.the ramblings of a radman.

Category: D&D

Targets can be killed in their sleep in D&D: prove me wrong

A topic of conversation that regularly comes up in the various D&D communities in which I’m involved is that of attacking an adversary that is sleeping. The argument breaks down into two camps: those that believe the sleeper can only be immediately killed if the attacker can deliver enough damage to the sleeping target to reduce its hit points to zero and those that believe a sleeping target can’t defend itself, therefore guaranteeing the player can deliver a killing blow.

As always, I recommend leaving the decision up to the Dungeon Master, but I feel that the underlying argument comes down to one of a misunderstanding as to what hit points are meant to represent. Here’s my attempt to quickly summarize my interpretation of hit points in D&D (and specifically, how I try to utilize them in the games that I run).

Hit points aren’t really a measure of a character’s blood loss or anything so specific as how much damage you’ve taken physically. Instead, they are the numerical component of a mechanic used to negotiate contested combat. Did you, Cordric the Magnificent, hack-and-slash your way through a dungeon full of baddies to arrive at the inner sanctum of the vile Rippah the Malevolent with only 5 HP left? You’re not physically holding your entrails in your body through sheer force of will. You’re just worn out and beat up and could make a mistake that allows someone to slip past your guard and deal a fatal blow at any time.

Sure, you’ve probably been cut here or there, particularly that time Ashford the Axe rolled a nat 20 two rooms back and hit you for 33 damage. But Ash didn’t bury a hatchet in your back and leave you clinging to life. He just landed a blow that cut deep enough to distract you. Sure, if you don’t tend to it soon, it will be a problem, but you’re not in danger of bleeding out in seconds. Instead, you’re distracted, in pain, and struggling to maintain the upper hand.

So what does that have to do with attacking a sleeping adversary?

Let’s presume for the moment that you’re the DM. In the most common scenario, a sleeping NPC isn’t in combat. You haven’t rolled initiative, and your player is likely sneaking into their adversary’s camp. At this point, if you want to allow Francis the Forgiving to die in his sleep, you can. If you don’t, then you should come up with a reason why they don’t. Only ask for a roll if you want their death to be contested. It doesn’t even have to be a combat roll. In this particular case, rolling the player’s Stealth vs. the NPC’s Passive Perception would be my recommended option. You can even give the NPC disadvantage what with the visit to Nodsville and all. Not all deaths in D&D have to be the result of rolled damage. Mix it up a bit. Do what works best for the story you’re trying to tell.

And remember, the rules exist to help everyone have a good time, but the beauty of being a Dungeon Master is that—sometimes—you get to rewrite the rules to make sure everyone has a good time.

Besides, it’s really important to remind the players that if they can do it, so can the monsters. 😈

The Tower of Terror, or How To Almost Party Wipe Your PCs for Fun & Profit

Last year, I started playing D&D with my cousin and a few friends. Two of them had never played D&D before and some had only played a handful of times. A session or two later and my teenage son joined in the fun. As we neared the end of Lost Mine of Phandelver (yes, it took us a year; we are still figuring out ways to improve our combat efficiency so that they don’t take as long), two more players joined us, bringing our party total to 7 (I do say, that’s an auspicious number).

Spoilers for Lost Mine of Phandelver after the break…

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Goblins & giants & bears, oh my!

This summer, I started running my own Dungeons & Dragons game for my friends using the 5th edition starter campaign, Lost Mine of Phandelver. It’s a pretty solid opening campaign, especially for a group of people that range from haven’t played in several years to “What’s a d20?” There are plenty of opportunities to learn the ins-and-outs of the Forgotten Realms, how to solve a problem without violence, and what to do when the players go off the rails for a bit. I’ve learned a lot and my players have been really enjoying themselves.

One of the greatest struggles of any D&D campaign, however, is scheduling. With five players and a DM/father to four children, trying to align schedules can be akin to befriending a beholder. Especially during the holidays. After more than a month with no opportunities to play together, we managed to lay our schedules upon the altar of good fortune in a runic pattern capable of opening a gateway to Toril in the Prime Material Plane so that my adventurers could continue their journey. Alas, it was not to be.

Our Druid managed to injure her back and apparently the D&D books don’t actually give you magical powers, despite everything I was told as a child. As such, healing her was not an option and we decided to find an alternate activity for the evening.

Luckily, my cousin (one of my players) decided he would run a one-off campaign for the rest of us. We quickly rolled up a few characters (or grabbed a pre-gen from Wizards’ website) and dove into an Adventurer’s League campaign for a night of mayhem.

One of my favorite aspects of D&D is the collaborative nature of the experience. While the Dungeon Master sets out to guide the players on a journey with delineated plot points, adventure hooks, and designated goals, once the game starts it becomes a joint effort to tell the story. Players often find ways to alter the course of the adventure and force the DM to think on his or her feet. In this particular instance, while being mobbed by a swarm of miniaturized goblins, I decided to keep one as a pet by shoving it in my bags. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that its curse would soon wear off and he would restore to full size. In an effort to keep my new companion, I asked the DM if I could determine the nature of the curse and make it permanent. While explicitly stated within the pages of the adventure that the curse would wear off in time, my cousin let me put the goblin in a confined space and make a Strength check (a die roll with my character’s Strength used to add a bonus on top of that roll) to keep the goblin compressed when the curse wore off, preventing him from returning to full size. My new companion, Pocket the Goblin, gets to travel with me on my journey, all because the DM decided to “Yes, and” instead of “No, but”.

In the end, my character’s choices won’t bear much significance, as our next session will return us to our regularly scheduled campaign. But I still had a blast playing again and have some great ideas for future encounters for my players, thanks to my brief stint as an adventurer. I’m looking forward to digging out the Dwarven Warlock, Thu’udin Hjalgrim, for his next excursion, whatever it may be. He was a lot of fun to play, and I hope his future journeys are filled with laughter in the face of darkness.