Imagine yourself in combat. Your party members lay around you, dead or dying, leaving you to face a dragon all by yourself. You charge headlong into battle, only to be smited down shortly. With no members left alive, that results in what is called a total party kill, or TPK for short. A TPK usually means something went very wrong. Poor planning on the GM’s part, poor play choices, or even poor rolls can all lead to a total party kill. This leads to everyone making a new character at least, since there’s no one to revive to party. If it was a particularly bad loss, it could even lead to a new campaign. You don’t want either of these, so how do you avoid a total party kill?
The first step in avoiding a TPK comes before the battle even happens. Just like preparation can make real life emergencies trivial, in game planning can help you avoid the threat of TPKs. Stocking up on health potions before setting out on an adventure is a great idea. If you’re fighting any smart enemy, that enemy should be targeting your healer first. Once they go down, the chances of a TPK happening increase. Health potions help you get through a fight so that you can pick your healer back up and keep on going. Another precaution you can take is with npcs. By telling them where you’re going and what you’re doing you leave a possibility of help coming for you if everything else fails. This is dependent on how your GM runs games, but any bit of protection helps.
Sometimes you don’t get the chance to take precautions before the threat of a TPK looms over you. Sometimes a random fight will go wrong without warning. When this happens you have to play smartly. This means recognizing the possibility of a TPK, and just how probable it is. You may have to bow out of the fight.
If you’re fighting an intelligent being, you may be able to bargain for your lives. This can actually lead to some pretty interesting story hooks, speaking from experience. Working as a lackey for a beholder is… interesting, to say the least. If your enemy can’t understand you, then your only option may be to run. As they say, you don’t have to outrun the owlbear; you just have to outrun your party. A little harsh, but at least the whole party doesn’t die. If you escape on your own, there’s also the chance of you returning with the help of npcs. Not all heroes can survive on their own.
As long as you prepare properly and keep your wits about you, you should be able to avoid most TPKs. Of course accidents do happen, so there may be some that you can’t avoid. But it’s not the end of the world; it’s just the end of that world. But total party kills can lead to new experiences and lessons for everyone involved. But until that happens, you’ll be prepared to avoid TPKs to the best of your ability. When you’re fighting for your party’s life, be sure to keep those dice rolling high!