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5E Experiences with a PC garrote weapon?

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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?
I haven’t used it at the table yet, but that’s the first thing I would try if I had a player who wanted to use a garrote.

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?
Yep, that’s how I would approach it. Of course, if it proved to cause any problems I’d refine it further, but it looks good for a first pass to me.
 

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My first attempt...although this is kind of complicated.
  • Can only be used against a creature that is surprised, incapacitated, or one that has no visible enemies with 5'. (So you can't use it against somebody in active melee, but you could against somebody attacking from range, if you are hidden from it.)
  • Requires an attack roll. If successful, Grapple begins. Requires concentration to maintain.
  • If successful, target cannot speak.
  • On target's turn, target can:
    • Try to break Grapple via normal Grapple rules, but with Disadvantage
    • Attack garroter, also with Disadvantage.
  • Each turn, target must also make Con save vs. 8 + attacker's PB + attacker's Str mod.* On a failure, can no longer breathe. Then normal asphyxiation rules kick in.
Then of course this is begging for a Garotter feat, which gives you:
  • You have advantage on concentration saving throws and Grapple checks made to maintain a garrote.
  • Your victims have disadvantage on saving throws made to avoid asphyxiation.
*Yes, I realize this means it works not terribly well for rogues. Perhaps it could be Str or Dex, but....I dunno, I kind of like it as Str.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
[*]Can only be used against a creature that is surprised, incapacitated, or one that has no visible enemies with 5'. (So you can't use it against somebody in active melee, but you could against somebody attacking from range, if you are hidden from it.)
I like this restriction a lot. I’d consider adding this to my take if it turned out to be too effective as an anti-caster tactic.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Thanks a lot to everyone who has commented. Very useful to see different approaches to designing this. After several failed attempts, I finally hacked together a version of a garrote that I think is balanced or at least moving towards balance...

Garrote 5 gp, 1 lb.; 1d6 bludgeoning damage; Finesse, Two-handed, Special

Restrictions: A garrote can only be used on a creature your size or smaller against which you have advantage on the attack roll. You can only make one attack with a garrote on your turn.
Effect: On a hit, the target is grappled. Until this grapple ends, the target is forced to hold its breath and it cannot make sounds louder than a whisper. The escape DC is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your STR/DEX modifier, whichever you used for the attack.
Maintain: In order to maintain the grapple with the garrote, you must use two hands and you must use your action to keep the target grappled. Each time you use your action in this way, the target takes 1d6 + your STR/DEX modifier damage, whichever you used for the attack. If you use your action to do anything besides maintain the grapple, or if you are unable to take an action, then the target is no longer grappled.
Surprise: However, if the target is surprised, the garrote has far greater efficacy. On a hit against a surprised target, not only is the target grappled, but it cannot breathe (i.e. it starts suffocating) and it cannot speak. Maintaining these additional effects requires you to sustain concentration (like spellcasting); if your concentration is broken, the grappled target is no longer suffocating and can speak in a whisper. Otherwise, it is resolved exactly as above.

Here's my reasoning:
  • It's "your size or smaller" and not "Medium or smaller" because you might be a gnome/halfling or you might get enlarged!
  • You cannot use garrote to make an opportunity attack, because it must be used on your turn.
  • You cannot use Extra Attack or Action Surge to make 2+ garrote attacks, nor can you dual wield garrote and shortsword (since it's two-handed). If you miss, then the opponent realizes what you're up to and that limited window to garrote is gone for the moment. If you hit, well, you can't really make any more attacks cause your hands are tied up choking that hobgoblin out.
  • The hit triggers the automatic grapple. Hitting with a garrote, only to deal damage but not initiate a grapple is... that's just jarring narratively, it wouldn't make sense.
  • The baseline effect gives the target minutes of air and still allows it to cast spells, use command words, and such. • The escape DC is not linked to skills, thus mitigating any abuse – typically PCs will get much higher skills than monsters ever will.
  • The maintained automatic damage dealt by the garrote is not an attack. The idea being that a rogue could use Sneak Attack on the initial attack, but not for anything while the target is holding their breath (or suffocating). This is because if I/we end up sticking with that Taking Damage While Holding Breath house rule (or some version of it), Sneak Attack auto-damage every round could wipe out pretty much any creature's held breath.
  • The surprise effect has 2 parts. First, the suffocation is brought in because, well, typically if you have a surprise round then that enemy is going to go down hard or be fighting on the defensive, and combat is going to be fairly short. Like 1-3 rounds, which is probably how many rounds before the target suffocates into unconsciousness.
  • The second part of surprise is silence. This is basically similar to a single target version of the 2nd level silence spell – hence the use of the concentration mechanic!
 
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Li Shenron

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?

Just use the ettercap rule as is for the weapon.

Normal suffocation rules: minutes, not rounds.

If my players insisted on using rounds, I can guarantee that they will all die in the first encounter when my monsters use the same tactics against them.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
That seems strong. Unconsciousness could easily be the goal, not death. Also, a time line in minutes presents a lot of issues on different fronts. It doesnt really reflect a useful representation of the thing at hand, and it synergize badly with combat round length. Both those issues were addressed upstream. Being strangled in a general sense isnt really the same as being professionally strangled with an appropriate tool. Or at least that was the goal presented in the OP.
 

Thanks a lot to everyone who has commented. Very useful to see different approaches to designing this. After several failed attempts, I finally hacked together a version of a garrote that I think is balanced or at least moving towards balance...

Garrote 5 gp, 1 lb.; 1d6 bludgeoning damage; Finesse, Two-handed, Special

Restrictions: A garrote can only be used on a creature your size or smaller against which you have advantage on the attack roll. You can only make one attack with a garrote on your turn.
Effect: On a hit, the target is grappled. Until this grapple ends, the target is forced to hold its breath and it cannot make sounds louder than a whisper. The escape DC is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your STR/DEX modifier, whichever you used for the attack.
Maintain: In order to maintain the grapple with the garrote, you must use two hands and you must use your action to keep the target grappled. Each time you use your action in this way, the target takes 1d6 + your STR/DEX modifier damage, whichever you used for the attack. If you use your action to do anything besides maintain the grapple, or if you are unable to take an action, then the target is no longer grappled.
Surprise: However, if the target is surprised, the garrote has far greater efficacy. On a hit against a surprised target, not only is the target grappled, but it cannot breathe (i.e. it starts suffocating) and it cannot speak. Maintaining these additional effects requires you to sustain concentration (like spellcasting); if your concentration is broken, the grappled target is no longer suffocating and can speak in a whisper. Otherwise, it is resolved exactly as above.

Here's my reasoning:
  • It's "your size or smaller" and not "Medium or smaller" because you might be a gnome/halfling or you might get enlarged!
  • You cannot use garrote to make an opportunity attack, because it must be used on your turn.
  • You cannot use Extra Attack or Action Surge to make 2+ garrote attacks, nor can you dual wield garrote and shortsword (since it's two-handed). If you miss, then the opponent realizes what you're up to and that limited window to garrote is gone for the moment. If you hit, well, you can't really make any more attacks cause your hands are tied up choking that hobgoblin out.
  • The hit triggers the automatic grapple. Hitting with a garrote, only to deal damage but not initiate a grapple is... that's just jarring narratively, it wouldn't make sense.
  • The baseline effect gives the target minutes of air and still allows it to cast spells, use command words, and such. • The escape DC is not linked to skills, thus mitigating any abuse – typically PCs will get much higher skills than monsters ever will.
  • The maintained automatic damage dealt by the garrote is not an attack. The idea being that a rogue could use Sneak Attack on the initial attack, but not for anything while the target is holding their breath (or suffocating). This is because if I/we end up sticking with that Taking Damage While Holding Breath house rule (or some version of it), Sneak Attack auto-damage every round could wipe out pretty much any creature's held breath.
  • The surprise effect has 2 parts. First, the suffocation is brought in because, well, typically if you have a surprise round then that enemy is going to go down hard or be fighting on the defensive, and combat is going to be fairly short. Like 1-3 rounds, which is probably how many rounds before the target suffocates into unconsciousness.
  • The second part of surprise is silence. This is basically similar to a single target version of the 2nd level silence spell – hence the use of the concentration mechanic!
I personally would make these changes:
  • Allow it to apply to a creature one size larger than you if you can get access to its neck.
  • Remove Finesse and the Dex component of the escape DC. You're exerting pressure and holding in place against someone trying to relieve it.
  • Clarify whether the "cannot make sounds louder than a whisper" prevents verbal components. (I'm assuming it does, but it is important enough that I think it needs spelling out.)
  • I might allow sneak attack damage: Rogues seem the type that would be very adept at garrotting people. Or maybe just add damage equal to the rogue's number of sneak attack dice to the damage: Garrotting is a very sure way of killing an unarmed person if you're stronger and take them by surprise, but it takes a lot longer than just stabbing them to death.
  • I'm not sure of the concentration mechanic. I don't see strangling someone as preventing you from concentrating on a spell in a way that actively fighting them in melee doesn't. You are very vulnerable to getting stabbed up by your victim and their friends, but doing so isn't necessarily going to prevent you from maintaining the strangle unless you choose to drop it to defend yourself.
 

jgsugden

Legend
So a 1st level rogue gets the jump on an Archmage (MM monster stats) . +5 to hit with advantage vs AC 12. So a 9% chance of a miss. The rogue is likely to before the archmage due to initiative modifier. Archmage is surprised, so it gets no action on the 1 turn it could take an action. At the start of the next round the archmage begins dying.

Is that the desired result?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
The Archmage could very easily have a magic item that does reasonable melee damage, enough at least to force a tougher concentration save. There are a couple of non-verbal spells that could do the same in a pinch. Even the basic concentration save is 50-50. I'm not unduly worried at the prospect of having to deal with this unlimbered against villains. Really, if garrotes are a thing it would make sense for the DM to adjust right? Not to make them useless, but to make them realistically useful. That same Archmage with Contingency in his 6th level slot isn't getting dummied by a 1st level Rogue.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
So a 1st level rogue gets the jump on an Archmage (MM monster stats) . +5 to hit with advantage vs AC 12. So a 9% chance of a miss. The rogue is likely to before the archmage due to initiative modifier. Archmage is surprised, so it gets no action on the 1 turn it could take an action. At the start of the next round the archmage begins dying.

Is that the desired result?
Thanks for the catch. The intent is that the surprise round would not "count" towards the target's rounds of suffocation. In other words, that the spirit of the suffocation rules – that you at least get 1 round to try and save yourself – would be maintained here.

I couldn't find any clean concise wording to that effect.

But if the archmage was not able to break free – through any of the methods @Fenris-77 mentions – by the end of the actual non-surprise 1st round of combat (see what I mean? there's no clean language for that in 5e), then it would be KO'ed and begin dying.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I personally would make these changes:
  • Allow it to apply to a creature one size larger than you if you can get access to its neck.
  • Remove Finesse and the Dex component of the escape DC. You're exerting pressure and holding in place against someone trying to relieve it.
  • Clarify whether the "cannot make sounds louder than a whisper" prevents verbal components. (I'm assuming it does, but it is important enough that I think it needs spelling out.)
  • I might allow sneak attack damage: Rogues seem the type that would be very adept at garrotting people. Or maybe just add damage equal to the rogue's number of sneak attack dice to the damage: Garrotting is a very sure way of killing an unarmed person if you're stronger and take them by surprise, but it takes a lot longer than just stabbing them to death.
  • I'm not sure of the concentration mechanic. I don't see strangling someone as preventing you from concentrating on a spell in a way that actively fighting them in melee doesn't. You are very vulnerable to getting stabbed up by your victim and their friends, but doing so isn't necessarily going to prevent you from maintaining the strangle unless you choose to drop it to defend yourself.
Thanks for your feedback, Cap'n!

So the "cannot make sounds louder than a whisper" is something I've discussed with my players. You'll notice it's different language from "it cannot speak." The intent here is that the creature can still cast spells and use command words. However, it would not be able to shout to alert a sentry on the other side of the ramparts.

That's where the concentration mechanic comes in. Setting aside simulation concerns for a moment – they're important, just need to clarify something first – being able to deprive a creature of the ability to cast verbal spells is so potent in 5e that it only appears in the silence spell which requires concentration. The reason for this is that, say, if you weren't able to move or you were stunned, and were in the area of a silence spell, at least the concentration mechanic provides a way for your companions to rescue you. Similar thinking with using concentration with a single-target silence effect that's difficult to escape.
 

jgsugden

Legend
The Archmage could very easily have a magic item that does reasonable melee damage, enough at least to force a tougher concentration save. There are a couple of non-verbal spells that could do the same in a pinch. Even the basic concentration save is 50-50. I'm not unduly worried at the prospect of having to deal with this unlimbered against villains. Really, if garrotes are a thing it would make sense for the DM to adjust right? Not to make them useless, but to make them realistically useful. That same Archmage with Contingency in his 6th level slot isn't getting dummied by a 1st level Rogue.
The archmage doesn't get to act.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
The archmage doesn't get to act.
See @Quickleaf's post above about having at least round to save yourself. A Ring of Free Action would work too. Anyway, I'm just saying it doesn't need to be an auto-win. Grappling has some combos that are already almost as lopsided, and it's not like that's ruined the game or anything. Grapple inside a silence spell and that Archmage is toast. I don't think the garrote is more problematic than that. It also doesn't work against a lot of other types of big bads who simply don't breath, or are too big, etc etc.
 

Not to make them useless, but to make them realistically useful.

Do you mean that in the "realism" sense, or in the sense of being balanced correctly so that using one is a viable choice without being OP?

My design (in a previous post) was based on a desire to focus on asphyxiation instead of regular damage. Just because it's cool and fun and different. Because asphyxiation is potentially so powerful....not only taking out creatures very quickly, but preventing them from casting spells in the meantime...I looked for ways to make it less effective. So I made it difficult to use, eliminated normal damage, added the Con save to (potentially) delay the onset of the effect, and added two ways to escape (break Grapple, or break concentration).

Are those "realistic"? I couldn't care less. Balance > Realism. (It may not be balanced either...I certainly haven't playtested it. All I meant was that I was going for balance not realism.)
 

jgsugden

Legend
See @Quickleaf's post above about having at least round to save yourself. A Ring of Free Action would work too. Anyway, I'm just saying it doesn't need to be an auto-win....
To each their own.

It is an extremely high probability win by a solo PC against much more powerful foes. If you're ok with that in your game, more power to you. To me, it is akin to putting vorpal swords in every weapon store in the game for less than a GP each.
 


Pauln6

Explorer
I would say the garotte is a grapple attack with disadvantage so that it's always difficult and only worthwhile if you have the drop on someone.

While the grapple is maintained, inflict strength damage automatically plus 1d4 + Str/dex weapon damage if you successfully hit with a normal attack), plus sneak attack where applicable. When the victim is bloodied, apply the suffocation mechanics.

1. The first attack has disadvantage to hit making this more useful as a Rogue weapon. With disadvantage, the initial attack can't get sneak damage. The real damage comes maintaining strangulation.
2. Some auto damage for maintaining the grapple.
3. If you get a good grip I.e. Successfully hit you do additional 1d4 + stat damage.
4. Only a rogue is likely to take someone down with a garotte so sneak attack is king.
5. Suffocation mechanism kicks in when target is bloodied. Tough opponents can be taken down but not easily,.
 

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!

Correction. The party likes it up until you have a party of assassins, or worse, low level creatures with pack tactics as a feature perform the maneuver on their high level characters and kill all them within 2 rounds because "Why do we need to have a high con if we're ranged characters or a rogue?" It's basically Tucker's Kobolds except clearly the best option to use for every fight, and with none of the clever setup that makes it entertaining or the ability for the party to just avoid it all by choosing to not go in the cave in the first place.

My main concern with this houserule is that I seriously worry it would fail to pass my one hard rule when considering houserules: if the players can use it, so can the monsters and the players must accept it without objection.
 

Chryssis

Explorer
Thanks for your feedback, Cap'n!

So the "cannot make sounds louder than a whisper" is something I've discussed with my players. You'll notice it's different language from "it cannot speak." The intent here is that the creature can still cast spells and use command words. However, it would not be able to shout to alert a sentry on the other side of the ramparts.

That's where the concentration mechanic comes in. Setting aside simulation concerns for a moment – they're important, just need to clarify something first – being able to deprive a creature of the ability to cast verbal spells is so potent in 5e that it only appears in the silence spell which requires concentration. The reason for this is that, say, if you weren't able to move or you were stunned, and were in the area of a silence spell, at least the concentration mechanic provides a way for your companions to rescue you. Similar thinking with using concentration with a single-target silence effect that's difficult to escape.

If i'm not mistaken they actually couldn't cast spells, only use command words as being choked is pretty darn similar to being gagged in that sounds would be muffled/restricted.

Verbal (V)
Most spells require the chanting of mystic words. The words themselves aren't the source of the spell's power; rather, the particular combination of sounds, with specific pitch and resonance, sets the threads of magic in motion. Thus, a character who is gagged or in an area of silence, such as one created by the silence spell, can't cast a spell with a verbal component.

can't do pitch and resonance in a choked whisper.
 

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