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A (homebrew) greatsword has this feature:

Heavy Blow. [...] If you hit with this very powerful attack, the target must make a contested Athletics check. If the target loses, it is stunned until the end of its next turn.

I’m currently using an opposed roll but I’m not sure that’s the right solution. I wanted to avoid using a save DC, but want to stay within the 5e design patterns. I couldn't find much info on status effects without save DCs in the PHB.

Is there a way that 5e has done this historically? Or am I forced to use a save DC or use my own solution? I'm looking for any design conventions in D&D 5e that have inflicted a status effect without a Save DC, but also the status effect not guaranteed.


Related question: What would the 5e phrasing be for combining multiple attacks into a single attack?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You appear to have found a way to do this without using spell save DC already. What's the question here? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Feb 15 at 5:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the question to try to answer the concerns \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Feb 15 at 5:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you want to avoid any kind of saving throw, or just a "spell save DC"? Or are you asking if 5e has precedent for contested skill checks as a way to avoid a condition? \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Feb 15 at 5:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MikeQ A precedent of avoiding saving throws for actions or abilities that are only used in one instance. Save DCs are a well-designed way of generalizing a contested check, but establishing a Save DC for one ability does not seem worth it, in terms of space and complexity. \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Feb 15 at 5:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, @SevenSidedDie the opposed check is my solution to a problem, but I want to know if there's a precedent in 5e of solving this same problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Feb 15 at 18:08
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You're not doing something wholly unprecedented

To propose that a PC have a way to make a creature be stunned without getting to make a saving throw, has precedent. There are spells in 5e that can result in a creature being stunned with no save:

  • The Power Word Stun spell initially stuns any creature with fewer than 150 HP with no save (it can make a save later).

  • The Investiture of Stone spell, if misused, causes a creature to be stunned with no save

  • The Contagion spell has an option that sets up a creature to be stunned automatically when it takes damage, with no save

I would recommend modelling your feature off the Contagion example.

This is taking your post at face value, that you literally want no saving throw. But also see Ryan Thompson's answer presenting a reason to reconsider that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I completely missed Contagion, that's a pretty good example \$\endgroup\$ – Blake Steel Feb 15 at 6:31
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A saving throw is probably the right way to do this

From your question, it seems that you want a hit to have a chance of stunning the target, with the target's ability scores affecting that chance, as opposed to either automatically stunning on a hit or having a flat chance to stun. Your only real options for doing this are an opposed ability check or a saving throw. I would recommend a saving throw, since an opposed ability check is even more complicated (two die rolls instead of one). Since the power of the attack is proportional to the attacker's strength, you might consider making it a Consitution saving throw, with DC = 8 + proficiency bonus (if applicable) + attacker's Strength modifier. (This is the same formula used for the Battle Master Fighter's Maneuver save DC.)

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