Total Party Kill

Total Party Kill

A Total Party Kill (TPK) or Wipe is the colloquial term for when, in a single encounter during the course of a role-playing game adventure, the entire party of player characters is killed. While many games permit other player characters to resurrect deceased comrades in some fashion, a TPK usually results in the end of the campaign or the players making new characters -- or both, as the case may be.

Total party kills tend to be situations that gradually transitioned from an acceptable situation to a deadly one. ["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)] It is usually a series of small elements that combine together to make the situation lethal. ["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)] Total party kills frequently are not in traditionally climactic battles, but are often in mid-story scenes. [" 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)] Frequently players do not realize the severity of the situation until it is too late. ["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)] The players may not appreciate the risk because of lack of clues. ["Even more importantly, there weren't enough clues as to the level of risk that faced the PCs." (Collins 2006)] Lack of communication is a common problem that can lead to a total party kill. ["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)]

Some feel that a total party kill reflects poorly on the Game Master. ["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." cite web
url =
title = First Night
accessdate = 2007-06-13
date = 2003-08-25
last = Adams III
first = Roe R.
work = RPGA Feature Article (Wizards of the Coast)
language = English
] Others feel that a game should have some encounters where a total party kill is possible. ["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." cite web
url =
title = Writing Your First Adventure
accessdate = 2007-06-13
date = 2006-07-28
last = Baur
first = Wolfgang
work = Adventure Builder (Wizards of the Coast)
language = English

TPKs have many causes, including:

* The Game Master fails to properly balance an encounter against the party's abilities. ["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)]
* The players refuse to consider surrender or flight as an option against a clearly superior foe. The player characters then proceed to fight to the death against the overwhelming opponent.
* The players' dice have a string of horribly unlucky rolls or the Game Master has a string of lucky rolls, and the combat goes against them. ["Sometimes the dice just don't fall for the players, and your own are on a hot roll." (Nelson 2003)]
* A single player in the party has a massively unlucky roll, resulting in a spectacular death for both himself and one or more other members of the adventuring party. If this dramatic event doesn't wipe out the whole party immediately, it may make the rest of the encounter hopeless for the survivors. [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)]
* One of the players in the party somehow talks the rest of the group into trying something that is utterly ridiculous and outrageously dangerous. This at times occurs when a player is bored with their own character or the campaign as a whole.
* One or more of the players hamstrings 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; everybody dies!" [ [ something positive: archive ] ]
* In Paranoia, a Total Party Kill is quite common, as it is within the game's milieu. The players are compensated by having extra clones, that enter play whenever a previous player character is killed.

A TPK or near-TPK can make a dramatic conclusion for a one-shot session, particularly in a horror game. Some game masters use the number of TPKs they have caused as a badge of honor, while others note that, given the infinite resources the game master has in many RPGs versus the highly finite resources of the players, such a thing is a childish accomplishment at best.

Modern RPGs prevent TPK giving limited power to the game master, or giving players the option on what's at stake, so that the players can decide in advance whether to risk their character's lives or not.



* cite web
url =
title = Sibling Rivalry, Take Four
accessdate = 2007-06-13
date = 2006-04-18
last = Collins
first = Andy
coauthors = Greg Collins
work = Tactics and Tips (Wizards of the Coast)
language = English

* cite web
url =
title = Undercover at Gen Con, Part 2
accessdate = 2007-06-13
date = 2005-09-23
last = Decker
first = Jesse
coauthors = David Noonan
work = Design & Development (Wizards of the Coast)
language = English

* cite web
url =
title = Over my head or, when a good game goes bad...
accessdate = 2007-06-13
date = 2003-06-21
last = Nelson
first = Jason
work = Behind the Screen (Wizards of the Coast)
language = English

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