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D&D 5E Critical Failures

Lord Twig

Adventurer
Some of the players in my game have expressed interest in having critical failures in the game. I will admit it is fun when the enemy rolls a natural one and things go hilariously bad for them, but the fact is that critical failures are far more devastating to player characters than to monsters.

It's also worse for characters with multiple attacks, like two weapon fighters and monks. The more you roll, the greater the chance that you will fumble. This also means that as you go up in level that your chance of a critical failure goes up. At 1st level you may only have one chance to fail, but at 11th level you have tripled your chance to fail. That doesn't make sense to me. Why would you critically fail more often when you get better?

So does anyone have a good system for critical failures that add some fun to the game, but doesn't punish players for making more attacks?
 

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S

Sunseeker

Guest
I've never seen one no. Most "critical fumble" systems exist to make combat silly and punish the party for a natural outcome of the dice.
 

You might just limit critical failures to 1/turn.

Also, when a 1 comes up, you can have them reroll to "confirm" the crit failure. Ie, they only get a critical failure if they miss on the second roll.

That would mostly solve that particular problem.
 

Lord Twig

Adventurer
I've never seen one no. Most "critical fumble" systems exist to make combat silly and punish the party for a natural outcome of the dice.

Me either. Hence this post. :)

You might just limit critical failures to 1/turn.

Also, when a 1 comes up, you can have them reroll to "confirm" the crit failure. Ie, they only get a critical failure if they miss on the second roll.

That would mostly solve that particular problem.

Even limited to once a round a 5th level two weapon fighter still has 3 chances to crit fail in a turn. And I have considered "confirming" the failure, but that is more dice rolling and complication, which is something I want to avoid.

I think my real trouble started on the first encounter of a quick adventure I did. The party was camping near a swamp and some zombies came out at night to attack them. The first on rolled a nat 1 and I described it as the zombie clumsily attacking, slipping in the mud and falling flat on his face. The characters loved it! So did I! But now what do I do?

Honestly I have considered only allowing NPCs to crit fail as an option, but I'm not sure the players will go for it.
 

I remember a suggestion that it could only happen if you had disadvantage, if both dice come up 1. That keeps it rare enough to not turn the game silly, and also prevents it from affecting PCs unduly because PCs usually have a better option than to attack with disadvantage.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Some of the players in my game have expressed interest in having critical failures in the game. I will admit it is fun when the enemy rolls a natural one and things go hilariously bad for them, but the fact is that critical failures are far more devastating to player characters than to monsters.

It's also worse for characters with multiple attacks, like two weapon fighters and monks. The more you roll, the greater the chance that you will fumble. This also means that as you go up in level that your chance of a critical failure goes up. At 1st level you may only have one chance to fail, but at 11th level you have tripled your chance to fail. That doesn't make sense to me. Why would you critically fail more often when you get better?

So does anyone have a good system for critical failures that add some fun to the game, but doesn't punish players for making more attacks?

I have an unusual story. I was DMing a game where 3 of the players asked for a critical fumble system, and the rest were neutral or mildly positive. It wasn't on my radar screen at all until they asked for it. So I let them design the system. It was a standard "when you roll a 1..." and then there was a table. What was unique was that the table had lots of funny outcomes, lots of nasty outcomes, and a very small number of which turned calamity into wildly unexpected fortune.

As for assuming that crit fails are more impactful to PCs than monsters....I seriously doubt that once the PCs are past 4th level or so....look at how many monsters of CR 1/2 and up have Multiattack in the Monster Manual!

One option, if you don't want the risk of crit fails increasing with multiple attacks, is to borrow the "Death Flag" house rule. Basically, "Death Flag" means that any PC reduced to 0 hit points doesn't die unless their player raises the "Death Flag" signaling that they're willing to risk death in a given dramatic situation. This might be done verbally or with some agreed upon gesture. And I think groups using "Death Flag" grant some kind of boon, possibly Inspiration or something, when a player raises the "Death Flag" for their PC during combat. It's meant for groups who are into low PC mortality games.

You could apply that to crit fails, with crit fails only happening when a player decides to take on increased risk...for some kind of reward. You'd have to come up with whatever mechanic works for your group, but that's the barebones of the idea.
 

Lord Twig

Adventurer
I have an unusual story. I was DMing a game where 3 of the players asked for a critical fumble system, and the rest were neutral or mildly positive. It wasn't on my radar screen at all until they asked for it. So I let them design the system. It was a standard "when you roll a 1..." and then there was a table. What was unique was that the table had lots of funny outcomes, lots of nasty outcomes, and a very small number of which turned calamity into wildly unexpected fortune.

Hmmm... A chart is kinda similar to the confirmation roll. It is still another roll, but instead of nothing happening, I could have something amusing, but not really game effecting, happen. Not sure if I want to add a chart though.

As for assuming that crit fails are more impactful to PCs than monsters....I seriously doubt that once the PCs are past 4th level or so....look at how many monsters of CR 1/2 and up have Multiattack in the Monster Manual!

Sorry, misunderstanding here. Sure the monsters, altogether, might make more rolls than the PCs, but each individual monster only makes a handful of rolls before it is killed by the PCs. Each PC (hopefully) will make hundreds, possibly thousands, of rolls before they retire (one way or another).

If a goblin fumbles and slices off his own head, that's hilarious! If a PC does it you have a very not happy player. Okay, extreme example, but it makes my point. If a fumble kills an enemy it is not a big deal. There are plenty more. If it kills a PC, and I've seen it happen, it's a problem.

One option, if you don't want the risk of crit fails increasing with multiple attacks, is to borrow the "Death Flag" house rule. Basically, "Death Flag" means that any PC reduced to 0 hit points doesn't die unless their player raises the "Death Flag" signaling that they're willing to risk death in a given dramatic situation. This might be done verbally or with some agreed upon gesture. And I think groups using "Death Flag" grant some kind of boon, possibly Inspiration or something, when a player raises the "Death Flag" for their PC during combat. It's meant for groups who are into low PC mortality games.

You could apply that to crit fails, with crit fails only happening when a player decides to take on increased risk...for some kind of reward. You'd have to come up with whatever mechanic works for your group, but that's the barebones of the idea.

This kinda falls in line with my, "Only bad guys crit fail" suggestion above. Except it introduces a risk/reward mechanic, which I like. Not sure what the reward would be yet though. Suggestions?
 

thorgrit

Explorer
The best fumble rule I've ever come across is just asking the PC who made the fumble to describe what happens. Those who enjoy auto-crit sneak attacking their own heads into four pieces will love it, and people who don't like added penalties for fumbles can make up a short flourish about they slipped on an invisible turtle and missed, but regained their footing.
 

X13Phantom

Explorer
I always try to put fumble charts into games, it works well if everyone doesn't take the game too serious and doesn't slow down the game too much (have the chart handy)

The other thing I find is don't make everything just damage and falling have other effects on mine after you fumble and roll a 20 on the chart you do the Arnold-Conan sword spin and your opponents might be impressed or intimidated by your display
 

In my campaign I feature firearms, and whenever a player fumbles an attack with a firearm, they roll on a missfire table to see what happens. Some firearm types (such as holdout pistols) are more prone to catastrophic mishaps than others (just like in real life). Likewise, mastercrafted firearms are less prone to mishaps.

Misfire table (D20)
Dueling pistols / Masterwork
Flintlock and other fire arms
Multi-barrel/shot
Hold out PistolsRoll Result
111-21-3The firearm explodes, dealing 1d6 damage on the wielder.
2-42-53-64-7The weapon’s firing mechanism breaks. The weapon must be repaired before being used again, which costs one-quarter of the weapon’s total price and requires a successful DC 15 Craft (Gun smithing) check.
5-76-87-98-10Something prevents the weapon’s firing mechanism from working. Determining and fixing the problem requires a full-round action. The firearm may not be used again, until the problem is fixed.
8-109-1110-1211-13Moisture or the wrong amount of gunpowder prevents the firearm from firing. The firearm must be reloaded before it can be fired again.
11-1412-1513-1614-17A mechanical problem prevents the firearm from firing. The attack fails this round but may be retried with a new attack without reloading.
15-1616-1717-1918-19An imperfection in the muzzle causes this shot to go astray. The firearm’s user makes another attack on another creature within 5 feet of the original target, randomly determining if there are multiple targets. If there are no other targets within 5 feet, the shot simply misses.
17-2018-202020No effect, the firearm misses as normal.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
I had critical fumbles in 3e where the PC/creature that rolled a 1 had to make a DC 10 Dex check to drop their weapon. It produced a few laughs and PC had to get back up weapons. But it slowed things down and didnt add much in retrospect.

Maybe it would be more elegant if you roll a 1 you grant Advantage on the next attack against you?
 

I see no problem with a critical failure system in theory, but the implementation is hard. I would only use one as a balance to a critical success system, so to use 5E, it would only be a critical miss. The penalty should be about the equivalent to the benefit of a critical hit, so that creatures with multiple attacks aren't punished (just balanced). I would think the best method would be to grant the creature you attacked a critical hit if their next attack hits you (before your next turn). Still wonky, because ranged characters are hurt a lot less by this.
 

To avoid the multiattack leads to more fumbles issue - you could rule that only the first attack of each turn has the chance.

Honestly though, I think that (outside of comedy-focused groups) it's not a rule that meshes well with the D&D mechanics.
 

Hillsy7

First Post
I'd simply say the next attack has disadvantage (for a melee crit fail) to represent recovering after a slip, trip, or getting your axe embedded in a cavern wall after a serious miscalulation - this punishes you less for melee characters with multiple attacks as it's 1 disadvantage out of many attacks.

For spell-casters it's trickier a little trickier. Maybe your next spell does half damage, lasts half as long, or you have to make a concentration check every round due to giving yourself a massive headache casting the previous spell incorrectly. I'd probably look to breaking spells into broad categories and apply the "Next spell does" to all in that group.

Saving throws - probably the reverse of the above (Does half again as much damage, lasts twice as long, saves each turn against that 1 spell have disadvantage)

Skill checks - disadvantage on that next check due to self-doubt, self-injury, or being entangled in a pile of cans and string.....

These are all purely mechanical solutions - there's a tonne of more fun and narrative ways of bringing it into play that makes everything interesting and less rigid. So you could attack a colleague by accident, but just give them a DEX save to avoid a token d6 of damage. Or take inspriration as a GM on a Crit Fail, give free inspiration if the monsters roll a 1......Or nick from FATE and have the ASPECT "Crit Fail" on whomever screwed up that the GM or Player can activate to add/subtract 1 inspiration to the roll (Takes a standard action to clear/compose oneself).
 

schnee

First Post
We're discussing this in my game now. Three of us share DMing, and the DM that started the game had critical failures for combat.

My take is either spellcasters risk a crit with every spell - they roll d20 no matter what they do, and a 1 means something bad or embarrassing - or we eliminate them completely.
 

ro

First Post
Change critical failures from "something extra bad happens to the character rolling" to "something extra interesting happens because of the character rolling". As 1s get rolled more frequently, more unusual things happen.

For example, my warlock once rolled a 1 using Eldritch Blast. The blast went wild, hit a tree, the tree fell, and my enemy rolled too low to escape the falling tree. I missed, but the circumstance was fun and my character wasn't penalized by a normal dice roll.

When a 1 is rolled, make something fun but not necessarily harmful happen.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Some of the players in my game have expressed interest in having critical failures in the game. I will admit it is fun when the enemy rolls a natural one and things go hilariously bad for them, but the fact is that critical failures are far more devastating to player characters than to monsters.

I'm glad you see that. Most players don't.

But "fumble on a 1" is both a terrible mechanic and an unessential one. I don't know where this house rule for "Fumble on a 1" came from, because published fumble systems - including the infamous "Good hits and bad misses" back in the day - never worked like that.

The first thing you have to do is add a fumble confirmation roll of some sort that alters the probability of failure so that the better you are, the less often you fail. For example, a typical fumble confirmation roll would be "Roll again. If you miss again, it's a fumble."

With that change alone, hopefully you can see that the dynamic changes greatly. If a character needs a 20 to hit, then almost every 1 will result in a fumble. But if a character needs a 2 to hit, then they must roll a 1 twice in a row to fumble.

There are a bunch of other options as well. For example you could on a threat to fumble have the confirmation roll be a random skill or ability check like, "Make a balance check. If you fail by more than 5, you suffer a fumble." or "Make a DC 5 Constitution save. If you fail, you suffer a fumble." With mechanics like that skillful players might never or almost never fail. After all, there is no necessity that you automatically fail on a one for every sort of roll. With a skill check, a high level character might never fail to hit the target number, and in 5e players might have proficiency on checks and so need two terrible throws to fail.

The point is a confirmation roll that is harder and harder to fail the more skilled the combatant, whatever that roll is, more than offsets against multiple attacks when designed properly.

The other thing that I see in badly designed fumble systems is that they tend to have tables that produce lots of outrageous results. So instead of something like, "Weapon takes 3d6 damage" or "Opponent gets a free attack on your weapon", they have something like, "Weapon breaks." The later is really silly (and frustrating) when the weapon is a +5 adamantium weapon that just shouldn't break easily. Or they might have "Critical hit self.", rather than something like, "Make an attack on yourself. You have disadvantage when dealing damage, and do not add your strength bonus to the attack. You may ignore this result if you are using a natural weapon." Fumbles can even be minor annoyances that still realistically add color to the combat like, "Your footing slips and you are off balance. Your opponents have advantage when attacking you the next round.", or "Your attack leaves you off balance. If you are using a shield, you cannot use your shield to defend yourself during the next round.", or something like, "You overextend on your attack, leaving yourself exposed. The enemy you last attacked may make an additional attack against you without spending an action, but they have disadvantage on the attack." Fumbles don't have to be outrageous. They just need to help you concretely imagine things that could be happening in D&D's otherwise abstract combat system.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
For spell-casters it's trickier a little trickier. Maybe your next spell does half damage, lasts half as long, or you have to make a concentration check every round due to giving yourself a massive headache casting the previous spell incorrectly. I'd probably look to breaking spells into broad categories and apply the "Next spell does" to all in that group.

As a general rule, if you can fumble an attack, you have to be able to fumble a spell as well. Spell fumbles don't happen quite as often in my game, but when they do happen they can be spectacular and nasty. Usually spells fumble when the caster is forced to make a concentration heck when casting the spell and fails it. The results can be almost anything - hitting the wrong target with the spell, casting a different spell, losing experience points, to potentially instant death (like casting a fireball targeted on the inside of your skull). So, the general idea that fumbling doesn't hurt spellcasters much, doesn't really play out in my game.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
So does anyone have a good system for critical failures that add some fun to the game, but doesn't punish players for making more attacks?

Never seen one. I think you should rather pick a pretty hardcore system, then start the next gaming session with the famous words "Be careful what you ask for, as you might get it..." :)
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Rather than punishing or rewarding individual players I like to look at Nat 1 and Nat 20 as ways to enrich the narrative - like Triumph and Despair in FFG's Star Wars.

It's a nice way to add spontaneous complications (or rewards) that surprise me and the players.
 

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