CRITICAL HITS AND CRITICAL FUMBLES
Many Game Masters dislike the use of critical hits within the game system. They often don't see the point since each weapon already has a pretty large range built into the amount of damage it may deliver.
A longsword, for example, might do 1d8 damage, and therefore - they might tell you - a critical hit is simply when it does 7 or 8 points of damage. That's pretty critical, isn't it? It's sure enough to kill most men, perhaps even decapitating them, taking a limb off, or even cutting them in two.
Regular, or non-critical hits, therefore, would simply be those where one rolled less damage. The point is many GMs feel the need for extra rules above and beyond the normal damage rolls to be totally unnecessary.
Many other GMs love the notion of critical hits, particularly as they find applicability to player and non-player characters with vast numbers of hit points. Critical hits once again reintroduce the notion of possible instant death, no matter how many HPs one may have. Or if not instant death, then at least damage so large that it may still cut down the mighty with a single well-placed blow. This seemed to add a touch of realism many felt was missing.
I often feel this latter sentiment arises since many GMs don't see how it's possible anyone could take damage from an arrow, for example, or even a hefty sword slash, and apparently continue on almost unimpeded by the damage. That is, they often miss the point of the abstract hit point system and don't seem to realize most of those so-called 'hits' that do some HPs of 'damage' don't actually hit the target at all - or at least don't hit it with an impaling shot or a deep gash across the throat - and merely deplete some of the quasi-real hit points that are represented by a combination of the character's battle prowess and skill, luck, divine favor, and armor class.
Thus, many of those 'hits' are relatively mild glancing blows - if that. The fact they 'hit' is often, therefore, misconstrued to mean there MUST be substantial physical damage, just like you'd expect if such a weapon hit a normal person with normal hit points who had a normal armor class. So where is this massive physical damage?
Alas, this massive physical damage may not exist in the abstract hit point system, unless or until a character is greatly reduced in hit points to be near unconsciousness or death - i.e. reduced to the range of their first hit dice. That is, until a high-level character's HPs are reduced to the point to be on par with a commoner's HPs, you shouldn't expect any damage to be similarly severe in its physical nature. But I digress.
Nevertheless, some GMs feel more comfortable knowing that at any moment, an arrow might go right through one's eye, or a dagger can still find its way past the armor and ribs and right up into one's heart, or slash through one's throat or carotid artery, for example, causing serious damage, if not outright instantaneous death, no matter how many HPs the character may have.
On the other hand, many GMs may simply like a more lethal game, and might feel such critical possibilities would dissuade players from acting as if their PCs are virtually invulnerable simply because they have a vast and seemingly impenetrable wall of hit points that must be gone through first. Very well.
Ultimately, even if critical hits are unnecessary to recapture allegedly 'lost' realism, they are often fun, nevertheless. Furthermore, they might speed up battle and prevent the need of two experienced combatants whittling away at each other for numerous rounds, thus speeding up an otherwise seemingly pointless process of depleting two vast reservoirs of hit points before anything significant 'really' happens. Also, it adds unexpected flavor and variety to such a predicable and commonplace contest, so many GMs will include critical results for this alone, if nothing else.
Or in short, it's often more exciting. So since this is a game, they are well worth including.
Also, critical hits allow even the most inexperienced of individuals to get lucky, and conversely, even the most experienced of individuals might still succumb to freak occurrences. This both keeps the PCs on their toes, and allows the GM a way to threaten the safety of high-level characters without having to place a high-level NPC on every other street corner to do it, thus putting his world at odds with normal realistic probabilities.
That is, even farmers and shopkeepers could, in theory, kill a high-level character. And although this freak chance is mighty low for any given commoner, it is not so low when you consider a mob of such individuals swarming on the single high-level character. They may drag them down, or one of many arrows may get in a telling blow, so it becomes - once again they may feel - more realistic.
And who is to say they are totally wrong, anyway? After all, much of the justification for a character's vast number of hit points is simply their skill at avoiding a single blow. Even if it hits their AC and does 'damage,' the damage may not be purely physical, and thus the blow may not have actually hit - if you can understand the abstract nature of this system. Admittedly the abstract HP system is sometimes harder to understand and often counter intuitive, but the realism is there if you know how and why the system works.
My point here, however, is that the system almost assumes a single incoming blow or two, but a whole wall of arrows raining down on a character, for example, gives them little chance to avoid them all. It would be like trying to avoid a particular raindrop in a storm. Even if you could dodge it, you'd likely run into another raindrop while doing it, so you're bound to get wet no matter which way you turn. No one is suggesting if one's AC is great enough, they can do without an umbrella ;-) But now I'm seriously digressing.
So critical hits may introduce another level of realism, as well as introduce threatening and lethal aspects of combat that often seem lacking once high-levels are achieved and we are quite beyond the realm of our everyday experiences - i.e. normal people with a normal armor classes and a normal number of hit points. Therefore, critical hits, like them or not, are a viable option for any game.
In the same way that symmetry suggests a 20 is always a hit and a 1 is always a miss, realism also demands if you allow critical hits, you should also allow critical fumbles. To do otherwise ignores such a large aspect of realism, that any realism that is gained using critical hits is lost - and then some - if you don't similarly allow for these freak mistakes.
True, the DMG speaks about critical successes and critical failures, but only as they pertain to skill rolls, and they still leave it up to each GM to determine what may or may not happen. While this ultimately must be the case, it allows a player to feel their GM may whimsically be biased against their character. A predetermined table of such randomly determined results might, therefore, be in order, to avoid the appearance of impropriety if nothing else.
Yet both the PHB or DMG do not seem to have critical failures for combat, and what's more, they don't have much in the way of varied occurrences for critical hits.
The d20 system of Third Edition D&D carefully built into its combat system the method of critical hits. Sadly, they only allowed for damage multipliers. This is a bit disappointing for a critical hit system, and ignores a vast array of freak occurrences or more descriptive and colorful incidents.
They also do not allow for critical fumbles in combat - or provide for them, at any rate. Alas, such occurrences often take a table or two to incorporate, and thus shy away from ease and simplicity - which is probably why they don't have them. Still, a GM may find them worth using if they are handy and can be printed out ;-)
But if an extra table or two isn't your thing, a generalized rule may still be employed to increase the system's realism. To that end, anyone rolling a natural 1 is teetering on the brink of a critical fumble. At this point, the GM will require the player to make a REFLEX save vs. a DC of 15 plus the difference in their BABs - or Base Attack Bonuses.
DC = 15 + (Target's BAB) - (Attacker's BAB).
Why the modifiers? A more skillful combatant can use feints and misdirection to make their opponent fail in spectacular ways. The higher one's BAB, the more likely they can do this, and the more likely they can avoid having it done to them. Even if aiming at a distant character, the target character may see this and maneuver in such a way as to cause the attacker to turn such that a blind spot becomes available for another adjacent combatant.
NOTE: For simplicity's sake, the GM may just use a straight DC of 15 for the REFLEX save and ignore the relative difference between the BAB modifiers.
What happens if they fail their REFLEX save after rolling a 1 in combat? They are off balance and/or simply provoke an attack of opportunity from each and every adjacent combatant.
If they are already provoking an attack of opportunity - due to using a missile weapon, for example - and they roll an attack of 1, and subsequently fail their REFLEX save roll too, then each adjacent opponent - other than the intended target - receives a +4 attack bonus to their attack of opportunity.
Why doesn't the intended target, though they are adjacent to the attacker, get to have this temporary +4 attack bonus too? They simply have to use extra time and care at avoiding the incoming missile weapon.
Mostly, however, such fumbles will simply occur with melee weapons, and the intended target is just a single adjacent opponent, so this +4 bonus hardly ever applies.
EXAMPLE: Balin Bombidor - 5th level dwarven fighter with a BAB of +5 - is attacking Malkor the merciless - a 12th level cleric with a BAB of +9. Balin's player rolls an attack roll of 1. Oh oh. The GM calls for a REFLEX save for Balin at a DC of 19!
DC = 15 + 9 - 5 = 19.
Assuming Balin fails his REFLEX save, Balin critically fumbles and thus opens himself up to a free attack of opportunity - which Malkor mercilessly delivers.
This general critical fumble rule is easily incorporated without tables.
THE 2D10 SYSTEM
If using the 2d10 system, rather than the 1d20 system, any roll of a natural 2 - double 1's on the 2d10 attack roll - would threaten the critical fumble and force the REFLEX save roll, just as it would take two natural 10's rather than one natural 20, to threaten most critical hits. If a particular weapon requires a 19 or 18 to threaten a critical hit, at least one of the d10's must be a natural 10. Also, as expected, you must hit. If all this is true, then you roll your attack roll once more, just as before, but now any roll indicating a hit would in fact be a critical hit.
NOTE: The 2d10 system replaces most standard 1d20 rolls, and thus makes extremes far less likely, both for critical hits and critical fumbles - i.e. either occurs about once every 100 times rather than once every 20 times. The 2d10 system is far more realistic and greatly favors skill over dumb luck, and as such, would mean far fewer criticals in any event.
The 2d10 System (This Nonlinear System Is More Thoroughly Described In This Article.)
THE 3D20, KEEP THE MIDDLE ROLL SYSTEM
As mentioned elsewhere, rolling 3d20 and discarding the highest and lowest rolls and retaining the middle roll also produces a nonlinear curve. If one were to employ this system, critical hits or fumbles would again occur when the middle result was a natural 20 or a natural 1, respectively, just as before when using the 1d20 system. At least two of the three dice must read 20 (or read 1) to get a natural 20 (or 1), and this occurs approximately 0.72% of the time, or slightly less than 1% of the time, which is again a marked improvement over the 1 out of 20 times dumb luck too frequently insists upon in the 1d20 system.
MODIFIED ATTACK OF OPPORTUNITY RULE
Further realism may incorporate the modified AOO rule, or modified attack of opportunity rule. Many GMs feel it is unrealistic to think simply because a brief opportunity arises, that anyone and everyone will automatically be able to capitalize on it. Frequently, such opportunities are simply missed when a combatant is too slow to take advantage of their opponent's mistake. Given the fact reaction times are not instantaneous, nor identical in everyone, it makes greater sense to require a roll of some kind.
And missing the AOO roll is not the same thing as missing the chance to swing, so anyone saying a missed AOO roll already covers this is missing the point. The simple fact is, given reflex times, one may simply not react quickly enough to even get a swing, even if the opponent does open himself up for an attack of opportunity.
Rather than an automatic AOO, the new rule has the opponent roll a REFLEX save at DC 10 minus their BAB. If their BAB is +10 or higher, automatic success is still not assured since they may roll a 1 - or a 2 in the 2d10 system - and thus would still fail to make the AOO in a timely manner before the initial attacker recovered from his or her mistake.
EXAMPLE: Balin achieves 9th level fighter. His BAB is +9. Serrafat the Ogre tries to hit Balin, but rolls a 1. Serrafat then subsequently fails his REFLEX save as well. This provokes an attack of opportunity.
Balin's player rolls a REFLEX save at a DC of 10 - 9, or a DC of 1.
DC = 10 - BAB = 10 - 9 = 1.
Since a 1 always fails, regardless, he may still miss, but any roll of 2 or higher would indicate Balin gets to roll for an AOO and may capitalize on Serrafat's mistake. If using the 2d10 system, any roll of 3 or higher would hit, but a 2 would still miss, even though it is greater than 1, since the 2d10 system's rule is a 2 always fails, just as double 10's always succeeds.
True, this level of detail begins to gnaw away at the ease and simplicity of 3e combat, but it only occurs when an AOO arises, and this isn't all that often if the players wisely avoid foolish maneuvers. It's even less frequent if one employs the 2d10 system. But it is more complex, I'll grant you that. Extra realism often is, which is why this modified AOO rule is quite optional and the critical hit system does not depend on its added use. For simplicity's sake, the GM may, therefore, continue to assume AOOs are automatic, and any fumbles will automatically be taken advantage of by each adjacent combatant.
Finally, a few printable tables may lend the GM's world even more variety. Just as above, or under standard rules, critical hits and critical fumbles occur under the given circumstances. But rather than use simple damage multipliers, one consults the tables instead.
These tables mostly include special damage and incapacitation rules for limbs, or even internal damage. Thankfully, magic will most often alleviate any special problems from such injuries, but if magic healing is not available, then these types of injuries can be devastating.
The first table indicates a hit location - normally not used in D&D - but it shall be used here. Consult the table below to see where the critical hit landed on one's opponent.
NOTE: The GM may have to devise special rolls to determine hit locations on oddly shaped creatures. The 'Other' Column, for example, represents a vague, ill-defined creature with tentacles or stalks as peripheral attachments, a tough over-all body, and with only a couple low profile but vital areas, the innards and the 'head.' Some creatures may defy the attempt to determine a hit location, but such creatures are often immune to critical hits anyway. Also, some creatures, though they have quite readily identifiable hit locations, are simply immune to critical hits.
The next table shows a type of saving throw the recipient of the critical blow must roll. Success means the indicated damage has no further consequences apart from the multiplied damage at 2 x, 3 x, 4 x, etc., as normal. Please note the normal rules of multiplied damage still apply, but with a twist.
Failure of the given DC save means there are other problems, such as loss of consciousness or death, a temporary loss such as the use of a limb, internal injuries, or reduced movement rates or other combat penalties or twists. This is in addition to the indicated damage. So it's sort of like adding insult to injury. Do not feel if one makes their saving throw they have escaped unscathed. Not at all. Even if they save, they still suffer the normal 2 x, 3 x, 4 x regular damage, etc., as normal for a critical hit.
Also, all such critical injuries will probably leave a nasty scar, unless healed by magic. Ask your GM.
A useless or damaged limb will become useful once again given enough time, or through any use of magical healing. The healing period required for natural recovery is usually 20 Days minus the number of Days equal to the number of one's hit dice, OR until the character's full hit point compliment returns. Until that time, they may not use the arm to wield weapons or shields at all, and/or their movement rate or combat prowess will continue to be reduced during the healing period. Also, while such a penalty persists, it may be assumed a -1 penalty is also in effect for all skill rolls requiring full physical competence.
PERMANENT MAIMING INJURIES (Optional)
Permanent maiming injuries may also result and this optional rule may be employed by the GM. Whenever a limb is critically hit and this reduces the character to zero or fewer hit points, OR the amount of damage inflicted from the critical blow was 50% or more of the character's maximum hit points and at least a number of HPs equal or greater than one's CON score, then the limb may be permanently maimed. However, timely magical healing, or more powerful magic like regeneration or better, will still cure this. Naturally healing, unfortunately, will not. Surgery may or may not, but would require a surgeon of Rank 2 or higher.
NOTE: The 'permanent' nature of the maiming injury mostly only refers to a permanent penalty even AFTER one regained their full compliment of Hit Points. The limb is not forever TOTALLY useless, but only totally useless during the initial healing period of 20 Day minus 1 Day/Hit Dice, or until one's full compliment of HPs returns. Timely magical healing may negate this effect, as always.
So never think a limb is forever useless unless the GM specifically tells you it is, or some other special rule deprives you of the use of such a limb, such as a Sword of Sharpness, for example.
This optional maiming rule has the added bonus of explaining why many NPCs may be permanently maimed in a world where, apparently, all one need do is wait long enough to regain full hit points. Obviously, something prevents full and complete recovery on occasions, so here is one possibility to explain it.
To make things simple, assume the time limit to treat any maiming injury to be equal to one Day/Level of the Healing Cleric or Magical Healing Device. If magical healing is so employed within this time limit, the maiming nature of the injury simply goes away and any penalties vanish. If not done in this timely manner, only regeneration or higher magic, and possibly surgery, will fix such a maiming injury.
The limb may be forever useless, but more commonly such an injury will results in a permanent limp, at -1 to your movement, or -1 to your BAB with that limb, or -1 to your AC if using a shield in the maimed arm. In general, some -1 penalty will result from any permanent disability. Skill rolls made that require the maimed limb's use should be made at a -1 penalty as well. These penalties are stackable - i.e. one may be maimed in two or more ways, and the penalties add up.
Remember, permanent disability would only result when a critical hit caused enough HPs of damage to render the character unconscious. Optionally, the GM may also include any critical hit that delivered more than 50% of one's maximum hit points, but a minimum of HPs equal to one's CON.
So, in general, though one may be critically hit, unless one was also knocked unconscious, or the damage was 50% or more of one's maximum hit points and at least a number of HPs equal to one's CON score, a permanent maiming injury would not result. So if the critical table says a limb is useless, you'd only need to wait until you recovered your full compliment of HPs, or 20 Days minus one Day/Hit Dice passed to be free of any penalties. And, of course, any magical healing done in a timely manner would negate any maiming injury penalty.
This is why magic healing is so good, and why adventurers with magic can far surpass any group without it, and continue on for decades, while mundane groups or individuals may have very limited professional careers before permanent injuries sideline them and force them into retirement from the field.
EXAMPLE ONE: Balin - 9th level fighter - is critically hit in the weapon arm and drops his axe. He is not knocked unconscious, however. His weapon are is, unfortunately, temporarily useless. He cannot use it to wield his axe or do much of anything useful with it. Any skill requiring that arm or both arms would be at least at a -1 penalty, or the GM may rule the skill cannot be used at all without that arm.
If magical healing were handy, this would be easily fixed, but in this case it is not. Balin must wait 11 days (20 - 9) or wait until he regains full HPs - at 9 HPs/Day. Once he regains full HPs, OR 11 days have passed, he can use his weapon arm again as normal.
EXAMPLE TWO: This example is just as above, expect Balin is knocked unconscious this time when the critical blow hits his weapon arm. Assuming he is treated later and regains consciousness, Balin discovers his weapon arm is permanently maimed. He cannot use his arm at all, just as above, during the healing period. Even after 11 days or after he regains full HPs, however, he will forever have a -1 to his BAB unless subsequent regeneration or surgery could cure him.
And, as I must keep pointing out, any timely magical healing would have totally handled this problem. It's just that magical healing is not always available. So even if PCs tend to have magic, NPCs frequently don't, and knowledge of these rules help shape the NPC world and explain things like cripples or even retired adventurers who had a run of bad luck and could no longer afford magical healing or regeneration or better, thus forcing their retirement.
NOTE: Finally, the Raise Dead spell would also tend to take care of any maiming injuries. Just as this powerful spell takes care of most poisons and normal diseases, it will reattach any severed limbs - if present - and repair serious maiming injuries, broken bones, and other normal problems. This assumes it is cast in a timely manner - i.e. one Day/Level of the caster. You will notice this is same time limit for timely magical healing. This is not a coincidence.
BROKEN LIMBS (Optional)
At his or her discretion, the GM may rule a critical hit to one's limb, if the HPs of damage was 25% or more of one's maximum HPs and at least a number of HPs equal to one's CON, may in fact break one's limb. This is mostly done for color and is only included here to cover rules for broken limbs, and is not recommended for general use on PCs - but remains a possibility.
If a limb is broken, the recovery time is 40 days minus one Day/Hit Dice. Magical healing such as the Cure Light Wounds spell or better will still repair the broken limb.
If Internal Injuries are indicated, consult that table below, and this will result in a specific rate at which one 'bleeds' internally.
If the rate of HP loss is less than the rate of natural healing, subtract the loss rate from the healing rate. This internal injury will only stop if magically healed, surgery is successful, or one regains their full compliment of hit points. Also, it may stop on its own accord. Each day, starting with the next day after the injury, roll d% and get lower than 10 plus one's CON Mod. This indicates the internal injury has stopped of its own accord, and the full natural healing rate is once again enjoyed.
If the rate of HP loss is greater than the natural healing rate of (1 HP/Hit Dice)/Day, then they will probably spiral down into death unless one of three things happens first.
A ) Each day, starting with the next day after the injury, roll d% and get lower than 10 plus one's CON Mod. This indicates the internal injury has stopped of its own accord - or, optionally, the DM may just lessen the internal bleeding rate and allow further rolls each day. If the rate of HP loss is so great that death will result before the next day, then that's just the way it is and you won't even get this roll once.
B ) Any Magical Healing or Magical Healing Potion is applied. This attends to all internal injuries first. Even a 1 HP Healing Orison would stop the HP loss in all but the most severe cases where 2 HPs/Round was the bleeding rate. Even then, it would reduce the loss to 1 HP/Round. Or. . .
C ) The Surgery Skill is successfully used.
The Healing Arts On Orlantia (An In-Depth Look At The Healing Skill. The Surgery Skill Is Described In This Article.)
And, as always, if they reach a number of HPs that is one beyond their negative constitution score, this will result in death.
Any ability to regenerate would negate the effect of internal injuries. This assumes regeneration far in excess of normal human healing rates, so it must either be magic, or some trait a PC race does not normally enjoy.
The last table is for Critical Fumbles. In addition to suffering any AOOs - or Attacks of Opportunity - further events may occur should one fail various saving throws, as indicated in the table below.
Roll 1d20 to see what line you consult, then roll the appropriate saving throw. Success means only the AOOs with normal damage occurred - if any - but failure indicates possible further complications and problems.
If the fumble results are CLEARLY impossible or not applicable to your character, then your PC normally does not suffer any further penalties above and beyond the AOOs. The GM does not roll again to find an applicable result, but instead rules the fumble has no appreciable effect.
NOTE: Unconscious characters may be instantly slain next round by any adjacent opponent, but only if that character has no adjacent friend to give such an attacker a more immediate concern. Optionally, the GM may only allow automatic hits and maximum damage for each hit to the unconscious character if general melee is still occurring in the area.
In order to facilitate the printing of these tables, they are reproduced in another location without so much accompanying text in between. This should make it easy to print out all four tables in three sheets.
When critical hits occur, in addition to the normal multiplied damage, there is a table one may consult for possible additional problems and injuries. Most such injuries and problems are only temporary if magical healing is available, but if not, may be rather devastating.
Critical fumbles also occur, and if an attack roll is a natural 1 - or natural 2 in the 2d10 system - a REFLEX save will determine if the attack has indeed critically fumbled.
Optional maiming injuries may occur, and rules are given for how they occur, and how to treat them to avoid lingering penalties.
A critical fumble provokes an attack of opportunity. Furthermore, if used, the critical fumble table may add further consequences in addition to the attacks of opportunity.
Finally, the GM may employ the modified attack of opportunity rule, wherein such attacks are not automatic. To capitalize on your opponent's mistakes, you must make a REFLEX saving throw to do so in a timely enough manner.
I hope these rules may find a home in some of your games. If you feel there is something wrong with them such that a slight modification or two would fix them, I'd be keen to hear from you. If you feel they are more seriously flawed, I'd be interested in that too, but we may have to discuss the issue more thoroughly first.
Email Jim Your Comments (Send Praise, Critique, Complaints, Suggestions, Ideas, or Submissions).
But in the meantime, Happy Gaming ;-)
© February of 2003