Too much Coup de Grace encouragement

I've liked the playtests I've run as a whole, but there's one issue that continually gives me trouble and that's the cleric's healing. Especially since they now have infinite cure minor wounds as a word of power, this problem seems to be a glaring flaw in the rules.

The problem is that it puts any intelligent monsters into a logical problem. They know that any PC knocked unconscious will be revived and returned at zero cost by the cleric, and that the cleric can continually keep doing that. The only way to stop it is to either focus fire the cleric down (which doens't work if the party has two), or to do a coup de grace on a fallen PC.

This leads to a very high deadliness factor, because finishing a PC takes top priority over even attacking another live PC.

The "Heal from zero" rule has to go. That way at the very least, cure minor wounds can't instantly return any PC to combat infinitely.

Optimally, combat healing as a whole should lose the word of power type, so it should require the entire action to heal, or perhaps a prohibition should be put in place where unconscious people can't be returned to consciousness easily. Maybe they're stunned for a few rounds or something.

It should be disadvantageous to bring back fallen comrades, because if that becomes a common tactic, then Coup de Gracing fallen PCs becomes the counter strategy and that's absolutely not good for the game. 
It should deal with that similar to how 4E did and have a sidebar saying:

Monsters and Fallen Adventurers: Most monsters don’t attack combatants who are dying; they focus on any characters still on their feet and posing a threat. But some particularly wicked monsters might attack a dying character on purpose (even using a coup de grace), and monsters make no effort to avoid including a dying character in an area attack or a close attack aimed at other characters who are still fighting.

 

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

It should deal with that similar to how 4E did and have a sidebar saying:

Monsters and Fallen Adventurers: Most monsters don’t attack combatants who are dying; they focus on any characters still on their feet and posing a threat. But some particularly wicked monsters might attack a dying character on purpose (even using a coup de grace), and monsters make no effort to avoid including a dying character in an area attack or a close attack aimed at other characters who are still fighting.

 



The problem is that under the current rules it isn't really an evil tactic to kill a downed PC, it's just a plain good strategic one.

So long as the cleric is on the field, a downed PC is every bit as much of a threat as the one that's standing. The only difference is that you can remove the downed PC with an easy stab to the neck while the other guy is actively defending.

While it'd be reasonable for animals like wolves not to attack fallen enemies because they don't know any better, any remotely intelligent race that knows of divine magic at all would pretty much learn the "destroy the brain to be sure" tactic when dealing with parties with enemy clerics.

Because it's not a rare spell, any cleric can pretty much do that. And I don't want a "play the enemies like morons" sidebar, I'd prefer if the rules just didn't encourage the CdG tactic in the first place.
It was the same under 4E's rules. The point of this guideline is to teach DMs that PCs are fairly fragile while dying and it sucks for players to have their PC killed so easily when they are down and that enemies should focus their attention on foes that still pose a threat rather than on foes that don't. Even voracious and hungry predators won't necessarily eat while still threatened. They will instead try to scare foes away or drag their prey away before eating. 

And in character POV unless you spend time checking a downed creature, it may be hard to tell the difference between a dead or dying one in the middle of combat unless its obvious (ex. beheaded). Why wasting actions to attack a dead corpse when live ones are still around trying to kill you ?


The guideline facilitating dying PC to be brought back is much more to prevent them from being easily killed than to reduce combat lenght by ensuring to contribute again. Its much more to deal with long term consequences than short term one. 

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

It was the same under 4E's rules.



And I hated it in 4E too.

In 4E, at least I kind of acknowledge why they did it, because the combats took so long, it'd be unfair to have a PC knocked out early and be unable to participate for literally an hour or more, so you needed to make it easy to return people to combat simply because combats were so unbelievably long. So more than anything the abundance of easy healing was a bandaid fix for the combat length.

In D&DN though, that's not an issue, combats take about 5-10 minutes, so having someone drop and knocked out of a combat isn't even a big deal. It's perfectly fine to have someone drop and just say they're out of that combat.



The guideline facilitating dying PC to be brought back is much more to prevent them from being easily killed than to reduce combat lenght by ensuring to contribute again. Its much more to deal with long term consequences than short term one.



Well no. See if a dropped PC is a noncombatant, then there's no reason for a foe to CdG him. Yeah the foe might come back and kill him after his buddies are all dead, but he isn't a priority target, because the enemy knows he's not coming back into the fight.

Once you have unconscious PCs that can be returned to combat, you turn dropped people into combatants again. That's seriously a bad idea, because not only are they strategic targets, they're also highly vulnerable strategic targets. And the only way to render them into noncombatants is to fully kill them. That's just a seriously bad idea from a game that wants recurring characters.

What you want is perhaps cleric spells to stablize dying characters, but not to return them to combat, because they're much safer being noncombatants.

It's the same difference with resistable hold person versus long duration hold person. If a paralyzed person is removed from combat and won't be moving again, there's no reason to kill him. He's simply a noncombatant. If he gets a check to remove the hold person, you're better off taking him out while he's vulnerable.


Once you have unconscious PCs that can be returned to combat, you turn dropped people into combatants again. That's seriously a bad idea, because not only are they strategic targets, they're also highly vulnerable strategic targets. And the only way to render them into noncombatants is to fully kill them. That's just a seriously bad idea from a game that wants recurring characters.

What you want is perhaps cleric spells to stablize dying characters, but not to return them to combat, because they're much safer being noncombatants.

I could not possibly agree more.  One thing that I've done, for my own games, is to make it well known that an unconscious target who has been healed is still unconscious and will remain so unless someone spends an action (full-round, in editions which support that) to wake that person up.  In 3E or 4E, that basically meant two rounds worth of someone else's turn, which meant that it wasn't worthwhile during combat - nobody wants to spend two rounds to pick up someone who is just going to drop again from the first hit.

The metagame is not the game.

Good point Dwarfslayer.  I'm seeing Cure Minor Wounds, Hold, Sleep and all those spells in a new light now.   I could see Cure Minor Wounds going back to the older Stabilize cantrip.  

Here's another idea:  what if WoTC added that in order to perform a Coup-de-Grace, the attacking creature could not be in any threatened area.   If they add this, players will be able to rush to stand beside their fallen comrade (as long as they get to move before the foe does).    I think this might add some more excitement and make combats more dynamic.

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I completely agree with the op, Dwarfslayer. From a DM's standpoint, the option to heal endlessly seems very much like overkill. I agree that the enemies would have to resort to some pretty underhanded tactics to even pose a threat to the PCs, that is if the DM wants to play smart enemies instead of the "here's some underlings for you to kill" approach.

From a player's standpoint (I'm actually more often a PC than a DM at this point) I feel that the encounter is somewhat on autopilot and that my hand is being held too much. I would much rather prefer a hint of desperation in encounters (i.e. limited healing) so that every encounter poses somewhat of a challenge instead of the threat being realised as sudden death tactics.

Also, the 'jumping back up to zero and healing from there' has got to go imho. I know that the developers are experimenting with stuff (which is awesome) but I think that makes getting back to full health waaaaaay too easy and it seems as if the fight doesn't faze the PCs in any way (Disclaimer: I'm not a killer-DM, quite the opposite, however, as a player I wouldn't want this either).
Wow, I like that idea, Rhenny (can't C-d-G under threat).

One thing I try to always remember as a DM is that we are playing a Fantasy Roleplaying game and that it's being played for fun, not as a tactical "who will win" game, but as a storytelling setting where the players all collectively tell the tale.  The point for me, as the DM, isn't to try to win the encounter for the creatures but to narrate the adventure that the players are telling.  I do not have to exert energy to kill them off, sometimes it happens as part of the tale but, hopefully, more often or not the players overcome the odds and do something heroic.

So I am with Plague in this (and the suggestions in the rules).   

Eh, the whole "stand up infinitely" issue with Cure Light Wounds is only an issue at low levels. By Mid level, standing up with 1hp is a literal death sentence since the "chunky salsa rule" kicks in at -(CON+LVL)HP. If you have a level 10 PC, who has (for reasons unknown) 20 CON, then they are 31 HP from death after a Cure Light Wounds. Seeing as most monsters around that level have minimum damage values in the mid 20s I'm not sure the issue is with "healing is too easy".

I'm sure that no DM worth his salt is out to kill the players per se. While the DM is telling a story, his mission is also to create a feeling of uncertainty and challenge. I completely lost interest in our 4e campaign where I'm a PC due to how impossible it was for my character to be seriously injured. Don't get me wrong, it has a good story but D&D for me isn't all about story. I'm an rp-heavy guy but if the combat seems off, why not play a completely different and combat-free game? I felt that 3rd edition had a dealier but still fair feel to it so I don't see why it had to be 'fixed' when in my mind it wasn't 'broke'. I think both the PCs and the enemies should be in a battle of attrition that goes along smoothly and relatively quickly (this was the feeling I always got from 3.5 games).
Agreed (on the need for a sense of challenge and threat to life).  I don't agree that 4E didn't offer it, though, as I never had a problem bringing players to the edge (or even beyond).  It sometimes just took a long time to get them there because combat could take so long.

There's a difference, though, between posing a threat and playing to win - at least in my book as a DM.  For me, it's creating that cinematic drama, the excitement and terror that comes in a life-and-death scene.  I tried to feed into the theatric nature of combat in D&D, not into the tactical boardgame that lies beneath it.  Therefore, I am not one of those DMs who believe it's necessary to alpha-strike the Wizard and Cleric because they're the weak links and vital to party success.  Not my style.  And while I acknowledge that I would do more irreparable harm to the group by coup-de-gracing on character, I still believe there's plenty of drama and danger involved when you put two on the ground rather than finishing off just one.  In fact, I'd agrue that the group, as a whole, comes away with greater memories of challenge and heroism when they walk away from a battle where three of them were dying at one point compared to the battle where one died permanently.

As for TPKs... my personal opinion is that they should only occur for a very few reasons.  It either was a fitting conclusion to the campaign, a necessary reflection of action and plot, or seemingly fate insisting that this heroic tale was at an end.  If the group dies because I tactically outplayed them or out powered them, then that's failure on my part. As a DM, I am always capable of winning any combat.

Eh, the whole "stand up infinitely" issue with Cure Light Wounds is only an issue at low levels. By Mid level, standing up with 1hp is a literal death sentence since the "chunky salsa rule" kicks in at -(CON+LVL)HP. If you have a level 10 PC, who has (for reasons unknown) 20 CON, then they are 31 HP from death after a Cure Light Wounds. Seeing as most monsters around that level have minimum damage values in the mid 20s I'm not sure the issue is with "healing is too easy".




That's not good either.

The point is that you don't want PCs getting flat out killed most of the time, where it's okay to have PCs just get KOed and knocked out of that battle.

The healing rules unfortunately make it too easy to return a PC to combat, and require that monsters flat out kill a PC to make him a noncombatant.

I'd like to see it changed where a PC that gets KOed is knocked out of the combat, or at the very least is very difficult to return to combat (something like Saerlorn's 2 actions to return to the fight isn't bad).
Agreed (on the need for a sense of challenge and threat to life).  I don't agree that 4E didn't offer it, though, as I never had a problem bringing players to the edge (or even beyond).  It sometimes just took a long time to get them there because combat could take so long.

There's a difference, though, between posing a threat and playing to win - at least in my book as a DM.  For me, it's creating that cinematic drama, the excitement and terror that comes in a life-and-death scene.  I tried to feed into the theatric nature of combat in D&D, not into the tactical boardgame that lies beneath it.  Therefore, I am not one of those DMs who believe it's necessary to alpha-strike the Wizard and Cleric because they're the weak links and vital to party success.  Not my style.  And while I acknowledge that I would do more irreparable harm to the group by coup-de-gracing on character, I still believe there's plenty of drama and danger involved when you put two on the ground rather than finishing off just one.  In fact, I'd agrue that the group, as a whole, comes away with greater memories of challenge and heroism when they walk away from a battle where three of them were dying at one point compared to the battle where one died permanently.

As for TPKs... my personal opinion is that they should only occur for a very few reasons.  It either was a fitting conclusion to the campaign, a necessary reflection of action and plot, or seemingly fate insisting that this heroic tale was at an end.  If the group dies because I tactically outplayed them or out powered them, then that's failure on my part. As a DM, I am always capable of winning any combat.



That's how I feel also. When I'm DMing, I refuse to exploit meta-knowledge about the player classes or tactical roles and hit the guy that the enemy would naturally hit, trying to dish out the damage evenly. I also prefer a theatrical element to combat in which the drama and exitement become paramount over strategies and grid-based gaming. The only reason I use a battlemat at all is that I'm terrible when it comes to remembering character placement and doing the whole 'theatre of the mind' thingy. However, I aim to try that out at some point. Much in accordance with what you said, my ideal encounter wears the characters down to the brink of desperation (what I meant by going for a battle of attrition) but trying not to get any of them permanently killed. I find it so satisfying when the players are all "Wow, we were all down for the count except Player X who barely managed to impale Creature Y. I thought we were goners for a second there" (not in every encounter of course, that would be too much of the same).

Referring to my comments about 4e. I'm glad people have managed to make their games lethal. I've never DMed a 4e game but I've been playing in one for three years and just when I think I'm about to be injured for real, I remember that even -10 doesn't mean death anymore. This has probably been said a bajillion times but I felt that the healing surges felt like the regenerative health of modern FPSs but that's just my impression of being a 4e player.

Gr3yZer0 has a good point about the healing being rather minimal. I think the best kind of field-healing in the midst of combat is the kind that just barely gets a player back into action (preferably enough to survive though) but doesn't give him/her too much confidence. I was reminded of what Bane said in TDKR, something along the lines of "giving people a sliver of hope increases their despair". It's that notion of keeping the players in dread but still giving them enough hope to think that they have a decent shot if they do their best. I'm probably ranting and going off on tangents but long story short, I hope to see this kind of subsistence field-healing be an integral part of D&D Next because it adds to the drama.

 

I completely agree with the op

Ditto.

Also, the 'jumping back up to zero and healing from there' has got to go imho.

Amen brother.

After player 4e constantly for years (literally hundreds of games), I still have to remind some players that they heal up from zero (rather than from their current negative HP value). Every session! That seems to confirm my opinion that the rule is not intuitive. And it's been happening in 5e now too.

I still have to remind some players that they heal up from zero (rather than from their current negative HP value). Every session! That seems to confirm my opinion that the rule is not intuitive. And it's been happening in 5e now too.


That's because negative Hit Points is an inherently counter-intuitve expression because one cannot have less than 0 units of ability to keep fighting.

To put it in kindergarten terms, you have 10 HP and HP are apples so you have 10 apples - when Jimmy tells you to give him 12 apples, you can give him 10 and have 0 remaining... you cannot give him 12 and have -2 apples remaining.

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Actually, negative HP seem to be very intuitive.  If they were counter-intuitive, then mvincent's players wouldn't need constant reminder that they don't exist.

To put it in high school terms, you have 10 HP and HP are dollars so you have $10 - when Jimmy tells you to give him $12 or else he'll beat your face in, you can give him $10 and still owe him $2... he's not going to forget about that $2 just because you don't have it right then.

What 4E (and Next) are doing is saying that "zero hit points" is like a status condition; it doesn't matter how you get there, because once you're there then it wipes your slate clean.  This causes weirdness when you try to "remove" that condition, because you go from not having HP to having HP.  Simply treating your current HP like a number (that can be either positive or negative) at all times would solve any issues that would be caused by other things that treat your HP - like when you try to add or subtract them.

The metagame is not the game.

negative Hit Points is an inherently counter-intuitve expression

Actually, all my players have always seemed to grock that intuitively. It's always seemed easy to understand, mechanically speaking. Now, you might wish to debate whether it makes sense realistically... but as a former military Medical platoon leader: negative HP is absolutely realistic to me.

I agree with the OP that this is a bit of an issue, but I think a simple house-rule fix can take care of it.

If a character is brought back up to 1 hp from a negative value, they remain unconcious and unable to take any actions for one round for each negative hp they were down.  The only way to avoid this wait time is to bring the character back to 100% full hp.

Example: dorf the fighter is hit for 6 damage when he only has 3 hp.  klark the cleric heals him for 1 point, bringing him to 1 hp, but he remains unconcious for 3 more rounds since he was down to -3 before being healed.

If a character is struck down to exactly 0 hp and then healed up to 1 there is no delay, of course.

I think this would sufficiently kill the incentive to constantly cure minor wounds dying characters without making combat healing completely worthless. 
As a possible fix you could remove the "heal from 0" rule, but then add to all healing spells a special ritual version that takes 1 min to cast, costs you a slot but has the "heal from 0" rule. This way someone taken out in combat is down for that combat, but once you are out of it you can heal those guys without stressing the already low out of combat heal we have.
once you are out of it you can heal those guys without stressing the already low out of combat heal we have.

Removing 'heal from zero' would absolutely require rebalancing. It's the mechanic (rather than the balance) that's problematic.

I was thinking of a homebrew Severe Wounds module that might help with this. The original intent was to add a little gritty verisimilitude, but it would also keep players from always bouncing back up like nothing happened.

The idea is this, whenever a character is crit'ed or dropped below 0 they have to make a con save. On a failed save they would take ability damage to a random stat. This abilty damage would require either advanced magic or an extended period of recovery. (This is mostly cribbed from the Shadowrun Severe Wounds rule).
Good point Dwarfslayer.  I'm seeing Cure Minor Wounds, Hold, Sleep and all those spells in a new light now.   I could see Cure Minor Wounds going back to the older Stabilize cantrip.  

Here's another idea:  what if WoTC added that in order to perform a Coup-de-Grace, the attacking creature could not be in any threatened area.   If they add this, players will be able to rush to stand beside their fallen comrade (as long as they get to move before the foe does).    I think this might add some more excitement and make combats more dynamic.


Y'know, I'm houseruling "CdG cause opportunity attacks" from here on out, in any/all games that I run from now on.
Salla, on minions: I typically use them as encounter filler. 'I didn't quite fill out the XP budget, not enough room left for a decent near-level monster ... sprinkle in a few minions'. Kind of like monster styrofoam packing peanuts.
Actually, all my players have always seemed to grock that intuitively. It's always seemed easy to understand, mechanically speaking.



Actually, negative HP seem to be very intuitive.


In both of these cases, I think two issues are on hand. First, players get used to using a certain rule and might have played that way for a very long time (years? decades?). Asking them to change old habits quickly, maybe hard, which means it has nothing to do with one set of rules being intuitive or not, as opposed to simple habit.

The other problem is that regardless of what healing does, players will still have to track negative hit points to see if they reach the "dead" threshold of negative hit points or not, which means they are tracking suddenly tracking hit points for a reason that has nothing to do with healing, and healing is the only thing that is suddenly not affected by it.

A more intuitive way of creating this rule would be to drop tracking of negative hit points. You reach zero and you don't have to track it anymore. You only die from failing death saving throws or from receiving a coup de grace (with the DM allowed to effective say you've been given one if you fall into a pool of lava or something).
Simple solution:
No CDG during an encounter.

Nobody dies until everyone does.
I think two issues are on hand. First, players get used to using a certain rule and might have played that way for a very long time (years? decades?). Asking them to change old habits quickly, maybe hard, which means it has nothing to do with one set of rules being intuitive or not, as opposed to simple habit.

Most of the players that I had to remind about 'heal from zero' had only ever played 4e.

The problem was that people intuitively understand normal math like:
-5 + 8 = 3
With the 'heal from zero' math exception, I have to remind them that in certain circumstances:
-5 + 8 = 8


players will still have to track negative hit points to see if they reach the "dead" threshold of negative hit points or not, which means they are tracking suddenly tracking hit points for a reason that has nothing to do with healing, and healing is the only thing that is suddenly not affected by it.

Exactly.
Fortunatley my players either haven't figured this trick out or they're sufficiently afraid of the concept of dying (even though its mathmatically hard to do) but here's how i would handle such a situation - when a character is healed to 1hp (no matter how) they are concious but perhaps they incur some penalties to actions, the advantage/disatvantage mechanic is particularly sweet here. You could have the character effectively grant combat advantage by having all attacks against them rolled with advantage. This would encourage players to balance the risk of getting '1-shotted' against meaningful healing.

I like that the CDG rule makes players want to stay above zero hit points, but I do agree that the first combat where I started rolling a CDG on every down player caused a few awkward pauses at the gaming table.   Once you set the expectation the rules work very well.

rolling a CDG on every down player caused a few awkward pauses

"... hits just got real."