Friday's game day was supposed to see our lower-level Dark City campaign characters' wrap up Paizo's Crown of the Kobold King module and then return to our home city of Obsidian Bay for some much needed down time.
And then ... Total Party Kill.
It was our own fault. We went up against a dozen or so kobolds, and while we were able to defeat them, they depleted all of our magical resources, and greatly weakened all of the characters save my swordsage, Zilanderan (Zil having the unique Book of Nine Swords ability to heal damage whenever he recovers maneuvers). Immediatey after that fight, we found the kobold king, his bodyguards, and a kobold sorcerer. Instead of falling back to rest and recover (and knowing that a young child might be sacrificed to the kobold's god if we didn't act) we charged in.
They slaughtered us. There were a few moments when it seemed like we might pull things out, or at least escape to fight another day, but in the end they slaughtered us to a man.
The Total Party Kill is a thing of legend in gaming circles, and I've seen their merits argued endlessly on forums, blogs and podcasts. It's true that TPKs can be campaign wreckers, killing a game's momentum and breeding ill will among the players. They can also intensify the "players vs. game master" mentality of some campaigns.
That said, I also think they can be a good thing for a gaming group. The best TPKs become legends, told and re-told for years to come. In a combat heavy, stats heavy game like Dungeons & Dragons they can keep players on their toes by reminding everyone that there's a chance of failure. While it's been said that you can't lose a role-playing game, in truth, you can lose, at least in the short term, as your characters fall to the diabolic threat of kobolds from hell. A TPK brings that fact home.
I think Friday's game falls into the later category. While I don't know if it will become a legend within our game -- our 3rd characters weren't quite established enough for us to be that attached, it was a well-run fight against a challenging foe. Sure, I would like to have one, and I'll miss running Zil, but as character deaths go, it wasn't bad.
Fortunately, this is not the end of the campaign, just the low-level "B Team". We'll be switching back to the higher-level "A Team" next week.
On a related note, D&D 4E design Mike Mearls apparently had his own run in with kobolds, which inspired the Kobold Victory Chart.
Erilar, time to role 1d20.