Nonlethal Damage: Do people prefer PF1-style or SF-style?


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PF1 has "persistent" nonlethal damage: when your total amount of nonlethal damage exceeds your remaining HP, you fall unconscious.

SF has "instantaneous" nonlethal damage: the only difference between nonlethal damage and lethal damage is on the knockout blow. If the final blow that causes you to fall down is nonlethal, you are knocked unconscious, whereas if the final blow is lethal then you die. Other than that, whether a blow is lethal or nonlethal makes no difference.

So far in PF2, it sounds like SF-style "instantaneous" nonlethal damage is being used.

The main benefit I see to the "instantaneous" system is that it requires less tracking. You no longer have to keep two separate totals of lethal vs nonlethal damage, everything is just "damage".

That said, I strongly dislike the SF-style nonlethal. If I bring a character to the table that doesn't like to kill people, in PF1 that is entirely doable. As long as I get one solid hit of nonlethal, it's very likely the opponent will not die during the combat. But in SF, in order to avoid killing, to some extent you have to convince your entire party to do nonlethal. Most critically, a character built to do only nonlethal can wound an enemy, and then an ally can finish off that enemy with lethal damage - this means my character who I specifically built to do nonlethal just contributed to the death of a person they were trying to redeem. That is just an awful feeling!!

Not only does it just feel bad to accidentally contribute to killing a human being that you didn't want to kill, but it also damages party cohesion. Why should the character who values redemption continue to travel with a group of murderers? With persistent nonlethal it's basically win-win, because the enemy gets KOed (satisfying the party) and no one dies (satisfying the nonlethal PC.) With instantaneous nonlethal, there's perpetual tension between the character who wants to do nonlethal and the rest of the party.

I'd like to get other people's feelings on this, so please favorite the post below for which system you prefer.


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(Please vote by hitting "favorite"):

I prefer PF1-style "persistent" nonlethal damage. When your total amount of nonlethal damage exceeds your remaining HP, you fall unconscious.


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(Please vote by hitting "favorite"):

I prefer SF-style "instantaneous" nonlethal damage. The only difference between nonlethal damage and lethal damage is on the knockout blow. If the final blow that causes you to fall down is nonlethal, you are knocked unconscious, whereas if the final blow is lethal then you die. Other than that, whether a blow is lethal or nonlethal makes no difference.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

SF doesn't require tracking nonlethal specially and modifying healing. It also avoids trouble with "under 0 hp" effects like ferocity.

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm going to be extremely divisive and contrary and say that the non-lethal system I've enjoyed the most is 4E's. You want to take that guy alive? OK, you decide that once he's at 0 hit points. You want to kill that guy that killed your father/mother/sibling/dog? OK, you decide that once he's at 0 hit points. The GM doesn't have to track two different things, and there's not a moment where the dwarven fighter Power Attacks the bad guy with his axe, crits, and kills the guy you're trying to take back alive.


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QuidEst wrote:
SF doesn't require tracking nonlethal specially and modifying healing. It also avoids trouble with "under 0 hp" effects like ferocity.

Sums up my thoughts perfectly. Persistent nonlethal is an extra layer of book keeping in a system with way too much of it already.

I'll shed precisely 0 tears when it gets confirmed the new nonlethal is more in line with SF /Nostradamus

Sovereign Court

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I like that SF requires coordination in tactics. It is a consistent theme throughout SF combat that favors tactics and teamwork, and I like that feeling in the game.


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I voted for SF-style instantaneous nonlethal. I would like to add that my group tracks enemy death saves the same way as PCs (with the exception of undead and constructs) so the moment they fall unconscious, PCs do have a a few rounds to heal anyone they want to take prisoner or coup de grace. In this case, lethal/nonlethal damage doesn't do a whole lot of difference on the grand scale of things, except for number tracking.


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Personally I like the mechanically easier to run system.

I've never tried to run a pacifist character, which may be why I'm not concerned. I guess I look at it under the guise of "If the enemy NPC isn't willing to lay down arms and surrender before being knocked unconscious or killed they probably weren't that open to redemption anyways".

I agree that Starfinder's system make character's who have the goal of redeeming people much more difficult. With Starfinder, I don't see redemption as one of the more common character themes (as I also don't see Starfinder as a giant battle of good vs evil like I do Pathfidner) so maybe that's why it doesn't bother me as well.

Honestly, in the end I guess I wont care much how they do it.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

I also prefer the “instantaneous” approach adopted by SF.

I get the OP’s frustration in the case described, but that strikes me as more of an issue with a lack of cooperation between players than an issue with the new non-lethal system. And if you have a lack of cooperation between players, you’re going to encounter a lot of frustrating situations regardless of the rules (e.g., another player deciding to attack the NPC your trying to use diplomacy on, another player deciding to steal from the people you’re trying to help, and do on).


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I'm seeing tables being trolled by players "Oh, OOPS, forgot to declare non-lethal, I guess they're dead" or GMs "I don't care that you like to friend everyone, I'm not letting you friend the mooks you beat and use them against me!"

Personally, I would prefer a hybrid... if even one character does non-lethal damage, when the last blow lands it is considered non-lethal unless the character specifically states they are going for a 'killing blow'.

That way, there's no question of how much of an a-hat they are if some members of the party are trying to capture live prisoners/etc.

Sovereign Court

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GMs can grant a few rounds to stabilize an NPC you were trying to keep alive, but that one guy did lethal damage to.


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I like the SF way, less book keeping.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

The problem with GM fiat will be the whole 'Paladin Falls' debacle all over again.

Having at least one person doing non-lethal makes it a choice when the last blow lands, and keeping it straight out and in the open is just as little book-keeping... not tracking separate health totals, just making the determination to openly murder in declaration.

Sounds fair to me?

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Card Game, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

My problem with the SF system is not as much the last blow is lethal, it's that it's instantaneously fatal. My character is a Mystic Preist of Hylax, and my concept was that he would try and save most sapient opponents. You can imagine my annoyance when someone goes down, I cast Stabilise on them and the GM said it does nothing, he's dead.

I had to choose between the character walking away from the adventure and changing their fundamental personality- I chose the latter, but that's not a choice the system should be forcing on you.

Sovereign Court

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That kind of 'save everyone' mentality can be just as disruptive to a table as the lone murder-barbarian in a party of pacifists. It's important in either case to discuss your personality/playstyle with your GM and other players.

I like that GMs have the agency to keep let some NPCs survive to stabilize, when appropriate and let them die when that would be the disruptive option.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

I like Wei Ji’s suggestion too, since all you’d have to keep track of is whether someone did some non-lethal damage.

My main worry with that approach is that it seems potentially abusable. E.g., players all doing 1 pt of non lethal damage to themselves to prevent themselves from dying if they go down, GM villains doing a point of non lethal damage to themselves each day for the same reason, etc.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

At which point the characters can decide to do lethal. And it also allows villains the chance to escape, too.


While the SF-style nonlethal finishing hit is probably more realistic, I think the PF1 persistent nonlethal damage works much better as a game mechanic.


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No longer being able to knock on opponent unconscious unless the entire party deals non-lethal is a bad thing. A very bad thing.

It means you can deal 99 points of non-lethal damage to a creature with 100 hp, and if it stubs it's toe with 1 point of lethal damage, it falls over dead.

So much for taking prisoners.

Wei Ji the Learner wrote:


At which point the characters can decide to do lethal.

Unless it is a unanimous decision, it won't work.

That one idiot in the group that scores a normal hit, and it's all over.


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It really doesn't have to be one or the other. They could just have a rule that as long as you've dealt some nonlethal damage to the target at some point, when they reach 0 HP (regardless of the damage type of that final blow) they fall unconscious instead of dying. Whereas, if all damage to the target was lethal, when they reach 0 HP they just die.

There, it no longer matters who dealt the final blow, you don't have to track an entirely separate pool of nonlethal vs lethal damage, and everyone else in your party doesn't have to take -4 on their attack rolls just because your character is a martial pacifist. As long as you get one nonlethal hit in, you can take your foes alive. Problem solved.

Sovereign Court

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Tyranny of the pacifist isn’t categorically better than tyranny of the murder barbarian.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

I'll concede PF's nonlethal is extra book-keeping that might not be the most elegant, but SF's way of fixing it is frustrating.

Find another option.

How about: if a creature has been dealt any non-lethal damage, the person who deals the final damage to bring that creature to 0 get the choice of if the creature dies or is unconscious. In cases of doubt, such as a creature suffering from ongoing/bleed damage, or harmed by a trap, the default is: <designers pick one>.


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Fuzzypaws wrote:

It really doesn't have to be one or the other. They could just have a rule that as long as you've dealt some nonlethal damage to the target at some point, when they reach 0 HP (regardless of the damage type of that final blow) they fall unconscious instead of dying. Whereas, if all damage to the target was lethal, when they reach 0 HP they just die.

There, it no longer matters who dealt the final blow, you don't have to track an entirely separate pool of nonlethal vs lethal damage, and everyone else in your party doesn't have to take -4 on their attack rolls just because your character is a martial pacifist. As long as you get one nonlethal hit in, you can take your foes alive. Problem solved.

This is where I was going with it.

If you get Captain Death Vagrant going for the 187 all the time, then it's a player thing that needs to be worked out, rather than a mechanical flaw.


What happens in Pathfinder when your non-lethal players kicks the enemy let's say for 40 hp, leaving him with 5, and then assassin player with sneak him with a big cleaver into o belly for 20 points, leaving him on -15 HP???


But TBH I play it bit differently.

Any damage under enemy Con is non-lethal, any damage over it is lethal.
Any lethal is a risk of massive damage consequences, demands Fortitude save, any smaller just leads to enemy falling from being scratched, hit and tumbled too many times.

You can kill a guy even when he has 200 HP left, and you can just tire him down till he faint.


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Less bookkeeping is better. The only part that annoys me is that friendly boxing Matches, bar fights, etc. end with portentially lethal wounds that need healing. While realistic, it doesn't fit in the typical cinematic style of the fun barfight or the meet cute via fist of the typical superhero Comic.
I guess in Starfinder I would go the route of fistfight ends when you are out of stamina. Which is, as a GM, my typical mode for when I want enemies to be redeemable. They give up once the real hurting starts.

As to the conundum of the one guy in the Group doing lethal - that really is a roleplay/group issue and is quite independent of the rules.

Dark Archive

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This is one of those situations were copying 5e should be okay :P (Well, technically same system is in Cypher System as well, but I digress. 5e just lets player who gets finishing blow choose whether they kill or k.o. them)


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Claxon wrote:
I've never tried to run a pacifist character, which may be why I'm not concerned. I guess I look at it under the guise of "If the enemy NPC isn't willing to lay down arms and surrender before being knocked unconscious or killed they probably weren't that open to redemption anyways".

There's more than just redemption to capturing someone:

* someone is cursed or magically compelled and the caster level check to break the curse/spell rolls a 2.
* the fight was caused by some sort of misunderstanding and the evidence to prove such is not at hand / diplomacy checks fail / and such.
* the enemy is required in some way like.. important politically, they know something critical, or killing them without bringing them to trial first will look like a cover up/corruption.
* You're just capturing a cutpurse. No need to go full murder-hobo on someone just because they have sticky fingers. Subdue -> town guard -> reward. Or I guess you could just murder them. Murder -> town guard -> prison.
* you need more people at your birthday party.

Evil people can also benefit from subduing a foe. Ransom..or worse. Ew.

Wicked Woodpecker of the West wrote:
What happens in Pathfinder when your non-lethal players kicks the enemy let's say for 40 hp, leaving him with 5, and then assassin player with sneak him with a big cleaver into o belly for 20 points, leaving him on -15 HP???

Um, the enemy has 25 real hit points left, and 40 non-lethal damage. The next 5 non-lethal damage would be normal, and then any non-lethal after that turns into lethal damage. So if he took another 10 non-lethal, he'd be at 45 non-lethal, and 20 real hit points.

The way we do it in our campaign (well some of us, the DM and myself at least), is we use little boxes to represent hit points, and have two rows (or four or six rows at higher level). One for real / lethal hit points, and the other for non-lethal. We fill in the non-lethal from the right, and the lethal from the left.

Like currently I have 16 hit points (imagine that the Os are little hollow squares):
OOOOO OOOOO OOOOO O (lethal/real hit points)
OOOOO OOOOO OOOOO O (non-lethal)

If I take 10 non-lethal damage, it then looks like this:
OOOOO OOOOO OOOOO O
OOOOO OXXXX XXXXX X

12 lethal damage would knock me out:
XXXXX XXXXX XXOOO O
OOOOO OXXXX XXXXX X

(the characters will line up better if you copy-paste the above into notepad or other text editor with non-proportional fonts)

I can still take 6 non-lethal, and 4 lethal. I'm not dying until I take 4 lethal.

It makes the system a lot easier to understand. I never understood it in 3.5 at all until the DM came up with the little-squares idea.


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I feel like the issue I'm I'm hearing is:
"My party wont work with me to make sure we don't kill people!"

And as someone else pointed out, that's just as much a problem at the table as a lone murder hobo trying to kill everyone when everyone else wants to subdue them.

Both are problem characters at the table. The group should agree collectively to either subdue enemies or to kill enemies and stick to that. The pacifist trying to save everyone is as disruptive as the murder hobo trying to kill everyone in a party that is doing the opposite.

Sometimes your character concept doesn't work with your party, like a necromancer and a paladin. You should probably get buy in from your group members befgore you try to force your play style on the rest of your group.


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Claxon wrote:

I feel like the issue I'm I'm hearing is:

"My party wont work with me to make sure we don't kill people!"

And as someone else pointed out, that's just as much a problem at the table as a lone murder hobo trying to kill everyone when everyone else wants to subdue them.

Both are problem characters at the table. The group should agree collectively to either subdue enemies or to kill enemies and stick to that. The pacifist trying to save everyone is as disruptive as the murder hobo trying to kill everyone in a party that is doing the opposite.

Sometimes your character concept doesn't work with your party, like a necromancer and a paladin. You should probably get buy in from your group members befgore you try to force your play style on the rest of your group.

You don't understand - the reason people do lethal damage is 95% of the time out of convenience, not preference. The fighter doesn't want to take a -4 penalty on his attack, and doesn't want to spend a whole feat to negate the penalty. The wizard doesn't want to blow a feat on Merciful Spell - especially when he never knows whether he will run into a bunch of undead that day that are immune to Merciful Fireball.

They are more than happy to take prisoners - after all, prisoners give information, and knowledge is power. I don't think I've ever seen someone object to taking someone alive - although its possible the party may end up deciding just to coup de grace the enemy anyway. But its a conscious choice, not just a result of not wanting to take a -4 penalty.

The beauty of PF1 is that only one character needs to invest that feat or trait or whatever into specializing in nonlethal, and you can then generally take people alive. In SF, each and every member of the party has to invest resources in doing nonlethal to get the same effect.

It's not a question of the party not wanting to do nonlethal. It's a question of not wanting to spend the feat to do nonlethal without penalty. That's handled gracefully by PF1, not gracefully by SF.

Sovereign Court

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The fighter and wizard get all the benefits of nonlethal with none of the investment? Okay.


Most tables I have either GMed or been a player for essentially the past 20 years had been using SF style.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Wow, tied votes at 17! Much more evenly split than I expected, at least for this small sample size.

Dark Archive

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RumpinRufus wrote:
Claxon wrote:

I feel like the issue I'm I'm hearing is:

"My party wont work with me to make sure we don't kill people!"

And as someone else pointed out, that's just as much a problem at the table as a lone murder hobo trying to kill everyone when everyone else wants to subdue them.

Both are problem characters at the table. The group should agree collectively to either subdue enemies or to kill enemies and stick to that. The pacifist trying to save everyone is as disruptive as the murder hobo trying to kill everyone in a party that is doing the opposite.

Sometimes your character concept doesn't work with your party, like a necromancer and a paladin. You should probably get buy in from your group members befgore you try to force your play style on the rest of your group.

You don't understand - the reason people do lethal damage is 95% of the time out of convenience, not preference. The fighter doesn't want to take a -4 penalty on his attack, and doesn't want to spend a whole feat to negate the penalty. The wizard doesn't want to blow a feat on Merciful Spell - especially when he never knows whether he will run into a bunch of undead that day that are immune to Merciful Fireball.

They are more than happy to take prisoners - after all, prisoners give information, and knowledge is power. I don't think I've ever seen someone object to taking someone alive - although its possible the party may end up deciding just to coup de grace the enemy anyway. But its a conscious choice, not just a result of not wanting to take a -4 penalty.

The beauty of PF1 is that only one character needs to invest that feat or trait or whatever into specializing in nonlethal, and you can then generally take people alive. In SF, each and every member of the party has to invest resources in doing nonlethal to get the same effect.

It's not a question of the party not wanting to do nonlethal. It's a question of not wanting to spend the feat to do nonlethal without...

Yeah, I can confirm, its more often than not case of people not wanting to take that -4 penalty unless they really are forced to even if they want to take someone prisoner :P


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber
CorvusMask wrote:
Yeah, I can confirm, its more often than not case of people not wanting to take that -4 penalty unless they really are forced to even if they want to take someone prisoner :P

Yup. Fights are supposed to be "hard enough" already. A CR-appropriate creature is a challenge as written. For a party to decide to nerf their effectiveness and all take -4 to every attack, and to avoid any spell that deals lethal damage because you can't predict who'll have the last hit... that's a huge balance change. It's risky. It's very risky.

The system mechanically penalizes anyone who isn't out for blood.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

I'll chime in to also support that the problem proposed seems less a rules issue and more a player issue.


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There are some other factors to consider.

First, 'non-lethal' is a big thing for one of the major faiths in Golarion. Sarenrae strongly prefers it (though even she grants sometimes 'kill them dead' is the right answer). Others like Shelyn probably prefer it too. So it's actually Lore Important that the game get this right. As someone whose favorite character design revolves around "Merciful Intensified Empowered Fireball" and similar ways of non-lethally but decisively ending conflicts, it's something I want to be able to do without needing supporting mechanical choices from the entire rest of the table.

I voted 'do it like PF1', but I'm certainly open to mechanical clean-up so GMs don't have to track this extra junk. I just want to be able to do my thing (while still realizing some foes are best killed and some allies will prefer to do this; a true 'pacifist run' is impractical in this kind of game) without burdening the GM or fellow players.

However, I do feel part of this can be handled outside the game rules. It should probably be customary at the start of a new group, or a brief discussion at PFS tables, to figure out how this goes. A simple discussion on "Is anyone here playing a character with notably strong feelings about non-lethal combat, or strongly preferring lethal combat?" and working it out from there goes a long way.

Dark Archive

MMCJawa wrote:
I'll chime in to also support that the problem proposed seems less a rules issue and more a player issue.

If you want to blame players, might as well blame game master who refuse to tell players how low npc health is :P


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Of the two I prefer the SF style but I kind of hope they have developed another approach that is easy to track like SF but gives the flexibility of the PF system


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RumpinRufus wrote:
Claxon wrote:

I feel like the issue I'm I'm hearing is:

"My party wont work with me to make sure we don't kill people!"

And as someone else pointed out, that's just as much a problem at the table as a lone murder hobo trying to kill everyone when everyone else wants to subdue them.

Both are problem characters at the table. The group should agree collectively to either subdue enemies or to kill enemies and stick to that. The pacifist trying to save everyone is as disruptive as the murder hobo trying to kill everyone in a party that is doing the opposite.

Sometimes your character concept doesn't work with your party, like a necromancer and a paladin. You should probably get buy in from your group members befgore you try to force your play style on the rest of your group.

You don't understand - the reason people do lethal damage is 95% of the time out of convenience, not preference. The fighter doesn't want to take a -4 penalty on his attack, and doesn't want to spend a whole feat to negate the penalty. The wizard doesn't want to blow a feat on Merciful Spell - especially when he never knows whether he will run into a bunch of undead that day that are immune to Merciful Fireball.

They are more than happy to take prisoners - after all, prisoners give information, and knowledge is power. I don't think I've ever seen someone object to taking someone alive - although its possible the party may end up deciding just to coup de grace the enemy anyway. But its a conscious choice, not just a result of not wanting to take a -4 penalty.

The beauty of PF1 is that only one character needs to invest that feat or trait or whatever into specializing in nonlethal, and you can then generally take people alive. In SF, each and every member of the party has to invest resources in doing nonlethal to get the same effect.

It's not a question of the party not wanting to do nonlethal. It's a question of not wanting to spend the feat to do nonlethal without...

You might see it that way, but my default character to state is to kill enemies, unless I have good reason not to. Partly because of the attack penalty for non-lethal, but even without out my characters would still generally be seeking to kill their enemy, rather than subdue and capture.

I disagree with your assessment that 95% of people would choose not kill if it weren't for the penalty. I think in most cases they would still kill the person, the one that was just trying to kill them, unless they had a reason not to.

Dark Archive

I don't think they said "95% of people wouldn't kill enemies", he was talking about cases were pcs end up in conflict with each other due to part of them trying to take non lethally foes down :P Its really rare to see situation where someone gets angry because "I wanted to kill them, why you had to take them alive" its almost always "I didn't mind taking them alive, but I don't want to deal with that -4 penalty".

Anyway, like I said, if issue is problem with tracking non-lethal damage, isn't it just simpler to let player choose when they deal final blow whether they take them down lethally or non lethally?


It's not just less tracking, it's also more realistic.

How many fights have you been in with other untrained brawlers? That still produces very very real damage that wears you down and makes you far easier to kill if someone wanted to kill you.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I play 5e atm and the second way is how is done there, it fits with the rules style. But for PF2 I prefer the old/current system - it fits more mechanical complexity


I voted for the second way, SF-style. I don't consider it inferior and I like that it requires no book-keeping.


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I prefer the current version. You can rough someone up quite a bit and it's not going to count against their lethal-wounds threshold. They'll even walk it off faster than lethal wounds.
Conversely, the SF/4e/5e way of handling it means that nonlethal attacks literally only matter for whoever gets the final blow.


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It will make translating Kineticists to PF2E much harder.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

I agree that the -4 penalty for inflicting non-lethal damage is a pain.

I’d prefer an approach which used the simplified SF system and ditched the -4 penalty. That gets rid of the bookkeeping, and keeps it easy to take people down without killing them.


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Just conceptually I don't like the idea that "Sure, you have 11 arrows stuck in you and the barbarian worked you over pretty good with an axe, but since the rogue hit you with a sap on round 1, you're just unconscious".

So SF style for me.


PossibleCabbage wrote:

Just conceptually I don't like the idea that "Sure, you have 11 arrows stuck in you and the barbarian worked you over pretty good with an axe, but since the rogue hit you with a sap on round 1, you're just unconscious".

So SF style for me.

Is "Sure, you have 11 arrows stuck in you and the barbarian worked you over pretty good with an axe, but since the rogue hit you with a sap for 1 hp as the last blow, you're just unconscious" really conceptually different?

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