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Question about balancing for 5th edition combat.

I have this idea for a new attack. I call it the God Slap, a technique unique to monks that must be learned from studying at the feet of a master. The attack works like any other melee attack. On a hit it reduces the target to 1 HP. However, the attack has the drawback that it causes the user take 5 levels of exhaustion. The user takes this exhaustion even if the attack does not hit, thus hopefully balancing its power.

My question is: in what ways could this technique be broken/abused in the standard 5e ruleset. I'd like to iron out any loopholes before giving it to my players to run wild with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ bad idea; good question. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Jan 27 at 14:42

3 Answers 3

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It isn't worth it for regular encounters, and takes all the fun out of boss fights.

Five levels of exhaustion is thoroughly debilitating. You can't move, max hit points is halved, and you have disadvantage on all rolls. So you would never use it on typical encounters.

You would only consider using this for a boss fight, but there are two possible outcomes:

  • You miss and screw your teammates by taking yourself out of the fight

  • You hit and screw your teammates by all but finishing the fight, depriving them of the experience of a fun and engaging boss fight.

Either way, you screw your teammates.

There is already a Monk subclass themed after this: Way of the Long Death

The Way of the Long Death monk has a 17th level feature called "Touch of the Long Death":

Starting at 17th level, your touch can channel the energy of death into a creature. As an action, you touch one creature within 5 feet of you, and you expend 1 to 10 ki points. The target must make a Constitution saving throw, and it takes 2d10 necrotic damage per ki point spent on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

The key difference here is that the maximum damaged is capped to 20d10, which averages 110 damage. There are some high level enemies with low hit points that one might encounter as a 17th+ level party, such as the Demilich with only 80 hit points (who happens to be immune to necrotic damage), but even a successful Touch of the Long Death will only be a portion of the hit points of most boss encounters at this level of play. It does however make a good coup de grace option for when the DM finally tells you "he's lookin pretty rough".

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This is not balance.

This is a pretty common mistake in game design. If a small power boost is balanced by a small drawback, then a giant power boost is balanced by massive drawbacks, right? Well... no, not really. It's entirely possible for a mechanic to be broken in two different ways at the same time.

The extreme case of this would be a character who has one hit point and can kill any creature automatically at a 300-foot range. Is this a balanced character? I hope it's obvious that the answer is no. Depending on your initiative roll, you either trivialize any big monster, or die instantly, with no in-between.

Sure, sometimes in video games you see a "one hit kill" mode as a challenge, but it's not meant to give the intended game experience when you do that; it's a silly thing to do after you've won the game and want to see how good you are at dodging.

That's basically what you've done here. If you hit, you (almost) instantly win the fight; if you miss, you're pretty much gonna die in short order.

STOP HAVING FUN!

Also, consider that everyone else at the table was maybe looking forward to a big climactic battle with the dragon or BBEG or what-have-you. You really think it's cool to say, "Sorry, guys, you can't have fun today, I'm gonna use the God Hand"? I do my best not to say somebody is playing D&D wrong, but this? This is playing D&D wrong.

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This is broken -- but already exists.

A Way of the Open Hand monk, at 17th level, gets an ability extremely similar to this: Quivering Palm.

At 17th level, you gain the ability to set up lethal vibrations in someone's body. When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike, you can spend 3 ki points to start these imperceptible vibrations, which last for a number of days equal to your monk level. The vibrations are harmless unless you use your action to end them. To do so, you and the target must be on the same plane of existence. When you use this action, the creature must make a Constitution saving throw. If it fails, it is reduced to 0 hit points. If it succeeds, it takes 10d10 necrotic damage.

The only differences are that it takes longer in your action economy (two actions), it requires both a melee hit and a failed Constitution save, it knocks the target to 0hp instead of 1...and that it only costs 3 ki points, instead of five levels of exhaustion, making it even more broken.

To be clear, I agree with the other commenters that this is unbalanced and unfun. It does at least provide the advantage that if the target makes the Con save, your character is still available to help and participate in the battle. Nevertheless, as it's in the PHB, it's likely to be available in any setting or campaign...until your DM notices how broken it is.

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