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Avoiding Total Party Kill (TPK)

total party kill

What is Total Party Kill?

Total Party Kill is something you may have to contend to when you play Call of Cthulhu. One ill considered confrontation with one monster is sometimes enough to annihilate an entire adventuring party, especially one unprepared for a fire vampire.

Total Party Kill is, of course, that vaunted goal of the adversarial Dungeon Daddy. To match wits with the players and defeat the utterly is the goal. Of course, it shouldn’t really be much of a challenge to kill an entire group of players when you are running the game considering you are in complete control of the game world.

Hereafter I’m not typing out Total Party Kill anymore – I’m calling it TPK.

Why is Total Party Kill bad?

Probably isn’t fair to say that TPK is bad, objectively. In my Lamentation of the Flame Princess game, a TPK happens now and then. In that game, the setting and play style makes it feel appropriate to have the entire party die every now and then.

The problem arises when the game is not best served by having the entire party die. In a Call of Cthulhu investigation, frequently there is a central mystery that must be solved for the game to feel played to everyone’s satisfaction. Now, I’m of the mindset that you shouldn’t have to jump through excessive hoops in order to product your sensitive widdle players but I also believe that in this context, death should have meaning and at least a little emotional weight. In many other games, the experience is more about building character and drama, two things which are not well served by having characters die en masse.

What to do to prevent TPK in Call of Cthulhu?

Well, don’t kill all your players, dude. Don’t leave everything up to chance. I think that is important not to let the players know that it wasn’t the gaze of Yog Sothoth that recalled the Fire Vampire but the benevolence of their Keeper. They should never know that you have spared them death.

Another option to consider is alternate consequences. The sanity system is built right into the game – it will allow you a way to damage your players without incinerating them. You could also consider a timely maiming. There’s no question that will do the trick from time to time.

It is important to give their actions consequence and not to disturb the illusion of 1 to 1 reprisal for a mistake, but it is also important to have a fun, dramatic game.

What do you do to avoid TPK in your Call of Cthulhu games or in any game? Let me know in the comments or the social medias.

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Mythcreants How to Keep Your Horror Game Scary


Over on the Mythcreants blog, there is a very pertinent article on how to keep your horror game scary. This is a tricky proposition!

Make it clear that you’re running a horror game from the moment you start inviting people to play. Even if the system you’re using implies horror, be explicit. Many a game has fallen apart because of PCs who saw shoggoths as nothing more than medieval tar monsters. The bottom line is, you can’t scare players who don’t want to be scared, and trying will only lead to aggravation all around.

There is plenty of helpful advice here. If you’re like me, every single time I run a game, I say to myself, “well, that went ok – how could that be better?” I’m preparing to run a game tonight – I haven’t exactly decided if I’m running a homebrew dungeon or some Call of Cthulhu, but I may try and put these lessons in practice myself this very evening.

Please let me know if you have any tips on running horror games in the comments, or on Facebook.

Or, if you think you could write an article on the subject, or any related subject, let me know via an e-mail to

The Link: Mythcreants: How to Keep Your Horror Campaign Scary