Dungeons & Dragons and the thrill of nearly losing everything in a game

We came dangerously close to experiencing a total party wipeout during our last Dungeons & Dragons session. It was an intense and unexpected turn of events that left our entire group on the edge of defeat. Even our seasoned Dungeon Master, who had been running campaigns for over a decade, was taken aback by the dire situation we found ourselves in. It was a wake-up call that reminded us of the risks and dangers that come with adventuring in the realm of D&D.

Up until that point, I had never fully grasped the significance of a total party kill, or TPK as the seasoned players call it. Sure, I understood that death was a bad outcome in any circumstance, but I didn’t truly appreciate the impact it would have on our progress and the characters we had invested so much time and effort into creating. I guess I always had this unfounded belief that our trusty DM would save the day, finding a way to rescue us from the brink of disaster. But that illusion was shattered during our recent encounter.

Our DM, despite not wanting to kill us, was simply following the rules and playing the enemies in the game as they were meant to be played. And the enemy that brought us to the verge of annihilation was an unexpected old man who had previously seemed harmless. Little did we know, he had a devastating spell in his arsenal – a powered-up Fireball that unleashed four consecutive blasts, decimating our party with each explosion.

As characters in a lower-level campaign, we had hoped that our encounters wouldn’t throw too many deadly spells our way, as enemies often need time to recover and regain their abilities. But this old man defied our expectations and unleashed a relentless barrage of Fireballs, pushing us further into despair.

As we fell one by one, I realized that the game’s mechanics, particularly the death-saving throw system, added a layer of urgency and vulnerability to the situation. It became harder and harder to regain the upper hand in the battle as our flying allies plummeted to the ground, exposing themselves to even greater dangers.

In my desperate attempt to rescue a fallen comrade, I inadvertently unleashed another threat upon our already chaotic fight. The severed shadow that I had in my possession turned against us, further complicating our struggle for survival.

Throughout the ordeal, there were numerous moments when I thought it was the end for us. But by some stroke of luck, one character managed to survive with a tiny sliver of health, thanks to a miraculous dice roll. If it weren’t for that narrow escape, our entire campaign would have come to a premature end, and we would have been left searching for a new Friday night activity.

Reflecting upon this harrowing experience, I couldn’t help but think about the stark contrast between tabletop RPGs like D&D and video game RPGs. In many video games, the safety net of save points and reload options diminishes the sense of real consequences and the desperation that comes with facing genuine danger.

While games like Roguelikes and titles from FromSoftware have provided me with glimpses of that thrilling desperation, it’s still not quite the same as what I experienced in that near-death encounter in D&D. The stakes were higher, the peril more profound, and the sense of reward for overcoming the odds was truly exhilarating.

It’s worth noting that video games do offer permadeath modes for those seeking a more daring experience. The recent addition of permadeath mode to World of Warcraft Classic caught my attention and ignited a mix of terror and excitement within me. The idea of risking weeks of progress and having everything on the line is undoubtedly daunting, but it also promises a heightened sense of adventure.

Ultimately, the brush with death during our Dungeons & Dragons session has left a lasting impression on me. It’s made me realize that embracing risk and facing the possibility of failure can lead to some of the most memorable gaming moments. The thrill of an adventure is often amplified by the dangers and losses that we might encounter along the way. Perhaps it’s time for me to seek out more experiences like that and step out of my comfort zone.