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D&D 5E Contingent Damage e.g. Arm Locks


I just thought I would mention something that I have been having fun with as both a DM and a player. The idea is that after you roll to hit and would apply damage, you can declare that you are not going to do that damage immediately, but rather only if a condition is met.

By way of example. A monk is skilled in jujitsu style martial arts. He gets in a barroom brawl. He hits a thug with 3 attacks for 20 damage total. He declares that he will apply that damage if the guy fails to drop the broken beer bottle he is holding. The idea being that the enemy is having his arm twisted and it might break if he does not drop what he is holding.

In a more extreme example, the Monk did not apply any damage at all to the enemy until he had done the enemy's full HP in damage. Then he killed him in one go with a simple flick of his wrist. This can be flavored as constantly improving his grip on the guy then snapping his neck in a sudden move, or as a 5-point-death-touch style thing.

In another example, my fencer Battlemaster won initiative and immediately rolled a critical on his enemy. He opted not to apply the damage, but rather we said that he outdrew the enemy and had his rapier at his chest. He would run him through if he reached for his weapon (dealing the damage I rolled).

This is not giving the player anything they have not already earned, they could apply the damage immediately if they wanted to. What it does is open up more RP, intimidation and more realistic tactical considerations in combat. Does the enemy really want to continue with the fight if they know for sure they are going to take 15 damage just for drawing their weapon?

The idea is not to have any change in mechanics, so a PC could not use it to avoid a fire elementals return damage or the armour of agyths etc. It's just something to use in good faith. It really livened up some encounters at our table.

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That's not a bad idea.

With a bit of tweaking to allow a group to be targeted as such by another group, it could also enable the old "halt, or we shoot!" type of situation that never seems to work in D&D otherwise.

It could also enable the DM to be a dick, so a minimum of player-DM trust is in order.


It's funny you say that Laurefindel, that actually happened in a game very recently. The PCs were ambushing a carriage that contained their political nemesis. They decided against killing the innocent carriage drivers and guards. They ambushed, got a surprise round, tallied up all the damage they would do but held it.

The guards knew that if they reached for their weapons, two of their number would straight up die before they could react. So the kidnapping went ahead as planned.

A DM could be a dick about it, but they would have to know that the result is the PCs won't try to do that anymore. The game will loose out on cool scenes and action and the PCs will become murderhobos.

I probably encourage de-escalation a little more than D&D defaults to. I think that as an NPC it is one thing to get hit for 10 damage, then decide to keep fighting. It is quite another to willing choose to take 10 damage in order to continue fighting. E.g. pushing the blade away with your hand, letting the crossbow bolt aimed at your chest hit you, or almost dislocating your shoulder to get out of the armlock and keep fighting.


An interesting idea. I view it not completely unlike non-lethal damage where attacks are made but to incapacitate the target rather than kill it. It might inspire (my) players to be more active in narrating their actions, rather than leaving it to the DM.

I might steal this idea and use it as a narrative device the next time a character attempts non-lethal damage. When the players see the results, they might start trying it themselves.

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