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!