I'm breaking huge and cumbersome question Damaging transmuted state to smaller and more specific parts.

I was told previously that HP is absolute in the Mechanics of tearing apart a character topic. You can not make other damage to a living creature but HP. Even helpless creatures should be brought to death to treat their corpses as objects.

But there are spells in the PHB that may transform a living creature to an inanimate object. So the creature may be treated as object using corresponding rules. You may change its state by any means allowed for shaping objects and then bring the object back to life. And you should somehow apply all changes to the regained form.

What are RAW for the described process? I suppose that the vorpal description may be extended (not by the RAW but by common sense) to beheading performed by any means. But what about all other irreplaceable body parts such as heart? Is the instant death rule still applicable?

What if only non-letal injuries would be imposed over object and translated back to living form? For example gouging out an eye or tearing off limbs? How this transformations should be converted back to the HP abstraction? Is it ever possible to do ability damage in this way besides obviously applicable HP damage?

If ability damage may be dealt bypassing normal abstraction with direct body modification, how can it controlled by a character. Say I want to deal 4 STR damage and 2 Con damage, what body parts should I injure to do so? What skill checks (I suppose some kind of knowledge checks) need a character to perform to determine desirable destruction level?

And again about HP damage. Suppose that character was not teared or ground to dust. Only minor harm was done to a creature. How should split chips of the statue be interpreted as HP damage dealt to the original creature?

Can ever the RAW answer my questions? If RAW is insufficient, what other meaningful approaches may be used? And if we are forced to do some house-ruling (only if RAW itself does not present us decent rules) what if we allow character to treat helpless creatures as objects?

  • \$\begingroup\$ There's always the alternative of playing a game with different abstractions. They'll still leak but potentially in a different way! \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Mar 23, 2014 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Don't objects have HP as well in 3.5? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28, 2014 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ They have. But object's HP works only for direct destruction. You may manipulate objects and performs craft on them bypassing HP abstraction. And you can not use craft on living creature. So not all actions that may be performed on transmuted object may be directly applied to source living creature \$\endgroup\$
    – ayvango
    Jul 28, 2014 at 18:24

2 Answers 2


The Big Issue

You've stepped into one of the big core issues for D&D over the years. "How much should smart play bypass the normal combat rules?" is the larger umbrella, with "Save or Die" being the usual part people run into.

In one style of play, people embrace this, and it's expected that players will find new, nasty tricks to insta-kill (or nearly so) monsters, and for the very hardcore groups, that the GM might be doing the same in return. (And this is something the whole group should agree on, if this is going to be a feature of play.)

D20 moved away from this, trying to make more spells and powers based on hitpoints rather than things which bypass them - which is why you're not finding good RAW answers on this. The classic "Flesh to Stone" "Stone to Mud" kind of tricks are what 3.5 wanted to discourage, generally.

Some Options

Luckily, I believe one of the alternate rules books for 3.5 (Unearthed Arcana, maybe?) had brought back the old school "System Shock" or "Save vs. Massive Damage" roll. In older D&D, if you took more than 50 hp damage at one time, or otherwise took some kind of outrageously horrific damage of some sort, you rolled this to see if you died on the spot, regardless of hitpoints. Seems like an appropriate thing if people are getting turned to stone, having parts busted off, etc.

Otherwise, if the point is to maim things, rather than kill, I'm thinking that same rulebook also had stuff for long term injuries, which seems to apply equally as well. ("Well, without that hand, you're definitely at XYZ penalties until Restoration is cast.")

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ "Massive damage" (the 50 hit points thing) is a standard rule in D&D3/3.5, also. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Mar 23, 2014 at 17:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's been several years since I played, so I'm working on memory. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9935
    Mar 23, 2014 at 18:04

Abstractions are leaky, full stop

In the software world, there's something called the Law of Leaky Abstractions:

All non-trivial abstractions, to some degree, are leaky.

The basic idea is that abstractions hide details, but sometimes those details are important, so pretty much every abstraction will require us to "break it down" and look deeper sometimes.

Hit points are abstract to the point of meaninglessness

In D&D3, hit points really don't mean anything. People will try to tell you that they do, but there are always a zillion edge cases — many much, much simpler than "What if you turn a guy to stone and chisel off his head?" — that put the lie to whatever definition anyone trots out. At best, they're a pacing mechanism.

Hit points are part of D&D's wargame heritage. In other words, they're adapted from games where everything happens from a "bird's-eye view" perspective (where we really don't care about trading individual blows or whatever), and only battlefield actions are relevant. The less a particular situation resembles a wargame battle, the more you run into warts and inconsistencies and absolute nonsense with regard to hit points.

The reason the game runs on hit points is that they work well enough for tactical skirmish gameplay (a certain kind of tactical skirmish gameplay, at least) as long as you don't ask too many questions about what they really represent, and players are used to them.

You really can't avoid making judgement calls in any RPG

All RPGs inherently involve a ton of judgement calls based on the shared fiction. That's a feature, not a bug! In fact, many designers say it's the defining feature of RPGs.

D&D3 tries very hard to present the image of absolute, mechanistic rules that don't require much judgement to apply (in reality, a lot of them still do). The idea is that this makes the game more fair and easier to run. But it's trivially easy to come up with esoteric situations that those rules just don't cover. You've posted, like, five paragraphs of them in your question.

Try to imagine a game book that actually spells out the answers to your questions in detail, in a way that doesn't involve telling the group to go and figure out the right answer for themselves. It'd be monstrously bloated and deeply useless as a game text. No, you pretty much have to make these kinds of decisions in play (sometimes called "rulings" when they're handed down by the GM). The play advice tells you this but doesn't particularly guide you; you're mostly on your own — that's kinda D&D tradition.

Maybe D&D just doesn't do what you want a game to do

If, in the course of play, you're constantly running into questions about how to handle something that don't have an obvious answer, it may be that you're focusing the game on stuff that the system just can't deal with effectively. No system can do everything well, and D&D3 is really rather narrow even though it pretends to be otherwise.

In summary:

  • Abstractions leak. It's what they do!
  • The most expedient thing to do when you face an edge case that you want to deal with in detail is to just make something up.

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