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There are times when a character wants to defeat another being without killing it. A companion may have been charmed into attacking his friends (and his friends don't want to kill him to save themselves!); an enemy may have information the PCs can get only by subduing him; characters may simply see the monetary value of bringing back a real, live monster. Whatever the case, sooner or later characters are going to try.

There are three types of nonlethal attacks--punching, wrestling, and overbearing. Punching is basic bare-fisted fighting. Wrestling is the classic combination of grappling, holds, and throws. Overbearing is simply trying to pull down an opponent by sheer mass or weight of numbers, pinning him to the ground.

Punching and Wrestling

For Punching and Wrestling see: PHB Ch9 Punching and Wrestling


Sometimes the most effective attack is simply to pull an opponent down by sheer numbers. No attempt is made to gain a particular hold or even to harm the victim. The only concern is to pin and restrain him.

To overbear an opponent, a normal attack roll is made. For every level of size difference (1 if a Large attacker takes on a Medium defender, for example), the attack roll is modified by 4 (+4 if the attacker is larger; -4 if the defender is larger).

The defender also gains a benefit if it has more than two legs: a -2 penalty to the attacker's roll for every leg beyond two. There is no penalty to the defender if it has no legs. A lone orc attempting to pull down a horse and rider would have at least a -8 penalty applied to the attack roll (-4 for size and -4 for the horse's four legs).

If the attack succeeds, the opponent is pulled down. A character can be pinned if further successful overbearing attacks are rolled each round. For pinning purposes, do not use the prone modifier to combat (from Table 51).

If multiple attackers are all attempting to pull down a single target, make only one attack roll with a +1 bonus for each attacker beyond the first. Always use the to-hit number of the weakest attacker to figure the chance of success, since cooperation always depends on the weakest link. Modifiers for size should be figured for the largest attacker of the group.

A giant and three pixies attempting to pull down a man would use the pixies' attack roll, modified by +3 for three extra attackers and +8 for the size difference of the giant (Huge) and the man (Medium).

Table 51 Combat Modifiers

Table 51 Combat Modifiers
Situation Attack Roll
Attacker on higher ground +1
Defender invisible -4
Defender off-balance +2
Defender sleeping or held Automatic*
Defender stunned or prone +4
Defender surprised +1
Missile fire, long range -5
Missile fire, medium range -2
Rear attack +2
* If the defender is attacked during the course of a normal melee, the attack automatically hits and causes normal damage. If no other fighting is going on (i.e., all others have been slain or driven off), the defender can be slain automatically.

Weapons In Nonlethal Combat

As you might expect, weapons have their place in nonlethal combat, whether a character is defending or pressing the attack.

Weapons in Defense: A character attempting to punch, wrestle, or overbear an armed opponent can do so only by placing himself at great risk. Making matters worse, an armed defender is automatically allowed to strike with his weapon before the unarmed attack is made, regardless of the initiative die roll. Furthermore, since his opponent must get very close, the defender gains a +4 bonus to his attack and damage rolls. If the attacker survives, he can then attempt his attack.

Those involved in a wrestling bout are limited to weapons of small size after the first round of combat--it's very difficult to use a sword against someone who is twisting your sword arm or clinging to your back, trying to break your neck. For this reason, nearly all characters will want to carry a dagger or knife.

Nonlethal Weapon Attacks: It is possible to make an armed attack without causing serious damage (striking with the flat of the blade, for example). This is not as easy as it sounds, however.

First, the character must be using a weapon that enables him to control the damage he inflicts. This is impossible with an arrow or sling. It isn't even feasible with a war hammer or mace. It can be done with swords and axes, as long as the blade can be turned so it doesn't cut.

Second, the character has a -4 penalty to his attack roll, since handling a weapon in this way is clumsier than usual. The damage from such an attack is 50% normal; one-half of this damage is temporary.

Nonlethal Combat and Creatures

When dealing with nonhumanoid opponents, a number of factors must be considered.

First, unintelligent creatures, as a rule, never try to grapple, punch, or pull down an opponent. They cheerfully settle for tearing him apart, limb by limb. This, to their small and animalistic minds, is a better solution.

Second, the natural weapon of a creature are always usable. Unlike men with swords, a lion or a carnivorous ape doesn't lose the use of its teeth and fangs just because a character is very close to it.

Finally, and of greatest importance, creatures tend to be better natural fighters than humans. All attacks for a tiger are the same as punching or wrestling. It's just that the tiger has claws! Furthermore, a tiger can use all of its legs effectively--front and back.