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Top Ten Solutions to Game Master ‘Oops!’ Moments

This can happen to the most experienced Game Masters. Accidentally killing the entire party due to underestimating the strength of a monster, overestimating the skills of the party, or by pure bad luck. A contingency plan for an “oops!” moment? Let’s look at it.
Steve Dean: Game Master Oops Moment.
Photo: Harmony Lawrence / Pixabay

Hello! This time, I’ll be listing a few solutions to those moments when the Game Master accidentally kills the entire party due to underestimating the strength of a monster, overestimating the skills of the party, or by pure bad luck. (Never because the Game Master wasn’t paying attention.) This can happen to the most experienced Game Masters, so there should always be a contingency plan. These things can also be used in a planned way, having the characters beaten unconscious and waking up somewhere strange as part of the campaign.

10. Leave Them Dead

You might not think this is an ideal solution but by using this method, it proves to your players their characters can die permanently, which adds to the sense of peril when their new characters get into trouble. This one is more appropriate near the start of a campaign when the new characters can continue it if that’s what the Game Master wants. Writers of all kinds use this method to create tension and concern for characters, often creating a main character whose only purpose is to die.

9. Enter Stage Left, The Super-Being

The characters have attracted a lot of attention during their adventures, one of which is a super-being of some kind; a deity or demi-god, a gold dragon, etc. They are usually highly magical, pure in word and deed, and will raise the party, restore them to health, and hit them with the bill. This could be a simple promise to help others but is more usually an onerous task or a lifetime’s worth of being nice to everybody and giving away half your gold. The harsher punishments can be saved for when it was the players’ fault they wiped because they were messing about.

8. Reincarnation As Something Strange

The purpose of this technique is to have the characters reincarnated as something else in a different reality. They then have to work out how to get back into their real bodies, possibly on an alternate timeline. How well this goes down with your players depends on them and what you do to them. I once turned all my PCs into gnomes because they made fun of something I’d made for the scenario. Most of them got into character, talked in squeaky voices for a while, and eventually got themselves back home. 

7. They Aren’t Dead, They’re Just Sleeping

In most systems, there’s a point where a character falls unconscious but isn’t dead. Most systems have rules about bleeding, anyone that just had their arm ripped off is going to bleed to death fairly soon. The Game Master might have to fudge this one but it’s usually still workable. The trick here is to think about what would happen to the characters under the specific circumstances. If the party is wiped out by orcs, they could be kept alive to be eaten later on. This gives the characters the chance to escape. 

6. It Was All An Illusion

At some point, after being “killed” the Game Master says to the players they start to wake up and look around because they aren’t dead after all. It turns out the creature who attacked them was an illusion, cast by a villain or a trap one of the party set off. This does necessitate the restoration of all health points but all the other stuff that might have gone off will still have happened. If the Game Master wants to continue this campaign, this is probably the fall-back, although be prepared for the characters to keep saying, “I think that gobbo/trap I just stood in/roast chicken is an illusion,” every five minutes.

5. They Ascend To A Higher Plane

Despite repeated calls, the characters all go into the light and find themselves in the presence of gods. They are judged unworthy and sent back to finish the task they started, probably with their memories of the gods wiped. The characters will obviously be massively changed if they remember the encounter, knowing the gods exist is a game-changer, quite literally. It’s probably better if they don’t remember, or only vaguely or subconsciously have any memories of the encounter.

4. The Extemporaneous Stranger

This kindly person, who just happened to be passing, can either join in and turn the tide of combat, or heal the dying characters just in the nick of time. They have a humble cottage nearby, in which the characters can rest, and share the huge pot of stew the person was making for themselves. This person is usually a retired hero who was once famous. They will either have a beautiful daughter or an animal of some kind, usually something dangerous or magical. It’s something of a universal constant that the cottage will be attacked, and the hero will say “Go, I’ll hold them off. Take Gladys.” 

3. The Third-Party Arrival

This one works well most of the time, possibly because it’s the most believable in most situations. All it requires is a threat to appear on the scene that is a danger to both sides, the party and the enemy. This is usually a single huge thing or a pack, often animals who have no allegiance to anyone. Timing is more critical on this one, you don’t want to use it too early and waste it. If more than half the party are down, it might be good to bring the third party in. The new arrival would attack the party’s enemy first, as they’re still moving around. This would distract the enemy, allowing the party to re-group or escape.

2. The Fortuitous Patrol

The fortuitous patrol involves the lucky arrival of a column of soldiers, who quickly see off the bad guys, then arrest the party as spies. The commanding officer will almost certainly say, “You’re lucky, we don’t patrol this area often.” Then order the soldiers to clap them in irons and drag them back to headquarters. The party will be given enough care to keep them alive, but nothing special. When they get to HQ, the party will have to explain themselves, particularly if they’re in a foreign land. What happens next depends on the Game Master. They might be released, held hostage, or taken back to where they were found and given loads of stuff as an apology.

1. The Fickle Hand Of Fate

This one is my favourites because it allows the Game Master’s imagination to run riot. In this scenario, the party are in trouble, either down or on their last few health points. The bad guys are closing in, loot, torture, and necrophilia on their minds. When suddenly… and this is where fate steps in. This could be something simple, like the sound of a distant horn, an earthquake, a bolt of lightning, the day changing to Thursday, a day when the baddies aren’t allowed to loot, torture or necrophiliate. Whatever the event, it leaves the party down but not out, dignity intact.

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