Critical Misses

Does anyone else miss critical misses? I’m not sure if they were ever a real part of the rules or if some sense of fairness and consistency wanted a critical miss to balance out critical hits. I know at somepoint “natural 20” == automatic hit became a real rule, and by the time 3rd edition rolled around there were weapons and feats that expanded the auto-hit range. At or around the same time as 3E the idea of the critical miss was taken out of the official lexicon.

I understand the change. After all it’s easy to apply some sort of mechanic to a critical hit (times 2, max damage, etc), and much harder to mechanic a critical miss. After all you can’t do any less damage than 0. I suppose you could give temporary hit points to the monster; that would be more fun to justify than just “hit points.” When I did play with critical misses, the rules were pretty much arbitrary: a bowstring snaps, a sword drops and goes rolling, the arrow instead hits an adjacent ally. The exact effect never really mattered much when playing as these seemed to happen a lot less often than critical hits; also we could always pull another weapon off the belt or go and pick up a fallen one. Critical misses were more fun as a DM. I once had a big lizard creature break its fangs on a critical miss (it only had natural weapons). Of course that affected all future turns and not just that one, but he was pretty much dead anyway.

I guess there are two things I miss about CMs. (1) combats were a little riskier. Even with permanent (or heavily penalized) death, level drains, and other nasty things to worry about, there was always a turn-by-turn real fear of the die coming up “1”. (2) The random flair. It’s easy to inject color into any RP situation, but when it’s based on the die you can’t predict it, so we had to come up with a significant but not too-significant result on the spot. That led to  a lot of creative GMing.

What I don’t miss is the extra penalty. In 4e with all sorts of powers and implements, it’d be pretty tough to come up with a fair and consistent implementation of the critical miss anyway. There’s enough already going against the players… who needs one more?

I suppose a good compromise is that a critical miss bolsters the enemy, giving him a recharge on a spent second wind or a +2 circumstance bonus to attack you next round. Does anyone play 4e with critical misses?


16 thoughts on “Critical Misses

  1. I don’t play 4th. I’m still examining it to determine if I want to. There seems to be some great stuff as well as some things that have me shaking my head.

    I would, however, find a way to implement critical misses. Let’s be honest, no one is infallible. Every hero makes a mistake sometimes in his life. Unless they’re gods, but even mythology shows you many a screwed up god.

    Our GM used to make us roll twice. If it came up 1, it was a fumble or a miss, depending on the situation. This would be modified by your second roll. If you rolled high, the fumble or miss was negligible. Something along the lines of you slipped your arrow on the drawn string but recovered it. You lose your attack that round but no real damage done. Mid-range of the second roll was something more negative, like actually dropping the arrow or snapping the string. If you rolled a 1 a second time, it was dire. Striking an ally with your shot or, in some fine moves, tripping and breaking an ankle or, as happened to one poor sap who was even given a third roll (and he rolled a third 1…I kid you not) he stumbled and fell on his own sword.

    The beauty of them is that more often than not it was a minor quibble or slip up. Something easily recovered from. Those severe critical misses were extremely rare but the GM made them memorable.

  2. Personally, I’m all about the creative situations that arise from critical misses. If you’re looking for a hard and fast rule, however, why not merely have the PC lose a healing surge? Their blow or arrow flies wide or is merely shrugged off or easily dodged by the opponent – the PC loses confidence in their abilities. Losing a HS may not matter when they have a few spare, but if they’ve been at it for a while, those things are precious.

  3. @Steve,

    That is a good point just as rolling 3 20’s in a row is quite memorable experience, I bet 3 1’s would be as well. I hope the character that stumbled on his own sword just took some damage, and wasn’t instantly killed. As I’ve said before, I’d for luck to be the sole factor in determining a character’s death.


    I am all in favor of having more uses for healing surges, but they are already pretty abstract mechanically, I wonder how you can justify it “in-game”. I’d see a loss in confidence translated rather to a -2 to defenses for a round or -2 to the next attack roll.

  4. My old group used the critical hits and critical miss charts from Dragon Magazine (circa late 1980’s) and they were brutal. There was one particular session where we had rolled so many 1’s with disastrous results such as triple damage to an ally and damaging one’s self. There were even spell fumble tables where you could nuke your own party. It was bad. I don’t miss those days.

    One time I ran a game where a player rolled 1’s for three rounds consecutively while he was fighting a zombie. I must have been in a sadistic mood that day because I ruled that the zombie ended up holding his bastard sword. He wasn’t in any real danger of dying mind you (5th level fighter versus 2 HD zombie), but it was amusing.

  5. @Michael
    Fair point regarding the -2 penalty. As I say, I’ve never imposed a mechanical penalty for critical misses, but that’s actually something I’d consider.

  6. I use the critical hit/Miss decks from Piazo. They were made for 3E but can be fairly easily converted to 4E on the fly, I think I’ve only run into one or two of the cards that I couldn’t figure some way of converting it.

    The most memorible was a spell failure from a sorcerer. He ended up teleporting himself to where his target was…far behind enemy lines. The other PCs had to hustle to get to him before he was pulverized by the enemies. It was alot of fun, and the players still talk about it.

    The way I work the mechanic(and it also applies to monsters as well) is they roll a 1… is a possible critical miss… I have them roll the attack again. If the attack would have hit, it’s just a miss. If they fail again, they shuffle the deck, then draw a card and I make a ruling based on the result. I’ve had fighters nearly cleave thier legs off, clerics knock teamates out, and of course spectacular magic misshaps. It’s all in good fun, and the players like it.

  7. I agree, we use a houserule critical fumble system in our 4E games. If you roll a natural 1, you make an immediate saving throw. A success means you just miss, but a failure means a fumble! And then you are at the mercy of the DM, usually you fall prone, drop your weapon, hit an ally, or provoke an attack.

  8. @Michael,

    yeap those are the ones I use. It adds a nice little random element, and take the burden of coming up with the result off the DM. You do have to be careful… there are a few tripple damage cards in the critical hits decks, a couple of my players were nearly taken out by them. They have also taken out a few of my monsters the same way. I gave them the option of using the cards, and had them come up with the mechanic for them. I did warn them in advance that the monsters would be using the decks the same way.

  9. I think the Death Dealer adventure from goodman games has cool critical hits and misses tuned to 4e.

    Also, in the new Darksun, if you miss with a 1 you can try one more time to hit, but if you miss your weapon breaks. It’s an optional rule, I think, and it applies to the ordinary weapons in Athas.

  10. The problem with Fumbles is that your players will see a lot of them. You’re likely to see one every combat, on average. It makes combats feel less heroic and more like the 3 Stooges.

    If a trained heroic adventurer (even if he is just starting) has a 1 in 20 chance of fumbling with his weapon every time he swings, it seems unlikely he would have finished his training without accidentally killing himself or someone else.

  11. @N0Man,

    What about the having to roll a 1 two times in a row? That’s more of a 1 in 400? Or just to miss a second time, on average that’s more like 1 in 40…

  12. Part of me also liked how the old Star Wars adventures did it, with a little script, and starting the players off in a combat right off the bat, too.

  13. When a party member critical misses in my game, they make a saving throw +1/2 their level. 10 or better is golden. If they miss the save, they roll the “d10 of death” which is an oversize, black d10 I bought especially for the occasion. I have a table that gets increasingly bad from 10 to 1, so it takes three low rolls to really get stuck. The table consists mostly of 4e conditions (slowed, dazed, weakened, stunned as well as lose a healing surge, grant CA, etc. The players seem to like it and I add the flavor for what caused the condition (when you attacked, you stepped on the spiked club the ogre dropped and got an ouchie. You’re slowed until the end of your next turn). I never have the effect last past their next turn as that seemed a bit nasty….

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