Dungeons & Dragons Online

Do I kill my players? Is there another way?

My group has gotten themselves into a bit of a situation and I could really use some advice. I am struggling with how to reconcile this situation while still being genuine, not abusing plot – armor for PCs, letting my NPCs and BBEG feel like real threats, without just TPKing. There's a lot of context I feel is relevant.

Context:

  • All of us are veterans to the game. 5-15 years
  • We are 5 sessions from The Finale, give or take.
  • They're in a dungeon, inside a high-magic-warzone city, trying to stop "The Arcane Apocalypse" and save a planar research scientist from a pure-evil faction of fiends.

Player choices:

  • They burned resources rushing through the dungeon. This left them without resources to dispel a trap later, they ignored a puzzle to disarm it, and a player triggered it and ended up Feebleminded (of course, the one who had just received a legendary sword called "Fiendslayer")
  • An NPC arrived fighting fiends (so portrayed as an ally), they found out who he was. The NPC's soldiers had killed one of the PC's tribes. The NPC accepted the blame on principle it WAS his soldiers, he wasn't even there, but he basically took the attitude " Look I get it if you want to kill me, but we all know there are bigger things going on here (i.e. stopping an apocalypse)" Instead of gaining a powerful ally, the PC beheaded him. (Which was justified. "Blood feud" was that PC's like main "Bond" in the game. )
  • The next room was made very clear, with a lot of context and a bit of tabletalk from me, that they were heading into bossfight territory. No spells were prepped, no potions consumed.
  • BBEG was in the final room with some adds. There was a chance for conversation, but Feebleminded guy just ran forward.
  • BBEG is VERY strong. PCs had been warned about his damage immunities/resistances, (except the spell level 5 immunity which they didnt know) This fight wasn't unwinnable though:
    • NPC could have dished significant damage if they hadnt killed him.
    • PC/Bloodhunter with Fiendslayer could dish FULL damage, but feebleminded made him reckless and unusable (he charged to save the planar scientist in the room)
    • Paladin with smite could dish GOOD damage, never got within range
    • Cleric could probably have figured something out.
    • Everyone else would have to buff the others, and kill the adds
    • Once the adds were gone, BBEG was gonna peace out
  • Combat didn't go their way. Dice were against them.
  • After a chain lightning spell nearly killed two PCs, they stopped and talked to BBEG. BBEG gave them multiple chances/outs, to exchange an artifact (part 2 of 3 parts) for the scientist. They stalled, and played coy. I probably should have had him kill them then and there, but despite a lot of bad charisma checks on their part, I went along when they proposed a plan for BBEG to go WITH the PCs to find part 3 of the artifacts. Was really pulling for them to find a way out, considering they clearly lost the battle that probably "felt" unwinnable because it was designed to be very hard + dice said so.
  • BBEG goes through a portal to return to previous part of dungeon, BUT THEN the wizard decides to use Greater Invis, and try to snipe BBEG with a spell, re-initiating combat. If the context doesn't spell it out, this is probably the most reckless thing I've ever seen an experienced player do, particularly considering how fearful they were of this guy before.
  • Wizard is invis, so BBEG decides to take it out on another PC. Cleric even encourages him to kill that PC, BBEG Drops him to 0. Cleric mass-heals the party. So the dude isn't dead, denying BBEG his kill. So BBEG is probably irreversibly unhinged at this point. I cant see a way he isnt.
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Yes, I put a really hard thing to kill in front of the party. Unfortunately, a LOT of things added into their inability to really harm him very much. I was hoping the challenge would inspire creativity, finding ways to defeat BBEG without "I deal damage" as the go-to. These are experienced veterans capable of that level of creativity, it's not my fault if all the casters only selected spells that deal damage.

Part of it was the dice. They failed every charisma check in the conversation. The battle didn't go their way against the adds either.

A lot of it was their own doing. Reckless travel through the dungeon burning resources, getting feebleminded, killing a potential ally, and then the kicker was re-initiating a combat they felt they could not win, in a more challenging situation, when the BBEG had been talked down! They put themselves in this situation!

This is supposed to be a Big Bad! I don't see how I can be genuine to his character without just dropping a fireball on the party, which at this point would put at least half of them at 0 HP even if they save. The adds would cleanup the rest, and it could very easily (80% chance) TPK if the BBEG decides he wants to kill all of them.

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I see a few options as realistic.

BBEG is going to start next session saying: "I'm going to start killing until the artifact is in my hands. I will stop killing when it is in my hands." Logically, he cant see the wizard, but he can see the cleric. He probably starts with her and/or fireball.

At some point, the decision to die is put in their hands, and if my players are stubborn enough (and the one who currently has the artifact DEFINITELY is this stubborn) will allow their characters to die, and party wipe, before giving the bad guy piece 2 of a 3 piece set. This would be the logical end, but a very unsatisfying conclusion to the game.

I could Deux Ex Machina- The wizard was willing, right at the end, to let the BBEG kill him to save the party. He said "take me instead." (right when we ended the session) He is an aasimar, and his connection to his mother could trigger a "I'm now a celestial for a minute" type in-game thing. This would give them a temporary out to defeat the BBEG, as a one time thing. Letting battle commence normally after that, might give them enough time to defeat him, but it's very unlikely they do so before he puts one of them in the ground. I know that could cheapen the experience maybe?

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Or do I just let the battle commence naturally, see if they can find a way out of this pickle they've put themselves in and allow a party wipe?….. what do?

Source: reddit.com

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