No More Criticals

Natural 20

Now just another hit.

For many years I’ve used one of two critical hit rules:

  • On a natural 20, attacker gets another attack roll. If the second roll is also 20, a third is earned, and so on. Every attack that hits scores normal damage.
  • On a natural 20, attacker rolls double damage.

These are not terribly unusual and have worked just fine. We’ve also tried a number of different critical miss/fumble rules that occur on a roll of 1. The most recent was:

  • On a roll of 1, defender within melee range gets one free attack. If this attack roll is a 1, original attacker gets a free attack in return.

This, also, has worked fine.

However, I’ve recent decided to rework nearly all monster attacks into 1 attack roll, combining the classic claw/claw/bite into one attack with one damage roll. This left me wondering how to work out things like tail attacks, bear hugs if both paws hit, and the similar extra or special attacks.

My solution is to have these special attacks hit on high rolls. A scorpadillo’s poisonous tail, for instance, strikes on a roll of 20. A cave bear hits for double damage on a roll of 19 or 20, simulating the bear hug. And so on.

I like this a lot, but it means the criticals on 20 don’t work quite right, as some monsters already have special attacks that hit on 20. I could rule that the scorpadillo scores a critical on 19 and a tail on 20, but then does it get both double damage and a poison on a 20? That doesn’t seem right either.

So we ditched both critical hits and critical misses. And, to be honest, I didn’t miss them one bit in our first game since the change despite the fact that several 20s and several 1s were rolled during combats. My son, who has long been a fan of the critical hit idea (having never played without it) also mentioned that he didn’t mind not using it.

Something that occurred to me is that higher level fighters could be given a “special attack” bonus (double damage, automatic maximum damage, extra attack, or the like) on a 20 to represent their own special abilities. After all, an 8th-level fighter is a “superhero” and is astoundingly dangerous in his own right.

Either way, we’re going to go without crits for a while, quite possibly permanently. Though I think I will miss a little of the excitement that 20s always brought and have always like the idea that critical hit systems could be used to explain some of the amazing hits delivered in books and movies, I think the game will play just as good as ever without them.

Has anyone else decided to drop critical hits after using them for an extended period?

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22 Responses to No More Criticals

  1. badmike says:

    My group dropped critical hits, but we didn’t use them a long time. It’s one of those things that’s great fun when the players score them, not as much fun when the grunt monster scores them against the players. I have a system I use instead; On a 20, if the character (or monster) does almost enough damage to bring down the opponent, I will add that 1 or 2 extra points and say it was a particularly good blow. It can also lead to special attacks like hitting the oppenent in the weapon hand (making him drop the weapon), hitting a creature in the eye (if it’s a fired arrow, say), or any number of interesting effects only limited by my imagination. Likewise, on a 1, if the situation requires it I can have the character slip and fall, drop their weapon, hit an opponent (especially if they are firing or throwing into melee), or any number of comical or tragic effects. I find that my own decisions are good for going with the flow of the game but aren’t overwhelming in their effect on either the player or the NPC baddies.

  2. Timeshadows says:

    I’ve dropped maximum natural-roll Criticals, in favour of a staggered, progressive damage system based on iterations of ‘Five More Than Needed to Strike’

    Double damage and then rolling minimum on the damage die just sux, so I’ve gone with Max. dice damage as the base Critical.

    Fumbles are likely to be changed to something along those lines, but currently involve either flinging/dropping one’s weapon, or breaking it.

    I like Mike’s method, above, as it is less mechanical, but I know players that are less trusting of the Old Ways, and they like knowing ‘it is so’ in rules-text. Poor souls.

    You may want to consider Crits as Exploding Dice on damage, which would really make more ‘sense’. If one rolls max damage on a die, add & re-roll until the trend stops.

    • Kilgore says:

      I’ve been following your discussion over at TGT. I do like that idea and had considered using the “five more than needed” (well, 4 was the number I was thinking about) for my monster special attacks. But even that was more “complicated” than I wanted, so I went with a straight 20 (or 19+ or whatever is specified) for special monster attacks.

      • Timeshadows says:

        That’s cool. 🙂

        Can you give us a few examples in a new article/post? 🙂
        –Preferably creatures we are already accustomed to.


        • Kilgore says:

          Yes, I’ll have some samples up soon. My son and I are nearly through all the LL core creatures. We’ve used a number in play already, but there will probably be some tweaking involved.

          The tweaking never ends…

    • Kilgore says:

      Oh, and I’m going to keep the “exploding damage dice” idea in mind. If we decide we miss criticals enough put them back in, that approach may be my first option.

      I’d just be concerned that criticals with d4 would be too common.

      • Timeshadows says:

        It is true that they will be the most common of the standard whole-dice, but think of the result: the possibility of adding the lowest range of damage.

        If you want to limit the number of Explosions, using the character’s Level would be pretty reasonable, making higher level characters more capable in that explosions could go up to/including ‘L’ number and no more. Still dead simple.

        Anyway, I’m not pushing an agenda here, just trying to offer a dead-simple, no-maths method.

        Best to you,

        • Kilgore says:

          Anyway, I’m not pushing an agenda here, just trying to offer a dead-simple, no-maths method.

          Not buying it. Your “if you’re not using exploding damage dice you’re Doing It Wrong” position has been crystal clear from day one.

  3. Erin says:

    My old 2E campaign had a pretty decent crit system, where you rolled 2d20 to attack: the first was “to-hit” and the second was hit location, which modified damage. It worked really well for several sessions (fast and had good results), but we ended up ditching it shortly after it let a PC kill a pimped-out ogre chieftain with a single arrow shot. Everyone (players and myself) agreed to let it rest a bit.

    When I revved up my RC campaign, I used a simplified system that worked out rather well.

    This is an abridged version; the full piece is found in OD&DITIES #11.

    • Ryan says:

      I’ve dropped them. I don’t miss them in the least, nor does my group.

    • Kilgore says:

      I’ve thought about using something similar to the two-dice method to simulate possible head attacks as part of a “what are helmets good for?” solution. Maybe the second die being a d6 (or d8) for helmetless targets and a d12 for helmeted targets. A roll of 1 on the second die indicates head shot and double damage. Or something similar. Just about tried that in 2e years back.

      Again, though, a little more involved than I really want.

      Always torn between keeping it as simple as possible and adding in bits and pieces that seem cool…

      • Erin says:

        For simple as possible, I’d go with the crit system I linked to above. It fits in with existing combat rules seamlessly, is balanced, and will work with your monster attack/damage consolidation.

        Try it. You’ll like it. Everyone’s doing it…

        • olean says:

          I’ve been tinkering with a revision of the basic D&D mechanism of how damage is worked out.

          Basically, for each point that your To hit-roll exceeds your opponents AC, you do one point of damage. Then you add a damage bonus depending on the weapon used (for now I am using half of the maximum damage from the standard dice, so that 1d8=4, 2d6=6 etc). Str-bonus is not added to the damage, as this is already incorporated in the To hit-roll.

          This makes a skilled opponent do more damage with a hit, as the To hit-roll will usually have a higher total. That seems more likely to me, as well as being quicker – no separate roll for damage, just add the damage bonus.

          • Erin says:

            Olean – I really like that. Fast, elegant, and intuitive. I’m assuming you use it with the standard descending AC and to-hit tables, but it occurs to me that your approach would work particularly well with ascending AC, used as the required to-hit roll, described here: Combat sans Matrix

            Thanks for sharing – I really like this idea!

          • Timeshadows says:

            Deep 7’s games use that method, and I too, like the simplicity of it.
            –Very elegant.

            How would you have non-critical-‘criticals’ work with that, Olean?

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  5. badmike says:

    “I like Mike’s method, above, as it is less mechanical, but I know players that are less trusting of the Old Ways, and they like knowing ‘it is so’ in rules-text. Poor souls.”

    Yes it does require a level of trust that most “modern” players are loath to give since it’s not explicitly “in the rules”. Luckily the vast majority of my players have an old school nature that works with this method. For example in two recent games a player rolled a natural “20” in a missile attack vs a fire lizard so I had it take out an eye (blinding the critter) at a crucial moment; likewise in a swamp battle a PC rolled a “1” and I had him slip and fall on his ass in the muck. One was to the player’s favor and one to the player’s disadvantage, so these things tend to even out. If you can get past the trust factor it’s really the best way but not for everyone I realize…

  6. Keep criticals for players, ditch them for monsters. Balance smallance, characters get levels, ability scores and lots more monsters don’t have. But the primary argument is

    rolling 20 is fun

  7. Robert says:

    Yep. I don’t use criticals. I haven’t completely lost the little spark of excitement when a 20 or 1 gets rolled, but I’m much happier ignoring that spark.

    “What critical hit rule am I using? If you roll the maximum on your damage, that’s a critical hit. What happens? You do maximum damage.”

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