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My issue seems to to be coming from players acting as if being more specific in describing their attacks allows them to have more effects and be stronger for free.

For example, instead of saying "I attack the giant" they say "I attack the giant and try to cut their hand off." I allow such actions, but then the party expects for there to be an added benefit, such as giving them a disadvantage on attack rolls.

While I am not opposed to the idea, it bothers me that the party will not allow me to do the same to them. The party wants to use a realistic system for hitting enemies, but a more rules focused system of "0 HP you are unconscious, 1 you are entirely ok and can fight without consequence."

Is this common among adventures, and should I allow this disparity in the systems to exist? Or should I enforce one or the other "realistic vs RAW"?

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    \$\begingroup\$ A different system, but I think this answer still applies: How can I use improvised consequences to make combat more interesting? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon May 22 '18 at 1:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ "it bothers me that the party will not allow me to do the same to them"... erm... Not allow? Who's the GM? You or them? \$\endgroup\$ – colmde May 23 '18 at 12:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ My job as the GM is to make the game more fun for the party, if the party doesn't enjoy it I won't add it just because I have the power to do so \$\endgroup\$ – DMate May 23 '18 at 13:18
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No

Never

Not under any circumstances

D&D is not a simulationist game

Baked into D&D is the concept of hit points - an arrow through the eye that does 5hp damage is in every way eqivalent to a stone dropped on your foot that does 5hp damage. By all means, describe them differently but their mechanical effect is equivalent.

There are spells and other effects that impose specific conditions on creatures but these are seperate and distinct from the damage system.

Have a look at feats that allow a penalty to the attack roll in return for more damage (e.g. Power Attack) they have a cost to pay but, significantly, their reward is only more damage - not a special effect.

There are fun games that take a more simulationist approach (e.g. Rolemaster, HarnMaster) where critical hits damage specific body parts and cause ongoing impediments until healed (or forever). These tend to be extremly brutal games to play and you have to be comfortable with the fact that your fully buffed fighter can get a critical that says "Brain destroyed. You are dead."

What goes around comes around

I tell my players "anything you can do, they can do". If you decide to house rule stuff like this in (and don't, please) then your players have to understand that it affects them as well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Also there are games whose mechanics take an even less simulationist approach, and still provide the effect the players seem to be looking for, which is "if I narrate some interesting specific attack then I get a bonus". Just for one example, stunts in Exalted. You get some reward for deciding to attack the giant's hand, and the system is not crushingly lethal. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop May 23 '18 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Where by "simulationist" I specifically mean simulating realistic armed combat. Exalted is trying to simulate something, albeit something fictional. Unlike Rolemaster, that something isn't dying in a ditch. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop May 23 '18 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or tripping over a deceased, invisible, non-existent turtle.... ^^ \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko May 24 '18 at 16:46
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Note that dnd 3.5 has several ways you can do an attack that imposes maluses on your opponent.

You can try to disarm the opponent, or sunder their weapon for example. You can also try to trip, shove, grapple etc. (Note, do not do many of these against a giant. They will mess you up).

These alternative attacks generally:

  • Are harder to achieve
  • Are riskier
  • Require significant investment in feats or equipment to reduce the above
  • Do less (or no) damage.

These alternative combat actions are generally quite balanced, and make sense within the rules.

Do not simply make a normal attack do the best of both worlds - it's normal attack damage AND providing penalties in combat.

If your group really wants being hurt to involve lost/broken limbs etc, I would recommend your options are to (in order of preferred to least):

  • play one of the many RPGs where this is built into the rules (randomised hit locations, risk of incapacity, called shots that are harder but targeted).
  • Allow the players to declare what they are attempting, and the DM figures out what existing specialised attack it is similar to, and works it out similar to that. Attacking a giant's hand could potentially function similar to sunder or disarm. Remember to include attacks of opportunity if applicable.
  • Tie it to a natural 20 (not a crit, 3.5 has some characters with obscene crit ranges). When anyone (including monsters under DM control) rolls a nat 20, they pick a body part they were targeting. DM narrates some gruesome in game consequences.
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Let's start by talking about combat. When a character attacks the enemy, they're already doing things like "try to cut their hand off" and "stab them in the eye". The combat system assumes that every character is trying their hardest to deal the maximum amount of damage. If a player says something that sounds like "oh by the way, I'm trying to deal a lot of damage on this attack", that doesn't do anything, because their character was already trying to deal a lot of damage.

It sounds like your players might be trying to perform special combat moves. That's great! D&D 3.5e has a bunch of rules for this sort of thing. For example, if someone says "I attack the giant and try to knock it over", you can have them look at the rules for the trip combat move. If someone says "I attack him and knock his sword out of his hand", you can refer them to the disarm combat move. These moves give you a chance to generate a significant effect, but the cost is that you don't actually deal damage with these moves.

(Also, these moves are not very good unless you've taken the appropriate feat. When your players understand how the moves work, they might lose interest in doing them.)


Now let's talk about fun.

Remember that your goal, with D&D, is not to tell a story that is an accurate simulation of reality. Your goal isn't even to tell a story that is fair to the monsters! Your goal is to tell a story that is fun.

If your players are having fun telling you that they're trying to cut off a giant's hand, it's totally okay to let them do that. If you think it wouldn't be fun for them to have the giant respond by crushing their legs with its own improvised move, then you don't have to let the giant do that. If the players are beating the giant too fast, that's okay -- you can just have a second giant show up!


The risk here is that you might get balance issues. Maybe one character is being really aggressive about making stuff up -- "and if this attack hits, I want it to chop off that guy's legs, and then the legs go flying and hit the monster standing behind him for twenty damage, and the monster is blinded by all the blood flying everywhere and it falls into a hole and dies!" You don't want to get in a situation where characters are making improvised moves that are obviously better than the characters that are fighting by the rules.

The solution is: (1) make sure you understand the rules for the trip, disarm, grapple, sunder, and bull rush combat moves; and (2) if someone tries to do something that isn't covered by one of those moves, make up something that is similar.

Most of these moves will do some of the following:

  • let any nearby enemies get an attack of opportunity as the character does something unusual
  • use an unusual check (for example opposed attack rolls or opposed strength checks) which might be harder to hit with
  • give bonuses to creatures that are larger, so it's harder to land a special move on them
  • cause you to not deal any damage if you succeed -- all you get is the special effect

If someone tries to do something really outrageous, it's okay to tell them no, before they roll. If you don't feel comfortable saying no directly, you could say something like "well, that can happen if you get a critical hit, but otherwise it's going to be too difficult to land it effectively".

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Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't aiming specifically for a body part considered a "Called Shot?"

Here's linkage to the specific feat/rules on that for Homebrew:

https://dnd-wiki.org/wiki/Called_Shot_(3.5e_Feat)

The details here give very specific easily applied consequences of a called shot--and a lot of people house rule called shots in, not as a feat but as a system like what your players are asking for... "Special: A DM may make called shot a variant rule instead of a feat; if this is the case, any character with at least three class levels in a class granting full attack bonus may use this feat."

In any case, a called shot is more DIFFICULT than a standard attack. What this means is that anytime a player asks for a called shot, THEY are at a negative to hit. Let's take the hand called shot, which according to the chart would likely be an arm called shot

Arm (−2 penalty): You hit one specific arm, forcing the struck creature to make a reflex save or drop whatever they were holding in that hand. If that creature had a two-handed weapon, it makes its save at a +4 bonus.

As you can see, when the player rolls to try to do this, you take -2 off their dice roll. They roll a 12, it's really a 10...

But if they are successful, they get the benefit of the CHANCE of the opponent dropping their weapon.

As a DM of 3.5 though, I am perfectly fine with the allowing the penalty and having the consequences. Here's the other ones other than the arm--

  • Eyes (−6 penalty to hit): You hit your opponent right in the eyes, blinding it for 1 round unless it succeeds on a Fortitude save. Even if the save is successful, the struck creature is dazzled for 1 hour afterward.
  • Face (−4 penalty to hit): You hit your opponent right on the face, dealing an extra 6 points of damage. It is also a deeply satisfying experience, granting you a +2 morale bonus to hit and and damage against this creature until the end of the next round.
  • Teeth (−4 penalty to hit): You hit your targets right in the teeth; the attack is very painful, causing the target to be staggered for 1 round unless it succeeds on a fortitude save. Additionally, your attack knocks a few teeth out, disabling the bite attack of creatures who failed their save for 1d4 hours or until they receive magical healing (including fast healing and regeneration).
  • Throat (−4 penalty to hit): You hit right on the throat, forcing the struck creature to make a reflex save or become silenced and unable to breathe for 2 rounds. If you wield a vorpal weapon, its decapitating effect activates on a 19-20 when you make a called shot to the throat.
  • Torso (−2 penalty to hit): You hit sensitive tissues and bones on the torso, forcing the struck creature to make a fortitude save or be sickened for 2 rounds.
  • Groin (−4 penalty to hit): You hit a very sensitive spot, forcing the struck creature to make a fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round and a will save or be shaken for 3 rounds.

The rule here says:

The DC of these maneuvers is 10 + ½ base attack bonus + the user's strength or dexterity modifier (whichever is higher) and the save (and penalties) are made at the end of the current turn

But when I run, I simply use the target's AC as it is as the difficulty, with the negative penalties to hit depending on the body part. It's just simpler than trying to calculate all that other stuff.

And guess what! I let the NPCs do called shots as well--they take the penalty, and if they get the roll, there's consequences. The linkage I provided will keep things balanced for you if you decide to house rule it. You can do it as a house rule feat or keep it to the general house rule. It's really, really common as a house rule.

I personally enjoy the general houserule, and find that most of the time players don't love the negatives imposed to hit, so they don't end up doing called shots most of the time.

My advice: Tell them that you found the Called Shots Feat Chart, and that you'll allow them to continue to do called shots, BUT with the penalty for taking them, AND your NPCS will be allowed the same sort of effects. Because if the NPCs can do it too, they should/will be grateful for the limitations and the chances to do a save against the effects. If they aren't grateful go ahead and point out that they should be....

I will, if they roll ridiculously well on a called, sometimes allow something zany for the heroes, such as allowing them to partially cut off a hand, or take out and eye or something, just for flair, and then I won't bother with the chance to save...realistically though, they aren't going to be able to do that most of the time, and the effect is essentially what's on the chart--eyes, they have the blinded condition for a limited amount of time, and so on. I would not allow them to do a called shot where they say "want to cut off his hand" Let's just assume that they're aiming for his arm/hand and always WANT to do the max damage, but cutting off a hand is FAR MORE than an ordinary success.

Now, there are some issues--players might argue that the area they are trying to hit might not have armor and therefore armor should be ignored. DO NOT LISTEN TO THAT. The AC is the AC. See this article on how it unbalances the game.

Because if you allow something like that, even if it's smart on the character's part, two things can happen--1) it's easy mode and the the villains are smart enough to do the same 2) it seriously undermines the difficulty levels set out in the books.

Set the rules as a called shot being more difficult and stick to it. I don't know if this is what your players are trying to do (argue that if they go for unarmored bits like hands that armor does not apply) but if they are--this would completely undermine the entire system. To allow it to be played that way would mean a complete re-vamp of the 3.5 system. And then it's not D&D anymore... AC is one of the determinators of the XP award they get for kills and the difficulty level.

EDIT: Sometimes a called shot is actually impossible--if the person has full head armor with a tiny slit for instance, I will let the player know that they can see that aiming for the eyes won't result in anything.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The feat you have found is homebrew (not official!) content. It's fine to propose a homebrew solution to a problem (that's the kind of territory this question is in) but you should make clear in your answer that the content you are describing is not official. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 22 '18 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer I've edited it to make that clear. Thought that since the player was asking about Houserules and general DM standards.... \$\endgroup\$ – Erin Thursby May 22 '18 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another reason not to change AC: AC doesn't represent just armor, but also mobility and combat skill of the character, magical effects, size, and more. \$\endgroup\$ – aschepler May 22 '18 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would emphasise that these are extremely powerful actions. 'Throat' particularly is a 'save or lose' condition for spellcasters. As it buffs martial classes and hinders casters, it may end up improving 3.5 balance overall. But this answer could emphasise that it would have a massive impact on game balance. Face makes low level even more absurdly dangerous than it is. An 18 str fighter with a greatsword gets a 1 hit k.o. of a 18 con fighter if you roll 4+ on 2d6. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott May 22 '18 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aschepler True, but some of that is calculated with the armor bonuses on top of the other stuff. This is why PCs and NPCs buy armor to add to their AC. Taking that away unbalances things considerably. \$\endgroup\$ – Erin Thursby May 23 '18 at 4:44
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I don't remember if there are official rules for this or not, but my group has always allowed players to take a -4 penalty to their attack for a "called shot" that might have some added benefit. The effect is similar to firing into a melee if an archer does not have precise shot. Basically, by taking a -4 penalty, the player can do something more spectacular. For example, a player might stab a caster in the mouth causing problems with casting verbal spells until the wound is healed, etc.

You should definitely not allow players to simply announce that their characters are being more effective without some drawback. The assumption is that characters are trying to be as effective as possible at their base attack values. They can reduce their attack value if they want to increase potential effectiveness (see power attack, et al.).

No matter what, the called shot should not result in a huge swing in power. For example, my previous "stab in the mouth" called shot. Maybe that forces a concentration check vs some reasonable number when casting verbal spells. In other cases it will behave (and use the rules for) sundering items. It's mostly a roleplay tool.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can the people that downvoted please comment and share what the issue with this answer is? \$\endgroup\$ – DMate May 22 '18 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dmate because I'm talking about house rules. It's no biggie, but it works for our table. \$\endgroup\$ – Wannabe Warlock May 22 '18 at 4:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do the NPCs get the same benefit? Can they cause your spellcasters issues with casting spells? If not, are the encounters being buffed to counter the greater-than-expected abilities and flexibility of the PCs? I think it's fine, even good, to house rule fun stuff in, but I think it's an incomplete answer if you don't also specify that by strengthening the party you leave the opponents needing a buff too. \$\endgroup\$ – Phoshi May 22 '18 at 9:49
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PCs and Monsters do not play by the same rules.

3.5 is actually quite explicit about this in that it gives the DM many many rules that PCs are not allowed to use. Monsters run on CR. PCs run on ECL(HD and LA). Monsters have access to a host of feats that are "not for PCs". The game, and the target experience, is asymmetric.

In OP, you seem to be operating on the assumption that any tool PCs have, necessarily, is also a tool NPCs will use. This really not need be the case, either in theory or practice(or both).

Called shots are stock-standard Pathfinder rules.

https://www.d20pfsrd.com/gamemastering/other-rules/called-shots/

Pathfinder isn't 3.5, but it's little more than variant system that uses all the same fundamentals. You can easily poach stuff from PF or 3.5 into the other game, and still have a functional system.

Having ported the basic "regular called shots" part into my game in the past, I can say that at least that much is not very warping to 3.5 balance, and gives PC Archers an option other than "murder everyone and everything" when fighting, which is, imho, a good thing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In reference to your first paragraph, I think the hat seems to be applying the logic really loosely. Monster's having separate feats and skills are most likely due to having different physical and magical abilities then humanoid races for PC's. Saying that monsters cannot act like humans and target limbs sounds a bit silly \$\endgroup\$ – DMate May 22 '18 at 20:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know if I'd agree with that first part. CR and ECL have no mechanical impact aside from XP calculation for the latter; they're just balancing guidelines. You can't really say PCs aren't "allowed" to use CR when it would make no sense to try to apply it to them. And there's nothing explicitly preventing a PC from taking "monster" feats assuming they can meet the prerequisites. \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery May 22 '18 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMate It does sound silly when you say it like that, but the solution is to just not say it like that. In game design, you can use post-hoc justification for the mechanics you want. Maybe called-shots are the result of being students of PC-only schools, such that monsters never learn those techniques? Maybe PCs just have more exploitable luck than the average person? You can establish whichever justification you care for, if you like, or not. My point there is that you aren't bound by "Monsters must have access to this ability". You can make your own decision about giving it to monsters \$\endgroup\$ – godskook May 22 '18 at 21:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @godskook but because my issue was realism vs RAW, and the PC's wanted the realism option, saying that monsters can't do it because the RAW Defend that statement (which I disagree with) doesn't make sense. \$\endgroup\$ – DMate May 22 '18 at 21:14

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