View Full Version : [3.5] Coup de grace

2010-02-23, 01:24 PM
Recently, I've been thinking about coup de grace as a DM tool. I was talking to one of my players, and he believes it isn't a fair move by the DM, since it's essentially saying "reroll this character or quit". He argues that it would be much more effective to capture that player to use as a plot hook later. He also thinks resurrection quests are boring.

I agree that a captured player makes for a nice plot hook, but I think there are cases where it just doesn't make sense to capture a player when the threat could be dealt with easier by killing them, and holding them offers no advantage. For example, if the enemy can't expect a ransom for the person, then why keep them? Also, if the players have a cleric, and the tank keeps on being dropped and then getting back up, surely the enemy would strive to do a better job keeping them dead?

I'm not a killer DM, but I do believe it's important to keep some semblance of risk in DnD, or the players will start to play poorly, thinking that the DM won't let them die. I don't believe they should suffer a meaningless, spiteful death the instant their health drops below 0, but if they're isolated and their friends abandon them to save their own skins, and the enemy has no reason to keep them alive, then I think that a coup de grace is in order.

What does the playground think?

2010-02-23, 01:28 PM
Have the BBEG capture them, not for a ransom, but to sacrifice them to their fiendish overlord for greater power. Naturally, this will involve a long and complicated ritual that the other party members can race to interrupt.

Yes, it makes more sense to just off them now, (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ptitlel164s0xw?from=Main.WhyDontYaJustShootHim) but it's also needlessly dickish. It's fine to kill your players if they screw up too much, but it's always good to leave them a way out.

Human Paragon 3
2010-02-23, 01:30 PM
One idea is to have named villains perform coup de gras. gives players extra insentive to track down and kill them.

2010-02-23, 01:41 PM
You are exactly right.

Given that a coup de grace can only really be performed on a helpless character who is at the mercy of the enemy, how is it unfair? The PC in question has essentially already lost the battle. Any unfairness that might have happened on the DMs part has likely happened already. :smallwink:

Also, in a world with (or at least a campaign high enough level for) raises and resurrections, killing someone is really just a mundane form of Plane Shift. Having to go on a 'side quest' to achieve/afford a resurrection isn't much worse than having to go on a 'side quest' to free a captured PC from whatever prison complex or slaver ship or what have you that he got sent to on this plane. To *truly* make a permanent end of things, the BBEG needs to go about trapping souls in gems and the like, or at least just destroying the body to the point that only the highest level magics can bring them back. Constant use of that last tactic might be labelled as unfair, but an intelligent high level BBEG who has experience with such matters might feel the need or desire to do it against an especially hated foe (like a pesky PC who is always foiling his plans).

2010-02-23, 01:51 PM
Use, but with extreme caution. If you have rogues sneak into camp at night and coup de grace them all in their sleep, your players will probably not be thrilled. And remember, we're supposed to be having fun here. Repeated "you die" moments are not particularily fun.

Now, identify the opportunity(say...the players didn't post guards), and use it to do something less boring, but still evil to them. They wake up, and their horses and supplies are missing. Evidence that they committed a crime has been hidden on them, and the law has been sent. Whatever fits in the world and is entertaining.

CdG should only be used after a player has already lost, and there is absolutely no reason they would possibly be kept alive. Many animals will not normally CdG, though some might. It depends on their nature. Use it at the end of the fight, not in place of the fight.

2010-02-23, 04:43 PM
I would say it all depends on pre-set expectations.

If the expectation is that the GM will try to avoid player death whenever possible (or even work to avoid it where reasonable), then its dickish when ther
are other options.

If the expectation is that err, stuff, happens, and it makes sense for the villain to kill the character, than, hey, thats the way it goes.

(not that these are the only two expectations....just 2 fairly opposite samples)

Personally, my main GM would not Coup de Grace a PC unless it: A: just wouldn't make sense for the villain to not do so, or B: Player/Character was really asking for it, whether by provoking said villain, or doing stupidly reckless stuff, or what have you.

2010-02-23, 06:24 PM
I don't for one reason: it's often a waste of actions. If they're able to be coup de grace'd, that often means they're down and out for a decent amount of time. Actions are better spent attacking a different PC rather than coup de gracing a non-threat. If the opportunity presents itself, however, I won't be averse to it. Part of it depends on what the goals of the enemy is - oftentimes a dead guy is a lot less useful than a live one that you can torture for information, for ransom, or for fun.

Foryn Gilnith
2010-02-23, 06:39 PM
and the enemy has no reason to keep them alive, then I think that a coup de grace is in order.

If you're greedy enough, and you have the right connections, there's always a reason to keep an able body alive. Slave rings yay.

As a DM, I tend to be lenient, and I'd probably concede the point. As a player, though, my reaction is as follows:

Shut up, sit down, stop whining, stop telling the GM how to do his job, stop metagaming, stop being a *****, suck it up and reroll the damn character already.

2010-02-23, 06:49 PM
Tricky to say, because you've got two conflicting priorities.

On the one hand, enemies who are trying to kill you have absolutely no reason to leave a PC to get up again if they know he's still a potential threat, and it's a good idea to make the bad guys scary. If the players know that enemies won't fight fair and will kill them if they get the chance, it makes battles much more exciting.

On the other hand, an escape attempt or an attempt by the other PCs to rescue a character from death, sacrifice or slavery is much more dramatic than rolling up a new character (although the logistics of it can be hard to run). And having a long-running character suffer something painful is usually way more interesting than offing them. :)

In general, my rule is that I'll have enemies take PCs prisoner rather than CdGing them if there's any reasonable justification for it. However, this only extends as long as the players are smart. If you go down once in a battle, monsters will ignore you, but if you go down, heal up, get up again, keep on fighting, and then go down again, then yes, they're going to CdG you. Letting the PC get up a third time would just be stupid.

2010-02-23, 07:01 PM
I had a "bastard" DM who made a frequent habit of it. Well, and killing PCs in general. We were scared to death of leaving allies where they could be CdG'ed, and always retrieved their bodies. Being captured wasn't much better, b/c someone could die trying to rescue him. And it was a blast. OTOH he also gave out a lot of resurrections. One player said you weren't a true member of the group until you had at least one death on your belt. I'm not saying to become kill-happy yourself, but don't be afraid to leave at least some risk. It adds excitement.

Occasional Sage
2010-02-23, 07:04 PM
If there's a chance that the character could get back up and be dangerous, an intelligent enemy would take the opportunity to kill them. CdG makes sense for paralyzed etc. PCs, while it makes more sense to use the final attack in their chain if they're down (last, since there's no Dex bonus and a +4 vs prone targets). It keeps a quick healing or Dispel from increasing the action imbalance of a party.

That said, intelligent play isn't always fun for the PCs. I'd make it an open conversation for, like, ten minutes before a session to see what the consensus is in the abstract. Some people (like me) like the spice of danger, while some players think that level of lethality takes the fun out of the game.

If your players won't have fun, don't do it. Otherwise, keep them on their toes.

2010-02-23, 08:26 PM
I get in line with most people before me.

If a character is helpless, he's not a threat right now and all enemies should concentrate on those characters who are still fighting.
But if the enemies have nothing better to do than to stab someone who's allready disabled, that character is allready taken out of play.

What happens then really depends on the enemy. If it's just some beast that is defending itself, it might let the disabled character lie where he fell and leave the scene. If the situation is chaotic enough, the enemies might either forget or not bother about checking if that one body on the ground is actually dead. And under some circumstances the enemy commander might decide he wants this character for interrogation or as a hostage.
But if the rest of the PCs are forced to flee and leave their comrade behind, I think it's too much of a great opportunity for storytelling to not have them look back and watch one big mean orc impale their friend with a spear! :smalleek:
It depends on the game, but if the enemies have to go out of their way to allow the downed PC to get picked up and healed by his friends, you're putting up character shields, which greatly changes the way the game is played.

But I also agree that just stabbing a downed PC in the heart in the middle of the battle, just because there's no way someone can reach that one goblin in time, is just mean.

2010-02-23, 08:37 PM
Something that bugs me. CdG is of course annoying. It shouldn't be used outside of a failed combat, since if the PCs are sleeping, there are far more fun things to do to them. Some form of improved sleep + sovereign glue tends to produce funny and extremely problematic problems.

However, why can't a sorc just plainshift out of his "heaven"? I understand everyone else, barring wizards who can prepare it without their books, and possibly clerics.

2010-02-24, 09:14 AM
I had a case where really, I should have used CdG. Basically, a Mind flayer's special ability(Psychic wave or something) paralyzed/held the ranger. The Mind Flayer also had a warrior under his thumb(npc) to do his bidding. It would make perfect sense that on the said warrior's turn, the warrior was directed to the ranger and slit his throat while the mind flayer continued fighting the rest of the party. I didn't do it, with some lamearse excuse that the warrior still had some semblence of what is right and what is wrong and that it was not in his "code" to kill people who couldn't defend themselves.

But really, that can have an adverse effect for the party, if you do it too much. I think I spared every single member of my party from certain death at least once, be it with saying I didn't hit them, by doing less damage then I actually did or by giving them some items that shouldn't be there. That can lead to the lack of respect and thoughts of invincibility, which is why I will put it up a notch and start killing them off when they screw up to preserve some doze of realism and instill the knowledge that yes, they can die.

2010-02-24, 09:21 AM
Incidentally, guys, on a sort-of tangential thread: what's the effective range at which you can attempt a coup de grace? I'd understood you had to be "adjacent" to the target, but does that actually mean five feet away? I mean, for example, if you've got the rogue pinging from 10 feet away against a helpless target, is he ruled out from a CdG because he isn't considered "adjacent"? :smallconfused:

2010-02-24, 09:22 AM
Basically, a Mind flayer's special ability(Psychic wave or something) paralyzed/held the ranger.
If you're talking about Mind Blast, and I'm pretty sure you are, that does not paralyze. It stuns. Stunned is not paralyzed. Stunned is a very bad condition, causing you to take no actions, drop held items, lose dex to AC, and take an extra AC penalty, but it is not paralyzed and it does not allow CdG.

Incidentally, guys, on a sort-of tangential thread: what's the effective range at which you can attempt a coup de grace? I'd understood you had to be "adjacent" to the target, but does that actually mean five feet away? I mean, for example, if you've got the rogue pinging from 10 feet away against a helpless target, is he ruled out from a CdG because he isn't considered "adjacent"? :smallconfused:
Yes, the rogue would be unable to CdG from that distance - assuming he's using a bow or other ranged weapon. If he's using a melee weapon and just happens to have 10' reach, that's different. Also, he could 5' step closer and CdG with his bow, as taking a 5' step does not prevent taking a full round action in the same round.

2010-02-24, 09:23 AM
However, why can't a sorc just plainshift out of his "heaven"? I understand everyone else, barring wizards who can prepare it without their books, and possibly clerics.

Because they're dead and practically mindless. Also, dead souls lose all class features.

2010-02-24, 09:32 AM
So long as you keep Resurection available, and wait until things have tapered off to the mop phase there shouldn't be an issue. Characters die, if the players can't live with it then they have to find another solution. Hell in the first game I ran the character death actually opened up an option later where the party started an extraplanar crusade when they went to rest on Ysgard....

2010-02-24, 10:00 AM
As a cinematically appropriate house rule, I say that the coup de grace can be broken up into a move action (getting ready to murder them) and a standard action (murdering them). This means you can ready an action to get people to do as you say, using the threat of CdGing an enemy to make their friends let you escape/hand over the idol/whatever.

2010-02-24, 10:31 AM
This completely depends on your players.

If your players enjoy games like CoC or Dark Sun and such and you have not really shown them much mercy in whatever campaign you running now, then I would be surprised if they were not pissed off that you DIDNT kill them. I for one even when playing in a rather tame (in terms of PC mortality rates) game would rather the DM do what the villain really would do, and if that means decapitate my dying character then so be it, I got at least 20 character concepts at any given time I would like to try.

But from the sound of it, you got at least 1 player that would probably not find it too fun, so in your case I would avoid doing it. Even if it is a bit far-fetched, instead of finishing off a PC just do as the others have suggested and have him captured, held for ransom, enslaved, whatever just not killed.

Beowulf DW
2010-02-24, 12:23 PM
I think it was mentioned in a few posts that to prevent raise dead and other such spells from cheapening the idea of death in high level campaigns (creating the proverbial revolving door) that a villain should destroy the body. That could work (story-wise) in some situations, but not all. A better way might be to have the villain collect the body of his slain enemy. This achieves the objective of denying the other PCs the body, but it gives you more options for roleplaying. The villain may have taken the body to perform a burial rite out of respect for his slain enemy. Or the villain might want to examine his enemy's corpse for any number of reasons. Another option is that the villain intends to turn the PC's body into some kind of powerful undead.

2010-02-24, 01:08 PM
You're too nice. I lost a character when the same DM I mentioned before trapped his soul. That's how you knew it was finally time to reroll. :smallbiggrin: Like I said, I don't expect every DM to be so mean, but a measure of risk is awesome for campaign excitement.