Sorry for the late post, been job hunting and wrapping up school. Things look promising, so wish me luck!
Now to the fun stuff.
The Killing Blow: How HP is Just a Guideline.
Everyone knows that the killing blow is the most important in an RPG. Its the blow that determines the end of a scene, arch, or even campaign, so why wouldn’t you want it to be important in the narrative? I think we can all agree on this point to some degree, regardless of the system. Yet one thing I have seen some folks in the community doing is nickel and diming their players for damage to finish off baddies in a fight.
Now that seems odd.
Why would you want one hit point or wound to keep the players from finishing off a baddie in a satisfying way and choose to, instead, make them wait to get a chance at taking them down next round or deny them the satisfaction of taking out the foe?
But Rusty, what do you expect? People to fudge rolls or results to stroke the player’s ego or break the rules entirely just to give people a pat on the back?
Uhhh, yeah. Duh! Players don’t spend their free time to be punished because a die didn’t roll one or two points higher. Why deny them a dramatic moment or scene because of some wonky dice?
In this article, we will discuss what it means to mess with a baddies hp or an obstacles clock/resolution condition to improve your game’s narrative and keep those at the table happy and excited for the next scene.
Let’s start with what the Killing Blow concept is not.
The Killing Blow is not about:
- Fudging rolls,
- Instant gratification,
- The GM’s feelings,
- Or the PC’s feelings.
Rather, it is about how the table is determining the narrative.
The death of a baddie or the overcoming of an obstacle is how table paces a session or campaign, making the Killing Blow an essential concept in the narrative that should be taken seriously. So how do you make the call to have the Killing Blow delivered? When is the right time? Let’s break it down. The right time to have the Killing Blow delivered is determined in the narrative by:
- The narrative weight of the Killing Blow,
- The pacing of the scene,
- The player investment in the action,
- The drama caused by the Killing Blow.
If the Killing Blow would influence some or all of the above positively, the Killing Blow should be implemented with little regard to the remaining HP of a baddie or parts of the trap or puzzle that have yet to be solved. Though it might take some hand waving, switching to narrative descriptions to wrap up the obstacle is always a great choice.
Another good thing to do if you plan on implementing Killing Blows in your games is only to use the HP or toughness of a baddie as a guideline. If a bandit normally has 16 HP, now they have around 16 HP. This slight vagueness behind their total HP makes it so that the baddies always go down when you need them to in the narrative without denying characters their sweet kills.
For example, my baddies always have an HP amount, but I rarely follow it. My bosses sometimes don’t have an HP amount because they go down whenever the narrative sees it fit for them to die. This prevents a few lucky hits from deleting a boss and removing drama from the narrative. Remember: the narrative always supersedes rules, especially dice rolls.
An Example of Killing Blow:
The bandit thug is in a heated battle with the team heavy during a random encounter on the way to fight the big bad. The battle has been taxing on the heavy, but just before the bandit is able to kill the heavy, the heavy attacks the bandit and rolls to see the damage dealt. Oh shit, the heavy rolled just a point or two off the remaining amount of HP that the bandit had, which means that the bandit would likely kill the heavy. Now, let’s take a step back, as the GM, and evaluate this moment to see if a Killing Blow could be called for. Let’s go through the criteria:
The narrative weight of the Killing Blow:
Well, a character dying to an unrelated random encounter just before getting to the showdown with the big bad is super lame. So this checks out in favor of a Killing Blow against the bandit.
The pacing of the scene:
The scene’s pacing isn’t affected in a major way by this action, so it does not favor the idea of a Killing Blow.
The player investment in the action:
This is a tense scene for the whole table, so the heavy’s player is putting their all into trying to save the heavy’s life. The player investment is overwhelming, making it check out in favor of a Killing Blow.
The drama caused by the Killing Blow:
The death of the bandit would ease the tension of the scene and give the table a much-needed reprieve from the stress, while also driving the idea that they are still in danger even though they are just traveling to the big bad. This checks out in favor of the Killing Blow.
The final determination:
The heavy managed to kill the bandit in the nick of time, saving their lives, but not without consequence as they are injured from the fight.
This Post’s Killing Blow
All in all, Killing Blows can be great narrative tools to improve the game in a variety of ways, but should not be taken lightly. This concept applies to both the characters as well as the bad guys and obstacles. So watch out!
Hope you enjoyed and learned something that you can implement in your games.
Until next time,