Critical Hits & Failures

“Okay,” the DM says, “Elric, it’s your turn, what are you doing?”
“I’m going to hit the skeleton to my right with my Magic Sword+2.”
“Okay, roll your attack.”
“Damn it!” curses the Fighter, “I rolled a one.”
“That’s a critical fumble, your sword flies through the air and gets lodged high up in a tree.”
“That doesn’t matter, part of its enchantment is that it always appears in my hand when I think about it.”
“No it doesn’t.” states the DM, “It’s critically fumbled, it is gone.”
“What!?!? That was a quest item! It took me three months to earn that sword, the original owner was my greatest rival. It’s part of my character’s history!”
“Okay, okay. If you’re going to whine about it, then roll a saving-throw.”
“Damn it!” the fighter curses, really getting angry now, “I failed it, I rolled a 20.”
“Okay, you critically failed that roll too, so now the sword is broken!” The DM laughs gleefully.

This actually happened to me, and I felt severally burned. I vowed from that point on that Critical anything was not fair. Losing an important item forever, not because of something that I did, but simply because I rolled badly, is bull!

We test play different parts of the game; some of the stuff works, and other stuff we just ditch because we can’t get them to do for the game what we feel that they should. At one point I was high up on the Critical Hits bandwagon, it never worked, but I just wouldn’t give up on it . . . Until I got burned by the system. THAT fixed my position on them.

The DM is responsible for NPC’s, the story, and the world in which a player games in, however, I feel that the soul owner of a character, and the ultimate authority upon the subject, is the player who plays them. It is they who should have total creative control over them. This doesn’t mean that they are immune to all aspects of the game, but that if something does happen, it is not the DM who gets the blame, but the character themselves.

There are other problems that critical hits add to the game. I speak now of those tables and lists that the Critical Hits fans tend to keep; The crazy ones where it describes what happens in gory detail.

Some monsters have special attacks that can drain levels, stats, or cause permanent injury. By having a Crit Hit list we undermine these abilities that give that specific monster its charm.

The Crit hit list is unbalanced as well. The DM throws more dice during encounters and battles, his/her chances of rolling 20’s is much higher, however the DM shouldn’t be burdened with rolling on a separate crit hit table. The over all impact on the game suffers as well. Nobody is going to care if a NPC Cyclopes looses an arm, however if a PC looses a limb because of a die roll, it holds great consequences that that character may have to live with for the rest of his adventure, and may cause the player to feel that it is now a lost cause.

However, with that said, SOMETHING should happen when a twenty is rolled, as well as when a character rolls a 1 . . . But what? I got to thinking about this last night, and I’m not sure if I can properly answer that question. Maybe the twenty means that the character automatically wins the next initiative, or they get a second attack. We’ve generally gave the player double damage, but at low levels, this can kill somebody. Right now, I think that it should mean that they earned a 2nd attack.

Critical failures can be equally unpleasant, I’ve had DM’s tell me that the item is lost, that I’ve fumbled and hit myself. It seems to mean different things to different DM’s, which is good as long as you are aware of this rule before play starts. What should it mean, though? I want something streamlined, because I want combat to be quick and fast and smooth, perhaps something minor, like losing initiative, or taking damage. Perhaps it should be up to the character himself? Three options, all negative, pick one? Player loses initiative, players lose all attacks for that round, and may include part of the next round depending on how many attacks that the player is able to dish out, or that they take damage. That seems fair, and I also like that because it gives the player an option.

It is food for thought, I just know that I hate Critical hits and fumbles. I still haven’t found a system that I’m happy with, but I do agree that SOMETHING should happen.


Unknown said...

If you do descriptive combat probably the easiest way to handle this is to just describe something. You don't even have to make it feel directly caused by the last hit if you want to abstract it a bit as "the fight is just going your way".

This also frees you a bit to have an effect that would be useful. Have the enemy have a greater miss chance against you after you crit them because you took some of the fight out of them. The cheesy slipping on blood thing or more realistic flinching at a critical moment as a wound bothers them, lowering their AC. You can do something similar with saves. And these bonuses can be reversed for critical failures.

RipperX said...

I love that idea, erik!

I also like the idea of giving the player some options to chose from.

Critical Hit

Win Initiative
Free Extra Attack
Raise opponents THAC0 or AC by half

Critical Failure

Lose Initiative
Lose attack next round
AC/THAC0 Raises by half because of Armor/weapon malfunction

I definitely think that this system is worth play-testing. We'll see how it goes!

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