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D&D 5E Advantage, Criticals, and Fumbles

DND_Reborn

Legend
I was wondering what your thoughts are on the mechanics of:

1. Advantage (and Disadvantage)
2. Critical Hits (and possibly ability checks and saves?)
3. Fumbles (also possibly on ability checks and saves?)

I would appreciate any discussion on the topics you wish to have, and I'll state my own thoughts; whether you share them, disagree, or have something else to share.

Also, to be clear, I am not asking for solutions on how to achieve some of the changes I am suggesting--I can do that easily enough--I am just opening up the points to discussion. However, if you want to share a solution, please do so.

1. ADVANTAGE (and DISADVANTAGE)

1A. I like the concept for its simplicity, but sometimes feel it is too simple to adequately represent all the different positive aspects it does represent.
1B. I think advantage is too common and easy to get, while imposing disadvantage rarely happens IME short of exhaustion.
1C. Because it is so common, I feel the impact is too low.
1D. I would like to see advantage harder to achieve, but have more impact when you get it.
1E. The idea of a +5 bonus (e.g. passive perception with advantage) is not equivalent to advantage in rolling.
1F. I would replace current advantage sources with minor +1 or +2 bonuses. I don't think this would be enough to break bounded accuracy at all.

EDIT: 1G. Advantage and Disadvantage can cancel, but your net Advantage/Disadvantage should apply. (I do this, but forgot about it and added it after @Lanefan's post).

2. CRITICAL HITS (and Ability Checks/ Saves)

2A. On a linear d20, if you need a 20 to hit a creature, it should NOT also be a critical hit; it should be a normal hit.
2B. I find even the 1 in 20 chance on the d20 to be a bit too commonplace for myself to consider it "special".
2C. I think the easier it is for you to hit a target, the greater your chance to score a critical should be.
2D. I liked the older idea of Critical Threats and Confirmed Critical Hits, but rolling the extra die did slow things down a bit. Of course, you could roll both dice at once, but for some reason as a DM that just has never sat well with me.
2E. I like the idea of a critical success on an ability check or save, and making it a natural 20 always succeeds. I critical success on an ability check might change it from an action to a bonus action, and a critically successful save might deal minimum damage or none.
2F. I wonder at times if criticals are even really necessary for the game, since older editions didn't have them.
2G. I think something other than double dice damage would make criticals more interesting, but complex tables, etc. aren't the way to go IMO.

3. FUMBLES (and Ability Checks/ Saves)

3A. The libra in me likes balance and feels if you can crit, you should be able to fumble.
3B. I don't like just fumbling on a 1 in 20, it is too common and the more actions you have the more likely you are to fumble.
3C. Like crits, fumbles should be more common for harder to hit creatures and harder to succeed tasks/saves.
3D. Confirming fumbles is a good idea, but you run into the same issue of extra dice rolling, which IME slows things down too much.
3E. Despite point 3A, I am not sold on fumbles being necessary really.
3F. I am not a big fan of just including them for comic relief.

I think that's it for now. If anyone has any thoughts to add or share, I eagerly await your posts!
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I was wondering what your thoughts are on the mechanics of:

1. Advantage (and Disadvantage)
2. Critical Hits (and possibly ability checks and saves?)
3. Fumbles (also possibly on ability checks and saves?)

I would appreciate any discussion on the topics you wish to have, and I'll state my own thoughts; whether you share them, disagree, or have something else to share.

Also, to be clear, I am not asking for solutions on how to achieve some of the changes I am suggesting--I can do that easily enough--I am just opening up the points to discussion. However, if you want to share a solution, please do so.

1. ADVANTAGE (and DISADVANTAGE)

1A. I like the concept for its simplicity, but sometimes feel it is too simple to adequately represent all the different positive aspects it does represent.
1B. I think advantage is too common and easy to get, while imposing disadvantage rarely happens IME short of exhaustion.
1C. Because it is so common, I feel the impact is too low.
1D. I would like to see advantage harder to achieve, but have more impact when you get it.
1E. The idea of a +5 bonus (e.g. passive perception with advantage) is not equivalent to advantage in rolling.
1F. I would replace current advantage sources with minor +1 or +2 bonuses. I don't think this would be enough to break bounded accuracy at all.
My thoughts on adv-disadv is that it's a brilliant mechanic in the right situation but 5e uses it wa-a-ay too much, in places where a flat bonus or penalty would be better. Flat bonuses or penalties are also far more granular and apply equally all the way across the 1-20 spectrum, where adv-disadv instead turns a linear outcome into a bell curve.

I also think that for a given roll, if there's competing adv and disadv each instance of one should cancel out an instance of the other, and when all the cancelling-out is done if anything is left over it should apply.

To explain: right now if on a roll there's 4 things giving you adv and just one giving disadv they all cancel out and the roll is flat. My preference would be that the one disadv cancels out just one of the adv's, there's adv's left over so roll with advantage.
2. CRITICAL HITS (and Ability Checks/ Saves)

2A. On a linear d20, if you need a 20 to hit a creature, it should NOT also be a critical hit; it should be a normal hit.
2B. I find even the 1 in 20 chance on the d20 to be a bit too commonplace for myself to consider it "special".
2C. I think the easier it is for you to hit a target, the greater your chance to score a critical should be.
2D. I liked the older idea of Critical Threats and Confirmed Critical Hits, but rolling the extra die did slow things down a bit. Of course, you could roll both dice at once, but for some reason as a DM that just has never sat well with me.
2E. I like the idea of a critical success on an ability check or save, and making it a natural 20 always succeeds. I critical success on an ability check might change it from an action to a bonus action, and a critically successful save might deal minimum damage or none.
2F. I wonder at times if criticals are even really necessary for the game, since older editions didn't have them.
2G. I think something other than double dice damage would make criticals more interesting, but complex tables, etc. aren't the way to go IMO.
I fully endorse both criticals and fumbles.

That said, for criticals: there very much needs to be a confirm roll unless you want criticals happening all the time; and the strength of the confirm roll can also inform as to how powerful the critical is. Simple double-dice is kinda boring; I use an escalating multiplier on all damage (i.e. roll as normal, add the bonuses, then multiply the lot) that can go as high as 4x.

I get it about your points 2A and 2C but I've always kept criticals as being the same chance no matter what, in part because making crits easier against squishies would be hell on wheels for squishy PCs and they've already got enough headaches as it is.

As for saves, I've always had it that a 20 always succeeds and a 1 always fails. On a case-by-case basis I might rule that a 20-save has extra-useful effects (e.g. for a borderline case it shows you were just outside the fireball's AoE and thus got missed entirely) but it's not hard-coded and probably never will be. For ability checks etc. not so much, as sometimes you just ain't gonna fail or succeed no matter how hard you try.
3. FUMBLES (and Ability Checks/ Saves)

3A. The libra in me likes balance and feels if you can crit, you should be able to fumble.
3B. I don't like just fumbling on a 1 in 20, it is too common and the more actions you have the more likely you are to fumble.
3C. Like crits, fumbles should be more common for harder to hit creatures and harder to succeed tasks/saves.
3D. Confirming fumbles is a good idea, but you run into the same issue of extra dice rolling, which IME slows things down too much.
3E. Despite point 3A, I am not sold on fumbles being necessary really.
3F. I am not a big fan of just including them for comic relief.

I think that's it for now. If anyone has any thoughts to add or share, I eagerly await your posts!
Fully agree here with points 3A and 3B. Disagree with 3F, though; I likes me some comedy sometimes. :)

Fumbles IMO also need a confirm roll, but unlike criticals there also needs to be a table of possible effects ranging from the common and quite minor (e.g. disarm self, spend next [action, bonus action] rearming with same weapon or another) to the uncommon and potentially dangerous (e.g. a defensive miscue gives your foe an immediate free attack against you) to the rare oh-ship-I-really-shouldn't-have-done-that (e.g. full or even critical damage to self or ally).

A corollary here is that IMO many spells, particulaly AoE's, should require aiming rolls and should be fumble-able (but not crittable except in unusual circumstances). One rather hilarous sequence in my game a few years ago: fighter wants to charge in right where caster wants to put a fireball, caster yells at fighter to get behind her until her spell resolves, fighter does so*, caster then fumbles the spell and after some rolling it's determined she aimed it directly backwards, so guess who was ground zero... :)

* - which itself was amazing; this might be the only time in his entire career this guy's ever followed anybody's instructions on anything!
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
1. I love advantage/disadvantage. It is quick and easy to apply and understand and is my favorite thing from 5E.
2. I loved critical hits and in 2E and 3E had elaborate charts and two different systems for confirming them (one for each edition) No crits were outright deadly (unless they increased damage to a point that'd kill you) but some results required saves vs. death. Of course certain bleeder crits from lost limbs also had a penchant to kill. When I went to 5E after a break, I dropped most of my house rules including these, but when I start up my next campaign I plan to poll my players' opinions on reintroducing them (or at least a variation on the Lingering Injuries option).
3. See #2. I also had an elaborate fumble chart and I love fumbles. Fumbles also had to be "confirmed" - Roll a natural '1'? Roll again and if you miss, then the result was a fumble.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
ADVANTAGE AND DISADVANTAGE
The biggest problem I have with the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic is the way it changed player behavior at the table. It incentivizes (and sometimes outright encourages) arguments. Nearly every battle features an argument now about why a character should have Advantage on a roll, or why they shouldn't have Disadvantage. (And heaven help you, oh Dungeon Master, if you ever relent and cave in 'just to keep the game moving,' because you've now set a regrettable precedent with your players.)

Players treat Advantage like a foregone conclusion, and Disadvantage as a puzzle to be solved while they pause the game. If this mechanic worked more like Inspiration, where your players were delighted on the infrequent occasion that they got Advantage, or like the Lucky feat where they had a limited pool that they would ration, it would make me a lot happier. And a happier DM means fewer Will O'Wisps and Banshees in the camp at night...

FUMBLES
I have no problem with critical hits, but I wish they did more with critical misses. Having the result of a nat-1 be practically identical to a nat-anything-five-or-lower is anticlimactic. It could be a lot more interesting if there were class mechanics that utilized critical fumbles more. Like, sure: your monk's attack missed, that's obvious. But maybe she also recovers a ki point. Or something. Anything.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
ADVANTAGE AND DISADVANTAGE
The biggest problem I have with the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic is the way it changed player behavior at the table. It incentivizes (and sometimes outright encourages) arguments. Nearly every battle features an argument now about why a character should have Advantage on a roll, or why they shouldn't have Disadvantage. (And heaven help you, oh Dungeon Master, if you ever relent and cave in 'just to keep the game moving,' because you've now set a regrettable precedent with your players.)

Players treat Advantage like a foregone conclusion, and Disadvantage as a puzzle to be solved while they pause the game. If this mechanic worked more like Inspiration, where your players were delighted on the infrequent occasion that they got Advantage, or like the Lucky feat where they had a limited pool that they would ration, it would make me a lot happier. And a happier DM means fewer Will O'Wisps and Banshees in the camp at night...

Yikes! I am so glad my players aren't like that. Occasionally, someone will ask if something provides advantage but that is rare and the answer is usually 50/50 either way. I am kind of stickler, applying disadvantage for almost anything non-standard or potentially difficult (for example, shooting ranged attacks at a foe engaged in melee with an ally in any of the 4 or five boxes in your line of sight applies disadvantage - and if right in front also provides cover and a chance of hitting an ally on a miss).
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Yikes! I am so glad my players aren't like that. Occasionally, someone will ask if something provides advantage but that is rare and the answer is usually 50/50 either way. I am kind of stickler, applying disadvantage for almost anything non-standard or potentially difficult (for example, shooting ranged attacks at a foe engaged in melee with an ally in any of the 4 or five boxes in your line of sight applies disadvantage - and if right in front also provides cover a chance of hitting an ally on a miss).
This is the way.

It's gotten better over the past couple of years, that old gaming group has long-since disbanded and my regular-Friday-Night-gang is a lot more laid back. I typically don't have any trouble with it until we're in high-stress situations like a boss battle and the players are grasping at straws for anything that will give them an advantage (or literal Advantage). And I can handle that.
 


aco175

Legend
I really like advantage/disadvantage. It is simple and cuts out all the minor things that slowed down play in older editions. It is a bit powerful, especially if playing with flanking rules. We still use it, but I have been thinking of a Matt Colville idea of having it be a bonus 1d4. Although I do not want to slow things down, so maybe just a +2. Players like it though even when the monsters uses it against them.

Criticals are fun, but have been thinking of making them max damage plus 1 weapon damage. So a goblin that does 1d6+2 and scores a crit deals 8+1d6. Takes away some of the swinginess, but some of that makes the game. I used to have a crit mean you get a bonus attack. Does slow things down a bit though.

Fumbles are not fun, but they may be memorable. I recall blowing up a staff of power back in 2e days by some bad rolls. 5e doesn't seem to be the system to have fumbles in it.

Ability checks may +/-5 if you roll a 20 or a 1. This allows for untrained to get some hard things and trained to still fail.
 

Advantage & Disadvantage

I think this is a fantastic mechanic. I wish sometimes that it were slightly less potent, but I love that it doesn't stack because then you don't have to relentlessly bonus hunt. I hated that in previous editions. It is a little overused or easy to get, however. I like that it's extra dice so it's easy to see that the player remembered it. Honestly, this feels like the ultimate "good enough" mechanic.

Criticals

These are fine. Kind of weak in 5e, but rolling more dice is more fun than max + die roll. I don't really care for critical saves or skill checks, just because in practice they often don't mean anything. I'm not against them as a random beneficial consequence, but... eh.

Fumbles

Not a fan of fumbles. Bad memories of playing a TWF character and randomly dropping a weapon I was specialized in every session, while the Magic User just never had to deal with that kind of thing when casting a spell. Adding "checks" just adds more die rolls and slows the game down. It's just a bad design that punishes players for doing things that require rolling the dice, which is almost everything active. That's silly. Like... you're rolling a die so you're already doing something you have a chance to fail at. Overall the PCs just roll so many more dice than the NPCs, and failure is so much worse for PCs than NPCs.

The only time I can imagine fumbles happening is when a PC does something they're not proficient in. Like a modified roll of less than 1. Honestly, the game already punishes that more than enough. Experienced players already avoid doing anything they don't have at least a modest bonus at. I don't think it's worthwhile to have a special rule to make it even more punishing to try something you're already almost certain to fail at.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Advantage & Disadvantage

I think this is a fantastic mechanic. I wish sometimes that it were slightly less potent, but I love that it doesn't stack because then you don't have to relentlessly bonus hunt.
Oh man, I had totally forgotten about the endless Bonus-Hunting of 3.X/Pathfinder.

Disregard all complaints I had upthread about Advantage. I've suddenly remembered how awesome it is. Another two-hour argument over why the rogue has Advantage, again, for the fifteenth time in a row? Yes please, just as long as you never bring back the days of the +30 attack roll vs. the 40+ AC.
 

Smackpixi

Explorer
Advantage/disadvantage is fantastic for not knowing actual rules of any given situation. It’s brilliant for bringing new people into the game and making everything easy For a new DM with new players. And it’s great for rewarding Or penalizing fun player ideas. When in doubt, yah, sounds like advantage on that.
 

lingual

Adventurer
Fumbles don't scale well. A 20th level fighter will be fumbling 20 percent of the time with 4 attacks. An extended combat that lasts over a minute basically ensures that said fighter would break a weapon, chop off his own head, kill the wizard, etc.

Also a lot of implementations I've seen introduce concepts like wounds and broken bones which the game does not actually support. It gets silly because the only way someone breaks their leg is when they roll a one when attacking.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Fumbles don't scale well. A 20th level fighter will be fumbling 20 percent of the time with 4 attacks. An extended combat that lasts over a minute basically ensures that said fighter would break a weapon, chop off his own head, kill the wizard, etc.

Also a lot of implementations I've seen introduce concepts like wounds and broken bones which the game does not actually support. It gets silly because the only way someone breaks their leg is when they roll a one when attacking.
I'm having flashbacks to some VtM 2e threads on botches.
 

Hawk Diesel

Adventurer
Regarding Advantage and Disadvantage, in the games I run and play this mechanic is typically not over or under used. I think we have found the sweet spot, but this is likely due to our group's particular play style. Additionally, we don't allow flanking to provide advantage, which really helps. One thing I've started incorporating is allowing a 1d4 bonus / imposing a 1d4 penalty. This can be used in conjunction with advantage/disadvantage and creates a larger spectrum in terms of interacting conditions that might affect the outcome of an action.

2. CRITICAL HITS (and Ability Checks/ Saves)

2A. On a linear d20, if you need a 20 to hit a creature, it should NOT also be a critical hit; it should be a normal hit.

Personally, if an encounter includes a creature that one or more players can only hit on a natural 20, I would consider that a poorly designed encounter. It's not fun for players to miss more often than they hit and generally just leads to frustration. Of course there could be circumstances where this might happen, but that should probably be an exceptional situation that might happen once in a campaign. For me, I would rather a DM tell me it's impossible to hit the creature than to only allow it to be hit on a natural 20. Of course, this is my perspective and may not be right for your personal play style or game table.

In the games that I run, I handle critical hits a bit differently. I do require confirming a critical hit, like they did in 3/3.5. However, a crit deals maximum damage, and a confirmed crit does double max damage and the player rolls on a d100 table for an additional effect. I do the same thing with fumbles, but it is just a miss unless it's a confirmed fumble. If it's a confirmed fumble, its a miss plus they roll on a d100 for an additional fumble effect. I feel this makes crits incredibly deadly, makes them more interesting than just dealing pure damage, and it reduces complexity by having crits deal either max or double max damage (which also ensures a person doesn't feel salty when they roll low on their critical hit). I also apply critical success and failure to saving throws and ability checks.

Whether or not crit fumbles or saves are necessary depends on your play style and game table. I don't think they are necessary. However, I do think they add an additional element of excitement to a game. It can also make encounters a bit more swingy (which I personally like, but others may not).
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Personally, if an encounter includes a creature that one or more players can only hit on a natural 20, I would consider that a poorly designed encounter. It's not fun for players to miss more often than they hit and generally just leads to frustration. Of course there could be circumstances where this might happen, but that should probably be an exceptional situation that might happen once in a campaign. For me, I would rather a DM tell me it's impossible to hit the creature than to only allow it to be hit on a natural 20. Of course, this is my perspective and may not be right for your personal play style or game table.
No, this doesn't come up often IME, but sometimes it does happen because I design encounters based on the story, not the relative strength or weakness of the creatures or the party. If it makes sense for higher level PCs meeting a BBEG and some of the minions require a nat 20 against the tank, then I'll include those minions.

So, we play if you need a nat 20 to hit, it is not a crit, but just a hit. 🤷‍♂️
 

Irlo

Adventurer
Fumbles don't scale well. A 20th level fighter will be fumbling 20 percent of the time with 4 attacks. An extended combat that lasts over a minute basically ensures that said fighter would break a weapon, chop off his own head, kill the wizard, etc.
This is why, when I start to think about consequences for Nat 1s on attack rolls, I throw all my ideas away.

But, if I were to use them, I think I'd allow the target to make a reaction of some sort ... a riposte, maybe, or a dodge vs. the next attack. I haven't worked out the details, but that seems a lot more interesting than self-inflicted wounds or dropped weapons.
 

Hawk Diesel

Adventurer
No, this doesn't come up often IME, but sometimes it does happen because I design encounters based on the story, not the relative strength or weakness of the creatures or the party. If it makes sense for higher level PCs meeting a BBEG and some of the minions require a nat 20 against the tank, then I'll include those minions.

So, we play if you need a nat 20 to hit, it is not a crit, but just a hit. 🤷‍♂️

I believe in designing encounters around the story as well. And I am also a proponent of the idea that just because the PCs encounter something doesn't mean they can kill it or beat it. But just from a design perspective, using standard array a PC at level 1 is going to have a +2 or +3 in their primary attack stat, and a +2 proficiency bonus for a total attack bonus of +4 or +5. In this example, that 1st level PC would need to face an enemy with an AC of 24 or higher. This only increases as players increase in level and their bonuses. To put this in perspective, the Tarrasque has an AC of 25.

So again, whether you are operating from a purely mechanical perspective or a narrative one, I'm struggling to imagine a situation in which the design would call for a creature or enemy that could only be hit with a natural 20.

IMO, it would be better for the DM to just telegraph to the players that attacking it would be useless rather than creating a situation where the players might have to attempt to make attacks and aren't able to realize the futility of their attempts until they start rolling natural 16s and 18s. I mean, at level 1 any PC that is going to run into the Tarrasque would have an understanding that attempting to fight it would be certain death. They shouldn't have to take a couple of swings and then get eaten for them to get there.
 
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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Like everything except crit fumbles. Unfairly punishes players that get multiple attacks. But I do like @Bacon Bits idea of having critical fumbles for ability checks for skills you are not proficient is. It will make proficiency mean more without having to say "no, you can't try this because you are not proficient in the skill."
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
My thoughts on adv-disadv is that it's a brilliant mechanic in the right situation but 5e uses it wa-a-ay too much, in places where a flat bonus or penalty would be better. Flat bonuses or penalties are also far more granular and apply equally all the way across the 1-20 spectrum, where adv-disadv instead turns a linear outcome into a bell curve.

Small bonuses have almost no effect on a d20 roll, and it turned the game into the dreaded bonus hunt.
I also think that for a given roll, if there's competing adv and disadv each instance of one should cancel out an instance of the other, and when all the cancelling-out is done if anything is left over it should apply.

And that would be another type of bonus hunt. 5e, in particular with unchanging bonuses and adv/dis has divided the length of time needed to run a combat by a factor of 2 to 10 depending on the circumstances, while still keeping exciting, actually making way more exciting because it's so blindingly fast, there is no way I'm going to go back on these principles.

Criticals are quick and fun, and fumbles worse than an automatic miss would just slow down the game again.
 

John R Davis

Adventurer
1. Adv / Dis great mechanic simple and effective. Easy to teach. Cuts down fiddly maths.
2+3. Not in a d20 game ( I despise them in PF1). Don't mind a 1 or 20 being autofail/success.
 

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