The party members that were able to make it to the most recent session were Alakar, a half-elven bard; Elia, a human bard (the only one of 2nd level, rather than 1st); and Thebabicus, a human cleric. Notably missing from that list are both of the group's regular fighters (Adira and Ulreth). The three present adventurers were informed that the prison in the military fort town of Ironside had been sealed off under mysterious circumstances. Since Elia had family there, they decided to set off and see what was what.
When they arrived, they eventually found out that the prison had been locked down due to a mysterious illness that spread from some of the prisoners to the guards, and quickly infected pretty much the entire prison. Unfortunately, one of the people trapped inside while he was still alive was Lieutenant Ralston, the man responsible for freeing the original three party members (ironically, none of whom were present now) from said prison to search for a bandit leader. The acting head of the town, Sergeant Obrist, devised a plan to get the party in by dropping a trebuchet stone on the prison's roof... but since the Lieutenant was the only person who had the key to the prison's main gate, the only way to get back out would be to find him. In addition, there was a secret password - known only to the Lieutenant - to stop the archers posted in the towers from shooting at the party if they managed to emerge.
So far, so good; I had a scenario, a set of restrictions, and best of all: a very cool visual aid. I had recently bought the Pathfinder Flip-Mat "Bigger Basic", which fortunately allowed me to fit the entire prison on one side. And since the mysterious disease was actually turning the prisoners and guards into zombies, I had brought Twilight Creations' "Bag O' Zombies" to represent the reanimated population of an entire prison.
|My particular bag actually came with 101 zombies in it|
(I counted them), but I'm not complaining at all.
They also attempted to bottleneck the zombies and form a triangle to surround them, a tactic which served them well in the past when facing off against bandits through narrow doorways (especially when they cleared out a dilapidated manse to use as a home base). Unfortunately, they forgot one thing: the zombies would not be pressed back to regroup or retreat. This meant that the zombies just pressed against the player characters until the former had all been slain. I left the figures tipped over on the mat, showing how many they had killed, and I certainly had plenty enough to do that throughout the entire prison.
Sadly, this tactical error led to their death. They encountered a group of six zombies, and decided to fall back to an already emptied cell; their error was in choosing one of the smaller cells, with no room to maneuver. The zombies came through, and Thebabicus was not able to turn them. Both he and Alakar were slain in short order, while Elia managed to kill two more of the shamblers before being overwhelmed herself. Even more unfortunate was that, even with the relatively small amount killed (16 or 17), the party would have earned enough experience for Thebabicus to increase in level.
A number of bloggers have been writing recently about the importance of ensuring that player actions affect the game world. In this case, their failure to make it deeper into the "Prison of the Dead" (as I called the adventure) and exorcise the even more terrifying force therein means one thing: Ironside has fallen. The few people who realized this have left in the ensuing days, before the town was overtaken utterly by the corruption.
The person playing Thebabicus was sufficiently annoyed with the loss of his character that he left immediately, and Alakar's player followed suit; Elia's player, however, stayed behind to make a new character. This time, she created a fighter (perhaps mindful of the necessities of that class) who is Elia's older sister. We had already determined that Elia was the middle child in a typical military family, so some of her possessions are going to be passed on to the new character. And both of the other fighters are still alive, so it isn't as though a total reboot is necessary.
I've had a total party kill in the past, but this one occurred to a group of long-time members of the campaign. Hopefully the two other players whose characters were killed come back. Either way, I'm glad that I allowed this to happen; I didn't fudge any dice rolls, and due to the dire circumstances it wasn't really possible to fudge the story (to have them rescued, etc.) without taking a sledgehammer to the integrity of the game. Here's hoping they fare better on their next quest.