To finally shake off the holiday hibernation sickness, here’s the refinement of a process, proving yet again that the only constant in rule design is how inconstant things turn out to be. Just two posts ago I was proclaiming Dismemberment tables to be for the sole benefit of player-characters. After that, spitballed on battling giant-like creatures and how such combats lack a properly distinct character and don’t feel different enough. Sometime previously, it had been the notion of revising critical hits and the abstractions inherent to hunting what kept the mental gears grinding away.
So one’s left with this smattering of cold-meal topics: Hunting, Critical Hits, Dismemberment Tables, Large-sized creatures.
Keep calm and operate synthesis.
Todestoss, or the art of the one-hit wonder: Hunting, Ambushes, Assassination
While mentally playing with how to pan out the scenario of the patient hunter that tenses and levels his longbow at the placcid elk or the dagger poised to slip amid the oblivious camp sentry’s shoulderblades, a referee is presented with something not covered by the book’s rules: the need for the mechanical possibility of inflicting a deathblow that bypasses the gradating combat abstraction that are Hit Points.
As can be expected, mechanics for “assassination” and related rules genera may as well be seen as exclusively player-facing, despite their pretenses of all-inclusiveness. I’ve no desire to fight this particular fight and I’ve yet to witness a referee engage in one-sided player character slaying – no matter how even-handedly supported by rules – whose game did not directly careen into a ditch. I can count myself among the examples, thank you very much for asking.
But let us return to the initial huntsman scenario: assuming an elk or whichever creature endowed with a significant hit-point pool and generally treated, barring exceptional circumstances, as a shy and non-agressive beast, hunting one shouldn't really be a matter of rolling for initiative and needing a barrage of missiles or magical artillery simply to secure an evening’s meal. What is more, if the party were to wound the animal, even with multiple attacks, it could then bound away, never to be caught again, as its status of health depletion would have quite no effect on its ability to hoof along past the horizon.
No, the scenario as it should play out is that our hunter will carefully line up his shot, he’ll knock, inhale, draw, aim, loose, exhale and, should he miss, never get a second chance at that particular elk for the rest of the day, maybe the week, perhaps never. Conversely, a good hit ought to inflict a wound deep enough to momentarily stun the animal, make it leave a trail of blood or slow down as he drags along a game leg, that some further tracking effort may result in further encounters that will probably lead to its becoming a hard-won trophy.
This initial problematic, of course, is all too easy to draw out onto the more man vs. man facets of play so, in an effort to spawn a transversal rule to frame such noninteractions, I needed something that was resolvable in a couple of rolls, accounted for both the ranged and melee approaches (achieving a measure of balance between them) and that restricted eligible targets by differing mass and power level, to erect limits on those whose existence might conceivably be endable through a fortunate string of rolls – a typically DnD kind of approach, I guess, but one necessary to contain the implications of invisibility on demand, as well as supporting the fact that none if not a mithically gifted hunter could hope to bring down an elephant with a single javelin throw between the eyes, most mortals being forced to resort to the prosaic method of wearing it down volley by volley.
Critical Hits – (un)called shots
Called shots are generally regarded as a bad idea, a taut stretching of the granularity inherent to DnD’s combat that the system is not ready to support. With this I stand in agreement, though I find room for exception in the shape of the critical hit. I previously proponed that critical hits might empower the player to either translate a character’s good fortune with the traditional increase in damage output or as a successful free-form maneuver, up to and including wounding an opponent in crippling fashion. As I’ve since come to rework the dismemberment table, it seems fitting that I should contrive to double dip on my own design efforts and unravel these options apart so as to get some more mileage out of the table while at the same time more strictly systemizing the rule.
Overheadwise, it’s easy to hear the clamouring hue: whoever could care about spending table time inflicting a belabored limp on the second orc from the left, knowing all too well it is two rounds away from being dead anyway!? Agreement comes easy that here the effort is probably wasted.
But let us contrast this to the elation of hamstringing a rampaging cyclops, just at the point where it is about to brutally prevail in combat over the party, the act itself insufficient to carry the day as it turns out, but enough to prevent the hulking brute from pursuing the fleeing group due to its mangled leg tendons, would this be worth the time taken randomizing a dismemberment result? You’re reading a blog post about it, so the odds are conspicuous.
Dismemberment rolls on large creatures with a corresponding reserve of hit points seem inherently interesting as they can dramatically swing a fight and provide some granularity that is worth tracking. Hope is that, by enabling this option, this furthers the rule-agenda of differentiating large creature combats, a current windmill of choice.
This is not intended to provide a fast-track to victory or a means to bypass a monster’s Hp total, but as an accretional method of winning otherwise difficult fights by whittling down a large foe through infliction of wounds, hence contributing to the goal of making it feel like a different type of fight than the “fighting at full potential/dead” binary display that is endemic to normal DnD combat (and perfectly adequate to larger numbers of smaller foes).
Much like the above entry for killing blows, in spite of my wish for general mechanical coherence across the character spectrum – PC to NPC – what follows is also a forceful departure since, as I’ve conservatively established, it is the player character's privilege to roll for losing fingers only at the dry bottom of the hit-point well. Dipping into the murk of dismemberment before that point can well be faced as a punishment for the non-player character, though one can dub it a redress of the assymetry already inherent to employing critical hits in the first place (since NPCs get to roll plenty more dice and thus to inflict many more critical hits upon player characters, in the long run).
The Crunchy Bits
In order for a character to attempt to inflict a deathblow, a number of preconditions must be met:
- The target cannot have more than twice the attacker’s Level in number of Hit Dice;
- The attack must benefit from Advantage and both attack rolls must hit the target;
- The target’s guard must be completely down (i.e. unaware of the attempt, not engaged in combat);
A hit under the above conditions being sufficient to inflict a critical hit, then comes the deathblow attempt proper:
- The target must pass a Constitution saving throw, DC equal to the unmodified number rolled for the attack. Melee attempts will count the highest d20 result for this while ranged attempts count the lowest; Failure results in immediate death, success downgrades the hit back to a critical.
Note that even a critical hit may still - on much reduced odds - leave a victim wounded onto helplessness or even death.
Revised Critical Hits (w/Dismemberment)
Upon scoring a Critical Hit, the attacker chooses:
1) Roll double the number of damage dice, explodable;
2) Roll damage as normal and automatically succeed in a combat maneuver or stunt;
3) (Player-characters only; attack must be made with a weapon whose damage die is no more than two sizes below the target's HD size) Declare an attempt to inflict a wound: roll damage as normal and apply a roll on the Dismemberment Table to the target.
As before, unintelligent creatures will always opt for 1) whereas intelligent foes will go for whichever of 1) or 2) is worse for the target.
Dismemberment rolls on monsters can require some considerable interpretative flexibility on the part of the referee, as enemies of great size or unliving nature may flat out ignore the wounded condition and many of the table’s entries, whereas dealing with creatures with a non-humanoid body structure can make for some head-scratching randomization efforts.