So the party is sitting around in a tavern, doing not much. The dwarf trades his lantern for another beer. They ask if any rewards are being offered for anything. And a woman bursts into the tavern, carrying a bundle. “My baby, they’ve stolen my baby.” she wails. “Don’t let them turn my baby into a goblin! Please rescue my baby!” Her bundle turns out to be a crudely-constructed dummy, apparently left by the goblins.
The party leaps into action, ascertaining that the kidnapping took place last night, and that the goblins likely headed back to the old town’s main plaza.
Skara Brae has seen much better times. The northern third of the small city is still patrolled by the Fireguard and, at least during daylight hours, relatively safe. A dozen streets are barricaded against the rest of of the ruined city, which is inhabited by goblins, bandits, and worse. The old central plaza, once the hub of the city, is now controlled by goblins. So the locals told the party the goblins would likely have taken the babe to the central plaza. The party immediately set off for the nearest barricade, with plan, “Kill the goblins, rescue the baby.” They were fairly sure the goblins were actually going to eat it.
I guess this is where things went a little off track. I imagined the party would have questions about the “turning it into a goblin” part, and the implication that at least some goblins were once human. In my mind I had begun to develop an idea that goblins in Telengard would be something more out of fairy tales and old fantasy literature, rather than the Monster Manual (small orcs/generic bad guys). Goblins had not appeared at all in the first Telengard campaign, so they were a blank slate. I thought.
In the ‘bad’ part of town, beyond the barricade, the party found an old tavern that showed some signs of life. The rogue and ranger climbed up to the second floor and entered a window, while the rest of the party waited at the street level, watching the house. Upstairs, the rogue and ranger found a ghoul, and quickly dispatched it. I think the fact that I was using a different figure for the ghoul than I usually do threw them off a little and might even have made them more ready to stay and fight it. But hey, first level, first adventure, I don’t have to tell the players things their PCs just wouldn’t know. So I used this mini and describedit as ‘pale, with ape-like arms, jagged teeth, and yellow, glowing eyes.’
While the ranger was giving a “thumbs up” to the party from the window, the rogue went to check out another door and out popped another ghoul. The fighting went a lot worse for the party from here on out. The ghoul paralyzed the ranger, and the rest of the party at street level — a cleric, fighter, and dwarf — were surprised by half a dozen goblins who burst out from the building across the street. The cleric went down almost immediately, and the fighter was reduced to one hit point, as I rolled 19 after 19 on my d20. Things were looking grim.
In fact they never let up. The dwarf managed to slay the goblins by backing into a narrow alley, but meanwhile the fighter was downed, and upstairs the rogue was paralyzed too. The dwarf managed to staunch the bleeding of the cleric and fighter, and even rushed to rescue the rogue (the ranger had died already), when he too was paralyzed, and things went dark.
TPKs are never* fun, and this is the first time I DMed one. The party might have done some things differently (not split up, for one thing; asked a few questions about the goblins, for another, as they’d have found out that parlaying and even trading is an option). The fighter player realized he’d forgotten to add his damage and to-hit bonuses throughout the fight, but honestly with the abysmal rolls on the party’s part, it might not have made much difference. Really it was the dice more than anything that caused the TPK in my estimation, and while that sucks, I don’t see fudging a whole encounter’s worth of dice rolls as an option. If I start that, why bother rolling? The fact was, the goblins got great to-hit rolls, great morale rolls, and a high damage rolls (several 5’s and 6’s). Even with max hit points, the PCs were screwed.
But that’s part of the game. And really if there’s going to be a TPK, the first session is probably the time for it. The players learn how deadly the game is, and losing newly minted characters is a lot easier than losing mid-level characters you’ve been playing for months.
Anyway the party was reasonably cool with starting new characters. (I had even planned how defeat by the goblins would lead to the party being captured rather than dead, but defeat by ghouls can only mean one thing…so, TPK)
They agreed to all use something as different as possible from their usual types, which made me wonder if they were expecting another TPK. I’d feel bad that they made the PCs they wanted to play and now have to play something else…but it was their choice what to make for the second outing. So now the party consists of a Rogue, Assassin, Paladin, Elf, and Barbarian. (Chad who missed this week is playing a bard, which I guess makes him the sole survivor.)
In a brief postscript, the party slew six more goblins, the remaining ghoul (I did not have the heart to throw ghouls of the rogue, ranger, and dwarf at them), and a goblin shaman who was in the middle of transforming two children into goblins. Unfortunately the two children were mistaken for goblins in the melee and slain as well. It was a dark basement, and they were dressed and made up as goblins, so it was an honest mistake. And hey, now the Paladin has a side quest to seek redemption for the killings. He hasn’t lost his powers, but being a paladin, he feels compelled to seek some sort of atonement.
GMs: Ever TPK a party in the first session? Did it torpedo the whole campaign or did they bounce back like my players did?
Players: Would a first-session TPK put you off a DM, a campaign, a rule set?
*Well, sometimes they can be a little fun. Once things reach the ”point of no return,’ TPKs can be kind of hilarious. And once in a while, even at the ‘point of no return,’ luck can still turn things around. In the last campaign, the magic-user defeated two or three troglodytes in melee, while the fighter and paladin were ‘held’ by the trog shaman’s spells. That was completely unexpected, hilarious, and the stuff of legends.