Skip Williams is one of the designers of 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons. He’s also a regular columnist for Kobold Quarterly. As long as you send in your questions, we’ll keep running the column here for free. But if you don’t ask the kobold, don’t expect a reply!

I encountered an odd thing recently. A DM I know allowed a player character to use the disarm action with a ranged weapon when the rules clearly say disarms are strictly for melee weapons. This decision was somewhat out of question for this DM because he’s known for being pretty familiar with the game. If fact, he was you, Skip. [More…]

Yes, yes, I must plead guilty here. During a recent online game I let a player character make a disarm attempt with a bow and arrow, which amazed not only the other players, but also several spectators who were sitting in on the session.

It was a case where I thought bending the rules was the best way to handle the situation at hand. It seemed more important to mold the rules to match what was happening in the game than to force the players to follow the letter of the rules. Let me say just a little more on the subject of when and how to bend the rules. [More…]

The Fine Art of Rules Bending
The rules are written to cover a vast array of potential actions, and they do a pretty good job. Players and DMs, however, have a habit of creating scenarios the rules don’t quite cover. When that happens, it’s best to look to the rules for guidance rather than a cut-and-dried answer.

Both questions presented here illustrate the need to bend the rules a bit. The question dealing with gestalt characters illustrates one situation in which you might want to bend the rules, in this case, by adapting an existing rule (in advance) to cover a situation that the designers either did not anticipate or did not care to cover. It’s great when you can do that. When doing this, it’s best to explain yourself so your players know what’s going on and to leave yourself an out in case you need change your approach later on.

Sometimes, a DM has to make up something on the fly, as with the question about disarming at range. Here’s a little more background on the incident:

The player characters had set up an ambush, hoping to catch and foil a group of vandals. The party rogue was well hidden and had drawn a bead on a foe. The rogue had a clear view of his target, and was close enough (within 30 feet) to make a sneak attack. However, the character decided not to sneak attack an instead decided to “shoot the bad guy in the arm.” Now, the rules don’t support called shots, but there are rules for disarming. Those might well involve striking the limb or appendage holding the weapon.

Now, I would not recommend allowing ranged disarms all the time. For one thing, there can be a considerable delay between the time one looses a projectile and the time it actually strikes its target. That’s why you must be within 30 feet to make a ranged sneak attack. At any distance greater than that, you lose at least a little precision with your attacks. On the other hand, if you’re close enough to make a ranged sneak attack, you probably can make an attack precise enough the disarm someone. I suspect that if we designers had stopped to think about the situation, we probably would have allowed ranged disarms at distances of 30 feet or less. When you’re striving to meet a deadline some things are bound to slip through the cracks.

In any case, when you bend the rules on the fly, it’s best to make a note of what you’ve done. If your players call you to account your notes can help you explain yourself. It also will help you recall what you did in case the situation comes up again.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, the ranged disarm worked, and the target was forced to drop a bucket of paint he was carrying. I treated the arrow used as a light weapon (–4 on the attacker’s opposed roll); you wield a bow and arrow in two hands, but the arrow itself doesn’t have much mass. The defender also received a –4 penalty on his opposed roll because the item being targeted (a bucket of paint) was not a melee weapon.

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