Cut throats, inescapable explosions, and other misadventures

A while ago, I found myself in Peliad in a caper which we hoped would seriously disrupt the environmentally disasterous growing of exquisit silk, known as dekaffle. (What on Earth would one be doing in Peliad concerning ourselves with dekaffle, you might be thinking – surely I mean Kaffle, many miles away? But no!) We’d lured the leader of the farming group into a backroom at a pub where there was moderate privacy. We hypnotised the leader and our rogue made their way, unknown, behind them.

I was expecting that she would simply one-hit kill the oblivious, incapacited human. Hit points, I was assuming, wouldn’t need to come into it. There was a grumble around the table when the wise and well learned DM said, “roll to hit”. Dude can’t move – how’s he going to survive getting his neck sliced?

Mike’s response brought me around immediately: hit points aren’t about how much health someone has but rather their will to continue winning, which includes the amount of luck they have.

My aim with this blog post was to suggest an “assassination” house rule where appropriate situations can call for such one-shot attacks. However, after doing some more research, I’m even more brought into the idea that the current system is just fine.

  • Even paralysed, something might help the the victim survive; there are literal gods in these worlds, who may have a vested interest in keeping this person alive. In fact, we see these gods give characters hit points all the time.
  • People survive really weird things. Have you seen Hostel? Eyeballlady should be dead. But they’re still happily getting trains across Eastern Europe.
  • Players would fudging hate it if an NPC killed them in their sleep, or have to live in a constant state of fear.
  • Removing hit points is a represenation of how many blows a person has left before they pass out/die. It’s obviously rules as written, but also makes role playing your character with 1HP remaining. You don’t need to boringly play a half-dead character.

So anyway, I’m totally on board with not being able to just ignore HP. It’s a much better mechanic than I gave it credit for.

RAW, Surprise

Every time I’ve seen a surprise round happen, the rule has been different with every DM. The entire rule, including fluff, is around 150 words. Maybe I can try and explain the RAW rule in a few bullet points.

  • Surprise happens when the at least one member of the fight is being sneaky.
  • Foreach person being sneaky, compare their Stealth with the Passive Perception of each opponent.
  • Any opponent which fails the contest at least once is surprised.
  • Surprised means you can’t move, take an action (including bonus actions), or use a reaction.
  • They do still have a turn; any “at the start of your turn” and similar triggers still happen.

(Hey, only 72 words!)

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it played like that.

If I recall properly, in the game I play in most weeks, if we have surprise, we basically get a free round. This works in my head just fine: we all get to do something really quickly before they even notice what’s hit them. I believe we also typically get advantage on attacks, which may come from being Hidden.

Ultimately, I think most ways I’ve seen fulfil the purpose of what Surprise was intended to do: reward players for being smart in combat. Whilst running head first, swords blazing, is always an option, it leads to combat becoming stale. So long as there’s a reward for changing up combat somehow, I’m down for it!

Hiding isn’t the only way to kick start a fight in your advantage though. The rule ignores scenarios where the characters burst into combat mid-conversation. In this case, my group’s house rule makes a lot more sense.

Alternatively, maybe just swapping out the Passive Perception check for a Dexterity save or contested Sleight of Hand. (The downside here is that now the DM has to roll for all the NPC’s they’re running. Could Passive Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) be a thing?)