Dungeons & Dragons Online

Giving Quarter: Making players’ mercy complicated and compelling

Content of the article: "Giving Quarter: Making players’ mercy complicated and compelling"

Over-Lengthy Preamble:

I'm currently running a game in an urban setting where the players' choices to spare or kill their foes is going to be an important factor in how the plot develops. Beyond that, the simple decision to engage in a fight rather than run or use social skills will affect how various civic factions relate to the players.

If fighting and its consequences – death or injury – are going to be poorly received, I want to give the players a chance to mitigate the outcome when they really just have to throw down. And when they do fight, especially if they're trying to keep inside the bounds of the law, I want to make things more dramatic, chaotic, and compelling. I decided to put together a little system to elaborate on this idea.

Now, based on established rules, players get to choose whether to show mercy at the moment when their opponent in combat is downed, provided that the attack is made in melee (PHB p. 198: 'Knocking a Creature Out'), but this felt a little bland to me.

I figured that mercy should be a choice made before the attack connects, not afterwards. If mercy offers a bonus – sparing the fallen – it should also have a malus – less damage, and usually disadvantage on the attack.

But even an attempt to be merciful, to heighten the drama, should not be automatically effective – the only way to be completely sure of avoiding a kill is to avoid the fight in the first place.

And since death isn't the only social consequence of a fight, I figured that enemy NPCs could experience injuries that players could remove through the use of healing. Since we're talking about erasing injuries (instantly) rather than aiding in convalescence, this would only be possible through healing magic, rather than by application of a healer's kit or a Medicine skill check. I'm a lot less sure about the applicability of this part of the system.

All of these factors are randomized by a d20 roll at the moment that an NPC is downed, the only other complication being that certain outcomes require death saves to be rolled for these downed NPCs. I like to give this responsibility to the players who rolled that first d20 – i.e., the one who downed the enemy – to give them additional investment in the outcome.

So far, this has been working well – let me know what you think!

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Merciful and Mortal Blows

What is this?

This is an alternative system for handling outcomes for defeated enemies, particularly in settings where the players are encouraged to avoid killing their foes.

This system tries to take into account a very small degree of verisimilitude when it comes to using lethal weapons in a combat setting, particularly with regards to the consequences thereof.

It does this by distinguishing between merciful and mortal blows, and by permitting different outcomes, good and bad, for players employing restraint in combat.

Finally, this system defines variable requirements for healing or saving downed foes when such is desired, and it sometimes assumes that the DM has the tools to employ Death Saving Throws for those foes as if they were player characters.

Merciful and Mortal Blows

To maintain balance in a setting where every death matters, weapons designed to kill should be difficult to use to knock out an opponent, whereas those designed to incapacitate should have some penalty associated with them. The players should also have the ability to use variable levels of force throughout combat (striking with the flat of the blade, the pommel, etc.), represented as merciful or mortal blows.

Mortal blows are simply the effect of normal attack rolls, applying damage as usual. A foe downed by a mortal blow is subject to the mortal blow injury chart below. This will usually result in death, albeit often not instantaneous death. Ranged weapons, including thrown weapons, and spell attack rolls can only inflict mortal blows.

Players can choose instead to employ merciful blows when they make an attack roll. In almost every case, this means that they will make the attack at disadvantage, since they are attacking in a way that doesn't make best use of the weapon's design as a killing instrument. If the blow connects, the attack instead inflicts 1d4 bludgeoning damage, plus the character's strength or dexterity modifier, whichever would apply to the weapon normally. If this damage reduces the target to zero hitpoints, it is subject to the merciful blow injury chart below.

In this system, the only two weapons in any category that can be used for merciful blows without penalty are the unarmed strike and the club, the latter representing a variety of blunt objects like batons, rods, or saps.

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Stitching Things Together

In addition to the simple question of life or death, players may also be responsible for ensuring they don't leave a trail of seriously-injured enemies behind them. In such a case, an injury healing requirement may be set based on the type of blow and consequence rolled on the two tables below. Until the requirement is met, the enemy will remain injured for the duration listed under injury duration.

In each case, the actual description or mechanics of the injury should be left up to the discretion of the DM – all an injury needs to be is something that complicates the aftermath of the combat. As always, please have special consideration for your players' stated preferences regarding violent imagery. There is no need for a more nuanced system of injuries or bloodshed to be accompanied by a more stomach-turning description thereof. Encouraging players to take responsibility for the aftermath of their fights doesn't necessitate guilting or disgusting them.

The Consequence of Falling Down

Each time a foe or character is reduced to zero hitpoints, the player responsible for the defeated foe should roll a d20 and consult the relevant table below. Note that only the final blow counts when determining which table is to be used.

Mortal Blow Injuries

Roll (d20) Consequence Healing Requirement Injury Duration
1-3 Instant death n/a n/a
4-7 Begin rolling death saving throws, starting with two failures Greater restoration, heal, or curative magic of similar potency permanent
8-10 Begin rolling death saving throws, starting with one failure 40 hitpoints of curative magic, lesser restoration, or curative magic of similar potency one month
11-15 Begin rolling death saving throws 20 hitpoints of curative magic two weeks
16-19 Stabilized and unconscious 10 hitpoints of curative magic five days
20 Stabilized and incapacitated 5 hitpoints of curative magic none

Merciful Blow Injuries

Roll (d20) Consequence Healing Requirement Injury Duration
1 Instant death n/a n/a
2-3 Begin rolling death saving throws, starting with one failure 30 hitpoints of curative magic, lesser restoration, or curative magic of similar potency one month
4-7 Begin rolling death saving throws 20 hitpoints of curative magic two weeks
8-12 Stabilized and unconscious 10 hitpoints of curative magic five days
13-17 Stabilized and unconscious 5 hitpoints of curative magic one day
18-19 Stabilized and incapacitated 1 hitpoint of curative magic none
20 Reduced to 1 hitpoint, not incapacitated n/a n/a
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Thanks for reading – if you have any thoughts, please let me know!

Source: reddit.com

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