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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    In a game I'm currently in, I'm trying to figure out if it's possible to do less damage than I would normally roll. This got me thinking about 'pulling punches' rules in various systems, and wanting to get y'all's thoughts on what penalty (if any) you think should exist for trying to do less damage.

    I think some penalty makes sense realistically, since it would take extra thought/energy/precision to do less damage than you have trained to do. On the other hand, for less crunchy and more narrative games, I like the idea of the player deciding what happens when they defeat somebody: dead, knocked out, crippled but conscious, etc.

    By 'pulling punches', let's define it primarily as the goal of knocking somebody out instead of killing them. This would also mean having at most a very small chance of killing someone by nonlethal damage 'spilling over' to lethal, or doing enough to put them into the dead range of negative HP, whatever the mechanic is in a given system.

    Here's some examples I know of (please correct me if I'm wrong--less certain about D&D than the others):
    • D&D 3.5: I think it was something like a -1 to accuracy to try to KO someone when using a lethal weapon
    • D&D 5e: no penalty to do nonlethal damage
    • Mutants & Masterminds: no penalty, in the sense that you can decide if you kill or KO when you drop someone
    • Exalted 2nd edition: can take a -1 to accuracy to do nonlethal damage instead of lethal. (Nonlethal can still spill over to lethal and slay someone, but is usually unlikely unless you do a goremaul or something similar.)
    • oWoD Mage: with spells, you can choose to cap the damage it will do before you roll Arete. So you can keep yourself from doing max damage with, say, a Forces 2 or 3 blast. I don't know of any oWoD way to inflict less damage when doing mundane combat


    The game I'm playing currently is In Nomine (PCs are angels or demons), and it seems fitting for some penalty there since part of the game is trying to keep a low-profile, which includes not killing humans. In it, humans generally have 4 to 8 HP, and they die when they reach the negative of their HP (so if 4 HP, KO at 0, die at -4). There doesn't seem to be any 'pull punches' mechanic, and my strongman character has a chance of killing some folk with his punches (they do 4 to 9 damage). (His sword does 10-15 damage, so it is very likely to kill somebody against mundanes.) For the narrative of the game, it seems reasonable to not let a super-strong celestial not have to worry about killing humans. Such is the tradeoff for making such a tough being. BUT I'm not sure if the "have to worry" should be being unable to pull punches or just a penalty when trying to.
    ...the way the combat system works, a penalty to accuracy can equate directly to a penalty to damage, so decreasing accuracy to decrease the damage would do this pretty well, if one were to houserule.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    I don't think it is actually possible to do such with most historical weapons.

    Swords are relatively light. Being smacked with the flat might sting, but it won't end a fight.
    Maces are brutal: you might do *less* damage and avoid breaking heads, joints, and other places that heal badly (or not, assuming magical healing)
    axes might work if you hit with the flat of the thing. They probably still hit like a frying pan (less mass but longer handle) but probably work best of any historical weapon.

    AD&D had a complex system for subduing dragons by "using the flat". This entirely relied on the honor of the dragon (think twice before doing it on red ones) and wasn't expected to do real damage. You might be able to knock NPCs/monsters out in later editions, but nobody really tried to explain how it worked.

    Note that depending on the "gritty realism" of your setting you might be setting yourself up for some dangerous misunderstandings. Saps and similar were the preferred weapons of slavers (don't want to damage the merchandise) and some parties/NPC might attack on sight. At least expect any paladin to do a quick "detect evil" (and even attack on a positive) while carrying something like that (slaver, dirty cop, whatever. I can't imagine a paladin suffering an evil character to bear a sap. Then again, I really don't think paladins are compatible with "gritty realism", so don't try to force a PC paladin into such a situation).

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Quote Originally Posted by JeenLeen View Post
    This got me thinking about 'pulling punches' rules in various systems, and wanting to get y'all's thoughts on what penalty (if any) you think should exist for trying to do less damage.
    No penalty. It should always be up to the attacker to decide whether the damage is lethal or not.

    Exceptions may apply for games where lethality levels are part of the narrative and/or game mechanics. But if players have a choice between trying to kill or subdue their opponents, there is no need to penalize the latter. Having to deal with subdued enemies is already enough of a complication.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Malimar's Avatar

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    In 3.5, dealing nonlethal damage with a lethal weapon (or, IIRC, vice versa) was a -4 to accuracy. Some attacks (like a monk's unarmed strike) can do either at no penalty.

    In 5e, there's no difference in damage type, you just decide when you reduce the foe to zero whether they're dead or knocked out. (At least, that's how my group plays; not absolutely certain that's the actual rule.)

    In WoD, IIRC, weapons do different kinds of damage depending on what kind of weapon they are, and no allowance is made for doing different kinds of damage than the weapon natively does.

    I played a system where there's no allowance for non-lethal damage at all -- but you have as many HP of unconsciousness below zero as you do above zero, so it's very difficult to bring a person from conscious all the way to dead in one hit.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    ClericGirl

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Quote Originally Posted by wumpus View Post
    Swords are relatively light. Being smacked with the flat might sting, but it won't end a fight.
    When you're using a sword as a blunt instrument, you don't hit them with the flat. You use the pommel to, well, pummel them, and it's brutally effective. What in the Nine Hells is this "hit with the flat" thing?

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Genre, genre, genre. That's what this comes down to, ultimately - there are specific (sub)genres where knocking opponents out should be the default, where killing is something you have to make a point of doing even when you're throwing around explosions, fire, etc., most notably most of the superhero genre. Then there's genres where specific escalation is practically a genre assumption, where you take people in unarmed when possible but have to pull guns and kill real threats (e.g most genres that follow cops).
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    i don't know about any system specific things as homeruling is my favorite past-time. here's what i do regardless of the system i play (predominantly 7dsystem but some 5e too)

    if a player wants to pull a punch.

    i have them first roll regular dmg. in most cases when they're doing this they don't need to aim or whatever, because the person is either close to unconscious or is subdued or some such. if they need to "roll to hit" then i have them do so with adv. if the case warrants, that's a seperate problem.

    for not outright killing them.

    i have two things, first. i take into account how many "hit points/injuries/fill in the blanks" they have left as an NPC. and then when the player has rolled dmg. if it's enough to kill that person, i have them roll a constitution "save" or whatever the mechanic calls for. if they succeed, awesome. they're knocked out.

    this is when i award players with "knock out experience" they become 1 step closer to being a master of not killing people outright. so the next time. it's easier.

    much easier to do in 7d as its skills based and not level based, but in 5e i've used adv. and modifier dice like a d4 to negate dmg.

    i dunno.

    if you're the DM, use what works, could be a coin flip and they call it and get it wrong and you say "sorry... in your attempt, they broke sooner than you'd thought they would and you killed them." but if they succeed then yay. no problem.

    if you're the player, well talk to you DM about it. they might just say "oh cool yeah they're unconscious."

    but yeah.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Malimar's Avatar

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Quote Originally Posted by Malimar View Post
    In 5e, there's no difference in damage type, you just decide when you reduce the foe to zero whether they're dead or knocked out. (At least, that's how my group plays; not absolutely certain that's the actual rule.)
    For the record, I think 5e's solution is the best. Coincidentally, it's also pretty much the simplest.

    It only becomes an issue when some party members want a foe taken alive and other party members want them killed, which is luckily a pretty rare occurrence.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    In LFG you take a -2 penalty, and if the attack reduces the target to zero, you knock them out. I dont think taking prisoners should be too easy, combat should be dangerous.
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    NinjaGirl

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Quote Originally Posted by Malimar View Post
    In 5e, there's no difference in damage type, you just decide when you reduce the foe to zero whether they're dead or knocked out. (At least, that's how my group plays; not absolutely certain that's the actual rule.)
    That's the actual rule, at least for melee weapon attacks. We typically play with a homebrew rule that ranged and spell attacks can also try for nonlethal hits, but this results in the target being treated the same as a player character reduced to 0 by lethal damage. This means that the target will usually survive, especially if medical attention is provided after, but with no guarantees.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    I'm not familiar with In Nomine besides knowing the barest basics, but in that specific case I agree that someone with supernatural stats should have to exercise extreme caution to avoid fallout. Strength being just one example. It's also a very niche genre, when mythic creatures have to hide their mythic-ness from the world around them. (To step into nearby genres, only the oldest and most alien white wolf style vampires should risk breaking the masquerade by forgetting their own strength, since most elders are inhumanly controlled and most youngsters try to remain close to their humanity. And all but the most gritty supers should default to knocking out, because it's primarily an escapist genre.)

    For the vast majority of games, I say to just let the players chose nonlethal knockouts unless there's no way the attack could complete nonfatally. Maybe not quite as realistic, but I have up caring about realism a long time ago.

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    MindFlayer

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    in gurps4e there's no non lethal damage but you can choose what strength score you're rolling on (of course with a maximum of your strength and a minimum of zero). this coupled with the higher amount of negative hp you can get into means you can't guarantee a non lethal takedown using damage. Also you can use debilitating weapons like stun guns but if someone fails by too much they can have a heart attack.

    in wh40k games there's a stun action where you make an attack at a penalty vs the opponents head and the damage makes the opponent stunned for the turns equal to what damage you'd normally do and give a level of fatigue. Also if you get more fatigue that your toughness bonus (which is normally 3 or four) you fall unconcious which might mean very long assaults to knock someone unconscious .

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Quote Originally Posted by LudicSavant View Post
    When you're using a sword as a blunt instrument, you don't hit them with the flat. You use the pommel to, well, pummel them, and it's brutally effective. What in the Nine Hells is this "hit with the flat" thing?
    He wanted "pulling punches". You don't use something called a "murder stroke" if your goal is "pulling punches".

    - I think "hitting with the flat" came from dim memories of Narnia tales. I don't think anyone ever tried it with a real sword.

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Quote Originally Posted by wumpus View Post
    I think "hitting with the flat" came from dim memories of Narnia tales. I don't think anyone ever tried it with a real sword.
    It also comes up in the Silimarillion, where Feanor repeatedly hits someone with the flat of his sword while chasing them around, though in that context he's clearly trying to humiliate and not cause serious injury.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

    I'm not joking one bit. I would buy the hell out of that.
    -- ChubbyRain

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    So what they do in GURPS is there is no such thing as subdual damage. But you can go for locations, for example hits to the Skull will often take someone out very quickly. You can voluntarily reduce the amount of damage you do. So if you do 2d6+2, you can make it 1d+2 if you like.

    So say you are fighting some guy with no armour and you want them alive.

    So you target the Skull (-7 penalty) and if you succeed, you are only rolling 1d+2 instead of your normal damage because you want them to survive.

    The Skull has DR 2, so you will do 1d6 damage, quadrupled because it's a brain hit.

    If you do 1 point (4 points total) they will likely still be standing.

    If you do 2 points (8 points total) that's a Major Wound and they have to roll vs. HT-10 (due to location) to avoid Stun and if they fail by 5 or more (which they probably will), you knock them out. If you do 3 or 4 points, this has a similar effect on normal people.

    If you do 5 or 6 points, they need to roll vs. unmodified HT or they will die. 50/50 chance for an average person, tougher people will have a better chance to survive or may not even need to roll to avoid dying.

    So the randomness makes it somewhat realistic in that hitting people in the head with heavy blunt objects will take them out quite easily but it's hard not to risk seriously injuring someone if you're hitting them hard enough to knock them unconscious.
    Last edited by Mr Beer; 2018-06-17 at 08:53 PM.
    Re: 100 Things to Beware of that Every DM Should Know

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    93. No matter what the character sheet say, there are only 3 PC alignments: Lawful Snotty, Neutral Greedy, and Chaotic Backstabbing.

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    WindStruck's Avatar

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Quote Originally Posted by LudicSavant View Post
    What in the Nine Hells is this "hit with the flat" thing?
    I think that's what the people today call "spanking" or "corporal punishment".

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    I find it odd that 5th edition didn't at least add a disadvantage. But I guess it comes with that nobody would take a feat to negate the penalty for that in that edition.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: [across systems] penalty for pulling punches

    Thanks for the input. I think, in a general fantasy game like D&D, I like 5e's solution the most: just choose if KO or dead. I do like mechanical simplicity and narrative ease, and that provides both. For a heroic game like superheroes, where good doesn't kill: KO the base and extra effort to kill.

    For some niche games, having a severe penalty or no real option for safely pulling punches seems legitimate. I'm reminded of an odd Exalted game I was in (2e rules, but it was in a modern setting where superheroes had been a while but Exalts were just showing up, so we were 'supers' and thus tried to avoid killing.) I thought an enemy had enough health to survive my claw attack (Wood Dragon Claw), and... well, technically I was right, but he was bleeding out rather badly. And then another person I hit got splashed with a fire attack someone else used and died. But it made sense for the game, since part of it was balancing efficiency verses morality. Likewise, for In Nomine, it makes sense to have some real difficulty since it's supposed to be hard to hide your celestial nature when beating up street thugs.

    As a side note, the more-relevant penalty for Exalted 2nd edition, at least when fighting mortals, was that mortals can soak bashing damage but not lethal. So if I take the -1 accuracy to make my damage bashing, I probably wind up doing a fair bit less damage.
    Last edited by JeenLeen; 2018-06-19 at 08:45 AM.

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