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Eliminating Elimination

Combat in D&D can be a lot of fun, but it can also take a long time. Normally I don't think this is a problem. After all, if you're playing D&D you probably like tactical combat (see our "No One Hates Combat" bit of advice from way back in 2019). But something that can be very unfun is when you wait 10+ minutes to take your turn only to have it be blotted out by a condition that removes you from play.


Incapacitated.

Paralyzed.

Petrified.

Stunned.

Unconscious.


If your character is afflicted with one of these conditions, your turn is basically not a turn. Roll a save, announce the results, and move on. Sometimes you don't even get a save.


And this isn't just a problem for players. In fact I'd argue it could even be worse for GMs. While it absolutely sucks for a player's character to be debilitated and removed from combat this way, at least they can still table-talk with their teammates. Maybe a telepathy ability allows them to still communicate in character, so they can strategize both in and out of character with the other players. But when a GM's primary antagonist is debilitated, there's nothing to do. You watch for an entire round as the demi-god PCs curb stomp your helpless monster and then have to roll a save (or not) and move on to watch it happen all over again. It's a brutal experience, and one that I would argue is very un-fun.


So how can we solve this?


Well a DM could just never use those abilities, but that doesn't solve the problem of PCs being able to use them. It also slights some builds that gain immunity to those conditions (like the freedom of movement spell).


We could say that no one is allowed to use them and ban them outright, but now you have to rectify any classes that derive significant utility from one or more of those conditions. Very few Monks have debuff / party-support mechanics aside from Stunning Strike, and a lot of casters love using the hold persion/monster spells.


Occasionally throwing in a monster with immunity to particular conditions the party uses can be a fun changeup, but if you do it too often then you are essentially removing those player options from the game. Players want to use their abilities, not have the game artificially buffed to work around them.


So how do we keep the conditions but remove the un-fun element of PC / Monster removal?


Change the Conditions

The big thing that makes these conditions unfun is that they don't let you do stuff. Removing your ability to act is significantly less fun that penalizing or hampering your ability to act. This is why Frightened is a great condition - the creature has a penalty, but isn't prevented from taking action and trying to find creative ways to work around the condition.


So let's retool these conditions to penalize, not remove the creature's they affect.


Banishment

This isn't technically a condition, but I wanted to mention it since it seems to fall in line with the conditions I'm tweaking. I actually think this can remain as-is, and here's why:

  • Symmetrical Removal. Part of what makes something like Paralysis so horrible is that not only do you not get to do anything, but you are being brutally punished / killed while you do nothing. It's a true feeling of helplessness. But while you can't do anything during banishment, nothing can be done to you either. It's a symmetrical removal. Sure there could be an ambush waiting for you when you get back, but it's not the same as the others.

  • Creative Solution. In the case of extra-planar entities, the spell (and similar effects) represents a very specific, niche solution that is creative and powerful. Having the right spell for the right job is a great feeling that should be rewarded.

Incapacitated

This is a big one since it forms the meat of a lot of other conditions. Several others refer to incapacitated to apply its effects on top of everything else, so modifying this one will either change a lot of the others, or require us to no longer use it as the basis for other conditions.


Original: "An incapacitated creature can't take actions or reactions."


Another thing of note is that the condition forces a creature to drop concentration. Since concentration is a massive mechanic with a lot of balance implications, that part will stay.


One good thing about this condition is that it does leave the creature able to do something: move. It's not exciting, but it's at least something. Still, we want to allow players and monsters to still contribute to the combat. Often "able but debilitated" is represented by disadvantage in 5e, but there's already plenty of ways to grant disadvantage. Time to bring back something from older versions: static penalties.


New: "An incapacitated creature has a -5 penalty to all attack rolls, ability checks, and to the save DCs of its spells and abilities. Additionally, it can either perform an Action or a Bonus Action on its turn, not both."


A -5 penalty is enough that the condition will have some weight, but won't mathematically eliminate the creature from participating. It also doesn't target saves, which is in line with the original condition.


Stunned

Rather than proceeding alphabetically, I'll go in order of severity. Stunned is worse than Incapacitated, but not as bad as Paralyzed.


Original: "A stunned creature is incapacitated, can't move, and can speak only falteringly. The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage."


Already the changes to incapacitated make this much less severe, but the only thing setting it apart from paralysis is the ability to speak falteringly and the lack of auto-crits. Lets add a little more distinction between the two.


New: "A stunned creature is incapacitated, can't move, and can speak only falteringly. The creature has a -5 penalty to Strength and Dexterity saving throws. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage."


Paralyzed

Original: "A paralyzed creature is incapacitated and can't move or speak. The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage. Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature."


Aside from petrification this is the worst possible condition. As such it probably doesn't need to be tweaked much considering that even allowing Actions/Reactions from the changes to Incapacitated is a step up. Lets bring back the loss of reactions, keep the auto-failing of saves, but remove auto-crits. We'll save that one for Unconscious.


New: "A paralyzed creature is incapacitated, can't speak, and is barely able to move. The creature's movement speed is 0, and its attacks have disadvantage. The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws. It can't use reactions. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage."


Petrified & Unconscious

These are tough. While I was originally setting out to remove all action-eliminating statuses, the final two on our list actually make a lot of sense to keep as-is.


Petrification is extremely rare, and is closer to character death than a condition since very few sources of petrification have limited durations. Greater restoration and other powerful magics are the only way to solve this, so it should feel like a powerful, incredibly dangerous threat.


As for unconscious, this is a condition typically reserved for after you've already been doing a lot in a combat (or having a lot done to you) and you are now dying. Some spells can put you unconscious and ignore HP, like sleep, but mechanically it still makes sense for this to be a potent condition. Also, our changes to Paralyzed mean that this condition uniquely grants the auto-crits for attacks within 5 feet, which makes a lot of sense.


So these two stay as-written. Which, thanks to our changes to Incapacitated, actually mean they include the specific text "The creature can't take actions or reactions." instead of re-using the Incapacitated condition.


Summary Table

The specific differences in the New versions of the conditions are in bold.

Condition

Old

New

Incapacitated

An incapacitated creature can't take actions or reactions.

An incapacitated creature has a -5 penalty to all attack rolls, ability checks, and to the save DCs of its spells and abilities. Additionally, it can either perform an Action or a Bonus Action on its turn, not both.

Stunned

​- A stunned creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can't move, and can speak only falteringly.

- The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

- A stunned creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can't move, and can speak only falteringly.

- The creature has a -5 penalty to Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

Paralyzed

- A paralyzed creature is incapacitated (see the condition) and can't move or speak.

- The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

- Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

- A paralyzed creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can't speak, and is barely able to move.

- The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

- The creature's movement speed is 0, and its attacks have disadvantage.

- It can't use reactions.

Petrified

- A petrified creature is transformed, along with any nonmagical object it is wearing or carrying, into a solid inanimate substance (usually stone). Its weight increases by a factor of ten, and it ceases aging.

- The creature is incapacitated (see the condition), can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

- The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- The creature has resistance to all damage.

- The creature is immune to poison and disease, although a poison or disease already in its system is suspended, not neutralized.

- A petrified creature is transformed, along with any nonmagical object it is wearing or carrying, into a solid inanimate substance (usually stone). Its weight increases by a factor of ten, and it ceases aging.

- The creature can't take actions or reactions, can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

- The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- The creature has resistance to all damage.

- The creature is immune to poison and disease, although a poison or disease already in its system is suspended, not neutralized.

Unconscious

- An unconscious creature is incapacitated, can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.

- The creature drops whatever it's holding and falls prone.

- The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

- Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

- An unconscious creature can't take actions or reactions, can't move or speak, and is unaware of its surroundings.

- The creature drops whatever it's holding and falls prone.

- The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

- Attack rolls against the creature have advantage.

- Any attack that hits the creature is a critical hit if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature.

Playtest It!

So what do you think?

Is the juice worth the squeeze here? How does your group handle rough combats where conditions remove you from combat for rounds on end? How do you GMs handle PCs inflicting those conditions and completely sapping fights of their drama / threat?


Let me know in the comments or reach out on Twitter! I'd love to see what you think. Maybe playtest these rules at your holiday game night!


Speaking of, I hope everyone out there is having a wonderful and safe holiday season. The past few years have been hard, and while things don't look to be getting easier, times like this are a good reminder that we should always keep hope and love close to our hearts.


Take care, Happy Holidays, and have a Happy New Year!!!

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