#23: Have you ever experienced Total Party Kill (TPK), or been close to it? What effect did that have on you personally? On your group of players? Have you ever used retroactive continuity (retcon) to save yourself? Why or why not?
I'm not counting convention/demo games or games where that was the point (tournament modules) because there's really no emotional investment in it for me. It's just a fun time where stuff happens. I've never been on the player side of a TPK. I've always been the GM when it comes up.
In the first instance it was during my long-running Deadlands classic campaign I've often discussed. The protagonists were going up against a Native American cult who were using artifacts to drain people of their blood for power. The party split up and ran smack dab into two different encounters, each of which were designed for all of them. I decided to try them out, as is. It was pretty epic, as I was running two combats, simultaneously. I quickly figured out they weren't going to survive either one, so I ramped up the crazy. One player was left hanging upside down from a rafter, about to be drained. Another player had his arm ripped off and was beaten with it. Finally, as they were all in the process of dying, I used one of the characters killer hindrance combo of Heavy Sleeper and Night Terrors to keep the party alive. My last sentence of the night was, "And that, my friends, is why you don't split the party."
I don't actually believe that advice anymore, but it was still an epic moment in gaming. Once everyone realized their character wasn't dead, they started laughing and admitted to having a good time. It's still talked about, semi-regularly, to this day.
The rest of my TPKs have been related to a combination of overpowered enemies and bad party planning.
There was a Deadlands classic game where I underestimated the toughness of the walkin' dead. Shane Hensley takes his zombies very seriously.
Then in Savage Worlds, the first three times I ran it resulted in a TPK. This was mainly from the players not understanding tactics mattered in Savage Worlds. They weren't using cover well or ganging up, things like that. At one point, Veronica announced she'd never play Savage Worlds again. These days it's work getting her to play anything else.
As far as the effect of a TPK... it depends on the person. For me, I'm disappointed when it happens because I feel like I've done something wrong (and sometimes I have). Other players at my table react in different ways. Some get very emotionally invested in their characters and want to protect them; others couldn't care less because they like changing characters.
I've seen TPKs kill campaigns. One of the three Savage Worlds incidents killed an Evernight campaign we were starting--a campaign I never got to restart or go back to. These days, unless I'm running a tournament module or a crazy campaign game, I avoid them as a GM.