Let's just pretend for a moment that you wanted to get into a fight and then not murder someone... How would you do that?
Well, if you wanted to make things a little less lethal, how about something nonlethal? Nonlethal damage is tracked and accumulated separately from regular damage, building up from 0 instead of winding down your HP total. Once nonlethal damage exceeds your current HP total, you go unconscious. While HP damage is regained at a rate equal to 1 HP per level after 8 hours of rest or 2 HP per level per day of bed rest, nonlethal damage is regained at a rate of 1 per level per hour, making recovery at least four to eight times faster.
So, how exactly do you deal nonlethal damage? The simplest way is just to use a nonlethal weapon, which is a weapon that deals nonlethal damage instead of lethal damage (unbelievable!). So let's load up the list of weapons and go look for the ones with the "nonlethal" special ability. What do we get?
Well, your characters might already be in possession of one or more nonlethal weapons right on the end of their limbs- it's the unarmed strike! Whacking someone with some part of your body such as your fists, feet, or head and you're doing nonlethal damage, so we're good, right?
Not quite. Thing about unarmed attacks is that the game does not actually think all that highly of Two-Fisted Tales of fisticuff action. For starters, if you put up your dukes against a foe with a knife, you're probably not going to walk away with all of your pieces. For your average layman, taking a swing against an armed foe provokes an Attack of Opportunity in response to you thrusting your soft fleshy bits into the path of swinging metal. If for some reason you got a bunch of unarmed laymen in a room and had them start a bar brawl, each unarmed attacker would provoke an Attack of Opportunity per swing from any armed opponents, but unarmed laymen do not count as armed creatures and thus cannot make AoOs while unarmed, so the fight continues as normal in a successful resolution of what would otherwise be a "tree falls in the forest" scenario.
Of course, all this can be fixed with one little feat: Improved Unarmed Strike, which not only prevents you from provoking AoOs when making unarmed attacks against armed opponents, but also allows you to deal lethal damage with your unarmed attacks and make AoOs in any situation that provokes them as though you were armed. With one little feat, anyone can throw a punch!
Well... not quite. There remains the question of proficiency. Proficiency back in 2e was an optional set of sub-rules wherein you received a certain number of proficiency slots at first level and then an additional proficiency slot every X levels depending on your class. Proficiencies were broken into Weapon Proficiencies and Nonweapon Proficiencies but for the purpose of this example we'll be talking about the former (though the latter is the foundation for 3e's skill system). Your weapon proficiency slots could be spent making you proficient with individuals weapons, such as the longsword or bow (or the glaive, voulge, guisarme, glaive-guisarme or guisarme-voulge). If you weren't proficient in a weapon, you took a penalty to your attacks with it based on your class, with warriors only receiving a -2 penalty since they were supposed to have a passing familiar with all weapons, priests and rogues receiving a -3 penalty and wizards receiving a -5 penalty.
In 3e they switched the system around somewhat, grouping weapons into a series of three basic categories: Simple, Martial and Exotic. Simple weapons required little to no training to use, while martial weapons required a more combat-oriented approach and exotic weapons almost always needed specialized training in order to wield one. Using a weapon you weren't proficient with resulted in a -4 penalty to your attacks made with it. Classes would then be assigned various proficiencies- most of them received proficiency in simple weapons, with combat-oriented classes such as fighters and barbarians also receiving martial weapon proficiency on top of that.
Unarmed strikes are simple weapons, which means that any class proficient in simple weapons can use them without penalty. Simple weapon proficiency is a feature of all classes in the game save for two which are denied any sort of unarmed proficiency. One of those classes is the wizard, a master of arcane magic who usually eschews the physical arts of war. The other class is the monk, a master of martial arts.
This is owing to a weird quirk in the rules system that comes from the interaction between 3e's new proficiency groups and the fact that it also retains individual weapon proficiencies.
Let's take a look at the wizard. While many classes are proficient with simple weapons, the wizard is only proficient with a subset of the group.
Wizards are proficient with the club, dagger, heavy crossbow, light crossbow, and quarterstaff
Note that this does not include the unarmed strike. I guess this makes some sort of sense, since they're scholars, not brawlers (though their sorcerer companions do receive simple weapon proficiency and can thus punch dudes out even if they're about as combat-capable as wizards).
But things make considerably less sense when you have the monk. The monk is also proficient with a distinct set of weapons.
Monks are proficient with the club, crossbow (light or heavy), dagger, handaxe, javelin, kama, nunchaku, quarterstaff, sai, shortspear, short sword, shuriken, siangham, sling, and spear.
Note that this doesn't include the unarmed strike either, which makes considerably less sense when you include the fact that monks get Improved Unarmed Strike and a scaling damage with their unarmed attacks to represent the fact that they are masters of unarmed combat. It's a conflict between the rules as they are literally written and the rules as they are obviously intended, but the simple fact is that someone forgot to put the unarmed strike as a proficiency on the 3e monk, and since the monk only has a limited and closed list of proficiencies rather than a category of proficiencies, the monk is technically not as good at fighting unarmed as the rest of its class features would lead you to believe.
With Pathfinder, Paizo closed this loophole with one little line in the section on weapons and proficiencies: "All characters are proficient with unarmed strikes and any natural weapons they gain from their race." Paizo says knock you out, so Wizard's gonna knock you out.
Of course, while this may have fixed one obvious loophole that had been a joke for almost a decade, it did nothing to fix the other problem with fixed proficiency lists- namely the fact that Pathfinder, like 3e before it, is an expanding game. As soon as someone introduces a new simple or martial weapon, everyone with simple or martial weapon proficiency benefits from it, but those with fixed lists can't use them even if it would otherwise be a great fit. For example, rogues are proficient with "all simple weapons, plus the hand crossbow, rapier, sap, shortbow, and short sword," which gives them the entire category of simple weapons plus a smattering of weapons from the other categories that reflect their subtle fighting style. But when the Advanced Player's Guide introduces the swordcane as a new martial weapon, rogues are not proficient with it and thus miss out on their chance to be dapper as fuck (for comparison, the 3.5e swordcane had the descriptor "rapier in a cane", which might have made it a weapon usable by rogues, or it might have just been its own weapon. If that was the case, then the similar lute bow wouldn't have been of much use to bards, the class most likely to be using lutes, since they also have a restricted weapon list).
Monks tend to suffer from a more pronounced version of this restriction curse on account of the fact that Pathfinder loves to introduce new weapons with the "monk" descriptor that would let a monk use them with the monk's class features. Unfortunately, a monk is not automatically proficient with all monk weapons. Sometimes they remember to awkwardly weld it into the monk class by inserting a line in the weapon's description stating that monks are proficient with the (temple sword, for example). Sometimes they don't. To some degree, that's understandable since not everything the designers saw in martial arts movies needs to go on a monk's resume. The Monk's Spade is a monk weapon with the monk's name on it, but monks aren't actually proficient with it. This wouldn't be noteworthy were it not for the fact that it's also a martial weapon, which means a barbarian who's never seen the weapon in her life can pick it up and go to town on the next enemy that comes along, while a monk can only stare at this strange monk weapon in confusion.
The other odd thing about closed lists of proficiencies is the rather peculiar way in which characters expand them. Multiclassing or going into a prestige class is the usual way to pick up new proficiencies, but another possibility exists in the feat system. If you spend a feat slot, you can pick up proficiency with a single martial weapon like a longsword. But that same feat slot could be used to pick up proficiency with a single exotic weapon that possibly possesses even greater capabilities (true, the exotic weapon proficiency feat also requires a Base Attack Bonus of +1, but this is utterly trivial to meet for anything other than a 1st level character or truly esoteric (and likely incredibly inefficient) character build). So instead of going for a longsword like a fighter you can jump straight to a katana. Despite being designed as a non-combatant class with little to no weapon experience, a wizard who wants to spend a feat on weapon proficiency has no real reason not to end up skilled with a weapon that a well-trained warrior might be completely unable to wield. Perhaps it's about compensating for something?
At any rate, we've established that anyone can nonlethally punch a foe, but only someone who has invested a feat in improved unarmed strike can punch an armed foe and not get cut for it. Not killing people is hard. Unfortunately, even if you do that you're still making an unarmed strike and doing either 1d3 or 1d2 damage, which is a little bit of a let down when just whacking your foe with a stick does 1d6 damage. This actually isn't as big of a deal as it might look, since once you get to higher levels the difference between 1d3 (2 average) and 1d6 (3.5 average) evaporates when you're adding 20 to 30 points of damage to your attack from everything else, but for an unarmed specialist the trick is actually getting there first.
Magic weaponry is kind of a D&D thing in the form of weapons that have been enchanted to provide a bonus to attack and damage rolls along with numerous other forms of special toys such as being perpetually on fire. Getting someone to make your fists into magic weapons is difficult (but not impossible) and can still set you back a chunk of change if your magic fists get hit by a dispel magic spell, so maybe you want something a little more permanent. An amulet of mighty fists is a magic necklace that makes your unarmed strikes (or any other form of natural weapons such as fangs, claws, or slapping someone with your tail) magical with some combination of improved accuracy, damage, and other special features (such as being perpetually on fire), just like a regular weapon! Only downside is that it costs twice as much as a regular weapon would cost and has a much lower cap on the amount of cool things you can put on it- you can spend up to 100,000 gp for a total of 5 points of special features, compared to spending 200,000 gp to buy up to 10 points of special features on your weapon. This is after the cost was lowered from the first printing where the amulet cost 2.5x as much as buying a weapon. This puts you in a rather awkward position- sure you could spend 100,000 to get fists that add +5 to your attacks and damage, but a barbarian could spend 98,000 to get a sword that adds +5 to hit and damage and is also bathed in holy fire that burns your foes. Admittedly, you can kind of come out ahead cost-wise if you have multiple natural attacks in a fight (at two different natural attacks you're breaking even with the cost of buying two weapons, but at three attacks you're saving money), but you don't have nearly as much room to maneuver when it comes to customizing your features. Not killing people is hard.
But hey, what if you wanted to notkill people with something other than your fists? Let's keep looking for nonlethal weapons. One such weapon is the sap. Not much of an upgrade compared to your fists- 1d6 damage instead of 1d3, but it's a weapon that can be enchanted like a normal weapon. Unfortunately, despite having the same stats as picking up a stick from the ground and beating your foes (nonlethally) with it, it's a martial weapon instead of a simple weapon, so there's a vast swath of classes that are only proficient in simple weapons who can't use it. Rogues are proficient in the sap as an additional proficiency, but their ninja counterparts aren't (making fisticuffs their only option). The sap is neither potent, nor prevalent when it comes to your nonlethal needs. Not killing people is hard.
There aren't many other nonlethal weapons left open to the public. The cat-o'-nine-tails is a short whip that can be used to flog your enemies for nonlethal damage, but unfortunately like the sap it's a martial weapon, and unlike the sap this weapon does no damage to anyone with a thick enough hide (like many animals and monsters) or wearing any sort of armor (like most adventuring humanoids).
The bigger sibling of the cat-o-nine-tails would be the whip, a weapon notable for its 15 ft reach and its ability to be wielded against opponents in close quarters. For comparison, most polearms only have a reach of around 10 ft or so and don't really function that well if you let an opponent get up in your grill (the usual strategy then is to use a secondary weapon such as armor spikes or a spiked gauntlet to smack people who get in under your reach). Unfortunately, the whip isn't all fun and games, since it doesn't normally let you make Attacks of Opportunity against people within your reach, and if you're waving it around against people who have you within their reach then they can make an Attack of Opportunity against you while you're distracted. Furthermore, it shares the same weakness as the cat-o'-nine-tails in that it's useless against armored foes and foes with thick hides. It's also an exotic weapon, meaning not even fighters are natively proficient with it and every class who wants to use it needs to take Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Whip) as a feat. Well, every class except one-
A bard is proficient with all simple weapons, plus the longsword, rapier, sap, shortsword, shortbow, and whip.
But if that's not enough to deter you, maybe you can make this work. After dropping a feat on Weapon Focus (Whip) (and probably a feat on Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Whip)) you can then take the Whip Mastery feat to no longer provoke AoOs from swinging your whip around and allow you to do your choice of lethal or nonlethal damage with the whip even if your target is armored or has a thick hide. If you're not content with two to three feats for basic proficiency, you can spend another feat on Improved Whip Mastery to increase your threatened area and also allow yourself to do things like grab unattended objects with your whip and use it as a grappling hook so you can swing from place to place. With four feats down, you have a weapon that can be used almost like an additional hand- including the fact that it only does as much damage as an average humanoid's punch (which again, isn't that hot in the grand scheme of things). But hey, it has reach and it can be used to trip and disarm people... assuming you want to spend another three to five feats learning how to do that, of course (and that you don't run into the brick wall of high-level maneuver defenses). Not killing people is hard.
So now you might be thinking to yourself "hey, can I notkill people with a weapon that doesn't suck?" Of course you can! Any normally lethal weapon can be used to deal nonlethal damage if the attacker takes a -4 penalty to the attack roll, representing the equivalent of whacking someone with the back of your sword or something (and similarly, any normally nonlethal weapon can be used to deal lethal damage by taking a -4 penalty to the attack roll). This penalty is on the same scale as the -4 penalty for a lack of weapon proficiency, meaning it's about as difficult to notkill someone with a weapon you know how to use as it is to kill someone with a weapon you don't know how to use. This method is not for everyone- while fighters and the like can take the -4 penalty to knock people out with greatswords or whatever, rogues can only do a nonlethal sneak attack with a weapon that normally does nonlethal damage- taking a -4 penalty with a lethal weapon just won't work. A barbarian can swing for the (nonlethal) fences with a big weapon, and a rogue can sneak attack with a giant sword (sneak attack's precision damage does not actually require all that precise of a weapon), but a rogue cannot do a nonlethal sneak attack with a lethal weapon, even if it's just whacking someone with the pommel of your dagger. 3.5e had a Subduing Strike feat that removed the -4 penalty for nonlethal melee attacks and let rogues make nonlethal sneak attacks with normally lethal melee weapons, but that feat doesn't exist in Pathfinder. There is the blade of mercy trait that lets you ignore the -4 penalty when you nonlethally damage people with bladed weapons, but it still won't let a rogue do a nonlethal sneak attack with them since a lethal weapon that ignores the penalty for nonlethal damage is not the same as a nonlethal weapon. Not killing people is hard.
But while Subduing Strike may have been left in the past, one nonlethal option did make the jump to Pathfinder (mostly because it was already in the SRD). A weapon can be enchanted with the merciful property in order to add 1d6 damage and make all damage it does into nonlethal damage unless you choose to turn the property off. It's a +1 bonus, which ties back to the whole magic weapon thing. While I'm not going into the details, for the purposes of this example magic weapons basically can be thought of as a sort of point buy system where you have certain properties each worth a certain amount of points- you can get a property that adds its value to your attack and damage rolls (the "+N" you see when people talk about +3 swords or whatever), or maybe a 1 point property that makes your weapon do fire damage, or a 4 point property that lets you make an additional attack each round with the weapon. Most characters can't get more than 10 points total in one weapon, and the cost of the weapon is equal to 2000 gp multiplied by the square of the points in the weapon (so 2,000 gp for a 1 point weapon, up to 200,000 gp for a 10 point weapon). In this case, merciful is a 1 point property, but you can't make a magical weapon without at least 1 point in the attack/damage boost, so a merciful weapon would have to at least be a +1 merciful weapon, and thus be a 2 point weapon that sets you back 8,000 gp (putting it out of your reach until the early mid-game). Not killing people is hard.
Paladins have the option of specially enchanting their weapons with holy power through their Divine Bond, investing a certain number of points worth of special features into them, among which can be the merciful property. The investiture only lasts a number of minutes equal to the paladin's level and can only be done a few times per day, so you're only going to get maybe an hour or so of notmurder at most. The paladin's divine bond with a weapon is chosen in place of a divine bond with an animal, so if you see a paladin riding around on a valiant steed you should watch out- that paladin probably values the steed's life more than the ability to not take yours.
Can a merciful weapon be used to make nonlethal sneak attacks? ...Maybe? One interpretation would be that you do a normally lethal sneak attack and then the merciful weapon throws on the nonlethal switch letting you cold-clock your foes as needed, but there's still the problem that the rules for sneak attack state that a rogue "cannot use a weapon that deals lethal damage to deal nonlethal damage in a sneak attack, not even with the usual –4 penalty." The fact that it calls out "the usual -4 penalty" means that the game just doesn't want you dealing nonlethal sneak attacks with a lethal weapon, even one that's currently doing nonlethal damage. So if you fire up a merciful weapon and make a sneak attack with it, you may be doing nonlethal damage in a sneak attack with a weapon that normally deals lethal damage, a violation of the rules and thus justification for your DM telling you that you aren't making a sneak attack. Dickish, but still a possibly valid interpretation of the rules. Not killing people is hard.
If you're not the weapon-using type, maybe you prefer to get your damage on with a nonlethal spell. While you could use something like admonishing ray, maybe you don't want to let yourself be limited by whatever the designers are willing to give you. If that's the case, take matters into your own hands with the merciful spell metamagic feat. Metamagic feats are feats that are applied to spells before you cast them to modify their effects; in the case of Merciful Spell it turns all damage into nonlethal damage. Of course, that damage still retains its type, so a merciful fire storm still sets everyone on fire... just nonlethally. Downside is that for some casters you have to prepare your spell mercifully ahead of time and even if you can spontaneously cast spells applying metamagic feats will probably require extra casting time because there's a limit to how spontaneous and flexible they will actually allow you to be.
Alright, we've gotten a hold of some nonlethal damage, so let's damage something nonlethally. We're sneaking into the fortress of doom when an innocent servant blunders in front of us and spots us! We need to knock out the servant before an alarm is raised! We make a nonlethal attack and do 30 points of damage! The servant only has 8 HP and slumps to the floor. Success!
...Well, it would be were it not for one little detail that I might have forgotten to mention; namely that nonlethal damage in excess of a target's maximum HP is treated as lethal damage. This is because many environmental hazards such as starvation or suffocation do nonlethal damage and letting it do lethal damage after a point ensures that these things are eventually fatal (plus, if someone stomps on your head enough, you probably won't be getting back up). So we did 8 points of nonlethal damage, and then 22 points of lethal damage, putting the innocent servant at -14 HP. When living creatures are dropped below 0 HP, they fall unconscious and begin to bleed out, losing 1 HP per round unless stabilized. When a living creature is reduced to a negative HP total equal to 10 or its Constitution score (whichever is higher) through some combination of damage/bleeding out or other factors it dies. Unless the servant has a rather heroic Constitution of 15, I'm pretty sure we just nonlethally murdered someone. Not killing people is hard.
If you're looking to take someone down with nonlethal damage, you basically have to do damage somewhere between the target's HP total and 2x the target's HP total + the target's Constitution modifier, which as we've just demonstrated is a surprisingly narrow band when you throw a higher-level character against a lower-level foe. Further complicating things is the fact that while your HP total can go up by a factor of 20 or more as you level, your Constitution score is only going to go up by maybe five to ten points, which means you're looking at a factor of 2 or so at best. So while you can take down an opponent by doing lethal damage to get the target into the negatives, then stabilize the unconscious target, that band of "unconscious but still alive" becomes smaller and smaller as you level when compared to the target's HP and the amount of damage you can do with an attack or spell. It's not unlike trying to take a driving test in a freight train- it'll take luck and sorcery to get it to stop where you want it (it also means that at high levels you're much more likely to be hit by attacks that so much damage that it takes you from healthy and skips past the "bleeding out" stage right into the "gonna need a closed casket and a squeegee" stage). This means that at high levels you can safely knock out the evil overlord bent on world domination, but if you try to use nonlethal force on the servants and mooks whose only crime is a terrible choice in employers you're not going to do more than fill a mass grave. Verisimilitude.
So, is there any way to incapacitate someone without hurting them? Well, you could try grappling. Of course, that involves dealing with a combat subsystem that requires two pages of flow charts to explain it (seriously, go look at it). Among the options is the ability to hog-tie your opponent if you have the target pinned, or if you have the target grappled and you're willing to take a -10 penalty on the check. If you have a high enough grapple bonus, you can tie it so tightly that the opponent can't even escape on a natural 20, which is pretty nice. Problem with grappling is that not only do you have to go through the joy of the grappling system, you also have to go make yourself into a grappler. If you want to be able to grapple someone without them first getting a chance to punch you in the face, you're going to need to have Improved Grapple, which also requires that you have Improved Unarmed Strike (and 13 or more Dexterity). Alternatively, invest in a magical luchador mask (seriously). At this point, it will take you at least two rounds to hog-tie someone: one round to start the grapple, and then the next round to tie them up with a -10 penalty, or pin them on the second round and then spend the third round tying them up. Hope you aren't in a hurry.
If you want go faster than that, you're going to need to invest another feat in Greater Grapple to let yourself make grapple checks as a move action and make two attempts per round, so you can grab and maybe pin your opponent in one round. If you want to go faster than that, you can spend another feat on rapid grappler, theoretically allowing you to grab, pin, and then tie up an opponent in the same round... assuming you start the fight with your foe in grabbing distance, you don't fuck up any of your rolls, you have a high enough Combat Maneuver Bonus, the foe is not two or more size categories larger than you, your foe does not possess abilities like freedom of movement that automatically negate grappling, and your foe can't simply break or ooze through the rope. Not killing people is hard, though at least hog-tying your foe works on creatures like undead and constructs who are hard to take intact since they're otherwise immune to nonlethal damage and are destroyed at 0 HP instead of falling unconscious... assuming the undead in question isn't an incorporeal ghost who floats out of your grasp. Hope you only need to deal with one foe at a time, and that your target isn't prone to shouting and screaming and alerting its allies as you make with the roping, otherwise you're going to need to invest in magical silence or maybe a feat or two to learn to choke people unconscious over a few rounds.
Alternatively you can just cast one of a host of spells to harmlessly render your foes unconscious or paralyzed and then subdue them from there. Not killing people is easy.
So, once you've successfully notkilled someone, then what do you do? Well, most obvious solution would be to loot their asses of anything harmful/valuable, but then what? Maybe you could just leave them there and hoped that they learned not to mess with you in the future? It won't help if you got into a fight in the middle of the woods and you leave them unconscious in wolf territory, but that's not really your problem, is it? You could do something like extend the hand of mercy to those you notkilled, discuss your differences and work together to improve yourselves and create a better world, but the overlord probably has thousands of minions and putting them all through evilholics anonymous sort of sounds like work. What else can you do?
The interesting thing about being knocked unconscious is that not only are you physically at the mercy of those in the immediate area, but you're mentally vulnerable as well. Unconscious targets are automatically considered willing for any spell cast on them. This doesn't mean that they automatically fail saves, but it does have an interesting effect on the outcome of some spells. The most obvious use would be through teleportation spells which are normally restricted to taking you and willing creatures wherever you need to go, but with this rule you can knock someone out, grab them and then get out of the area, spiriting them away to another plane or planet as appropriate.
Once you've isolated your victim, what next? Well, you could forge a telepathic bond between your victims, yourself and maybe your allies, letting you mentally speak to one another even across vast distances. If you felt like dropping 12,500 gp you could make it a permanent link, which is admittedly pricey. Still, it lets you be the voice in the back of someone's mind (and makes your target the voice in the back of your mind) until the link is severed, which can be pretty difficult to do if you build around preventing it. Good for constant moral support or just messing with someone until they die. If that's not enough for you, perhaps you'd like to assume direct control over your target's body for a couple of hours, long enough to maybe grab a few things from the target's headquarters, maybe commit a few reputation-bending mistakes or make some bold statements on policy. Or you could totally ace your target's midterm. Just be sure to leave your body somewhere safe and don't forget to take care of your target's body before the spell runs out ("take care of" may include dismissing the spell when your target has already fallen a few hundred feet off a cliff and has yet to hit bottom). If you're feeling more merciful, simply afflict them with a magical brand that will activate and horribly curse the target when it does something you prohibit. That is an ethical thing to do, right?
Teleportation, mind linkage, even turning your target into an animal or a gas are interesting and all, but if you have an unconscious creature in front of you, what other spells could you use to take advantage of this opportunity?
Well, they could get married.
See, Pathfinder is fond of providing mechanical rules for things that quite frankly have no need for mechanical rules. One of these is a 1st level clerical spell called ceremony that allows a cleric to officiate over an eight-hour religious ceremony to provide the participants with a spiritual fulfillment- chiefly in the form of a numbers boost. Marriage ceremonies are just one of the many possible functions; others include funerals, naming ceremonies and any other particular holy celebration the faith might have. These ceremonies require the participation of one or more willing creatures, and as we've already mentioned unconscious individuals are considered willing targets for the purpose of spells. This probably isn't legally binding, and it's difficult to think of the cleric whose god would allow such a thing other than a deity or demigod of scams and general shenanigans (or a player character, but that is a tale for another time), but if you've ever been unconscious for eight hours straight you just might have been married without knowing it. Since creatures recover their level in nonlethal HP every hour, eight hours might be enough for a full recovery, necessitating someone who will occasionally thump one or more members of the happy couple in order to keep them from waking up before the ceremony is over.
Of course, the actual mechanical benefits of marriage are rather underwhelming. (←a sentence I cannot believe I actually wrote) A marriage ceremony provides the couple with a whopping +1 save bonus against fear and emotion effects for 1 hour per caster level of the cleric who performed the ceremony. So I guess it makes it a little harder to get post-wedding-day-jitters. It's not even the weirdest ceremony- that honor goes to the Funeral, which provides the deceased's companions and next of kin a +2 bonus on saves against death attacks on the off chance you run into assassins or banshees on the way home from a funeral. Seriously, it's a 10% increase to your chance of avoiding instant death... how and why would you even test that?
(Tangent: Clerics also gain knowledge of different spell Ceremonies based on their chosen domain specializations. Clerics of Good deities with the Good domain can learn the "Festival of Benevolence" ceremony. Effect? It makes participants better at attacking evil creatures.)
Naturally, there's a way to make do. If your game uses the downtime system to generate funbucks from your character's off-season business, you can take those resources and spend them on a particularly lavish ceremony in order to get an augmented blessing that lasts for a day per caster level (5 max). In the case of the wedding, that +1 bonus to saves vs. fear and emotion turns into a +2 bonus to all saves for the happy couple and up to ten other people who observe the ceremony. Use a metamagic rod to double the spell's duration and you can give a +2 bonus to saves to your entire party for the next ten days- long enough to go on quite an adventure. All you need to do is stage a Tactical Wedding. Find a couple (polygamy isn't prohibited, you just need to marry people two at time) within your alignment bracket and throw them a dream wedding. In fact, if you can get two neutral clerics (maybe an old cleric and a young cleric) so you have people who can channel positive and negative energy then you can hold a Double Tactical Wedding to get two +2 bonuses that stack with one another.
The Tactical Wedding is not the only holiday in your arsenal, just the most convenient. The Tactical Funeral requires a corpse, the Tactical Naming Day an infant, and the Tactical Fete Day may or may not be limited by your calendar unless you're part of a faith with as many feast days as the Catholic Church. The Tactical Wedding just requires two people, and you'll still keep your bonuses if it's shortly followed by the Tactical Divorce. If you can't find a couple, improvise; any two living creatures who are willing/unconscious will do, so you can throw a wedding for a pair of sleeping kittens if you can't find anyone else who's up for it. Sadly, "living creatures" disqualifies undead and constructs- robosexuals are frowned upon, the Cullen/Swan union is an abomination in the eyes of the gods and it will never be a nice day for a Wight Wedding. If you can get past that it's open season; on Golarion it's not the gays who anger pundits by ruining the sanctity of marriage, it's those goddamn adventurers.
Not killing people in 3e/Pathfinder is hard, but occasionally lucrative. What about over in D&D 4e? Well, nonlethal damage doesn't exist; the decision to take a target alive is made whenever you land a blow that knocks the target to 0 HP or lower. If you want to kill it, it dies, otherwise you can choose to leave it unconscious until it receives healing. Negative HP isn't tracked for monsters and NPCs, only for player characters, and the negative threshold has been expanded to 1/2 the character's maximum HP count to make sure that your allies at least have a chance to save you from your impending demise. Not killing people is easy, even if you were totally trying to kill them last round and then just changed your mind. It won't stop your allies from killing your prisoner on their own turns if they really want to, but that's a different problem.
If no healing is provided, the enemy will usually revive after a short rest (around 5 minutes) with 1 HP, giving you plenty of time to disarm and disable the foe before that happens. Should that not be enough, there's an item called the Gloves of the Bounty Hunter which makes it so when you choose to knock a foe unconscious that foe will be disabled until after a long rest (usually at least six hours). You don't even need to buy a pair for every member of the party, simply get one and wait for your foe to come to after 5 minutes before the glove wearer knocks 'em out again and you've bought yourself some time. So, what are you going to do with that time?
In the switch to 4e, many of the less combat-oriented spells were converted to rituals, which allowed you to spend a few minutes and some ritual components and maybe make some skill checks to accomplish magical utility effects like opening locks, curing diseases or teleporting to new places. Rituals themselves are not entirely a 4e invention, as they owe much to the Incantations developed as a variant magic system in 3e's Unearthed Arcana, with my personal favorite of the ones being the one where you sit in a hut and tell stories about vikings, then vision quest so hard that the hut catches fire and you end up in Ysgard. While not a perfect system, it does allow characters to not have to choose between combat spells and wildly swingy utility spells that could either effortlessly solve a problem or just as likely never be used that day. Of course, a Pathfinder wizard with fast study never had to deal with that decision- just leave a quarter to half of your spell slots open each day and spend a few minutes boning up whenever you need a combat spell or esoteric utility spell.
Other interesting thing about the ritual system is that technically anyone could access it by taking a the Ritual Caster feat if they already had training in the Arcana or Religion skill. Your fighter most likely wouldn't have as much skill at rituals as a dedicated cleric, wizard, or druid, but if you went out of your way to pick up the feat and the skill you could probably learn a few interesting tricks.
When it comes to unconscious enemies there are a fair amount of rituals you can choose from that let you do things like apply a Mark of Justice imprison your foe in a tree Fern Gully style, but I've rambled on long enough so I'll just get to the point: What do I think is the most interesting ritual you can use on a prisoner?
That would be this one:
Dragon 417 posted:
Casting Time: 5 minutes
Duration: One short rest or extended rest
Component Cost: 600 gp
Market Price 2,900 gp
Key Skill: Arcana or Religion (no check)
When you take a short rest or an extended rest, you perform this ritual on yourself and up to six unconscious subjects. The subjects' conscious minds are transported to a subdimension within the Plane of Dreams, where their bodies manifest as if they were conscious. The ritual can be used for three primary purposes: private conference, information retrieval, or battling a mind-affecting predator. Some use this ritual to combat madness.
The subdimension created by the ritual is a virtual world built from the dreams of one or more of the ritual's subjects. At the start of the ritual, each participant names a specific creature or location. These elements typically populate the dreamscape, though the precise nature of the subdimension as an adventure environment is at the DM's discretion. In the dreamscape, the participants' actions and conversations cannot be observed with scrying rituals. Here the participants can search for knowledge locked in a subject's mind, perhaps a forgotten memory or a closely guarded secret. Creatures that lurk in dreams, such as succubi, might be discovered in the dreamscape, and slaying such a creature there banishes it from the mind of its victim. The means by which information is discovered and creatures are encountered is up to the DM.
Living creatures at 0 hit points or fewer when the ritual is performed manifest in the dreamscape with 1 hit point; all other living creatures maintain their current game statistics. Powers, abilities, and healing surges spent in the dream are expened in reality as well, except for powers granted by consumables or magic items. Damage take in the dreamscape is converted to psychic damage and then applied to the sleeping subject, and hit points regained in the dreamscape are likewise regained in reality. Any creature reduced to 0 hit points or fewer while in the dreamscape is instantly ejected from it, but remains unconscious and stable with 0 hit points.
When the ritual ends, all subjects awaken, but they do not gain the benefits of a rest.
It's by far my favorite ritual in the entire game, just loaded with story potential. And the best part is that since it doesn't require a skill check, anyone with Ritual Training can use it. If the price tag bothers you, you can take the Travel Mastery feat to give you a free use of a travel ritual of your level or lower each day, double the duration of your travel rituals and increase your group's traveling speed.
Crush your enemies, climb inside their heads, find out what makes them evil and then beat the crap out of it.