I will be running a high-stakes Eclipse Phase game in the coming weeks and I find myself anticipating a severe problem.

The scenario (The Devotees, for any EP players) is based on infiltrating a super violent human-trafficking cartel's asteroid, investigating an existential threat to humanity, dealing with it, and getting off station alive.

While the PCs are entirely capable of accomplishing this task in a variety of ways, it's likely they will fail some task somewhere at some point. Here are a few examples off the top of my head:

  • While hacking security, a failure might label them as infiltrators that should be dealt with.
  • Failing to lie about their true motivations to a critical NPC could get them slagged.
  • Killing an NPC that found them out could put a bounty on their head.

The PCs could definitively handle a few firefights, but not hundreds of armed gang members out for their blood. A completely blown cover seems to mean TPK and not much else.

Considering that the opponents would not hesitate to blow their heads off, how can I ensure the game doesn't end up in an unsatisfying TPK in their cover is blown?

I've thought of a few options that mesh well with the scenario, but I'd like more:

  • The cartel is divided into 3 factions that hate each other, blowing their cover for one wouldn't necessarily affect the others.
  • Giving the PCs a chance to act tough enough to discourage retaliation ("Yeah I blew his head off, what are you gonna do about it?")
  • Retconning the mistake (I'd REALLY rather avoid this as it would remove the high-stakes, but it's preferable to "everyone's dead, see you next game!")
  • Running a second game right after with "erasure squad" characters (aka: Can't have an existential threat if everything on the habitat has been reduced to dust by a conveniently placed tactical nuclear weapon.)

You should certainly avoid option 3. If it's high stakes, deflating them by fudging dice or even retconning the failure out will remove the player's trust and enjoyment. Here are some other things I'd suggest:

Escalating Responses

Failing at a check should not result in an immediate TPK state. It's also not realistic: If a security camera fails, the entire base doesn't immediately go into lockdown and sends all its troops to that camera.

Therefore, think of in-between states of alertness. Thus, every time the heroes fail, more countermeasures come into effect, but they still have wiggle room.

Buying their way out with a sidequest

So if the heroes fail a lot and keep upping the stakes? At some point, their (even though limited) success and perseverance against adversity becomes interesting to itself. So when the opponents corner them, they'll probably rather try to capture than kill, to

A) interrogate (possibly "enhanced") the group to find out how they got so far despite being so incompetent, so that they can close that security hole.

B) to maybe use those obviously resourceful people to deal with a problem of theirs in return for letting them go free.

Either way, the trick is to provide the players with a roleplaying opportunity even when they fail. Maybe they manage to convince their torturers of some great danger, or lie about the security measure they used, thus giving them a chance for a second go at it. Or their help with the problem gets them on the people's good side enough to scout out the base and start the next heist from in there.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like your second option! The whole scenario is based around conflict between the 3 factions: All 3 bosses would LOVE to have an expendable team not connected to themselves! \$\endgroup\$
    – JS Lavertu
    Nov 7 '19 at 18:20

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