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Attacking defenseless NPCs

iserith

Explorer
[SIZE=-2]*Well, almost. Falling damage and damage to objects are covered, but the existing rules don't specify how much fire damage you take for being in lava. There are a couple of adventures with lava hazards, but the damage they deal varies from one adventure to the next. But that just means it's up to the DM to assign an appropriate damage level.[/SIZE]
On the lava bit, the "improvising damage" rules in the DMG pegs "wading through a lava stream" as 10d10 damage and "being submerged in lava" as 18d10 damage. The latter seems appropriate for a fall into a lava pit.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I tend to run my games in more of a narrative and cinematic way, using mechanics to adjudicate situations where either the player or circumstance invoke them.
Given that you are describing a classic cinematic scene where the highly skilled character silently dispatches a sentry with a well timed shot, I would not bother with the mechanics except perhaps to determine if the character rolls a natural 1 or 20. So long as it is taking place outside of initiative and combat proper, I consider it narrative.
I guess it depends on your position. Is playing your game intended to feel like a simulation, or is it more of a movie?
But if a PC is skilled enough (e.g. high enough level) they can take the target out with one hit. If the PC has advantage from sharp shooter and advantage from surprise it's pretty much guaranteed.

On the other hand, I will hand-wave easy combats on a pretty regular basis, especially for mid-to-high level groups. We'll just narrate that they take out the patrols and guards, if someone wants to add a little bit of flavor they can. So personally I do a mix depending on the scenario.
 
Man, come on. If I have a house rule about checkmate scenarios and I give you an example of one I consider to be a checkmate scenario, isn’t it a little bit unfair to argue that example doesn’t meet my criteria?
I don't think I argued that, but ok, now that you mention it, the rope bridge scenario may meet your criteria, but it in no way represents the same problem for D&D that "knife held to the throat" does.

As Umbran has helpfully pointed out, the thing that D&D cannot cover by its standard rules is a called shot and in particular a called shot to the throat since "the throat" has no meaning to the rules. Whereas, everything about the bridge is, as I've already pointed out, things covered by the rules. That makes the two things different, even if they aren't different under your checkmate rules.

It is not at all obvious that the rope bridge needs "checkmate" rules nor can I see how applying the "checkmate" rules solves a problem there, since the same outcome can be achieved without them. Regardless of whether your criteria can cover the rope bridge scenario, that is at the least a categorical difference between the two.

I mean, “here’s an example of the sort of thing I’m talking about” and you respond “no it’s not.”
Well, I mean, it's just not.

I suppose you could apply your "checkmate" rules to the bridge scene, but the point I'm trying to make is that to achieve the same outcome (everyone who falls without an answer to the fictional positioning of falling from a great height, dies) does not require special house rules, just a sufficiently deadly fall. D&D handles the rope bridge scenario just fine. There is one in X1 Isle of Dread, for example with a 2000' fall for like 5th level characters (surely lethal), and as D&D has acquired a more generic and universal skill system, the way to properly run the rope bridge scenario has become more and more standardized so that even the DCs and the sorts of fortune tests involved are specified explicitly by the rules.

Whereas, for the last at least 30 years everyone familiar with the game rules has encountered the "knife to the throat" scenario, been troubled by it, and often considered what sort of rules would need to be added to the game for the scene to play out intuitively. I remember talking to fellow players about this very same problem in like 1991, and there is still not to my knowledge a fully satisfying answer.

If you have some codified rules that you can apply to generate or arbitrate "checkmate" scenarios, I'm inclined to think that either they are entirely arbitrary or else that ignoring them will work better for the bridge case. That's because if the bridge ropes are easy to cut, then no elaborate contest to achieve "checkmate" is necessary to defeat enemies "automatically" on the bridge. Why in this case is "automatically" a needed thing? Declaring, "I cut the rope." is enough. In most games, "I hold an action to cut the rope." also works just fine with no special rules and no "checkmate" required. And certainly, if we did have such a contest on the bridge and want to make it interesting and high verisimilitude (something you seem to require in all this discussion), we'd have to take into account how far apart the rope cutter would be from whatever he's trying to "checkmate", what weapons and tools he had available to him, and what weapons and abilities his foes have, and all of that can be easily handled by D&D's normal process resolution. To handle all the factors that D&D's normal process resolution handles at least as gracefully as D&D's normal process resolution, if it "checkmate" was applied to the bridge scenario as well as the knife to the throat scenario, then your "checkmate" system would either have to be at least as complicated as the whole of D&D's normal process resolution, or else incorporate the whole of D&D's normal process resolution as a subsystem.

But, if it incorporates the whole of D&D's normal process resolution as a subsystem, and the subsystem itself can handle the bridge scenario, and then adding the checkmate system adds nothing to the bridge scenario.

So at this point, I can sum up my whole opinion of how this discussion has gone, by "Your bluffing. You have no cards in your hand." I call. Copy paste your "checkmate" house rules to the board for us to analyze.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
The logic being used to justify it in the first place as presented amounts to, "this just seems *reasonable* - it is how the real world works". That rationale should, by its own logic, apply to both PCs and NPCs. "This is how the real world works, but we won't follow that when it isn't in the PCs favor..." sounds kind of bogus.
NPCs can take called shots too. I didn’t argue they couldn’t.

NPCs can try to checkmate a PC. I didn’t argue they couldn’t.

NPCs can try to douse themselves when they’re on fire. I didn’t argue they couldn’t.
 

Dausuul

Legend
On the lava bit, the "improvising damage" rules in the DMG pegs "wading through a lava stream" as 10d10 damage and "being submerged in lava" as 18d10 damage. The latter seems appropriate for a fall into a lava pit.
Ah - failed to find that one, thanks! So we're looking at an average of 70 falling damage, plus 99 fire damage, coming to 169 damage instantly and an additional 99 per round. For the overwhelming majority of PCs, this means insta-death. A high-level PC with a good Con might be able to survive for six seconds.

Seems fine to me.
 
It is, but 1e, at least, wasn't /as/ susceptible to it - if creatures were "sleeping or otherwise helpless," I think the phrasing was, you could kill them at 1/round. No CdG or anything.

If the DM takes the knife-to-the-throat scenario as helplessness, it was taken care of.
We took, "suitably bound" as helpless, which allowed the classic hostage situation, though even this was not really endorsed by the rules since bound targets got saving throws in 1e. I don't think any DM in 1e ever really endorsed, "has been grabbed" (itself not an easy thing to resolve in 1e) as "helpless".

The assumption is that you can get a knife to the victim's throat without first either reducing it's hps to the point that said knife is a threat of near-certain death, or rendering it helpless.
Yeah, repeatedly gone over by both Umbran and myself, so we are all on the same page here.

What D&D doesn't handle so well is the standoff scene, itself. The threat of combat isn't much of a motivator, since combat resolution in D&D is a pretty significant chunk of the game's fun potential.
I think this is a good point, and my typical response to this sort of thing is that every single time I've ran into complaints about this one, it's a DM complaining (explicitly or implicitly) how D&D's rules prevent them from easily railroading the players, since the players - when threatened - ought to act afraid and meekly submit to the NPCs and they just don't. And invariably this is all wrong because "realism" and they've got house rules to solve the problem.

One system I recall handling such scenes way back when was Hero, I don't recall which game it was, probably Danger:International, but it introduced a 'covered' mechanic. You'd make an attack, and, if you hit, instead of resolving damage, declare the target "covered." Then you could make demands with the damage from the hit held in abeyance as your threat. The target or an ally - or unsuspecting interloper - could create a distraction that would end the covered standoff and the target wouldn't take the damage, combat or whatever could resume.

That /could/ work in D&D, in situations where the damage from the attack - like an assassination attempt, perhaps, or a regular attack if you're already low on hp - were a credible threat.

Of course, it may not be a standoff scene, but a denouement as a defeated foe is forced to wrap up the last dangling plot lines. (4e inadvertently addressed that in an off-hand way, when it expanded being dropped to 0 hps to say that the attacker could describe that you he liked - so it /could/ be unconsciousness, or surrender, or holding the defeated foe at sword-point, or whatever. But that implies that, if, you want to do the knife-to-the-throat thing, defeat the enemy , first.)
I've heard of DMs in 4e and 5e applying some ideas like that to the game, for example with a character that makes an attack which could kill a target being allowed to narrate the fictional positioning of the character, thus allowing the game to handle capturing targets better and not requiring all lethal combats to have lethal ends.

However, in the case of "knife to the throat", a HERO style "covered" status doesn't really address the general problem since you are still just holding 1d4 damage, the threat of which isn't necessarily significant. (Which gets to a problem of how D&D handles surprise attacks generally, which could bring in a discussion of the Thief class and it's silo'd off supremacy in surprise attacks. But let's not go there, because fundamentally all this attempt to rewrite the D&D combat system is missing the point.)
 

Saelorn

Explorer
It's only as problematic as the DM allows it to become, as goes for the introduction of any house rule. In terms of sidelining other PCs, it's not functionally different than when any other specialist stumbles on a moment to shine. Sometimes the mage gets an arcane puzzle to solve, sometimes the thief gets a lock to pick, and sometimes the sniper gets a clean head shot.
I wasn't just talking about snipers. I was also talking about critical hits, called shots, "vitality points", and many other house rules that give ways to bypass Hit Points. Such rules are universally bad, within the context of an HP-based system like D&D.
 

MarkB

Adventurer
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?
Where do you draw the line? And if HP isn't a factor here, what is?

Would you make the same ruling for an attack against an unsuspecting ogre? An unsuspecting Glabrezu? An unsuspecting Arch-Druid? An unsuspecting dragon?
 

Satyrn

Villager
To answer the OP: I'd ask the ranger's player to make an attack roll and damage if necessary, then give the other players a chance to do something if the orc survived. If the orc is still alive at the point, he'd behave according a roll on the guard personality table, which might have him alerting the camp immediately, pause uncertainly for a round or two before doing so, or simply cower in fear.

There's also a chance he panics, and runs madly through the camp sowing confusion and chaos, shouting madly about a stampeding Terrasque. Random tables are fun!
 
Ah - failed to find that one, thanks! So we're looking at an average of 70 falling damage, plus 99 fire damage, coming to 169 damage instantly and an additional 99 per round. For the overwhelming majority of PCs, this means insta-death. A high-level PC with a good Con might be able to survive for six seconds.

Seems fine to me.
Yeah, it's pretty much always possible to design normal damage to be sufficient to instan-kill. However, normal process resolution usually provides an "out" to any given threat, which was my point. For example, while normally cutting a rope bridge completely (and for the sake of certainty, lets say at both ends at the same time) upon which are standing characters 500' above a pool of lava would certainly kill the characters and be functionally equivalent to instant death, if one of those characters was a veiled Efreeti we would not expect that the flying fire immune creature would automatically die. Which is precisely why we normally avoid writing instant death and instead write something like 20d6 falling damage and 10d10 fire damage.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I think this is a good point, and my typical response to this sort of thing is that every single time I've ran into complaints about this one, it's a DM complaining (explicitly or implicitly) how D&D's rules prevent them from easily railroading the players, since the players - when threatened - ought to act afraid and meekly submit to the NPCs and they just don't. And invariably this is all wrong because "realism" and they've got house rules to solve the problem.
IDK, I've heard it coming from players who (miraculously) get the drop on someone, too.

I've heard of DMs in 4e and 5e applying some ideas like that to the game, for example with a character that makes an attack which could kill a target being allowed to narrate the <result>, thus allowing the game to handle capturing targets better and not requiring all lethal combats to have lethal ends.
...
However, in the case of "knife to the throat", a HERO style "covered" status doesn't really address the general problem since you are still just holding 1d4 damage, the threat of which isn't necessarily significant.
If you combine the two, though - player control of the narrative as a reward for victory, with damage held in abeyance after an attack roll - you could get there. The character defeats an enemy and choses to hold him at knife point with his last attack rather than drop him (4e style), but then hold the damage of that last attack as the threat while the target complies/until a distraction gives him a chance to escape (Hero 'covered' mechanic).
 

Saelorn

Explorer
D&D has always had a hard transition into combat from other play.
Not really, no. I can't think of a single edition where there were actually different rules governing what happens in combat and what happen outside of combat. In 5E, specifically, the only differences are that we assume it's not important to track the exact passage of time outside of combat; and we assume that combatants are always alert, instead of facing in one direction such that you can sneak up behind them.

It's not like you can cast three spells in six seconds when you're outside of combat, or anything like that. It's just not typically important that you spend 18 seconds to cast them.
 
I wasn't just talking about snipers. I was also talking about critical hits, called shots, "vitality points", and many other house rules that give ways to bypass Hit Points. Such rules are universally bad, within the context of an HP-based system like D&D.
I wouldn't say that they are universally bad. I would say that they prevent you from playing D&D since they create random death opportunities from every attack and tend to create degenerate gameplay where combat is always avoided in favor of manipulating the new subsystem, which D&D in its other subsystems - because it assumes surprise while a big deal isn't that big of a deal - will generally allow with the greatest of ease.

That might be desirable in a D20 horror game where PC's have little or no access to D&D's plot altering magic system and PC lives are expected to be cheap and a ton of other systems have been changed to compensate, but it won't much be D&D any more.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
I don't think I argued that, but ok, now that you mention it, the rope bridge scenario may meet your criteria, but it in no way represents the same problem for D&D that "knife held to the throat" does.

As Umbran has helpfully pointed out, the thing that D&D cannot cover by its standard rules is a called shot and in particular a called shot to the throat since "the throat" has no meaning to the rules. Whereas, everything about the bridge is, as I've already pointed out, things covered by the rules. That makes the two things different, even if they aren't different under your checkmate rules.

It is not at all obvious that the rope bridge needs "checkmate" rules nor can I see how applying the "checkmate" rules solves a problem there, since the same outcome can be achieved without them. Regardless of whether your criteria can cover the rope bridge scenario, that is at the least a categorical difference between the two.



Well, I mean, it's just not.

I suppose you could apply your "checkmate" rules to the bridge scene, but the point I'm trying to make is that to achieve the same outcome (everyone who falls without an answer to the fictional positioning of falling from a great height, dies) does not require special house rules, just a sufficiently deadly fall. D&D handles the rope bridge scenario just fine. There is one in X1 Isle of Dread, for example with a 2000' fall for like 5th level characters (surely lethal), and as D&D has acquired a more generic and universal skill system, the way to properly run the rope bridge scenario has become more and more standardized so that even the DCs and the sorts of fortune tests involved are specified explicitly by the rules.

Whereas, for the last at least 30 years everyone familiar with the game rules has encountered the "knife to the throat" scenario, been troubled by it, and often considered what sort of rules would need to be added to the game for the scene to play out intuitively. I remember talking to fellow players about this very same problem in like 1991, and there is still not to my knowledge a fully satisfying answer.

If you have some codified rules that you can apply to generate or arbitrate "checkmate" scenarios, I'm inclined to think that either they are entirely arbitrary or else that ignoring them will work better for the bridge case. That's because if the bridge ropes are easy to cut, then no elaborate contest to achieve "checkmate" is necessary to defeat enemies "automatically" on the bridge. Why in this case is "automatically" a needed thing? Declaring, "I cut the rope." is enough. In most games, "I hold an action to cut the rope." also works just fine with no special rules and no "checkmate" required. And certainly, if we did have such a contest on the bridge and want to make it interesting and high verisimilitude (something you seem to require in all this discussion), we'd have to take into account how far apart the rope cutter would be from whatever he's trying to "checkmate", what weapons and tools he had available to him, and what weapons and abilities his foes have, and all of that can be easily handled by D&D's normal process resolution. To handle all the factors that D&D's normal process resolution handles at least as gracefully as D&D's normal process resolution, if it "checkmate" was applied to the bridge scenario as well as the knife to the throat scenario, then your "checkmate" system would either have to be at least as complicated as the whole of D&D's normal process resolution, or else incorporate the whole of D&D's normal process resolution as a subsystem.

But, if it incorporates the whole of D&D's normal process resolution as a subsystem, and the subsystem itself can handle the bridge scenario, and then adding the checkmate system adds nothing to the bridge scenario.

So at this point, I can sum up my whole opinion of how this discussion has gone, by "Your bluffing. You have no cards in your hand." I call. Copy paste your "checkmate" house rules to the board for us to analyze.
You summed up your opinion by calling me a liar. I am not a liar.

Here is the rule I use: “When you create circumstances to defeat an enemy such that there is no reasonably effective defense, that enemy is defeated.”

For examples, I use the knife-to-the-throat case, the avalanche-over-a-cliff case, and the unwary-NPC-who-is-totally-unaware-of-your-presence case.
 
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Here is the rule I use: “When you create circumstances to defeat an enemy such that there is no reasonably effective defense, that enemy is defeated.”
Well read 'em and weep.

1) System depends on complete fiat. (In fact, so much so that it's not even a system.) Check.
2) Rule adds nothing at all to the rope bridge scenario. Check.

I'm feeling completely vindicated. I have a pair of Aces, and you have a busted straight.

The given rule doesn't even do anything to handle the "knife to throat" scenario, which makes it even thinner stuff than I thought it was going to be, since it doesn't address how the knife to throat circumstances could in fact be created by the attacker, which has always been the stickler here. Everyone agrees if the system had a way to decide fairly whether a knife could be held to a victims throat and then used, that the "coup de grace" rules (for the relevant edition) could be applied. The problem has never been the need for figuring out what slitting a persons throat ought to look like. The problem is, how do we get to the situation through a fair process of play, where "I slit X's throat" is a reasonable declaration for the fictional positioning. D&D has always presumed "helpless" is that circumstance where there is no reasonably effective defense, but if "helpless" is that situation then your rule no more adds anything to the "knife to throat" scenario than it adds to the rope bridge scenario.

It's not even a freaking rule, which means your hand was emptier than even I thought it was.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
Well read 'em and weep.

1) System depends on complete fiat. (In fact, so much so that it's not even a system.) Check.
2) Rule adds nothing at all to the rope bridge scenario. Check.

I'm feeling completely vindicated. I have a pair of Aces, and you have a busted straight.

The given rule doesn't even do anything to handle the "knife to throat" scenario, which makes it even thinner stuff than I thought it was going to be, since it doesn't address how the knife to throat circumstances could in fact be created by the attacker, which has always been the stickler here. Everyone agrees if the system had a way to decide fairly whether a knife could be held to a victims throat and then used, that the "coup de grace" rules (for the relevant edition) could be applied. The problem has never been the need for figuring out what slitting a persons throat ought to look like. The problem is, how do we get to the situation through a fair process of play, where "I slit X's throat" is a reasonable declaration for the fictional positioning. D&D has always presumed "helpless" is that circumstance where there is no reasonably effective defense, but if "helpless" is that situation then your rule no more adds anything to the "knife to throat" scenario than it adds to the rope bridge scenario.

It's not even a freaking rule, which means your hand was emptier than even I thought it was.
A rule is not a system. Was that in dispute?

Rule adds nothing to the rope bridge scenario. Again, not really important. My claim was that the rope bridge scenario qualified, not that it was impossible to resolve by any other application of the rules.

Finally, it does address the knife to the throat scenario, at the time the knife applies to the throat. The prerequisite is that you must create that circumstance through play. The consequence is that the reward for doing so is defeating the enemy, and not a measly d4.

It’s very easy to win an argument when you get to play both sides, isn’t it?

“Yes, Brad it is. I concede.” - Celebrim.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
1) System depends on complete fiat.
2) Rule adds nothing at all
Now we're just straying into immemorial failings of D&D. ;P

Seriously, though, a rule (of thumb) that if the player's action declaration boxes the victim into a certain death scenario, the victim dies, isn't even really a variant, it's just the 5e describe-declare-resolve cycle. The player declares the action that initiates the inescapable-death-scenario, the DM narrates success, no reference to mechanics required.

It's not even a freaking rule
It's a ruling, yes.

A rule is not a system. Was that in dispute?
Probably not worth splitting that tree-trunk.

Finally, it does address the knife to the throat scenario, at the time the knife applies to the throat. The prerequisite is that you must create that circumstance through play.
That kicks the uncertainty upstream in the process. The question becomes "how do you get that knife to the victim's throat?" Which is, I think, a better question, because it might be resolved using more of the game's resolution systems, in more functional ways.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
Now we're just straying into immemorial failings of D&D. ;P

Seriously, though, a rule (of thumb) that if the player's action declaration boxes the victim into a certain death scenario, the victim dies, isn't even really a variant, it's just the 5e describe-declare-resolve cycle. The player declares the action that initiates the inescapable-death-scenario, the DM narrates success, no reference to mechanics required.

It's a ruling, yes.

Probably not worth splitting that tree-trunk.

That kicks the uncertainty upstream in the process. The question becomes "how do you get that knife to the victim's throat?" Which is, I think, a better question, because it might be resolved using more of the game's resolution systems, in more functional ways.
I think my last example of sneaking up on an unwary NPC suggests an answer to that question.

If you sneak up on someone who isn’t on guard duty (or perhaps is on guard duty but is otherwise distracted) and approach them such that they are unaware of your presence, a simple Dexterity (Stealth) check may well be sufficient to get you into a knife-at-throat position.

How about in-combat? Couldn’t you do the same to an enemy that wasn’t aware of you and had it’s attention on the party fighter? It may well be harder to do, but it’s possible, isn’t it?

What if you were the fighter? Might it be possible to overpower an enemy you’ve grabbed such that you can position the knife to the throat? Are we saying that’s totally impossible? I don’t think it is impossible. I think a Strength (athletics) contest versus the defender’s Strength or perhaps Dexterity could resolve the uncertainty. Maybe the defender has advantage on the roll? It isn’t easy, but it’s likewise not impossibly hard.

But since you know that the stakes for getting into that position is certain defeat of your enemy, you may have enough incentive to try that instead of sticking to HP attrition.

Likewise you might be a little more cautious about swarms of ankle-biters like goblins and kobolds who might try to overwhelm and drag you down. Since they can put you in a bad spot too.
 
Now we're just straying into immemorial failings of D&D. ;P

Seriously, though, a rule (of thumb) that if the player's action declaration boxes the victim into a certain death scenario, the victim dies, isn't even really a variant, it's just the 5e describe-declare-resolve cycle. The player declares the action that initiates the inescapable-death-scenario, the DM narrates success, no reference to mechanics required.
It's worse than that. Because either we only know if it is a certain death scenario if we can project out the scenario using the normal rules, or the GM either decides in arbitrary abrogation of the rules that this is a certain death scenario.

So either this rule does nothing except saying if there is no chance of survival after rolling the dice, you don't need to roll the dice, or else this rule basically means the GM can decide for any reason whatsoever that something is just dead bypassing hit points.

"First level Town Gaurds come up on you unaware. They have their crossbows pointed at you so you've been defeated. You must surrender your weapons or die."

Does that sound familiar?
 
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[MENTION=6776133]Bawylie[/MENTION] Keep talking. You are doing a better job of explaining this than I am.

I mean, why don't we just resolve all combats with an opposed athletics check?
 

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