Dungeons & Dragons Online

Another GM tips section: Upcoming TPKs

This is another one for my newer GMs! (or more experienced, no judgement here we all need tips)

So a while ago I posted some tips on how to make your world feel more open and keep your sessions momentum up. This is on a specific topic I see on this sub quite a lot, some of you may recognize it.

"My players are going after the BBEG and now because they they actually made it to BBEG and they're going to be TPK'd! Should I do it/how can they work around it?"

First and foremost I'm going to address the elephant in the room: some people play TTRPGs and they want it to be GM hands off. There is nothing inherently wrong with a TPK, and this advice assumes that for whatever reason you or your group would not have fun with that at this time.

Now that that's all done! The tips.

  1. 0 HP =/= dead. Never doubt how fun a "you wake up in a prison with no gear" run can be. (especially for spellcasters, remind them why their spell foci are so important). It gives players a real chance to bond and rely on each other as well as focusing on a very different game feel that your standard travel-town-fight session.
  2. The worf effect! Ah Worf. The big burly Klingon who was knocked out at the beginning of almost every fight in startrek TNG to show how tough this new bad guy is. Do your players have any allies near by? Are there any NPCs even kind of in the area? ok! have your BBEG throw an attack at them and let your players see just how many damage die they're up against. This will give them a chance to…
  3. Flee! While there are chase mechanics in 5e you can also ignore them and just allow your players to flee with a couple of rolls (lower DC if you're feeling nice). Be very careful about running battles that are impossible to flee from, those can be exciting or they can be the things that horror stories are made of.
  4. Mess with the numbers. Ok so your players found a way into the castle and now they're fighting the evil king 5 levels lower than you expected them to and his original stat block will vaporize them. What can you do? Are you ok with them defeating him this game from a narrative flow standpoint? OK, give him the stats of those lower level monsters you were originally planning. Maybe buff him up with a higher AC or HP if you need to (don't be afraid to call for a bathroom/snack break to re-write some session notes, despite what you may think you players know you're not a D&D machine. You can tell them you need 10 to re do some prep).

Those are some fun tools for when you find yourself in the pickle of your players already with your BBEG. Now lets look at some common posts I seem to see a lot of people having trouble with.

My BBEG is only weak to , how can I let my players know so they don't try to attack the BBEG before and get killed?

Easy! You tell them OOC. I know that we GMs all love mystery and hate rails but a campaign with some rails on it is not the devil! If you want to run a more structured BBEG that requires the 5 mystical stones gathered for him to be defeated, tell your players!

It doesn't have to be all the info or completely railroading them either. "Hey this campaign is going to be focused on finding out and gathering the BBEG's weakness before fighting them, otherwise they're immortal OK?" lets players know what they're in for campaign wise without actually spoiling any surprises about what exactly the weakness is and where to find it. Now you can have all the scary villain interactions you like without worrying that players don't know what they're in for.

I placed some story in the world about a BBEG and the players want to go fight him now, but he's way too strong for them and they're just going to all die. I've tried having NPCs tell them that, but they don't seem to care? Now they're at his evil castle.

Ok I'll be honest, this one kills me. And do you know why?

You're the GM! That castle and the BBEG inside of it did not somehow spontaneously appear without your permission. You made them. I know a lot of us are forever GMs and so sometimes we forget what it's like to play, but if you throw a villain in to taunt the players and then are surprised when they want to attack, you need to reconnect with how playing makes you feel.

Remember the players are working off of only what you tell them and only what they remember from that! (even notes aren't perfect). How are players supposed to know that you expected them to go do ten side quests to prepare for a BBEG fight when you put their castle twenty miles outside of town? Your players are trying to interact with your world in an enthusiastic and tangible way, by tracking down and fighting the villain you gave them. This is not players spiting you, it is them trying to play with you. If you want a guarantee they wont go on a suicide mission to stop the BBEG, you have to put them in a currently inaccessible location and make the fact that they are inaccessible clear.

As for trying to tell them with NPCs, that's not a bad idea! Sometimes it will work! But never forget that these are just NPCs to your players. They're the heroes and it can be hard for them to take NPC advice seriously. If you really want them to know, it has to be OOC.

Phew that was a long one! Sorry guys!


  • Don't be afraid to put some rails on the campaign. You're trying to run the best game possible for your group. Open=/=Automatically Good.
  • Don't be afraid to talk OOC about expectations. Players are not mind readers.
  • Do not be ungrateful for the player who's trying to interact with your game just because it wasn't the way you expected.
  • You're the GM, the world doesn't control you, you control it.


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