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Under the rules for contests it says that anytime you wish to do something that is opposed by another you make a contest ability check. Later in the combat rules it says that you can use a shove action to impose the prone condition or to move your opponent 5 feet by using an ability score contest roll, with the added restriction based on size. Then in the box near grapple and shove it says

Contests in Combat

[…] This section includes the most common contests that require an action in combat: grappling and shoving a creature. The DM can use these contests as models for improvising others.

Is there a reason why other conditions such as blinded could not or should not be imposed on this way, or would blinded be a good example of what they mean?

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Opening pandora's box. Anything a PC can do the monsters and NPCs can do as well. As a player tread with caution, as a DM I would say that if the PCs can do it, any sentient creature can do it as well... – Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 15 '14 at 2:35

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Contest should always happen for achieving control over something. in the example you talk about grappling and pushing is freedom of movement or space. Another example could be for example someone blocking a door while someone is trying to open it.

Sometimes one character’s or monster’s efforts are directly opposed to another’s....This situation also applies when one of them is trying to prevent the other one from accomplishing a goal—for example, when a monster tries to force open a door that an adventurer is holding closed. (Basic D&D p58)

It could never be a direct attack so for example it could never be

  • setting someone on fire with a lamp (it's an attack , you crash it on her)
  • blinding someone with sand ( that's also an attack )
  • flipping a table in the face of someone ( attack )
  • dragging the carpet under the feet of someone ( attack )

Sand , tables, carpets are all improvised weapons that could do no damage but they could cause effects or trigger an opposed roll. At least is how I see it.

Now situational bonuses or penalties do apply, for example a lamp can be used as a flail but it's not one, so, a penalty to attack and damage should apply. Sand is not designed as a weapon so it doesn't count as a throwing dagger. Each case is completely different from the other, you cant forecast what the players might think in their desperation or just for having fun and it's not worthing to spent time designing improvised weapons. Just tackle it as it happens, agree with your player's at the spot with a formula that will apply for that moment only. What matters is for the improvised attack to contribute to fun, by being just as hard and rewarding to avoid letting your players using this solution as a loophole especially if looks temptingly effective. Make things interesting by raising the stakes, increase effect and difficulty (made up some reason) or add a backfire case if the attack fails.

I don't see any reason though why not using blindness as the condition when for example you wrestle with someone to pick wis eyes out or fight with someone to extinguish the only source of light in the room. But in this case you actually fight over the torch, Blindness is a side affect because there is no light in the room anymore.

Good examples of contests are

  • Fighting over a light source.
  • Wrestling to grab the one ring from the floor (Golum vs Frodo)
  • Trying to Swim while someone is dragging you down. (You both truing to reach the surface while trying to kill each other at the same time)
  • Trying to disarm someone by means of grappling. (You both trying to hold on the weapon)
  • Playing Pink Pong or Tennis :)
  • Drinking Contest

In any case, Contest is a hack to the rules in order to cover some unexpected cases when it's not covered by the existing rules and usually the effect is more of a strangle towards something. How exactly you are going to deliver that, is what you have to improvise.

Again as with the improvised attacks, there is no rule that tells you that someone is not going to wrestle to blindness, to castration or to death. (All that actually happened in ancient olympics btw)

Anything that involves strangle while doing the same thing or opposing over the same thing is a valid Contest. Anything that is actually like "I'll grab the carcass of the giant frog and I will brake your head" is an improvised weapon attack.

Contests tent to be more abstract and Improvised attacks more specific. Both are abstract rules for actions that are not ruled by the book and it doesn't really worth in most cases to worry about. by experience you make rules of the thumb and you keep the game going.

To conclude You can have whatever effect you like with your improvised action as long as it makes sense.

  • Use improvised action and Contests for more generic actions.
  • Use improvised weapon when you have an improvised implement.
  • Make things interesting cooking the difficulty/effect relation

P.S. SevenSidedDice mentioned a few examples and over that we disagreed. The first one is if grappling is an attack. Yes it is and instead of unarmed attack vs AC : resolves to dmg it's actually STR vs STR : resolve to grappled.

Trying to blind someone by throwing sand though should be an attack, using sand as an improvised weapon. Because the implement of the action is in your hand.

Using the cloak of the opponent to blind him... well the item belongs to the opponent, you have to take control of it first, then you have to move it to her face to cause a blinding temporary effect. There are many ways of doing this but two of the could be. Either you simplify it with an improvised action DEX vs DEX. Or spit it to two actions, a sleight of hand to grab the cloak and an improvised weapon to actually blind the opponent with her own cloak.

So, while improvising actions, you can choose between using improvised weapons or improvised actions or mixing both depending on the context.

Interacting with an unwilling targets items, I would considered an attack. but again whatever makes sense depending on the context.

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up vote 20 down vote

Yeah, there's no reason that can't be improvised. The classic would be scooping up and flinging sand in your opponent's eyes, which would in most situations* be Dexterity versus Dexterity. Another classic (but slightly more cinematic, so possibly with Disadvantage with non-cinematic DMs) method of blinding an opponent is grabbing their shirt or cloak and pulling it up over their head. Both would be very temporary blindnesses.

As the sidebar says, such improvised attacks are contests just like like Grappling and Shoving. Initiating and resolving them works the same: the PC would need to use an Attack action to initiate the improvised attack, and the DM would call for an appropriate ability contest to resolve the outcome.

Note that these improvised attacks are distinct from attacking with an improvised weapon; the latter is a normal attack, just dealing damage with an object not designed to be a weapon. The easiest way to keep the two ideas mentally separate is to think of Contests in Combat as how to implement special combat maneuvers without needing a whole lot of pre-written special combat maneuvers (beyond the two demonstration examples of Grapple and Shove), while the improvised weapon rules are for implementing damaging attacks without needing a comprehensive list of weapon-like stats for bottles, belaying pins, bar stools, and trout. A third alternative—that you could make up some kind of non-damaging attack methodology to handle fighting dirty with sand and flipped tables—isn't really necessary, since handling those is exactly what the Contests in Combat sidebar is there to cover. (DMs are always welcome to make that kind of thing up of course, but how to houserule away the existing system in 5e is outside the scope of a question about how it works by default.)

A bit of warning though: In practice, it is far, far easier to start from the action the player wants to try, and then figure out what contest and what condition logically follows from it. If you try it the other way around—starting with the condition you want to impose and then trying to figure out how to make that happen and what the contest should be—it works much worse. The latter usually results in players "fishing" for effects and then coming up with more-or-less weak justifications that result in arguments, delays of play, and (if it worked) repeatedly using it as the new best tactic.

* When improvising actions, the details of the actual situation should always be used to determine the nature of the contest! Just because I say that it should be Dex vs Dex here doesn't mean that should be the rule when some other contest makes more sense.

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I also generally favor actions that are environmental specific over "things that can be done anywhere". So, throwing a boiling pot of soup in someone's face to blind them is great, maybe even gets an Advantage because boiling soup isn't everywhere, compared to "pull the cloak over their head" or "throw sand in their eyes" kind of set ups. – user9935 Jul 13 '14 at 3:40
"A bit of warning though: In practice, it is far, far easier to start from the action the player wants to try, and then figure out what contest and what condition logically follows from it". I can't upvote this enough. Here, Take my rep. – Thales Sarczuk Jul 14 '14 at 21:01

You would have to go further and look into how they are imposing the condition. For example Blind.

How does the combatant intend to force blindness? Throw sand in the person's eyes? Stab them with a suitable weapons.

Let's say that it is throwing sand into the person's eyes. There are two things to consider. One is whether the opportunity exists, there is sand or something that can be thrown into the person's eyes. Second that the eyes are small target relative to the rest of the person.

Now that we broken down the actions we can construct a ruling.

Is there sand or something similar? A DC 10 or perhaps 15 wisdom check for perception. It not a difficult task but it is one done in the middle of combat.

The eyes are a small target. D&D 5e shies away from outright penalties in favor of advantage/disadvantage. What you have to consider is just how difficult it is throw some dirt into somebody eyes during combat. My opinion is that that it is pretty darn difficult. You have a small area with the target clearly seeing you (eyes are in front) actively defending themselves. T

In combination with the quote in the OP we have the elements to construct a ruling.

To attempt to blind somebody temporarily you need to first make a wisdom perception check at a DC 10 to see if there is anything useful that can be thrown. If successful, then make a disadvantaged dexterity check versus the target's advantaged dexterity check. This condition last until they take an action to clear their eyes.

Keep in mind that circumtances will vary the elements of this rulings. If fighting in a marble hall, the referee has to rule that there no opportunity for anything that can be picked and used to blind an opponent. In the sandy desert against a surprised opponent you may rule that you automatically find something to throw and that it is a straight dex vs dex ability check.

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Why do you suggest changing it to a dc check instead of a contest? – GMNoob Jul 13 '14 at 7:57
The DC check is just to spot something that you can use. It is a two part mechanic. Part 1 Spot something, Part 2 hitting somebody with what you find. – RS Conley Jul 13 '14 at 15:18

Short answer: there is no reason those mechanics couldn't be used to model other conditions, including "blinded". It is up to you as GM to decide when/where to apply them, though, not the player.

"Imposed"? No. It could be a possible outcome, but the player cannot arbitrarily impose the state.

Example: player states they want to try blinding an opponent by throwing a handful of burning ash at them. You decide to reduce this to a simple contest of Dex between them, but you do not have to impose the player's desired state (blindness) even if they succeed: the contest roll just determines whether the ash hit their eyes, but you as GM can decide whether the opponent is actually permanently blinded in one or both eyes, temporarily blinded, or just at some disadvantage, or even completely unaffected by the ash in their eyes (try throwing ash at a god's eyes, say).

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"Is there a reason why other conditions such as blinded could not or should not be imposed on this way, or would blinded be a good example of what they mean? "

Well one reason is: Because it usually costs a character some resources, be it spells or cash ( in the form a Magic item for example) or some other form of investment to bring about a condition such as blinded. Therefore allowing a player to affect an opponent in such a way without using up an comparable amount of resources is usually a bad idea from a balance point of view. Imagine for example a character blinding an opponent for 4 rounds with a pinch of ash thrown and an opposed dexterity check, when the party wizard would have to spend the same action and a spell slot to do the same. Though this example could be expended to have the throwing character burn his hands and impose some penalties to balance the scales.

That being said; The rules don't prohibit it as far as I can tell.

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-1. D&D 5e is about going back to that old-school feel. Improvising things is not just ok, is the recommended way to do stuff. Player Cleverness is also a resource, there's no need to introduce artificial limitations just for "balance". – Thales Sarczuk Jul 14 '14 at 20:59
true :). What I'm trying to say is that. If you want to enduce a specific condition or state, that is provided for in the rules by some other means, which expend resources. You should take those 'non-free' means as a guideline, as to what the action should entail, since the designers probably put some thought into it :p. Otherwise we get to the point where you "stab him in the head" instead of "attacking him" everytime in order to get higher damage numbers. – Andy Jul 16 '14 at 10:37

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