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Attacking defenseless NPCs

Saelorn

Explorer
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.
How do you decide whether innate toughness provides a reasonably effective defense? I wouldn't expect a knife-to-the-throat to be an effective doom scenario for a troll or dragon, and my level 14 paladin has far more in common with a frost giant than he has with a human peasant, by any quantifiable measure.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
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?
You’ve ignored the caveat that there is no reasonably effective defense. Pointed crossbows don’t inhibit or prevent an effective defense.

Your failure to imagine a good use for the rule doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Your insistence that all uses of the rule are DM-screwjobs doesn’t mean they are.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
How do you decide whether innate toughness provides a reasonably effective defense? I wouldn't expect a knife-to-the-throat to be an effective doom scenario for a troll or dragon, and my level 14 paladin has far more in common with a frost giant than he has with a human peasant, by any quantifiable measure.
I addressed it upthread a bit. As a guideline, I sometimes compare the damage of the attack to the target’s constitution score. When the damage equals or exceeds the target’s constitution score, the target has to make a death saving throw. That typically covers exceptionally tough creatures well-enough for my use.

However, it is equally reasonable to say “you’re never gonna dagger a dragon’s throat effectively. There’s too much throat and too little dagger.” But that ought to be clear up front.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
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.
The idea, as I see it reading 5e's, admittedly natural and thus ambiguous, language is that the determination of uncertainty happens before referring to the mechanics that might be used to resolve said uncertainty.

... or else this rule basically means the GM can decide for any reason whatsoever that something is just dead bypassing hit points.
Yes, that. It's prettymuch the Empowered DM's privilege.

I mean, why don't we just resolve all combats with an opposed athletics check?
Presumably because we (as DMs) don't want to. But, there's no reason a DM couldn't do that. Personally I don't care for opposed checks: set a DC for the PC's group athletic check and resolve the (presumably not very important nor potentially fun, but still uncertain?) combat that much faster.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
The idea, as I see it reading 5e's, admittedly natural and thus ambiguous, language is that the determination of uncertainty happens before referring to the mechanics that might be used to resolve said uncertainty.

Yes, that. It's prettymuch the Empowered DM's privilege.

Presumably because we (as DMs) don't want to. But, there's no reason a DM couldn't do that. Personally I don't care for opposed checks: set a DC for the PC's group athletic check and resolve the (presumably not very important nor potentially fun, but still uncertain?) combat that much faster.
Yeah, I agree that you could and that it wouldn’t be too much fun. You might do it if you’re short of time and want to expedite some of the game play to hit a solid end.

But I don’t think you’re forbidden from bypassing HP simply because HP exists.

I mean, there’s no real rule in place to cut the sting off a giant scorpion, either, but that doesn’t mean it should be impossible.
 

MarkB

Adventurer
But I don’t think you’re forbidden from bypassing HP simply because HP exists.

I mean, there’s no real rule in place to cut the sting off a giant scorpion, either, but that doesn’t mean it should be impossible.
But how do you write it so that the same technique can't be used to cut, say, the sword hand (or head) off a humanoid opponent, and do so in such a way that it is neither so impossibly difficult as to be not worth doing instead of just killing the scorpion, nor so easily achieved that it becomes a go-to move in every combat?
 

tglassy

Explorer
I'm not going to read it all, but i read the first few pages.

The only time I give an insta kill is if the target is asleep. Otherwise, HP doesn't necessarily mean how tough they are. It means you didn't hit them somewhere that would kill them.

I saw someone mention granting a Rogue's Sneak Attack. I'm sorry, but that's rediculous. The Ranger isn't a Rogue. The player who chose a Rogue specifically did so because the Rogue gets a Sneak Attack. If you are going to willy nilly give any class the Sneak Attack simply because they are making a Sneak Attack, then the Rogue is now a worthless class and the player who chose to play one feels like an idiot. I had a DM do this once, with a Monk's run up the walls ability. He gave it to anyone who asked. If I'd picked Monk because Monks can do that, I would have felt very foolish.

I saw someone else saying that their rogue held a knife to someone's throat, then cut their throat...for 1d4 damage. Yeah. That means the Rogue didn't succeed on the cut. The bad guy managed to grab his hand, or jerk his head away, or whatever, but the throat cutting wasn't successful. Any villain with more than 1d4+5 hp would be strong enough to struggle against the attack.

Now, if that person was restrained, then the rogue also gets Sneak Attack due to Advantage. If the Rogue is an Assassin, they also Critical. That's a lot more than 1d4, potentially, and could one shot a higher level PC. In fact, that makes sense, as the Rogue gets stronger, so does his Sneak Attack, and so does his ability to one shot higher level creatures.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
But how do you write it so that the same technique can't be used to cut, say, the sword hand (or head) off a humanoid opponent, and do so in such a way that it is neither so impossibly difficult as to be not worth doing instead of just killing the scorpion, nor so easily achieved that it becomes a go-to move in every combat?
The same way I adjudicate most other actions. You’ve got a fighter or whoever that wants to chop off an opponent’s limb with their weapon. That’s a clear enough goal and approach for me to know what check to ask for and what DC to set.

I’ll ask for a weapon attack versus the target’s AC because that most closely approximates what’s happening in the narrative. Now this isn’t just a hit, but a hit to a special place with a potential added effect. So I’ll ask for the attack roll with disadvantage to hit the limb - it’s a hard target to get just right. Then I’ll compare the damage to the target’s constitution score and if the damage is greater than or equal to the constitution score, then the limb is severed.

Severing a limb is a big deal and a massive advantage in combat. So I’m okay with making it hard to do.

But let’s say they don’t do enough damage. They do 8 damage while the target has 14 constitution. Well, another good whack might finish the job.
 
You’ve ignored the caveat that there is no reasonably effective defense. Pointed crossbows don’t inhibit or prevent an effective defense.
Last post, and then I'll be done with this.

How would the player know that? I mean, to begin with, how did you the DM know that a pointed crossbow didn't inhibit or prevent an effective defense?

Suppose that the pointed crossbow was pushed up against the PC's back? Would that now "inhibit or prevent" an effective defense? Would this be equivalent to the "knife to the throat" situation now?

What if the crossbow was six inches away? What about a foot away? How far back does it have to be before the player can make a judge whether resisting is suicidal?

How many kobolds are required to grab a PC so that they negate the PC's ability to effectively defend and allow one of their number to gut the PC without an effective defense? You did say, "swarms of ankle-biters like goblins and kobolds who might try to overwhelm and drag you down." How many is a swarm, that I might know ahead of time as a player when I'm automatically doomed and have no defense? For example, if any one of them win a contested athletic check with me in combat, does that mean I now have a knife to my throat and so cannot effectively defend myself?

Why would anyone make normal attacks when they could bypass hitpoints in this manner?

How big does the dragons neck need to be before my plan to put a dagger to its throat is invalidated, and I would have been better off never attempting it?

If a simple Dexterity check is enough to achieve knife at the throat position as you assert, why does anyone need an attack bonus, AC, or damage bonus in your game? Won't basically any creature with a good Stealth check be able to kill anything about its own size, fully negating any defenses that the target has in AC or hit points? How does any player in your game survive such an onslaught save by your grace? Or how does a player know when a monster is protected by your grace so that they must resort to the risky strategy of the rules?

Your failure to imagine a good use for the rule doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Your insistence that all uses of the rule are DM-screwjobs doesn’t mean they are.
At this point, all I need to do is point to post #78 and say, "Those are your ideas regarding what good uses of the rule are."

Severing a limb is a big deal and a massive advantage in combat. So I’m okay with making it hard to do.
Hard to do? So if I take disadvantage on an attack roll, and succeed, I can cut off my opponent's leg by doing more than their CON in damage? Have you play tested this?
 
Last edited:

MarkB

Adventurer
The same way I adjudicate most other actions. You’ve got a fighter or whoever that wants to chop off an opponent’s limb with their weapon. That’s a clear enough goal and approach for me to know what check to ask for and what DC to set.

I’ll ask for a weapon attack versus the target’s AC because that most closely approximates what’s happening in the narrative. Now this isn’t just a hit, but a hit to a special place with a potential added effect. So I’ll ask for the attack roll with disadvantage to hit the limb - it’s a hard target to get just right. Then I’ll compare the damage to the target’s constitution score and if the damage is greater than or equal to the constitution score, then the limb is severed.

Severing a limb is a big deal and a massive advantage in combat. So I’m okay with making it hard to do.

But let’s say they don’t do enough damage. They do 8 damage while the target has 14 constitution. Well, another good whack might finish the job.
So basically, a party could pretty reliably hack 1-2 limbs off the average foe in any one given round. Yep, that qualifies as a go-to tactic. Chop the fighter's legs off and finish him from range, or chop the wizard's arms off and face his mighty arcane headbutts.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
Last post, and then I'll be done with this.

How would the player know that? I mean, to begin with, how did you the DM know that a pointed crossbow didn't inhibit or prevent an effective defense?

Suppose that the pointed crossbow was pushed up against the PC's back? Would that now "inhibit or prevent" an effective defense? Would this be equivalent to the "knife to the throat" situation now?

What if the crossbow was six inches away? What about a foot away? How far back does it have to be before the player can make a judge whether resisting is suicidal?

How many kobolds are required to grab a PC so that they negate the PC's ability to effectively defend and allow one of their number to gut the PC without an effective defense? You did say, "swarms of ankle-biters like goblins and kobolds who might try to overwhelm and drag you down." How many is a swarm, that I might know ahead of time as a player when I'm automatically doomed and have no defense? For example, if any one of them win a contested athletic check with me in combat, does that mean I now have a knife to my throat and so cannot effectively defend myself?

Why would anyone make normal attacks when they could bypass hitpoints in this manner?

How big does the dragons neck need to be before my plan to put a dagger to its throat is invalidated, and I would have been better off never attempting it?

If a simple Dexterity check is enough to achieve knife at the throat position as you assert, why does anyone need an attack bonus, AC, or damage bonus in your game? Won't basically any creature with a good Stealth check be able to kill anything about its own size, fully negating any defenses that the target has in AC or hit points? How does any player in your game survive such an onslaught save by your grace? Or how does a player know when a monster is protected by your grace so that they must resort to the risky strategy of the rules?



At this point, all I need to do is point to post #78 and say, "Those are your ideas regarding what good uses of the rule are."



Hard to do? So if I take disadvantage on an attack roll, and succeed, I can cut off my opponent's leg by doing more than their CON in damage? Have you play tested this?
I’ve got 3 games going right now with these rules in play. Works fine.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
So basically, a party could pretty reliably hack 1-2 limbs off the average foe in any one given round. Yep, that qualifies as a go-to tactic. Chop the fighter's legs off and finish him from range, or chop the wizard's arms off and face his mighty arcane headbutts.
They could. And the same might happen to them too. In practice it isn’t as go-to as it seems. At least not in my games so far.

They’ve decapitated some zombies and did cut the sting off a Wyvern, though.
 

Satyrn

Villager
So basically, a party could pretty reliably hack 1-2 limbs off the average foe in any one given round. Yep, that qualifies as a go-to tactic. Chop the fighter's legs off and finish him from range, or chop the wizard's arms off and face his mighty arcane headbutts.
I'm under the impression that Bawylie was picturing a scenario where the opponent has been pinned down or is otherwise rendered defenseless before the stinger-removal or limb-chopping could take place.

That would be my requirement, anyway. I'm not worried about that being the go-to move, though, since I've taken to ignoring the idea that there are high-level NPCs. Like all humans have 2 hit dice no matter what, so chopping limbs off them would take longer than just killing them.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
I’ve got 3 games going right now with these rules in play. Works fine.
To be perfectly fair, I'm sure that it works fine at your table, and that's the most that anyone can ask out of any house rule (or ruling).

I would even expect that your ruling might change, depending on the players at the table and how they react to your rules, but that variable is beyond the scope of this sort of thread.
 

Bawylie

Explorer
To be perfectly fair, I'm sure that it works fine at your table, and that's the most that anyone can ask out of any house rule (or ruling).

I would even expect that your ruling might change, depending on the players at the table and how they react to your rules, but that variable is beyond the scope of this sort of thread.
Yeah. They wanted combat to be faster, more dangerous, and more deadly. So I made it faster and deadlier.

Now they’re careful when engaging enemies, pickier about where they hold positions, weighing whether to risk an opportunity attack for their action or take the safe play and use the withdraw action.

They usually aren’t just standing around exchanging whacks. There’s a lot of stick-and-move. Artillery positioning. Support positioning. It’s fun.

Anyway, the idea that combat must/should/ought to only be HP attrition until zero is weak. There are other actions than “I attack” and other ways to win than successive subtraction. Other ways to lose, too. And sometimes there are corner cases the RAW doesn’t adequately cover, IMO - that still need resolutions when they come up. Like attacking defenseless enemies. Or putting them into situations they can’t defend against.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
But I don’t think you’re forbidden from bypassing HP simply because HP exists.
HP are a mechanism the game presents for resolving uncertainty. Was so-and-so killed by such-and-such? Yes/No: narrate it. Not certain: determine damage and compare to remaining hps.

Saying that's "bypassing hps" is doing it out of order. Hit points only come into it if you're not sure they're dead.

It's like resolving any other action declaration. Sometimes you just don't call for a check. If a player declares "I waste him with my crossbow." Then the DM narrating "He falls to the floor twitching and bleeding for a few moments, then is still," is as valid as "Roll to hit."

How would the player know that? I mean, to begin with, how did you the DM know that a pointed crossbow didn't inhibit or prevent an effective defense?
The DM exercised judgement, the player would only know it if he asked took some action to determine if it were true or not (possibly a mental action, like, "in my years of military service, did I ever see...").

Suppose that the pointed crossbow was pushed up against the PC's back? Would that now "inhibit or prevent" an effective defense?
IIRC, it'd realistically inhibit or prevent an effective attack with the crossbow. Even 5e-RaW (contradiction in terms that may be), it'd be with disadvantage.

You did say, "swarms of ankle-biters like goblins and kobolds who might try to overwhelm and drag you down." How many is a swarm, that I might know ahead of time as a player when I'm automatically doomed and have no defense?
A couple hundred, I think constituted a swarm in eds that had 'em, and a swarm might well have an attack that engulfed an enemy.

Why would anyone make normal attacks when they could bypass hitpoints in this manner?
Because they failed to sell it as a sure thing, so are relegated to using the mechanics, perhaps. But, yes, bypassing a game's main defense or plot-armor surrogate gets very dangerous to play. You can easily get a degenerate case where a major feature of the game is just gone in a practical sense.


So basically, a party could pretty reliably hack 1-2 limbs off the average foe in any one given round. Yep, that qualifies as a go-to tactic. Chop the fighter's legs off and finish him from range, or chop the wizard's arms off and face his mighty arcane headbutts.
Bigby's Mighty Arcane Headbutts
Evocation
Level: 5
Casting time: 1 Action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

What do you call a mage with no arms and no legs? Dangerous.

You create a Large disembodied head of shimmering, translucent force in an unoccupied space that you can see within range. The head lasts for the spell’s duration, and it moves at your command, mimicking the movements of your own head.

The head is an object that has AC 20 and hit points equal to your hit point maximum. If it drops to 0 hit points, the spell ends. It has a Strength of 26 (+8) and a Dexterity of 10 (+0). The head doesn’t fill its space.

When you cast the spell and as a bonus action on your subsequent turns, you can move the head up to 60 feet and then cause one of the following effects with it:

Mighty Headbutt
The head strikes one creature or object within 5 feet of it. Make a melee spell attack for the head using your game statistics. On a hit, the target takes 4d8 force damage.

At Loggerheads
The Head attempts to push a creature within 5 feet of it in a direction you choose. Make a check with the Head's Strength contested by the Strength (Athletics) check of the target. If the target is Medium or smaller, you have advantage on the check. If you succeed, the Head pushes the target up to 5 feet plus a number of feet equal to five times your spellcasting ability modifier. The Head moves with the target to remain within 5 feet of it.

Clenched Jaw
The Head attempts to grapple a Huge or smaller creature within 5 feet of it. You use the Head’s Strength score to resolve the grapple. If the target is Medium or smaller, you have advantage on the check. While the head is grappling the target, you can use a bonus action to have the head chew it. When you do so, the target takes bludgeoning damage equal to 2d6 + your spellcasting ability modifier.

Head Him Off
The Head interposes itself between you and a creature you choose until you give the head a different command. The Head moves to stay between you and the target, providing you with half cover against the target. The target can’t move through the Head’s space if its Strength score is less than or equal to the Head's Strength score. If its Strength score is higher than the Head’s Strength score, the target can move toward you through the Head’s space, but that space is difficult terrain for the target.
 

Ristamar

Explorer
To be perfectly fair, I'm sure that it works fine at your table, and that's the most that anyone can ask out of any house rule (or ruling).

I would even expect that your ruling might change, depending on the players at the table and how they react to your rules, but that variable is beyond the scope of this sort of thread.

Or, to quote [MENTION=40359]kenmarable[/MENTION] from the Prologue to Third Edition thread, "Balancing as a DM and balancing as a game designer are entirely different things."
 

Sabathius42

Villager
Just adding a data point for the OP

Assuming the orc guard was a basic 1HD version and that it was the only challenge present 'at the moment'

Low Level Party= Play by the full combat rules. Killing a single lower level target QUICKLY is an interesting combat scenario.
Low/Mid Level Party= Keep the game moving by reducing the shot to a skill check using their ranged weapon to-hit roll.
Mid+ Level Party= The party can dictate how they killed the guard and move on with the adventure, no rolling necessary.

****

One of the major changes in feel I infer from 5e (versus the other 4es) is that this version stresses things being freeform, one-the-fly, and cinematic. This discussion of "why wouldn't everyone just one-shot-kill everyone else or chop their arms off instead of fighting" strikes me as needless worry. If players/GMs at your table actually began to play this way it's because they are poor players, not because the rules shouldn't have been messed with for one encounter.

Its a common adventure (not just fantasy) trope to have a band of heroes sneak up to an enemy camp and take out a sentry with a single arrow. It's not ridiculous expectation by a player to be able to do so, and a GM should allow for such things to happen within reason.
 

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