Never Leave a Man Behind

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 17, 2012

Pop quiz: Your ally just took massive damage and fell unconscious, what do you do? If you’re the leader this is an easy one; use one of your healing powers and revive your fallen comrade. If you’re any other role your answer had better not be leave him for the leader. When a PC falls during combat it’s everyone’s responsibility to bring him back into the fight – not just the leader. Admittedly the leader is usually the one that can revive unconscious PCs easiest and fastest, but you’re part of a party, a team, and everyone should look out for one another. Don’t shrug your obligation to your teammates and let a dying ally make death save after death save while you keep fighting.

Now I know there will be times when it might make more sense for the striker to keep attacking or for the defender to just keep the bad guy locked down, especially if either of them has an incredibly low Heal check, but these should be the exceptions. Regardless of circumstance unconscious PCs should not be forgotten or ignored. Dismissing your dying ally is the same as leaving him behind.

When combat rages on and a PCs falls unconscious the DM will generally leave the PC alone and move on to targets that still pose a threat. Only in rare circumstances should the monster keep hitting fallen PCs until they’re dead-dead (negative bloodied). But just because the monsters have stopped attacking your buddy doesn’t mean he’s safe. After all as long as he’s not dead-dead he can still be targeted by blasts, bursts and other area of effect attacks, not to mention really nasty monsters that have no qualms about making sure that PC never wakes up. Yet a lot of players treat unconscious PCs as nothing more than furniture or dungeon dressing. Just because a PC is down doesn’t mean he’s out of the fight.

Every character can try to revive an adjacent ally with a successful Heal check. Yes it does take a standard action (something most players are reluctant to give up for a non-attack action), but it’s still better than nothing. Nobody wants to be the guy with an unconscious character so help each other. Every character will be the guys bleeding out at some point in their adventuring career so set precedent early in the campaign and demonstrate teamwork. Help the fallen! Revive unconscious allies as quickly as possible.

In a recent adventure a PC fell and before the heroes could help him the monsters forced the party back. Now the enemies stood between the party and the unconscious ally. The party made no effort to get their fallen comrade. The attitude was “We’ll get him when the fight’s over.” The fight took seven more rounds. Fortunately the player rolled a series of amazing death saves and didn’t get a single strike, but that’s not the point. Had his dice run cold, the PC would have died before the encounter was over. The PCs on their feet left him to die. Of course, had he failed a couple of death saves they might have taken different tactics and tried to get to him earlier, but should that matter? Should a fallen characters with hot dice who doesn’t fail any death saves just be left behind? Do PCs with cold dice that fail their death saves deserve more immediate attention?

I guess this is one of those fine lines when doing the right thing in-character isn’t necessarily the best thing out-of-character. In the example above the only way one of the conscious PCs could get adjacent to their fallen ally would be to provoke an opportunity attack as they moved around a monster. Sure it was possible that if that opportunity attack connected the result could be another unconscious PC (extremely unlikely, but certainly possible), and this is why the players didn’t take actions to move their PCs over to their comrade and aid him. Their meta-knowledge of how the game mechanics work stopped them from having their characters, in-game, risk their lives to help the man down. I understand why they might have made these choices but I think that in some situations you have to do what’s best in-character regardless of risks. Helping your allies should be at the top of that list.

How important do you think it is for PCs to help their fallen allies during combat? Do you take risks, in-character, such as provoking opportunity attacks to help fallen allies? Do you think helping the fallen should be exclusively the leader’s responsibility? Where do you draw the line when deciding who’s going to help and who will keep on fighting? Does the PC’s Heal check factor into your decisions making? Would you ever leave a man behind?

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1 Madfox11 July 17, 2012 at 10:11 am

Doesn’t it really depend on the circumstances? If I use a Heal check to revive my companion (assuming 4e and that the character still has 2nd wind), he gains significantly less hit points than when the leader does so. If the monster is immediately after my turn, the character is conscious and the monster is much more likely to target the prone still heavily wounded PC than somebody else causing not just the wounded character to loose an action, but my PC as well.

Mind you, I trust my players and the players never mention HOW much below 0 hit points their characters are, nor do they roll that death saving throw for everybody to see (meaning the DM might not be able to see the check either). Sometimes it can be a real boon when the fellow PCs don’t know how close to death their unconscious companion is.

2 shortymonster July 17, 2012 at 10:26 am

Combat being a handful of seconds per round, and a hectic few seconds at that, getting attacked all the time, is not when people should be rushing to save a fallen man. If he went down and failed a death save two turns later, but whilst still in combat, I would consider him a fatality of the combat, not a failure on my part to save him. I certainly wouldn’t expect the rest of the group to risk their own necks to pull my ass out of the fire if I could barely move and they were getting stomped on by the monsters that had done for me in the first place.

Deal with the immediate threat first, the do what you can, and no hard feelings if I pass away between rounds. Mind you, I have in the past willingly sacrificed a kick ass character to save the life of my lover and our unborn child, so I guess I’m OK with dying if it means less chance of others going down.

3 B.J. July 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

I always try to err on the side of saving the character. Of course that was easy with one of more recent characters being a rather beefy Warpriest. I could hit like a truck, but I knew my role as a healer was my main priority when a player gets down.

One problem I have noticed with players is their odd avoidance of using their second wind or a healing potion on their own turn. They may have two hit points left, but they won’t sacrifice the standard action because, “the healer or leader will get to me.” Sometimes, as per usual, players need to take the proactive role and look after their health!

4 Rogue #1 July 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Is this because we didn’t try to get to Chris’ character on Monday when we had the ogre/troll that could pretty much almost one-hit-kill Billy or myself when we moved past him to revive Chris? At least I decided “Hey, I can try to stabilize the leader” to which she pointed out that she had potions.

As I see it, I did the right thing. I brought back another person that was still semi capable of healing (Astral Seal). The only problem was getting to Chris, and frankly, taking OAs from moving past that ogre/troll didn’t seem to be in our best interests.

Had me and Billy not been trapped inside the room with the archer, yes, we would have healed Chris, or at the very least stabilized him. But, due to circumstances, we were sort of well… up a creek without a paddle. Hell, come to think of it, we didn’t have a canoe!

I do agree that the party should try to revive/help a dying ally. In my home campaign they do try that – not often – but they do try. Well, everyone but the warlock who pretty much outright hates the whole party… And everyone else.

5 Philo Pharynx July 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm

This is one of the points where the game mechanics divorce a bit from reality. Even being at zero hp isn’t a lot of risk unless sombody is trying a coup de grace. An unconscious person can usually take a couple of blasts or bursts. It doesn’t even make it harder to heal them. As for death saves, the whole party has at least three rounds to save them. Given that people don’t usually go down right at the beginning, a lot of fights will be over before three rounds are over. There’s a 14% chance that a person will stabilize in the first three rounds and only a 9% chance you’ll die in three rounds. And that’s assuming they don’t have any bonuses on their saving throws.

By the game mechanics, there’s no real sense of urgency until the downed character takes damage or fails a death save or two. Why not fight the monster a little more?

Madfox’s idea of keeping the downed character’s condition a secret will raise the tension, and BJ has a point that people need to think about healing themselves once in a while.

6 B.J. July 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I think Rogue #1 also brings up a salient, if unpopular, point of view. Sometimes it might not be in the character’s nature to rush in and attempt to heal someone. I know it’s not in the spirit of yesterday’s superb article about not being a dick, but sometimes we do play dicks. If naturally role playing your character means not healing, go for it. That dick-ish character will have to remember that someday he will need the healing and someone may not provide it for him, but role play with what you have. Something about “power” and “responsibility” in all that somewhere.

7 Svafa July 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I usually try to base my actions on my character and not game mechanics. This means that one of my current characters doesn’t generally heal allies and rarely helps anyone who is dying. Why? The character worships death and embraces it. But they don’t expect to be healed or brought back either; granted they are a revenant, remain fighting below zero hit points, and cannot fail a death saving throw…

But yeah, were I playing a character that didn’t treat death as the greatest gift ever given, then I’d probably be jumping in to help. Even my sociopathic marvel mutant would at least carry an ally off the battlefield. Would likely berate them for it later, might even try to charge them for it, but he’d carry them off. Not sure about the other, he/she would probably think turning them into a tree or a dog or something would be the best way to help them; might just turn their blood to treacle, ’cause treacle’s delicious.

8 Svafa July 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm

I should clarify some on the revenant maybe. It’s not a heartless character, just that they view death as something to be cherished and embraced. So, they won’t stop someone from dying, but they will do what they can to comfort them in dying. They’ll do their best to make it painless, and to make it swift, and to make sure they are prepared spiritually.

They also won’t stop someone else from healing or reviving another. They may complain, especially if the person was prepared for death, but it’s acceptable. Resurrection, on the other hand…

9 Sunyaku July 17, 2012 at 11:31 pm

One of the most fun LFR mods I played involved a large group of NPCs (primarily women and children) that needed to be protected from the horrors of the aboleth sovereignty. Tentacles were coming out of huge chasms every round, grabbing NPCs, and dragging them to their deaths. Generally, you had one chance each round to smite the minion tentacles to free an NPC. And there were lots of other non-minion monsters on the board attacking the PCs. My character (bard) took sssoooo many opportunity attacks trying to save as many people as possible, and it was epic.

On a separate topic, never “leaving a man behind”, is really important in Lair Assault, where I make coup de grace attacks against players ALL THE TIME. It’s one of the best ways to put a player down in that play format, and come on– intelligent monsters would know how easy it is to heal a character and bring them back into a fight, and they would want to prevent that whenever possible.

10 Yagokoro July 18, 2012 at 7:44 am

A corollary to this has come up a couple of times in my DMing of Encounters this season, most recently in last week’s encounter which I already covered in a comment on the recap post. Specifically, the players of the two primary ranged characters have developed a noted tendency to turtle, even when the field is pretty much open. If they don’t -have- to move, then they don’t. They almost never -want- to move, unless I’ve got them in melee or I’m doing a good job of shooting them out of their corners.

Their stated rationale for this is that, since they’re primarily ranged and don’t have great defenses, they’re not -supposed- to move anywhere near the fighting. That’s what “meatshields” are for. One of them had the tactlessness to say that around the “meatshields” in question last week, who weren’t happy. Again, I covered the details in the relevant comment on the relevant post, but the short of it is that the “meatshields” felt that they had basically been left to die because, in their opinion, those two guys refused to even consider putting themselves at minor risk for them despite the “meatshields” doing the bulk of the fighting, nearly dying, and healing.

This also occurred two seasons ago, where the only party members capable of going to stabilize the downed ally didn’t even think to do so, instead moving in the opposite direction to engage other enemies. This was especially egregious in both that player’s opinion and mine due to three factors: the downed ally in question -was- the healer, he still had his healing powers left since he got dropped by an unlucky crit, and he had gotten dropped holding a chokepoint that the others were running away from.

I agree with Madfox partially that it depends on the circumstances. Obviously, you can’t be blamed for not trying to brave stiff opposition to go make a Heal check if you’re likely to go down because of it, they’re not likely to stay upright long enough to get out of danger, and/or you suck at Heal. Especially when there’s someone else who can do it better than you can or is at least in a better position to do so. However, taking care of your teammates should be a primary concern, if for no other reason than it being easier to take on your opposition with six people instead of three or four.

11 Chaosmancer July 18, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I think any character I run would have the tendency to save a fallen comrade, but usually I’m the one going down so that hasn’t really been an option for me to date. That might also be because I would prefer to draw the enemy fire away from a person before they go down… I just didn’t realize that tendency and played a striker instead of a defender.

I think it is a good point though, that by fighting the monster you may also be distracting it and allowing your teammates to move in closer and help the ally. You should never leave a man behind, but it’s better to work as a team than rush in blindly and just complicate the situation.

12 Guest July 19, 2012 at 2:38 am

My most recent experience with being unconscious was in D&D Encounters.

A nearby leader was attacked by drow, and made no attempt to exit the cloud of darkness or even shift out of flanking. Shifting one square would at least get her in position to use a healing word.

I think my group is extremely weak players.

13 Ankheg July 19, 2012 at 4:29 am

I think that mostly depends on the way how the players think. I mean parts when they are metagaming and telling that it’s not logical or advantageously to do this thing. It’s like – you have some emotional people, and logical. So better to have both types of players around the table. So that there are always guys who can willingly go and save ally because they fell they need to.

14 Billy C July 22, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I think I’m part of the group Derek’s talking about (with Rogue #1, I was the Druid) that didn’t make much of an effort to revive the ally. As already said, there was a giant ogre/troll/thingie that could basically one-shot me semi-blocking my path to him. Even with my 7 speed, I think I would have had to double-move just to get to him meaning I would have had to provoke attacks just to get to him and not even have an action left for the heal check. Then take another attack from the ogre while using a second round just to do a heal check. Then even if I survive all that, we’re still taking attacks from the ogre afterwards. Oh, and there were two other enemies still on the field to drop anyone moving out to heal him. I single-handedly dropped those two enemies which was the best way to “save” our downed member (as one of those two was controlling the ogre). I make no apologies for, as a controller, controlling the situation to mitigate risk and save him the best way I knew how. Not by throwing my squishy ass to the wolves. The Nazis used the Allies “leave no man behind” mentality against them in WW2. They would intentionally use underpowered land mines that would only severely injure an enemy, causing two of his comrades to have to take themselves out of the fight and put themselves in a suicidal situation to slowly drag their friend off the field. Trevor was basically the land-mine victim in the scenario and my character is no beefy hero (actually the only male, and self-professed wuss of the group).

15 Billy C July 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Also (for Chaosmancer), there is no “distracting the monster” when there are THREE monsters around the downed member meaning multiple OAs and regular attacks against anyone trying to save him. Neither of us were a defender or leader, so there was literally nothing we could do for him in the situation.

As you said, it’s no good to rush in blindly and make things worse.

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