View Full Version : A suggestion I had to make non-lethal combat less stupid

2012-04-30, 04:04 AM
I was thinking about this while coming up with a new character concept. It's a bit hard to explain but where this character comes from killing is considered to be the worst crime you can ever commit. As such, nonlethal is always the way to go.

That got me to thinking: I have NEVER seen a DnD character actually try - on a regular basis - to let an enemy live. I'm not just talking about evil characters either. Even a good character will never try to spare an enemy unless extenuating circumstances force the issue.

Why is that like that? Whatever happened to characters who just don't kill? Where's the DnD Rurouni Kenshin with a reverse bladed sword that can't kill anyone? Where's the DnD Yusuke Urameshi who had to have Genkai kill one of his enemies for him because taking a human life would have destroyed him? Even in the real world, military personnel are put through months of psychological training to make them capable of killing and a majority of them still end up with some amount of trauma from the experience. Killing is hard and causes intense psychological damage even in neutral and, yes, evil people. But even the highest pillar of righteousness in every DnD game I've seen has no problem slicing off heads left and right. The only difference is they might wax philosophical about how much they hate killing, right after they take a bath in orc blood with a sponge made from elf lung and soap made from baby guts. (And just like its namesake hyperbolic curve, my hyperbole level is rapidly approaching infinity.)

Then it hit me. The reason no DnD character gives a **** about killing is simple: the game's creators have gone out of their way to make not killing as annoying as it can possibly be. Minus four to attack is very significant, and what rational player would take that much of a hit just to avoid killing a random mook, when it doesn't affect them statistically in any way? Also, what about magic where just to make a spell NOT KILL, you need to spend a feat and add +1 to the spell level, and even then it only works with ONE energy type? What other option do you have, the so-called "diplomancy" that results in no XP or treasure and WILL piss off the DM an every other player at the table?

With that in mind, I propose the following changes.

Merciful weapon enchantment stays as is. It adds +1d6 to damage and that is worth a +1 bonus. However, I suggest the following NON-magical enhancement.

The weapon is altered in some way to make it less capable of killing. Slashing and piercing weapons have sharp points and edges dulled, bludgeoning weapons are rounded to remove hard edges, and may be made softer, arrows are made with blunt, round tips instead of sharp arrowheads, and sling bullets are changed out for lead-filled sacks. The altered weapon has the same abilities as the base weapon, but all damage it deals is non-lethal.
Alternatively, the character may spend an additional 25 gp to make the weapon capable of switching between lethal and non-lethal. Such a weapon can be switched between lethal and non-lethal as a free action.
Special: Bows, slings, and crossbows can not be made merciful, though their ammunition may be. If ranged ammunition is made merciful the listed price below is paid per 50 arrows, bolts, or bullets.
Price: As the base weapon +25 gp OR +50 gp.

Non-Lethal Substitution metamagic feat is removed. Instead, spells can be used for non-lethal attacks at the normal -4 attack penalty. If there is no attack roll (such as with a fireball) the save DC is reduced by 2. If there is no attack roll or save DC (such as with Magic Missile) then there is no penalty. The only exception is that death effects can not be made non-lethal, nor can disintegrate effects.

(For flavor purposes: Fire damage would become extreme heat instead of flames, causing pain and minor burns. Cold damage would be bitter cold that saps strength instead of liquid nitrogen and sharp shards of ice. Lightning would be reduced in current drastically - remember, voltage doesn't kill, current does! Acid would...um...acid would become like poison, I guess.)

Keep the -4 penalty to attack for non-lethal, as trying to hit someone with a sword without killing them is in fact rather difficult. However, I propose the following skill trick.

Skill Trick: Non-lethal Training
You are trained in non-lethal combat techniques to the point that you are as adept at non-lethal maneuvers as you are at lethal ones. When using a weapon with which you have weapon proficiency you may deal non-lethal damage with that weapon without taking a penalty to your attack roll. If you are capable of casting spells, damaging spells may also be made to deal non-lethal damage without any penalty to attack or save DC.
Cost: 2 skill points

I think this is fair. For a one-time cost of 2 skill points - the same as a barbarian learning to read and write - the character can do non-lethal damage with no penalty. (In Pathfinder, maybe make this 1 skill point?)

Just a reminder. From Book of Exalted Deeds.

One handed martial melee weapon. Costs 2 gp. Damage (bludgeoning, non-lethal): 1d6 (S), 1d8 (M), or 2d6 (L). Critical x2. Weighs 15 lbs. A rogue using a truncheon can deal extra non-lethal damage on a sneak attack, but only if he is proficient in the weapon's use.

A consideration, that I'm still not sure about. If a weapon deals non-lethal damage by default, such as a sap, truncheon, or any merciful weapon, any damaging enchantment placed on the weapon (ie. Flaming, Shocking Burst, et cetera) also deals non-lethal damage of the appropriate type. Note that this only applies if the weapon deals non-lethal damage by default. If the damage is rendered non-lethal by other means, such as a troll's regeneration ability, any extra damage is still lethal.

2012-04-30, 05:48 AM
The same reason that alignment is so simplistic. The game clearly is designed to be simple heroic fantasy, with depth and complications being very clearly added as the game progressed. Just be glad you're not playing in the heyday of Gygaxian D&D, where PC life was every bit as cheap as NPC life.

Bypassing threats with stealth/diploma(n)cy/etc. does get you XP by the rules, and DMs should keep you up to WBL too. The biggest problem comes when you stop playing to kill things and take their stuff. You have a so-so skill system, and a magic system that was never thought out on a full-scale worldsim level. You'll need to retool the game so heavily, you're better off starting with something else entirely.

2012-04-30, 01:48 PM
Seems like taking Subduing Strike
[General, Fighter] (BoED p46)
You may deal nonlethal damage with a melee weapon without taking a 4 penalty on the attack would be easier, although it does take up a precious feat. And I suppose it doesn't help with spells; but then training to learn how to not kill someone with a pointy metal stick seems much more doable than learning to not kill someone with a blast of raw elemental energy. There a lots of spells more focused around trapping a target rather than hurting them. (Such as Binding, Binding Winds, Shadow Binding, Bands of Steel, Briar Web, Dancing Web, Web, Entangle, Howling Chain, Halt Undead, Hold Person, Hold Monster, etc, etc.) Granted, they don't quite pack the same punch, and not everyone has access to enough books to know about all of them, but my point is that ultimately the tools to be nonlethal are available if the player feels like looking for them. PCs kill nearly indiscriminately not because it's the only choice, or even the only convenient choice, but because that's what players want their PCs to do.