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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