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Possible spoilers for the D&D 5E adventure Curse of Strahd:

So last week my players encountered Strahd at level 3. My intention with this is to teach the players to think before spending their valuable resources. Strahd would not have killed them right away - he was only toying with them and testing their strength. But then one of my players said "I have wooden stakes, I want to stake him in the heart."

We are all new players and I am a new DM. Since 5e has no rules for called shots, I told them that it would be such a difficult hit that they needed to roll a flat 20 on the dice for a critical hit. They then started to "fish" for a critical hit with two weapon fighting and 2 wooden stakes each. I felt like it was a poor way of handling this situation

They've also tried to "call shots" before. The war cleric wanted to hit an enemy on the legs to make it fall prone and the way I handled it was telling them that the battlemaster archetype of the fighter has a similar feature called maneuvers and it would be a boring class if everyone was be able to do it.

So my question here is: how do you handle it when your players want to call shots?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related to your issue with called shots: Aiming at specific body parts \$\endgroup\$ – divibisan Jun 12 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @divi I actually think that this question is a duplicate of that question (just set in the context of Curse of Strahd). \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Jun 12 at 20:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I just made a large edit to the body. Feel free to revert if you think I got the intent wrong \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan Jun 12 at 20:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara with the edit, I pulled back on the "dupe" closure that I just did, as I think that this is a particular enough case that the called shots question is related, but that simply not having a good feel for some of the rule interactions is the actual issue to resolve. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 12 at 21:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Xirema I unduped after reviewing the edit again, and reviewing the two answers. I feel not a dupe is best call now. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 12 at 21:03
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For this particular scenario, it's simply not possible.

From the Vampire (added bold for emphasis):

Stake to the Heart. If a piercing weapon made of wood is driven into the vampire's heart while the vampire is incapacitated in its resting place, the vampire is paralyzed until the stake is removed.

Notably (and players should be informed of this if they do not know), a stake to the heart does nothing special to a Vampire if they're just out and about. And that's aside from the basic impossibility of trying to drive a hand-powered wooden piercing weapon all the way into someone's heart in the middle of combat.


For other scenarios (like hitting an enemy in the legs to knock prone), there are often rules that govern those actions.
The Shove action can be used to knock an enemy prone, but is a skill challenge and does not do any damage.
The Disarm action is listed in the DMG as a variant rule, and also is a skill challenge and does not do any damage.

Many other actions can be resolved with some sort of skill challenge, but also don't be afraid to just say no to "called shots" where the player will expect either an instakill or an incredibly debilitating effect.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "the basic impossibility of trying to drive a hand-powered wooden piercing weapon all the way into someone's heart in the middle of combat." - you've clearly never seen the effectiveness of a fire-hardened spear tip. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jun 13 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM Good luck exactly piercing the heart with a 6-foot spear on a moving (and resisting!) target. \$\endgroup\$ – Graham Jun 13 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ "and players should be informed of this if they do not know" Only if the characters are supposed to know this. Not all characters should know all weaknesses of all monsters, otherwise there would be no fun in figuring them out :) \$\endgroup\$ – zovits Jun 13 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I still think it would be orders of magnitude more fun to have Strahd tell the wide-eyed character who has successfully pierced his heart with a stake after the seventeenth try that it does not work than to have the DM tell this to the player. More frustrating for the player? More damage done to the party? Maybe. A fun chance to learn through experiencing? Definitely. Or to take a more merciful approach, have Strahd taunt them upon drawing their wooden stakes with something akin to "I see you know nothing about my kind. Your ignorance will be your doom!" or "Hey, I'm not THAT kind of vampire!" \$\endgroup\$ – zovits Jun 13 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @zovits "Strahd clutches the stake impaling his chest, eyes wide in horror. After a moment of stunned silence, he manages to croak out 'But... that was my favourite shirt!' His eyes harden, and he blurs into action, incapacitating your entire party in a matter of seconds. Before leaving, he has one last piece of parting advice 'A stake through the heart only works if the vampire is already incapacitated. Perhaps you should check your research?'" - this can then set up a side-quest to find out more about vampires and/or remove any curse/injury he leaves the party with. \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Jun 13 at 13:36
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First Priority: Make sure the Rules don't offer a Solution

I want to call attention to the example of the Cleric trying to knock an enemy prone, because you're framing it as the Cleric's player "trying to call a shot", but the 5th Edition rules offer a direct mechanic for knocking creatures prone: the Shove Action.

Using the Attack action, you can make a special melee attack to shove a creature, either to knock it prone or push it away from you. If you're able to make multiple attacks with the Attack action, this attack replaces one of them.

The target of your shove must be no more than one size larger than you, and it must be within your reach. You make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the target's Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check (the target chooses the ability to use). You succeed automatically if the target is incapacitated. If you succeed, you either knock the target prone or push it 5 feet away from you.

Shoving a Creature, Player's Handbook, pg. 195

Just to clear up confusion, this kind of attack is substantially less good than the feature given to Battlemaster Fighters, which is better because

  • It deals [a lot of] damage; a Shove deals no damage at all
  • The [Strength] Saving Throw the target needs to make is harder to achieve than the ability contest made with a Shove, which allows the target to use either Strength or Dexterity, maximizing the odds they have a stat that will counter the shove.

If a player tells you they want to do something unorthodox, first check the books, since a lot of "unusual" player actions in combat have perfectly cromulent rules in place to handle them, regardless of whether the player is familiar with the rules enough to know what those rules are.

Strahd specifically

Strahd cannot be directly killed by a stake to the heart. Vampires in 5th Edition borrow many of the tropes of classical vampires, but for a Vampire in 5th Edition to be killed, it's not sufficient to stake them unless you've already successfully reduced them to 0 hit points, and stake them while they're rejuvenating in their resting place. Players are welcome to try to deal as much damage as possible with whatever tools they think will get the job done, but no amount of heart-stabbing, with or without stakes, is sufficient against a Vampire that hasn't been reduced to 0 hit points yet.

If you genuinely [think that you] need rules for how to handle "Called Shots" in general, I recommend viewing other posts on the topic, like this one, to better understand the hazards of those kinds of house-rules. But when it comes to important enemies like Strahd or other powerful boss-tier creatures/NPCs, you need to first make sure you understand the rules for how these characters can be defeated in the first place. You'll avoid these kinds of Calvinball-y situations if you have a better mastery over the scenario that's being presented to the players.

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