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I am DM a campaign in DnD 5e, where the players have expressed a desire to be able to do Called Shots. I am not resistant to this idea, but what I do not want is for the Called Shots to be so useful that there is rarely a reason to do a normal attack.

Note, I know and agree with most of the downsides to called shots (Slows down the game, Monsters will use them vs players, etc), and intend to bring these issues up with my players. Knowing them however, I think they will want to play with these rules.

With this in mind, I have come up with the below rules:

Called Shots can only be made when an attack roll has advantage. When a called shot is requested, the attack roll loses the advantage. Some called shots are not always possible, depending on body shape/armor type. Every type of called shot also involves an AC bump.

There is an additional effect when a called shot is a critical hit. This is on top of the normal effect.

Called shots do normal HP damage. Any effect from the called shot is an additional effect.

For effects with DC, intent is to have the DC in line with spell saves for this level. So most likely, if the attack was made with Dex, DC would be 8+Dex+Prof. If a monster (like a giant) had a DC I felt was to high because of this I have no problem lowering it on the fly.

Head

  • +4AC
  • -1d4 to Saving Throws for 1 round
  • Critical: Con save or Stunned for 1 round. On Success, -1d4 to Saving Throws for 2 rounds.

Arms

  • +2AC
  • Disadvantage on next attack
  • Critical: Disadvantage on all attack for 2 rounds, Str Save or drops what they are holding weapon.

Legs

  • +2AC
  • Speed is halved for 2 rounds
  • Critical: Speed is 0 for 1 round, Str Save or fall prone

Chest

  • +2AC
  • -1d6 to Constitution Saving throws for 1 round
  • Critical: Incapacitated for 1 round

Eye

  • +4AC
  • Disadvantage on perception checks for 1d4 rounds
  • Critical: Blinded for 1 round

Ears

  • +3AC
  • Deafened for 1d4 rounds
  • Critical: Con save or Stunned for 1 round.

Important note, the main attackers in my party are an Arcane Trickster Rogue, and a Sharpshooter Monster Hunter Ranger. With that in mind, losing Advantage on the attack role is a serious downside. No one in the party has increased Critical Range.

Are there any significant balance concerns that I am not seeing here, or any effects that need to be adjusted/reworked?

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    \$\begingroup\$ All these clarifications should be getting edited into the relevant location in the question post. Also mind that comments aren’t for discussion, so if discussion is your goal in posting, you’ll want to post on a discussion forum instead of or as well as here. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 14 '19 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Nov 14 '19 at 18:17
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A lot depends on player preferences, but these don't seem worth the risk compared with attacking with Advantage to me.

There are a few notable features of this called shot plan:

  • The chance to make a called shot is inconsistent (Advantage is required)
  • That situation (Advantage) offers a better chance to hit than normal
  • Losing Advantage, and also giving your target bonus AC, means that making a called shot is much, much harder than making a regular attack would be
  • Making a called shot grants normal damage (just like a normal attack), plus an extra effect. Missing a called shot provides nothing, and means the action was wasted
  • Given the above, attempting a called shot offers a lot of downside risk. To compensate, the extra effects would have to be pretty good
  • The extra benefits seem a bit underwhelming. They aren't terrible, but given the much lower hit chance with a called shot the most likely outcome is that a character will get nothing for their effort

Some of the benefits are very narrow and situational, and even if a character has the chance to take a called shot the broader situation needs to be one that allows the extra effect to be capitalized on (the need to force the enemy to make a saving throw, the need for the enemy to use their Action to make a Perception check, etc.).

Many similar effects can be produced through other means which don't require the player to sacrifice Advantage to achieve, and can be more reliably successful (because they don't bump up the target's AC, for example).

That critical hits have better effects is a bit off-point. There is only a 5% chance of getting one, and the benefits of a critical hit on a normal attack (double damage dice) is already pretty beneficial. The typical experience of a player attempting a called shot will not be a critical hit.


And so, we come to the conclusion. Because called shots under this system sacrifice a very desirable situation (Advantage and normal AC), mostly require coordination to capitalize on well (such as forcing a saving throw), and provide benefits which are more reliably achievable through other means (like spells or class features), called shots are likely to be at least weakly dominated by other choices. Which means that players will be penalizing themselves by choosing to try for a called shot.

That's not necessarily a problem. Optimization isn't everyone's cup of tea, and D&D combat generally isn't tight enough that optimization is necessary to succeed.

So if your players are excited by the chance, in itself, to try called shots, then this will qualify. If they are hoping for called shots to add depth to combat and give them an edge over opponents, this might not deliver what they're hoping. The penalties for hitting with a called shot are really severe, and the benefits marginal at best. The party can more reliably get better results by ignoring called shots. The question then becomes when would players choose to do this, rather than attack with Advantage?


This script shows the penalties players will be accepting to try for a called shot to hit at all, with variables for enemy AC (AC), called shot AC bonus (CS), proficiency bonus (PROF), and attribute bonus (ATTR). The "Called Shot" line subtracts CS from the roll so that it can be directly compared to the Advantaged roll without the bonus AC. The commented-out lines will give the percent of rolls that would be successful or unsuccessful for a set of values. Looking at the graph with the "at least" setting was most helpful for me.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your summation on how much the players are sacrificing. And I think that is why this is a good balance. It is very situational, and so a called shot might be vital at a particular point in combat. for example the chance of getting the BBEG to miss his next attack on a nearly downed party member is worth the risk over getting a little more HP off his total. So it won't make all combat include a called shot, but offers an extra option when things are critical. \$\endgroup\$ – Luke Nov 15 '19 at 0:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Luke A called shot hit is too rare to rely on, and since virtually all of these effects can be more reliably achieved through other means it will always be a better strategy to pursue those other means. It's true that if everything happens to perfectly align such that one of these called shots might be preferable to an attack with Advantage, but that's not a great standard. The question is how often those circumstances would come up, and if a called shot is only desirable once every 40 combats it may be a lackluster mechanic. And sound strategy will always seek to avoid such a situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Nov 15 '19 at 16:03
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Upper_Case's answer about the drawbacks of sacrificing advantage address the most blatant balance issue, so I'm going to focus on the smaller balance issues.

You need to define what you mean by "1 round" for the special effects

Typically, in 5e, effects end at a specified point of either the attacker or the defender's turn. For example, the Monk's Stunning Strike states the following.

The target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or be stunned until the end of your next turn.

This clearly defines when the effect ends. This is important, as it defines when the target can take reactions, when its attackers have advantage, etc.

These effects should require Constitution saves, not Strength saves

Constitution checks are typically reserved for cases where a creature is trying to resist the negative effects of some attack. Furthermore, the DMB states the following in the Saving Throw description:

  • Strength: Opposing a force that would physically move or bind you.
  • Constitution: Enduring a disease, poison, or other hazard that saps vitality.

Constitution checks therefore seem more appropriate for the special effects of the Arm and Leg attacks, as the target is trying to resist the effects of being wounded.

A case where you might use a Strength saving throw would be if you introduce a called shot for attacking a person's weapon in order to disarm them.

This should probably be a Feat

These effects would be more appropriate for a feat. Many of the feats in the PHB add ways to "flavor" a player's combat experience. Most specifically, both the the Great Weapon's Master and Sharpshooter feats allow a sort of Called Shot that is very similar to what you describe.

You can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If you do so and the attack hits, it deals +10 damage. - Sharpshooter Feat

Alternatively, you could introduce this as a Fighting Style or Battle Master Maneuver, as these have similar mechanical effects on combat.

If you go with this, I would allow the players to always attempt these attacks, regardless of whether they have advantage. This way, the players can use the effects as often as they please without sacrificing advantage, but requiring them to specifically opt into this powerful effect.

This imposes an opportunity cost on the mechanic, as the players have to sacrifice a feat or ASI in order to gain this effect. You can then balance the feat so that it is similar in power to the other feats (i.e. use the Great Weapons Master and Sharpshooter feats for reference).

Why should this be a feat? Because this is a massive mechanical change that adds significantly more power to basic weapon attacks. Typically these kinds of effects are limited in use by Spell Slots, Ki Points, Superiority Die, etc.; allowing your players to have such powerful effects on their attacks demands a sacrifice of other potential effects they might gain from an ASI or a different feat.

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These effects are great. They are situational, but trading advantage is not something you want to take lightly. I would love to play in a system like this, there is a lot of flexibility and strategy you could make with these effects.

I would remove the AC penalties. I feel that considering advantage is equivalent to about +5 to hit, the added AC is a little over the top. Aiming for the head is essentially 9 more AC. That's a lot!

I like that the effects are situational and encourage teamwork. I would make them all just 1 single round effect for both normal hit and critical hits. I would not worry about trying to adjust AC, it just complicates the mechanic. If you consider how situational each effect is, there isn't much purpose in trying to fine tune the balance. I did however remove stunned, since that is a lot more powerful.

Because the effects are so diverse and situational, I don't think players will spend a lot of time trying to decide which effect to use. So you might not see as much slowdown as you expect.

Here is how I would streamline it:

When you have advantage you can choose to make the roll without advantage, and instead make a Called Shot. If a Called Shot hits, the enemy suffers some effect for 1 round. If a critical hit is made, then an additional effect is added.

Head

  • -1d4 to Saving Throws
  • Critical: Incapacitated

Arms

  • Disadvantage on next attack
  • Critical: Drops whatever they are holding

Legs

  • Speed is halved
  • Critical: Falls prone

Chest

  • -1d6 to Constitution Saving
  • Critical: Incapacitated

Eye

  • Disadvantage on perception checks
  • Critical: Blinded

Ears

  • Deafened
  • Critical: Incapacitated

I think these changes would address your concerns about slowing down play, while keeping the effects potent enough for players to want to use them, but situational enough that they won't be used on every attack.

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