So: your players are entering the final act of your campaign guide. They are on their way to the big bad, but decide to take a pit stop on the way to rest and power up.
Then, suddenly, it all falls apart. They try to complete a side quest, but it goes horribly wrong. Not only have they awakened an ancient evil, they have failed to defeat the real big bad, and now you have a TPK on your hands.
What now? Do you start over? The whole story is a mess now.
This is every GMs worst nightmare. But there is always a solution to your gaming troubles, no matter the difficulty. This kind of challenge actually has some great benefits, as it offers you a chance to stretch your storytelling muscles, and make something beautiful. You do not have to stress about building a full world like homebrew, nor are you limited to in book restrictions.
So, where do you start?
A New League or the Old Guard?
The first big question is what do your players want to play? Do they want to make new characters? Or do they want to keep playing the characters who tragically fell? If new characters are the way to go, then you just need to find a way to get them in the world.
If the players want to continue playing the characters they have been growing over the course of the campaign, what ways could they be brought back to life? Could it be to make a dark bargain with one of the dark forces they were fighting against? Or perhaps a source of divinity was able to step in, turning one of the party into a cleric or paladin. There are plenty of options to explore, so take a bit of time to figure out what makes sense for the party and the world at large.
So, the side mission didn’t go as planned. What are the consequences of that failure? Does a new baddie start to make moves in the campaign world? Is a nearby town destroyed or plundered?
The possible events will vary depending on the mission that failed when the party died. Determine what the new baddies wanted to accomplish and let them succeed. This will give your players a sense of continuity as well as a sense that their choices matter. It will also make it that much more satisfying when they take their revenge.
Knowing The Enemy
Finally, consider the big bad. What is their reaction to the party’s failings? Was the party on their radar? If they did know about the party, perhaps the big bad is relieved and continues on their business. Perhaps the big bad is the one to resurrect them in order to kill a new player on the political field. Or, if all else fails, the big bad could simply get stronger, getting closer to their goals one step at a time.
It is always interesting to consider how the big bad will react if the side quest that the players failed results in a new enemy. This can build a lot of opportunities for your players to play both sides of the field. Opportunity and challenge are the birth of innovation.
In the end, make sure that the new story is going to be satisfying to the players. They lost their characters in a dire situation, experienced heartbreak. Let them take back their power and show the world their might once again. They will be all the more grateful for it.
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