I've recently been DMing a completely novice party through the 5e starter set - The Lost Mines of Phandelver. I'm the most experienced tabletop player out of the group, but that's not saying much as I previously hadn't touched a d20 in around 5 years. It's been a lot of fun so far.

Anyway, last night a somewhat sadistic member of the group asked if he could attack to maim a Redbrand Ruffian (in this case, a human warrior). Specifically the player wanted to hack off his leg at the knee. The particular enemy was at 1hp and grappled by another player at the time, so I suspected that physically it should be possible. Hence I described the 'killing' blow as having severed the leg, the pain of which left the enemy unconscious and bleeding out.

One of the other players, however, was unhappy with this brutality and decided they wanted to heal the Redbrand using cure wounds. They specifically asked if it was possible to try and heal the leg. I ended up ruling that it was, under the justification that it was a fresh injury. I made up the house rule that if the leg had been left to heal as an amputated stump, cure wounds would only be able to restore the amputee back to that poorly healed point.

I'm worried that I may have unknowingly opened a can of worms with this ruling, and am wondering if there is any official guidance on this? Additionally, I am wondering if enemies should be similarly permitted to 'attack to maim' the PCs?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Only tangentially related to your question, but one player-character doing something and another player-character trying to undo it immediately is a sign that there is something wrong in your group. Either there seems to be a misunderstanding about the intended tone of your campaign or the players have created characters with personalities which can not work together as a team. Both are problems which can really hurt a campaign in the long run, so you should address them as soon as possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp Thanks - That's sensible advice. I'll keep an eye out for any further clashes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dovetailed
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


There is little or no RAW for in-depth injuries in D&D 5E, neither causing them nor healing them. Characters hurt in battle from hit point loss are assumed to be "worn down" in a generic fashion. There are a couple of special states (unconscious and dying), which also avoid dealing with the nature of wounds.

I think your ruling that a lethal attack, that would ordinarily have killed a character, can be changed to something equivalent depending on attack type (e.g. a sword or axe could sever a limb), is reasonable if used occasionally. Likewise, an emergency healing action that you would have ruled saved a life if done quickly enough, although not RAW, works OK for NPCs that would normally die when hitting 0 hit points.

I'm worried that I may have unknowingly opened a can of worms with this ruling, and am wondering if there is any official guidance on this?

If these events are kept rare, and are a replacement for a result that would kill by RAW, then I don't think it is a major problem. I am not aware of any official rulings, beyond effects of high level items in other editions, such as vorpal swords.

The 7th level spell Regenerate is the official fix for severed body parts - oddly higher level than Raise Dead, because in most D&D versions, being maimed is treated as a worse and rarer effect than being killed. You can take the existence of the spell as guidance that major characters can be maimed, and for how strong an effect the game wants you to treat it as.

Additionally, I am wondering if enemies should be similarly permitted to 'attack to maim' the PCs?

Definitely not as a standard attack in combat. You might allow it to happen instead of a killing blow. My advice then would be to give the player the choice out of character, what happens to the PC. E.g. "That result would ordinarily kill your character outright, but if you want I could rule that the PC is unconscious with a serious long-term injury, which would you prefer?" - if the injury is chosen, you should work with the player to decide whether the PC will look for a cure or wear their injuries with pride. Also, pick something that can be worked around depending on the character's class (a one-armed archer character, whilst perhaps a heroically tragic figure in a story, may not be everyone's idea of "fun to play", and would definitely be sub-optimal in terms of numbers in combat).

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    \$\begingroup\$ The new Undying warlock has a feature that allows it to attach severed limbs at level 14. It might be noteworthy information when regarding what type of power allows for reattachment of limbs, like the Regnerate spell you mentioned. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the answer. The existence of Regenerate and the the level 14 Undying Warlock feature raise some interesting questions. For example is the implication that Raise Dead doesn't repair amputation? What if the person died by decapitation? Alternatively, if Raise Dead does repair substantial injuries, then if a player loses a limb and doesn't have access to Regenerate is their best bet to get killed and have someone cast Raise Dead to fix the damage? Alternatively they could maybe have Reincarnate cast a few times until they get a body they are happy with? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dovetailed
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 20:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dovetailed: The text of Raise Dead explains the limitations in detail. In short it won't fix major damage such as missing limbs, and won't work if the head is missing. Reincarnate (level 5) will work by giving a new body, and Resurrection (level 7) will repair missing body parts. True Resurrection, at level 9, will do even better, conjuring a whole new body out of nothing if necessary. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 20:44

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