Can you choose to do less damage on melee attacks?

For example a random fighter can deal 2d6 +9(strength) +2 (Weapon Enhancement) +1 weapon training with his two handed sword.

Can the fighter choose to drop his strength bonus, or weapon training bonus to damage?

Can he choose to do the minimum weapon damage of 2?

Lastly, if this is possible does it affect the attack roll?

Assume non-lethal damage is not an option - Say trying to apply an injury poison without hurting or killing someone, or trying to apply a different on-damage effect. Such as an injury based paralysis.

If one of the aforementioned effects were tied to the weapon itself are there any remaining options to lessen damage --- similar to how spellcasters can lower the caster level of a spell down the the minimum needed to cast that spell?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Identical question for 3.5eprobably unchanged by Pathfinder, but I guess it doesn't hurt to ask. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19, 2018 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ It’s going to depend on what they want to accomplish with the attack via doing less damage on it. Are they trying to just knock out? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19, 2018 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ I updated the question with an example as to purpose of holding back damage and not applying non-lethal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Mar 19, 2018 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erudaki You’ve also stated that switching weapons isn’t an option. You should probably fold that into the question as well. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 19, 2018 at 18:01

3 Answers 3


I know of no way for a character to choose to do less damage than they roll. Of course, they're free to use a less-powerful weapon or not use damage-boosting abilities.

Characters can, however, choose to deal non-lethal damage with a weapon that normally deals lethal damage by taking a -4 penalty on the attack (or using a weapon that normally deals nonlethal damage, like a sap. There are two Paizo-authored feats I've found to remove the penalty to attack: Bludgeoner (which removes it when using a bludgeoning weapon), and Stage Combat (which removes it for weapons for which you have Weapon Focus). The third-party feat Nonlethal Force simply removes the penalty (this GM would allow this feat).

Using a normally-lethal weapon to deliver non-lethal damage should still count as injury (it still deals damage, just of a nonlethal type), so an injury poison would still be delivered. Any other "on-damage" effect would likely come down to the precise wording of the effect. Some examples I've dealt with recently:

  • Scorpion Style: since you're using an unarmed strike, this can be dealt with lethal or non-lethal damage, at the attacker's option
  • Wounding weapon: this is ambiguous, but the description suggests that nonlethal damage oughtn't trigger the additional effect

Additionally, there are a number of methods of applying a poison without a traditional weapon attack:

  • \$\begingroup\$ The question was editted to exclude the possibility of non-lethal damage, so you may want to edit this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Mar 19, 2018 at 17:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ You say that using lethal weapon to deliver non-lethal damage would still count as injury. Getting super specific here. But lets say there was in intelligent ghoul trying to apply his paralysis without killing his victim... would non-lethal still apply his paralysis? Since this is not a touch attack it would still have to deal damage... But I was under the impression it had to be lethal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Mar 21, 2018 at 12:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erudaki: good question. My interpretation would be "yes" - the ghoul would still roll the attack (probably with the -4 penalty for dealing nonlethal damage; I'd have to re-read a bit to be sure), then would deal 1d6+1 nonlethal damage and cause the target to make a Fort save vs. paralysis (barring immunities and such, of course). \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Mar 21, 2018 at 15:20

Pathfinder doesn't have a mechanic for deliberately reducing your damage or attack bonus when attacking. The rules generally assume that if you are making an attempt to do something, you're doing the best you can in the moment.

Pathfinder does have a mechanic for trying not to hurt someone too badly when you attack them with a lethal weapon, and that is to try and do nonlethal damage:

Nonlethal Damage with a Weapon that Deals Lethal Damage

You can use a melee weapon that deals lethal damage to deal nonlethal damage instead, but you take a –4 penalty on your attack roll.

By the rules as written this is the only way to "pull" your blows if you're trying not to hurt someone too badly.

However, it's hardly a big deal if you houserule a method by which you could deliberately reduce your damage; allowing a creature to voluntarily make themselves worse at something is hardly overpowering, after all. I would always allow a player to choose not to use the benefit of feats or abilities they possess if they didn't want to (e.g. don't want to use their weapon training bonus damage), and to declare before an attack that they were taking a voluntary penalty to hit or damage (or both). They would generally need to decide all this before they make the attack roll, though (unless regarding a feat or ability which specifically allows you to choose what you do at a later stage).


Use a different (weaker) weapon.

In the example you used, Fighter McFighterson is trying to apply a poison. Just apply the poison to a dagger. That drops your damage from 2d6+9+2+1 down to 1d4+6.

That brings your average damage down from 19 to 8.5

P.S. - I specifically did not mention nonlethal damage or what I would do as a GM, as that has already been mentioned in other answers


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .