I can count on one hand the number of Total Party Kills I've had as a Game Master over the years. Friday night, I almost added one to that number.
I won't go into all the gory details, save it to say the group rolled two of the worst watch encounters back-to-back I have ever seen. The first, a vampire, they managed to mist and drive off (thanks to some quick thinking from the Friar and company). The second, however, was a Behir, and it overwhelmed the group entirely. I ran both right out of the book, and there was a small window to flee, but Friar Charles and the sorcerer Vas both went down permanently. The dwarven cleric Nalgin was rescued by Antigus the Druid, who escaped along with the (new party member) Valrayan the Ranger thanks to their (eventually) displaying the better part of valor.
I felt bad, but that's how the dice roll. It was just a matter of luck running out--no more Mulligan stones, no more d30 supercharge rolls. Just eating it, in a big way. But if there isn't the spectre of catastrophe, you don't have any suspense. I still think I'll be second-guessing a few things for a while, but to overuse a phrase, it is what it is.
Our group had already been discussing playing some different games before this all happened, and this was a pretty good to suspend the Castles & Crusades game for now. We all talked, and we were mostly all ready to try something other than high fantasy for a bit. So, next time, one of the guys will be running a one-off Deadlands session (I get to play for a change!), and the session after that, we do group character generation for Mongoose Traveller.
I'd also like to run Thousand Suns or the new In Harm's Way: StarCluster (which I'm still digesting) eventually, but almost no one in our group has played Traveller before--it's a gamer rite of passage. There's also some demand for Rolemaster, but I'm waiting on some things before I run it again, and the idea was to get away from fantasy for a little bit. I also still have my alt-history/pulp Two-Fisted Tales game under prep/research, and I think we'll get to it. I think the group agrees--there's just too many great games out there to be married to one game into perpetuity.
The basic idea is that all the players will be Imperial Navy, stationed on a science vessel that was part of a small fleet "showing the flag" in a little-traveled backwater full of warlords and hostile aliens. A surprise rebellion destroyed the entire fleet, save this one science vessel, which had to remain behind at a remote starport for vital repairs. Now, an entire sector of hostile space separates them from home.
One 600-ton science vessel vs. an entire hostile sector? A mismatch, I know. It doesn't seem fair to the sector...