The coolest total party kill I ever administered was a wandering monster encounter.
…so the Isle of Dread adventure was wrapping up. The heroes of the campaign had discovered the means to escape the island, and had a few days to kill before leaving. One of them pointed to a portion of the map marked with hills and said, “Hey we haven’t explored here yet.” The only things they knew about the region were the dust plumes of immense herds of beasts they had seen. These plumes were from dinosaurs, or ‘behemoths’ as we call them. And everyone should know, where there are large numbers of behemoths, there will be drakes hunting them. These facts combined with one important purchase I had recently made – a huge purple tongued fiendish T-rex mini. Voila, I had a plan.
It is funny, but I had sort of back-shelved the t-rex mini, since the characters had shown little interest in scouting the hills during the months of their exploration of the Isle. In the very beginning of the adventure, I statted up a few “key encounters” for each region, which I could improvise with, or use for random encounters. The fang titan drake encounter was one of my favorites, and when they heroes casually decided on an expedition to the hills, a sudden grin of evil intent split my face. I reached for the dungeon tiles, and began casually describing the journey into the hills while sorting out some wilderness terrain. In my other hand, I would roll a d8 at various appropriate moments. It came up “1” as they were climbing a pass up into those hills. Ding ding ding, we have a winner.
So, the set up was as follows: the heroes were climbing the pass, which at this point was a 20’ wide slope, with a rock wall going up one side, and a scrabble cliff down the other. The surprise round was merely two swarms of small lizards coming towards the party out of the tree-line. Next round, two juvenile, man-sized drakes came galloping out of the tree-line, and a huge roar could be heard. The Fang Titan made its appearance on the third turn. It was a classic fang titan drake family swarm attack.
(My thinking on this one was that these Fang Titans have clutches of hundreds of baby fang titans, but very few survive to maturity. A family group eliminated a ‘solo’ encounter with the fang titan, and gave the battle a lot more variety, while still maintaining its thematic quality of T-REX!)
It was on that third turn when the party switched from partial to full attention. The first thing that got their attention was the auto damage of the swarm aura was 10, not 5. And when the barbarian was stuck between both swarms for two rounds, that was an automatic 40 points of damage. When the fang titan roared its challenge, stunning half or more of the party, that was the second wake up call. From round three on, the players became VERY careful about their characters actions, whereas until that point, they were basically phoning it in. (There were still some tactical mistakes made, such as not focusing fire, and not dealing with the auto-damaging swarms as quickly as they should have, but in the heat of battle no one acts perfectly and things tend to get messy.)
I will not go into every detail of the battle, but it was savage, and almost everyone was dropped and raised at least once. Towards the end of the fight, the Fang titan was well past bloodied, but both swarms were still alive and chewing up the melee classes as quickly as they could heal. 4 out of 6 characters were on the ground unconscious. Hex the swordlock and Poppy the avenger were all that were left. Hex used his heal potion and second wind to boost him back above bloodied, and Poppy used her heal potion to get back up into the upper teens for hit points. She then made the fateful decision to risk an opportunity attack by a swarm as she rushed past them towards the cleric Ria. Poppy had one meager heal spell and if she could get Ria the cleric back on her feet, she could bless them all with a massive party-wide heal since she was next to go.
The night was getting late, the party was beat up beyond belief, and I was ready to wrap things up. I made a big show of retiring my light blue d20 with orange numbering named “Sunset” due to its ability to put characters lights out. Instead, I pulled out this red translucent d20 with rounded edges that I was sure was cursed to never roll above a 5. It turns out it was not cursed then, and there before everyone a natural 20 hit the table. Max damage was enough to take Poppy down, and the cleric never got healed, and Hex high-tailed it outta there (so it was technically not a TPK, but I could have had the fang titan chase him down and tear him to shreds, so Im not worried.) Meanwhile the fang titan family began feasting on the erstwhile heroes.
And yes, the question came up, can you resurrect someone who has been partially digested?