I’ve heard people talk about called shots as a mechanic used in previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons before. However, I never gave it much thought until I read Keith Baker’s blog entry for Dungeon Mastering, entitled “Colorful Combat.” In the article, a reader describes his frustration with a player who is constantly making called shots against monsters.
“[The player will try to make a called shot] right out of the gate and it takes the fun out of the fight. He cuts off limbs before the monsters have a chance to attack. He likes to chop at the neck too. He will perform strength checks to see how hard he can hit them. I’ve thought about raising the Armor Class for specific shots but I didn’t know if there was a better way to handle it.”
Keith suggested that the reader use his player’s description as flavor text for the combat. If the character tries to slash into a dragon’s spine, for example, Keith suggests responding with something like, “He senses you coming and spins just in time to save his life. He catches your blow on the edge of his blade, but he can’t parry it perfectly and you trace a grazing cut across his shoulder.”
Personally, I think this is a fine answer, and I could even see myself making a similar call in my own game. However, when players want to do something that isn’t described by the rules, and I can sense that they’re excited about it, I like to try and work with them to create a mechanic that will allow them to perform that action without breaking the game. In this case, the player seems to enjoy making called shots against his opponents, and the GM seems willing to allow the player to perform such actions. What the GM seems to want help with is figuring out how to adjudicate such actions without ruining the story. That’s why I suggested creating a new mechanic to handle such situations in game. I feel like allowing a person to make a call shot as part of a critical hit is not terribly disruptive to the game in terms of game balance, and it gives the person an opportunity to do something unique.
Now granted, the house rule I suggested seems to have a better home in 3.5 than it does in 4E. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that I designed a house rule specifically for 3.5 here on my blog. However, I don’t think it has to be that way. Keith mentioned in his response to me that characters in 4E rely more on their powers, rather than special attacks, to do cool things. I think that’s a valid point. However, it’s not as if you couldn’t make it part of a class’s powers. For example, every class gets certain class features that allow characters to perform special actions. Perhaps the player can swap out one of his existing class features for one that allows his character to make call shots on a critical hit. It’s in keeping with the game mechanics, and it allows the player to perform an action he’s excited about. After all, isn’t that one of the cornerstones of 4E? Saying yes to your players?1
By the way, here are a few more articles with different takes on Called Shots.
1 Dungeon Master’s Guide, p. 28