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One of my players runs the risk of getting ambushed by a bunch of Thugs/Bandits. If he doesn't pay up and fights them, and then kills some of them, I'd like them to break his arm after incapacitating him to send a message to future troublemakers. My question concerns how to handle this mechanically.

I could probably just tell him his arm is broken, he gets disadvantage for everything arm-related until a combination of time and Medicine checks have passed or, some Restoration magic is applied (would the spell Lesser Restoration suffice, or is Regeneration necessary?).

But I wonder if players wouldn't be tempted to just break limbs off every incapacitated prisoner they have in the future, so I'd like to know if there are rules in 5e for this kind of semi-permanent injuries, or even in previous editions provided they can be applied here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious: are you going to railroad him into being incapacitated, or do you leave him room to have incredible luck with rolls and possibly fend off the thugs? I know it's not relevant to the question, but I'm just curious, because considering D&D is mostly a game of dice rolling, there's a chance that he'll win. \$\endgroup\$ – Nzall Apr 19 '17 at 11:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ He'll have the options to comply, to flee, or to fight. He might win in a fight, this is not to railroad someone into having an injury, but rather what would happen in case someone loses a fight against city ruffians. \$\endgroup\$ – Joseph Doob Apr 19 '17 at 11:48
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You can use Lingering Injuries

The DMG 272-273 shows the optional rule of Injuries. This section covers both Lingering Injuries and Massive Damage.

While Lingering Injuries are the relevant rules for you, you might also want to take a look at Massive Damage. I have a feeling you might take an interest in it. Now, Lingering Injuries shows you a table of temporary disabilities you may cause to characters upon meeting any of the following criteria:

  • They take a critical hit

  • They are dropped to 0 HP but aren't killed

  • They fail a death saving throw by 5 or more

When you've determined a lingering injury needs to be dealt, you may roll on the Lingering Injuries table. You can also use this as a reference if you want to take some specific effects and apply them to your characters.

For broken arms/legs, the following are the most relevant for you:

  • Lose an Arm or a Hand. You can no longer hold anything with two hands, and you can hold only a single object at a time. Magic such as the regenerate spell can restore the lost appendage.

  • Lose a Foot or Leg. Your speed on foot is halved, and you must use a cane or crutch to move unless you have a peg leg or other prosthesis. You fall prone after using the Dash action. You have disadvantage on Dexterity checks made to balance. Magic such as the regenerate spell can restore the lost appendage.

  • Limp. Your speed on foot is reduced by 5 feet. You must make a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw after using the Dash action. If you fail the save, you fall prone. Magical healing removes the limp.

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If a player character is defeated fair and square - typically reduced to zero hit points or incapacitated whilst enemies are active and no allies are available to intervene - then pretty much any alteration to the PC physically is within DM fiat, after all the default result here is that the PC is dead.

I could probably just tell him his arm is broken, he gets disadvantage for everything arm-related until a combination of time and Medicine checks have passed or, some Restoration magic is applied (would the spell Lesser Restoration suffice, or is Regeneration necessary?).

You decide as DM. Bear in mind the style of game you want to play when making a penalty difficult, and also the difficulty to the character in getting a problem fixed. Personally I think the disadvantage idea fits well with the 5E mechanics, and Lesser Restoration sounds about right for fixing a damaged limb.

But I wonder if players wouldn't be tempted to just break limbs off every incapacitated prisoner they have in the future.

Again, the default position here is that the NPC would be dead, so this is fair mechanically. You should probably remind the players of a few things if they get carried away with the idea:

  • Breaking limbs does not improve a prisoner's ability to cooperate with instructions.

  • It is quite hard to inflict broken limbs without also incurring damage. Apply some hit points damage. Fragile or already-injured NPCs may fall unconscious and/or die.

  • Brutalising prisoners tends to make them less friendly in future should they survive, and may make Good NPCs that witness or hear about the event less favourable towards the PCs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The thugs are part of a gang operating in The Hive/Lower Ward regions of Sigil (Planescape), and they usually extort some "tax" on people crossing their way. They prefer not to kill anyone for fear of law enforcement taking action, and are used to people just paying up as long as the sums are bearable (say 100 gp). The players are relatively new to the area and don't know that. The bandits don't really value the life's of their fellow bandits that much, as life expectancy generally is short in the areas they operate in. \$\endgroup\$ – Joseph Doob Apr 19 '17 at 8:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JosephDoob: That's fine, I didn't want to open up a debate about what is or is not reasonable for the plot justification, just there will need to be something there to make sense to you and your players. I'll edit it out now it is clear you have that in hand, since it's not core to the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater Apr 19 '17 at 9:06

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