10) Leave Them Dead
You might not think this is an ideal solution, and might be a bit sloppy. 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 catch up and continue the campaign, if that’s what the GM 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 later on and therefore suggest the others might also be in danger. See the red wedding in GoT for a perfect example.
9) Enter Stage Left, The Super-Being
The characters have attracted the attention of several people and organisations during their adventures, one of which is a super-being of some kind. They aren’t always gods or demi-gods, but could be higher beings, like gold dragons and such. 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 not swearing or drinking, being nice to everybody and giving half your gold to the orphanage. The harsher punishments can be saved for when it was the players’ fault they wiped, either through inattention or 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, preferably before they died, or on an alternate timeline in which they survived. 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. This is a good way of breaking up a long campaign, and also of trialing a setting you’re thinking of introducing.
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 also have rules about bleeding, and most players know that if their character has just had their arm ripped off, they’re probably going to bleed to death fairly soon. So the GM might have to fudge this one a bit, but it’s usually still workable. The trick with this one is think about what would happen to the characters under the specific circumstances. For instance, if the party are wiped out by orcs or similar creatures, they would either be stored for food, or be sold or used as slaves, maybe even both. This gives the characters the chance to escape, and lends some urgency to the task. If the party were defeated by a dragon, they’d probably end up in a cage, kept as pets by the creature until it got bored of them.
If the characters are sold as slaves, they could end up almost anywhere; on a ship, down a mine, in the foreign legion, as house slaves for a distant emperor. All of which could lead to a whole other campaign.
6) It Was All An Illusion
At some point, after being “killed” the GM 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 HP, the characters aren’t actually injured, but any potions and scrolls used, and all the other stuff that might have gone off, will still have happened. If the GM hasn’t prepared anything for the other methods, or really 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, although not always. This could also be an opportunity to give the characters some powerful artifacts to fight the big boss if they ever get that far. 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 either a retired gladiator or hero, or an elderly person who was once famous. They will either have a beautiful but humble daughter, or an animal of some kind, usually something dangerous or magical, which might be named after their dead partner. It’s something of a universal constant that the cottage will be attacked, and the old man/hero will say “Go, I’ll hold them off. Take Gladys.” And that will be that and the party have a new member.
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, like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. 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. Once they’re back on their feet, the third party can target them to retain realism and immersion.
2) The Fortuitous Patrol
Similar to The Extemporaneous Stranger, but the outcome is entirely different. 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 scenario and the GM. They might be released, held hostage, sold into slavery, 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 GMs imagination to run riot. In this scenario, the party are in trouble, either down or on their last few HP. 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, recalling the enemy back to base with utmost urgency. Or there could be an earthquake, a bolt of lightning, the crack of dawn, a tree falling, the day changing to Thursday, a day when the baddies aren’t allowed to loot, torture or necrophiliate. And pretty much anything else not already covered. Whatever the event, it leaves the party down but not out, dignity, and everything else, intact. They can recover enough to withdraw to a safer place and fully heal up.