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Called Shot to the Nuts

“I make a called shot to his nuts” is one of the most potentially troublesome things a player can declare during a session.


Because assuming the game you’re playing doesn’t support doing damage to specific areas (hit points, anyone?), it’s one of two things: a red flag signaling that this player is a spotlight-hogging tool, or just something that he thought sounded cool (I mean, who doesn’t like delivering a swift kick to the nards?).

Let’s look at this from two angles.

Red Flag

When I play in convention games, I run into players who fall into a broad, called-shot-to-the-nuts-related stereotype fairly often: selfish people who want to do things their way without regard for the rest of the table. Dicks, in other words — and the called shot might be the first sign of that.

This presents you with an unpleasant judgment call to make: Is this player a dick? Making that call is beyond the scope of this post, but fortunately it’s a judgment call that you have to make every day — just transplanted into a different situation.

If you have a player in your home group who is a dick, they need to reform or be kicked out [1]. Period. (Life’s too short for this kind of crap.)

If you’re running a convention game, an in-store demo or another event where you don’t get to choose your group, that’s a different story. You can’t just boot out a player for being an asshole at the table — but you also can’t let them ruin everyone else’s fun (yours included).

In that case, you need to establish your authority with a short, blunt response — something like, “I’m sorry, but the game isn’t really set up to handle that. Please do something else instead.” Don’t discuss it, or allow yourself to be sidetracked — if the first statement doesn’t do the trick, repeat it and then just move on.

Something Cool

On the other hand, if the player in question isn’t a dick — equally likely, and doubly so in an established group — then she probably just wants to do something cool. That makes this into a simple rules call on your part, without all the social baggage.

If it sounds like fun, allow the called shot. Assign a penalty to the PC’s attack roll on the fly, and come up with a mechanical penalty for the target if it hits.

I’d also suggest making it clear that this is a one-time thing — it’s scene-appropriate, it sounded fun, but it may not always be an option. Make sure you jot down your one-the-fly rules call, too, so that you can vet it for future use after the session, when you’re not in the middle of a game.

If your gut tells you it’s a bad idea, politely let the player know that her PC can’t do that, but that you’d be happy to discuss a house rule after the game — and offer a cool-sounding alternative for her to consider instead of the called shot.

When in doubt, err on the side of allowing the shot. The litmus test is “Will it make the game more fun?” — and the answer is usually “Yes.”

Have you run into this situation in your own games? Does my stereotype ring true?

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#1 Comment By tsuyoshikentsu On September 3, 2007 @ 5:24 am

(Heh, bet you haven’t seen THIS name for a while!)

The red flag section is 100% dead on.

The cool-thing section is also right, but remember: there are some systems that support it even if it doesn’t look like they do at first glance. A great example of this is D&D.

Most people look at D&D and go “GRAAH! HP!” but as it happens there are a few built-in ways to simulate a “called shot:”

–Precision damage: This is the biggie. “Precision damage” is a catch-all term for things like Sneak Attack and Skirmish that deal extra damage under certain circumstances, but only to things that have anatomies and care about it. (IE, undead could care less about being stabbed in the liver.) When you sneak attack, you’re stabbing the guy in the nads.

–Dirty Fighting (feat): I believe it’s in Sword & Fist. It’s old, but it works. (It’s also pretty weak, as feats go.)

–Power Attack: Wait, what’s the old standby of bashy-bashies doing here? Well, isn’t taking a penalty on your attack roll to get a bonus to damage exactly what a called shot is doing? The unfortunate side of this is that you don’t get extra damage for being tricky with a dagger. The upside, though, is that when your enemy takes a club to the nads it hurts a lot more if it’s a GREATCLUB.

–Criticals: In my games, I usually respond with “unless you’re using another option, your character is already trying to do that and on a crit he succeeds.” It’s a cop-out, but it does allow me to do some pretty special things. (I actually had players wince when I described a hobgoblin’s scimitar nailing the bard’s brachial artery, and all I said was “he cuts across your inner arm.”

The point of all this is: if you’re looking for rules for called shots, just because they’re not called such doesn’t mean they’re not there.


#2 Comment By bignose On September 3, 2007 @ 6:34 am

I had a hard time seeing the point in this post. I’ve long preferred GURPS, where if you *want* to call a shot to the groin, the rules are there as a simple penalty to the to-hit roll.

Of course, the majority of my scenes don’t bother with these rules, because my players *don’t* do called shots to the groin — they want combat to be fast and fun, so most things settle into a single aggregate task difficulty modifier. But if someone *wants* a called shot, or other specific cool-sounding move, they’re welcome to try it.

I suppose if your chosen game ruleset doesn’t allow such strange things to be rolled in simply that wanting the spotlight equates to being a dick. I’d argue, though, that in that case the game ruleset is getting in the way of trying to find a cool way for the action to happen, and you might want to use a ruleset that is easier to use as a system.

#3 Comment By Darrin On September 3, 2007 @ 8:49 am

I fail to see how going for the groin makes one a dick. We all know that most things have vulnerable areas and when you want to bring something down fast, the best way is to target those vulnerabilities. A kick in the junk is often a good way to incapacitate a human male without killing them. So please explain how wanting to end a fight quickly = dickage.

I do not see it as a cool move. It certainly has its place, but I would not want to see it over used anymore than I would want to see any particular maneuver used exclusively. To me, a ‘cool’ move requires some amount of imagination. Everyone knows a swift strike to the Jimmy. It is not terribly creative or original.

Most systems that I am aware of have some way of dealing with called shots, hit locations, criticals…whatever you want to call them. They just do not all spell out specifically that it can be used as a ‘called shot to the nuts’.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On September 3, 2007 @ 9:18 am

I definitely see the red flag aspect. Actions like this can definitely signal that a player is just trying to steal spotlight or isn’t really thinking about why their character is in the game. Is the character a paladin? Is the character the type who would do that? Is the situation appropriate for some action like that? Is the player just wanting to do massive damage, or maybe just look cool? If the player isn’t playing the game, the red flag this sets off might say “They are just here because they want to act out some aggression.” That is fine, but there are a lot of other people there to play the game.

From a system perspective there is one other option. Ask the player “Are you looking for more damage, or just to hit him there.” Let them make the attack, figure out if it hits based on all normal rules and assign normal damage. What actually happens in the game is that instead of just assigning damage, you assign damage and the enemy acts out being hit there. If the player wants a system benefit (like the other person having the wind knocked out of them, more damage, etc.) then you have to levy some kind of penalty to make it harder. They are expecting more from the action, they have to put more into it. If it is just cinematics then, well I say let it happen if the player just wants to look cool.

#5 Comment By VV_GM On September 3, 2007 @ 11:22 am

It can be a red flag when a player is consistently trying to kick things in the groin, or some other sign of spotlight stealing. I say go with it though – make it hard to hit. I’ve been in plenty of streetfights and shots to the nads are made by the guys who think that a shot to the nads will save them from a beating. The movies make it look easy, but it is exactly the opposite because our reflexes to defend are usually faster than our attacker’s thought-out attack. Ever notice how experienced fighters go for the knees and not the groin? There is a reason for that.

So go ahead and make it a very difficult shot. If it hits good for the player, if not it is a wasted action.

Now if it is for the “cool” effect because it just works with the scene for some reason then work with it still. Just use the same mechanics as you would for the “dick” reason but maybe make it easier if the scene merits that. Might as well have fun with it since it is just a game after all. πŸ˜‰

If I have a dick player who is spotlight hogging I give it to them. Such PCs will attract the way too powerful villain early and often. I take it to be the quivalent of being a nobody and insulting a Mafia Don. You are going to be made into an example. So if the dick player keeps trying to hog the spotlight fine by me. Since spotlights are used for both the theater, and for prison guards to more easily shoot escaping convicts in the middle of the night I think it is only fair. πŸ™‚

#6 Comment By Marcus On September 3, 2007 @ 1:03 pm

Malhavoc’s Book of Iron Might had a pretty complex system for handling called shots in d20.

In this instance it would be a flat -20 penalty to attack, then you can say he provokes an AoO by positioning up for a nads shot (reasonable) for +10, and the attack fails if the AoO hits for +5 (also reasonable). Now you have a power-attack sized penalty of -5 for the called shot.

Instead of extra damage, though, you can have any sort of debuff you deem reasonable. I say stunned for a round as he reels in agony is a good bet, or perhaps he’s flat-footed while he cradles his marbles, or maybe he’s Shaken for a couple rounds as he realizes his twig and two berries are on the line.

The system is complicated, hard to calculate on the fly, and adds (often several) extra steps to the attack, but it works. The system gives A LOT of extra options (read: power) to melee types for free, but sometimes fun wins out.

Alternatively, you can (and I usually do) run with Hero Points/Story Points for every character. It allows them the option to do something cinematic when they want to without upsetting the normal balance of the game. This is pretty much the same as your “allow it just this once” solution, except that its built into the system.

#7 Comment By Spleen23 On September 3, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

If the player is just trying to get a combat advantage by trying something not covered in the rules, more power to him, he should just keep in mind that he has also just opened a can of worms since every monster he goes up agianst now also has the option of makeing specific disableing attacks agaisnt him, and they will most likely use them only against him.

Then theres always the fact that most creatures and people who fight would come to expect a kick to the nads in a fight, thats why most suits of armor have some sort of hard protection over them, usally called a cod piece.

Spiked armor anyone?

I could also see just see a hobgoblin training sargent walking down a line of recruits kicking each one just to toughen then up and forceing them to built up a immunity.

General rule for me would be if it gets laugh, you should let it go.

#8 Comment By Wik On September 3, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

Never really had a problem with it, except for one player.

And he wasn’t really a “spotlight hog”, although he did take up a bit more time than a few other players (but not so much as to really consider him greedy). However, he didn’t use called shots.

Often, he’d just describe what he wanted his character to do, and we’d use an attack roll to figure out how successful he was. Each round, he would say something like “my character will jump on the table, kick one hobgoblin in the face, and lunge at another with his blade”. And we’d just make an attack roll (as if he were using two-weapon fighting), and take it from there.

Personally, I loved it, because it meant that he was paying attention. And that’s something that should be remembered – a player that wants to do things like a “Called shot to the nuts” and other stuff that could be “cool” is probably really into the game. So, while it could be considered a “red flag” in many situations, the exact opposite can also be true – it could just mean that you’re doing a killer job running the game.

#9 Comment By Telas On September 3, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

Good ideas here, and nice call on the “red flag”, Martin. I can see translating “I want to kick him in the nuts” into “I want an zero-cost mechanical advantage”.

If we’re playing D&D, and a player tries that, I’ll ask him to cite the rules on it, and where they’re found. I’m not stopping combat so we can make up some game-breaking mechanic on the spot.

If a player wants to do something just for the “cool” factor, it’ll probably happen, and I may even make up some cute little mechanic for it. (Take a penalty to your attack roll. If you succeed, the target has to make a Fort save; the DC is 10 + the penalty you took.)

However, I’ll make sure that everyone knows this is a rare occurrence.

#10 Comment By Al On September 3, 2007 @ 11:17 pm

I’ve played with a couple of players whose characters were intensely anti-male. This sort of thing just sort of flowed naturally out of the whole persona. They were playing ‘difficulty cooperating with the party, due to excessive maleness’, so doing this to a non-party member was, well, stress relief. πŸ˜‰ I can’t remember whether this was a specific Flaw that they had picked up somehow, or what, but they played it as exactly that. Mechanically, they weren’t getting any bonuses this way. (The contrary, probably.) Since the whole thing was far more story-oriented than roll-oriented, we just sort of took it in stride that one person would be doing things non-optimally when faced with anything exuding testosterone. “This giant is only wearing armor up to his waist. He’s gorgeous though.” … I still kick him….

I must admit that male members of the party were more interested in certain types of armor. πŸ˜€

#11 Comment By Calybos On September 4, 2007 @ 5:07 am

The most useful technique I’ve found is to remind them that any maneuver available to PCs will forever more be available to their enemies too… and then ask if they REALLY want to go through with it.

That usually takes care of the problem.

#12 Comment By Clayton On September 4, 2007 @ 7:15 am

I have only ever run into a situation with something like this once, and thankfully my player was doing it to be silly (Cause we had just watched the Gamers).

I try to avoid Called Shots personally. It makes me have to do more work πŸ˜›

#13 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On September 4, 2007 @ 9:17 am

Back in 2nd edition DnD when a called shot was -4 to hit, my halberier regularly made called shots to the mouth and wrist vs spellcasters (to eliminate them using verbal and somatic components) and my DM let me get away with it. While this logically made sense (and was semi-supported by the -4 penalty) it wasn’t really what the rule was intended for.

#14 Comment By Argonel On September 4, 2007 @ 10:49 am

Addition notes to comment #5. In addition to being pretty good a prtecting sensative ares such as the groin. There is a huge range of responses to being kinked there. The three most common are hunch over incapacitated to some degree, minimal response (It’s just a hit), or big adrenaline dump and berzerkish rage. So to put odds on it probably half the time it will be incapacitating, 1/8 nothing much, and 3/8 will result in recieving a major smackdown. Probably worth trying if you don’t have better options, but not a sure thing.

As noted it makes a good red flag to check if the player is roll playing or roleplaying.

#15 Comment By Rocket Lettice On September 4, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

Kudos to Martin for posting a topic that allows us to refer to genitalia figuratively and repeatedly.

Let’s recap: Nuts. Dick. Nards. Tool. Nads. Greatclub. Groin. Junk. Jimmy. Paladin. Worm. Marbles. Twig and Two Berries.

I know some of those werenÒ€ℒt really phallic references, but they looked so good on the listÒ€¦

#16 Comment By Andrew Royle On September 4, 2007 @ 2:35 pm

I agree with Bignose on this issue (as opposed to my first ever post on this site which disagreed with his viewpoint:-)). I run Iron Heroes and if a player wants to try this its covered in the rules – its the outcome that matters ‘I want to slow his movement for a round so I’ll kick him in the nads & run off’& that kind of thing is covered in Iron Heroes. I also believe ‘Groin Stomp’ is a combat skill in Hackmaster for those who really want this manouver included specifically in their rule sets lol

#17 Comment By Darrin On September 5, 2007 @ 5:50 am

To me, a spotlight hog is a spotlight hog and should be taken aside and talked to. Trying to discourage their behavior in game with penalties seems rather passive aggressive. Address the real problem.

I guess I have just never had the problem of a player using any specific maneuver to be a jerk. Any time I have had a player attempt any sort of called shot, it has been appropriate and the player was quite willing to deal with a reasonable penalty to pull off the maneuver.

#18 Comment By Martin On September 6, 2007 @ 9:42 am

One of the reasons I enjoy writing posts like this is because so many different perspectives emerge in the comments. It’s an odd topic, and definitely one that ties into personal experience.

(Darrin) I fail to see how going for the groin makes one a dick. We all know that most things have vulnerable areas and when you want to bring something down fast, the best way is to target those vulnerabilities. A kick in the junk is often a good way to incapacitate a human male without killing them. So please explain how wanting to end a fight quickly = dickage.

I’m definitely making a gross generalization here, but we’re coming at it from different perspectives. There are lots of perfectly valid reasons why a player might want to have their PC smack someone in the nuts, and yours — to end the fight quickly — is one of them.

If you’ve never run into this as a red flag, so much the better. I haven’t enjoyed any of the con events where it’s served as a red flag, but that’s just my experience. At its heart, this is a social issue that just happens to involve mechanics. πŸ˜‰

(Rocket Lettice) Kudos to Martin for posting a topic that allows us to refer to genitalia figuratively and repeatedly.

I had fun with this one myself. I swear fairly frequently in real life, but I don’t often have much call to do it in TT posts. The occasional exception is refreshing. πŸ˜‰