We touched on the outcomes back in Boss Monster, but we’ve never talked about the mentality. What drives us to take on impossible challenges? Why is the paladin’s fondest wish to “buy the rest of you some time” by leaping in front of the orc army? Why does the rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold have to sap the barbarian just so she can be the one to collapse the portal from the inside? Why is Gandalf standing there on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm?

I think I found my answer a few sessions ago. It was in the depths of my megadungeon, and the party was badly undermanned. Only three PCs showed up at game time, but they decided to explore the deepest portion of the dungeon anyway. It was exactly the kind of situation where a little bit of bad luck could turn into a TPK, and that’s exactly what happened.

So there they were, all lined up and ready to throw down against a trio of medusa blackguards. The bard failed her save vs. petrification before her first turn. The paladin got off a flight of arrows before he too turned to stone. That left only the bloodrager to face down a trio of hasted, smite good, save three-times-per-round-or-you’re-a-statue medusae.

“OK,” I said. “Why don’t we call it there this week?” It was late. It was a good cliffhanger. My intention was to take the player aside and figure out some kind of captured! scenario. He looked at me like I was crazy.

“Why don’t we play it out?” he said. “I cast mirror image and make my full attack.”

My friends and loyal readers? It was fucking glorious. His mirror images poofed one by one. His hit points fell steadily. The medusae hit hard, but he hit harder. That magnificent bastard made every one of his saves vs. petrification. And by the time there was only one blackguard left standing, the odds had turned. He had done the impossible, and beaten a TPK scenario on single player mode.

I will forever regret that I tried to talk him out of that victory. You see, players don’t throw themselves into hopeless situations because they’re dumb. They do it because they’ve got hope. They’re chasing that moment where they can look into the face of death, choke up a little on a greatsword, and say, “Bring it on.” I think that’s worth a little risk.

Question of the day then. Have you ever managed to snatch victory from the jaws of certain TPK? What happened? Let’s hear your war stories in the comments!


GET YOUR SCHWAG ON! Want a piece of Handbook-World to hang on you wall? Then you’ll want to check out the “Hero” reward tier on the The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Each monthly treasure hall will bring you prints, decals, buttons, bookmarks and more! There’s even talk of a few Handbook-themed mini-dungeons on the horizon. So hit the link, open up that treasure chest, and see what loot awaits!