Attacking defenseless NPCs

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
To avoid more threadcrapping in Sacrosanct’s genre thread I thought I’d survey responses to this simple situation:

The PCs have come across an Orc camp about 200ft away. They’re looking down from a hidden location and a bored guard in the rangers sights. The ranger wants to kill the guard so they can continue to stealth into the camp. The ranger draws their bow string and releases an arrow. They roll an attack to see if the arrow hits cleanly (i.e. beats the orc’s AC) and the risk being alerting the camp to danger if it misses. The arrow obviously don’t do enough damage to kill the Orc outright in a regular combat situation, but this is out of combat. How would you adjudicate the action and why?

For me, as the ranger has time to take the perfect shot and the Orc is unsuspecting, I would allow the shot to kill if it beats the AC. My reasoning is, HP models a character’s ability to put up a fight. If you’re not fighting back then you’re not expending HP and thus it is not a factor here. But I have a feeling I’m in a distinct minority :)

So how would everyone else handle this?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
There are a few ways to do this that I think all work fine.

The DM can rule the outcome of the task as impossible or at least highly unlikely. The ranger simply can't do enough damage in one shot to take out the orc except on a crit and even that's no guarantee. But perhaps the other PCs can add to that damage and take it out. If they can't, they learn a valuable lesson about taking some kind of ranged weapon, even if the character isn't great at it (which is a perfect time to spend Inspiration). The party's going to have to come up with another plan and that's cool in my view. And let's face it - plan B is almost always more interesting.

As well, however, this strikes me as an obstacle in an overarching exploration challenge that only looks somewhat like a combat challenge. The task is neither impossible nor trivially easy. You could say there's an uncertain outcome and the meaningful consequence for failure is there - so some kind of roll is appropriate. I think it's fine to resolve it without relying upon the combat rules. Call it a Dexterity check with proficiency at disadvantage against a hard DC to account for range and the difficulty of ensuring a kill shot. Someone throws guidance or enhance ability on the ranger. Maybe he or she spends Inspiration. Go, teamwork.

Having said that, standard combat rules would work just fine here, too. The orc is surprised. The PCs make regular attack rolls, probably at disadvantage due to the range. If they take him out, great. If they don't, they've got till the start of the orc's turn in Round 2 to get the job done. To increase the difficulty, say the orc draws attention to itself if it survives till the end of its first turn. That makes it even more important to beat the orc in initiative and possibly encourage the expenditure of more resources like spells or Inspiration.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
You seem to be handling it similar to a coupe de grace', which honestly is something I've never really liked. I might let it be an automatic critical but that's about it. Normally though I just follow the rules and it would be a standard attack with advantage.

There's nothing wrong with what you're doing if you're just narrating part of the story. But where do you draw the line? What if that lone orc happened to be the war chief? So for my game it would have to be something a little more certain.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
For me, as the ranger has time to take the perfect shot and the Orc is unsuspecting, I would allow the shot to kill if it beats the AC. My reasoning is, HP models a character’s ability to put up a fight. If you’re not fighting back then you’re not expending HP and thus it is not a factor here. But I have a feeling I’m in a distinct minority :)

So how would everyone else handle this?
It is an attack. The attacker is unseen by the target, so the attack is rolled with advantage. The PC is attacking with surprise.

The character gets to apply whatever benefits are within their power (like, Sneak Attack, if they have that ability). But there's no "perfect shot - instant kill". If you can't pull together enough hit points of damage... well, that shot wasn't as perfect as you thought. Maybe the target coughed after you loosed the arrow, or something.

In other systems, I might rule differently, but this is D&D's structure. If the players complain, ask them how they'd feel if you had NPCs get the same kind of instant-kill attack. They'll probably see the issue there, and let it pass.

D&D is really begging for this to be a team effort. You want to down that orc before the alarm is given? Scootch the party a bit closer, so the target is in range of Silence. Cast that, and follow with the attack on the surprise round. Win initiative, and you get a second shot on the target and kill it before they can manage to raise the alarm.
 
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LordEntrails

Adventurer
I don't envision a single arrow to the chest to always be able kill an orc. Even with they don't see the attack coming. So standard combat rules work just fine.

Besides, the orc isn't defenseless, he's just unaware of the threat.

Maybe I would allow automatic critical damage, but advantage is probably just fine.
 

aco175

Adventurer
I do not have a problem with your idea. You could telegraph that this is a scout or guard and not the chief or something. If it advances the story, then that is good. It it like having to make several sneak checks to determine things. Eventually you get caught if you need to make 10 checks instead of one and maybe a second if you decide to try and sneak into the leader tent. Taking out a guard like this should not count as part of the number in the encounter, I would magically add one more orc. You do have the penalty of missing the AC and most likely being discovered.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
As long as you allow an enemy sniper to one-shot a high-level PC, then it's perfectly fair, and balanced as a house rule.

Otherwise, it's a standard attack, and the inability to be slain by a single arrow is an inherent trait of orcs (or ogres, trolls, etc).
 

Dausuul

Legend
I play it by the book. An orc only has 15 hit points; a 5th-level ranger, attacking with advantage, has a good chance to lay down that much damage in 1 round. If the ranger isn't 5th level yet... well, an orc is a tough customer for low-level PCs; your only chance of an instant kill is a solid crit, putting the arrow right in its eye.

I do rule that a surprised creature can't shout a warning until it stops being surprised. So the ranger gets a full round of attacks, and if other PCs beat the orc's initiative, they can jump in to finish it off. If it's important enough to burn spell resources, silence can virtually ensure success.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
We do skills for that kind of situation.
To kill silently a couple a guards is a matter a stealth, if the pc has sufficient level.
 

Draegn

Explorer
I would have the ranger make a called shot and apply the player's stated goal if the attack was successful.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
So it sounds like for most people so far (unsurprisingly :) ), HP is damage absorption regardless of whether any effort is being made to withstand attacks. So it would be perfectly reasonable for an NPC to not make any effort in a combat situation and they would get all their HP? They could just stand there and absorb the generally lethal blows and be fine?

Do you see why I feel differently?
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
It really depends on the style and level of the PCs. In a game where the PCs are going to face a dozen or more orcs in a standard encounter, then allowing a potential kill shot against a single pud guard in order to have a better stealth into the camp seems fine. If the party is only able to face an equal number of orcs in a standard encounter, then I'd say it's too powerful. Of course, a really cruel trick would be for the "guard" actually be the chieftain out for a walk, and while the attack may hurt him, but he'll survive to call the entire camp down on the PCs.
 

dnd4vr

Hero
I know a lot of people don't like instakills in 5E, but to me it is a big downfall to the system. Such situations should be difficult to come by, but when they do I think the PCs should be rewarded for setting it up (or when it happens to them, they should suffer for their foolishness or stupidity).

In this situation, as a DM, I would definitely rule it as a critical hit (or use rules for a called shot or something). One idea I particularly like is to treat the attack as a sneak attack. Grant the ranger an equivalent bonus as if a rogue of the same level. With the added sneak attack damage, the shot will likely kill. If you add that, I wouldn't make it a crit as well (there is such a thing as overkill!).
 

Elon Tusk

Visitor
So it sounds like for most people so far (unsurprisingly :) ), HP is damage absorption regardless of whether any effort is being made to withstand attacks. So it would be perfectly reasonable for an NPC to not make any effort in a combat situation and they would get all their HP? They could just stand there and absorb the generally lethal blows and be fine?

Do you see why I feel differently?
No. I really don't. If the situation were reversed -- an orc ambusher attacking a PC, I don't see anyone arguing the PC won't get all their HP or that it wouldn't be combat. I don't see any RAW or feel any RAI that would make this situation different.

You say the guard is bored but even being bored wouldn't cause a guard to lose toughness. Hit points define how tough your character is in combat and other dangerous situations (PHB p. 12). Even if you decide this isn't combat, it falls into the dangerous situation category. A dragon doesn't lose some of its hit points just because it's sleeping.

If I were the DM, I'd rule firing an arrow at another creature in this instance might get surprise. If the orc survived, I'd ask for initiative. I'd say just because the attack was made with stealth has nothing to do with whether the orc cries out, possibly alerting its fellow orcs.

Also, Jeremy Crawford has said there are no official rules for called shots. I've home-brewed them in my games but usually apply disadvantage.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
To avoid more threadcrapping in Sacrosanct’s genre thread I thought I’d survey responses to this simple situation:

The PCs have come across an Orc camp about 200ft away. They’re looking down from a hidden location and a bored guard in the rangers sights. The ranger wants to kill the guard so they can continue to stealth into the camp. The ranger draws their bow string and releases an arrow. They roll an attack to see if the arrow hits cleanly (i.e. beats the orc’s AC) and the risk being alerting the camp to danger if it misses. The arrow obviously don’t do enough damage to kill the Orc outright in a regular combat situation, but this is out of combat. How would you adjudicate the action and why?

For me, as the ranger has time to take the perfect shot and the Orc is unsuspecting, I would allow the shot to kill if it beats the AC. My reasoning is, HP models a character’s ability to put up a fight. If you’re not fighting back then you’re not expending HP and thus it is not a factor here. But I have a feeling I’m in a distinct minority :)

So how would everyone else handle this?
If the orc is too powerful to be felled by thexrsngrr in one shot, that was a CHOICE the GM made. Why should there be a reason that was bypassed?

If the ranger player thinks his arrows have a reasonable chance to one dhotborcs, maybe the player and GM need to discuss the setting cuz thry are not in some page.
 
How would you adjudicate the action and why?
The ol' sneak up and kill a sentry?

5e: Narrate success or failure depending on which'd set up the better scenario - or, if it doesn't matter call for regular attack & damage. 5e has an assassin sub--class that pulls these kinds of murders as a defining feature, so giving it out for free could be off.... that said, a ranger should be able to manage some serious damage.
4e: Make it part of a larger skill challenge. After the second stealth failure, kill a minion sentry in one go or the jig us up.
3e: RaW, you get to attack from surprise, loss of DEX bonus, all that. Orcs didn't have that many hps anyway.
AD&D: Almost sounds like a trick question, it was so improbable to stealth successfully. Probably roll the orc's 1 HD at the same time as the damage, behind the screen, and proceed much as in 5e.

. My reasoning is, HP models a character’s ability to put up a fight. If you’re not fighting back then you’re not expending HP and thus it is not a factor here. But I have a feeling I’m in a distinct minority :)
The scene is familiar enough. But, were it a protagonist, we could expect the arrow to miss as he coincidentally shifts position or something.

On the gamist side, if you can bypass hps, the game tends to become about /that/.

But, I do like the idea of will to fight on as a significant component of hps.

. So it would be perfectly reasonable for an NPC to not make any effort in a combat situation and they would get all their HP? They could just stand there and absorb the generally lethal blows and be fine?
Do you see why I feel differently?
Yep, I see it. But it's not even a hypothetical - Hold Person's still a thing, so you can /make/ someone just stand there and take it....
...so, should Hold Person be a death spell?
 
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Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I feel like dealing a coup de grace should work similarly to dealing non-lethal damage, i.e. you need to be up close to do it. That means melee weapons only, not ranged.

What I'd allow in this situation is the opportunity for the ranger to land a "stealthy" kill. In other words, if the attack reduces the orc to 0 hp (not an option in this case, but the player doesn't need to know that), then there's a chance that the shot is so precise and lethal that the orc won't have a chance to cry out in pain and alert other orcs nearby before it expires. It just drops dead.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
When I run my games, combat is as much a part of the narrative as the exploration and interaction is. Combat tells part of the story we are all contributing to at the table. And thus... if the narrative is pretty self-explanatory-- IE the group wants to take out the sentry as part of sneaking into the camp-- then I go along with it. This surprised orc sentry would become a minion for our narrative purposes and be able to be taken out by the one shot.

There are plenty of other combats throughout the game where things will be grand melees because that is what the story of our adventure needs and wants. For those, then the enemies are full and powerful adversaries. But for a speed bump in the attempt to sneak into camp, I see no reason to turn it into a big fight just because the bone-standard orc has enough HP to avoid going down from a single hit.

Others feel differently, and that's fine. But for me... story almost always trumps being tied to the game rules, and my players agree.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So it sounds like for most people so far (unsurprisingly :) ), HP is damage absorption regardless of whether any effort is being made to withstand attacks. So it would be perfectly reasonable for an NPC to not make any effort in a combat situation and they would get all their HP? They could just stand there and absorb the generally lethal blows and be fine?

Do you see why I feel differently?
I can understand why you feel differently. However, I think you might be allowing "realism" to override several points (most already made, but I'll reiterate):

For one thing - this orc is on guard. It isn't that he's actually helpless - tied up or unconscious. He is bored, but not insensate. He can still hear the twang of the bow in the distance, is still able to move, roll with the impact when it hits, and so forth.

For another thing - this is an Olde Tyme LongeBowe. Not a sniper rifle. It uses subsonic ammunition, large enough that wind effects are very significant. Yes, skilled archers are awesome, but they aren't modern sharpshooters. Perfect shots at long range targets that aren't perfectly still (this guy isn't an archery butt - he's a bored orc who will be shifting around) are hard.

Yet another thing - the game already has rules for exactly this scenario (the target is surprised, and does not see the attacker). That design is purposeful (see below). You can, of course, change that, but then the new ruling will take precedence. The players will expect every time that they can bypass hit points if they can attack unseen and from surprise, and if you try to enforce the old rules instead, you'll have to argue it every time.

Yet another another thing: You'll have to ask yourself why the bad guys aren't using the same tactics at every possible turn... Surely, it isn't like the PCs are the first to ever think of getting the drop on someone! If this is possible, what creature with a brain in its head is going to fight in the traditional manner, when they can just bypass hit points entirely? This structure is to keep the fairly cinematic normal combat form viable. If you introduce "but folks can be killed outright on a stealth attack" that will substantially change how the world works. For one thing, the adage in a world where this happens is "a bored guard is a dead guard" and the likelihood of the orc being found in this situation would be low - he'd not be in the open, he'd be hidden or under cover that would allow him to see without being targeted. He'd have a partner that would help him stay alert, and so on.

Yet another another another thing: If you, the GM, wanted the possibility that the orc would be killed in one shot, why didn't you make him a goblin, or some other critter that would be killed in one shot? Rather than change the rules, why not just have low-HP guards?
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I can understand why you feel differently. However, I think you might be allowing "realism" to override several points (most already made, but I'll reiterate):

For one thing - this orc is on guard. It isn't that he's actually helpless - tied up or unconscious. He is bored, but not insensate. He can still hear the twang of the bow in the distance, is still able to move, roll with the impact when it hits, and so forth.

For another thing - this is an Olde Tyme LongeBowe. Not a sniper rifle. It uses subsonic ammunition, large enough that wind effects are very significant. Yes, skilled archers are awesome, but they aren't modern sharpshooters. Perfect shots at long range targets that aren't perfectly still (this guy isn't an archery butt - he's a bored orc who will be shifting around) are hard.

Yet another thing - the game already has rules for exactly this scenario (the target is surprised, and does not see the attacker). That design is purposeful (see below). You can, of course, change that, but then the new ruling will take precedence. The players will expect every time that they can bypass hit points if they can attack unseen and from surprise, and if you try to enforce the old rules instead, you'll have to argue it every time.

Yet another another thing: You'll have to ask yourself why the bad guys aren't using the same tactics at every possible turn... Surely, it isn't like the PCs are the first to ever think of getting the drop on someone! If this is possible, what creature with a brain in its head is going to fight in the traditional manner, when they can just bypass hit points entirely? This structure is to keep the fairly cinematic normal combat form viable. If you introduce "but folks can be killed outright on a stealth attack" that will substantially change how the world works. For one thing, the adage in a world where this happens is "a bored guard is a dead guard" and the likelihood of the orc being found in this situation would be low - he'd not be in the open, he'd be hidden or under cover that would allow him to see without being targeted. He'd have a partner that would help him stay alert, and so on.

Yet another another another thing: If you, the GM, wanted the possibility that the orc would be killed in one shot, why didn't you make him a goblin, or some other critter that would be killed in one shot? Rather than change the rules, why not just have low-HP guards?
Exactly this...
[MENTION=10506]Rob[/MENTION] us
"So it would be perfectly reasonable for an NPC to not make any effort in a combat situation and they would get all their HP? They could just stand there and absorb the generally lethal blows and be fine?
Do you see why I feel differently?"

Yes, I just think your argument is flawed.

As I and others said, when the GM sets the guard there with say 20 up, they are saying "this guy is not one-shot kill reliable." If the GM wznts it to be OSKR, he can give it less HP. Heck, an orc is listed as 2d8+6 HP so it could be as low as 8 hp without any rule changes. 8 HP ought to be manageable on a ranger hit, tho not guaranteed. Or you could use goblins.

Also, as observed, a guard is still conscious and responsive. My bet is your players wont like OSKR PC deaths by dint of "on guard duty bored fiats"

Also, if a guard was asleep, slipping up and cutting throat type attack at melee range gets auto-crit. Even more likely kill.

But finally, expanding on what went above, if you setup dome dorc of unseen surprise bypass HP rule, it **will** become a go-to tactic. Its too friggin huge not to. With spells like holdbperson in the game a **lot** of current balances need to be re-figured.

If heightened hold person allowed a point blank insta-kill (instea-drop) vs the paralyzed target, you would see major shifts in tactics and power. Its already strong, but the addition of easy KO pushes it and many others over the top.
 

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