Those Three Terrible Words: Coup de Grace


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Alright GMs, what are your thoughts on this dreaded player-killer?

Does it rest behind a panel that reads "In case of Min-Maxer, Break Glass"? Or is it locked behind an intelligence score requirement? Do enemies assume that an unconscious PC is a dead one? Or do they perhaps decide to deal with the whole party before slitting throats?

I've always found that most GMs view the CdG as a nuclear button on the president's desk; yes we most definitely have it, but we hope that the day never dawns when we use it, and we go to every length to try every other option before we even think about pressing it.

Personally, I think that CdG should only be used in combats that are explicitly [u]built[/u] around it. I would straight-up tell my players, "This guy will try to Coup de Grace you if you fall." It's a little meta, but the players deserve full warning before you bring out the dreaded save-or-die, and I think that most other ways of doing so run the risk of misunderstandings.

So what do you guys do? Is this full round action simply banned from your GM toolbox? Or are you infamous in your friends group for crossing PCs off the initiative tracker one by one?


I once persuaded my GM to coup de grace one of my PC allies on the basis that anything else the monster did would likely kill at least two PCs or cause a TPK.


For me it’s a three part combination:

-The creature must must be smart enough to know that it needs to coup de grace.
-It must have the motivation to coup de grace (slavers proabably would not).
-The player aught to deserve it (I usually deserve it, min maxing ect)

I usually give fair warning that an enemy in the scenario is dangerous in this way, but won’t give specifics.


This is generally reserved for smarter foes that knows PCs have ways of bringing valued members back into the fight, or for foes whose M.O. fits them using the tactic (such as a ghoul on a paralyzed victim). It's slightly worse than a Hold Person spell, and slightly better than a Charm/Dominate Person effect, or similar player-agency-removers.

I've been personally subject to this once (I was an Evil PC in an Evil Party) and I got pretty lucky with a low damage roll and modifier. I've seen two others subject to this, and they weren't so fortunate, mostly due to bad rolls.

It's not a forbidden thing to do, but it's best reserved for as I've described above.


My goal as a GM is to make fights challenging, not actually kill PCs.

Generally my NPCs have good reasons not to use CdG. One of which is that CdG provoke attacks of opportunity. Generally PCs are not so far away from one another that my BBEG can render a PCs helpless and move in for CdG without getting their butt whipped in the process. And I would never build an NPC specifically for CdG because it runs antithetical to my goal which is to challenge but not kill the PCs. There are certainly ways to build characters that specialize in CdG and can even attempt one without the character being helpless, but honestly it's not fun to do this.

I wont say you should never use a CdG, but in general the only way I'm going to use it is if the whole party is basically disabled and the battle in clearly already in favor of the enemy NPCs. Like somehow 3 out of 4 PCs have been render unconscious/helpless and all the enemy NPCs are still mobile...yeah PCs are probably going to be killed and it's going to be a TPK. But honestly fights shouldn't get to that place unless players just make really bad decisions.


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I'm on the same page with Darksol, if it fits the enemy tactics, motivations and circumstances it will be used. That said, it is very rare that these considerations line up to make it happen.


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  • The creature must want its opposition dead
  • The creature must be able to distinguish unconscious from dead (in most cases, the Con score buffer is relatively small)
  • The creature must decide that the risk of an opponent getting up outweighs the action cost, and must be capable of making that decision. Remember: it's not often a recently healed opponent has enough HP to endure an attack before falling unconscious again, and attacks are quicker than CdGs and you take the healer's turn as well.
  • CdGs that result from spite or acceptance as speedbumps will be forewarned. Most creatures fight to win, not to wear the PCs down.

As a result, they are very infrequent.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Almost never.


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Most of the time, performing a CdG in the middle of combat isn't a great use of a monster's actions. An enemy would need to

A. At least be sentient (Int 3+) - even the slowest thinkers understand the concept of "he's just unconscious".

B. Be predisposed to killing a helpless enemy, or at least be in a position where such an act has merit.

C. Not have something better to do with his turn

If one or more of the above don't apply, the enemy would need some sort of personal grudge against the PC in question, or maybe be under orders from a superior to kill THAT enemy NOW.

The Rogue who got dropped to -3 hp during the Kobold ambush shouldn't be worried that one of the Kobolds might off him while the rest of the fight is still raging.

The serial killer the group has been after was underestimated and took out the forward scout. In the two rounds it takes the rest of the group to close the distance, it makes perfect sense that the serial killer would take a round to CdG the scout.

An enemy scout was captured by the PC's. They take him captive to get intel. The PC in charge of interrogation is a bit over-enthusiastic and does some mild torturing and threatens the captive's loved ones. The scout escapes and rejoins his companions. The two groups meet in combat, and the PC interrogator gets knocked unconscious. The scout turns around and provokes an attack of opportunity while killing the man that has haunted his dreams for the last week.

At the end of the day, it will always come down to context for me - not the player. If the player is a great role player, doesn't min-max, and buys the group pizza every week, that won't save him from a CdG if it comes up and is contextually appropriate - not that they come up very often. In my 7 years GM'ing, I think I've CdG'd one PC ever?


Cuup wrote:

Most of the time, performing a CdG in the middle of combat isn't a great use of a monster's actions. An enemy would need to

A. At least be sentient (Int 3+) - even the slowest thinkers understand the concept of "he's just unconscious".

B. Be predisposed to killing a helpless enemy, or at least be in a position where such an act has merit.

C. Not have something better to do with his turn

Great summary of why CdG almost never comes up in my games. Especially point "C." CdG is a full-round-action, exposing one to attacks of opportunity. It is rare that multiple party members cannot reach one another with a double-move, so the odds of being able to pull this off without taking significant damage from another party member are slim.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

In a particular AP, this was our *party's* modus operandi when we realized we were in well over our heads and we had two people who were downright sneaky and capable of it.

We sent them in with a +1 heavy pick and a scythe.

Not because we *wanted* to, but because if the barracks they had infiltrated with lots of sleeping ogres had woken up...

I have not yet had the opportunity to use it as a GM, thankfully.


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I only coup de graced a player once. Chump ate my Cheetos when he thought I wasn't looking, then went to take a nap on my couch while the rest of the party was working through some stuff his character wasn't a part of.

He had it coming.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

I have only GMed PFS so it is pretty much out of the toolbox because of that.

Should I GM something other than PFS, it would depend on the situation and individual enemy. IF the enemy is crazy and that is their thing, I'd have them CdG a PC even though it would be disadvantageous. Otherwise It would be on a very tactical need basis. If playing a high level game where BoL and other options are available AND it is the enemy(s) best tactical decision, I'd totally have them do it. On that note though I have had enemies spend their last attack in their full attack on a downed PC before as well (the last attack generally has a low chance of hitting, why not use it for an effective double tap?).

Silver Crusade

For some monsters it should be almost automatic and expected.

For example, ghouls ARE pretty much going to eat a person before them if they have no other threat/target. Why wouldn't they?

But I usually make it very clear to the players that if they don't give the ghoul a reason then their PC ally WILL be killed.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I'm no doctrinaire about it, but I generally regard it as a nuclear option as GM.


I can totally see why folks are pushing for ain't as a deciding factor, but what about animals and other such beasts? CdG seems fitting for them...granted so does wrecking face, then dragging your prey to a safe place before CdG.


Blindmage wrote:
I can totally see why folks are pushing for ain't as a deciding factor, but what about animals and other such beasts? CdG seems fitting for them...granted so does wrecking face, then dragging your prey to a safe place before CdG.

I believe that it is totally fitting for some hunting animals to do what the game mechanic might call a coup de grace. Many predator animals, once they've immobilized an animal will keep up the grip on neck, throat, or muzzle until the prey ceases struggling, and then begin feeding on the prey.

Shadow Lodge

In on AP using Coup de Grace was part of an NPCs tactics. My poor goblin would have survived if his fortification had worked. :(


Seen it used by players (though only once or twice), but never on a player.


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I always announce up front in my games that it is always an option for intelligent enemies when it serves their best interests.

So if player is down but other threats are there, enemy will weight the option of a coup or leaving the downed PC to engage another based on the threat (how severe is the threat, how far away, etc.)

I recall only using it only once, it made perfect sense in the moment, and the PC survived the attempt to turn tables on the attacker.


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Death is generally a dull consequence. I see little reason to use it except as a threat.


I have used a Coup de Grace once in my games - during the climactic end fight of Book 2 of Rise of the Runelords. In that instance, the BBEG was surrounded by the party and couldn't kill anyone else with a full attack, but since he really wanted his target dead, he risked the AoOs from the group to attempt the CdG.

He did not survive long enough to complete it.

To protect those who may not know:

One of the NPCs the party meets early in Book 1, Aldern Foxglove, is supposed to develop an obsession with a specific PC - either romantically or in a hero-worship kind of way. Foxglove eventually gets turned into a dread ghast who begins serially killing people in Sandpoint, the town the PCs are in, and taunting the object of his obsession. He REALLY wants to kill or posses the object of his obsession - its basically described as his entire motivation - so in that instance it made sense for him to risk the CdG.

Otherwise, I've never used CdG with my enemies - there usually isn't a situation where it makes sense, given the rest of the PCs are up and kicking. I did have an Assassin who had used 2 of his 4 attacks to down the PC wizard use his last 2 to finish him off, since he couldn't reach anyone else and couldn't take a move action since he started a full attack action - but in that instance, the PCs had hired the assassin to make a "false flag" attack on themselves to make them look good, so I didn't feel too bad about it.


Oddly, the dumber and more cruel the enemy is, the more likely they are to CdG in my games.

This means goblins are the primary CdG initiators because goblins are just crazy, lazy, and violent enough that "finishing off the longshanks, and going through his stuff" despite provoking an attack of opportunity makes sense. He wants that shiny belt buckle or pair of boots.

The other reason to CdG in my games... is sadly when the enemy knows one player has healing magic and they manage to get the healer down. Putting that healer down permanently can end a fight quickly, attack of opportunity or not.

SO its usually a tactics thing.

Silver Crusade

Omnius wrote:
Death is generally a dull consequence. I see little reason to use it except as a threat.

It is VERY useful as a threat. And there is a limit to how often you can threaten the PCs before they'll call your bluff.

In games I run I have a very low death rate (I'm basically a softy). But the players know that death IS a possibility (as is a TPK) and so dramatic tension and suspense DOES exist.


Like most such questions, it depends.

As I run things, most sapient NPCs will not attempt a coup de grâce while other combatants are present. Some will if (a) the helpless foe is perceived as a greater threat than the other foes and (b) it seems dangerously likely that the helpless foe will recover if ignored. This is more likely to happen if the helpless foe is merely held person, for example, versus bleeding out on the ground, and less likely to happen if the NPC doesn't see a healer in any position to help. I've had very, very few coup de grâce attempts under these circumstances.

A few NPCs will do it For the Evuls if they believe that they outclass their foes so much that there's no risk in doing so, especially if said NPC is trying to inspire fear as a tactic. I've actually never had this happen as I rarely run For the Evuls-type villains. When I do run such villains, the party is usually enough of a threat to keep their attention.

Finally, some NPCs just care more about the killing than about their own survival. A particularly vicious swarm of cannibalistic goblins might gang up on and devour a fallen foe with little care for others. (This can be a boon to escaping survivors!) Some (but not nearly all) mindless creatures might also be too stupid to address other threats once they've downed a potential food source. I've never had this happen either, though I've had a spider attempt to drag off a fallen PC during the fight until it was interrupted.


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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

Another factor that can make coup de grace more common: easier access to return PCs to life.

When I ran Kingmaker, we decided on a campaign rule that Reincarnation would be available, and was much cheaper and more likely to apply than Raise Dead. I had a limited list of possible reincarnate options for each PC, so while they might not get a result that was "perfect" via min/max, they'd get something that was at least a reasonable match stat-wise for their character class. And I made it available really, really early via NPCs the party had made friends with.

So the group had a lot of fun with the drama of coming back as different types of "person" and I got to have a lot of fun with playing rat-bastard-GM.


If the party is sleeping with no watch they deserve to have a CDG. Maybe by a prostitute with a dagger because reasons. Or by a lone bandit in the woods who comes across a perfect opportunity. But during a battle where there is someone still up and fighting... No.


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Saldiven wrote:
Blindmage wrote:
I can totally see why folks are pushing for ain't as a deciding factor, but what about animals and other such beasts? CdG seems fitting for them...granted so does wrecking face, then dragging your prey to a safe place before CdG.
I believe that it is totally fitting for some hunting animals to do what the game mechanic might call a coup de grace. Many predator animals, once they've immobilized an animal will keep up the grip on neck, throat, or muzzle until the prey ceases struggling, and then begin feeding on the prey.

Spiders just don't wait...


I don't often use the CDG.

On the other hand, it is a phenomenal *threat*. It is, after all, the only way to handle the "knife against the throat" hostage situation in a world where people have upwards of 50 hit points and a dagger only does 1d4 damage.


CDG is a tool.

How you use the tool matters.

I generally run through a three tiered criteria before an NPC uses CDG.

1) Do they have at least a 5 Intelligence?
2) Do they have time to conduct the CDG?
3) Do they have a motive to CDG?

Now the third one is usually the foggiest one to puzzle out, because motivation could be anything.

Their opponent is a cutthroat, he's gonna do what he's gonna do. Maybe it's an arch-enemy of the party bent on their destruction. Maybe it's someone who they foiled them in the past. Maybe the individual is desperate for money and doesn't want to leave a witness?

I also an unofficial fourth criteria, which is usually that the NPC be non-good. I tend to rule that CDG is a decidedly evil act, and most good NPCs wouldn't do it even to a foe. If the foe dies from standard combat that's one thing, but slitting their throat while they're helpless seems like a bit much.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Saashaa wrote:
I have only GMed PFS so it is pretty much out of the toolbox because of that.

It is rare, but I believe there is at least one scenario where the tactics call for CdG.

They should be very rare in PFS, but ghouls and other situations can call for it. As others said, it isn’t generally the best tactical choice.

Sovereign Court

For me, it is simply about tactics. If appropriate tactics for the creature involves CdG, then it does.

What comes up more often is hitting a downed character. If I put someone down, and they get healed and get back up and involve themselves in the fight... From then on, if I put someone down, I will toss an iterative or the like at their unconscious body to keep them down, unless it just doesn’t make sense tactically.

Note, however... I did say involves themselves in the fight. If a healed character half crawls away, obviously just trying to get away from the action, I might not even waste an AoO on them, if I think I’ll have better uses for it.

Also... when I say tactics, I don’t mean ‘optimal’ tactics. I mean tactics appropriate for the creature.


FlySkyHigh wrote:

CDG is a tool.

How you use the tool matters.

I generally run through a three tiered criteria before an NPC uses CDG.

1) Do they have at least a 5 Intelligence?
2) Do they have time to conduct the CDG?
3) Do they have a motive to CDG?

Now the third one is usually the foggiest one to puzzle out, because motivation could be anything.

Their opponent is a cutthroat, he's gonna do what he's gonna do. Maybe it's an arch-enemy of the party bent on their destruction. Maybe it's someone who they foiled them in the past. Maybe the individual is desperate for money and doesn't want to leave a witness?

I also an unofficial fourth criteria, which is usually that the NPC be non-good. I tend to rule that CDG is a decidedly evil act, and most good NPCs wouldn't do it even to a foe. If the foe dies from standard combat that's one thing, but slitting their throat while they're helpless seems like a bit much.

Why the int cap?

Animals do this all the time if they can manage it.


Blindmage wrote:


Why the int cap?
Animals do this all the time if they can manage it.

Usually it's just because people don't like to feel like they've been outsmarted by an animal.

And because most animals will react to active threats before taking time to off an unconscious opponent.


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I am not sure an animal would bother to coup de grace, actually. I've seen images of lions eating a gazelle that was still alive, but unable to fight back. Once you're no longer a danger and cannot run away, there's no natural reason to waste energy on killing you that could be spent defending you as a meal or straight up eating you. And creatures that are eligible for a coup de grace fall pretty squarely into this category--though even an animal will think twice about making sure someone is dead the first time they suddenly get back up, I think.


Is there really that much difference between a coup de grace that immediately kills a target and crushing the enemy's spine at the base of the neck then gorging on its entrails before the largely paralyzed prey stops bleating?

It may not be a "coup de grace" by the meaning we have, but what else would you call a big cat (for example) disemboweling his/her prey to get at the juicy organ meet before the target has hit HP={-Con}?


I don't think there is one true objective answer. Some players will get upset if they see it as you taking it easy on them.

I also don't see it as a bad tactical idea. If that's true then full round attacks are bad.


Saldiven wrote:

Is there really that much difference between a coup de grace that immediately kills a target and crushing the enemy's spine at the base of the neck then gorging on its entrails before the largely paralyzed prey stops bleating?

It may not be a "coup de grace" by the meaning we have, but what else would you call a big cat (for example) disemboweling his/her prey to get at the juicy organ meet before the target has hit HP={-Con}?

A good point, but now we're advocating that an animal will stop and begin to consume a food source when there is still a present and active danger. The closest thing I could possibly see to that is a starving animal spending a full-round action to eat as much as it can in six seconds out of desperation, and then running away, rather than staying in combat. Or perhaps the actions of an extremely confident predator that believes the rest of the herd will run now that it is no longer fighting them. Plausible, but still niche scenarios that would be part of an existing narrative for the encounter.

Scarab Sages

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I once actually used a coup-de-grace against my party one time, and it really caught them off guard (in a good way). Well, it wasn't a coup-de-grace the action, per se; just a readied attack against an unconscious ally. I declared that this bandit, most of whose allies had been slain, kneeled down next to the party member, and threatened to kill him if anyone got close. I don't think the party believed me, or believed that he spent his whole turn making that threat, and that they could stop him.

When the damage hit, I got shocked looks from everyone: But it was in a good way. It added believability to the world, and my players appreciated it. I don't do it too often, though. Only when dramatically appropriate.

Liberty's Edge

I generally wait storywise until all PC's are down, if it then makes sense for the CDG then yes it happens. If it doesn't make sense, then It doesn't happen. It was a learning experience for the group, they learned to work more as a team to overcome challenges instead of "I am better than X" and fought without helping each other.


My GM used it as a threat once: A creature was adjacent to my unconscious PC and the GM rolled whether there would be a CdG. I loathed the control loss, especially since raise dead wasn't that easily available. Luckily the die spoke in my favor, but still I remember the incident. So I usually wouldn't do this to my players.

Unless... there is no actual harm. In one session, one of my players was absent, so I started the session with an nightly assassination of his PC. Afterwards I railroaded the other players into getting the necessary diamond dust out of a dungeon, meaning the PC was back at the beginning of the next session - as well as the player. It was an emotional session, and the players enjoyed it.


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TarSpartan wrote:
CdG is a full-round-action, exposing one to attacks of opportunity. It is rare that multiple party members cannot reach one another with a double-move, so the odds of being able to pull this off without taking significant damage from another party member are slim.

A full round action takes a character's entire turn. Examples include a full attack action, running, and withdrawing. The action is complete by the end of the character's turn--there is no opportunity for other characters to double move, or take other non-immediate actions.

In any battle where combatants are temporarily helpless--hit by Hold Person, for example--coup de grace is the optimal strategy. Creatures like wights that create spawn when they kill should coup de grace as a matter of course. Creatures motivated by hate and revenge focused on a single person, like Revenants, should coup de grace the second they get their chance.

I've used coup de grace as a threat from an NPC more often than I've used it for real: "Drop your weapons and surrender, or your friend gets a red smile!"


I think that it very much differs from one situation to another, and I personally use different methods for different situations.

For example, let's say the players are fighting a large group of creatures, and due to their numbers, they can spare the full round action easy. I would probably have one or two of the creatures say something like "Remember! Boss wants 'em dead!" or wait for a player to go unconscious and have a creature shout out "Make sure she's dead!", giving the party one round to take action (I would say that at least threatening the creature is enough to stall the CdG).

However, let's say that the party is fighting one very tough villain (APL+2 or so) who just happens to be so malicious that they're willing to even take an AoO to kill someone. I would probably give the party a sense motive check at the start of the fight. If they succeed, they notice a near-insane look in their eyes, and they get the feeling that this villain wants them dead...at any cost. (I would either bluntly state that the villain will CdG or I would basically say so with flavor).

No matter what I'm a firm believer that the PCs should have warning in a CdG fight, just because it's so rare (especially in pre-written material) that it's used against a character.

Although there are one or two exceptions. Being attacked while sleeping usually puts the fear of God in players. Most understand that an assassination attempt doesn't stop at unconsciousness.

Shadow Lodge

Keep Calm and Carrion wrote:
TarSpartan wrote:
CdG is a full-round-action, exposing one to attacks of opportunity. It is rare that multiple party members cannot reach one another with a double-move, so the odds of being able to pull this off without taking significant damage from another party member are slim.
A full round action takes a character's entire turn. Examples include a full attack action, running, and withdrawing. The action is complete by the end of the character's turn--there is no opportunity for other characters to double move, or take other non-immediate actions.

Yes, but you can only complete a full round action if you start your turn within a 5-foot step of the unconscious opponent (or have a swift/immediate action to take you there, like the shift power). That means that unless you have multiple enemies threatening or almost-threatening the same PC/ally, and not threatened by anyone else, the PCs will have at least a turn to move to heal or protect their downed ally. And even if there are multiple enemies they might not act together in initiative, giving an opportunity for the next PC. It's not quite as safe as if no PC can eat a CdG as long as there's an ally within a double move, but it's also not as though the enemy will always (or even often) have the opportunity to CdG a PC the moment they drop unconscious.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Cuup wrote:

Most of the time, performing a CdG in the middle of combat isn't a great use of a monster's actions. An enemy would need to

A. At least be sentient (Int 3+) - even the slowest thinkers understand the concept of "he's just unconscious".

B. Be predisposed to killing a helpless enemy, or at least be in a position where such an act has merit.

C. Not have something better to do with his turn

If one or more of the above don't apply, the enemy would need some sort of personal grudge against the PC in question, or maybe be under orders from a superior to kill THAT enemy NOW.

This is how I use CdG in my games. As such it very rarely comes into play since taking the time to perform a CdG while there are other combatants that are still a threat is almost never a smart decision.


I think there are contexts where the CDG makes a lot of sense. For PCs, it's usually when dealing with regeneration types like trolls, and for enemies it is when the party wizard gets himself paralyzed. If the helpless character's allies don't so anything to protect their fallen Comrade, I think a CDG is a fair consequence.

That said, I've got a "every party gets one" unofficial policy. New players don't always understand how deadly the CDG is, so I may demonstrate it and then ask if they would like to hit the rewind button and rethink their turn.


I think the last time I used it was when the party were fighting two mummies. One of the PCs got paralyzed by one of the mummies. The other PCs ganged up on another mummy, leaving the paralyzed PC temporarily helpless and adjacent to an unoccupied mummy.

I rolled at random for what the mummy would do; 50% chance of CdG, 50% chance of attacking the other PCs.

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