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"Any situation that would reduce a character's head to the consistency of chunky salsa dip is fatal, regardless of other rules."
An exception to the Hit Points system common to virtually all role playing games, in that massive head trauma is automatically lethal to a character regardless of the number of hit points they have. This is a fairly common house rule in many Tabletop Games groups, but a few systems have it explicitly built in, particularly those on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
The Chunky Salsa Rule may also refer to rules specifically describing the effects of taking much more damage than is required to kill a character, which is to say reducing the entire character to the consistency of chunky salsa. In addition to the grotesque visual, this may also negatively impact attempts to bring the character Back from the Dead.
The Chunky Salsa Rule exists specifically to avoid Critical Existence Failure. Compare Boom, Headshot. Please note that this is specifically a gaming trope; non-gaming examples only count if the trope is explicitly referenced or if the work is set in an RPG Mechanics Verse.
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Trope Namer: Shadowrun has a rule named "the chunky salsa effect", although it deals with the effect of explosives in enclosed spaces, rather than massive head trauma. The end results are, of course, similar. Note, though, that the "chunky salsa effect" is actually named after a WWI/WWII tactic in which fragmentation or concussive grenades would be thrown into a tank. The armor of the tank causes the force or shrapnel to "rebound" within the chamber, drastically increasing the effectiveness of the grenade. What's left inside the tank afterward resembles... yeah.
This leads to the Chunky Salsa Grenade, which exploits this effect by combining an ordinary frag grenade with a powerful (but short-duration) Force Wall spell. This creates a closet-sized, contained explosion, to hideously lethal effect. It is specifically noted that the top of the cylinder is open, leading to a rain of gore.
And now there's a grenade that uses the force wave mechanic classified as a nonlethal weapon, it releases a force wave that does stun damage that reflects off of a surface 10ft away or less with diminishing returns reducing the distance of the next reflection but NOT damage. One going off in a small space 5ft or less space is so high that nothing that fits in those spaces can reasonably survive. They renamed this grenade a flashbang. Yes, really.
Shadowrun's actual Chunky Salsa Rule is a little more forgiving that most. Noting that a typical troll PC who sticks his head in a tank's main gun barrel will die around 100 rounds after it fires, the rule allows the process of dying from wounds to start further along if the attack had a Power greater than 1.5 times the victim's Body. In the given example this rule would most likely result in near-instant death.
The Arms Law combat system used by Role Master, Space Master, and Middle-earth Role Playing had a elaborate critical hit/miss system that included numerous automatically lethal injuries. One of the more humorous entries was for a piercing injury — "Strike through ear destroys brain. The unfortunate lummox dies instantly, and any ear wax is removed."
Another hilarious, though wince-inducing result from a crushing injury (don't remember exactly where it was) was "Blow to foe's groin pulverizes the pelvis and any squishy bits. Foe is immobilized and unable to do anything except writhe in pain for THIRTY rounds, then dies as a relief."
Though noted for a system that increases hit points for every level, Dungeons & Dragons has a Massive Damage rule.
In 3rd Edition it forces a Fortitude save if a character suffers massive damage, which is any single attack or other source of damage (such as a long fall) that does fifty or more Hit Points of damage to a character. Failing the save kills the character regardless of hit points. Of course, by the time any character reaches the point where 50 Hit Points of damage isn't sufficient to kill them, they're likely to have a fairly decent fortitude save.
Constructs, plants, undead and other creatures without discernible anatomies are exempt from the rule, along with them being immune to sneak attacks and critical hits.
Frequently ignored in high-level play, when just about every hit is likely to do at least fifty damage, since saving throws have at least a 5% chance of failure (except for a handful of rare situations when they don't).
1st Edition apparently did not have this rule. Second Edition did have an "Inescapable Death" clause (if "50-ton ceiling descending to crush him") and similar rule which forced any character who suffered more than 50 HP damage in a single attack to make a System Shock roll.
2nd Edition's Player's Options Combat & Tactics book included elaborate critical hit rules that allowed a small chance (for each hit, regardless of hit points) for immediate crippling damage to several parts of the body, including severing or pulverizing limbs, torsos and heads.
Amusing and partly on-topic, it was also possible to deal triple damage even after slaying them instantly by obliterating their head or ribcage (not completely nonsensical, with special magic effects, hydras and so on (and because you could save to avoid the crippling, but not the double or triple damage)):
1-12: Torso crushed, victim killed
13+ : As 12 above with tripled damage dice
Spells & Magic did the same for spell effects, uber- Severity also affected how much of body was left:
1-12: Abdomen incinerated, immediate death
13+ : As 12 above with additional torso or leg hit (50% chance of each)
Certain editions have the Plane of Positive Energy. First, it heals you to full HP. Then, next round, double HP. Finally, triple HP, when your body blows itself into chunky bits.
In d20 Modern, which uses many rules from D&D, the Massive Damage Threshold is much lower, equal to the character's Constitution, though it can be increased by the feat Improved Damage Threshold. A failed save, however, only drops a creature to -1 hit points. This rule is there to make gunshot wounds dangerous regardless of level.
They also have Vorpal Blades. Regardless of how many hit points you have, removing your head will kill you (Unless you're a zombie or golem or something else that isn't strictly speaking alive to begin with or have extra heads)
There are also Illithids, who can extract the brain of an enemy when grappling (assuming it has one, and actually uses it - Zombies, Golems and such are excluded again) as an instant-kill and an snack between meals.
In effectively all editions, there's one particular rule: if the body is gibbed, burned beyond recognition, or otherwise destroyed, Raise Dead won't work. You need more powerful magic (like Resurrection or True Resurrection) to revive the deceased. Gibbing someone helps make sure their trip back from the afterlife is a lot more costly.
While most models in any given Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 are One Hit Point Wonders from the outset (although GW calls them 'wounds'), there is still a rule that if any attack with a Strength stat twice or more that of the defender's Toughness stat scores a wound, that model is killed outright, no matter how many wounds it had left. The example given in the rule books is an average Super Soldier (trust us, it makes sense in the setting) taking a Krak (aka "Tank Buster") missile to the head — it doesn't matter what kind of armor he's in (although there are exceptions), a missile to the face is going to kill him.
The above is only 40K. In WFB many high-strength attacks do a random (usually D3 or D6) amount of damage instead. Which means yes, a level 1 mage with 2 wounds can survive being hit with a cannonball. Chariot bodies, on the other hand, go pop when hit with one. There's also an Instant Death rule - Killing Blow - in FB, but that is a special rule, not a general one.
One battle report in the White Dwarf magazine had the orc general survive two hits from cannonballs. After some discussion, the players decided that they had hit the orc in the head.
Taken to ridiculous extremes with the Apocalypse Rules in 40k, where many weapons forgo the normal "to wound" and "Armor Save" rolls, because they atomize whatever they hit! Appropriately, these weapons also have a huge blast radius. This can even turn the most heavily armored vehicles and Star-Gods into (metal)chunky salsa in one blast.
Even without Apocalypse rounds, some weapons like the shokk attack gun can randomly kill any infantry in the blast radius (though it may just as randomly have said blast radius around the shooter), or a particularly angry Ogryn can one-shot a Commissar who executed the wrong guy.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Dark Heresy has a few instant-kill conditions (mostly involving magic or psychic powers), but they are rare: Because most characters in both settings are very fragile, there is little point to an instant-kill caveat because any attack with a reasonable strength will kill anyway. What they do have, however, are effects on massive damage on the player characters' bodies. Especially Dark Heresy (WHFRP's are more random), where any attack in excess of your wounds +10 kills you in a way that ensures at least one exploding body part. A Fate Point will save you from any fate no matter how gruesome and cruelly unusual, however.
Although much of the time if you want to get out of situations where logically you would end up the consistency of chunky salsa you need to burn fate (a mechanic where you permanently lose one fate point to in some way help you out of an otherwise impossible situation).
The 40K tabletop RPGInquisitor used Subsystem Damage, and "crippling" any body part usually rendered it unusable (or, in the case of the chest or groin, unconscious). Crippling the head is instant death.
The Serenity role-playing game has a rule: if you take damage equal to twice your Wound Points, the character's dead without even a prayer. Also, getting Thrown Out the Airlock is certain death, the assumption being the victim isn't going to get picked up. The book jokes that if a player insists on damage measurement for being spaced, the GM should pick up every die on the table, roll them, and count the results as wounds.
If Cthulhu himself appears and there are humans within arms' reach, he eats 1D4 of them each round, with no saving throw of any kind. Yes, that's listed under his combat attributes. You get a roll to survive so long as there are 1d4+ 1 in the party. Technically, Cthulhu does have a damage roll, but he rolls more dice than humans can get hit points.
The Dhole (the impossibly huge Lovecraftian worm monster, not the wild dog) has an attack where it just crawls over the character. If they are actually hit by this, the only roll they're entitled to is a Luck roll to see if there's enough of them left to fit in a matchbox — or the less colorful "enough to bury", depending on edition.
Yig the snake god has a bite attack causing "1d8 damage + Instant Death". Which is more sensible than it sounds, as if you block his bite with a weapon then the weapon will take 1d8 damage. If he bites you somewhere armoured then 1d8 may not be enough to actually bite into your skin. Once you take 1hp from his bite however, it's time to make a new character.
In the d20 variation of Call of Cthulhu, if your character ever takes ten or more damage from any one attack you must make a fortitude save against instant death.
In GURPS, if a character hits -10 times their maximum HP, their body is destroyed utterly if at all plausible for the damage source, and if not they're not just dead, but in terrible shape — they're reduced to ash, riddled with arrows to the point of being barely recognizable, chopped into tiny pieces, turned to monatomic vapor, etc. Meaning, no resurrection without divine intervention. note Ways of coming back from the dead that aren't actually resurrection, such as cloning or restoring from a backup of your mind are still fair game, though
GURPS also mentions the example of being held down and suffocated—you're dead, regardless of hit points. But you have to be rendered helpless first.
Amusingly, creatures with Supernatural Durability can pretty much only die this way.
Beheading is also instant death unless you have no head to begin with or have extras.
Note that called shots are a significant part of the GURPS combat system; a strike to the head loses two points of damage (that pesky skull gets in the way) but after that, damage is multiplied by four. Makes it much easier to reach that -10xHP.
In another Steve Jackson game, Car Wars, the "confetti" rule specifically exists describing the effects of a car being hit For Massive Damage: the car is removed from the map, a quantity of debris counters proportional to the car's weight are selected, and the counters are dropped from a given height over the former position of the car.
What's fun about that rule is that the confetti is treated as obstacles for the remaining vehicles. So while it can be quite satisfying to completely shred an opponents vehicle, the end result is that you've made things harder on yourself.
Then there's steamrolling, where a large vehicle just drives over a small one. Going by the rules, say an 80,000 lb semi hits a motorcycle with a roll of 3 damage. With a ram bar, that turns into 3 x 20 x 2 x 2. 240 damage. Now, evenly distribute this over all the armor and the player... which has up to 9 hit points. Yeah. Now note that this level of damage is likely to happen during say, a 15 mph crash(1d6-1). A 50 mph crash requires 5d6.
In the classic Cyberpunk 2020 taking more than 8 points of damage to any extremity would cause its loss, and losing one's head in this way was instantly fatal, no save. Another rule said that any damage to a character's head was doubled, and most weapons did about 20-30 points of damage per average hit. Suffice to say, a helmet was a smart investment.
Even the punches of any reasonably skilled martial artist (skill 4 or above) are enough to invoke this rule and kill you automatically on any hit to the head.
No matter how much armor a 'Mech carries elsewhere in BattleTech, it cannot carry more than 9 points in the head. That plus the 3 points of internal structure means that it takes only 12 damage to destroy the head. And the head is where the cockpit is. Where the pilot sits. Do the math. There are a number of weapons that are capable of delivering rather more than 12 damage to a single location. Fortunately, you only hit the head on a 2d6 roll of 12, but any attack has that 1:36 chance of hitting the head.
Three hits to the engine is also guaranteed death: the fusion engine shuts itself down to prevent a catastrophic explosion. Standard engines take up 6 slots, but they were all in the center torso (behind the heaviest armor, unless you get hit from behind). Extra-Light engines take up half the weight of standard engines, but add an additional 6 slots (four if it's Clan-tech). And these slots are in the side torsos, which are more vulnerable.
There is an optional rule that, if you get three engine hits, there is a chance that the engine will fail to shut down in time. This totals the 'Mech, as well as doing terrible, terrible Splash Damage. The writers admit in the description of this rule that the kind of fusion engines used in the setting would most likely never actually explode from being punctured, but said that to have a 'Mech not have its nuclear engine Go Critical from catastrophic engine failure would just not be cool.
A critical hit to ammunition holds will cause the remaining ammo to cook off. For weapons that get very few shots of ammo, it's possible to deplete the ammo under normal conditions. And then there's the machine gun. A single ton of MG ammo holds 200 shots worth of ammunition. It's unlikely, unless you have multiple MG's pulling from the same ammo bin, that you will run out in a single engagement. Or even get down to less than 100. And since each shot is worth 2 damage, when it gets hit... well, 'Mechs aren't designed to take 400 points of damage, especially directly to their internal structure. The damage will propagate from location to location until it reaches the center torso. This is typically also destroyed, thus doing well more than the necessary 3 engine hits to kill the unit. And even a non-instantly fatal ammo explosion can cause critical hits to other ammo bins, causing them to cook off and add to the carnage.
BT also has a rule of this kind with regards to repairing. While head destruction and 3 engine hits will render the 'Mech tactically inert for the rest of that battle, the 'Mech is not truly destroyed. It is not totaled; it can be dragged off the battlefield and repaired. The only things that can render a 'Mech truly destroyed is the destruction of the center torso as a result of damage from:
an ammo explosion (see above).
an engine explosion (see above).
an artillery strike.
an orbital bombardment.
There are a number of mechs designed to take advantage of the head kill weakness. The Thunderhawk carries 3 15 point weapons, making its (assuming all hit) head kill chance 3x 1:36 every turn. Since punches hit on the punch table, where head hit is 1:6 instead of 1:36, and any mech 55 tons or heavier with TSM can do 12+ damage punches, there are several mechs designed such that they can get 2x 1:6 instant kill in melee. Needless to say, such mechs tend to draw MoreDakka. Also TSM mechs have to control their heat curve very carefully leading many to simply Kill it with Fire
Unknown Armies states that if any character takes more than fifty points of damage from one hit and lives, they still have to deal with some kind of permanent aftereffect, such as stat penalties or the loss of limbs.
And playing this trope completely straight is the Point Blanking rules. Getting successfully hit while rendered sufficiently helpless kills you, barring some extreme factor in your favour (like magick), as does being choked for along enough.
Thought not explicitly built-in to the system, this is often the result when a PC in Scion with the right stats hits any normal human. Once you get into Ultimate Strength or the Avatar-level Boons, however, the game states that you can forgo using dice - if the target has no powers on the same level, it dies. End of story.
If a player of Vampire: The Masquerade faces Caine in combat, there's only one rule: You Lose. Even if you win, You Lose.
Later elaborated thusly: Caine has: A) All the Disciplines of every vampire line all at their max abilities and he cannot be damaged by any other vampire's Discipline, B) Generation 1, giving him a blood pool and blood expenditure per round that is unmatched, and C) If everything else fails, he has the Mark of God promising sevenfold vengeance on anyone who should slay him.
Paranoia doesn't have hitpoints as such, but instead has a system of wound levels, ranging from 'OK' through 'Wounded', 'Maimed' and 'Killed'. The level beyond 'killed' is known as 'Vaporized'. To quote the rulebook: "The target permanently and irrevocably Goes Away, reduced to a thick red spray, component body cells or subatomic particles. Being Vaporized is a significant accomplishment generally recognized by a brief but heartfelt round of applause."
Besides, the GM is advised not to roll for damage of a nuclear explosion, but to expect everyone in range vaporized.
Another Reality Is Unrealistic because there were people who survived the initial immediate blast from the two nuclear attacks on Japan. They didn't live long afterwards, and there's a bigger instance of there being nothing left of a person but their silhouette on a wall behind them, but a nuclear attack is survivable.
Then, there was Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the man who survived both nuclear blasts in Japan, and lived to age 93.note His autopsy listed the cause of death as stomach cancer, not roundhouse kick as previously suspected.
The Chunky Salsa Rule was the Phoenix Command system's selling point... From their original literature:
Are you tired of your current small arms combat system? Tired of inconsistencies and rules that simply don't work? If so, we invite you to conduct a short test: Using your current small arms combat system, place the muzzle of a large caliber pistol between your character's eyes. Squeeze the trigger. Continue squeezing the trigger until he falls unconscious. Then have a friend put a band-aid over that nasty .45 caliber dent in his skull, and try not to get him shot too often in the week or two it takes to heal. Now, using Phoenix Command, place the same pistol in the same place. Squeeze the trigger. You now have a choice: you can either roll up a new character or rush the body to a very sophisticated medical facility and discover the joys of role-playing a vegetable.
The slew of damage charts in The Riddle Of Steel contain a number of ways for characters to instantly perish, especially in regards to trauma to the head.
Western RPG Aces & Eights also contains a myriad of damage charts detailing how a character can bite the big one instantaneously.
Conspicuously absent in Spirit Of The Century where the GM is advised not to do these kinds of things in the first place because "Roll or die!" isn't very fun. Still, long falls into spikes or lava are assumed to do this, you're just expected not to fall in the first place. (Or at least be genre savvy enough to do it out of sight of the other PCs; the Death Defiance stunt even guarantees survival in this case as long as the character has at least one fate point left.)
Rifts uses a system called "Mega Damage" to account for the huge power of supernatural and super-technological weaponry. A single point of Mega Damage is enough to blow a car or small building into smithereens. Many starting characters can do several dice of Mega Damage per attack. The rules take time to explain what happens when that sort of thing hits an unarmored human; about the best you can hope is that it just winged you and severed a limb instead of killing you outright.
Other games by Palladium that don't use the Mega-Damage rules have another form of massive damage. All characters have Hit Points, and SDC (Structural Damage Capacity). SDC is considered to be minor damage that can be easily healed, cuts and scrapes. Hit Point damage is considered life-threatening. Any character getting shot in the head or heart takes double damage direct to hit points. On the off chance the character survives the attack, a chart is provided to assign penalties to the character for the massive trauma he just suffered.
The Starship Troopers RPG (based on the books, not the movie) features player-usable nuclear weaponry. In the event your character is caught within the blast radius of a nuke and has enough movement to get to a safe distance, you can make a Reflex save to do exactly that. If they don't, it's time to roll up a new character.
Ars Magica, at least in some editions, has this in its Combat Botch Results table, for the more disastrous rolls, each describing death in a wide variety of instant and horrible manners. As an example, one extreme result ends with "Your weapon glances harmlessly off your opponent, rebounding back into your face. Fragments of bone shatter backward into your brain! You die horribly. Your friends mourn."
A Highlander card game had these various attack methods alongside dodge and parry mechanics. Failure to block or dodge resulted in damage. Accrue enough damage and you die (presumably, the pain knocks you out and your opponent decapitates you at his leisure). However, if your opponent manages to pull a decapitation strike card and you can't properly defend, then they win.
Deadlands tracks damage by location; 5 damage points to the head or guts is fatal, 5 damage points to a limb means it's chopped off or crushed or otherwise busted-and-will-not-heal. There's also a "gizzards" result, which counts as worse damage to the guts (the attack hits a vital organ, not just muscle or bone).
Inverted in World Tree, Life Points are God: an arrow through your eye into your brain won't kill you instantly (usually), but will hurt like hell and cost you the use of that eye (until you get it magically repaired).
In the d20 Stargate setting, there are ways to bring characters Back from the Dead, such as the sarcophagus, but the system has a rule that states that anybody brought to -25 Hit Points or lower is considered to have been so obliterated that a sarcophagus has nothing to work with. The "Kawoosh" of an activating gate is explicitly stated to annihilate anything caught in it, effectively reducing a character to -25 instantly.
Extras in Exalted instantly die if hit with an attack that has seven dice after soak is removed. (Technically, this is because of their lack of narrative importance and resultant fragility, but the effect is the same.) UnExalted characters may also be targeted by a number of powers and abilities that automatically kill as a free action.
Seven levels of post-soak damage is enough incapacitate heroic mortals and Exalts who don't have increased numbers of health levels. This takes about 18 dice of damage, which is laughably easy to get. Luckily, Exalts have many ways of defending themselves, but if a big attack gets through they go splat.
The 3rd party parody product Fire And Brimstone: a Guide to Lava, Magma, and Superheated Rock promises to have rule sets which take into account the full complexity of lava and magma in all its forms. The rules promise they are completely compatible with all gaming systems. After a few pages of background information on lava and magma, you can find this gem. "If you fall into lava, you die. No save." There is a sidebar: "If you fall into lava and you are immune to fire, you don't die." The rest of the guide consists of charts and diagrams for those too thick to get it.
New Horizon has wound levels which effect the rolls of characters. The highest wound level is Severe; anything beyond that is Critical, which either costs you a limb or your LIFE.
The 1980s FASA Doctor Who roleplaying game included the rule "Disintegrated characters cannot regenerate". However this is normally not needed as Time Lords, despite being physically superior to humans in nearly every way, can still be permanently killed by the ol' double tap.
In Mekton, the rules for nukes are heavy on this sort of thing; if you're in the hex where it goes off, you're dead. The same applies to supernovae, except that every hex within about 100 AU of the star is treated as 'where it goes off'.
In Ironclaw scoring an Overkill is so gruesome that allies of the victim became Afraid. And Necromancy doesn't work on Overkilled remains, and the one spell in the setting that can resurrect the dead (already a crapshoot) can at most bring them back with severe disfigurements that reduce their stats.
Myriad Song uses the same rule system as Ironclaw, but adds the detail "cannot loot the body" to the Overkilled status as in a sci-fi setting it usually means the character was vaporized.
The Dark Eye uses Wounds - hits that cause damage beyond a certain threshold, depending mainly on the character's constitution. Take three of these to an arm or leg, and it becomes useless (in the case of a leg, you also are out of the fight). Three to the torso, upper or lower, renders you unconscious and bleeding to death. Three to the head? As torso, plus an additional 2d6 points of damage (in a game where even a tough fighter will rarely go beyond 40 hit points).
HC SVNT DRACONES has this as a recurring mechanic, due to the general rule that its a lot easier to make a big gun that it is to make armor that can withstand it, especially in a Sci-fi setting. It is also an explicit rule in the case of some particularly powerful devices.
One of the thus-far shared mechanics for a physics manipulation device, when pushed to its limits, turns the user into a veritable freight train of kinetic force, demolishing anything they come into contact with. If, however, the device misfires under the strain (rolled on every impact with an object), the user is completely disintegrated by the feedback, and it is explicitly noted that it is completely, utterly impossible to recover in any meaningful way from this.
Action games typically make the head a weak spot For Massive Damage, regardless of the enemy's other protection (except some sort of sparkly all-surrounding shield, which would have to be knocked down).
Unreal Tournament III has a Helmet pickup, which protects the wearer from a single headshot. Since the sniper rifle, the only stock weapon capable of inflicting headshots, does 200 damage or so with a headshot, you're paste if you don't have that helmet. That said, all of the Unreal games do have the all-over shields (the only armor pickups in UT2003 or UT2004, special pickups on top of conventional armour in all other games) which absorb damage, including headshots, until depleted.
Gears of War 2 is notable in that the Chunky Salsa Rule comes into effect during matches using Execution rules. In Execution, if an enemy is downed, all further damage inflicted from beyond a certain distance away is negated; you HAVE to get close to them in order to finish them off. There are some exceptions, however: aside from the typical explosives, shooting the victim's head with a pistol or sniping weapon will make their head asplode, finishing them off from any distance.
The Halo series has several weapons which have the property of instantly killing an unshielded enemy regardless of health with a headshot (Halo Reach refers to these as "AM rated"). Even with 1000% health set in the gametype, a headshot is always lethal. However, as long as a target is shielded, there is no locational damage and no possibility of an instant kill until the shield is breached. If a headshot would also deplete the shields by virtue of causing enough damage, it will still inflict the instant kill.
Assassinations (melee attacks in the back which snap the neck) are instantly lethal regardless of health or shields. They are so powerful that even a player designated invincible by the gametype will still die.
In the Baldur's Gate series, characters who take amount of damage significantly higher than their current hit point total, or suffer a one-hit kill due to obscene damage or a vorpal weapon, will often be "chunked" (i.e., explode messily). While this is simply a cooler death animation for your enemies, allied characters who get chunked on harder difficulty levels can't be resurrected and force a reload - and better tactics the next time around - if you want to keep them in your party.
Ditto for characters who fail their saving throw against the spell 'Disintegrate'; no matter how much health you had left, if you blow that roll, you (and your equipment) are dust in the wind.
In Wasteland, a post-apocalypticRPG from the 8-bit era, doing much more damage to an enemy than is required to kill it produces flavor text about the enemy 'explod[ing] like a blood sausage' or similarly dying horribly.
Spiritual SuccessorFallout continues the tradition; Critical Hits regularly produce Ludicrous Gibs - every now and then an enemy with 50 HP will take 5 damage and instantly die. It also introduces a perk called Bloody Mess; Every time something dies, even by Cherry Tapping, it produces a specialized "critical" death animation; bullets blow fist-sized holes, Frickin' Laser Beams slice the target in half, plasma weapons melt them to goo, pulse weapons burn them to ash.
Instant death critical hits, which are the highest result from the critical hit table, can also happen if you do 0 damage in Fallout and Fallout 2. This can lead to a Game-Breaking Bug since the game engine will consider the character dead, meaning that you can no longer interact with him/her, but scripting which depends on the death of the said character will not fire. Examples include the boxing ring in Fallout 2 where the fight will never end if you kill your opponent with a 0 damage instant death critical.
In Fallout: New Vegas' DLC, Dead Money, this rule applies in full to the GhostPeople, if you didn't blow off/splatter a limb when you killed them, they're gonna get back up. The Bloody Mess perk mentioned above helps immensely when dealing with the bastards as a result.
Several bosses in the Silent Hill series have insta-kill attacks, for example the Split Headed Lizard in part 1 and the Split Worm in part 3 can swallow the protagonist whole, and Pyramid Head in part two has both an instant-death headbutt attack and an instant-death overhead knife slash, which just has to barely miss you to register a hit(poor hit detection programming?).
Many platformers with a hitpoint system (or a powerup system where you lose a powerup when hit) will have situations that instantly kill you regardless of circumstances. Apart from Bottomless Pits, these situations usually involve getting crushed between solid objects thanks to Malevolent Architecture.
In the old Prince of Persia games, falling damage was always fatal when the fall was three stories or more. Falling onto Spikes Of Doom also meant instant death, and so did taking a hit from a mook when your sword was sheathed.
In Cave Story, instant death results from falling onto the nastier variety of Spikes Of Doom or having something sufficiently heavy fall on you. (Technically, it only inflicts 127 damage, but that's more than twice as many Hit Points as you'll ever have.)
In Iji, most weapons and attacks only do armor damage, and a few attacks can bypass the armor for health damage. The only guaranteed instant death attack is General Tor's Phantom Hammer, which fills half the screen with a massive laser and is more than a mere One-Hit Kill— it also reduces all of your stats to zero. (Luckily, you can dodge it, but it's not easy.) In a logbook before the final battle, it's mentioned that the Phantom Hammer is capable of completely obliterating a nanofield, which is presumably why it's so effective.
If you die normally, you scream and then collapse. If you get hit by the Phantom Hammer, your entire body instantly turns to dust and is blown away.
In Sonic CD's Stardust Speedway zone, the boss battle is a race against Metal Sonic, with Dr. Robotnik using a laser as a pacemaker. If you touch the laser, you die, even if you have rings left.
In Spelunky, spikes will kill any dumb spelunker in a gruesome way even if he has 99Hit Points. Shopkeepers and other mooks fortunately obey this as well.
There's also one enemy, the Mantrap, that can instantly kill regardless of health. And in the original version, bombs did 10 damage per frame of the explosion, in a game where you will almost never have more than 10 health in the first place and no enemy does either.
Averted in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, where anything can be survived with enough points and fast hands. Even the classic "smashed between two walls" can be pushed apart, since the challenge comes from a getting high score, rather than survival.
Role-Playing Games and Survival Horror games also feature this more or less frequently, though in rpgs it's usually the player who gets to use instakill technique, while in survival horror it's usually enemies. For example, in Resident Evil 4 (and 5, for that matter) a chainsaw-wielding enemy can decapitate you in one swing independent of your health bar.
Technically, having a lot of health makes a difference in Resident Evil 4 when hit with a chainsaw: low health is instant decapitation, while high health means that the guy has to work the chainsaw to take off your head. Either way results in death, of course.
There's also the second (CHOMP!) and third stage Plagas, and most of the cutscene-based Action Commands (CURSE YOU, KNIFE FIGHT!).
Getting caught by a Reaper (giant roach) in Resident Evil 5 is an instant kill, as it will proceed to shove its other legs into your abdomen frantically. Wesker can reduce your heart to chunky salsa. Getting knocked into lava? Dead. (Chainsaws have an alternate attack in this one that reduces your health to Dying, too, from one hit.)
There's also the hunters in previous games, which can decapitate the player, some faqs say that this can only happen when your health is at "Caution" level. Not true, it's just far more likely to happen at "Caution," but they can do it anytime.
The plant monsters in RE 2 can also bite/dissolve your head off.
Several enemies in Resident Evil 4 had insta-kill attacks, including anyone with a chainsaw, most of the bosses, one type of Las Plagas, and Garradors, who can pin Leon's head to the wall behind him with their claws as well as decapitate him.
Dynamite-wielding Ganados and Zealots will blow you up along with themselves if they grab you and you don't shake them off.
In the remake of the original Resident Evil, exploding zombies' heads are one of the only ways to keep it from resurrecting as a more powerful monster, the only other ways being to cremate it or blow its knee-caps off (other monsters can be decapitated, but it makes no gameplay difference). The enemies in 4 and 5 avert this: blowing up enemies' heads (which can happen with anything, like your elbow) will generally kill them, but occasionally they'll have a parasite burst out of the stump, or briefly continue fighting without it. Regenerative and Iron Maidens avert this completely: blow off their heads and limbs all you want - they'll simply grow back in a few seconds.
Left 4 Dead have many enemies that can "pin" a player in one hit, effectively making them unable to do anything until a fellow teammate comes to help. If no help arrives, it's usually death. Tanks (on expert) and witches have the ability to instantly incapacitate anyone in one hit, and Witches on expert can kill people outright in one hit. Being knocked off a suitably high place or falling into deep water (due to Super Drowning Skills) also results in death. On the Survivor side, a headshot is almost always a kill, except against the Riot Infected and Worker Infected. The Former is also armored to the point that only a back shot can kill them. The latter has a hardhat. Burning something also ensures its death (unless there's a body of water around), as well as hitting it with a melee weapon (which may be an inversion, since most of the melee weapons in the game do not have that kind of killing power in real life).
Lost Souls MUD basically has this built in by way of each limb, including the head, having its own separate hit points.
Although there are many ways to die in NetHack irrespective of how many HP you have, most involve poison, disease, magic, or oxygen deprivation. Some purely physical deaths that come to mind involve being decapitated by one artifact sword, bisected by another, crushed by an opening or closing drawbridge, or pulped by an exploding one. The castle drawbridge is so dangerous, in fact, that many players destroy it with a force bolt and take their chances with the moat. If a mindflayer eats your brains, you will be unable to do anything but quit, even if you're playing in Wizard mode.
Bad Girl from No More Heroes has an attack where she feigns crying; if you get close to her during this time, she'll trip you, leap on top of you, and beat you repeatedly about the head with a baseball bat until you have a fountain of High-Pressure Blood coming out of your nose and mouth. This is an automatic kill. Sometimes, however, she really is crying and thus open to attack. Watch her hands. If both are on her face, go for it. If only the left one is up, she's faking.
In ICO getting punched around by shadows or falling off medium-height ledges only stuns the player. Falls higher than three stories and certain magical effects are an instant game over.
In Elona, dying in one piece is the exception rather than the rule, with a high probability that both yourself and your foes will be reduced into a chunks of meat from being poisoned to death, perhaps leaving a bone or two recognizable behind if you're lucky. Certain enemies turn this into a tactic, exploding upon death to deal damage to anyone within a certain radius.
In Starsiege, the Cybrids get a weapon that does no damage to HERCs; the weapon shoots radiation that can kill a human pilot if the HERC doesn't have the right upgrade installed. As Cybrids are AIs, the weapons doesn't affect them (at least, not in single-player; the manual clearly states that for gameplay reasons, Cybrid players are just as vulnerable to that weapon as humans in multiplayer matches, assuming that the target doesn't equip that upgrade).
Cyberstorm 2 also has this radiation gun, as you fight primarily against other HERCs. Also, an (excessively rare) direct hit to the life support of a HERC with a normal weapon can kill the pilot outright or expose them to the potentially-hazardous atmosphere of the planet.
Jedi Outcast uses a cleaner version of this trope when you activate the "realistic saber combat" cheat. Suddenly, any touch of a lightsaber against an unshielded enemy results in limbs, heads, or torsos being severed wherever it touches them. It didn't matter if you were just walking around with it on, or if the dude's already dead. While this makes Kyle Katarn a god against mooks, it also means that one mistake in a saber duel will be game over. Not only does this make said duels feel more epic, it results in some supremely awesome death scenes. For example, when you kill a Sith with a combination and keep cutting parts off while he's dying, all in Matrix-y bullet-time.
In Team Fortress 2, there are 2 attacks that cause instant death (excluding the "taunt attacks", below): the Spy backstabbing you, and a fully charged sniper round to the head. The back-stab deals (target's health times six) damage, but the fully-charged headshot always deals 450 damage, the health of a overhealed Heavy, what is also the highest amount of health anyone can have normally. Each class has at least one "taunt attack", which deals 500 damage. The nature of each taunt attack varies from class to class, but is always impractical and humiliating.
For example: the Soldier's taunt attack (he holds a grenade and detonates it) where any foe standing in the immediate vicinity of the player pulling the pin will find his spleen on the underside of another player's boot. However, if using a Rocket Jumper and the Gunboats, the Soldier himself can survive the blast and landing damage.
Environmental kills (which include huge-ass sawblades and freight trains) and telefrags can kill someone even if they have an Ubercharge active.
In Dwarf Fortress, proper use of the Chunky Salsa Rule is the only way to kill your enemies. There's no Hit Point system, so slaying your foe requires you hack off limbs and leave wounds until they bleed to death, or smash their heads in, or cleave them in two, or destroy a vital organ, or smash them into pieces with a hammer.
Bronze colossi in particular are immune to everything but this rule. You can pound on them for a game week, fracture every part of their body, but they'll still keep ticking until a single hit that can decapitate or bisect them. Beasts made of metals or minerals are similarly implacable.
Additionally, drawbridges (aka "Dwarven Atom Smashers") can be used to obliterate almost anything; if it's opened on top of something that isn't too large, it will erase every trace of whatever got crushed by it from existence.
While it is quite possible and legitimate to win in PVP through traditional Hit Point depletion, in the Iron Realms MUD game Aetolia: The Midnight Age, it is far more fun and effective to use one of the various Chunky Salsa-esque attacks, of which each character class has at least one. The more visceral examples include Incineration, Disembowelment, Backbreaking, Vivisection, Beheading, and Quartering (in which a pack of werewolves gang up to literally tear the enemy limb from limb). However, for the sake of Competitive Balance, all of these instakill techniques require the opponent to be incapacitated in some way, either by direct game mechanics or simply to keep the foe from taking the (usually quite simple) steps necessary to prevent their impending doom.
Being anywhere in a grenade's blast radius or touching fire is always lethal, no matter how much health you have.
All AT weapons in the Battlefield series is considered to be a Chunky Salsa Type weapon, which means getting hit by it causes you to be "killed" rather than critically wounded.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine has four instant-kill possibilities: a meltagun at point-blank range, a Lascannon headshot (unless you're a Devastator with an Iron Halo), a charged plasma cannon shot, and an upgraded Thunder Hammer.
In the first Star Wars Battlefront game, Jedi were invincible to common soldiers, no matter how much firepower you poured into them (it didn't let you play as them, though). The only way to kill a Jedi is to land a starfighter on top of them (which kills anything),or on cloud city throw them off with a grenade or any splosion . Also, when riding a speeder bike at full throttle any time you hit an enemy infantryman he dies, whenever you hit anything else you die, and whenever you hit a Destroyer Droid with its shields up you both die.
In Quake II and Quake IV, there's a Strogg called the Medic who can revive any corpse he finds, from a grunt to a dog to a miniboss (or worse, another medic). The only way to counter this is to go around with the pistol or shotgun gibbing every corpse.
In 4, if you're standing in the wrong place when the ship lands, it crushes you. In Doom 3, if you get caught in any running exposed machinery, you're chunky salsa.
Tabula Rasa had a fun game mechanic where the Bane would stagger in place after losing all of their life, opening themselves up to a decapitating roundhouse kick that had the added bonus of giving additional experience points.
Half-Life 2: Presumably the result of being caught underneath a moving Combine Smart Barrier (gigantic siege walls that slowly expand outward by raising columns up, inching them forward, and slamming them down with building-shattering force). Understandably this is a One-Hit Kill regardless of Gordon's hit points.
In Grim Fandango, everybody is already dead, so there's no way to kill anyone, right? Wrong. The conventional means of "death" in the Land of the Dead is by getting "sprouted": shot with special bullets that make flowers grow rapidly in the victim's bones, condemning him or her to what amounts to an eternity of painful immobility. However, at one point in the game, Manny defeats his rival Domino by knocking him into the grinders of a large steamship and reducing him to bone meal.
Sacrifice has a gibbing mechanism, where if an enemy is just killed, their body remains until its soul is collected and the soul itself has to be converted by the opposing side to get it. Hitting an enemy with an attack that does enough damage, and the enemy explodes in a shower of Ludicrous Gibs, leaving behind a blue soul that anyone can snag, with no hope of revival without use of the Animate Dead spell.
Jazzpunk showcases in its trailers the ability to reduce the game's minimalist NPCs to nothing but chunks of meat.
In Warcraft 3, organic enemies killed by siege units are turned into a bloody goop and leave no corpses. This notable seeing as the Undead faction uses corpses for various abilities, and how this can be used to deny them corpses from their own dead untis.
In Lost Planet, the Rifle, the Plasma Gun, and the Revolver is an instant kill if one gets a headshot, regardless of remaining health.
In Quake I and II both the player and enemies gib if they take enough fatal damage. This is the only way to kill Zombies in the first game. In the second game, enemies can be gibbed after they are killed (even before they hit the ground), which is required to prevent Medics from resurrecting them.
In Dead Island, a point-blank shotgun blast tears extremities off zombies and humans alike, even if it deals proportionally small amounts of damage. This means that one 420-damage shot to the face can kill a 2000hp Walker zombie by turning his head into brain salad. Ordinary weapons can cut off or smash the head, but usually only if the attack drops the victim to zero hitpoints. Arms can be broken, skewered or severed with any weapon, but this won't kill your enemies.
In Max Payne 3, Max will instantly be chunkified if caught in a grenade's radius. Enemies can also One-Hit Kill via headshot, preventing him from going into Last Man Standing.
In Multiplayer, the gangs can take protective measures to prevent chunky salsa (bomb defusal suits and hard helmets), but if the player is too hurt to survive an armored explosion or armored headshot they're as good as dead.
The Rail Driver kills you instantly, and enemies using it will only miss once. Luckily, it's every bit as deadly in your hands.
In Guerrilla, being in a vehicle when it explodes is an instant kill, regardless of your health or the vehicle's size.
Samus Aran has only possessed two instant-death weapons:
In Metroid Prime Hunters, the Imperialist is a sniper rifle that can instantly kill any Hunter with a headshot regardless of health. This even extends to the single-player campaign, where Hunters can usually take large amounts of damage but are still killed with one headshot with this weapon.
In Metroid Prime 3, the Nova Beam can bypass enemies' defenses and go straight for the brain. It takes careful aim with the X-Ray Visor, and not every enemy is vulnerable, but those that are will die instantly — including minibosses like Metroid Hatchers and Berserker Lords!
Referenced in Last Res0rt by a medic when explaining that she can't help someone who had a Djinn shot through their eye and half their brain scattered across the arena through the hole in the back of their head.
Sally's broken every other rule in the book. But even she can't break the Salsa Rule.