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Motivated by this D&D question, I was wondering what the options are in pathfinder for quickly (ideally <30 seconds up to perhaps 1 min, if quietly) take out an enemy not by using spells nor just normal attacks.

Ideally save-or-kill or save-or-lose kind of things. Is there a way to get a secret agent knocking out people by silently strangling them? A way to quickly apply huge amounts of non-lethal damage to knock someone out? Break someone's neck (nut just as fluff for the last lethal damage point in a grapple, that ended up killing them, but as an ability of sorts?)

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Could you be a bit clearer? As a rule of thumb, the entirety of your question should not be contained in the title, and if it is, it's an indication you might've said too little. –  doppelgreener Jan 12 at 9:35
    
sorry, I'm aware of that. was intending on editing it right away, and then spaced out. really too tired to have posted that tonight. –  Julix Jan 12 at 10:23
    
It's a list type of question, to motivate me and go through the rules and find really cool solutions, and hopefully hear some from others as well. –  Julix Jan 12 at 10:33
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Just to remind everyone we do NOT allow list questions - please try to answer comprehensively. –  mxyzplk Jan 12 at 15:04

2 Answers 2

The Sleeper hold is quite requirement hungry, but it will let you take out an enemy (making him unconscious for 1d4 rounds) in a save-or-ko kind of way. You need a dex of 13, +8 BAB, and the feats improved unarmed strike, improved grapple and greater grapple.

You declare use of this feat before you decide whether to maintain the grapple or not at the beginning of your turn. While you're using it you suffer an additional -2 to AC. Then in order for it to do anything you have to maintain it for the number of rounds equal to the enemies constitution modifier (minimum of 1 round). Then if you succeed to maintain, the enemy gets a Fortitude save (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your Str modifier), or else is knocked unconscious for 1d4 rounds. If he saves, but fails to break free you can try again the next round, and he suffers a cumulative -1 penalty to the save for each round that you continue to maintain from there on.

Example: 1. enemy with lousy grappling stats and lower than 13 constitution (like many mages). Round one, soon-to-be enemy starts by shaking your hand (too tightly... you interpret that as a grapple, which you reverse with a successful check). Your turn starts you declare the use, you hold his neck for the rest of the round. Round two, he fails to break free or do anything useful. Your turn, you maintain (as a move action), he's KO. Then if you have quick draw you pull out a rope and tie him up. Or you wait until next round and Coup de Grass him as a full round action.

The chokehold is basically a more difficult (-5), special version of pinning in which the enemy can't talk or breathe. - Ignore the description that says "cut off an opponent’s air and blood supply," as based on the effects you're really only cutting out air. The feat described above cuts out blood (and thus induces KO much faster).

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There won't be a lot of good answers to your question. The game assumes frontal assaults wherein sides engage each other in the open. No iteration of Dungeons and Dragons has been a particularly good stealth simulator because such a game needs to be built that way from the beginning, and Dungeons and Dragons and its ilk often betray their wargame roots by making what you describe extremely difficult.

Poison

This is the go-to for folks without spells. Yes, 1 in 20 of them poison themselves--and that's hilarious--but the rest successfully smear drow poison on their weapons (at home! so if they poison themselves it's private!) and stab folks into unconsciousness, smear blue whinnis on their weapons and stab folks then run away and wait to see if it works, or drop some oil of taggit (or, I guess, oil of restfulness--whatever, Pathfinder SRD) into the guards' coffee pot and watch them all nod off.

The problem with poison is acquisition (it's usually illegal) and cost (it's expensive to equip), but it does exactly what you want while not needing the character to commit a much more valuable feat resource to the task.

Demographics

Pathfinder's rules for settlements exclude the Dungeon Master's Guide's precise ability to determine every ctizen's class and level, leaving such tasks to the DM, which is fine, but it means the DM has no guidelines as to what classes and levels most citizens should be, which is also fine as that should vary by campaign.

So, if the goal is to have guards easily knocked out, make low-level guards the norm and let the PCs down them with nonlethal damage. This has several advantages.

  • Encounters are quickly generated.
  • Encounters are quickly resolved.
  • Encounters of this type make the players feel like their characters are badasses (or bullies or monsters depending on the players).
  • Encounters are worth a tiny amount of XP, if any.
  • Encounters are monetarily unrewarding.

So if most folks standing guard in a random spot are 1st-level dudes with, like, 6 hp, PCs of just about any value will be able to use their weapons to inflict sufficient nonlethal damage to down them with single attacks, but doing so is just a method to getting to the actual encounter with something that matters and will provide an actual challenge, and failure in guard elimination means activating an encounter early, which could be bad, or, worse, activating several encounters early simultaneously, which could be really bad.

This requires a conscious decision on the DM's part. It means most of the city guard will not be threats to PCs after about level 6--it'll take 19 guards committing suicide to get 1 who manages to hit a PC--and the PCs will quickly only worry about other dudes who have serious class levels. That's okay if your group isn't a bunch of spree killers and understands the world created (I mean, really John McClane doesn't commit bank robberies but stops them, and Jack Bauer's only robbed one convenience store and that's because he was running out of time!), but the campaign will be difficult to manage if the group is anxious to explore their baser instincts.

House Rules

If you want to encourage ambush tactics over frontal assaults, ambush tactics must be rewarded. The easiest way to make this happen is a house rule: "A flat-footed foe unaware of an attacker's presence is helpless versus that attacker, and a failed Fortitude saving throw versus a coup de grace administered by a weapon that inflicts nonlethal damage causes unconsciousness for 1 hour instead of death." Instantly, the whole game changes: PCs who sneak up on foes can take them out even though the foes are awake, and this tactic makes sneaking around to quickly end encounters an actual thing without needing to drop folks into pits filled with contact poison or mandate all guards be wimps.

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