Evil GM Tricks # 52 Kill Em All
As the GM you can't wipe out the party or your campaign is over, right? What if I offered you a way to kill them all and get away without them lynching you? Intrigued? Read on.
First, I'll explain the process in a nutshell. You'll need to set up The Meeting with someone we'll call the Oracle. The Meeting will be very important later, but for now just make sure it includes every player character. If you don't think one of them is appropriate to fill the role of the Oracle you can have an NPC present that you have in mind for the task. More on The Meeting later.
Next, pick a confrontation you want your characters to have. Hopefully this will involve a long standing villain, but if not any momentous event or encounter will do. Then, you are going to have your party show up to that confrontation. They could be fighting a dragon or an army or even some kobolds if that's the level the party is at when you want to use this Evil GM Trick. What you use matter less than how you will use it.
The idea is that your party will lose and lose badly.
The idea is that your party will lose and lose badly. The dragon sees them coming and prepares an ambush. Or the lich. Or any other threat that works for your current game. Each of the characters will be systematically wiped out. Give them no chance to survive but make sure that you have a realistic fight. Just have them overmatched by an opponent that was clearly prepared for them, and knew both their strengths and weaknesses.
The look of horror on each player's face as their characters are cut down before their eyes is priceless. The taste of their tears is the nectar of the Evil GM, and with this trick you can drink deeply. How could you let their whole party be wiped out? What a horrible GM!
You wouldn't, and that's where the Oracle comes in. Someone in your campaign will need the ability to predict the future. You could choose a character if you feel it fits, or you could choose an NPC or henchman to give the ability to. Regardless of who fills the role the Oracle is going to manifest the ability to have visions of the future. Immediately after you wipe out the party you set the scene back to The Meeting.
The Oracle will startle everyone with a scream and will go into a seizure during which they experience a vision of the future. They see the ambush that wipes the party out, and now that they know its coming you can get to the final and most fun part for the players. Instead of being ambushed and wiped out now they are setting a counter ambush to trap their foes. They know what spells will be used when and can prepare accordingly. If you designed the encounter to be both challenging and slightly overwhelming the PCs preparation should be enough to tip the balance when they finally meet.
So, now that you have good idea of what I have in mind I'll show you how I put it to use in my own game.
In my own Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 game the party was approaching 10th level, and had become embroiled in a brutal civil war. They'd fallen in with a dark summoner with an army of undead, and agreed to help him cripple an invading army. To aid them he gave them an artifact of some power that raised anyone who died in its radius as a Wight. Their plan was to drop a lot of high damage area of effect spells, and then raise the troops killed to spread further chaos.
...we'd talk about new characters after the scene was over.
All in all the plan was solid and would most likely have worked. Instead a flying invisible mage dropped a disintegrate on their main duskblade, and he failed his save. The rest of the party took a few fireballs from other sources, and then the survivors tried to fall back. All but the druid were pursued, caught, and killed. As each fell one after another I maintained the illusion that this was 100% completely real. Even to the point of telling them we'd talk about new characters after the scene was over.
When I was done hunting down the last of them I rewound the game and reset the scene. Suddenly they were back in the same room in the castle where they'd planned the assault. They were still all sitting around the table thinking when one of the female NPCs, a follower of the god of fate, shot to her feet and screamed. In bits and pieces she sobbed out the vision she'd had which is, of course, the combat you ran where the party was wiped out. Armed with the fore knowledge of what they'd face the party quickly and fairly easily handled the assault on the legion.
Now, prophetic visions are part and parcel of fantasy games, but ask yourself which sounds more fun. Playing through a two hour desperate combat in which the PCs are pushed to their limits, and then killed. They then find out about the vision and match it up with the experience they just had. Or, you just tell the PCs that they are going to be ambushed. I know which one my players preferred.
They'd genuinely believed characters they'd spent months building were gone, and that sharp sense of loss followed by the relief when they found they were still alive was amazing. Most of them still talk about that specific part of the game years later. Really, when you get right down to it that's what being an Evil GM is all about.