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D&D 5E Advantage, Criticals, and Fumbles

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Small bonuses have almost no effect on a d20 roll, and it turned the game into the dreaded bonus hunt.
IME it's truly surprising just how often that +1 or -1 makes all the difference.
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.
I don't mind slowing things down a bit if it adds more variability and-or fun to things; but then again I don't have feats, reactions, etc. which can also slow things down so I've perhaps got more headroom to work with.
 

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Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I really like Advantage / Disadvantage as it not only improve or penalize a roll, but it do sin a tangible way by rolling 2 d20 and using the higher or lower. It's significant.

I'm fine with Critical Hit, Fumble or automatic hit or miss only applying to attack roll and not to ability check or saving throw.

I also like that extra damage on a crit is extra dice, it always grant something extra, without necessarily always be disproportionate as the damage can still be less than maximum instead of always be more devastating than max damage.

Critical Hit and (Dis)Advantage are all about potential.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
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.
You're missing the scenario. It isn't that the PCs need 20's to hit, it is the mooks/minions trying to hit the PCs that this happens. It also happens on a round-by-round basis with spells like shield.

For example, the party is high level and fighting an adult black dragon (CR 14) in its lair. In the final battle, the party's tank (plate +1, shield +1, defense style, ring +1) is AC 24, and the kobold minions are swarming the tank to keep it from approaching their dragon "god". The kobolds will need a natural 20 to hit with their +4 attack bonus. So, if I get lucky and DO hit, it is automatically a critical hit for double damage. The kobolds can't, RAW, hit in this case for normal damage.

That just irks me.

Another scenario would be an EK in plate and shield with defense style who uses the shield spell and (for the round anyway) has an AC 26, making even orcs, gnolls, and many other humanoids up to an Ogre, need a 20 to hit. And such a PC is possible by level 3. 🤷‍♂️
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
This is why, when I start to think about consequences for Nat 1s on attack rolls, I throw all my ideas away.
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."

If you use confirmation rolls, even a high level fighter with multiple attacks will fumble less than a lower level fighter with a single attack. You just have to use the right system for it.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
If you use confirmation rolls, even a high level fighter with multiple attacks will fumble less than a lower level fighter with a single attack. You just have to use the right system for it.

But they will still fumble more than other classes with fewer attacks - just because they are rolling more. Critical fumbles penalize high attack martials. Depending on severity of the fumble rules, they're supposed big strength can become a weakness - and that sits very poorly with me.

On the other note - I really like advantage/disadvantage it's simple and effective.

I'm ok with critical hits - but tend to prefer softer criticals not massive ones. At the end of the day, the DM rolls A LOT more dice than the players, harsher crit rules tend to punish the players more in the long run.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
You're missing the scenario. It isn't that the PCs need 20's to hit, it is the mooks/minions trying to hit the PCs that this happens. It also happens on a round-by-round basis with spells like shield.

For example, the party is high level and fighting an adult black dragon (CR 14) in its lair. In the final battle, the party's tank (plate +1, shield +1, defense style, ring +1) is AC 24, and the kobold minions are swarming the tank to keep it from approaching their dragon "god". The kobolds will need a natural 20 to hit with their +4 attack bonus. So, if I get lucky and DO hit, it is automatically a critical hit for double damage. The kobolds can't, RAW, hit in this case for normal damage.

That just irks me.

Another scenario would be an EK in plate and shield with defense style who uses the shield spell and (for the round anyway) has an AC 26, making even orcs, gnolls, and many other humanoids up to an Ogre, need a 20 to hit. And such a PC is possible by level 3. 🤷‍♂️

One thing that such analysis forget is that these high AC guys tend to make lousy tanks!

The true point of a tank character is to draw attacks/hits from squishier targets with less HP. If enemies realize early that the tank is nigh unhittable, they won't bother going for him and will instead target the wizards, rogues etc. This is, particularly, a problem in 5e because few martials have abilities that force/incentivize enemies to target them instead of their allies (they exist, for ex: protection style, the paladin spell compelled duel, but are pretty limited).

The AC 16 raging barbarian tends to be a better tank than the 20+ AC fighter, for this reason.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Advantage is a horrible mechanic to translate what happens in the game to rules. Its not granular enough, esoecially when multiple (dis)advantageous things come together.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
But they will still fumble more than other classes with fewer attacks - just because they are rolling more. Critical fumbles penalize high attack martials. Depending on severity of the fumble rules, they're supposed big strength can become a weakness - and that sits very poorly with me.
But if you are attacking more often, you have more chances to fumble, so of course it might happen more because you are risking more. Every time someone swings a weapon, there is always a chance it might get stuck in something on a miss, or slip from their grip, etc.

No where does it say a Fighter with 3+ attacks must take all the attacks. If they want to be "cautious", they certainly can, and risk less fumbles. Also, unless you have a TWF, this isn't happening until tier 3 and higher, with the rare exception of Action Surge being used.

If you are really concerned about it, you can always say Fighters have advantage on checks to avoid fumbles. Problem solved (again, using a confirmation roll system).
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
One thing that such analysis forget is that these high AC guys tend to make lousy tanks!
I disagree (see below) but in the scenario I outlined the reason the kobolds are swarming the tank is because they are the one trying to approach their "god". It is no different from them swarming the raging barbarian.

The AC 16 raging barbarian tends to be a better tank than the 20+ AC fighter, for this reason.
Not really. By the same logic, why would someone bother attacking a creature they can hit, but never goes down? Especially a raging barbarian, who will likely hit harder than a sword and board tank, so is more dangerous to the attackers?

How is that really any different from a someone you can't hit easily?

Both serve the same role. To serve as a target, whether they are nigh unhittable or a damage sponge.
 

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.
I agree, and the trick is balance. "Fumble" always brings up bad memories, because almost universally critical fumbles are disastrous, albeit sometimes hilarious. The punishment is usually harsher than the benefit of the equal chance critical, which is why they always feel so bad. It's got to be just as equally balanced against the benefit.

Since we have critical hits, I'm okay with a critical miss (or fumble) that has a minimal impact. Since critical hits deal extra damage, the logical solution is to affect your damage after a critical miss. The simple method would be that your next hit rolls minimal damage (except if a crit, which would cancel out instead). It's entirely gamist, with no in-world logic as to why this is the case, but damage an HP are themselves gamist in the same way.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
But if you are attacking more often, you have more chances to fumble, so of course it might happen more because you are risking more. Every time someone swings a weapon, there is always a chance it might get stuck in something on a miss, or slip from their grip, etc.

Sure, that's "reality." Doesn't change the fact that's it's annoying that the class with the schtick "good at fighting" gets penalized more.

No where does it say a Fighter with 3+ attacks must take all the attacks. If they want to be "cautious", they certainly can, and risk less fumbles. etc.

If you have to be cautious with your main schtick because of harsh fumble rules - but other classes don't have to be careful with theirs?

Are you also imposing a spell mishap table? It's only fair.

I tend to prefer fun, cinematic combat in my D&D games. Plenty of other systems for the grimmer grittier styles.

Also, unless you have a TWF, this isn't happening until tier 3 and higher, with the rare exception of Action Surge being used.etc.

Action surge is a short rest ability and happens all the time. even without it, with haste and the like fighters routinely get 3+ attacks by tier 2. Monks can get 3 attacks by level 2.

If you are really concerned about it, you can always say Fighters have advantage on checks to avoid fumbles. Problem solved (again, using a confirmation roll system).

Or, I can just not use critical fumbles.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Since we have critical hits, I'm okay with a critical miss (or fumble) that has a minimal impact. Since critical hits deal extra damage, the logical solution is to affect your damage after a critical miss. The simple method would be that your next hit rolls minimal damage (except if a crit, which would cancel out instead). It's entirely gamist, with no in-world logic as to why this is the case, but damage an HP are themselves gamist in the same way.
I like the balancing out concept myself so we currently have fumbles cancel your next attack (as you recover from the fumble). It balances nicely with double damage on the crit end, only you are also losing any bonuses to damage you might otherwise have gotten.

Another option instead of minimal damage is your next attack has disadvantage (as you recover from the fumble).

Either of those and minimal damage are all decent options IMO.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Are you also imposing a spell mishap table? It's only fair.
Yes, we do. You can always drop your spell component pouch (dropped weapon), have it spill open so you can't use it (broken weapon), hit an ally in combat (same as a weapon), and so forth.

Action surge is was short rest ability and happens all the time.
Maybe in your game. Short rests are not easy to come by IME and Fighters hoard Action Surge until it is really needed. YMMV of course.

even without it, with haste and the like fighters routinely get 3+ attacks by tier 2.
Again, haste might be "routinely" used in your games, not IME. If so, it is also for when needed.

Monks can get 3 attacks by level 2.
A fair exception, provided you have the Ki to do it, which at level 2 isn't much. And again, short rests are too commonly granted by other DMs IMO.

Or, I can just not use critical fumbles.
Always your option of course. To each, their own. :)
 

Another option instead of minimal damage is your next attack has disadvantage (as you recover from the fumble).
I've considered this, but discarded it for multiple reasons. First, you create a mini-death spiral, in that getting a critical miss means you're increasing the chance of getting another one. Second, this can be manipulated by players to not make any sense. In my idea, the "next hit" doesn't have any time limit at all; it could be days later and is completely irrelevant to the situation that caused the miss in the first place. If it has a time limit, once you critically miss, you're incentivized to take non-attack actions until the limit expires, such as casting a spell, dodging, using a magic item, etc. If the duration is short enough to make sense (i.e. the current combat), it's very possible for some characters to get around the penalty without problem. Other characters, primarily front line martials, are not only going to have the most number of critical misses, they're the least likely to be able to minimize the effect.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I've considered this, but discarded it for multiple reasons. First, you create a mini-death spiral, in that getting a critical miss means you're increasing the chance of getting another one. Second, this can be manipulated by players to not make any sense. In my idea, the "next hit" doesn't have any time limit at all; it could be days later and is completely irrelevant to the situation that caused the miss in the first place. If it has a time limit, once you critically miss, you're incentivized to take non-attack actions until the limit expires, such as casting a spell, dodging, using a magic item, etc. If the duration is short enough to make sense (i.e. the current combat), it's very possible for some characters to get around the penalty without problem. Other characters, primarily front line martials, are not only going to have the most number of critical misses, they're the least likely to be able to minimize the effect.
To be clear, having a fumble impose disadvantage on the next attack would be until the end of your next turn. So, if you are making another attack the same round, you apply it then. If it is next round, you apply it then. Even with your minimum damage in your post, you say the "next hit". I think commonsense must win out, so such players are just being problematic to be a pain IMO.

And being incentivized to non-attack reflects efforts to recover or use caution after a fumbled attack. There are also plenty of ways to mitigate this depending on what you want the system to achieve:

1. Your free interaction (if still available) can be used to recover.
2. Same thing, but for your bonus action (if available).
3. Use your movement to recover (very applicable if the fumble is you fall prone).

All of these would be available to front-line martials, so could be used to minimize the effect, but have at least some cost.

Finally, considering the odds, I am not concerned about the mini-death spiral, especially given the options above.

My point is, if you WANT a fumble system, you can come up with one that doesn't punish PCs with more attacks in any meaningful way.

Of course, if you don't want to use them, that is fine, too. :)
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
This is the fumble chart I had for 3E.

Critical Fumble Results - All Weapons
Whenever a combatant rolls a natural '1' on an attack roll, they must roll again to confirm a critical fumble. If the second roll (at the same attack bonus) also fails to hit the target, roll d% on the chart below.

PercentileResults
01 – 03​
Helm Slips. Move-equivalent action to fix or –2 to attack rolls. (No effect if no helm).*
04 – 05​
Helm Slips. Move-equivalent action to fix or –4 to attack rolls. (No effect if no helm).
06 – 15​
Twist Ankle. Speed reduced by 10 feet until 10 minutes of rest is taken.
16 – 25​
Slip. Make Reflex check vs. DC 15 or fall prone.
26 – 30​
Stumble. Make Reflex check vs. DC 15 or fall and be stunned for one round.
31 - 35​
Trip. Make Reflex check vs. DC 20 or fall prone and be stunned for 1d3 rounds.
36 - 40​
Trip. Make Reflex check vs. DC 18 or fall prone and targeted opponent (if adjacent) gains immediate attack of opportunity.
41 - 43​
Over-extended/Distracted. Intended opponent (if adjacent) gains immediate attack of opportunity at +4.
44 - 53​
Off Balance. Make Balance check vs. DC 20 or be flat-footed until your next turn.
54 - 63​
Lose Grip on Weapon. Make Dexterity check vs. DC 15 or suffer –4 to attack until move-equivalent action is used to fix grip.
64 - 73​
Lose Grip on Weapon. Make Dexterity check (DC 15) or drop weapon.
74 - 76​
Lose Grip on Weapon. Make Dexterity check (DC 20) or drop weapon. Otherwise suffer –4 to attack until move-equivalent action is used to fix grip.
77 - 78​
Weapons Tangled With Opponent. Reflex check (DC 20) or lose any remaining attacks allowed in this [action. If no remaining attacks, treat as 41-43.
79 - 80​
Hard Parry, Make opposed Strength check with opponent or weapon knocked away (Two-handed weapons gain +4 to check). Roll d8 for direction. Roll for 1d4 for distance in 5 foot increments.
81 - 82​
Hard Awkward Blow. Roll weapon’s damage, double and add Strength bonus. Compare this to weapon’s hardness and hps to see if it breaks (see p.136 of PHB v.3.5). If attacker is making an unarmed strike roll damage anyway - Fortitude save (DC 15) or hand broken and useless. Stunned for 1 round.
83 - 84​
Overwhelmed. Reflex save (DC 15) or all adjacent opponents gain immediate attacks of opportunity each gaining a +1 to attack roll per adjacent opponent (including themselves).
85 - 86​
Awkward Stumble. Make Balance check vs. DC 15 or be flat-footed until your next turn, and all adjacent opponents gain an immediate attack of opportunity.
87 - 88​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 18) or hit self, half damage.
89 - 90​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 15) or hit self, normal damage.
91 - 92​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 15) or hit friend, half damage.
93 - 94​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 20) or hit friend, normal damage.
95 - 96​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 15) or hit friend, normal damage, automatic knockdown.**
97​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 10) or hit friend, critical hit.
98​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 10) or hit self, critical hit.
99​
Clusterf--k. Roll Twice. Any saves at +5 to the DC. Ignore rolls of 99 or 00.
00​
Super Clusterf--k. Roll Thrice. Any saves at +10 to the DC. Ignore rolls of 99 or 00.


The DM should feel free to adjudicate fumble results to fit the situation, either by slightly changing them, or declaring they have no effect. For example, a character that is already prone cannot fall and be stunned, or a "critical hit, self" result that results in a decapitation might deal the extra damage, but not actually cause one to chop one's own head off. A "hit friend" result with a ranged weapon might not hit anyone if no one is within range or line of sight, and so on. In cases where multiple fumble results are called for, roll all of them first and adjudicate/describe them in an order and combination that makes the most sense, not necessarily in the order rolled.

If I were to convert this for 5E I'd change the move-equivalent action stuff to use a reaction, bonus action, or some of your movement. I'd also lower the DCs for some. I'd also have move effects - like twist ankle - that went away on a short rest or long rest.

* Helms were useful because many results on the crit charts did no or lesser effect if the target is wearing a helm.
** We used a knockdown mechanic adapted from 2E Combat & Tactics
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
This is the fumble chart I had for 3E.

Critical Fumble Results - All Weapons
Whenever a combatant rolls a natural '1' on an attack roll, they must roll again to confirm a critical fumble. If the second roll (at the same attack bonus) also fails to hit the target, roll d% on the chart below.

PercentileResults
01 – 03​
Helm Slips. Move-equivalent action to fix or –2 to attack rolls. (No effect if no helm).*
04 – 05​
Helm Slips. Move-equivalent action to fix or –4 to attack rolls. (No effect if no helm).
06 – 15​
Twist Ankle. Speed reduced by 10 feet until 10 minutes of rest is taken.
16 – 25​
Slip. Make Reflex check vs. DC 15 or fall prone.
26 – 30​
Stumble. Make Reflex check vs. DC 15 or fall and be stunned for one round.
31 - 35​
Trip. Make Reflex check vs. DC 20 or fall prone and be stunned for 1d3 rounds.
36 - 40​
Trip. Make Reflex check vs. DC 18 or fall prone and targeted opponent (if adjacent) gains immediate attack of opportunity.
41 - 43​
Over-extended/Distracted. Intended opponent (if adjacent) gains immediate attack of opportunity at +4.
44 - 53​
Off Balance. Make Balance check vs. DC 20 or be flat-footed until your next turn.
54 - 63​
Lose Grip on Weapon. Make Dexterity check vs. DC 15 or suffer –4 to attack until move-equivalent action is used to fix grip.
64 - 73​
Lose Grip on Weapon. Make Dexterity check (DC 15) or drop weapon.
74 - 76​
Lose Grip on Weapon. Make Dexterity check (DC 20) or drop weapon. Otherwise suffer –4 to attack until move-equivalent action is used to fix grip.
77 - 78​
Weapons Tangled With Opponent. Reflex check (DC 20) or lose any remaining attacks allowed in this [action. If no remaining attacks, treat as 41-43.
79 - 80​
Hard Parry, Make opposed Strength check with opponent or weapon knocked away (Two-handed weapons gain +4 to check). Roll d8 for direction. Roll for 1d4 for distance in 5 foot increments.
81 - 82​
Hard Awkward Blow. Roll weapon’s damage, double and add Strength bonus. Compare this to weapon’s hardness and hps to see if it breaks (see p.136 of PHB v.3.5). If attacker is making an unarmed strike roll damage anyway - Fortitude save (DC 15) or hand broken and useless. Stunned for 1 round.
83 - 84​
Overwhelmed. Reflex save (DC 15) or all adjacent opponents gain immediate attacks of opportunity each gaining a +1 to attack roll per adjacent opponent (including themselves).
85 - 86​
Awkward Stumble. Make Balance check vs. DC 15 or be flat-footed until your next turn, and all adjacent opponents gain an immediate attack of opportunity.
87 - 88​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 18) or hit self, half damage.
89 - 90​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 15) or hit self, normal damage.
91 - 92​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 15) or hit friend, half damage.
93 - 94​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 20) or hit friend, normal damage.
95 - 96​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 15) or hit friend, normal damage, automatic knockdown.**
97​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 10) or hit friend, critical hit.
98​
Wild Swing. Reflex save (DC 10) or hit self, critical hit.
99​
Clusterf--k. Roll Twice. Any saves at +5 to the DC. Ignore rolls of 99 or 00.
00​
Super Clusterf--k. Roll Thrice. Any saves at +10 to the DC. Ignore rolls of 99 or 00.


The DM should feel free to adjudicate fumble results to fit the situation, either by slightly changing them, or declaring they have no effect. For example, a character that is already prone cannot fall and be stunned, or a "critical hit, self" result that results in a decapitation might deal the extra damage, but not actually cause one to chop one's own head off. A "hit friend" result with a ranged weapon might not hit anyone if no one is within range or line of sight, and so on. In cases where multiple fumble results are called for, roll all of them first and adjudicate/describe them in an order and combination that makes the most sense, not necessarily in the order rolled.

If I were to convert this for 5E I'd change the move-equivalent action stuff to use a reaction, bonus action, or some of your movement. I'd also lower the DCs for some. I'd also have move effects - like twist ankle - that went away on a short rest or long rest.

* Helms were useful because many results on the crit charts did no or lesser effect if the target is wearing a helm.
** We used a knockdown mechanic adapted from 2E Combat & Tactics


From Michael E. Mayeau's "The Dragon Crown" that was run at Pacific Encounters Convention in 1978 for OD&D and published the next year by Judges Guild.

After a roll of a natural '20' roll another d20:
1-14=No critical
15=Maximum damage
16=Damage roll x2
17=Maximum damage x2
18=Damage roll x attackers level
19=Maximum damage roll x attackrs level
20=Instant death

After a roll of a natural '1' roll another d20:
7-20=Normal miss
6=Stumble, roll your dexterity or less on a d20 or fall. If you fall, each melee round you may attempt to rise by rolling your AC or less on a d10 (with special things about magic armor and getting help).
5=Weapon breaks. If a magic weapon, roll 2d6 and add your weapons plusses to the roll, if your total is 7 or less your magic weapon broke.
4=Hit nearest ally for 1/2 damage
3=Hit yourself for 1/2 damage
2=Possible critical hit on nearest ally.
1=Possible critical hit on yourself.

If @Mort thought the usual fumbles were bad for multiple attack martials, this gives you a (granted small) chance of killing yourself on each attack. Things were sure different back then!
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
From Michael E. Mayeau's "The Dragon Crown" that was run at Pacific Encounters Convention in 1978 for OD&D and published the next year by Judges Guild.

After a roll of a natural '20' roll another d20:
1-14=No critical
15=Maximum damage
16=Damage roll x2
17=Maximum damage x2
18=Damage roll x attackers level
19=Maximum damage roll x attackrs level
20=Instant death

After a roll of a natural '1' roll another d20:
7-20=Normal miss
6=Stumble, roll your dexterity or less on a d20 or fall. If you fall, each melee round you may attempt to rise by rolling your AC or less on a d10 (with special things about magic armor and getting help).
5=Weapon breaks. If a magic weapon, roll 2d6 and add your weapons plusses to the roll, if your total is 7 or less your magic weapon broke.
4=Hit nearest ally for 1/2 damage
3=Hit yourself for 1/2 damage
2=Possible critical hit on nearest ally.
1=Possible critical hit on yourself.

If @Mort thought the usual fumbles were bad for multiple attack martials, this gives you a (granted small) chance of killing yourself on each attack. Things were sure different back then!

As a convention 1 shot, especially played for horror or laughs (or a bit of both), this could be viable and fun.

As a recurring game - this would get old really fast!
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
It's tangential, but when I think about it, I dislike that a 20 always hits and a 1 always misses. Is it silly to ponder something like, if you roll a 20 and it doesn't hit that you can roll another die and add it to your first roll to see if it was good enough. Similarly on a 1, roll another die and subtract it from your first roll.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
It's tangential, but when I think about it, I dislike that a 20 always hits and a 1 always misses. Is it silly to ponder something like, if you roll a 20 and it doesn't hit that you can roll another die and add it to your first roll to see if it was good enough. Similarly on a 1, roll another die and subtract it from your first roll.
This was how we handled it in AD&D back in "the days".

What amazes me is how averse people seem to be nowadays to doing simple math. :(

Growing up in the 70's and 80's playing D&D is one of the most impactful things that MADE me good at math and eventually got my Masters in Mathematics.
 

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