Called shot. These words never fail to fill my heart with dread. Many players try to abuse these two words, which if we allow them to do this, then it will spoil our games, and probably the challenge of it. Thankfully we have core rules to back us up on what called shots can and can’t do.


There are situations which require a special finesse, and a whole lot of skill to pull off. Attacking specific targets is necessary quite often, most are harmless enough. Knocking a vial out of someone’s hand, cutting open a backpack during a melee, shooting an arrow a longer range then normal, there are hundreds of examples of its usage, however because this option needs to be available for all of the characters to use, it requires deep scrutiny by each DM to regulate them so that they aren’t abused.


Advanced Dungeons & Dragons does not support specific hit locations, and a called shot can not be used to cause extra damage. Shooting an arrow into the eye of a dragon isn’t going to blind it, nor is it going to instantly kill the beast, a successful called shot with an arrow will only do 1d8 or its normal damage, and that is it.

Some called shots are capable of creating some sort of short term effect at the DM’s option, such as a handful of sand thrown into an opponents eyes will cause him to be blind for a round or two, but targeting his head with a sword isn’t going to give you an instant kill.


In order to make a called shot, the player must announce that he is going to attempt this before any dice are rolled. He can always change tactics once it is his turn again, but the called shot adds +1 to your initiative because the character is taking more time and care into the attack.

Once it is the character’s turn, he rolls his attack at –4 to hit, it is more difficult, and the DM can make this penalty as large as –10 if the attack is really challenging, but the standard penalty is usually –4.


Players may complain, saying that the core rules neuter the Called Shot attack, however they haven’t thought it all the way through. They assume that they’ll be the only ones who will ever be able to take advantage of it, and if we do institute a hit location system, their lives will be unfairly at risk during all attacks. It is one thing to have to make a saving throw vs death every so often, but to have to do this every time you pick up the dice is really pushing your luck.

For that reason we keep the damage regulated to a standard of damage. Called shots are still required to attack specific breaks in an opponents armor. Monsters such as the carrion crawler are best defeated by called shots to specific locations as uncalled shots only do ½ damage.

Under some cases, called shots upon a specific body part is allowed, but specific attacks should only do 1 or 2 hp in damage max, such as attempting to capture an opponent who is going to hurl a bomb into a busy city market, a hero is allowed to target his throwing arm with his whip. A successful attack could make the terrorist drop his bomb and set it off in his own area. The whip only did 1d2 dmg, however the explosion will probably engulf both the hero and the assassin, with the assassin taking most of the damage, but this was his own fault.

We aren’t trying to push logic completely out of the window, just not allow players to use the core rules to cheat with. Instant kills are no good for anybody involved. I remember using one which was allowed, he was my mortal enemy and I just killed him. It was probably the must unsatisfying ending that I’ve ever experienced. There isn’t anything wrong with whittling an opponent down the old fashioned way, in fact the rules expect this to happen in order to make the game playable.

ART BY: Fred Fields


Timeshadows said...

Not certain I agree, but it was a good argument for your position. :)

Lord Kilgore said...

I never allow called shots for "instant death" or even things like blinding an opponent. I will allow them for attacks against creatures with multiple ACs or for things like shooting a weapon out of a hand, though.

Ripper X said...

Called shots are a pet peeve of mine. People get lazy when they are used, and it destroys the game.

I throw my dagger at their throat, I mean, how cheap is that? If I could eliminate them completely I'd be a happy camper, but I can't. Granted that the later editions are completely different animal, but in my games, I just don't want to go there because the implications are bull. Every fight could involve instant death? Or worse, you have to create those dumb hit location tables which just isn't something that I'm willing to do. If you start down that road, in my opinion, you aren't playing D&D anymore.

I like none specific hits, they just work better. How much damage does a dagger to the throat do? Personally I don't care how much it does, it doesn't matter. What matters to me is finding the door and exploring the dungeon.

kaeosdad said...

Hm, how about it a called shot incurs a penalty but increases the critical threat range? I don't think there is an easy rule for this so it would have to be done on a case by case ruling.

In the case of throwing a dagger at someones throat, -6 to hit. If the throat is unarmored increase the threat range by 4 and on a true crit triple damage instead of double.

Ripper X said...

You give me 35 goblins and I can hand a party of 4 high level adventurers their butts back to them. You give me the option of letting my goblins make called shots on specific body locations and I can kill them in under 5 rounds. If I can do that with lowly little goblins, what are 10th level fighters capable of?

Called shots are game busters, plain and simple. I have heard all of the arguments, but I still hate them. We also have logic problems from the knife to the throat . . . #1, you have a knife in your throat. That tends to be disruptive and throw out all of the logic behind the hit point system. I mean, a 9th level fighter is better at minimizing damage that would kill 1st level fighters, but there just isn't any minimizing a dagger in your throat. We aren't talking x3 damage, that right there is death, or perhaps you lose all attacks while you grab your throat bleeding and trying to scream but only making gurgling sounds.

Nope, the player calls that he's throwing a dagger at another man's throat, he does 1d4 damage and I probably won't give him any XP.

Damage alone is supposed to be a set standard. Wizards weapons do on average 1d4, Rogues 1d6, Clerics 1d8, and Warriors do 1d10+ but that is what warriors do, that is what they are good at. You give all of the other classes the ability to earn additional damage then you've compromised the warrior class.

The implications themselves are terrifying! I mean, imagine a Death Knight who can pull off called shots. He'd be invincible! High level warriors would be less forgiving to everyone who attacks them, if you change one core rule you have to first figure out exactly why it is there in the first place. Once you do this, and figure out why it is the way that it is, you understand that by taking it out you could be causing a domino effect. Called shots which do extra damage weaken the rest of the game. It breaks limitations which are there for a reason, and if you do use that, then you also have to use Critical Hit Sheets and I absolutely refuse to do that. Anything which effects how a player views his characters image is wrong. We can take their money, we can take their health, we can make them strong or weak but we should never take away the picture that the player sees in his head.

You'll have to excuse my ranting, its late and I'm all alone tonight ;)

Timeshadows said...

How is careful aim not to be rewarded with additional damage? I just don't get it. I remember reading that you don't even like Critical hits...

Also, how is it that games that have been using both Crits and Called Shots for years haven't been 'killed' by those rules?


Brooze the Bear said...

Called shots would not be a game buster if it was applied in the context of other game rules. For instance, arrow through the eye of the dragon. Not that it would not do any damage, it would be a knockout critical hit, impossible if low level fighter did it, but statistically possible if a 9th level fighter pulled it off. In my agme if a low level charcter fgaced a dragon, and said, I am shooting it in the eye, you'd have to roll a 2o and a 20 or one in 400 to get that. Dragon may die, or it may get distracted, but tyhe character will be a hero. But the character misses, oh boy... save for half the damage, well over any hps that the 1st level fighter might have.

Consier the real world example. WWII. Man versus tank, maybe 25 yards. Tank front machine gun kills man 999 out 1000. Consider multiple gunshot wounds to torso, tank drivers run people over, a roaring metal beast charging one terrified soldier at 25 mph. Well yes, there ARE people who lived through this. Infantry man draws his weapon and fires at the observation slit. WWII those things were slits (optic prisms weren't used in front) between steel plates with width adjustable by the driver, much like observation slits in a knight's helmet. So, maybe the driver or passenger/gunner left it open too wide, maybe our man gets lucky. A single bullet gets through, injures the driver or gunner in the face or kills him. Vocal and bloody medical emergency inside war machine. Tank stops, machine gun does not fire. Bunny rabbit lives!

And you gonna deprive the players of THAT kind of excitement? Admittedly one in 400 is a bit too optimistic, but it IS a fantasy game, isn't it?

As to players abusing and overrusing the called shot? It takes time to aim in. Let the called shot archer go last after everyone else goes. they might get away with it at 150 yards, but at melee range? Any hit and the archer loses his shot automatically.

Timeshadows said...


With all deference, sir, I must offer a correction. Two separate die rolls do not influence the percentage chance of an event. Rolling 1d20 and getting a 20 is a 1 in 20 chance (5%). Getting a second 20 on d20 is also a 1:20 chance. The fact that they were rolled sequentially has no effect. Only if 2d20 had been rolled as 20/20 would there be an effect, and then it would only be a 1:39 chance.

Also, while I can appreciate what you are saying, comparing 1st-Level Fighters shooting the eye of a dragon, or an infantryman of WWII defeating a tank with a rifle-round -- those are over-the-top examples.

A trained firearm user (i.e. Weapon Proficient) with a properly calibrated iron-sights shot (not a scope, not a 'red-dot') conducted well within a 10-second Round's worth of action, they can consistently hit a head-sized target out to 25 yards on a snap shot. Just a normal person. Not a 'Fighter', not a fantasy RPG character. One must assume a greater degree of competence than that for a warrior in a world of constant danger.

In any case, I've said my peace on the subject. :)

Brooze the Bear said...

Roll two dice, and you multiply the probabilities, not add them. Read any basic math text on probability and statistics. You have one outcome of 20x20 combinations, 1 and 19, 20 and 2 etc.

Not through a tank observation slit (1/4" or so about 1/2" plate thickness), not while running, not at a moving target, especially not having seen the front of the tank up close to know what's what. Find me at least one instance of it happening in WWII and you won't.

And what makes you think that the other side would not be as competent as your average marksman in ten second round? A Dragon would let someone stand and fire an arrow into its eye?

Ripper X said...

I refuse to use hit locations, but I do allow aimed fire. +2 to Initiative gives you +4 to hit.

You can aim at a specific enemy, but you can't aim at his head . . . I actually have a list of pros and cons some where, for me the cons won, if they don't for you, fine! We'll just have to agree to disagree. Hit locations only take place in combat and thankfuly, the game is so much more then that.

Timeshadows said...


If that were the case, my friend, then any time a result occurred on any die roll, we would need to be amazed, because the last time any die-roll was counted, it ought to have been figured into the 'cumulative odds' of which you write. Links in a grand chain of die-rolls.

Your sequential d20 rolls are actually two separate events which, in and of themselves, have no more bearing on the next d20 roll than if you were to instead roll a d8 as the second die, and claim that the '8' on d8 was a continuation of the first d20 roll. The data don't correspond to each other unless they are rolled together as a single range of probabilities, figuring in the cure that results.

* Back on topic, sort-of:

I have no illusions that the 'other side' are equally capable of a random even, much in the same way I believe and have seen mathematical proof that a Fighter rolling 2d8 and a Bugbear rolling 2d8 are both capable of rolled damage above the number '8'.
Your line of argumentation appears to be one of equity toward the PCs, and I am equally unconcerned if the Bugbear rolls 16, or rolls 8, or the Fighter.

HPs of damage are HPs of damage, whether it is double damge from a longsword or a trap that drops 2d8 of anvil on a character's head.

* Ripper X:

I wasn't suggesting that combat was the heart of the game, sir.

Brooze the Bear said...

Timeshadow, just try rolling 20 and 20 after that. See how many tries it will take you. How many in 100 hits?

I am against hit locations and don't use psionics or grappling tables for the reason that they comoplicate the game unnecessarily. However, I do believe in stressing the non-linearity of combat and giving every action a fighting chance if it's warranted. Hit location WILL come into usefullness, if you make the economics of armor expensive, and people can have shields and specific location covered with solid plate. Those will stop damage from arrows and will make AC 2 for a crit hit purpose. I prefigure all stats before game for each player character. Double 20 Crit hist are rare enough to where they can add color, but not shift the balance of the game.

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