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5E Experiences with a PC garrote weapon?

Jediking

Explorer
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.
That works great, but usually DCs are set as 8+proficiency bonus+stat mod. Not a big change (sorry for nitpicking), but it does give higher CR creatures a bit more of a bump up in threat. I find they need any help they can get as characters level.


My 2cp for strangling/suffocating:

I always split them into either exploration or combat
Exploration: You can hold your breath for a number of minutes = 1 + Con mod (min. 1)
Combat:
You can hold your breath for a number of rounds = 1 + Con mod (min. 1)

You can explain it however you want, but how I picture it matches up well enough in life to keep my verisimilitude - I like to picture it in combat as heavy exertion and panicking as your blood flow is interrupted by an attacker, which can knock someone unconscious in seconds in real life (as a BJJ practitioner I can vouch for this, it is extremely dangerous). In exploration you can be a bit calmer and hold your breath for minutes at a time - certain people have trained to do it for even longer!


Without getting into anything, this subject does touch on a lot of current issues going on - I hope everyone is able to find joy and safety in whatever gaming groups or areas you play in!
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
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.
I don't think your players would like it too much when every guardsman and thief they try to garrote is essentially popping out almost half the time. It takes the roll out of the player's hands, which isn't something I prefer when I get to chose. I'd prefer to have a mechanic where they get to roll their own fate, hence the save idea.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
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.
I put in bold the parts of the weapon (translated 1:1 from MM/PotA) that are I believe are problematic when translated to player use.

If "can't breathe" means the creature is "out of breath or is choking", then it can only survive for a number of rounds equal to its CON modifier (minimum of 1 round); after this, it drops to 0 hit points on the start of its next turn. In others, words you now can can take down a high-HP creature such as a champion with 14 Constitution in just two rounds.

That seems very powerful to me. Maybe not to you?

By only requiring advantage, that makes circumventing HP to attack breath almost trivially easy for a PC. While PCs have access to all ways to get advantage that monsters do (e.g. being Hidden, the Help action, melee attacking a prone creature, and so forth), PCs also have many more ways to gain advantage – such as barbarian's Reckless Attack, knocking them prone with a Battle Master maneuver, mastermind rogue Helping as a bonus action, or casting guiding bolt or true strike. Advantage is extremely easy for PCs to get, much more so than it is for monsters.

If the effect – targeting breath instead of HP – is as powerful as I think it is, then "gating" garrote use to advantage is far too little of a gate for PCs.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
That works great, but usually DCs are set as 8+proficiency bonus+stat mod. Not a big change (sorry for nitpicking), but it does give higher CR creatures a bit more of a bump up in threat. I find they need any help they can get as characters level.


My 2cp for strangling/suffocating:

I always split them into either exploration or combat
Exploration: You can hold your breath for a number of minutes = 1 + Con mod (min. 1)
Combat:
You can hold your breath for a number of rounds = 1 + Con mod (min. 1)

You can explain it however you want, but how I picture it matches up well enough in life to keep my verisimilitude - I like to picture it in combat as heavy exertion and panicking as your blood flow is interrupted by an attacker, which can knock someone unconscious in seconds in real life (as a BJJ practitioner I can vouch for this, it is extremely dangerous). In exploration you can be a bit calmer and hold your breath for minutes at a time - certain people have trained to do it for even longer!


Without getting into anything, this subject does touch on a lot of current issues going on - I hope everyone is able to find joy and safety in whatever gaming groups or areas you play in!
Thanks for mentioning that, Jediking. Yes, given current events, the timing of this question is poor, I agree. My girlfriend's high schooler sister in D.C. has been running a GoFundMe for a BLM protestor supply fund; very proud of her, and just donated yesterday.

Anyhow, we're starting a new campaign up Sunday, and my player was asking. What's a DM to do? I am trying to answer with "yes, and" or "yes, but", rather than saying "no, that's too much work to balance."

Thanks for sharing your exploration/combat distinction on holding breath. That's an interesting take. I can share it with them and see their thoughts. But it might be a simpler way of implementing the same thing my "Damage When Holding Breath" was aiming for.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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.
I don’t think so. Given how long it takes a character to suffocate if they can hold their breath, this take on it would mean it’s only really viable against surprised opponents, or as an anti-caster tactic.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I don’t think so. Given how long it takes a character to suffocate if they can hold their breath, this take on it would mean it’s only really viable against surprised opponents, or as an anti-caster tactic.
Holding your breath for a maximum amount of time involves some prep, deep breaths, etc etc. I don't really think that applies to getting strangled either by surprise or in the thick of combat. Really deep breathing, like for free diving, requires a slow inhalation, sometimes as long as 20 seconds, and for the person to stay as still as possible to conserve blood oxygen. I feel like we've moved past either of those things really being an option.
 

Jediking

Explorer
[...] you now can can take down a high-HP creature such as a champion with 14 Constitution in just two rounds

That seems very powerful to me. Maybe not to you?

By only requiring advantage, that makes circumventing HP to attack breath almost trivially easy for a PC. Advantage is extremely easy for PCs to get, much more so than it is for monsters.

If the effect – targeting breath instead of HP – is as powerful as I think it is, then "gating" garrote use to advantage is far too little of a gate for PCs.
I agree with your thoughts, and this does reflect a lot of how I run my own games.
For a complete overanalysis read below, but TL;DR version:
Garroting is balanced on the standard three (3)-round combat encounter, and adds a really cool option for exploration challenges.
It is extremely powerful vs one single enemy (probably too much!) and more balanced against encounters with multiple enemies - but that is a common issue I have with 5e anyways, and based in what I have seen on forums something others do as well.

Deepdive:
*The champion would take three (3) rounds to knock unconsicous that way, as it is 1 + Con mod (2) = 3. - But this doesn’t affect your point at all and you are correct, so I won’t use the champion as an example.

I agree it is a powerful tactic against certain types of creatures, especially as some people mentioned higher in thread - specifically the high HP but low Str/Con. But I see this as a good strategic option that is one more tool for players to have, and it only efficient in certain encounters.

The grappled condition only prevents movement and does not gove disadvantage on attack rolls, so the grappled target will always have at least one creature to attack.

Brute type enemies typically have higher Con (to survive at least 2-4 rounds) and higher Str (to break the grapple). They usually have strong melee attacks, so this tactic isn’t super effective at ending the fight faster.

Skirmisher- type enemies use high mobility and could have ranged attacks. This is where the Garrote is most effective, and I think this is a great tactic to have available. It may be too powerful for some groups, but my group really enjoys using complicated rock-scissor-paper type strategies and this opens up another option.

Glass-cannon type creatures would not last long being choked - but if someone is within melee distance with advantage then they are already not expected to survive long :)


Combats are balanced to last 3 rounds (taken from how to calculate monster CR from the DMG). Most creatures have certain tactics they use reflected in their ability scores and abilities.
The Garrote is most effective against high HP/low Con creatures, which is a rare form in itself. Unless it is a high-CR creature, like the archmage. But if you are within melee distance to an archmage with advantage on the attack, the (probably higher level) party should be expected to be able to kill the mage within 2 rounds anyways.

Edit: it is great to see support on the GoFundMe!
 
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Realistically, a "garrot hold" is a "target has lost fight" move. It is akin to "stap target through eye into brain" or "decapitate" or "rip heart out".

So you have to throw realism out if you want it as an in-combat weapon that isn't an "I win" button.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Realistically, a "garrot hold" is a "target has lost fight" move. It is akin to "stap target through eye into brain" or "decapitate" or "rip heart out".

So you have to throw realism out if you want it as an in-combat weapon that isn't an "I win" button.
I think that's the precise project here, yeah. The trick is to make good enough that it's situationally useful, without it turning into How can we garrote this creature? as the opening move in every encounter. Keep it realistic 'enough' that it has something like the right feel, but enough crunch that it isn't OP.
 

I think that's the precise project here, yeah. The trick is to make good enough that it's situationally useful, without it turning into How can we garrote this creature? as the opening move in every encounter. Keep it realistic 'enough' that it has something like the right feel, but enough crunch that it isn't OP.
Garrot Choke: Can only be used on an incapacitated foe; requires an Action and a Garrot. The creature becomes grappled, restrained, with an escape DC of 20+your athletics modifier. As an action, or a reaction to attempting to escape, you can deal 4d6+strength modifier damage; this counts as a critical hit for the purpose of adding additional damage from attacks or death saving throws. While Choked this way, you can choose to prevent the creature from breathing (and hence talking), and they cannot hold their breath against this.

Garotter (Feat): As a bonus action after you hit a creature while holding a Garrot in one hand, or as an Action, you can attempt to Grapple a creature your size or smaller with less than 3 times your HD in HP remaining. If you succeed, the creature becomes Garrot Choked despite not being incapacitated. You know when you deal enough damage that you can follow up with the bonus action, but you don't know if attempting this as an Action will succeed.

There, it is now a finishing move. You fight as normal with a weapon, and when the target falls to 60 HP (at level 20) you can swing around and shut the target down.

You can also use it on incapacitated foes. You can even run up to a low level guard, and Garrot them. If they are tougher than you expect it can fail.
 
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I would avoid the whole "bypass hit points" issue with the garrote myself.

Weapon. D6 damage, 2-handed, Special: Can only be used while grappling, User may grapple with this weapon rather than needing a free hand. Sneak attack damage may be applied with this weapon. Ineffective against targets with no discernable neck, or no need to breathe.

That covers the bases needed for me I think.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Holding your breath for a maximum amount of time involves some prep, deep breaths, etc etc. I don't really think that applies to getting strangled either by surprise or in the thick of combat. Really deep breathing, like for free diving, requires a slow inhalation, sometimes as long as 20 seconds, and for the person to stay as still as possible to conserve blood oxygen. I feel like we've moved past either of those things really being an option.
The rules say nothing about requiring any preparation to hold one’s breath for the full duration. If you want to lose yourself in the reeds of limiting the duration characters can hold their breath based on what was going on before whatever forced them to hold it, you’re welcome to do so, but for me I’d rather a simple, easy to use rule than a realistic one. Just saying the target can’t breathe or speak while grappled with the garrote and can’t hold their breath when surprised (in contrast to being able to hold it when not surprised) gets the job done for me. Is it a perfect simulation of how garrotes and strangulation works in real life? No. But it is a simple, easy to use rule that doesn’t seem particularly out of line in terms of combat balance.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think that's the precise project here, yeah. The trick is to make good enough that it's situationally useful, without it turning into How can we garrote this creature? as the opening move in every encounter. Keep it realistic 'enough' that it has something like the right feel, but enough crunch that it isn't OP.
Just saying, I think my rule fits that bill as long as you’re not applying a bunch of houseruled preconditions and exceptions to the rules for holding breath.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Just saying, I think my rule fits that bill as long as you’re not applying a bunch of houseruled preconditions and exceptions to the rules for holding breath.
I think the rules for holding breath are neither here nor there for me. They pretty obviously were't designed for this kind of application so I'm going to look elsewhere. I'm more concerned with figuring out out if the mechanic makes sense within the context of garroting and the combat rules. Everyone has a different design process though.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
My 2cp for strangling/suffocating:

I always split them into either exploration or combat
Exploration: You can hold your breath for a number of minutes = 1 + Con mod (min. 1)
Combat:
You can hold your breath for a number of rounds = 1 + Con mod (min. 1)
Holding your breath for a maximum amount of time involves some prep, deep breaths, etc etc. I don't really think that applies to getting strangled either by surprise or in the thick of combat. Really deep breathing, like for free diving, requires a slow inhalation, sometimes as long as 20 seconds, and for the person to stay as still as possible to conserve blood oxygen. I feel like we've moved past either of those things really being an option.
While I really like the neat distinction between exploration (minutes of breath) and combat (rounds of breath), my games tend to see blurring between those boundaries. For example, one or two PCs go dive down underwater to check out a sunken ship, then while they're exploring they run into a crocodile, there's a brief fight, then they go back to exploring.

How would it work at the table? They take time to prep themselves for a deep dive – breathing, getting still, other free diving tricks – then dive under with minutes to spare. Until they meet the crocodile, then what, they're suddenly down to mere rounds from the shock of it swimming past them and exertion of swimming? What if they want/need to stay underwater after dispatching the crocodile? Would they return back to the minutes timeline (and if so how would that work?), or would the encounter with the croc have effectively drastically reduced their overall "time meter" for exploring underwater on one held breath?
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I agree it is a powerful tactic against certain types of creatures, especially as some people mentioned higher in thread - specifically the high HP but low Str/Con. But I see this as a good strategic option that is one more tool for players to have, and it only efficient in certain encounters.

The grappled condition only prevents movement and does not gove disadvantage on attack rolls, so the grappled target will always have at least one creature to attack.
Are you using the standard grapple rules for maintaining the garrote? Or are you using a set DC (e.g. 8+prof+mod) to escape? Because in the former case, the concern that I share with @Fenris-77 is PCs' skills such as Athletics generally vastly exceed monster's Athletics & Acrobatics skills.

Edit: it is great to see support on the GoFundMe!
Yeah, it really is! She's been really touched by the flood of support.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
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.
I don’t think so. Given how long it takes a character to suffocate if they can hold their breath, this take on it would mean it’s only really viable against surprised opponents, or as an anti-caster tactic.
Thanks for sharing your approach. That's a completely different way of handling it than I would ever have come up with! How has this played at your table?

If I'm understanding your approach right, it sounds like...
  • In your game, a garrote is an item anyone can use when initiating a grapple.
  • There are no special conditions (e.g. target unaware or incapacitated, attacker having advantage) that must be in place in order to use the garrote. You're attempting a grapple? You can use a garrote!
  • When you succeed on a grapple (while holding a garrote), the target is unable to speak (including being unable to cast Verbal spells – which is almost all spells), and is forced to hold its breath (a matter of minutes).
  • However, if you manage to surprise a creature, and successfully grapple it using a garrote, then it is caught without the chance to gasp for air and it begins suffocating (matter of rounds).
  • Maintaining the garrote uses the standard grapple rules (which dramatically favor PCs).
Is that what you were describing?
 

Jediking

Explorer
Are you using the standard grapple rules for maintaining the garrote?
I use the same rules as a crocodile's Bite, kuo-toa's Pincer Staff, or the Net - so it would be a set DC to escape, not a contested roll. I don't see the need to complicate it further and it would slow the combat down too much for my liking. Some of the above suggestions are cool ideas, but in play I would find it slow and confusing to sort out.


As far as your question about blurring exploration and combat - that would need to be adjudicated as it happens and varies so much in each group it is hard to really say what could work.

Diving down and holding their breath to find a sunken ship could either be an automatic success, or one check, or a series of successes [Constitution (Athletics), or Wisdom (Survival) both seem appropriate].
If they were attacked by a creature, then the main obstacle wouldn't change from "can the characters navigate safely to the ship". If they fight the crocodile - switch to round-by-round and if they kill it/escape/distract it I don't see why they could not automatically reach the ship. Especially if they are able to swim up, get air, and search again - then repeated attempts with no consequences just becomes tedious.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I use the same rules as a crocodile's Bite, kuo-toa's Pincer Staff, or the Net - so it would be a set DC to escape, not a contested roll. I don't see the need to complicate it further and it would slow the combat down too much for my liking. Some of the above suggestions are cool ideas, but in play I would find it slow and confusing to sort out.
Agreed. A slight uptick in complexity/resolution time for a garrote is fine (especially if it's not able to be used with just advantage), but I definitely want to avoid big increases in handling time.

As far as your question about blurring exploration and combat - that would need to be adjudicated as it happens and varies so much in each group it is hard to really say what could work.

Diving down and holding their breath to find a sunken ship could either be an automatic success, or one check, or a series of successes [Constitution (Athletics), or Wisdom (Survival) both seem appropriate].
If they were attacked by a creature, then the main obstacle wouldn't change from "can the characters navigate safely to the ship". If they fight the crocodile - switch to round-by-round and if they kill it/escape/distract it I don't see why they could not automatically reach the ship. Especially if they are able to swim up, get air, and search again - then repeated attempts with no consequences just becomes tedious.
I realize it's a big "well, it depends" kind of question. Thanks for bearing with me as I try to wrap my head around how it would actually play at the table.

Let's assume this is a situation where getting to the surface to get air and then diving back down either isn't feasible (maybe the surface of the river is covered in burning oil) or it isn't desirable (trying to avoid detection while infiltrating). So with that bit out of the way...

Sounds like you're saying... (1) The PCs could start in exploration mode, with minutes of breath. (2) Then, when they encounter a crocodile and enter combat they switch to having just rounds of breath – such that the lowest Constitution PC becomes the determining factor in how long they have to resolve the combat. If there's a PC with a 10-11 Con, for example, they have 1 round in which to defeat the crocodile or else that PC drops to 0 hit points. (3) And then, assuming they've successfully overcome the combat, they may continue exploring, switching back to minutes of breath & deducting the number of rounds they were in combat from that total number of minutes.

Is that right?
 

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