[5E] Handling interesting combat stunts

Extrakun

Tinker of Games
Validated User
#1
I have recently started DMing for a group of new players who have never played D&D, or any other tabletop RPGs before, but was really keen to start. As this is their first RPG experience, they have no former preconceptions with how the game should be played, and during combat they like perform interesting stunts, such as:

  • Throwing a downed enemy at others
  • Attempting to use intimidate to get the enemies to back off
  • The barbarian in the group throwing a halfing at the enemy for an aerial attack
  • Performing a spin attack (attacking two enemies at the same time)
How should I handle those actions? Right now, I am holding off saying "you can't do that", or putting imposing too many penalty. Ideally, I want to find a solution that is about as effective (i.e, has the same expected value) as a basic attack. I do want to their ideas and creativity to have some "creative mechanical weight", so just treating those as basic attacks with embellishments is not exactly what I am looking for. I don't mind a third-party product, as long as it does not impose an entire new sub-system, or if it is light enought that I as the GM can just handle it.

I could just give out inspiration, however they are actually doing this on a turn by turn basis, and I don't want discourage them by saying "You can only have one inspiration at a time", or even "You can have only X inspiration at a time"

Also, changing game system is not an option. They insisted on D&D. (Though I probably will tell them at the end of campaign that I wasn't playing 5E by RAW in case they want to go on to other DMs).

Your thoughts are welcomed!
 
Last edited:

Nelzie

Registered User
Validated User
#2
Two Attacks via a "spin", should require maybe a Dexterity check (adjusted by terrain/makeup of the area) and then have some kind of penalty to the first foe and a slightly heavier penalty for the second foe, but use one single attack roll.

So, the Fighter has his/her Great Axe out and wants to spin around and hit two foes that are within reach. The ground is flat and no problem. A Dex check hitting a DC of 10 or 12 will probably be fine. Then 1 single attack roll is used, -2 (or -1) on the first and -4 ( or -3) on the second. The chance to make it happen exists, but it's not a 100% sure thing. A Failed Dex check only means that the attack can only hit one foe, (use the first attack roll penalty.)

I suggest always figure out a way to say "Yes". It's a collaborative story game. If you say yes to the players, foes can and should start trying those things too.
 

Mejiro_Night

Registered User
Validated User
#3
Multiple attacks gets iffy, because there's ways to get that (generally, 'be higher level' or 'dual wield') which have rules, and adding more ways can have potentially wonky interactions with the action/damage economy and so forth (and remember that enemies should be able to do them as well!). Throwing someone would probably be a Strength (athletics) check, and do damage based off the size of the body, or give bonus movement if used on an ally (and possibly let them get somewhere they couldn't otherwise). Probably something like D8+Str modifier for a person, maybe, with a chance to knock the target prone (just don't make it too good, unless it's something you want to see in every fight).

Intimidate would vary massively by who the other group is - some random bandits you might be able to make back down, but some low-level adventurers trying to bully their way through the king's guard is likely to be really hard, if not impossible, while a mindless beasty might not have the capacity to be intimidated. But there's skill checks for that kind of thing, so just use those, with advantage / disadvantage if needed.
 

Siphonaptera

up to no good
Validated User
#4
  • Throwing a downed enemy at others
  • Attempting to use intimidate to get the enemies to back off
  • The barbarian in the group throwing a halfing at the enemy for an aerial attack
  • Performing a spin attack (attacking two enemies at the same time)
It depends on if you want to do action movie fun and encourage creativity. The best thing you can do is not make it harder to do flashy versions of existing abilities.

So if throwing an an enemy at other enemies does less damage than doing a regular weapon attack you could let them throw as an improvised weapon (d4) and maybe make the enemy have disadvantage on their next attack. Or make the enemy save vs the character's athletic skill +8 or be knocked back or prone. Or just force them back 5 feet to avoid getting hit.

Depending on the enemy this can be a great approach some of the time, like scaring goblins even if yhe same thing probably wouldn't impact more organized enemies like hobgoblins. Allows flavor past every enemy fighting fo the death.

The throwing for arial attack is funny, probably wouldn't do anything other than allow a melee roll before triggering an attack of opportunity and taking fall damage. If it seems overpowered, allow a single attack roll at disadvantage. Chance for fun, not overpowered and unlikely to be a regular thing.

Don't allow multiple attacks without a class ability because it steps on the toes of multiple classes and is one of the biggest differences between classes. At most you could allow an effect like a push with their action and allow a bonus attack which wouldn't normally be possible without an attack, but know that if it is effective players will choose exceptions if they are effectuve if you don't make it explicitly situational.
 

happyhermit

Registered User
Validated User
#5
I never (probably an overstatement in reality) tell players they can't do something unless it's clearly impossible in the fictional world. They can attempt anything their player could try to do. When you get into multiple attacks it gets tricky because "attack" is a partially abstracted term in D&D (attacking a goblin doesn't neccesarily mean swinging your sword at a creature 1 time in 6 seconds).

There are quite a few ways to do the multiple attack thing though. For instance an ability check to pull off the maneuver, but then it would make sense for the attacks to be at disadvantage, this would make it hard to pull off but if damage was calculated normally then it's rather rewarding.
 

Extrakun

Tinker of Games
Validated User
#6
There are quite a few ways to do the multiple attack thing though. For instance an ability check to pull off the maneuver, but then it would make sense for the attacks to be at disadvantage, this would make it hard to pull off but if damage was calculated normally then it's rather rewarding.
This is really helpful. To add an element of risk to it is something I have not thought off yet. Thanks!
 

secondbest

Registered User
Validated User
#7
Throw a buddy: aid attack
I probably wouldn't want to allow a spin attack. If I would, I'd have it deal half damage rounded down to both targets. If I would want to discourge it, I'd make them make two attacks with half damage.
 

Eklev

Registered User
Validated User
#8
Spin attack specifically I’d probably rule so that the two attacks would be made with disadvantage, and enemies would have advantage on attacks against the PC until the start of their next turn (imbalanced footing etc.).
 

kenco

Registered User
Validated User
#9
...they have no former preconceptions with how the game should be played, and during combat they like perform interesting stunts
Yep: new players often come up with interesting ideas... it would be a great pity to train them out of it deliberately!

It really depends on how you want their experience to be, and what kind of tone you want in the game. It might be worth discussing those expectations and preferences with them: Something like "I'm really happy to play along with these cool moves, but I want to make sure we're on the same page about what we're trying to do here. D&D rules as written don't explicitly allow characters to do some of these things. If I we're trying to have a game that sticks close to the norm for D&D, you'd probably be able to try most of these things, but your chances of pulling some of them off might be pretty low. If we did that, you might find it worked better to have your character's stick to the options defined in the rules. But that might take a lot of the fun out the combat scenes. The other way we can do it, is for me to go with a more free-wheeling Hollywood film interpretation of things, like I have been. That way I'll have to improvise a bit, but we can make sure your characters are able to do the fun stuff you are thinking up. If we do that, we won't be playing a typical D&D game following the RAW." The other aspect of the conversation is what kind of tone they want the game to have. You might need to agree to some bounds on the look and feel of fancy combat moves.

  • Throwing a downed enemy at others
  • Attempting to use intimidate to get the enemies to back off
  • The barbarian in the group throwing a halfing at the enemy for an aerial attack
  • Performing a spin attack (attacking two enemies at the same time)
How should I handle those actions?
If you want to let them be able to try these things, you need to consider:

a) how hard are you going to try to balance them with the standard options available to characters under the RAW?
b) how hard are you going to try to emulate some kind of 'genre'/ naturalistic portrayal of combat? And which one?

I don't know 5th edition, so I can't really address balance, or options you might have within the RAW. But I assume that none of these manoeuvres is really covered. Some of them seem to offer a definite combat advantage (e.g. two attacks for the price of one) and/or pretty implausible (e.g. throwing corpses around wholesale). Others seem pretty reasonable (e.g. try to intimidate a foe in combat).

I'd be thinking about the following:

1) What fictional outcome is the player expecting from this character's attempt?
2) Should this PC in this world be able to try this with a reasonable chance of getting that outcome?
3) Would that offer a major advantage over making a standard attack of some kind?
4) If the answer to (3) is yes, am I OK with this becoming a favoured move that displaces standard attacks? How would that affect balance between the PCs? Tone of the game? If I'm not OK with that, how can I penalise/ limit the effect of the move to maintain something like balance?

Throwing a downed enemy:
- Likely the player expects this will knock a foe or two back or over, delaying their ability to attack or pursue
- Pros: might possibly affect more than one foe; might reach a bit further than a melee attack; might take foe out of the fight for a round or so
- Cons: unlikely to do serious harm; unlikely to deter foes; requires at least one, probably two free hands; requires a downed foe within arm's length
- Interesting: requires great strength; might be easy to dodge if foes expect it; hard to dodge in a confined space; works better down stairs; might work on an active foe; could work with furniture; doesn't require much precision; works much better with a 50lb foe than a 200lb one; looks silly if often repeated
- Interesting failure: throw succeeds causing property damage or impeding irrelevant baddies, but the target dodges and now the PC is unarmed

If you think a PC should be strong enough to do this, I think it's OK. They will need at least one free hand and a ready corpse. Look at the geometry to work out how many foes are likely to be affected (it might be a wide and deep area of effect, depending on the size and positions of the foes). No attack roll needed, but uses up the PC's attack for the round. Foes have a chance to dodge, based on the situation/ their quickness/ degree of warning etc. A foe that takes a square hit goes down and loses a round. Others take no effect. Base range on STR of PC, elevation, wind up and relative size of thrown foe, up to a several metres for a small foe. If you use two hands and take a full round winding up, you get some extra distance but it's going to be obvious and easy to dodge; possibly the PC will be easier to hit while winding up (or possibly not, if it is swinging a corpse in circles)

Intimidating foes:
- Likely the player expects that this might cause foes as a group to back off out of melee distance, at least for a round or so, giving an opportunity to talk, flee or do something truly terrifying to chase them off; but the player wouldn't be surprised if it just didn't work
- Pros: affects a group, possibly a big one; creates a pause in the combat and a new opportunity to choose the terms of engagement
- Cons: won't do any harm to foes; implausible against some foes (e.g. undead, slimes); implausible in many situations
- Interesting: if it doesn't work the first time, a second attempt is unlikely to succeed; strongly affected by circumstances; character might be able to do something clever, impressive or violent to affect chances; limited effect on creatures with missile abilities; raises questions about what 'Intimidate' trait represents, and how it works
- Interesting Failure: Foes enraged/ redouble efforts; foes focus their hostile intent on the intimidator; PCs lose future ability to intimidate this foe

I think this is quite plausible IF the PC does/ has just done something awesomely violent and impressive AND has a way to make it seen and heard in the confusion; if melee has not been joined; if enemy morale is already iffy; if there is a natural lull or gap in the melee; or if the awesome action is blindingly obvious (a massive explosion etc.). I'm not sure that I would roll a PC trait called Intimidate, if that is not the intended game use of the Intimidate trait. I'd base it probably on the PC's STR (for physical violence/ weapon handling) or perhaps DEX/ CHA (for more skilled based/ psychological stunts). The key elements here are a) situation; b) foe morale; c) PC's accompanying feats/ actions. Success causes the foes to back off for a moment and reconsider; but it doesn't drive them off or end the encounter. In effect, this is an extension of whatever 'morale' rules/ considerations you are applying to the NPCs, not an application of a particular character skill.

Throwing a Halfling for an aerial attack:
- Likely the player expects that this will give the Halfling a devastating strike with relative impunity and an opportunity to knock the foe down and/or zoom past to safety, partly due to the surprise factor
- Pros: devastating strike; repositions Halfling in rear/ on top of foe; acts as a short range missile attack; surprising (at least the first time)
- Cons: dangerous for the halfling ( skewered on a spear?); halfling could be stunned, bruised or knocked down; halfling gets thrown into/ past enemy lines; requires Barbarian to have at least one (probably two?) free hands; fairly short range (realistically several metres); for a reasonable throw a build up would be needed, leaving the Barbarian exposed to attack and warning foes of intent; succeed or fail the Halfling is likely to end up down and near foes
- Interesting: requires strength; might be easy to dodge if foe expects it; hard to dodge in a confined space; the throw itself is quite plausible; might possibly be rehearsed by the Barbarian and the Halfling
- Interesting failure: throw succeeds but a bit clumsy; Halfling 'misses' target or wrong way to strike; hits a wall or furniture behind target, stunned and down behind enemy lines; Halfling skewered on enemy weapon for damage, but weapon torn from foe's hands; Halfling hits foe and knocks it down, but no chance for weapon strike

It's plausible to throw a Halfling, but the devastating strike part is cinematic fantasy. If you want to allow it, though, I think it's not imbalancing. The Barbarian has to use up at least a full round of attacks to give a boost to the Halfling's attack roll and maybe add some side effects like a knock down or stun. But the Halfling will end up down in the middle of the enemy. I'd have the Barbarian test STR to get the knock down/ stun bonus effect. The Halfling rolls for an attack, getting to choose between a +to Hit (surprise) or +damage (forceful head strike). The Barbarian ends empty handed. The Halfling might be allowed a roll to end up on his/her feet, otherwise down; a bad roll might give the Halfling weapon damage from the target, or stunned by the collision.

Spin attack:
- Likely the player expects that this will let the surrounded character make two attacks/ have a chance to take out two foes; might expect to not count foes as behind/ outflanking?
- Pros: Effectively two attacks for the price of one i.e. double damage; might also act as 'all round defence', force foes to parry/ duck/ back off
- Cons: None obvious; requires some kind of slashing weapon? Or at least chopping entirely through one foe?
- Interesting: the move is somewhat plausible with certain weapons - but it is on a different time scale to a standard attack per game mechanics
- Interesting failure: miss one or both foes, creating an opening for one of them to stab you in the back, hard

This is plausible but doesn't mesh with the game's mechanics, because its a 2:1 attack. If you don't care, just go ahead and allow it! (but you need to be in that kind of position, with a plausible weapon, perhaps a plausible class). If you want to balance it, more or less, you might try:

Make 2 attack rolls, but roll your damage only once and divide it between the two targets (or make one roll to hit both or none of the targets)
Make 2 attack rolls at -X/disadvantage, each for full damage
Make 2 normal attacks, but the PC's AC is substantially worse / foe's melee attack at advantage until it's next turn (whether this works depends on your turn sequence)
Treat the whole thing as primarily defensive: The PC avoids whatever the defensive penalty for being surrounded is, and gets to make one normal melee attack at a penalty. If you like, let the player divide any resulting damage from its attack between the two foes.

Novel tactics, that might work once against a given foe are less likely to be effective a second time, because the surprise/ shock effect has been lost.

And if you find that your 'house ruling' has created the One Move to Rule Them All, then that needs to be discussed with the players. Do they want to play the game where every fight involves all the fighters throwing dead enemies into the crowd? Or can we rethink how we play that particular move?

You could create a general idea that you get to do a crazy stunt that stretches reality and/or game rules for the first time. But if you try the same one again, you can expect it to be penalised and/or less effective.

It might also be worth exploring how they feel about their opponents pulling moves like this on them. I don't mean that as a threat of DM reprisals. Who knows? The players might relish the idea of an over-the-top battle of novel stunts. You could make a rule about the DM never duplicating PC moves and vice versa. Much harder for you to DM, of course...
 
Last edited:

Mejiro_Night

Registered User
Validated User
#10
Multi-attacks outside the regular rules gets wonky, especially when you start getting attacks with rider attacks (e.g status effects or knockback), or things like vorpal swords where you have a flat chance for an insta-kill and doubling the chances / targets affected. If characters are wanting to make multiple attacks, that's already covered under the rules for dual wielding - if they want the benefits of that with a single weapon, then tough, it's a trade off for 'two sets of smaller damage' or 'one set of bigger damage'.
 
Top Bottom