player’s perspective of that game. He began covering our Tuesday game after the infamous incident.

The adventure started innocently enough. A woman was asking the party to recover some climbers and explorers who had gone missing in an area. party did some searching, found evidence that these people had been kidnapped and taken towards the mountains.

Heading that way themselves, the party soon discovered a cave complex that led deep into the mountain. Eventually, the air grew hot and the party Saw that the cave opened up to reveal an island filled with treasure in the center of a pit of magma. The party saw the four captives and several people, cultists, looking like they were preparing to sacrifice the victims to some entity. The party began making a plan, only for the goblin to decide to go Leroy Jenkins on the cultists. Absolute chaos ensued.

What the party was expected to do was to sneak around, use the surrounding terrain to make their way close to the center island towards the south end, the party beginning in the northwest corner, and then engage the cultists and the fire newt warlock.

With the goblin acting as he did, he brought in every cultist, the two hellhounds, the fire snakes, and the warlock. Add to that, the ranger, one of the frontline fighters, broke through obsidian glass causing lava to start filling where she was. You can only imagine how bad this went. The level one cleric with the party, a new player, attempted to do what he could to keep the party alive. Despite his efforts, Karthaal, one of the party’s own warlocks, died while valiantly fighting cultists and the hellhounds by herself.

The party won the fight, but it was a pyrrhic victory. One of their own lay dead, the hostages they were sent to be rescued had all died, being thrown into the lava, and the amount of treasure found was not enough to raise the warlock back from the dead.

There were several moments, and if I’m being honest, more than one, where I truly believed that the party was going to be wiped out. Between bad rolls, a poor decision at the beginning, and me playing the cultists intelligently, the party had a very rough go of it.

Story 2

This one is my own fault, and not the fault of the party, especially since the previous story’s encounter had been pre-written. This encounter? This one was made by yours truly. And I almost killed the entire party.

So the group was getting a little bored wandering around Icewind Dale during our Sunday game of Rime of the Frostmaiden. I decided that it was time for them to move along in the context of the main storyline. This involved a party heading out under some pretext towards the fortress of the duergar and trying to prevent them from unleashing the chardalyn construct that was allegedly being built.

How did I choose to do this? I had the big bad guy send an assassination team to attempt to wipe out the party. They weren’t supposed to nearly succeed!

These particular creatures, of course, have the ability to be invisible. they additionally have the ability to grow to immense proportions. I had a squad of relatively low challenge rating critters, plus a warlord leader and a wizard type waiting for the party.

The ranger, with his insanely high perception check, knew there was something going on, but couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Has he moved off to the side, he actually bumped into one of the dark dwarves. Combat followed.

Party members went down left and right. The sorceress who had some healing magic, did her best. The party was drinking healing potions like they were going out of style. Then the sorceress went down. Then the rogue went down. The ranger went down. See where I’m going with this? The barbarian / paladin was up for quite a while, spreading his lay on hands ability as far as it would go, additionally keeping himself up. The dice rolls were not in the party’s favor most of the time.

In the end, the party lay battered and bruised, with their sorceress having bled out, failing her third death save. What should have been a challenging encounter for a relatively powerful, at least at that time, group of adventurers, turned into a bloody slugfest. Almost every member of the party, if I remember correctly, went down hard at one point or another.

This was another time when I thought that the party wouldn’t make it.He would have only taken a few more bad rolls for the entire party to go down. A couple saving graces did help them: at one point, the ranger role the natural 20 on his death save, bringing him back to one hit point. his sniping ability helps save the party almost as much as the barbarian / paladin’s staying power.

Dear Readers, when I say it was close, you got to understand that it was a hair’s breadth from going the other direction for the whole party, let alone the sorceress.


In the end, some of the time the party is at fault for making an encounter harder than it should be. Other times, it’s the luck of the die, or our miscalculation as to the deadliness of an encounter. In either case, It is my opinion that it is better to allow the party to feel their characters mortality then to do anything less than let the dive fall where it may. And in this game, sometimes characters die, and that’s okay.

Until next time, Dear Readers…

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Published by The Daily DM

I'm just a DM telling the stories of my tables.

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