March 21st, 2012

Shadow person

Avoiding First Encounter TPKs

This theme seems to occur far too frequently: an adventuring party ventures forth, and on its first ever encounter stumbles across a party of kobolds.

Weak, useless kobolds.

Who hand the party their arses on a plate. TPK.

Just as there are different kinds of adventures than what is considered the "standard" dungeon crawl - technically dungeon crawls are raids, since the primary activities carried out are looting, pillaging, vandalism, theft, defilement and murder - there has to be a way out of handing a fresh party an unnecessary TPK before they've even reached the temple or tomb they set out to plunder.

The DM, GM, ST, referee or whatever the title has to ask some simple questions.

One, is this a random encounter or part of the story?

Two, if a random encounter, what does the other party want, if anything? Food? Water? Money? Or do they just want to get back home and get some sleep and grub, and maybe a little kobold fun tonight? Or do they (90%) chance not want anything to do with the adventurers whatsoever?

Three, does this other party look like they want to get into a fight with somebody? If all they want is some bed and board back home, maybe not; if they just came back from the annual Brainball tournament and they're boisterous and drunk on Kobold Bloodbeer, maybe so.

Four, if they do want to get into a fight, what are the chances of the adventurers knowing what they are doing? (First timers, maybe not).

So how do you avoid putting yourself into the shoes of The DM That Hands Out First Encounter TPKs?ooks, kill more mooks,

I've had some thoughts about this, and I've come up with some answers.

First, adventuring in a roleplaying game is not like a video game - meet the mooks, kill the mooks, meet more mooks, kill more mooks, unlock a new ability, use it against the mid level mooks, fight the level boss, start new level.

It doesn't have to be like that. Not even if the aim is to raid some temple or nest of baddies.

Second, a good DM encourages the players to pursue non-combat resolutions, and to engage in combat only as necessary - only escalating to lethal attacks when the enemy escalates.

Third, most roleplaying games have skills lists now, other than just combat abilities. Influence, trade, barter, questioning the encountered parties if they know anything about the destination the adventurers are heading for - these approaches should be made to work. They should bear fruit.

Fourth, a good GM can make the encounter significant not for this adventure but for a later one. The kobolds the party bumped into in that first encounter can turn up at a later date, where they can recognise the party. Whether they remember them for good or ill will depend on how the party and the encountered group parted company that first time - a party that swapped jokes and shared food at the campfire will be remembered far more kindly than one that ended in hostilities.

Fifth, make notes. Always make notes. Even an inconsequential encounter could be used later for some reason. Not all of them, not by any means. Just some of them.

Actually, a really good GM can spend time creating encounter parties to throw at the characters, so that he is ready for them. Whether they meet in combat or just pass by, at least they're prepared and ready for the players and their characters.

Done right, with some forethought, the Games Master can make sure that even the first encounter can be as memorable for the characters as the actual adventure - but for the right reason, and not "We got put through the mincer by kobolds before we even got to the temple."
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