Never waste a Critical Failure! Too often I see game masters play forgivingly and handwave a natural one. I say,”Never let a good storytelling opportunity go to waste!” As a Game Master, one of the most often overlooked chances to add more to the story is when one of the players at the table roll a Natural one also known a the Critical Failure, or Fumble. In years past this would herald rolling on the dreaded “Fumble chart”.
Now not everyone has used Fumble Charts over the years so let me bring you to speed quickly. This history of the Critical Miss or (Fail) came about long before there was a rule for crit fails. By the time 3.5 D&D had come around it was included as a Variant rule. This was later picked up by Pathfinder as well but a further toned down version.
VARIANT: CRITICAL MISSES (FUMBLES)
If you want to model a chance that in combat a character could fumble his weapon, then when a player rolls a 1 on his attack roll, have him make a DC10 Dexterity check. If he fails, his character fumbles. You need to decided what it means to fumble, but in general, that character should lose a turn of activity as he regains his balance, picks up a dropped weapon, clears his head, steadies himself, or whatever.
Fumbles are not appropriate to all games. They can add excitement or interest to combat, but they can also detract from the fun. They certainly add more randomness to combat. Add this variant rule only after careful consideration.
Years before in Dragon Mag, we were given the first Critical Miss Table. From there the legions of homebrewers expanded and tweaked and made it their own. Here is what the first chart looked like.
As you can see these charts contained all manner of terrible things that would befall your character or your companions. Back in the day these were humorous enough and worked fine. But now with age comes wisdom and I see all the missed opportunities to have added to the story instead of punishing a player for a bad dice roll.
Thankfully in recent years, the idea of the Critical Fail has come a long way from what it once was. I am also not alone in the thinking that this is a good chance to add to the story. I now look for ways to complicate the encounter or bring the story to the conflict and add drama. Taking inspirations as a GM from Monte Cook Games “GM Intrusions” or FATEs aspect “Compel”.
So with that in mind what would be a better way to handle Critical Failure results? After some thinking, I have come up with a few golden rules that I think are a great rule of thumb with how to handle the dreaded Natural One. Here are my thoughts.
THE GOLDEN RULES OF CRITICAL FAILURE
- DO NO HARM UNTO OTHERS.
A player’s bad roll should never hurt another player! Why cause tension or animosity at the table between players because of a dice roll.
- NO TIMEOUTS!
Never affect the player in such a way as to take them out of the combat for an extended period of time. Because that is the fastest way to make a player disinterested in the game.
- NEVER MAKE THEM PAY FOR A BAD ROLL.
Never permanently break a player’s gear (A bad die roll should never cost the players in inventory or items.)
- ADD TO THE NARRATIVE!
Use a Crit fail to add description and tension to a scene. I.e the walls begin to crumble making the terrain difficult.
- PLAY TO THE PLAYER’S ASPECTS, BACKGROUND & TRAITS.
Award advantage, Disadvantage or Compels or XP to make a player play to their inner natures.
So do you use crit tables? Do you think they are fun or fair? Do you have any suggestions to add to my list of golden rules? As always please join in the conversation and let me know what you think!
Fumbling has been an integral part of Rolemaster (RM) from its very inception and not just for combat. Skill checks, spell casting and maneuvers all come with built in themed fumbles.
RM is not a pass/fail type system. If, in d20 terms, you needed to roll 16 to succeed and you got a 15 then RM would call that a ‘near success’. Maybe a task is almost complete or you just a bit more time to pick that lock. If you had rolled a 13 then that would be a partial success which is somewhere between no progress and nearly completed.
At the other end of the scale you have a range of fails depending on how bad the final roll was from simply not succeeding all the way to absolute failure.
This range makes it easy to take away absolute barriers. D&D magic users cannot wear armour and cast spells. RM casters can wear armour but the penalty to the spell casting roll is so great that the chances of successfully casting spells means that they choose not to, but if they absolutely had to they could.
RM is a very dangerous game and fumbles do not meet your hypocratic oath of critical failures though.
I think you make many good points. But I will also point out that in RM the failure mechanic was built into the system by design. Where in games like D&D they were included after the fact.
That said in a game like RM or DCC you are going into the game knowing well in advance that at times you could be one bad roll from a very dire mishap.
That is very true.
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