Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Critical Thoughts on Critical Hits

I think critical hits were the first thing I house ruled into AD&D back in the day. We felt they added flavor, and there was nothing like rolling a natural 20 and having the critical swing the combat's momentum back in the party's flavor. It didn't hurt that the DM often didn't remember to inflict the criticals on the PCs.

When we moved on to MERP / RoleMaster it was crit heaven. My God but they had the best criticals ever in a game. Some funny shit too. They also led to fairly frequent party member death, as the crits were quite lethal, and the GM never forgot to use them against the PCs.

Tunnels & Trolls 5e and prior didn't have crits. With the way combat is rolled, once the players had momentum going, it was all downhill for the monster side.

That changed with the advent of Spite Damage. Basically all 6's rolled resulted in a point of damage that automatically scored, despite the other side's rolls or armor. Suddenly, solo adventures that were hard were now impossible, as your PC was slowly whittled down (as most T&T solos lacked healing for the player, this was a huge change in game balance).

T&T got me thinking about criticals in RPGs in general. In any particular encounter, the monsters / adversaries are making just that one appearance. For the most part, the GM isn't concerned about any damage they suffer carrying over until later. Not so for the PCs. Whatever damage they take, whatever penalties that's linked to that damage, carries over from encounter to encounter.

Criticals are flash that look great on paper, but are actually a PC penalty.

Is it possible to make criticals fair for the PCs? Are criticals even needed?

Why the hell are we so attached to them? I know I'm guilty of liking criticals, even though I know are far more likely to screw with me than help me.


  1. I like crits and fumbles. They add flavor to combat and bring in things like broken or dropped weapons, dismemberment etc. It adds an element of risk to any combat.

    One thing I do like about 3.x D&D is the roll to confirm a crit/fumble. It you go with the standard 1/20 scheme that has 10% of all attacks result in a crit or fumble. Way too much.

    I hear what you are saying about it hosing the players, but players will pull crits against your big bads and NPC's too.

    In our last LL session I pulled a crit against the GM's big bad, rolling nat 20's on both hit roll and roll to confirm and totally saved our asses from a TPK.

  2. I allow only the PCs the ability to critically hit.

  3. I put critical hits and fumbles into Beacon for both melee and spell casting. PC and NPC use them and since HP are regarded as 'fatigue' it's the only way to damage armor or assign real body damage to folks outside falling below 0 HP or specific spell/poison effects.

    It's also fun and the 2d10 chart is small and generic enough so it doesn't slow down combat much.

  4. Think of them as bling, bits of flash that enliven a game and add a frisson of excitement to play.

  5. I see critical hits on players as an element of risk. No combat should be ho-hum. There should always be an element of risk. Rolemaster overdid this and god help you if you were getting spanked on an "E" table.

    D&D is not quite so punishing because hits are an abstract element that tend not to reflect bone breaks, or arterial bleeds, etc. The mere presence of the current d20 critical system prevents characters from wading into hoards of creatures with the certain expectation of survival.

    So I am in favor of the d20 critical system and critical of other systems such as Rolemaster, that are often too realistic. Been there, done that.


Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition