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WOIN Mechanism to directly knock unconscious an opponent or unsuspecting NPC?

TheHirumaChico

Explorer
Hi. My players and I are playing NOW and we're seeking an action mechanic that would provide a more direct path to rendering the opponent unconscious, which is a common genre motif in many action films, books, comics, etc.

I found the sap weapon:
Sap. A sap is a small, blunt object used to render a target unconscious. It does little damage, and that damage is non-lethal (stunning) damage, and it is a weak melee weapon, but if the target is unaware of
the attack he must made a Difficult [16] END check or become stunned
"Stunned" = Dazed per a prior clarification elsewhere in this forum, presumably at level 1. But Dazed 1 is not unconscious, neither is Dazed 2, though no actions is close the functional equivalent. The "Sleeping" condition says that "the target is sent to sleep by magic or a heavy blow." This latter portion of the description seems to be more aligned with the Sap intent (heavy blow), but again, Sleeping 1 = "You are drowsy and lethargic. You may only act once each turn" is not Unconscious. One still needs to reach Sleeping 2, "You are asleep, and cannot be woken", which I think can be reasonably interpreted to be the equivalent to Unconscious. Or one can use the Eons 129 - Extreme Conditions, but then Unconscious is only accessible via Dazed 3.

I know that "it's my game" and I can change things as I and my players see fit, but I'm wondering if it was a deliberate design choice to not have any direct knockout pathways via level 1 conditions? Even the Called Shots options provide no pathway to the Dazed or Sleeping conditions. Maybe I'm missing the rationale for what is a deliberate choice?
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yep, it was deliberate. Single shot kills (knockouts are functionally no different to kills in terms of their effect on combat) are incredibly powerful abilities. The way to take a target out of the the game is to reduce it to zero Health. Plus conditions apply to PCs too, and I avoid conditions which mean “you have to stop playing this game for a while now.”
 


Li Shenron

Legend
Yep, it was deliberate. Single shot kills (knockouts are functionally no different to kills in terms of their effect on combat) are incredibly powerful abilities. The way to take a target out of the the game is to reduce it to zero Health. Plus conditions apply to PCs too, and I avoid conditions which mean “you have to stop playing this game for a while now.”
I think this was a good approach.

I don't play WOIN or know much about its rules, but if I may chime in for a comment, I have encountered the situation in the past in various editions of D&D, and I generally tell the players to simply setup an ambush and use non-lethal damage. 5e rules are even simpler than previous editions for this scenario: the DM calls for example for a Stealth vs passive Perception check to essentially get a surprise round with the unseen condition (surprise round means you certainly get to use Attack before the target does, unseen means you have advantage) and if you drop the target to 0hp you can choose to make it unconscious instead of dying, no penalties.

Now, the usual criticism is "but I will never drop it to 0hp in one blow". Here is the crucial point: as a DM you should only make this tactic easy on targets that are, in fact, already killable in one blow*.

Think about it: this tactic is a "common genre motif" only when the target is in fact unimportant (or viceversa, when the target is actually the protagonist, when the story demands it should be captured but cannot be killed). You never see the protagonists sap the BBEG in a movie unless the movie specifically wants to deliver a morale that evil is not absolute i.e. the BBEG can be redeemed, or there is a chance for justice to take care of the BBEG (e.g. arrest him). Introducing a rule which allows a PC party to easily sap an NPC of their same level is dangerous, because they might start to use it for bypassing climatic battles instead of fighting, by constantly using sapping + coupdegrace. In 5e even the Assassin's Assassinate ability only takes you one step forward, but I don't think it makes it too easy to kill an equal NPC on a regular basis, maybe at the lower levels.

*apart from the fact that you might actually get 2 or even more blows before they can react
 

TheHirumaChico

Explorer
Yep, it was deliberate. Single shot kills (knockouts are functionally no different to kills in terms of their effect on combat) are incredibly powerful abilities. The way to take a target out of the the game is to reduce it to zero Health. Plus conditions apply to PCs too, and I avoid conditions which mean “you have to stop playing this game for a while now.”
Understood, and again I greatly appreciate getting the rationale of choices made directly from the source so quickly!

And @M3woods thanks for the very relevant suggestion! I am utilizing those nifty Mook and Boss rules for lethal combat, but in this specific case, my players were trying to capture the opponent, who is a "henchmen" (a level between mook and boss in old Spycraft RPG parlance). I was honestly happy for them not being able to "one-punch" her, and she managed to escape through judicious use of luck dice and her "Lucky Escape" exploit (I had hoped to have her reappear, but wasn't going to force it).

Nevertheless, the "Vulcan nerve-pinch/karate-chop-to-neck/sap-to-the-back-of-the-head = character-go-night-night" is a common action story genre trope that my players and I are discussing how to handle. It's great to hear the designer's insight on the decision to not have it in the rules as published, and it's a decision that many other RPG designers have also made. I am lucky to have a great group of players who understand that the knife cuts both ways, and we've developed the trust that if the bad guys do it to them, they will eventually have opportunities to get themselves out of the jam (despite my general adherence to The Evil Overlord Manifesto).

In my game we're currently using Eons 129 Extreme Conditions and so I'm currently leaning towards adding an option in my game to the list of Called Shots to send the opponent directly to Dazed 3. To mitigate it a bit, I'm thinking of giving it a limited duration, maybe 1d6 rounds (max if a mook), then the victim automatically recovers to Dazed 2 and can start attempting to "shake it off". I'd be delighted with any feedback on this concept. It will still be considered a temporary condition, so that non-mook characters can still spend a luck die to cancel the condition as a reaction. Thanks again for all the responses thus far.
 

Regarding the Vulcan nerve pinch, in game mechanics that would probably be some powerful nonlethal damage that requires you to grapple an opponent, but it's only available to psychically sensitive characters, who due to their PSI rating would be able to know if the target is low enough on HP for it to work. If they're not low on HP, the character can't use the power.

It was a different game system, but in the final adventure of ZEITGEIST, I wanted a scene involving a sniper NPC who had been cropping up throughout the campaign, but who had never assassinated anyone. The mission was to assassinate a target who was too well defended for a frontal assault. But, well, 20th level characters have too many HP for a single hit to work.

So I set it up like a skill challenge.

If you were fighting the target one on one, you'd need to succeed X die rolls of DC Y in order to hit enough times and deal enough damage to kill them. Meanwhile you'd be exposing yourself to risk too as they fight back. So a skill challenge with the same chance of success and equivalent stakes would be a fair way to kill an opponent, even if the narrative surrounding those dice rolls was different.

Instead of fighting for five rounds and taking some damage, to pull off the sniper assassination you needed to succeed a skill check to learn the target's route, another to pick the right vantage, another to arrive stealthily, and a final one to assess the ideal time to shoot. For each of these, you can get a bonus to your roll for good ideas. Then you make an attack roll, and if you hit, it's a crit and the target makes a Fort save based on the damage dealt to avoid dying. If you roll a natural crit, you kill the target.

However along the way, if you fail a check, you are risking bringing down an overwhelming force against you, far worse than if you just faced the target one-on-one. And even if you pull off the assassination, you have to get away from the response. So while there was only one attack roll, there was a lot of chances of failure. I basically used the Lee Harvey Oswald assassination of JFK as a guideline, and heck, it took Oswald three shots to kill Kennedy.

---

For a one-hit knock-out, I might call for a short skill challenge appropriate to the threat the subject poses. First you have to catch them unaware (Stealth check? or Deception?), then figure out how to hit them just right for a knock-out (some sort of Medicine or Int check?), and then your attack roll. Then they get a save based on how much damage you do. This would be for D&D 5e, because my brain is in that mode, and I don't recall the nuances of WOIN, but it could be something similar.

TL;DR - you might make only one attack, but you could require multiple rolls and checks in advance to set up the right conditions for that one-hit-kill, which creates a comparable risk to actually fighting the normal way.
 

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