“Let the Wookie Win”: Turning a group loss into a campaign positive.

I recently read this blog and it got me thinking about the standard adventure and campaign progression. It also immediately brought to mind this scene and quote from an Indiana Jones movie.

Single adventures usually follow a linear narrative that provide a final challenge or battle that the players want to, and should win. But what about longer campaigns? Is it a series of wins, each providing experience and levelling up or is it a campaign of fits and starts? Can the players and groups lose at the end of a chapter? How about at the end of the novel? Gaming should be both fun and rewarding and few GM’s want to end a long running campaign with failure but significant set backs and even tragic losses during the campaign will make the eventual triumph that much sweeter.

An early blog I wrote was on “Newmans“–long running adversaries for the PC’s. If these adversaries are less enemies and more competitors it’s natural that they should succeed as well. But what about the opponent of “ultimate evil” or “mob boss”–should they put some points on the scoreboard or get a major win?

Of course a GM may want to build some early losses into an extended campaign–but those are intentional and meant to control the narrative. What about unpredictable losses? In RM the critical system and open ended rolls works both ways. Short of TPK, can a GM turn a unexpected tragic encounter into a positive for the campaign? Of course: most fantasy RPG’s have some form of resurrection, Rolemaster has healing spells for almost every unimaginable injury and equipment and items can be replaced eventually.

Anyone have thoughts? Have you turned a catastrophe into something better?

7 Replies to ““Let the Wookie Win”: Turning a group loss into a campaign positive.”

  1. We had a GM who had a long running campaign back when we were all turning 18 or so and going of to university, starting work and moving away, that sort time in our lives. Some of us were staying fairly close by, enough to keep gaming at least monthly but others were going far enough away for that to be the end of their gaming with that GM for the foreseeable future.

    This left the GM with two parties that were about to fall apart, two unfinished stories and so on, PCs that would have to turn into NPCs if the other players wanted to continue and all that sort of debris.

    So the GM (who was a renowned dice roll fudger!) stopped pulling punches. In just a few sessions both parties were pretty much decimated. He had also contrived to get both parties to the same place at the same time with, although it was not obvious, common purpose.

    In that way he managed to merge the two playing groups into a single party, the campaign survived, the active PCs survived and his game continued. It was actually a better game after that point because both half parties knew different parts of the puzzle.

    It was a brave thing for the GM to do as well as the two half parties were gaming groups that didn’t know or socialise with each other so it was a massive gamble at the personalities would mesh well enough for the group.

  2. I’ m planning to end my current campaing with a TPK… We have been playing on Griphonburg as an introduction to RM and the classical Crowns Campaing from the Jaiman book. A climatic end after a two years Campaing.

    1. That’s amazing–will the players enjoy that? Is the point to sacrifice the party to save the world?

  3. I’ve always tended to let the chips fall where they may in my campaigns, and that does include PC deaths. We had a fairly epic fight in one game (I was a player not a GM) where one of my characters was killed by a dragon. His lover (a paladin) used Retributive Strike on the dragon, killing it and herself in the same instant (and also saving the rest of the party). That was one of those things we talked about for years afterwards. Fast forward a few years in game time and one of my characters was their daughter (who’d obviously been born prior to said battle).

    In my modern games, especially the espionage ones, the players know they need to plan and execute carefully because the opposition is always seriously dangerous. Deaths of characters aren’t necessarily common, but they’re not unusual either. Not all missions are successful, and I think that’s part of the appeal of it. The James Bond Game was a fantastic RPG in many ways, but one of the big challenges over time was that the OO agents always win. One thing that always drew players to my Top Secret and modified RM2 stuff was the knowledge that they might NOT win. They’d be tested, fairly yet thoroughly, and that kept them thinking and planning. Even in the fantasy stuff.

  4. I’m in the same camp as IntoThatDarkness. I tend to put my characters up against appropriate challenges (neither too strong nor too weak), but then let the chips fall where they many. Only occasionally do I put them up against anything they simply couldn’t defeat, and when I do there are some warnings. But that is of course just our style of play; I know other groups that are constantly encountering things they can’t defeat.

    The most memorable Big Bad Evil Guy I ever created as a GM was by accident, due to the chips falling where they may. The party encountered a Vampire in Quellbourne, and had a remarkably tough fight with him; he killed a party member and the rest had to flee. Wow, did the party ever remember him, and they wanted vengeance! So I elevated him into the final boss of the campaign and they had an epic showdown. At the end of it, the party was decimated with everyone dead or out except the party Magician, who was out of spell points and down to using runes while hiding from the Vampire. One of his last rune scrolls got lucky on a B and killed the Vampire.

    The randomness of the dice can often be randomly awesome!

    1. I have said before several times that I am happy to kill characters but I also make life giving available, not that helps much in a TPK situation or at the end of a campaign.

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