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5E Experiences with a PC garrote weapon?

Quickleaf

Legend
I'm attempting to design a garrote weapon that a PC could use – by player request. And I was wondering if any of the ENWorld brain trust had experience adapting garrotes to 5e? How did it go? What worked and what didn't work?

.....

That was the Tl;dr version of my question. I realize that implementing the garrote specifically is a contentious issue, where the usual consensus is "it's really hard." And yet, here I am trying.

Here is my own design process so far...

My first step was surveying the existing garrotes in the game – the ettercap's Web Garrote (Monster Manual, 2014), the large sahuagin NPC Ghauld (Princes of the Apocalypse, 2015), and the meazel (Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, 2018)...

Web Garrote. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one Medium or Small creature against which the ettercap has advantage on the attack roll. Hit: 4 (1d4+2) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 12). Until this grapple ends, the target can't breathe, and the ettercap has advantage on attack rolls against it.


Garrote (Ghauld). Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one Medium or Small creature against which Ghauld has advantage on the attack roll. Hit: 9 (2d4+9) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until the grapple ends, the target can't breathe, and Ghald has advantage on attack rolls against it.


Garrote (Meazel). Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target of the meazel's size or smaller. Hit: 6 (1d6+3) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 13 with disadvantage). Until the grapple ends, the target takes 10 (2d6+3) bludgeoning damage at the start of each of the meazel's turns. The meazel can't make weapon attacks while grappling a creature this way.


The garrote used by the ettercap and Ghauld are basically the same, just Ghauld's is larger. The features of this garrote are...
  • Requires wielder to have advantage in order to even make the garrote attack. Obviously, only requiring advantage isn't enough of a limit for PCs (who have more options to gain advantage than monsters), because then a barbarian could just Reckless Attack all day with the garrote, or you could knock someone prone with a Battle Master maneuver, or just cast true strike, and that would probably go against the intended design of a sneaky murderous weapon.
  • Target = medium or small (i.e. the wielder’s size or smaller).
  • Damage = 1d4 + STR/DEX (unclear).
  • Target is also grappled. Not explicitly called out as a bonus action, but looking at Tavern Brawler that would be closest PC adaptation.
  • While grappled, target can’t breathe and wielder has advantage to attack it. Being unable to breathe implies the target is not holding its breath, which means its a matter of rounds – not minutes – before it drops to 0 HP due to suffocation.
  • Ghald has Multiattack (x3) but garrote is not listed on his Multiattack, suggesting it can only be used once per turn.
However, the garrote used by the meazel is noticeably different...
  • Does not require having advantage to use.
  • Damage = 1d6 + DEX
  • The target has disadvantage to escape the grapple. This may be intended as a "hidden trait" of the meazel and not a propert of the garrote itself, but it's unclear.
  • Target can breathe, and wielder does not have advantage to attack it.
  • While grappled, the target takes 2d6 + DEX auto-damage at start of the wielder’s turns. However, the wielder can’t make weapon attacks while grappling with the garrote. Auto-damage, like from witch bolt, should require an action from the PC. Also, it would be nice if things like Sneak Attack damage could apply...but that depends on several factors.
  • Somehow this garrote is dealing damage without impeding the target's ability to breathe. One of my players likened it to a MMA blood choke achieved by applying pressure to the carotid.
As I'm doing this design, there are two house rules we've incorporated that I'll mention so you have the whole picture...
  • Exotic Weapons: The garrote will be an exotic weapon. There are a handful of other exotic weapons. You gain training in an exotic weapon by either opting to roll "old school" 3d6 in a row stats (there are several boons you get to choose from to incentivize taking this risk, proficiency in 1 exotic weapon being one of them), taking the Weapon Master feat, taking one of several homebrew feats (Champion of the Arena and Thrown Weapon Master), or having a subclass feature that allows you to select proficiency in any weapon. Pact of the Blade Warlocks need to gain the exotic weapon proficiency independent of their pact feature in order to conjure, for example, a pact garrote.
  • Damage While Holding Breath: When a creature takes damage that forces air from its lungs – this is up the DM’s discretion, e.g. a crocodile’s crushing bite would qualify, but psychic damage probably wouldn’t – each point of damage it takes while holding its breath reduces the number of rounds it can hold it by an equivalent amount (i.e. 7 damage is -7 rounds).

I've gone through a couple iterations, and this is my latest version...

Garrote. (Exotic weapon; 1d6 bludgeoning; Finesse, Two-handed) In order to make an attack with the garrote, the target must be unaware of you or incapacitated. The target must be your size or smaller. You may only make one garrote attack per turn.
On a hit, you may make a special grapple check against the target as a bonus action; you may use Sleight of Hand instead of Athletics, if you wish. If the target is surprised, while grappled in this way, it can’t breathe. If the target is not surprised, then automatic damage you inflict against it with the garrote forces air from its lungs (see house rule).
If the target remains grappled on your turn, you may use your action to automatically deal 1d6 + your Dexterity or Strength modifier damage.
 
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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Against an aware opponent I think the PC should probably have to successfully grapple or attack the enemy first, and could then attempt to garrote them. Or be attacking from unseen or whatever. I think the first option makes more sense from a mechanics standpoint, but you probably want to move outside the grapple rules for some of this. Grappling is pretty much a complete auto-win for anyone actually proficient in athletics, and as a result is enormously lopsided. I'd probably use something more like the concentration mechanic to maintain the garrote, although using grapple to initiate is fine.

The comp to a carotid choke is maybe not what I'd go for. A good carotid choke will reduce the target to unconsciousness well before asphyxia will. Actual physical damage is far more likely to occur from a windpipe choke too, or something like a garrote, than from a proper carotid choke.
 

Theo R Cwithin

I cast "Baconstorm!"
A similar monster attack for reference might be the "tentacle" attack of the choker (Mord's Tome of Foes). It's a little different than those explicit garrote attacks in that it imposes the restrained condition, but no asphyxiation unless it's a critical hit.
Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d4 + 3) bludgeoning damage plus 3 (1d6) piercing damage. If the target is a Large or smaller creature, it is grappled (escape DC 15). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the choker can't use this tentacle on another target. The choker has two tentacles. If this attack is a critical hit, the target also can't breathe or speak until the grapple ends.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Against an aware opponent I think the PC should probably have to successfully grapple or attack the enemy first, and could then attempt to garrote them. Or be attacking from unseen or whatever. I think the first option makes more sense from a mechanics standpoint, but you probably want to move outside the grapple rules for some of this. Grappling is pretty much a complete auto-win for anyone actually proficient in athletics, and as a result is enormously lopsided. I'd probably use something more like the concentration mechanic to maintain the garrote, although using grapple to initiate is fine.

The comp to a carotid choke is maybe not what I'd go for. A good carotid choke will reduce the target to unconsciousness well before asphyxia will. Actual physical damage is far more likely to occur from a windpipe choke too, or something like a garrote, than from a proper carotid choke.

Thanks for your feedback, Fenris!

Really like the concentration idea.

So, the way I've set it up is (a) first you must hit with an attack – which would have advantage due to the caveats above, then (b) you must succeed a modified grapple as a bonus action. So, there are two points for failure – at the attack and then at the grapple. Both must succeed.

Maybe I should phrase it more like on a hit you deal damage, and then get to make the grapple check, so at least you always deal damage on a hit, and then (if you roll well), you get the grapple effects.
 

I think you are pretty close, but I'm skeptical on the house rule Damage while Holding Breath. That would practically make most commoners unconscious and dying the first round (of course the damage alone would do that). If that's intended...

Also, how does the target/victim get out? Just the grapple check, or can they break the garrote? Perhaps using a dagger or just strength to break it (even if it causes damage to themselves).
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
That sounds workable. My hesitation about the grapple rules were just on the breaking the grapple to end the effects side, it works fine as a mechanic to set the garrote in the first place. I've always wanted a workable mechanic for this in 5E, so this got my attention.
 


I had a PC rogue take the Tavern Brawler feat, and used a piece of wire as a garrote.
1d6 bludgeoning/Finesse/Two Handed is also the stats I used, for the improvised weapon.

Then it was just a matter of applying the rules.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I’d just make a garrote an item rather than a weapon. Use to make a creature you have grappled unable to speak or breathe until the grapple ends. If the creature is surprised when you grapple it, it can’t hold its breath.
You don't think the grapple rules are too lopsided for this approach? I know I do. V ery much so in the case of expertise in Athletics anyway, so if you don't have any of that it might be more manageable. Even then, I think you'd see a lot of garroting going on.
 

jgsugden

Legend
My version:

All attacks with a garrotte are at disadvantage. It deals d6 + strength damage on a hit and if you hit, the target is grappled and must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + our proficiency bonus plus your strength modifier. If the creature failed the saving throw, the duration it can hold its breath is halved (minimum 30 seconds) - see below.

Until the grapple is broken, the target takes d6+ strength damage at the start of each of its turns. If you take an action, bonus action or reaction while the target is grappled, the grapple ends.

While the creature is grappled, it must hold its breath. A creature can hold its breath for a number of minutes equal to 1 + its Constitution modifier (minimum of 30 seconds). When a creature runs out of breath or is choking, it begins to suffocate and can survive for a number of rounds equal to its Constitution modifier (minimum of 1 round). At the start of its next turn, it drops to 0 hit points and is dying, and it can't regain hit points or be stabilized until it can breathe again. For example, a creature with a Constitution of 14 can hold its breath for 3 minutes, or 90 seconds if it failed the saving throw. If it starts suffocating, it has 2 rounds to reach air before it drops to 0 hit points.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
No offense, but that sounds like a lot of work for a result that doesn't really match what a garrote actually does. That said, there is most likely a reason that strangulation isn't a mechanic in D&D already - it doesn't really mesh with the existing mechanics all that well, and it can OP as all get out against higher level NPCs depending on how its implemented. I'll give you props for coloring inside the lines at least. (y)
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
How about this:

A garrote is a two handed attack requiring an athletics skill check. If successful, the target is grappled. The target can attempt another athletics check to escape the grapple on its turn. On the attacker's next turn, it can attempt another athletics check to stun the target. If successful the target has the stunned condition. A successful athletics check on the target's turn will move the stunned target back to the grappled condition. On the attacker's next turn, it can attempt another athletics check. If it succeeds, the stunned target becomes unconscious. So grappled-->stunned-->unconscious in three rounds or 18 seconds sounds reasonable. If you want to make it longer add the restrained condition step between grappled and stunned.

I would give the target advantage on the first athletics check if it is wearing medium or heavy armor or is aware of the attack.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
How about this:

A garrote is a two handed attack requiring an athletics skill check. If successful, the target is grappled. The target can attempt another athletics check to escape the grapple on its turn. On the attacker's next turn, it can attempt another athletics check to stun the target. If successful the target has the stunned condition. A successful athletics check on the target's turn will move the stunned target back to the grappled condition. On the attacker's next turn, it can attempt another athletics check. If it succeeds, the stunned target becomes unconscious. So grappled-->stunned-->unconscious in three rounds or 18 seconds sounds reasonable. If you want to make it longer add the restrained condition step between grappled and stunned.

I would give the target advantage on the first athletics check if it is wearing medium or heavy armor or is aware of the attack.
I really like this approach a lot. My issue with it is my issue with most rules for strangulation in D&D, is that it relies on a grapple check as the core, which means it's as abuse friendly as the current grapple rules. If a DM wanted to 'garrote-proof' his game it would be ok, but that's actually a lot of work, as almost nothing in the game other than PCs have the Athletics skill. That's not an insurmountable problem though, but I do think it would need to be addressed to make the garrote useful but not broken.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I think you are pretty close, but I'm skeptical on the house rule Damage while Holding Breath. That would practically make most commoners unconscious and dying the first round (of course the damage alone would do that). If that's intended...

I left a lot of context out to focus on the heart of my question, but the setting is Egyptian and river travel full of hippos, crocodiles, giant aquatic snakes, tigerfish swarms, and other hazards is kind of expected. So, that house rule emerged from wanting to make tangling with those sorts of creatures underwater more frightening; thus, making the decision to explore some underwater ruins more consequential. I'm not yet 100% on the fine tuning of the rule – and especially its interaction with the garrote – but the general intent is making holding your breath more tactical.

Because without any house rule, most D&D fights are over within a matter of rounds, and in an underwater fight the PCs still have minutes of held breath left. Speaking from experience, after one fight like that, players will no longer fear drowning.

Also, how does the target/victim get out? Just the grapple check, or can they break the garrote? Perhaps using a dagger or just strength to break it (even if it causes damage to themselves).

Hadn't thought of cutting the garrote and slitting your throat in the process – that's a novel idea. But all the ways you can usually escape a grapple would apply:
  • Making an opposed Acrobatics/Athletics check as an action, and beating what the garrote-wielder rolled on their Athletics/Sleight of Hand check.
  • Shoving the garrote-wielder or otherwise forcibly moving them away.
  • Spells that teleport, planeshift, or turn you into a gaseous state.
  • Incapacitating the garrote-wielder by reducing them to 0 HP, paralyzing them, stunning them, petrifying them, or putting them to sleep.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
My version:

All attacks with a garrotte are at disadvantage. It deals d6 + strength damage on a hit and if you hit, the target is grappled and must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + our proficiency bonus plus your strength modifier. If the creature failed the saving throw, the duration it can hold its breath is halved (minimum 30 seconds) - see below.

Until the grapple is broken, the target takes d6+ strength damage at the start of each of its turns. If you take an action, bonus action or reaction while the target is grappled, the grapple ends.

While the creature is grappled, it must hold its breath. A creature can hold its breath for a number of minutes equal to 1 + its Constitution modifier (minimum of 30 seconds). When a creature runs out of breath or is choking, it begins to suffocate and can survive for a number of rounds equal to its Constitution modifier (minimum of 1 round). At the start of its next turn, it drops to 0 hit points and is dying, and it can't regain hit points or be stabilized until it can breathe again. For example, a creature with a Constitution of 14 can hold its breath for 3 minutes, or 90 seconds if it failed the saving throw. If it starts suffocating, it has 2 rounds to reach air before it drops to 0 hit points.

So, want to make sure I'm reading your rule right... if a PC were to garrote a knight (Constitution 14, hp 52), and the knight failed its CON save, then it would be reduced from 3 minutes (180 seconds) of held breath to 90 seconds of held breath. In other words, to choke out the knight would require 15 rounds?

Whereas each round if you're dealing ~5 damage per round with the garrote, it would take around 10 rounds to reduce the knight to 0 HP.

Thus, with your rules, the ideal circumstances to use a garrote are against a frail (low Constitution) creature with high hit points like an archmage, is that right?
 

jgsugden

Legend
No offense, but that sounds like a lot of work for a result that doesn't really match what a garrote actually does. That said, there is most likely a reason that strangulation isn't a mechanic in D&D already - it doesn't really mesh with the existing mechanics all that well, and it can OP as all get out against higher level NPCs depending on how its implemented. I'll give you props for coloring inside the lines at least. (y)
If you're speaking about my suggestion: A garrote works in two ways - it suffocates someone and it cuts into the neck and through those key blood passages in the neck (like piano wire through cheese). Damage and suffocation - and how quickly you'd suffocate depends on whether you get a deep breath or not breath before it connects with the neck. That is what my approach covers.
 

Jediking

Explorer
Seems pretty straight-forward based on the Ettercap and Ghauld statblocks.
I allow any creature weapons (eg. Kuo-Toa's Pincer Staff or Lizardfolk's Spiked Shield) in my own games to be used by PCs, but class them as exotic weapons. Characters can gain proficiency in exotic weapons through the Weapon Master feat, retraining any skill proficiency, or through in-game play.

As far as using a Garrote as a standard weapon, it is simple enough to extract the stats and let your Bard have a use to bring piano wire. Sure there are creative ways to use it, but it won't break your game to allow it be used freely.

Martial Melee Weapon
Garrote, 1d4 bludgeoning, 1lb, two-handed, finesse, special

Special: to use this weapon you must have advantage on the attack roll against a creature your size or smaller. On a hit, the target is grappled (escape DC = 8+proficiency bonus+Str or Dex mod). Until this grapple ends, the target can't breathe and you have advantage on attack rolls against it.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
I really like this approach a lot. My issue with it is my issue with most rules for strangulation in D&D, is that it relies on a grapple check as the core, which means it's as abuse friendly as the current grapple rules. If a DM wanted to 'garrote-proof' his game it would be ok, but that's actually a lot of work, as almost nothing in the game other than PCs have the Athletics skill. That's not an insurmountable problem though, but I do think it would need to be addressed to make the garrote useful but not broken.

My player suggested using a static DC to resist/escape the garrote = 10 + DEX or STR, instead of an opposed check like grappling normally uses.

So it would be (a) can I make a garrote attack under these conditions?, (b) roll my attack (likely with advantage due to said conditions), (c) if I hit the target takes 1d6 damage and (d) it must make an Athletics/Acrobatics check versus DC = 10 + my DEX or STR mod, (e) if it succeeds it is not grappled, but (f) if it fails it is grappled with all the other garrote coolness that implies.
 

jgsugden

Legend
So, want to make sure I'm reading your rule right... if a PC were to garrote a knight (Constitution 14, hp 52), and the knight failed its CON save, then it would be reduced from 3 minutes (180 seconds) of held breath to 90 seconds of held breath. In other words, to choke out the knight would require 15 rounds?

Whereas each round if you're dealing ~5 damage per round with the garrote, it would take around 10 rounds to reduce the knight to 0 HP.

Thus, with your rules, the ideal circumstances to use a garrote are against a frail (low Constitution) creature with high hit points like an archmage, is that right?
Ever use a cheese cutter? The piano wire on a level that slices through cheese?

The traditional garrote that strangled people was not the handheld device you are thinking about. It was used on a helpless victim to slowly apply pressure, slowly cutting off oxygen but not doing utting or crushing enough to kill through physical trauma.

A garrote that is handheld would typically not kill through suffocation. That is movies talking. The real weapon would destroy the neck and kill by trauma. Really, the nod to suffocation is just there for those super high hp foes that can "endure the trauma".
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Maintaining the garotte is something I would definitely move outside of the grapple rules for. As I mentioned above, I think something like the Concentration mechanics might work.

Let me just spitball for a second. If the defender got to attack, unarmed or natural weapons only, but with disadvantage, that could balance calling for a STR save by the attacker on damage taken, with a negative mod equal to the damage. PCs could maybe be allowed to choose between STR mod and proficiency for the save, to give skill some chance, since we're kind of taking expertise off the table.

A successful save or failed attack moves the unconscious counter along one as in @tommybahama 's example.
 

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