One of the things I often lament in RPGs is that the nature of a turn based combat system robs some of the drama you can get in narrative combat, or even real life. This is particularly evident when you consider how specific mechanical statuses can be. Simply put, there's no easy way to end a round with a character's sword out of hand (but not out of reach) and a sword at their throat with the offer to yield. Still, it can be a thing players - or NPCs - want to do. So today I want to talk about some ways to try and make it happen.
Held Partial Actions
The easiest way to do this is to allow for part of an action to be hold. Consider, a character attacks their opponent and drops them to low HP. They then offer the chance to yield. In most systems the character's turn ends and the opponent gets to go. If they don't want to surrender they now get to attack, and the PC is down their chance to get the rest of their action in.
Now you could say it's a risky gamble, but it also feels a bit silly. You're saying that, sword at throat, there's nothing the PC can do to follow through on the inherent threat such a placement has if the other person doesn't surrender?
Mechanics like "Hold Action" work for this. The PC gets to say something, then hold an action with a trigger. In this case the PC tells the GM they offer the chance to yield, but if the person doesn't yield they're going to attack. Now when it plays out if the opponent doesn't get their action if they don't surrender until after the PC gets their attack.
FATE: Use An Obstacle
Specific to FATE, you can use your turn to create an obstacle for the other character. Instead of dealing damage, make an obstacle like "My sword at his throat." Then, when the would-be surrendering character gets their turn they have to overcome the obstacle if they want to do anything with their turn.
This is probably the cleanest way I can think to do it, and I'm not surprised it is in FATE either.
0 HP Means I Say What Happens
The last solution I came up with while pondering this recently was to let the attacking character decide what happens at 0 HP. Normally 0 HP means dead, but does it have to? If I am killing you, couldn't I just as easily say I put you on the ground, weapon at throat, and offer surrender?
My only problem with this is it can undercut other situations. For example, if your PCs were beating on someone but didn't want to kill them would you let them just attack as they normally would and then at the end say "but I don't kill him"? That answer is likely different from GM to GM and even game to game. Still, it is worth noting.
It also brings in to question disadvantages like L5R's Soft Hearted which won't let a character kill other people. Such a disadvantage becomes a lot less of a deterrant or penalty when you just get to choose what happens once you've depleted the other person's wounds.
Still, it's worth considering.